Monday, November 24, 2008

débat public

23 November

NPA 14e continues to impress me with, among other things, its dogged determination to make this party happen. In that spirit mes camarades spent long hours last Saturday and Sunday a week ago leafletting every market and métro in the 14e to invite people to a public discussion (débat) last Thursday on the current financial crisis. About 40 people showed up, half militant(e)s, half new people from the neighborhood, and the discussion-after a rapid-fire intro from an academic economist--was lively. France's economy is heading south (though maybe not as fast as the US's) with new lay-offs every day, and people here are looking for solutions beyond 'Obama will save us.'

In that light I want to use this post not to summarize the (rather fluid) débat but to lay out what it helped me see are some of the most pressing issues and concerns of a French anti-capitalist movement at this time:

1) "Le NPA n'est pas Olivier Besancenot." It was remarkable to hear how some of the new people completely attached their remarks--about the crisis, social change, the anti-capitalist movement--to the hasty metonym 'Olivier Besancenot.'  Remarkable but not surprising: the mass media themselves have created this usage not knowing any longer how to present any issue of substance except in the personalized, psycho-dramatic terms of 'Who will lead us?' Thus the importance of our presider's succinct response: "Besancenot is not the NPA." The NPA has to be a 'parti de base,' a grass-roots operation, not only to grow but to avoid all the risks of identifying with a single personality, no matter how attractive that leader is--and the skill and mediagenic attraction of Besancenot make this problem all the more urgent.

2) The European Union: I am only gradually becoming aware of the wealth of issues that led a large majority of the French Left to oppose the European Constitutional Treaty three years ago, effectively questioning the status of the EU as presently constituted. While some on the margins, Left and Right, simply want the Union to go away, that is certainly not the position of the NPA (or any other reasonable party to the conversation). On the other hand, the claim of the Left that the EU is an agent for dismantling the Social-Democratic legacies of many European countries in favor of a 'neo-liberal' or free-market economy has considerable merit. The call for an 'Other Europe' is a broad rallying cry, from eco-activists who want the Union to promote a local and organic agriculture to Marxists who want to socialize the entire financial sector.  And France's bitter experience of pursuing 'socialism in one country' in '81-'83 makes a European-wide transformation look like an essential idea.

3) The European Parliamentary elections next June are thus crucial, partly because to define this 'Other Europe' is to resolve a lot of policy issues, and partly because the election will bring about a whole series of political alliances, Left and Right. In that regard the looming question for the NPA--a question that came up again and again on Thursday--is how to approach the new Parti de Gauche founded two weeks ago by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and other left socialists leaving the PS in anticipation of its continuing rightward drift. I personally find Mélenchon compelling--his blog strikes me as a frank testimonial of personal engagement quite unlike the discourse of any elected official I know. And I feel that the NPA had best be very flexible in this first round of campaigning, that is, open to all who see capitalism as the central problem, quite apart from any details of interpretation. I believe mine is a consensus position, at least in  our local group, but Mélenchon has inspired a lively debate that is far from over. 

4)'Revolutionary' vs. 'Republican': Mélenchon himself suggested that this pair of terms defines his difference from the NPA. This means in part that his new Parti de Gauche, like Die Linke in Germany, would take part in a reformist, left-center government, even though his stated goal is not the reform of capitalism but its 'dépassement.' (Do we have a word for this in English?) NPA would not take part in such a government--its strategic plan is to build a majoritarian movement, and abstain from governing until it has the power to create a post-capitalist order. A revolutionary strategy--but also a 'republican' one? (The intention is not to overthrow the Republic but to seize it through mass movements including elections.) Conversely, isn't Mélenchon, though clearly a 'republican,' also 'revolutionary'? Can the two terms coincide? I raised this question, thinking it was lexicographic--how are these terms used in French?--but I discover that there is no clear answer, that in fact the question contains the crux of a large theoretical and strategic debate that hasn't apparently reached a conclusion. 

5) "What sort of society are you aiming for?" "How will you get from here to there?" "Ordinary people just want to go on living their lives--will they be able to do that under your program?"  These naive questions, which arose from newcomers in pretty much these exact terms on Thursday, are questions that any serious movement that aspires to be majoritarian had best be prepared to answer. Lots of theoreticians think they know the answer to the first one, drawing on a now classic body of Marxist theory. Some think they can answer the second, though the contingencies of the current situation will always modify any strategic blueprint--just ask the ghost of Lenin. But the third question, the most commonsensical one of all, is less evident in the classic literature, because revolutions haven't generally been designed for affluent, in many ways comfortable societies like France's (or Europe's).  The revolutionary impetus to put it all on the line makes sense if you are starving or being sent into the trenches. It makes less sense if the system 'merely' threatens mass starvation somewhere else, or ecological catastrophe several decades from now, or slow economic regression. Somehow this revolutionary--NOT reformist-doctrine needs to develop an evolutionary theory of transformation, a way to imagine the revolution in slow motion, with stability in many of the modes of daily life, even during major institutional changes. Is an evolutionary theory of revolutionary transformation imaginable? I don't know the answer, but I do think the question will have to be answered before the NPA can lead a mass movement in the direction of a social revolution.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home