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SWP, Callinicos Wrong On Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste.

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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.




One Response

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  1. From Nathan Rao (originally he tried to post this in the Owen Jones Post, and had problems getting it done, this Blog often has technical difficulties. Anyway it’s probably more relevant to this post).

    Thanks for this interesting piece. Just one comment on what you have to say about the NPA.

    You write: ‘Factions can also lead to splits – as the NPA has recently experienced. Nevertheless it could be argued that it was the inability of the NPA to adapt flexibly to the new conditions – the formation of the Front de gauche (FdG) which its former tendencies have joined up with – that casts doubt even on this more open ‘Leninist’ model. The French FI hearkened back to their Trotskyist origins and simply refused to join up with the FdG “reformists”.’

    You probably know this already, but “the French FI” has a large number of members in the groups that split from the NPA to join the FdG. In fact, the largest and most recent split (summer 2012), the Gauche anticapitaliste (GA), is made up primarily of people who were strong FI supporters and members of the former LCR from the 1980s (and often earlier) onwards. I haven’t seen the latest figures regarding FI supporters in France, but there are proportionally (though probably not in absolute terms) fewer supporters of “the French FI” in the NPA than there are in the individual groupings that left the NPA to join the FdG.

    So the relationship to “Trotskyist origins” is more complicated than you suggest. It’s important to recall that significant swathes of Trotskyism in France and elsewhere prioritize an orientation to the “traditional organizations of the working class” — whatever the actual policies and record of these “traditional” organizations, however diminished in size and activity they have become, and no matter how much actual links to the “working class” have weakened and integration into the capitalist state has deepened. This external openness (if you want to call it that) is paradoxically often coupled with internal rigidity, in order to maintain cohesion in the face of the pressures of orienting toward larger organizations offering greater perks and opportunity for career advancement. I definitely don’t think any of the splits from the NPA toward the FdG are rigid (let alone repressive) in the way you suggest the SWP or other far-left organizations have been, but even leaving aside what one thinks about the FdG, where they are in any event bit players, I think these splits from the NPA will hit a glass ceiling in that their very existence is overdetermined by pretty homogeneous adherence to a fairly narrow historical and organizational identity (the old LCR; a specific variant of Trotskyism that was already getting a little long in the tooth quite some time ago; etc).

    Part of the NPA’s strategic gamble was to move beyond this project and identity, more clearly breaking with the increasingly groundless “traditional-organizations-of-the-working-class” orientation while creating a common home for anti-capitalists broadly defined. Clearly the project ran into difficulties on a number of fronts, but I think the strategic and organizational thinking behind it remains completely relevant. In any event, it’s too early to say whether those who left the NPA or those who remained were “right”, but the SWP crisis is just the latest proof that anti-capitalists of all stripes are facing a serious crisis — and that applies equally to the NPAers who have joined the FdG, which should go without saying.


    Andrew Coates

    January 31, 2013 at 11:49 am

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