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An assessment that's only skin deep

Jason Stanley does an important service, alerting readers of ATC to the crisis in the French NPA. Unfortunately, however, his assessment is only skin deep. I will be suggesting to the editors that they run a reply, either by me or by comrades in France who have a different take on developments. Two brief points for now:

* It was reasonable, when the NPA was formed, to try to build a broad formation in France which might capitalize on the “window [that] had opened for revolutionary politics” which Stanley refers to. However, if the NPA itself was not going to promote “explicitly socialist, Marxist politics,” then some current had to be maintained within the new party that would do so. Otherwise the window that had opened would not look out over a revolutionary prospect. It would, instead, simply open up to “something more in line with the broad global justice movement.” Yet how to undertake this small task, of maintaining a commitment to explicitly socialist, Marxist politics, was left unaddressed by the leading cadre of the former LCR when they dissolved their organization and helped found the NPA.

* The NPA was created with an expectation of immediate and dramatic electoral success. The leadership of the former LCR based its approach on a theory that was held more broadly in the Fourth International: The dramatic shift of Stalinist and Social Democratic parties in Europe to the right in the context of neoliberalism had opened up a new left electoral space, a space revolutionaries might be able to fill if they set their “explicitly socialist, Marxist politics” aside and put a priority on building “broad left” parties. Something important was missing from this analysis, however, because it isn’t simply the Stalinist and Social Democratic parties that have been moving to the right. It’s the entire bourgeois electoral discourse. The “space” that the NPA was supposed to expand and fill turned out to be much more limited and the initial hopes of an electoral breakthrough were quickly dashed. This is what constitutes the heart and soul of the NPA’s crisis: not so much the relatively modest electoral results, but the fact that these results followed so closely on the heels of the initial, exaggerated expectations.

Stanley’s analysis remains, unfortunately, limited by the electoralist conception of the NPA and its tasks. He even suggests that any effort to shift away from this, to focus more on the question of the class struggle in France, is “sectarianism.” This weakness in his article is evident from his consistent calls for “unity” on the left, since the only kind of “unity” this might possibly refer to is a common electoral front. For revolutionaries, however, electoral politics are not an end in themselves, but a means to the development of the class struggle. From this point of view it is not sectarianism to reject any electoral alliance that might end up in a common pro-capitalist government formed in the future by the French SP. This question of maintaining the independence of revolutionaries from any such reformist government is, in fact, one holdover from the explicitly socialist, Marxist politics of the former LCR that has been maintained. It remains a positive feature of the NPA that this is maintained, even in the context of the party’s current crisis.


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