Friday, November 14, 2008


14 November

In just a few weeks I leave Paris, and already I am looking back. Among other marvels I am startled to realize that my most recent NPA post ("En avant le NPA!") was my ninth substantive report. Together they make up a narrative of --I'm guessing--5000 words, some of them directed at the mediated persona of Olivier Besancenot, others written from the trenches with my wonderful comrades from the comité du 14ème arrondissement de Paris du Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste, i.e. NPA 14e. 

The very existence of these dispatches amuses me, as I had no intention whatsoever to write this blog, or any formal account of my NPA experience. I wasn't even sure it would be an NPA experience--I looked into the Greens and others before settling on the NPA. But the conjuncture of numerous events--the general crisis of capitalism (the so-called financial crisis), the rightward drift of European Socialism, the relative success of Besancenot in the 2007 presidentials, and then in the mainstream press, and above all the portentous decision to create a new party--has made the founding events of the NPA worth recording. The opportunity to post "Olivier Besancenot and the Besancenot-effect" on Art Goldhammer's blog showed me what fun the blogosphere could be, and here I am. It's not quite "Ten Days that Shook the World," this NPA story, at least not yet ... but close? (You tell me--that's what the 'comments' link is for.)

But here's the dirty secret (the one John Reed never told you): it's really all personal, this batch of political reports. To hell with dialectical materialism, my decision to become part of the historic forward march of the NPA was in response to the question, who will I have to talk to in Paris? Since I don't know a soul there anymore, who can I meet, and how? There. My secret is out. And since I've said plenty already about what I think are some of the grand historical themes of the NPA narrative, I want to address the question, also thorny and dialectical in its way: did it work, my ploy?

Not entirely, not in the six short weeks I've had. The local committee is a professional sort of connection: its meetings are formally organized, and I've spoken little, while listening for hours to, and just barely keeping up with, the lively back-and-forth. I've spoken more personally to a few of the comrades at other meetings, emailed with others; at the Besancenot rally Debra and I were warmly greeted at the door by Dimitri and his Greek Communist pal Mikele (?), and sat surrounded by them, Dimitri's son, another comrade named Bruno, and Bruno's wife--practically a little clan in that sea of faces. I was actually asked to give a talk at the last meeting, an indigène report on Obama's election, but we ran out of time. I plan to reconvene at a café with at least a few of the comrades to hold that session before I leave. So yes, I do feel a some real personal connection--and a great deal of warmth--for these NPA comrades, but no, it would be unrealistic to think I could build real social ties in a few months.

On the other hand, as an observer I've had a fascinating immersion into a small social world that was forming long before I got there and will go on for who knows how long, but even in six weeks has shown real growth. I feel that NPA 14e is like my own little "Village in the Vaucluse" (a famous longitudinal study of French peasant life), only vastly speeded-up for the 21st century. As in a village, the 25 or 30 attendees distribute through the available roles: the one who keeps order, the one who tells a joke, the passive listeners, the objectors and the consensus-builders. Like a village square, NPA 14e meetings are the scene of flare-ups and reconciliations, dismissal (rare) and admiration (frequent). The 'old guard' of middle-aged men I saw running the meeting in October was mostly listening to a crew of 20-somethings last time, including our two pre-congress delegates and a team of computer-savvy leaflet designers who astonish us oldsters. See? I have a kind of a niche too, though they laughed when I introduced myself as "NPA un peu provisoire."

So History will continue and so will I, but the NPA et moi will live our histories in different places. More will happen in the next two weeks--this isn't my last post from Paris about the NPA. But it's probably the last time I'll take a photo in the mirror, so I hope you liked the picture.


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