Friday, November 14, 2008

En avant, le NPA!

14 November

[Warning: the following post contains hard-core communist political analysis. Readers wishing to avoid such content are advised to proceed to the next post, which will offer a more personal account of the same experience.]

"After all, it's not every day that one founds a political party."
--One of the NPA 14e militants, on the question of why we need weekly meetings from now till January

With the apparently quite successful work of the November 8/9 pre-Congress, and deepening crises in both the world economy and the French Socialist Party, the NPA is taking on greater solidity in the minds of its adherents even though it's still more than two months before it will officially exist. The sense that the historical moment draws near has sharpened the focus of NPA 14e's work, including its meeting last Wednesday night, and makes these preliminary manoeuvers all the more significant.   

The pre-Congress itself: all accounts agree that it was a serious, even tedious working session. Delegates from 400+ committees from all over France were divided into four work-groups, and proceeded to analyze the founding documents--programme, statuts, and orientation--line-by-line in 3-hour sessions that went through Saturday and into Sunday without quite finishing. The Sunday session on finding a new name for the party was (as I predicted) adjourned indefinitely without any resolution. The party will head toward the European elections next spring as the 'New Anti-Capitalist Party,' and after that, who knows. Some other decisions of consequence:
  • (programme) The party will operate for now with a 'small' program, that is, a statement of general principles--democratic, revolutionary, eco-socialist--without trying to define for now the 'large program,' i.e. exactly what sort of socialist organization, what distribution of goods, what systems of management, in short, all the details of that new society that will go about replacing the capitalist system. One has a general idea, but .... Likewise the strategic steps for getting from here to there will not be mapped out by the time of the January Congress, but will presumably evolve over time in response to a variety of conditions.
  • While relations between the party and its allies in the left of the labor movement were recognized as extremely important, there too no specific mechanisms were created to connect the two. For now the party will continue to support syndicalist movements on an ad hoc basis, but the pre-Congress agreed that a more formal institutional relationship will need to be defined.
  • (statuts) After some debate the proponents of a more centralized party were out-voted by federalists, that is, there is agreement that primary authority resides in the local committees, from which the authority of the central committee (CPN) devolves. This was understood as part of a larger effort to dissociate the structure of the new party from that of the more Leninist LCR, whose dissolution on January 30 will directly precede the foundation of NPA on the 31st.
  • (Orientation) This document, which intends to supplement the theoretical and formal structures with more concrete plans, engagements, and strategic initiatives, was the least finished, and a draft of its status quo will not be available until next week. But concrete prises de position are more interesting to many than ideological declarations, and NPA 14e agreed to focus its immediate efforts on staking out a position on this part, which it will sent to the central committee. It was agreed at the pre-Congress to divide this question in two:
1) All the specific movements the NPA supports, such as anti-privatization of the Post Office and other public services; support for immigrant rights and regularized work status; enlarged unemployment benefits and a moratorium on lay-offs; and so forth need to be catalogued into an active program; and
2) the party needs to position itself for the June, 2009 European elections. This thorny and ultimately quite revealing question involves defining "What sort of Europe,"  a question one hears all over the left, especially since the French voters rejected the Treaty of Lisbon (in a non-binding referendum). NPA insists on the need for pan-European and international solutions on many fronts, but opposes the EU in its present form as an agency of the Capitalist system. It will hope to elect deputies to the European Parliament who will convey this message, but the big question is: with whom will it construct lists of candidates within the regional districts? Greens? Left Greens? Left Socialists including the new Parti de Gauche that has split from the PS? In my view this question, and the lists of candidates that result, will define the identity of the NPA far more effectively than all the official documents put together end-to-end. Let the debate begin.

Meanwhile, the debate already did begin in a most interesting fashion on Wednesday night. Background: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the senator who just left the PS to start the Parti de Gauche, left open the question of a potential alliance with the NPA. Besancenot, in a press conference related to the NPA's pre-Congress, seemed to shut that door with a remark one of the comrades described as 'sèche' (harsh?). This gesture was first gently, then roundly criticized by a clear majority of the 30 or so members of NPA 14e for two reasons: 1) they want a much more flexible and open system of alliances within the far-left, rather than the old sectarianism of the LCR, and 2) (most interestingly) they don't know on what authority Besancenot can make NPA policy on this sensitive issue: no one has elected him to any NPA office, there are no mechanisms to do so, and in short he seems to have spoken out of turn. A motion to this effect was deferred, for lack of time,  to the next meeting, but in a week's time the NPA 14e will almost surely send what amounts to a motion of censure to the CAN (temporary central committee), enjoining Besancenot from making unilateral pronouncements.

 I draw three conclusions from this:
1) the media perception that NPA is a vehicle for Besancenot and/or a continuation of the LCR's highly centralized structure is completely at variance with NPA 14e's view of its role;
2) the local or 'federal' basis of power in the NPA is already a fact for this local group; and 
3) both of the preceding ideas will be put to the test if and when CAN responds to NPA 14e's motion.   

So the gears are meshing, and the machinery of the Revolution lurches forward. My own quite personal reflections on this process will follow in a next post.



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