Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Naming the baby, and other dialectical questions

30 October

In this week before the NPA's pre-congress, with no NPA-related trials in process, and just the usual run of Besancenot-sightings in various media, one could say that the NPA story is in pause mode. A vast number of small events are taking place, though, on a variety of levels (most of all in the extremely busy online forums). So let me signal two quite different activities I have been observing up close:

1) Of the various topics under discussion on-line, two draw the greatest activity: the party's program, and its name. But after a few hours of reading the many strings of posts for each, I realize that really the two are one: every proposal to name the party is finally a claim for some programmatic emphasis or other, and conversely, every program suggests a slightly different name. Whether this ferment will lead to some consensus on a program, and/or a viable name, is hard to say at this point. Some support is building to defer the name question and live with "NPA" for a while at least, even though the 'negative' cast of the phrase was intended as a place-holder for something more positive--but the place-holder has taken on a certain life. 

Meanwhile the temporary central committee CAN (Collectif d'Animation Nationale) issued a statement last week essentially suggesting that the name-the-party forum was hopelessly unwieldy as a mechanism to actually resolve the question. On the other hand the extended argument in that statement, and the mass of posts it responds to, shed valuable light on what it means to undertake this politics at this time. CAN's communiqué examines a series of key terms that show up in proposed names, as follows:
  • parti: or a movement?
  • gauche: is the relativism of the term useful? or is there an absolute of the term, which might be 'revolutionary' or some such? Even Ségo claims the term 'gauche' for herself ...
  • de classe: is the class analysis so central to Marxism appropriate for the present struggle? Is the party oriented toward a classless alternative? If it intends to gather (as it says) all the exploited, are these the same as 'workers' (travailleurs, but also ouvriers or even salariés)?
  • révolutionnaire: here there is substantial agreement: the party intends a break with capitalist forms of organization, not a reform or modification. But is the term too scary to put in footlights as the party's name?
  • socialisme: here again, substantial agreement that socialism is the pour, the counterpart of the anti- in the present name. But there is already a Socialist party, which no one wants to be confused with, and also a legacy from the discredited 'actually existing socialist regimes.' So how to convey the idea of a reinvented socialism?
  • démocratie: again, solid agreement on the goal of real participatory democracy, of which the forums give some anticipatory vision. But how to differentiate from the co-opted forms of democracy in evidence in France and elsewhere?
  • Other key elements: ecologism, feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and--perhaps most significant--internationalism all claim some visibility, but it's hard to privilege one without demoting the others.
So this name business raises lots of questions--good ones--but the simple marketing question--a catchy name-- gets quickly overwhelmed. My guess is that CAN will preempt the question, and the party will remain the NPA, even though (as many note) it isn't just against but for, it won't always be new, and it may already be more of a movement than a party. As Shakespeare noticed, the answer to "What's in a name?" can be "trouble."

2) Meanwhile back at the Chateau Ouvrier, NPA 14e met last Tuesday, and a little microcosm of the party's concerns unfolded. Apart from a lot of busyness as the core group tries to participate in various committees local, city-wide, and national, there is a constant drawing-in of new people. We were only 15 (the Toussaint vacation drew many away), of whom about half were attending their first or second meeting. And when the group tried to agree on a statement of party principles to send along to the national committee, a tempest blew up as one of the newer comrades roundly condemned the draft as involving all the old Marxist/Communist jargon and clichés that--in the speaker's view--have no use in the 21st century. Passion emanates from some precise source, and in this case that source was clear: the speaker evoked his grandparents, Chinese people who had participated in the revolutionary struggles of the mid-century. And his ingrained, almost phobic resistance to the terminology of those times was uncontainable: the meeting came close to collapsing into a shouting match more than once.

 Others supported his thesis in more nuanced terms: yes, there are large sociological changes to account for (eg: the fact that through their retirement accounts many union workers are shareholders if not precisely capitalists, the declining fraction of workers who are 'ouvriers' --factory workers?--and so on). But what impressed me was that the bulk of the committee held its ground: Marx was eloquently defended, his tenets knowledgeably applied to the present conjuncture, the goal of 'revolution' in no way relativized (though all agree that the tactics will have to be newly invented, and will not involve armed struggle per se). And through all the shouting and blunt contradiction, a certain sense of common purpose (if not quite civility) persisted. There is a lot of tolerance both in the on-line forums and in this group for controversy, with feelings only temporarily bruised. I come away with a new appreciation for not being 'nice' à l'américaine in these situations. 

So the party heads into its pre-congress, starting with the first Paris NPA rally--starring Olivier Besancenot-- on Thursday night. What direction all this fervor will take, whether so many intense expectations can be satisfied, whether the tension between democratic openness and expediency can be sustained ... these are questions that hang in the air, or rather criss-cross the virtual space of the internet.  



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home