National Sections of the L5I:

The Death Agony of the New Anticapitalist Party

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First published in Fifth International 21.
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The New Anticapitalist Party, NPA, founded in 2009 on the initiative of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, LCR, French section of the Fourth International, on the crest of a wave of growth and electoral success, seemed to promise a major breakthrough for the revolutionary left at a time when the two traditional working class parties the Socialist Party, PS, and the Communist Party, PCF, were in decline. For the PS, this decline was to become catastrophic as the result of the presidency of its leader, François Hollande, from 2012 to 2017, which was marked by austerity policies and the labour reform (the El Khomri Law) which generated mass protests by the unions and youth in June 2016.

Today, the NPA is wracked with internecine struggles that have resulted in a split before its fifth national congress in October. This split had been brewing for nearly a year. An article, published in Le Monde on 27 July 2020, reported that the largest faction, Platform U, which had dominated the NPA leadership, wanted an “amicable” divorce from the opposition tendencies that had finally put it into a minority at a National Council in March. [1] The “ex-majority”, headed by the veteran of 1968, Alain Krivine, plus Christine Poupin, Philippe Poutou and Olivier Besancenot, accuses the opposition of obstructing any meaningful common work.

The most militant of the opposition factions was the Courant communiste révolutionnaire, CCR, and its Révolution Permanente website. On 4 April 2021, it proposed a young rail worker, Anasse Kazib, as NPA “pre-candidate” for the presidential elections in 2022. Kazib, whose family is of Moroccan origin, was born in the Parisian banlieue of Sarcelles, and was an activist and strike leader in the left wing union SUD Rail.

The justification for this declaration was that it was a response to the policy of the ex-majority to form electoral blocs, in the first round at least, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, FI. Platform U’s supporters in the southern regions of Occitanie and New Aquitaine had already mounted first round joint lists, just as Philippe Poutou (former presidential candidate of the NPA) had in Bordeaux the year before. The spokesperson for the NPA, Christine Poupin, had already floated the idea that the NPA would not be able to stand a candidate in 2022 and would probably therefore support Mélenchon.

The CCR’s criticism of such electoral alliances as unprincipled is of course absolutely correct. Mélenchon’s FI has openly broken with the names and symbols of even the reformist left: it has replaced the red flag with the tricolour, abandoned its self-identification as “on the left” in favour of a “classless” populism, and adopted a patriotic, that is, bourgeois republican, rhetoric. Nor has it avoided flirting with anti-immigration racism. The only problem is that the CCR itself has also engaged in its own variety of populism, that of the Gilets Jaunes, (“yellow vests”) whose demonstrations it supported, despite their confused mixture of far right and anarchist slogans. Just because a movement hurls petrol bombs at the police and smashes shop windows does not make it left wing or socialist. This susceptibility to the spontaneity of the streets, whilst avoiding united fronts with reformists, is a key feature of the CCR and its parent, the Fraccion Trotskista (FT-CI), that originated in Argentina.

The CCR plainly saw Kazib’s “pre-candidature”, which they could hardly expect the NPA’s old guard to accept, as a means to provoke their own expulsion or as the issue over which they could leave in order to form a new “revolutionary workers’ party”. They probably also saw it as a means to win adherents from the other left tendencies in the NPA. One spokesperson from Platform U had, indeed, threatened Révolution Permanente with exclusion from the party but, as we shall see, things were not as clear as that.

CCR-Révolution Permanente, claimed to be the largest oppositional tendency in the NPA, having recruited a generation of young workers and even led industrial disputes. They castigated L’Etincelle and other left tendencies in the NPA as cowards for failing to support the CCR against the threats of expulsion, in other words for not courting expulsion themselves.

Kazib’s “pre-candidature”, then, was clearly a “pre-proclamation” of a new party, the triumphalist tone is clear from their statement:

"In contrast to this decline (of the NPA-ed.) the Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR) in the NPA, which was founded by a handful of FT-CI militants, has been developing with decisive interventions in processes of class struggle. The CCR seeks to fuse with the advanced sectors of the French workers’ movement, who stand out as the most militant workers in Europe at the moment, and perhaps internationally, as well as with comrades who represent the best traditions of the French ‘extreme Left’. Let us recall the struggles that the country has experienced since 2016, with high points like the Gilets jaunes movement in 2018 and the historic strike by transport workers (rail workers and bus drivers) against the pension reform in 2019. The latter led to the emergence of new workers’ leaders such as Anasse Kazib who have taken up the challenge of building a truly revolutionary party, and rail workers, bus drivers, aeronautics workers, oil workers from the Grandpuits refinery (who just carried out an enormous struggle in which they managed to form alliances with the environmental movement), teachers, healthcare workers, etc." [2]

How much of this is self-promotion and adventurism only time will tell.

The failed promise of the NPA
The NPA once promised to break the mould of left politics and to replace the PCF. At its foundation, it drew in nearly ten thousand young activists from the struggles of the first decade of the new century. How did it fail to keep this promise and end up today with scarcely a tenth of that number?

In the decade before the NPA’s founding, its principal spokesperson, the charismatic 35-year old postal worker Olivier Besancenot, had made a major impact on the French political scene. As the presidential candidate of the LCR in 2002 and 2007, with 4.2 and 4.08 percent respectively, he used his prominence and his attractiveness to young voters to launch a left unity proposal aimed at the far left, both other Trotskyist groups and libertarians. Fertile ground for such an initiative was provided by the fact that, in 2008, after a decade of anti-capitalist mobilisations, workers’ mass strike waves against neoliberal “reforms” and opposition to imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the world was plunging into the most severe recession since the early 1980s.

The birth of NPA took place on 6 February 2009, after over a year of political discussions and organisational preparations and a dissolution conference of the LCR which took place the day before. The new party registered 9,123 members and 467 branches across France. Two small Trotskyist organisations had already agreed to join it; L’Etincelle (The Spark) a group that had been expelled from Lutte Ouvrière, and the French section of the International Socialist Tendency (led by the British SWP), Socialisme par en bas, SPEB (Socialism from Below) and, the least noticeable, a small group of members of the Fraccion Trotskista - Cuarta Internacional, a group of Argentine origin, originally associated with Nahuel Moreno but which had made an extensive critique of Morenoism.

The leading LCR figure opposing the NPA project was Christian Picquet and a large part of the tendency known as “Unir” immediately decamped to form the Unitarian Left and enter into a bloc with the PCF. It later simply entered the PCF. Nevertheless, the LCR majority still expressed the hope of forming an electoral bloc with the PCF and Jean Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche, PdG. From the beginning, then, the NPA was torn between developing into an explicitly revolutionary party, standing candidates on its own programme, or joining with forces from the left wing of the PS and the PCF, still powerful at a local level, in an electoral alliance on a reformist programme.

The “Founding Principles” adopted at the NPA’s conference clearly distinguished it from reformism. In this respect it was more radical than most of the other new or “broad” parties that were born in the previous decades; the Danish Red-Green Alliance (1989) the Italian Communist Refoundation (1991) Portugal’s Left Bloc (1999) the Greek Syriza (2004) or Germany’s Die Linke (2007) which stuck to left-reformist strategies, not least because the bulk of their members came from social democratic or Stalinist parties that had abandoned revolutionary programmes long before.

The NPA’s distinction from the SP and PCF, and from the general run of new broad parties, was not uncontroversial within the LCR or in the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, USFI. During the 1990s, the USFI believed developments would allow them to take part in the “recomposition” of the workers’ movement and a “regroupment” of working class parties to the left of Social Democracy and Labourism, which they characterised as “social liberals” — socialists in words but neoliberals in the policies they pursued in government. They believed such new parties would occupy the vacuum opened up by Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and Lionel Jospin.

The rise to power of Luiz Inácio da Silva (Lula) in Brazil, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, proclaiming a “socialism of the twenty first century”, reinforced this analysis. The USFI eagerly entered these parties. But they did not do so using the tactic Trotsky developed in the 1930s in Britain, France, America for entry into reformist or centrist parties when the forces of his supporters were scarcely larger than small propaganda groups, that is, fighting within them for a revolutionary programme. Instead, they applied the so-called entrism sui generis (entrism of a special kind) that the post-war Fourth International adopted in the late forties and early fifties. This meant not fighting for a revolutionary programme and leadership but instead offering a few transitional demands, presented as reforms and dislocated from the struggle for power.

The USFI talked of building “broad parties” by fusing with forces from the left wing of reformism as well as libertarians and left populists. Naturally, this could only be done on the latter’s terms, accepting their left reformist programmes and leaderships. In this context, the foundation of an overtly anti-capitalist party in France seemed to be a left break from this accommodation to reformism. It was inspired in part by the foundation of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, Party of Socialism and Freedom, P-Sol, in Brazil in 2004.

The perspectives embodied in the NPA’s Foundation Principles are quite orthodox, describing the nature of the capitalist state and the need to smash it, the necessity to expropriate the capitalist class etc. It was when these principles confronted the present conjuncture that they became hazier. This can be seen in two paragraphs.

"We fight for an emergency programme responding to immediate needs, which challenges capitalist ownership of the means of production, attacks capital and profits, increases wages, pensions, minimum incomes and meets the needs of the population." [3]

And as to how the force for its implementation will develop, it says:

"It is by the development and generalisation of the struggles, generalised and prolonged strikes, that we can stop the attacks and realise our demands. It is the balance of forces due to the mobilisations that can allow us to set in power a government that will impose radical measures breaking with the system and that will start a revolutionary transformation of society." [4]

These formulations allow considerable space for spontaneism and tailism. Indeed, the key elements of Leninism, summed up in What Is To Be Done?, the idea of a disciplined vanguard party and the lessons of the October Revolution, are not mentioned, indeed were never to be mentioned thereafter, with the tacit assumption that all this was the outdated socialism of the twentieth century.

A programme for action
Nevertheless, despite this centrist jumbling of revolutionary, left reformist and libertarian notions, the League for the Fifth International welcomed the foundation of the party and regarded the assembling of a flood of new members as a positive development, albeit one that would not simply evolve into a revolutionary party. Instead, we pointed to important steps it would have to take if it wished to fulfil the promises made in its founding documents and its pledge to be a “party of struggle”, not of electioneering.

In particular, we analysed the documents of its foundation conference, pointing to continuing ambiguities such as characterising the new party as “anti-capitalist”, not “Trotskyist” or “revolutionary”, especially in the context of an ongoing struggle with the neoliberal Nicolas Sarkozy (President 2007–12). We argued that the party’s most urgent task was to agree on an action programme aimed at linking up with the vanguard of militant trade unionists and youth from the banlieues and the lycées fighting back against Sarkozy’s attacks. Such a programme should openly pose the need to bring down his government by direct action and replace it with a workers’ government based on the coordinations necessary to mobilise a general strike and the workers’ and youth defence forces needed to guard and install it.

It was all very well to talk of a “break with capitalism” and a “change in the property relations” and to insist that “class domination cannot be eliminated on the path of reforms”, but it was deliberately evasive, we argued, to talk of the class struggle as “shifting the balance of forces” to allow for a government that “breaks with the system”.

Despite promising to set up commissions and working groups to draft a programme, not just another election manifesto, there was actually little further attempt to discuss and elaborate this. In particular, there was no attempt to clarify the question of “reform or revolution”. While most of the founding members would have had no personal difficulty answering, “Revolution!”, the question was whether the party recognised that the objectives and the tactics posed by great upsurges of class struggle required “revolution” for their solution and was the party’s programme a strategy for achieving that? In short, was the NPA going to be a revolutionary party?

The answer it gave to that was, “No!” The NPA did not develop a revolutionary action programme. Instead, it repeated the mistakes of the LCR but with few of the positive initiatives taken in the years of the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements, and the anti-government mass strikes of the 1990s and early 2000s.Why this happened lies in the history of this period and the political method the LCR and other Trotskyist groups brought to it.

From the start ,they should have recognised that any movement powerful enough to defeat Sarkozy would necessarily pose the question, who should rule? The revolutionary answer would be the organisations built in the struggle to remove Sarkozy. That is, the workplace-based assemblées generales (AGs) should elect delegates to, initially local, coordinations, that would also draw in the youth from the lycées and the banlieues. Within those bodies the NPA needed to fight for a revolutionary programme that was explicit about taking power.

This also meant the NPA had to be aware, and make workers and youth aware, of the French labour movement’s acute crisis of leadership. This was the key lesson from all the major struggles since 1995 in which the tactics of the trade union bureaucracy, especially the CGT, the leading force in the mass movements, had been to exhaust the movement in a series of “days of actions with no tomorrow”. Avoiding a repeat of this meant resolving the crisis by fighting for an indefinite mass political or general strike. Instead, the NPA perspective seems to have been that, when the movement reached a certain level, it would precipitate a general election and that would settle the question of power.

Had the LCR leaders, several of whom are veterans of ’68, perhaps forgotten that then a general strike of 10 million workers was defused and all the radical demands lost precisely when de Gaulle and Pompidou called — an election?

As Trotsky pointed some decades ago now, “The fundamental importance of the General Strike is that it poses the question of power point-blank”.

Indeed, during the years that immediately followed the NPA’s foundation there was no shortage of struggles in the workplaces, in the universities and the lycées against first Nicolas Sarkozy and then the “Socialist” François Hollande’s neoliberal “reforms”. Not the least of these were the youth uprisings in the banlieues against Sarkozy’s racist police.

At the time, the League said:

"The NPA should make it clear in its action programme that its goal, not just in the distant future, but in this struggle against the crisis and Sarkozy, is to bring down the neoliberal president and his entire capitalist regime and replace it with a workers’ and small farmers’ government, based on the newly created democratic organs of struggle, the coordinations, assemblies and workers’ defence organisations." [6]

What type of organisation?
An equally serious weakness was that the NPA did not become a disciplined combat party, based on democratic centralism, that is, democratic in its internal discussions but united in its public policies and its members’ implementation of them. The NPA’s concept of the party was, and is, quite different from this. They see the party as more like an umbrella organisation, embodying many discreet areas of intervention, each with its own political ideology; ecology, feminism, LGBT+, antiracism, antifascism, etc. that had to be accepted as they were. Such a “rainbow coalition” approach leads to conflicting demands and rival interest groups that have not fused their different strategies into a coherent and consistent common one, that is, a revolutionary programme. Instead, the NPA’s politics was a patchwork quilt of all these ideologies.

One example will illustrate this: the conflict between antiracism and the ideologies of laïcité (secularism) and feminism. A crisis in the NPA occurred in 2010 when the party’s section in Avignon decided to stand a 21-year old Muslim woman, Ilham Moussaid, as its candidate in a local election. Because she wore the hijab, a bitter debate erupted within the party about secularism, feminism and islamophobia. The feminists in the party, who regarded the hijab as oppressive to women, believed it was incompatible to wear it and yet represent in public a party that says it is feminist. Despite the fact that Olivier Besancenot supported her, she left the party.

Of course, it is true that the institutions of a democratic republic, schools, hospitals, town halls and so on should certainly be free of religion and its symbols. Schools and universities should teach theories established by science and not be censored by religious prejudices or dogmas. These are the secular values that a Marxist party should indeed defend. But, to deny individuals and communities the right to follow their religious beliefs in terms of clothing, diet etc., is an attack on freedom of religion. Defending that freedom is actually a weapon against fanaticism, misogyny and religious bigotry, and a more powerful one than state-enforced laïcité. This is doubly important in France since racists, who target immigrants and people from France’s former colonies, use the cover of secularism, and feminism, as cover for their islamophobia (a modern equivalent of antisemitism). It is the duty of socialists to defend Muslim women’s right to dress as they please. However, by not clarifying this democratically and then embodying it in its programme, the NPA proved it could not take a clear position. This is not to deny for a moment that the NPA does militantly oppose the racism of Marine Le Pen and the Rassemblement National (National Rally — formerly Front National).

To complete the picture, the party was highly federal in its structure, rejecting democratic centralism as “too Leninist”. Here, it should be pointed out that its parent, the LCR, was not Leninist or democratic centralist either. It rather gloried in its public tendencies and factions, regarding them not as Lenin and Trotsky did as necessary evils to correct errors or degenerative tendencies within a party but as a permanent and desirable feature.

Both the old LCR leadership majority and the new joiners like L’Etincelle, formed permanent factions, presenting counterposed documents on the whole range of issues and making these widely known outside the party. This led first of all to the weakening of any unified message at all levels, political, organisational and in external interventions. Subsequently, it has degenerated into a completely Balkanised situation in which local branches are totally dominated by one or other of the conflicting tendencies, isolated from each other when not in explicit conflict. These branches then conduct their interventions in a totally separated way, including selling their own publications, not those of the NPA. In 2012, leading NPA figures openly campaigned for Jean Luc Mélenchon rather than for the NPA’s candidate and car worker militant, Philippe Poutou!

Another problem was that the NPA continued the French tradition, rooted in the famous Charter of Amiens, adopted by the CGT in 1906, that dictated a separation between the trade unions and any political party. The trade unions deal with all economic questions while the party is responsible for socialist propaganda and elections.

These two tasks remained separate spheres in the political life of NPA, with trade union intervention never becoming a focus of NPA activity either at national or branch level. Trade union work was practically never discussed in the branches or at the conferences.

This becomes particularly destructive when anti-government struggles by sections of the working class and the youth in the banlieues converge. The NPA rarely offered a clear and distinct strategy for such movements, one at variance with the CGT leaders or criticising them until it was too late. Instead, NPA activity remained heavily fixated on the electoral terrain.

This is related to the failure to use the united front tactic on the basis of key demands directed both to the rank-and-file and to the leadership. As we will show, misconceptions on the united front and its role in the struggle against reformism are at the heart of the politics of all the tendencies inside NPA, including the more explicitly “revolutionary” ones.

Despite all these weaknesses, the NPA could have played a positive role in the French class struggle. It could have led to a regroupment of revolutionaries with new layers of workers and young people from the banlieues and lycées, combining interventions on various fronts of the class struggle with an intense discussion on the programme as an overall strategy to lead the working class to power. Under the centrist leadership of ex-LCR, however, none of this really happened, and the main discussions and interventions were limited to the electoral terrain.

Early problems
In the party’s early years, France saw near-general strikes, similar to those it had witnessed several times since 1995. These rapidly posed the question of the nature of the general strike as a tactic. As Trotsky pointed out, it inevitably posed the question of who ruled in society. Failure by trade union and political leaderships to answer this question invariably led to defeat. The NPA proved unable to turn Trotsky’s lessons into slogans that could be raised within the struggles of workers and youth. Instead, the NPA, like the LCR before it, ended up tailing the trade unions, particularly the more militant CGT leaders, and the spontaneous actions of the youth. Any criticism they made only came after the event. It was always too soon, until it was too late.

On the electoral terrain, the NPA did not have a monopoly of the enthusiasm for a new party. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the most dynamic of the leaders of the Socialist Party left, had walked out of the party in 2008 and declared the formation of the PdG. Consciously modelled on Germany’s Die Linke, Oskar Lafontaine spoke at its founding rally, it was plain that the aim of the PdG was to thwart the prospects for the NPA and to rebuild a left social democratic party, replete with overt social patriotism and utterly bourgeois republicanism. To this was added a populist cult of Mélenchon’s personality that was meant to put Olivier Besancenot in the shade.

Mélenchon was to evolve eventually into a tricolour brandishing populist with the formation of La France Insoumise (Unsubmisssive France) FI, in 2016, rejecting all the terminology and iconography of the left. Meanwhile, for the Communist Party, whose support had been haemorrhaging since 2002, the formation of a new party offered the opportunity to reverse its electoral decline, by repackaging itself and joining Mélenchon’s PdG in a Left Front, the Front de Gauche, FdG. This enabled them to hold on to the municipal and regional seats they still possessed, and the state funds this brought into their coffers, something the NPA could not match.

The NPA’s determination to remain “broad”, that is, open to reformists as well as revolutionaries, would leave it disarmed when confronting a “new” left-reformist force like the FdG. Indeed, in the eyes of the electorate, its short and ambiguous platform of “anti-capitalist” measures looked very much like the “anti-neoliberal” platform of genuine left reformists. The obvious question, therefore, arose: if its programme was so similar why didn’t it stand on a joint platform together with the FdG or, better still, fuse their organisations? Eventually, this contradiction was resolved in Bordeaux when the NPA’s former presidential candidate, Philippe Poutou, headed a joint slate with a common programme alongside Mélenchon’s FI, called Bordeaux in Struggle. [7]

A long agony
As early as 2011, the various tendencies clearly perceived the NPA’s situation was one of crisis. None of them, however, was willing, or able, to solve it so that the years which followed proved to be one long agony for the NPA. At the beginning, both leadership and members placed high hopes in the combination of electoral campaigns and participation in the various nation-wide movements against Sarkozy. However, the race for electoral hegemony over the “left of the left” was soon decided by the voters in favour of Mélenchon, especially after Besancenot decided to retire as the party’s presidential candidate.

This revealed how much of the LCR and the NPA’s success had been based on his telegenic personality, itself representing a concession to the new populist methods gaining ground in many countries.

Besancenot’s replacement, the car worker and CGT militant, Philippe Poutou, did his best in the campaigns of 2012 and 2017, but the NPA’s score remained stubbornly around one percent. Meanwhile, the headline-grabbing Mélenchon obtained 11 and 19 percent respectively.

While such defeats would not, in themselves, have been catastrophic for a Leninist combat party, they did contribute to demoralising the NPA’s many more electorally-oriented members. From the high point of 10,000 in 2009, the membership steadily declined to a sorry 1,350 in 2018. According to the official NPA figures, out of 2,000 registered members, only 1,350 voted in the local meetings prior to the 2018 conference. Thus, the NPA’s strategy only succeeded in reducing its numbers to well below those of the LCR before the NPA’s foundation.

In the class struggle, too, the NPA’s record was scarcely more successful. While these years have been rich in struggles; the workers’ movement against the El Khomri law, two long strikes by SNCF workers, the movement for pension rights, the role and visibility of NPA was low. This is not due to a lack of leading figures in the trade unions, including at the leadership level, but due to political and organisational weaknesses.

It appeared to be more of an appendix of the SUD and the CGT than a political force with its own programme of action and tactics. Organisationally, some attempts were made to organise the rank and file workers at the workplace level, especially amongst SNCF workers, with Collectif Intergare, a group of rank and file rail workers in the Paris region. However, this was not only done separately by both the NPA and LO, but even inside the NPA, different currents were carrying out their interventions in isolation from one another.

In 2012, the departure of those right wingers who had not gone with Picquet at the foundation, the misnamed Gauche Anticapitaliste (anti-capitalist left), might have raised the hope that, freed of their influence, the party might break from electoral cretinism, but this proved far from the case. The “left” itself was revealed to be nothing coherent but a collection of bickering currents with independent agendas and politics. The reality of the NPA today can be read in the plaintive wishes of the NPA ex-majority to overcome the factional divisions:

"A real party cannot be the sum of permanent factions, it should be able to have a unified action, a unified press, coordinated structures, debates being reserved to the internal discussion. We need a party capable of acting in a homogeneous way: its programme, its orientations, its press cannot be criticised permanently by currents. In a period of major upturns as we see today, we need to be able to mobilise those who listen to us, most notably in the youth, around unitary political campaigns. It is impossible to do so if some groups have their own agenda independent from the one of the party." [8]

Well said, but a bit rich coming from the old leadership of the LCR, who ought to take the responsibility for entrenching their own long term practice of permanent factions, allowed to argue publicly and act at variance with one another. This sudden discovery of the practical value of democratic centralism would be a joke if its demoralising effects on valuable vanguard militants were not so tragic.

Tendencies to self-destruction
Meanwhile, the paralysis continued. At the 2018 conference, the numbers were clear. The leadership (ex P1, now Platform U, PU) lost its absolute majority, with 48.5 percent of the delegates. The left (ex P2) was scattered among several platforms of which three play a special role: PV (12.5 percent) corresponding to the former Anticapitalisme & Révolution (A&R) tendency, PW (16.7 percent) for the Etincelle group, originating in a split from Lutte Ouvrière in the 1990s, and PZ (10.5 percent) for the Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR), linked to Fraccion Trotskista.

While PV, PW and PZ represent different groups and traditions, their politics are similar in many respects:

They claim to represent “orthodox” Trotskyism, the Fourth International etc., but none of them proposes any articulated re-elaboration of the revolutionary programme, either as their own basis or for NPA and, if pressed for a programme, all they can do is point to the 1938 transitional programme;

Their regroupment orientation is essentially aimed at other “orthodox” Trotskyist groups, and especially Lutte Ouvrière;

When it comes to united front tactics against reformism, they apply them to the rank and file alone, that is, they fail to understand the necessity of the united front from above as well as from below, placing demands on the reformist leaders and agitating for them amongst the rank and file, as a means to unveil the betrayals of reformists in the eyes of the masses etc.

They all reject the workers’ party tactic.

Anticapitalisme et Révolution (A&R) is linked internationally with five other left USFI groups, including OKDE-Spartakos in Greece and Socialist Action in the USA. It is probably the most explicit in its passive propagandism. In the last few years, it has pushed for the creation of a “Social Front”, itself a hybrid, halfway between a small “red” trade union and a small political party, consisting of a politically shallow alliance between Trotskyists, left trade unionists and anarchists, aiming at the preparation of the general strike.

"The construction of a Social Front attempts to crystallize at the national level the jumps that were made in consciousness by a series of young activists and workers, by combative TU teams in the last mobilisations, to organise for the next steps and to build a leadership alternative to TU leaderships. This politics is not new, it is the politics of the regroupment of the struggles, for a class-struggle workers’ pole." [9]

A leader of the Social Front is more explicit: “We are trying to revive syndicalism. The [Front Social] is a coordination on a horizontal basis with decisions that come from the rank and file and the networking of people rather than from a systematic response to mobilisations called by a TU. We make a kind of 2.0 trade-unionism.” [10] The problem is that the mobilisations called by the Social Front rallied at most 2,000 people while the main unions organise more than a million workers and can mobilise several million more.

Worse, A&R theorises this politics of turning its back on the reformist parties:

"Our current aims at changing the NPA, its orientation and its leadership: the construction of an anti-capitalist and revolutionary party, to intervene in the class struggle, implies indeed to turn the page of an orientation based on the permanent placing of demands on reformist parties, to remove the strategic ambiguities that persist since the foundation of NPA, while at the same time working at the unity of revolutionaries." [11]

Unfortunately, the reformists, at both the political (PCF) and trade union (CGT) level are still alive and active, outnumbering to a gigantic degree the influence of revolutionaries in the working class. So, any tactic that refuses to confront reformist ideas, reformist leaders and organisations, and their influence in the working class, is doomed to isolate itself and to fail.

All these trends were already clear at the first full conference of NPA in 2011 where three platforms emerged, P1, P2 and P3, representing long-term tendencies still active today.

P1, comprising veteran figures of the LCR like Alain Krivine, and the party spokesperson and presidential candidate Olivier Besancenot, represented both continuity with the LCR leadership and a relative “majority” (i.e. plurality) with 40 percent of the delegates. It embodied a middle line centred on NPA development, with all its confusions and ambiguities, the rejection (at that time) of supporting Mélenchon and FdG, and a blind optimism that further class struggle upheavals would produce more and more radicalisation, discrediting the reformists and offering opportunities for NPA to grow.

P3, with about 30 percent of the delegates, was the “right-wing” tendency that argued for a “social and political front”, a long term alliance with the left reformists of FdG. “We need to focus on the starting goal of NPA, to build an alternative politics that changes the balance of forces at the left against the domination of social-liberalism.” (P3 2011) The ambiguity at the basis of the NPA is here resolved in favour of left reformism both in its permanent alliance with FdG, and in its programme, based essentially on the electoral and institutional level.

Indeed, they argued for “an anti-capitalist programme that does not hesitate to make inroads into private property, to impose a redistribution of the wealth, a radical change in the modes of production and consumption, to call into question the institutions of the Fifth Republic and the European Union, of the imperialist politics of the French State and the European Union.”

Notice how the “inroads”, presumably temporary and limited, are different from a revolutionary transformation of society. Consistent with this domestic orientation, P3 argued for a “serious discussion with all the forces that are to the left of the social-democracy in Europe and play a real role in the class struggle in their country (Left Bloc, Synaspismos/Syriza, Red-Green Alliance, Netherland Socialist Party, SWP, Die Linke) with the ambition to elaborate a common political programme at the European level.”

P3 was not only numerically strong, it represented a consistent part of the NPA apparatus, cadres and “thinkers”. Faced with the prospect of remaining in a minority for several years, and driven by their opportunistic appetite and the prospect of benefiting from the FdG’s dynamism, they decided to put recomposition into practice and quit the NPA. There had been several previous waves of departures on the right wing of NPA but certainly the split of P3 to form the Gauche Anticapitaliste (GA) had the most severe impact on the NPA. Today, they are part of Ensemble! a smaller front inside FdG. As for the P2, it consisted of a bloc of several “left” currents inside NPA that we will analyse later.

For many years, the numerically strongest current on the NPA left has been “L’Etincelle”, often known as the “LO faction” because, between 1996 and 2008, when it joined the NPA, it was indeed a public faction inside Lutte Ouvrière. To some extent, this is what it still is, as its politics are heavily influenced by LO’s characteristic economism and workerism. In 1996, the main reasons for their tendency were a difference from LO on capitalist restoration in the USSR and the importance of an emergency plan when intervening in the class struggle. However, they did not develop this critique much further. The main thrust of their politics, like that of LO itself, is directed towards the workplace where they intervene with weekly bulletins and this patient and long-term work has allowed them to have a quite active basis in the most militant sectors in the car industry, among the railway workers or in the health sector:

"Our task is therefore not so much to ‘build up mobilisations’, as they throw in our faces. Our task is to get involved by proposing to those who are fighting, whether they be striking workers, gilets jaunes or young people from the banlieues stigmatised by racism, but who are overwhelmingly “proletarians”, even if radicalised elements of the petty bourgeoisie join them, that the anti-capitalist radicalism contained in their struggle should be brought out and that they develop themselves an organisation and leadership belonging to these struggles."

In this spontaneism, they are similar to the CCR’s approach, with whom they also share a total rejection of any united front addressed to the reformist leaders.

They combine this with an appeal for a “unity of revolutionaries” effectively meaning a united front from below, dodging the problem that the masses are still led by the reformist union leaders, for example, the rail workers or the power workers led by the CGT, whose participation would be crucial to a general strike:

"A pole of the extreme left [by this they mean essentially NPA plus Lutte Ouvriere - Ed.] could go beyond the relatively small weight of the present organisations if it would give itself the task of bringing an emergency plan into the struggles that start, and by leveraging on the democratic organisation of the workers at the rank and file level. It is on this ground that we should build ‘unity’, the unity of workers in struggle that would rally all the organisations wishing to support it. However, on the condition of breaking with all attempts at a unity of the left whose purpose was precisely to hide every perspective of mobilisation on a class terrain or to push these struggles towards a dead-end."

As with CCR, they rightly denounce the stranglehold of the reformist leaders on the organisations of the working class, but totally reject as anathema any possibility of a united front with those leaders which could both increase the scope of the struggle and expose them when they retreat or betray. In short, to demand that the leaders lead, that they fight, but warn of their likely sell-outs and urge the rank and file to build strike committees and coordinations from below that can take the lead when the leaders retreat.

Therefore, L’Étincelle cannot develop a tactic of a rank and file movement for militant action and democratisation of the unions. This alone could actually break the bureaucrats’ stranglehold.
Instead, they are satisfied with passive socialist propagandism during periods of low class struggle, and tail spontaneous eruptions of combativity when movements erupt.

Courant Communiste Révolutionnaire (CCR)
Of the NPA’s “left” tendencies, the most politically sophisticated is certainly the Courant communiste révolutionnaire, CCR, as we have seen internationally linked with Fracción Trotskista – Cuarta Internacional a Trotskyist tendency with 11 sections, eight in Latin America and three in Europe and publishing the website Révolution Permanente. Rapidly growing inside NPA, it has in a few years become the leading force inside its youth sector and represented 10.5 percent of the members at the 2018 conference. It has certainly grown further since and attracted a number of young working class militants in transport and industry.

The CCR set itself an aim:

"To refound the NPA as a democratic organisation, openly communist and revolutionary, reclaiming the centrality of the working class and the revolutionary Marxist heritage, as a tool for the construction of a real revolutionary combat party incorporating various traditions on the basis of a serious balance sheet of the experiences of the class struggle, this is the challenge that we should propose to the next conference if we wish it to play a role as revolutionary in the new situation." [12]

It is indeed to the credit of these comrades that they have been very active within the most important struggles of recent years, explicitly intervening to link the struggles of the youth with those of the industrial working class, through which they recruited Anasse Kazib, a prominent young leader of SNCF workers. However, their politics show several weaknesses and outright errors that could be dangerous in the present situation.

First, there is their impressionistic reading of the class struggle situation internationally. Probably influenced by the Argentine PTS, they paint a very bright picture of the situation worldwide with struggles erupting everywhere. While they do recognise the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, they never take this into account for an accurate balance sheet of forces, weaknesses and dangers internationally. Typical of this one-sided reading is their under-estimation of the danger of right wing forces across Europe, and Le Pen in France:

"In this framework, beyond its obnoxious character in the spread of a nationalistic and racist ideology in the working class, Le Penism has demonstrated again what it was: an auxiliary populism working as a reactionary relief-valve, as well as a scarecrow to incite people to “vote useful”. However, focusing too much on Le Pen, means to pave the way for the worst enemy of workers and the best friend of the bosses: Macron and Macronism." [13]

In this way, the rise of racism, xenophobic ideology and nationalism, of which RN is one expression, is limited to a purely electoral phenomenon and not analysed as a very serious danger today and perspectivally. No tactic against Le Pen is ever mentioned in CCR documents.

Worse, this under-estimation of right wing populism led them to enthusiastically support the “gilets jaunes” as part of the militant left to be included in the “tous ensemble”, the “all together” of the working class. In reality, the gilets jaunes are a heterogeneous movement, in which unorganised layers of the working class are mobilised together with petty bourgeois forces under non-proletarian leaders and ideology (singing the Marseillaise, waving the national flag, etc.) and with demagogic goals (opposition to decisions by parliament, replacement with plebiscites). To be “radical” is not necessarily progressive, as the anti-government demonstrations by the French fascists in 1934 or Pierre Poujade’s populist anti-tax movement in the mid-1950s showed. In future developments, this “if it moves it must be red” can be extremely dangerous.

The methodology underlying this is “spontaneism”, critiqued by Lenin in What is to be done? – a work rejected by most of the post war centrist epigones of Trotsky, Mandel, Cliff, Grant, Moreno, etc.

The central assumption of spontaneism is that, providing a movement is mass and militant, it can be assumed that it will develop in a revolutionary direction. Linked to this is a sectarian attitude to the reformist parties of the working class and unwillingness to consider including them in calls for the united front or in giving them critical electoral support against bourgeois parties.

On the programmatic level, CCR is also very weak. At the economic level it raises a series of radical measures like the workers’ control of production or the expropriation of key sectors of the economy and, politically, raises the slogan of the abolition of the Presidency and Senate and a fully proportional electoral system in the abstract.
But, as long as the reformists remain far stronger than the revolutionaries, they should recall what the 1938 Transitional Programme advocates:

"Of all parties and organisations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name, we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and farmers’ government. On this road, we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands that should in our opinion form the programme of the workers’ and farmers’ government."

Their false method can be seen in the tactics of the leading force in the FT-CI, the Argentine PTS. Argentina like the USA (and unlike France) lacks a mass reformist party. Peronism crushed the attempt to build a Labour party there in the the1940s. Trotsky, it should be remembered, supported for the call for a Labour Party in the USA, including a break by the trade unions from Roosevelt’s Democrats, even if on an action programme that was not (yet) a revolutionary one. Providing, that is, revolutionaries struggled within it for a full revolutionary programme and a democratic centralist party.

To unite with other propaganda groups and individuals on something well short of a revolutionary programme, believing this will do for the time being, is a fatal act of liquidation. That is exactly what the Front of the Left and the Workers–Unity, FIT-U, is in Argentina, even if it has achieved respectable, if minority, scores in parliamentary and presidential elections. Is it a united front? Is it that invention of Nahuel Moreno “a revolutionary united front” that performs the task neither of a genuine united front nor of a revolutionary party?

As for the future of the NPA, the CCR expresses dismay at the “majority” proposal to break up the NPA and proposes instead an orientation towards other centrist groups: “We must have a permanent politics towards them [the other anti-capitalist and revolutionary currents from other traditions], most notably towards Lutte Ouvrière, to explore the possibility of partial fronts or electoral fronts, like the example of FIT and its national impact in Argentina.”

No. A “revolutionary united front” is not effective either as a way of mobilising action by mass forces or as a party, which is the fighting embodiment of a revolutionary programme. It is, as the saying goes, “neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat”. Yet, today, such a party and programme is what is needed to challenge Macron’s increasingly draconian national security reforms and the islamophobic and anti-left agitation of the government and the press.

At the same time, Mélenchon’s anti-Chechen outburst after the murder of the schoolteacher Samuel Paty, indicates that La France Insoumise is competing with Le Pen and Macron in a downward spiral of French chauvinism:

"Faced with Islamist terrorism, it is necessary to respond very precisely. There is a very clear problem with the Chechen community in France. Chechens who are active in political Islam on social media must be found and expelled. We must also then question what is happening with Chechens in France, for we have welcomed [into France] Chechens who were partisans in a religious civil war. [And] this is the second time we have dealt with individuals linked to this community. The first time they sent 150 [people] to terrorise a city; the second time, one cuts off the head of a teacher […] we have to wonder what they are doing." [14]

Today, Macron and his government are increasingly unpopular and even hated. Though the gilets jaunes were dangerously ambivalent forces, combining left and right populist impulses, their revolt indicated that in the provinces a broad social stratum of the petty bourgeoisie and unorganised workers hated him too. The “left of the left”, those outside the SP, including France Insoumise, the PCF, the CGT, what is left of PdG and FdG, etc. are undoubtedly preparing a new “broad” electoral front with Mélenchon, unwilling to accept any other candidate more worthy than himself should enter the Élysée Palace.

For a period, it seemed that the once and future leadership of the NPA, the old LCR leadership, was eyeing this appalling development positively. They were yearning to have a free hand to play their old opportunistic game, seeing all the left currents inside the NPA as an obstacle to this. Philippe Poutou’s “Bordeaux en Lutte”, in 2020, was a dry run for this and it was successful on a narrow electoral basis, winning close to 10 percent of the votes. But votes for what?

Certainly not for an anti-capitalist and antiracist programme, which is what the French workers and the youth of the banlieues and the lycées, need. Poutou himself indicated where things were heading at least as far as he was concerned:

"Are we going to split or not? All that we see is that the opposition and the continuous divergences paralyse the action of the NPA. Therefore, I do not see a problem with a split. With France Insoumise we have attempted something in Bordeaux, we went into action, and now we should understand how to build something starting with this."

Christine Poupin, explained that she too does not share a common project with the minorities and that “we should register a de facto separation instead of harming each other.” It was therefore certain, even before recent developments, that there would be a split before the regular NPA conference, due in October. However, such a split would have had no better result than the ten years of unprincipled and fractious unity.

In the face of changing majorities in the leadership of the NPA and the swing to the right in the electoral blocs with the left populists, the situation seemed favourable for the left platforms and currents.

In purely numerical terms, they constituted a majority and could take over the leadership of the organisation. Politically, however, they could not do so, because they did not have a common concept for further building. Their common ground was usually limited to disagreeing with the long-standing leadership.

In this situation, the CCR decided to make a daring manoeuvre. First, it launched a campaign for the “unity of revolutionary forces” within the NPA, against all those who sought an electoral bloc with France Insoumise. However, the other factions rejected this as something that would make them only grist to the mill of the CCR. Piqued by this refusal, the CCR decided to create facts against all the other currents, left and right.

Without any discussion inside the NPA, it publicly presented a comrade from its own ranks, the young railway worker and local strike leader Anasse Kazib, as the party’s “pre-candidate” for the 2022 presidential election. This manoeuvre was intended to impose a candidate on the other currents without any prior discussion.

Although the CCR presented this as a disinterested proposal, especially to the other left currents, they, naturally, immediately saw through such a transparent and adventurist manoeuvre.

It failed and deservedly so. No tendency, no platform within the NPA, was prepared to bow to the CCR’s pressure. Rather, all rejected the undemocratic affront of imposing a candidate on the NPA without internal discussion, without debate among its members and in its committees. Thus, the CCR, facing the humiliation of attending the NPA’s conference and seeing its candidate rejected, chose to break with the NPA. It then tried to fool the national and international left by pretending that the NPA leadership had expelled it.

Even if parts of the NPA leadership had planned, and did threaten to push for, the expulsion of the CCR, in the event, no NPA body with the power to do so, decided to expel them. The alleged “de facto” expulsion simply did not take place. The CCR just failed to turn up to the NPA’s special conference.

Trotskyists are famous (infamous) for their splits and yet another one will doubtless provoke irony and scorn from professional cynics and philistines around the world. Such wiseacres counterpose to this the “big tent” or “broad church” parties of social democrats or democratic socialists. In these, mutually incompatible currents can coexist because an elite of parliamentarian careerists and bureaucrats decides the real politics of the party.

In their time, the Russian Social Democracy and Bolshevism were also taunted for their splits. However, serious militants will not lump all splits together as bad and all fusions as good. Any split poses a question for both sides: did it clarify important issues of strategy and tactics which, after debate, it was urgent to apply in the class and therefore required an organisational break? A split that has no such basis is unprincipled; doubly so when the issue is a presidential election in which it is highly unlikely either side will be able to run.

Meanwhile, both sides, or rather all sides, have maintained an unprincipled unity for over ten years without either seriously attempting to resolve the programmatic issues or working together in a disciplined way. Had they done so, they could have built a small but effective combat party that could offer a real alternative to the reformist parties and unions, at key highpoints of the class struggle.

Even at this late hour, if the tendencies in and around the NPA, would finally address the question of hammering out a programme (not just an election platform) and a concrete plan of action for fighting Macron and Le Pen on the streets and in the workplaces in the coming years, the destructive effects of the breakdown of the party could be reversed.

As a result of the split by the CCR, according to its own statements, the NPA will lose another 20–25 percent of its members. This is likely to have a demoralising effect on quite a few remaining activists precisely because of its unprincipled and manipulative character. Basically, the CCR was aiming for just this effect, because it serves the narrative that they organise the smaller, but more dynamic, part of the membership while the demoralisation of those from other currents is presented as a justification of their own manoeuvre.

Such a presentation may temporarily serve to consolidate their own ranks. After all, winning hundreds of supporters and dozens of rank-and-file militants in recent years is a considerable success for the CCR, as it would be for any small propaganda group. However, if we look at the overall balance of forces of the classes, it remains ultimately marginal, compared to the decline of the “radical” left in the last decade and the deep crisis of the NPA. The fact that the CCR was able to strengthen itself during this phase does not invalidate or offset the overall diagnosis. It does, however, cast doubt on the facile optimism of their statement that they can now really take off, having shed the NPA ballast.

This is not just because all such legend-making is mendacious, but because the political substance of the split is so questionable. The CCR claims that there were and are fundamental, unsustainable differences in the NPA over political orientation that would make further cooperation impossible. Now, no one would want to deny fundamental differences. However, if we look at the bulletin containing the drafts of all platforms in the NPA for the conference at the end of June, the picture is different. Of the six drafts, five are in favour of an independent presidential candidacy; only one small platform (Platform 4) is not.

The CCR titles its proposal “Break with the politics of alliances with the institutional left! For a 100 percent revolutionary candidacy of the NPA in the presidential elections!”

Platform 5, put forward jointly by the two major left currents, L’Etincelle and Anticapitalisme & Révolution, is: “For an anti-capitalist and revolutionary workers’ candidacy of the NPA in the presidential elections!” And the proposal of Platform 2, the largest current around Poutou and Besancenot, bears the headline: “In the face of the crisis, there is a need for an open, anti-capitalist and revolutionary presidential candidacy of the NPA!”

Not only are the words strikingly similar, so too are their strengths and weaknesses. Most of the platforms, 5 out of 6, are not only in favour of their own revolutionary and anti-capitalist candidacy but also subject the “institutional left”, a collective term for FI, PCF and Greens, to sharp criticism and stress the need for an independent NPA candidacy and platform in the elections.

Certainly, this unity is only a snapshot, but this does not change the fact that Poutou and Co seem to have taken a swing to the left and their proposals are not fundamentally different from L’Etincelle and Anticapitalisme & Révolution and even the CCR’s. Indeed, it is the ACR’s Platform 5 that is the most rounded and actually clearer and more precise than that of the CCR.

Practically all platforms include slogans to improve the situation of the working class (minimum wage, prohibition of dismissals, transformation of precarious jobs into secure ones), the demand for nationalisation under workers’ control (especially in the health sector and basic industries), equal citizenship rights for all, the legalisation of people without papers, a rejection of imperialist interventions. All stress the need for mass strikes and a mass movement against the crisis, and that only a workers’ government can provide a way out.

Even the weaknesses are largely shared by the documents. On many points (ecology, Europe, EU, internationalism) they are very general. For example, they all correctly emphasise that capitalism cannot solve the environmental question. However, there are hardly any immediate or transitional demands on the impending ecological catastrophe in the texts.

While they all agree on the need for a mass movement against the crisis, against the government, capital and the strengthened right, and also on the need for revolution and a workers’ government, the only thing that is actually found in these papers is an emphasis on self-organisation, on struggles “from below” as a means to this end.

The question of how such a movement can come about, how the working class can take a leading role in the face of the dominance of petty-bourgeois populist forces, such as the gilets jaunes, is largely missing. In all platforms, we search in vain for a tactic and a policy towards the existing reformist mass organisations, especially towards the trade unions.

Thus, the sole serious difference between the platforms are the candidates proposed for the presidential election: Poutou (Platform 2), Besancenot (Platforms 1 and 5) and Anasse (Platform 6). Given the CCR’s failure to attend the June conference, and Besancenot’s refusal to enter the ring again, the cup passes once more to Poutou.

The choice of a candidate and the departure of the CCR, however, should not be confused with a solution to the crisis of the NPA. After all, at the moment, it is relatively easy to proclaim a revolutionary, anti-capitalist candidacy. Mélenchon has lost much of his appeal, so his prospects of reaching the second round of the election are slim and tactical voting and subordination to his campaign is no longer such a great temptation. Equally, while Poutou could present a relatively radical platform, in the name of unity and of saving the NPA from meltdown, it would only postpone the eruption of the political contradictions and weaknesses that have led to the decline of the NPA and will continue to do so.

The situation in France and the problems of the NPA
Unfortunately, these problems include the NPA’s assessment of the political situation and the balance of forces between the classes in France itself, problems that afflicted all the contending platforms.

France has seen considerable class struggles in recent years and these have even succeeded in putting the brakes on some of Macron’s attacks. In addition, the workers are disproportionately more ready to strike and fight than in Germany, Britain and most other imperialist countries in Europe.

Nevertheless, until recently it was the right that benefited most from the crises that beset Macron’s government. Until the recent regional elections, the RN (Rassemblement National; National Rally) and Marine Le Pen were seen as Macron’s main challengers. It is still very likely that she will make it to the run-off in the presidential election and could clear 40 percent of the vote. In regional elections, however, the bloc of right-wing conservatives with the RN failed to capture any of their targets.

At the same time, the death agony of the Partie socialiste and the increased marginalisation of the PCF continue apace. Melénchon made a right turn from reformism to left populism in 2016 but it seems even this has lost him significant traction since 2017.

Despite social movements and massive struggles, the “radical” left has not been able to benefit from this situation but has itself experienced a dramatic decline; this is particularly true of the NPA.

Of the former 9,000 members, about 80 percent have been lost, either by their turning to reformist or populist forces or by leaving organised politics altogether.

However, this unfavourable balance of forces is not, or is at best insufficiently, recognised by the NPA. A central reason for this is the wrong assessment of the gilets jaunes. In all the NPA’s platforms, they appear as a progressive mass movement against the government. Their petty-bourgeois class character and their populist orientation play no role in the considerations. Therefore, unpleasant facts, such as the above-average support for the RN by supporters of the yellow vests in elections, are ignored.

Instead, more or less all wings of the NPA, the “left” in part more than the “right”, hope that the gilets jaunes will somehow provide the basis for a radical movement against the government and a renewal of the working class. This impressionistic method allows for an “optimistic” or, more precisely, for an imaginary, assessment of the political situation. It blinds them to the fact that this movement saw the petty bourgeoisie emerge as a motive force in the political confrontation, while the working class was a subordinate force. In general, the NPA currents lack an understanding of petty bourgeois populism and its difference from working class reformism. As a result, the significance of Mélenchon’s swing to the right in 2017 is not recognised at all.

Fortunately, the strengthening of petty-bourgeois populism was broken to some extent by the big strikes and struggles against the so-called pension reform in late 2019/early 2020. Here, the importance and role of the working class was shown once again.

Although the strike did not achieve its goals, and ended up fragmenting, the centrality and power of trade unions not only in economic struggles but also in political class struggles with the government became clear. This is especially true of the CGT which, in this confrontation, effectively acted like a political leadership of the class. However, the historic crisis of leadership was also visible again as were the prejudices of French syndicalism.

While the various documents of the NPA conference do identify the trade unions and their leaderships as brakemen and traitors, they draw no lessons or tactical consequences from the fact that, in practically all confrontations, the CGT and SUD/Solidaires play a more left-wing and militant role than the CFDT or FO and initiate and organise struggles; only to then sell them out or sell them short. As a result, demands on the trade unions are missing in all the documents. How are mass political strikes, big class struggles at the workplace level ever to come about in France without the trade unions? Even if they have relatively few members compared to Germany or Britain, they are much stronger associations of active trade unionists, that is, the activists in many companies and administrations. Placing demands on the leaders, encouraging the rank and file of these unions to do so, is a crucial tactic for exposing the reformist union leaders, just as it is with the “Institutional Left”.

Especially in view of the current ongoing and threatened attacks and the rise of the right, the formation of a workers’ united front is of fundamental importance for organising defensive struggles. This necessarily means calling on the workers’ existing leaders to lead those struggles. Such an active policy of the united front is especially important with regard to the trades unions but also applies to the reformist parties and even towards the supporters of the France Insoumise. It is not enough to denounce them all for their unwillingness to fight. Rather the NPA should try to force them into action, into a united front, wherever possible.

This method, which is of course also applicable to the struggles against imperialism, racism, sexism and environmental destruction, is almost completely absent from the documents. The call for action committees, for mobilisations and control of struggles from below is an important aspect of any united front policy, but it cannot and must not replace a systematic policy towards existing mass
organisations and their leaders.

A false understanding of united front tactics towards reformism and populism is only one of the mistakes that have accompanied the NPA since its foundation. In 2009, it correctly proclaimed that its task was to elaborate and concretise a programme. Had any attempt been made to implement this, it could have brought to light the important differences between the various currents. Some would have been overcome. Others could have led to splits but, if so, they would have been clarifying splits like those undergone by the Bolsheviks and a revolutionary programme and party structure could have emerged. However, no such attempt was made and so the tendencies and platforms proved to be like the Bourbons, forgetting nothing and learning nothing.

If the NPA wants to overcome its crisis, if the coming months and the October Congress are to be more than a protracted death agony, then it must address these issues. It must use the NPA’s intervention in the presidential election to campaign, if it can even get onto the ballot paper, to agitate for a mass movement against the crisis, to publicise a programme of action and to systematically discuss how to overcome the differences between the currents. Only in this way can a centrist organisation become a revolutionary one.

1  Sylvia Zappi, “Le Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste menacé d’implosion,” Le Monde, 27 July 2020.

2  Freddy Lizarrague, “The Terminal Crisis of the NPA,” Left Voice, 20 May 2021

3  “Founding Principles of the New Anticapitalist Party”, 7 February 2009, passed by the founding conference of the NPA. The original can be read in French at

4  Founding Principles of the NPA.

5  Leon Trotsky, “Notes on the Situation in Britain 1925–26”,

6  Dave Stockton, “The New Anticapitalist Party in France”, Fifth International 3. no. 2 (2009): 10–11.

7 Bordeaux en luttes, Le Programme,

8  PU tendency July 2020.

9 Anticapitalisme et Revolution, “Construire un parti pour la révolution, pour intervenir dans la lutte des classes et y jouer un rôle”, February 2018,

10  Gaetan Supertino, “Qu’est-ce que le “Front social”, ce collectif qui veut mener la vie dure à Emmanuel Macron?” Europe1, 9 May 2017,

11  A&R Qui sommes-nous?

12  NPA Internal Bulletin, July (2020): 27

13  NPA Internal Bulletin (2017): 54

14 Philippe Alcoy, “Jean-Luc Mélenchon Blames the ‘Chechen Community’ for Murder of Teacher in France”, 22 October 2020,