The Terminal Crisis of the NPA

Fredy Lizarrague

May 20, 2021

The crisis of the New Anticapitalist Party in France offers possibilities for the emergence of a new revolutionary tendency.

The New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France is in a terminal crisis. But for all the organizations and activists who identify as revolutionary, socialist, and working-class, this crisis has something new. There is a new revolutionary tendency that is fighting and emerging in the NPA, one that combines a critical balance sheet of the tradition of French and international Trotskyism, with leaders and activists from a new generation of the working-class vanguard. All the activists and organizations of the international working-class, socialist, and revolutionary Left should pay attention to this struggle and take a position — especially all those that aim to reconstruct / refound the Fourth International.

The NPA was launched by Revolutionary Communist League (LCR, which was a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International led by Ernest Mandel) in 2009 as a “broad party.” Its goal was to bring together sectors of the working class, the youth, and social and political movements that were turning to the left, independently of the parties of the “institutional Left.” It adopted a socialist program of “rupture” with capitalism, but it tended to dilute the strategic boundaries between reformists and revolutionaries. This process was initiated by the Mandelist current in the mid-1990s, when it abandoned the historical strategy of Marxism. Instead of destroying the bourgeois state (through the “dictatorship of the proletariat”), they called for a diffuse “democracy to the end.” The NPA allowed for an open struggle of tendencies within the new party, and different currents were formed that defended (each in its own way) a revolutionary program and strategy. This included a nucleus of comrades from the Trotskyist Fraction — Fourth International (FT-CI) who fought for a truly revolutionary internationalist party.

After a number of splits and crises, the historic NPA leadership, which at the last congress was organized in the Platform U, has escalated its policy of liquidating every trace of an organization with even a minimal basis of class independence, in two ways. On the one hand, it has advanced in agreements with a party of the institutional Left (center Left), the pro-imperialist La France Insoumise (LFI) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in regional elections in Occitania and New Aquitaine. It even left the door open to agreements in the second round with the Socialist Party (PS) and Europe Ecology — the Greens (EELV), parties that have been in the government of French imperialism, or who are part of government coalitions in other European countries like Germany. If the NPA, from its origins, had diffuse programmatic and strategic boundaries, it at least had certain class-based political parameters, such as rejecting political support for the institutional Left. The historical leadership of the NPA is now breaking down this barrier. The precursor for these agreements was the transformation of the electoral front Bordeaux en Luttes (Bordeaux in Struggle), which was headed by Philippe Poutou and founded as a “front of social organizations” with a globally anticapitalist program and a rejection of eventual agreements with the Greens in the second round. This has been changed into a de facto joint NPA-LFI list according to an agreement for the elections in the region of New Aquitaine (the capital of which is Bordeaux) and then in Occitania.

On the other hand, this political leap to the right is accompanied by an increasingly open abandonment of intervention in the class struggle. Since its foundation, the NPA has refused to put the class struggle at the center of its interventions, leading to a marked decline in the party’s militant strength, going from more than 9,000 members at the beginning to little more than 1,000 today. In the meantime, a number of tendencies and militants migrated to Mélenchon’s party, and thousands more simply gave up. The other historical organizations of French Trotskyism include Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), which combines self-proclamatory electoralism with a systematic adaptation to the bureaucratic leadership of the CGT union federation, which prevents it from converging with new vanguard sectors; and the almost extinct tendency founded by the late Pierre Lambert (currently divided into two groups).

In contrast to this decline, the Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR) in the NPA — which was founded by a handful of FT-CI militants — has been developing with decisive interventions in processes of class struggle. The CCR seeks to fuse with the advanced sectors of the French workers’ movement, who stand out as the most militant workers in Europe at the moment, and perhaps internationally, as well as with comrades who represent the best traditions of the French “extreme Left.” Let us recall the struggles that the country has experienced since 2016, with high points like the Yellow Vests movement in 2018 and the historic strike by transport workers (rail workers and bus drivers) against the pension reform in 2019. The latter led to the emergence of new workers’ leaders who have taken up the challenge of building a truly revolutionary party, such as Anasse Kazib and rail workers, bus drivers, aeronautics workers, oil workers from the Grandpuits refinery (who just carried out an enormous struggle in which they managed to form alliances with the environmental movement), teachers, healthcare workers, etc. This would be a party built in the class struggle and in political struggles, with an openly revolutionary program and strategy that put an end to the capitulations that the NPA has been dragging along since its foundation. These worker militants, together with the CCR, stand for a hegemonic policy toward other oppressed sectors of society. For this reason, new generations of students and professionals (especially lawyers at the service of the working class), environmental activists, activists from the women’s and LGBTQ+ movements, have joined this battle. Defending this strategic perspective, the online newspaper Révolution Permanente (part of the Left Voice / La Izquierda Diario international network) has won a wide audience, and is now considered one of the main publications of social struggles and the French extreme Left — “a militant newspaper on the rise” that in some months gets millions of hits.

Workers, teachers, and students from the CCR in the NPA with the campaign: “Join us in the battle to build a new Revolutionary Workers Party!”

Reformist Illusions Strengthen the Right

The political regime is turning to the right, and many predict that the battle for the presidency in the next elections in April and May 2022 will take place between the current right-wing president Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen. In the face of this tension, accompanied by struggles in which a new generations of the working-class and youth vanguard is emerging, the leadership of the NPA gives in to illusions about a candidate of the “Left” making it to the second round. In other words: supporting Mélenchon. But despite being right-wing, this illusion does not have much chance of being realized: the PS/EELV bloc does not accept the LFI leader as the “unitary” candidate of the whole spectrum of the institutional Left. It is almost impossible for any candidate of the institutional Left, running separately, to reach the second round.

The Parti de Gauche (Left Party), founded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon after his break with the Socialist Party, and the subsequent formation of La France Insoumise (LFI) in 2016, are both part of movements that emerged as a result of the crisis that began in 2008. They are a product of the experiences with social-liberal social democracy, but they are based on new reformist strategies — “anti-neoliberalism” or “radicalization of democracy” — that cannot present a serious alternative to austerity plans, precarious conditions, and imperialist oppression carried out by the European powers all over the world. They thus end up becoming “new” administrators of the state at the service of those same policies. Syriza in Greece came to power in 2015, but in a short time it capitulated to the “Troika” that directs the destinies of the European Union, and implemented new austerity plans. Disillusionment opened the door to a new right-wing government in 2019. The tragedy was repeated in the Spanish State: the integration of Unidas Podemos into the government headed by the social democratic PSOE, in order to administer an imperialist capitalist state in crisis without hurting the interests of big capital, ended up strengthening the “hard” right. This was seen in the electoral shellacking that the Trumpist Isabel Díaz Ayuso gave to Pablo Iglesias in Madrid. Podemos’s collapse led to Iglesias’s withdrawal from politics.

These parties, which presented themselves as an opposition to social democracy, repeat as a farce the tragedy of Eurocommunism. In the 1970s, the biggest Communist Parties (starting with the Italian and French ones, followed by the Spanish) converted to social democracy. This meant abandoning the CP’s historic program for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (which they had abandoned in practice since they adapted the Popular Front strategy in the 1930s). They allied themselves with the social democracy when it set off on its “social-liberal” course. They thus helped implement neoliberalism in the 1980s, with Mitterand in France, Felipe González in the Spanish State, etc. They defended the NATO, attacked not only working-class but even democratic demands (such as the rights of the Basque people) and persecuted left-wing organizations. Syriza and Podemos have nothing in common with the old CPs, neither in their origins (the new parties were never “communists”) nor in their class composition (the CPs led the main workers’ organizations). But they play a similar role in channeling the illusions of the “new Left” toward alliances with their old social democratic enemies. The case of Mélenchon combines elements of neoreformism with a “left souverainism” that attacks the European Union — in this way, he intends to compete with Le Pen’s Far Right among the broad masses.

The French “Mandelist” tendency appears to be following the sad path of its Spanish sister organization, Anticapitalistas. They were enthusiastic founders of Podemos alongside Iglesias, providing the bulk of the initial infrastructure. They defended the “neoreformist” perspective of transforming the Spanish imperialist state via institutional means. Anticapitalists only dared to “withdraw” amicably from Podemos when Unidas Podemos finalized its coalition agreement with the PSOE. Anticapitalistas nonetheless defends a similar policy in Andalusia, where they have their greatest concentration around the figure of Teresa Rodriguez. Here they have a regional coalition that they want to transform into “broader” agreements with other sectors of the institutional Left. In other words, they are still attempting to repeat the reformist experiments that ended up strengthening the Right.

The Left Opposition in the NPA

There are multiple left groups in opposition to the historical leadership of the NPA (the Platform U). Besides the CCR, there is L’Etincelle (the Spark, also known as the Fraction of Lutte Ouvrière, connected to Speak Out Now in the U.S.), Anticapitalism and Revolution (A&R, connected to Socialist Resurgence), and Revolutionary Democracy (DR). This left opposition reached almost 50 percent of the delegates at the last NPA congress, and on several occasions the different groups acted together against the most right-wing and anti-democratic policies of the Platform U. If the delegates are elected democratically, it is calculated that the left opposition could reach 60 percent at the upcoming electoral conference (which is set to take place before the next congress, imposed on the party against all logic, as strategic debate will have to be held after electoral tactics are discussed).

Three of these groups just published a common declaration criticizing the agreements with the LFI, rejecting the Platform U’s attacks on the right to form tendencies, which include sanctions and threats of expulsion. But they end their statement with a call to run an “NPA candidate” in the next presidential elections, regardless of how possible candidates position themselves in the current party debates. In later meetings, these three groups opposed a candidacy by Philippe Poutou, since he is a spokesman for the regional coalition formed with the LFI. They propose that it could be a different candidate belonging to the former majority. They did not accept the CCR participating in the elaboration of this statement, given that they criticized Anasse Kazib’s decision to throw his hat in the ring to be the NPA’s candidate — even though this was properly announced in the proper bodies of the party leadership.

Given the trajectory of the historic leadership, the pre-candidacy of Anasse was a battle cry by the revolutionary Left of the NPA, one that generated enthusiasm among hundreds of worker-activists and militants. Anasse is a worker, a son of Moroccan immigrants, and a consistent fighter against racism. He received broad support among leaders and activists of the powerful anti-racist movement that developed in France in the heat of Black Lives Matter. He thwarted the historic leadership’s plans to use what remains of the prestige and militancy of the NPA in the service of agreements of Mélenchon. From this perspective, it is easy to understand why the historic leadership is threatening to expel the CCR. Based on this reaction by those who call for agreements with reformists, one can see who is confronting them consistently.

Kazib as the NPA’s presidential candidate would signify a real novelty on the French extreme Left. It could generate the enthusiasm needed to acquire the 500 signatures from mayors that are required to get on the ballot, despite such an openly anti-democratic procedure. In contrast, a lesser-known candidate would not excite the party, meaning this difficult requirement could not be met — this would leave open the way for a de facto support of Mélenchon. Despite this, the CCR has called on all the left groups in the NPA to develop a common policy at the upcoming electoral conference: repudiating agreements with the LFI and calling for a united candidacy of the party’s Left, by electing a candidate from the tendencies that oppose the former majority. The CCR does not insist that this must be Anasse, and expressed this in a open letter.

This common policy of the Left must include policies and candidates not only for the presidential elections but also for the parliamentary elections a few weeks later, even if the former majority does not want to discuss them at this conference (with the argument that “there is not time” — but in reality, they want their hands free for possible agreements with the LFI). It is a question of defeating the historical leadership, without hesitation, by not only rejecting its policies but also its candidates. If not, the left groups in the NPA will end up completely powerless. This is what happened to A&R’s sister group in the Spanish State. They were timid opponents of the leadership of Anticapitalistas, who were expelled and reduced to a very small group called IZAR, which does not represent a serious alternative and refused to act as a bloc with the Revolutionary Workers Current (CRT).

Debate in the International Trotskyist Movement

The experience of the NPA has been debated in the Trotskyist movement since its foundation. Even tendencies that have no presence in France have been positioning themselves. Recognizing the international importance of what is happening. A separate article by this author in Spanish analyzes the positions of different Trotskyist organizations in Argentina and their respective international tendencies. (An English translation is not currently available.)

Rescuing the Best Traditions of French Trotskyism

As we stated at the beginning, the current battle in the NPA offers a perspective for refounding Trotskyism in France. Leaders and activists of the new workers’ vanguard are converging in this process, along with comrades who have a long trajectory in the French Trotskyist movement. This includes Jean-Philippe Divès, who has been a militant since the 1970s and is a current member of the NPA’s National Political Committee and Executive Committee, and edited its theoretical magazine. At the last congress, he was a member of the Platform Z alongside the CCR and they form a bloc together.

As an old comrade has said, this is not the first time that the Mandelist tendency in France has suffered an acute crisis — but it is the first time that there is a tendency with a certain weight in the workers’ vanguard and a certain accumulation of leaders and cadres capable of offering a viable alternative for the development of a powerful revolutionary Fourth Internationalist tendency. The battle is underway. We invite our readers to follow it.

First published in Spanish on May 16 in Ideas de Izquierda.

Translation: Nathaniel Flakin