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The Positives in a Difficult Situation

Thank you, Phillipe, for contributing to the discussion. It’s great to have on the ground information. We can see what it is like to have people with different political histories trying to work together in a common group. If I understand correctly, it sounds like your local section tends to function as a propaganda group mainly involved in self education. This is of concern. It would be important for a local section to discuss what actions and common activities members might be involved in taking. This would be fundamental in overcoming the dominance of electoral work in the group.

I also appreciate this discussion. I was in France for a month during a four month stay in Europe in 2009 where I met a number of NPA and former LCR comrades and attended the NPA summer school. I also spoke with former LCR folks who had left the NPA over the electoral dispute. In 2010 I attended the 4th International Congress and in 2011, I was with a number of 4th International folks in Senegal for the World Social Forum. I am also a “French speaker” and my viewpoint is based on this contact rather than on having read much background.

When I was a student at the University of Aix-Marseille the school year 1968-69, I was a member of the United Socialist Party – an attempt to develop a party to the left and independent of the Socialist and Communist Parties that did not succeed. The understanding of this need has been around for a long time. Certainly, it was amplified by the experience of the Socialist Party in government. The Communist Party was in electoral alliance with them at that time and has continued to be so until now so it is institutionalized. We are now heading toward the likelihood of the Socialist Party once again taking over the government and this time aligned with neoliberal ideas. The position described by Jason to now be the majority position of NPA was the historical position of LCR. It is nothing new.

With the expansion of neo-liberal ideas, there was a left space for NPA to fill but other elements saw the void and attempted to fill it also. When the Communist Party came out against the European Constitution it was swinging to the left, no doubt sensing the mood. But this did not change its entrenched electoral relationship with the Socialist Party. Clearly left appearances that hide a different reality would create a problem for experienced activists trying to politically train new people. Did the unity committees Jason describes at this time have a possibility of engaging in joint movement work or were they primed up for electoral activity?

The Left Front also attempted to flow into the left “space”. It became even more complicated since they loudly proclaimed no electoral alliances with the Socialist Party while in alliance with the Communist Party which had this alliance. Those I talked to who have Jason’s position were saying that they did not expect the Left Front to live up to its word, but that it should be accepted until it was broken. This does not seem as a good way to educate new people only to have them disillusioned later on down the road with no organizational independence.

I see a similarity in the problem we face trying to work with other leftists here in the U.S. who have an inside/outside strategy toward the Democratic Party. Yes, we want to work with them but not by adopting their electoral strategy. Certainly we don’t blame ourselves for the lack of openings in the year of the Obama campaign. Should NPA be blamed for the no doubt soon fleeting leftish appearances of the CP and Left Front? They need to hold together, work on not letting elections dominate the group and expand their movement work. I’m sure it is not easy.

I met Philippe Poitou by the way. He was the leader at the Ford plant in Bordeaux that was slated for closing and organized a meeting for me to discuss the crisis in the U.S. auto industry. They took busloads to Paris for a protest and the plant stayed open (although it was sold). He also headed up the NPA slate locally. He seems to me an excellent replacement for Besancenot and I hope he does well. Talk about difficult shoes to fill. Let’s certainly not blame NPA for the press! When they announced there would be two spokespersons replacing Besancenot both of whom were women, they asked: did it take two women to replace a man? Pretty nasty don’t you think?

The idea behind NPA is that it would be involved in movement and electoral work with movement work being the most important. But elections occur so often in France! In the old days LCR members were very experienced and could pull off being electorally involved without it taking over the activity of the group. When a lot of new people became involved this was no longer so easy.

Remember, in movement work they work in alliance with other forces even the SP (!) when they agree on issues. It is the electoral question that makes it complicated. The Italian experience is no doubt still fresh on people’s minds. When the broad left organization entered the government there including 4th International comrades, it was a disaster when major sections of the broad group swung drastically to the right even supporting the war in Iraq. When the 4th comrades pulled out, their forces were drastically diminished.

The positives are that the NPA has held together despite internal differences and the majority position is the one that is necessary to make it through the next electoral round.

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