The New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France – formed in 2009 by members of the now-disbanded Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), with the primary intention of uniting France’s far-left – announced at its 5th congress in December it would be undergoing a split, into two roughly similar-sized groups. The following article by Révolution, the French section of the IMT, draws the lessons of this split.
The split in the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France did not arouse much interest among the masses and will not change anything in the development of the class struggle. However, a layer of the youth and the working class sympathised with the “anti-capitalist” profile of this organisation. Some people wonder if this event is significant. We will try to clarify this.
To justify the split which they initiated, Philippe Poutou (former NPA presidential candidate) and his comrades put forward two reasons. On the one hand, they wanted to put an end to the factional struggles that have marked the internal life of the NPA for many years. Their solution: to break with these internal oppositions altogether. On the other hand, the split was the result of divergence on the strategy to adopt towards NUPES – the New Ecological and Social People's Union. The splitters defended a “unitary” policy, to the great displeasure of the other factions of the NPA.
These are the immediate causes of the split. However, in order to understand the significance of the split, we must look beyond them.
The crisis in the NPA is not new. In fact, it began a year after its founding congress in February 2009. In the regional elections of March 2010, the lists supported by the NPA in 18 regions received on average 2.8% of the vote, far behind the Left Front – the alliance of the Communist Party (PCF) and the Left Party – and the Socialist Party (PS). However, one of the stated objectives of the NPA's leaders at the time of its launch was to syphon off the electorates of the PCF and the PS. From this point of view, it was a total failure – in 2010 as well as over the following twelve years. To the left of the PS, it was first the Left Front that benefited from the radicalisation of a growing number of young people and workers, under the impact of the crisis of capitalism. Then, from 2017 onwards, France Insoumise (FI) became the leading electoral force on the left, far ahead of the PS, the PCF and the far left. Instead of experiencing the spectacular rise prophesied at its founding congress, the NPA became mired in a permanent and ever-deepening crisis.
It has to be said that the leaders of the former Revolutionary Communist League (LCR, which helped form the NPA) made every imaginable mistake that there is. They imagined that in order to propel the NPA to the head of the French left, it was enough: 1) to bombard the PS and the PCF with ultra-leftist declarations and ultimatums; 2) to dilute the “Trotskyist” identity of their party into a vaguely “anti-capitalist” mush. In fact, the “Trotskyist” identity of the LCR was already a very old memory in 2009, this organisation having long since abandoned the ideas of Marxism in favour of an eclecticism appealing to any and all intellectual trends. But why stop there? So anyone who considers themselves more or less “anti-capitalist” - whether reformist or anarchist, is “welcome to join the NPA”. Poutou put things very clearly in an interview with Libération on 7 January: “The NPA is not a Trotskyist party.”
This combination of ultra-leftism towards the major reformist parties, and opportunism (both ideologically and in regards to their programme) could not bring the NPA any closer to the grandiose goals it had set itself in 2009. On the electoral terrain, there was even a regression compared to the LCR's scores: 1.2% of the vote in the 2012 presidential election, compared to 4.1% in 2007. Internally, the few thousand militants who joined the NPA around its founding congress were perplexed. Most of them left the organisation fairly quickly, as the leadership had no credible prospects to offer them – despite the claim of a triumphant march to the top. Factions split off to join the Left Front. This became an overarching theme. To make matters worse, the fall in membership reinforced the relative weight of the ultra-leftist groups that had joined the NPA; and from 2009 onwards, they had the aim of engaging in intense factional activities – the most palpable result of which is to have convinced a certain number of militants to leave the party.
This is more or less where things stood on the eve of the split in December. It's understandable that Poutou, Besancenot (another founding member of the NPA) and their friends wanted to put an end to the factional struggles that were constantly agitating the NPA. But in the final analysis, the best way to avoid factional struggles is to develop correct perspectives and politics. The leaders of the NPA were naturally incapable of doing this. They never stopped making ultra-leftist and opportunist errors.
For example, take the electoral period from last April to June. Philippe Poutou's candidacy in the presidential election was a blatant ultra-leftist mistake, because it was obvious that Jean-Luc Mélenchon's candidacy had a chance of qualifying for the second round. The NPA should have given him critical support, as we did. But no: Poutou's candidacy was maintained against all odds, with predictable results – 0.8% of the vote. Our response to the arguments developed by Philippe Poutou to justify his continued candidacy can be found here.
Then, a few weeks later, when Mélenchon launched the NUPES (which marked a turn to the right for the FI), the leaders of the NPA thought it was great and rushed to the negotiating table – alongside the FI, the PCF, the Greens and the PS – in the hope of snatching up one or two winnable constituencies in the legislative elections. After having made a gross ultra-leftist mistake, they promptly fell into an equally gross opportunist error. The NUPES “negotiators” thanked them in their own way with zero winnable constituencies.
These spectacular oscillations from ultra-leftism to opportunism – and vice versa – have characterised the politics of the NPA since its very foundation. This also characterised the politics of the LCR. The basis for these zig-zags is the renunciation of the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. This renunciation happened neither yesterday nor the day before yesterday. To understand it, we have to turn to the history of the Fourth International, founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938, from which the NPA “emerged” (like cold ash from a fire). For a series of reasons that go beyond the limits of this article, the official leaders of the Fourth International were unable to develop a correct Marxist policy after Trotsky's death (1940), and especially after the Second World War. On this theme, one is strongly advised to read The Programme of the International, a document written by the founder of the International Marxist Tendency, Ted Grant, in 1970, in which he gives a detailed account of the zig-zags of the official leadership of the Fourth International for over 20 years.
In the end, the main lesson of the NPA crisis is the decisive importance of Marxist theory. “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement": this famous phrase by Lenin is not taken seriously either by Poutou and his comrades, or by the various ultra-leftist groups which have split from the NPA since 2009. They all imagine they can “build the revolutionary party” on the basis of a few radical slogans and a few badly digested Marxist ideas. In contrast, the International Marxist Tendency insists on the crucial role of theory in building an organisation that aims to overthrow capitalism on a global scale. This attitude to theory is also one of the fundamental reasons for the current successes of our International. The best elements of the new generation are looking for solid ideas. They will not find them anywhere else but in the International Marxist Tendency.