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Response to Steve Bloom

It looks like everyone is trying to get their pound of flesh out of the crisis in the NPA.

I generally agree with Steve Bloom's critique of the Jason Stanley piece -- ie. that "Stanley’s analysis remains, unfortunately, limited by the electoralist conception of the NPA and its tasks."

However, I part ways with Bloom when he argues that the NPA's problems are due to the fact that "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." Or when Bloom says that "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."

It would be interesting to hear Bloom explain what was (or is) so "unsocialist" and "unMarxist" about the NPA. Anyone (but the most dogmatic nitpicker, I suppose) who is familiar with the NPA's activities, publications, public profile and internal debates would be hard pressed to make such accusations. For heaven's sake, in his most recent interview with mainstream media the prospective NPA presidential candidate Philippe Poitou (an autoworker, who neither Stanley nor Bloom mention for some reason) said that the ideal form of government would be based on soviets (!). (While such declarations have a lot to do with the specific background of Poitou himself, if anything the NPA's "failure" is that it hasn't been able to innovate somewhat more around these and other questions.)

Yes, there was an expectation of much better election results following the founding of the NPA in early 2009, but it would be wrong to say (as both Stanley and Bloom do) that this was the main driving force behind the formation of the new party. This does a great disservice to the serious reflection that went into the project; and to the debates that had been taking place in the LCR since as far as back as the period following the collapse of the USSR and its satellites.

The majority of the old LCR concluded that the LCR alone was insufficient to build on the convergence the party had been able to fashion -- most notably around the success of the Besancenot presidential campaigns in 2002 and, especially 2007; but also in the organization's work in the unions, social movements, etc -- between the evolving project of the LCR and the emergence of broader sectors of struggle and opinion that were in open defiance of the neoliberal PS and those forces in its orbit (such as the PCF and the Greens)...all the while recognizing that the project and organizations of the post-68 revolutionary Left had failed and were in need of a major rethink and overhaul.

It was like walking on a strategic tightrope, but that part of the NPA project remains even more valid now than it was in 2009 -- which was in the early days of the present crisis and before the Arab revolutions and the rise of the Occupy and Indignados movements.

It's true that the emergence of Mélenchon's Left Party and then the Left Front with the PCF (initiatives whose overnight creation was rapidly accelerated by the success of the NPA, by the way) created immediate and unexpected tactical difficulties for the NPA. As the crisis hit, struggles receded and the Sarkozy government went on the attack, an important chunk of opinions favourable to the NPA opted to park their support with the Left Front (electoralist) project that seemed more "realistic" in the short-term; and the NPA started to be seen as spoiling this electoral unity of forces to the left of the PS. The NPA didn't always handle tactics around this difficult situation very well.

But there are much bigger questions at play than either Bloom or Stanley have cared to examine. ANY radical-Left project born in the present context will be confronted with some basic problems, a kind of "glass ceiling" if you wish: so long as capitalist elites and the right-wing remain on the offensive in a context of deep crisis, and so long as hope and a credible project for political and social transformation remain as weak as they are in today's world, not everyone will, but huge segments of broadly left-wing and working-class people will continue to turn to those seen as the "lesser evil" when it comes to making important choices at election time or in terms of which leaderships to look to within social movements and trade unions.

The NPA has been a precious, open and democratic framework for trying to tackle this two-fold problem ("short-term tactical" and "long-term strategic/historic"). The need to crack this nut is not going to go away any time soon, and we shouldn't let the specific short-term problems created by France's very centralized political life and unfair electoral system bother us too much. In any case, ensuring Poitou gets to run in this year's presidential race is an essential immediate task. They've almost got the 500 signatures of elected officials that they need, but it won't be easy to get the rest.

Barring some new and deeper crisis in and around the NPA, supporters of the original project will be well placed to face the new situation that follows this year's presidential and legislative elections.

Nathan Rao

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