SWP, Callinicos Wrong On Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste.
For the SWP the French Nouveau parti anticaptialiste (NPA) has been a reference point.
While recognising its strengths there have long been criticisms of its internal regime.
This allows ‘factions’, tendencies and ‘courants‘ to operate. This is not a grudging ‘right to dissent’. NPA’s Conferences are organised around motions from these groups, or alliances – a practice similar to the internal functioning of the French Parti Socialiste.
In a long article last year analysing the marginalisation of the NPA and its coming break-up (France: anti-capitalist politics in crisis International Socialism Issue: 134 Alex Callinicos observed the problems raised by the NPA’s priorities.
Firstly, “The problem is that the NPA’s political life is centred on elections.”
Unlike the SWP whose interest in electing George Galloway in the East End was purely marginal…
Secondly, “the idea that political organisations should respect the “autonomy of the social movements”.
This contrasts with the SWP’s practice of tactical “united fronts” – that is, working with social movements (pressure groups or campaigns) for a short while to organise demonstrations and other protests, and then dropping them in an endless cycle of ‘front-recruitment-new front’. This behaviour has caused great resentment amongst other activists.
The LCR/NPA enjoys a different legacy: enduring respect from activists and social movements.
But the worst fault of the NPA was this.
a third weakness carried over into the NPA from the LCR, namely an internal regime of institutionalised factionalism. There are, of course, longstanding differences over how best to organise democratic centralism. The SWP has, for more than 40 years, insisted that political disagreements should be allowed to crystallise into formally organised factions only in the period of internal debate before a party conference. The LCR and its sister sections of the FI have, by contrast, long maintained the right to organise permanent tendencies. In the Ligue this meant that internal discussion was for a long period of structured by a permanent debate between a “majority” that was itself a coalition and the grouping around Picquet.
Callinicos attended the 2011 NPA Congress,
Comrades in the FI sometimes criticise the SWP internal regime for being too homogeneous and dominated by the Central Committee, but, particularly in recent years, there has often been great uncertainty about the outcome of important votes at SWP conferences.
By contrast, he argues, the NPA’s votes were known in advance.
That is because the entire membership had voted beforehand on what they supported and it was not left to the mandated delegates to decide!
At the 2011 congress the Conseil National Politique, the NPA’s leading body, was selected by representatives of the different platforms reading out lists of their supporters to occupy places allocated thanks to their share of the membership votes. At the best of times this kind of setup inhibits real debate, where minds can be changed thanks to the play of argument. But this has not been the best of times for the NPA. With no faction having a majority, the field is open for manoeuvres and bargains
Alex Callinicos now says (Socialist Review)
The New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France imploded in 2011-12, leading to a very serious breakaway to the Front de Gauche led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This has weakened the far left in Europe, and indeed the rest of the world. The implosion was caused by political differences and setbacks, but it was exacerbated by an internal regime very similar to the one advocated by some SWP members. All the debates within the NPA went through the filter imposed by the struggle between four permanent factions. Members’ loyalties focused on their factional alignments rather than the party itself.
In reality there has been no such things, outside of tiny irrelevant groups like Clarté, as permanent factions in the NPA with their own special interests.
The first faction to leave the old LCR, just as the NPA was founded, is best known for Christian Picquet . In June 2006 he backed a motion in favour of uniting all candidates to the left of the Parti Socialiste. It got 40% of the votes at the Conference. This tendency received 14% at the last NPA Conference. In other words its actions and its ‘loyalties’ were always part of the flow of debate, and axed towards the general needs of the party. It is now the Gauche Unitaire (formed 2009) and an integral part of the Front de gauche.
Most importantly the former ‘majority’ exploded in 2011.
- The new majority defending the Candidature of Philippe Poutou in the forthcoming (2012) Presidential elections.
- The other arguing in favour of the Front de gauche.
Of the latter Convergence et Alternative joined the Front de gauche in 2011 in advance of the Presidential election in 2012.
In April 2012 for the First Round of the French Presidential election the NPA’s Phillipe Poutou got 1,15 % of the vote (411 160).
The Front de Gauche candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, got 11,10 % of the vote (3 984 822).
This undercut the original NPA view that “there is nothing on the left between us and the Parti Socialiste”
Most of the remaining opposition, in the Gauche ant,icapitaliste, joined the Front de gauche in July 2012.
This account of voting figures from LCR/NPA Congresses do not suggest rigid ‘faction’ behaviour. They indicate a great deal of flexibility, strategic differences and changing allegiances.
They imply a ‘loyalty’ to tendencies, a condition of developing their analyses for Conference resolutions, and deepening their views. But not blind faith in a mini-leadership.
The NPA’s tendencies and factions act indeed as a “permanent” democratic control over the party.
The internal structure cannot be blamed when, on an important issue, participation in the Front de gauche, the minority left.
The political disagreement was simply too great.
There have been none of the psychodramas we see in the present SWP crisis.
What Callinicos is complaining about is democracy.
Written by Andrew Coates
January 30, 2013 at 1:17 pm
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