Europhobes and open polemics

Jean-Michel Edwin responds to criticisms of the New Anti-capitalist Party

Last week (Letters, February 26) comrade Christian Minary criticised my report of the founding congress of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste published in the Weekly Worker (‘Everything to play for’, February 12). In the comrade’s opinion, I did not draw the right conclusions from the facts I reported.

Comrade Minary is a member of the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant and was elected a councillor in Jarny, a town in Lorraine, on a broad ‘local democracy’ list set up by the POI in the 2008 elections. He feels my account is unfair to the POI - clearly one of the NPA’s main competitors on the left. The NPA, he says, wants to “turn the page of the old working class movement”.

It is obviously legitimate to draw a parallel between the two parties: the NPA and POI may be compared for all they have in common - although they usually tend to ignore each other. The exception is when the fierce polemics between their post-May 1968 ancestors (Lambertists and Mandelites) resurface in the columns of the POI weekly newspaper Informations Ouvrières. Indeed both parties can be properly described as ‘ex-Trotskyist’ formations, and in this sense the POI as well as the NPA have ‘turned the page of the old Trotskyist movement’ to try and become more attractive to potential new members.

The Parti Ouvrier Indépendant’s main component is the CCI (Internationalist Communist Current) of Pierre Lambert (who died in January 2008) and Daniel Glückstein. The CCI decided that the best and quickest way to build a “mass working class party” in France was not to base it on the Trotskyist heritage, but to dissolve its French section, the Parti des Travailleurs (PT), into a ‘broader’ formation, where other “currents” - former members of the Parti Socialiste and Parti Communiste Français), plus ‘anarcho-syndicalists’ led by members of the Force Ouvrière trade union bureaucracy - would have considerable space.

In the April 22 2007 presidential elections the PT stood the “socialist, republican and secular” non-Trotskyist, Gérard Schivardi, a self-employed small builder and mayor of the town of Mailhac. Schivardi received 123,540 votes (0.34%) and is now, together with Glückstein and two others, one of the POI’s four national secretaries.

The NPA was launched after the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire of Alain Krivine and Daniel Bensaïd decided, like the PT, to dissolve their organisation into a broader, more open formation, which, while claiming to unite revolutionaries and anti-capitalists, would not be based on Trotskyism. The LCR presidential candidate, Olivier Besancenot, had proved to be highly popular amongst youth and working class voters, attracting in the 2007 presidential elections no less than 1,498,581 votes (4.08%): a small proportion compared to the two main candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, but still 12 times more than Schivardi - one reason perhaps why, as comrade Minary complains, the media were more interested in the NPA’s founding congress than the POI’s.

The POI and NPA each claim around 10,000 members - a good figure for far-left groups, but tiny compared to the PS and PCF, with their hundreds of thousands of members, and far below what a genuine communist party of the working class needs to become an alternative authority in a position to lead the proletariat and claim power.

Comrade Christian says that under Besancenot the NPA has become “the darling of the media” because of its “ambition to ‘turn the page of the old working class movement’, as its leader, Olivier Besancenot, himself explained - ie, be anything but a working class party”. This is not a serious criticism. In fact, the NPA (like the LCR before it) has been present and active in every working class mobilisation in the recent period. For example, it organised militantly for the January 29 national day of action called by the union, proposing to turn it into a proper “general strike”. In contrast the POI was not involved as such in the millions-strong street demonstrations against Sarkozy, pretending that the “independence of trade unions must be preserved”: POI members marched behind FO (and sometimes CGT) union banners.

In fact the POI’s polemic accusing the NPA of wanting to “turn the page of the old working class movement” was launched by Lucien Gauthier in Informations Ouvrières (February 12-18). In the same issue and same page of the paper, an unsigned article raises the controversial issue of the ‘new social movements’, which the NPA engages with, but the POI poses against the “old working class organisations” that Christian Minary’s comrades ostensibly favour.

The term, ‘new social movements’, is in fact used to describe the numerous local and single-issues campaigns, ranging from youth, student, cultural and musical groups to campaigns against poverty, unemployment and in defence of the environment; from organisations supporting the sans-papiers to those campaigning against sexual and racist discrimination, for better education and housing, for secularism, etc. Millions of people support or sympathise with such grassroots organisations and the NPA is correct to engage with them as well as with the traditional political and economic movements of the class. Trying to unite them with rank and file union members is something legitimate and even necessary, whatever the POI thinks.

What the POI calls the “old working class movement” consists of the trade union confederations and traditional political parties. Both have lost ground in recent decades and now have a smaller membership than ever following their numerous betrayals. This has left workers isolated and unrepresented.

Although the POI apparently disagrees with the NPA on the ‘old movement’, everybody knows that the NPA has not turned against the unions (some would say it is far too uncritical of the corrupt bureaucrats who lead them) or even the old parties (except the PS). For its part, the POI is fond of launching desperate and unprincipled ‘unity appeals’ to the union bureaucrats, with whom both parties refuse to break programmatically despite their utter class-collaborationism. The NPA and POI are hardly diametrically opposed on this issue.

Marxists should vigorously criticise leaders of  both parties on this vital question: we should, for instance, be actively organising a revolutionary fraction for class struggle, radical democracy and internationalism in the trade unions. We should aim to politicise them, demanding that the various confederations end their discussions with Sarkozy and his government, when they promise to collaborate in exchange for a few crumbs. I am not calling on comrade Minary to leave the POI and join the NPA: on the contrary, his revolutionary duty is to stay in his party and struggle against this wrong orientation - which he criticises when the NPA leaders behave in a similar way.

But can POI members oppose its leadership openly when they disagree with it? Are they able to build an opposition tendency or fraction without facing vilification and immediate exclusion? The fact that hundreds of devoted and often talented working class militants were ignominiously expelled from the ranks of the PT and its predecessor causes me to doubt it. Is the POI different? Let us hope so. As for the NPA, even radical leftwing opponents have been accepted and are (usually) able to speak openly, send delegates to congress, etc - even if with difficulty, as I have previously explained. As a NPA member, I can write criticisms of the party line openly, as shown by my articles in the Weekly Worker. Could I do the same if I had chosen to join the POI instead?

In his letter, comrade Minary complains that I call the POI “Europhobes” merely because they want to break with the European Union. He writes: “… in fact it is the EU and all its treaties and directives that encourage the bosses to enforce deregulation and flexibility and the race to the bottom.”

Perhaps the word “Europhobe” is too vague to describe exactly the line of the POI and its predecessors on Europe. Maybe ‘left nationalist’ would be more accurate and clearer. Long before the POI was formed, as far back as 1998, the PT built a broad alliance against the Maastricht treaty, along with PCF left oppositionists like Jean-Jacques Karman of the Gauche Communiste PCF tendency and Emile Fabrol, editor of Prométhée (the Gauche Communiste journal at the time). At a national convention of the anti-Maastricht organisation, comrade Fabrol came out for a socialist United States of Europe as part and parcel of the campaign.

But, according to the record of the convention, Glückstein firmly opposed this proposal, objecting: “We all have our own point of view on a socialist United States of Europe, for socialism, for the transformation of society. But, comrades, for a nation to decide its future and the forms in which it will undertake its own emancipation, the forms in which it will establish democracy, that nation must be sovereign … Now, today we are confronted with a situation … where the very existence of nations, the very nature of their sovereignty, is called into question. And it falls to us working class militants, to militants who defend democracy, secularism and the republic, not to shirk from taking back the banner for the sovereignty of the nation, which the bourgeoisie … has dropped in the name of globalisation.”

Of course, members of the POI, like the PT before it, may harbour thoughts of a socialist United States of Europe. But the collective position of both the PT and now the POI is the clearly nationalist line of ‘defence of the French Republic’.

Nevertheless, the word ‘Europhobes’ describes very well the obsession of the ‘national republican’ POI with one powerful enemy, which is supposed to be the cause of every evil, which dictates orders to every government, including Sarkozy’s, in a kind of conspiracy against France’s independence and sovereignty: the EU - and more specifically, when you read the POI’s literature, the European Commission.

At the first meeting of Jarny council after his election last year, comrade Minary declared that the results expressed “the rejection of the policies of the Sarkozy-Fillon government dictated by the European Union and essentially American investment funds”. By contrast he had been elected on a list which stood “For the defence of local democracy and pubic services, for a break with the treaties and directives of the European Union.”

While, of course, “the municipal council cannot abrogate the treaties and directives of the European Union”, it was necessary to recognise that those treaties and directives “threaten the future of the commune and its very existence” (Jarny council minutes March 16 2008). Clear enough, don’t you think? Who is to blame? Capitalism? The French state and government? No, only and exclusively the EU, where, apparently, every decision is made.

Years ago, when the steel mining industry was closed down in Lorraine, it was the same story. The French government was not responsible. Nor was the capitalist system itself, together with all its institutions, from local government to world bodies such as the IMF and World Bank. For comrade Minary, the mines were closed as a result of “the application of the Davignon plan, concocted by the European Commission”.

It seems that European states have now been subsumed by a kind of federal superpower with its all-powerful secret government, the commission. But if that really were the case, a Marxist party would not attempt to revive the national states (a reactionary programme supported by the most backward sectors of the bourgeoisie), but would instead organise workers for power on this new European-wide level.

But, of course, there is no European superstate at this stage and the European Commission does not take the main decisions. EU institutions are not ‘transnational’, but inter-state organs. The EU does not impose its rules on Sarkozy, Merkel or the British government: they each continue to represent their own national bourgeoisie.

The capitalist class and its parties have so far failed to build a united Europe. The heads of state try to harmonise their various anti-working class measures through the European Council, whose decisions are then translated into practical, workable rules by European Commission technicians.

In fact the trick Sarkozy (and Chirac, Mitterand, etc before him) tries to pull on the French working class is a kind of ‘double bluff’: the good European, Sarkozy, willingly accepts anti-working-class decisions in the European Council, which he later claims that Sarkozy, the French president, has no option but to implement.

Far from demanding a “break with” the EU, our programme should be for a common struggle of the working class across the whole continent for the overturning of all its anti-democratic institutions and the winning of a workers’ Europe.