Unifying the disaffected

Gregor Gall asks the newly formed New Anti-Capitalist Party what the experience of France might hold for Scotland and we can unify the radicals.

Joaquin Reymond is an activist in the newly formed New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France. He visited Scotland in late May 2009 to address SSP European election rallies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. During his visit he agreed to be interviewed by Gregor Gall for Scottish Left Review on the NPA and what lessons it might hold for the left in Scotland. Joaquin has previously been a leading militant in his union when working in the car and chemical industries in the Mulhouse area. Joaquin joined the project to establish the NPA in 2007 and is one of its founding upon its creation in early 2009, having worked alongside both the left parties, Lutte Ouvriere and the Ligue Communiste Revolutionniare (LCR), since 2005.

Gregor Gall (GG): Can you tell us why the LCR took the momentous decision to initiate the creation of a left party much wider and bigger than itself by dissolving itself in order to establish the NPA?

Joaquin Reymond (JR): The situation in France has seen the collapse of both social democracy (in the form of the Socialist Party) and communism (in the form of the French Communist Party) as big, serious forces that attracted mass working class support. In 2002, the LCR stood its candidate, Olivier  “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivier_Besancenot” \o “Olivier Besancenot” Besancenot, in the presidential elections and together with the other left candidates (from Lutte Ouvriere and the Workers’ Party), the radical left got 10 per cent of the vote overall. This suggested to us – the LCR – that this was a very good sign of what could be done if there was a bigger, united radical left that is independent of the Socialist Party. People were telling us that the radical left should unite to capitalise on the radicalisation and polarisation that has taken place in French society over the last few years. The people in the NPA want to swim in a bigger sea and there is no room or purpose for sectarianism anymore. Rather, there needs to be an alternative where the interests of the movement against Sarkozy, against neo-liberalism and so on are put above the interests of left parties. We want to be against not just the symptoms of the system but the system itself. But what became clear was that the left social democrats, the Trotskyists and the Communist Party as they existed could not provide the kind of organisation that is needed to help support, sustain and grow these movements. What we say in the NPA is that our foundations stones are independence from the Socialist Party and focus on the class struggle. We want to play a major part in developing people’s consciousness. We think this is the best way to develop and support the movements for radical change.

GG: What parallels do you see the NPA having with De Linke (the Left Party) in Germany?

JR: Well, there are some in terms of the process of the re-alignment of the radical left but we are a bottom-up creation whereas De Linke has been a top-down formation. It has been formed by the merger of existing forces led by their leaderships and the closest parallel in France to De Linke is Parti Gauche (the Left Party) rather than us because it has been formed by a parliamentarian and its relationship to the Socialist Party is not clear. It’s possible that both Parti Gauche and De Linke want to act or will act as ginger groups to the Socialist Party and SPD.

GG: How has the NPA fared since it was set up? I’m aware that the LCR did a lot of preparation before hand by forming local committees to build for the NPA’s creation so it’s not as though January 2009 was necessarily the literal starting point of the NPA.

JR: We have grown a little bit since the beginning of the year but we do not measure our success and influence by membership numbers alone. Our key measure is how involved we are in the movements (as well as what happens to the movements) so we see things more in term of how big our periphery of supporters and people that want to work with us in the movements are. Internally, the LCR was quite diverse and the NPA is even more so, so we have an open culture of discussion and debate.

GG: Is the NPA a project for radical left unification?

JR: Yes, but we want the NPA to grow over and above bringing other bits of the left together (particularly the two other far left parties, Lutte Ouvriere and the Workers’ Party) and we want the NPA to become the home of those who have become radicalised and questioning and who have never been in any left political party before. But the unification of the radical left will take time because the other two parties are quite dogmatic and sectarian. We hope they will see the sense of coming on board the NPA as the NPA grows and exerts more influence.

The conditions for the left and the NPA are quite volatile and fluid at the moment because the general strike earlier this year did not succeed yet Sarkozy is widely hated so things are quite open at the moment. Things could go either way.

GG: You will be aware that Tommy Sheridan was the public face of the SSP. This had its ups and downs. How do you view Olivier HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivier_Besancenot” \o “Olivier Besancenot” Besancenot as the unequivocal public face of the NPA?

JR: Olivier is a young, working postman, rather than an elected politician or a full-time party leader. He is eloquent, articulate and intelligent but we are trying to create a collective leadership and one at different levels. Of course, it is difficult when the media focus on only one person and when that one person is clearly very good at what he does. However, Olivier is only third on the list for the Euro elections in his region and the top of the lists for the other regions in France are headed by other working people like nurses, teachers, car workers and anti-globalisation campaigners. Only around half of these list candidates are former LCR members so we are trying to diversify our leadership.

GG: What is the balance between the NPA’s electoral and non-electoral work?

JR: We centre ourselves on the class struggle so elections fit into that, and not the other way round. We use elections to test how we are doing. Sure, it will be good to have a platform of elected office as a way of spreading our message but we want to make sure our work in the movements comes first. If we are able to gain elected positions, we will use a workers’ wage, make these representatives the eyes and ears of workers in the parliament or council, try to make some progressive changes and popularise our message.

GG: Compared to Scotland and Britain, you have much more developed traditions of direct, mass action in France. Do you see this as being critical explaining the emergence of the NPA and what it hopes to become?

JR: Yes, we have a very embedded tradition of direct protest, some of which comes from the historical exclusion of the Communist Party, some from a libertarian current of thought. In the NPA, we want to let people experiment with what works for them and what is best.

GG: Where do the unions fit into the vision of the NPA and what it does?

JR: There is a lot of mistrust of the unions amongst workers. We are for unions of people and are in favour of workers that want their own self-organisation. This means there are big battles to be fought in changing what unions are and have become in France.

Postscript: the 2009 European elections in France. The governing party of President Sarkozy, the Union for a Popular Movement, increased its share of the vote by 11 per cent to give 29 MEPs (four more than before) while the Socialist Party voted decreased by 12 per cent, giving it 14 seats (seventeen less than before). Moreover, the fascist National Front, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, fell back to 6 per cent (a decrease of 50 per cent) and three MEPs (down by four). In other words, as in many other European economies, there was a swing to the centre-right, even where these parties were the governing parties. In these circumstances, the results for the radical left are noticeable for the small amounts of progress made (even if they are slightly down on what the polls suggested they would get in the six months before the elections). The Left Front electoral alliance comprised of the new Left Party and the French Communist Party (along with the smaller Convention for a Progressive Alternative and Unitarian Left) gained 6.3 per cent of the vote and four MEPS (up one from before) while the NPA gained 4.8 per cent, putting it just under the five per cent threshold for gaining an MEP. Lutte Ouvrière gained 1.2 per cent of the vote. Arguably, if the NPA had run a joint slate with Lutte Ouvriere then it might have won an MEP. The combined 6.0 per cent vote for both organisations (where the NPA was in the form of its LCR predecessor) was an improvement upon the 2.6 per cent of the vote they gained together as a single slate in the 2004 European elections. It can be suggested that with the dramatic departure for the LCR by forming the NPA, the NPA may have felt it neither necessary nor desirable to stand with together with Lutte Ouvriere in this instance. The issue of the NPA’s relationship with the Left Front is more problematic. Clearly, it could represent a bigger radical left if there was some fusion but given the belief on the part of the NPA, this would increase the quantity but not the quality for the NPA believes the Left Party is not steadfast and principled in its opposition to neo-liberalism and the right. In other European countries, the radical left formations like De Linke in Germany, the Left Bloc in Portugal and SYRIZA (the coalition of the radical left) in Greece many small but steady progress on a par or better than that in France.