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Why Is the New Anticapitalist Party in France Trying to Kick Out its Left Wing?

The New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France is in crisis, as the leadership attempts to kick out the principal left-wing opposition. This is important for the international Left — but not necessarily easy to understand. An FAQ about the NPA’s crisis.

Nathaniel Flakin

June 10, 2021
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France will elect a new president in April of next year. There is a polarization between the Neoliberal Right of current president Emmanuel Macron and the Far Right of Marine Le Pen.

For many years, the “extreme Left,” as it is called in France, has been able to run its own presidential candidates, despite many antidemocratic hurdles. The New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) is set to pick its presidential candidate at an upcoming conference.

But in the run-up to this conference, the NPA’s leadership is attempting to expel the principal left-wing opposition, the Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR). Hundreds of members of the NPA have objected to the expulsions, almost a third of the party’s roughly 1,000 active members. On June 10, the expulsion was completed, with 296 NPA militants declaring their intention to found a new revolutionary organization.

What is the NPA?

The New Anticapitalist Party was founded in 2009. It was created by the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), which had emerged from the 1968 movement and was once among the largest Trotskyist organizations in France and the world. It was also the leading section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec), led by Ernest Mandel.

The LCR had some important electoral successes in the 2000s. Their candidate, the young postal worker Olivier Besancenot, got 1.2 million votes in the presidential election in 2002 and almost 1.5 million votes in 2007.

In the 1990s, the LCR had begun distancing itself from its Trotskyist legacy. It declared that the “era of the October Revolution” was over. A strategy aiming for an insurrectionary general strike and the dictatorship of the proletariat was declared no longer relevant. Instead, the LCR leaders proposed a strategy for expanding bourgeois democracy until capitalism was overcome.

This theoretical shift, combined with tactical successes, convinced the leadership of the need to found a new party. The NPA was intended to bring together anticapitalists of all shades, without any common strategy. The NPA, so the calculation went, could occupy all the space on the political spectrum that had been abandoned by collapsing social democracy and Stalinism. Yet Bensaid, the LCR’s chief theoretician, worried that “the extension of the surface could lead to a loss of substance.” At the beginning, up to 9,000 people signed up to be NPA members.

The NPA was able to establish itself as a national force, and it included many dynamic elements as a new generation debated what program and what strategy was necessary. This is why revolutionaries from many traditions joined the process. 

But the NPA never adopted an unambiguous revolutionary program, and as a result, it could not intervene coherently in the class struggles that shook France over the following decade. Without a clear delimitation from reformist forces, the NPA was under constant pressure from larger formations with more electoral success. This became especially acute when the former social democratic minister Jean-Luc Mélenchon launched a new formation, first the Left Front and now La France Insoumise (France Unbent). Like a typical social chauvinist, Mélenchon combines progressive social demands with racist policies against immigrants and defense of French imperialism.

The NPA experienced a number of splits, with members joining Mélenchon’s formation. But until this year, the NPA never formed electoral alliances with this party of the “institutional Left.” Over the years, the NPA not only stagnated, but actively declined. While the old LCR had up to 3,000 members, and the NPA once claimed 9,000, it is now down to just 1,000 or so.

Who is the NPA’s left wing?

The NPA, like the LCR before it, always allowed members to form tendencies and groups. Numerous groups joined the process that founded the NPA. Today, the main groups on the party’s left wing include:

But the biggest group from the left wing of the NPA is the CCR.

Who is the CCR?

The Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR) has been part of the NPA since its foundation twelve years ago. The CCR and its predecessors have never made any secret of their fundamental disagreement with the party’s “new anticapitalism.” They have always criticized the NPA’s ambiguous founding principles and called for a relaunch of the party on a revolutionary, working-class basis. 

The CCR publishes the online newspaper Révolution Permanente which has become a leading voice of the Far Left in France, getting several millions of visits per month. Independent observers have called it a “militant newspaper on the rise” and it has been praised in New Left Review and International Socialism Journal.

But the CCR does not just report on the class struggle. The group has been able to lead important strike movements, including the recent strike at the Total refinery in Grandpuits. When the bosses tried to close the facility as part of a supposed “ecological transition,” revolutionary militants were able to lead a strike that united oil workers with environmental movements, for a transition under control of the working class.

Similarly, CCR militants built up rank-and-file assemblies of bus drivers and rail workers during the strike against the pension reform in 2019, thus forcing the bureaucracy to carry on the strike long after they wanted to capitulate.

The CCR is part of the Trotskyist Fraction — Fourth International. A number of comrades have joined the current fight without belonging to the same international tendency. Left Voice is connected to the same international tendency. So our reporting here does not claim to be neutral.

Why is there a conflict in the NPA right now?

The NPA is preparing to hold a conference to pick its presidential candidate, if it decides to present one at all. An NPA congress is long overdue — it has been delayed multiple times. 

For two regional elections, in Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie, the NPA leadership formed alliances with Mélenchon’s party. The conference would thus need to decide if it signs off on this policy of support for the reformist Left in the framework of the national elections. If so, the NPA would need to pick a candidate that stands for such an orientation. This is especially important given the pressures of “lesser-evilism” in case the second round sees a face off between Macron and Le Pen.

This leadership is sometimes referred to as “the majority.” But in reality, at the moment, it appears that a clear majority of NPA members are opposed to a political front with reformism.

It would appear that the leadership has decided to split the organization in order to prevent the left-wing majority from imposing its will at a democratically-elected conference.

The pretext for the split is the “pre-candidacy” of Anasse Kazib, a rail worker of Moroccan origin and member of the NPA and CCR. Kazib is a well-known figure in the French workers’ movement. He has appeared on TV numerous times to debate with bourgeois politicians. He played an important role in workers’ strike assemblies and led workers’ contingents at demonstrations of the Yellow Vests movement.

On May 1, Kazib (and the CCR) announced that he would like to be the NPA’s presidential candidate. This was never presented as an ultimatum — it was a proposal up for discussion and debate. Kazib (and the CCR) presented his pre-candidacy at an NPA leadership meeting, after discussing it with the different groups of the party’s left wing, and then announced it publicly.

The current leadership claims that this announcement was some kind of breach of internal democracy. This is simply not true. Kazib presented his willingness to run as the NPA’s candidate within the party’s elected bodies. The regional alliances with Mélechon’s party, in contrast, were never discussed in the NPA’s elected bodies. This project was carried out by the former majority on its own.

Additionally, now the leadership is ignoring the most basic democratic norms by attempting to expel a significant minority of the party without any political discussion — enacted by a small majority of the executive committee, without any kind of congress or even conference.

How is the Left reacting to the leadership’s split plans?

To be blunt: Not well. A&R, FLO, and other left groups have repeatedly emphasized they are opposed to the alliances with Mélenchon’s party. It would appear that a clear majority of the NPA’s members are opposed to such fronts.

But instead of Anasse Kazib, they would like the NPA to select a “unitary” presidential candidate, like Philippe Poutou. Poutou was the NPA’s candidate in the last two elections. It was important to have an anticapitalist factory worker on the national political stage.

At the moment, however, Poutou is personally involved in the regional alliances with Melénchon’s party. So the majority of the NPA’s members support the Left — can they name a candidate who is implementing the policy of the right-wing minority?

The NPA’s left wing, including the CCR, has sufficient forces to take over the leadership of the party at the next congress. This is precisely what the leadership is maneuvering to prevent.

A&R and FLO have opposed some steps by the leadership to exclude CCR members from pre-conference assemblies. But they refused to vote for clear resolutions against these de facto expulsions.

These groups have said over the years that they are also for a revolutionary reorientation of the NPA. But presented with a concrete opportunity to confront the party’s right wing, they are allowing the former majority to kick out the principal left-wing opposition.

An open letter by Rob Lyons, who has been a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International for more than 50 years, calls on the left groups in the NPA to stand up to the leadership, oppose the expulsions, and fight for their principles.

Why is all this important?

The NPA might seem far away. The U.S. Left does not follow France’s extreme Left much. Nonetheless, two of the groups from the NPA’s left wing have sister organizations in the United States: Socialist Action, Socialist Resurgence, and Speak Out Now. These groups should speak out about what the NPA leadership is doing.

The NPA is important, and not only because of its long tradition as a Trotskyist organization in an imperialist country. The NPA was a test case for the strategy of forming “broad left” parties. The leaders of the United Secretariat formulated the hypothesis that revolutionaries could win mass influence by watering down their program, replacing revolutionary Marxism with a deliberately vague anticapitalism.

The NPA’s capitulation to reformism in the regional elections, and the shift to the right in national politics, shows the limits of such a strategy. The USec, in the twelve years since the NPA was founded, has already gone far along that road. It gave support to Syriza just before it took over the Greek government, and to Podemos right until that party became a junior partner in the government of Spanish imperialism. 

But as “broad left” strategies fail, we are also seeing the outlines of a new international tendency that represents the best of what the LCR and other Trotskyist traditions stood for. This is not limited to the CCR, which contains a new generation of communist worker-militants. Many NPA members, some of whom have been part of the Trotskyist movement for decades, are responding to the NPA’s shift to the right with a campaign for a new revolutionary workers’ party.

We can see the same thing in the United States: as large sections of the Left capitulate to the Democratic Party, we are also seeing initiatives to regroup revolutionary socialists on the basis of class independence. The same thing is happening in Mexico and Chile — and most noticeably in Argentina, where a Trotskyist pole has been able to establish itself as a national force and win over a million votes.

We have presented a manifesto that attempts to give a voice to this emerging tendency of revolutionary workers and youth. We think that revolutionaries around the world need to unite on the basis of class independence. Socialists from different traditions can strive for agreements about the principal events of the global class struggle. The crisis in the NPA is providing a basis for this kind of political clarification.

Where can I learn more?

Freddy Lizarrague from Buenos Aires wrote an extensive article about the terminal crisis of the NPA. It should be easier to understand after having read this introduction.

Last year, Scott Cooper and Jimena Vergara wrote about the development of the NPA, focussing on the lessons for revolutionaries.

At the time the NPA was founded, Claudia Cinatti wrote an article debating its theoretical foundations: “What party for what strategy?” This article is, unfortunately, only available in Spanish, French, and a few other languages.

This post was updated on June 13 to include information about the expulsion of 296 militants from the NPA as well as several minor corrections.

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from New York City. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which appeared last year in German and this year in English. He is on the autism spectrum.

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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