Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Q&A

So, I don't know if you saw it or not, but there's apparently this huge crisis in the capitalist system right now. No kidding. One hears from various sources that this has to do with the 'animal spirits' of workers, investors and consumers. Would it not, then, be possible to revive the whole system by simply bucking ourselves up? Could we not just gaily dance through the streets, en route to frenzied economic activity, while singing "I have confidence in sunshine! I have confidence in rain! I have confidence that spring will come again! Besides which you see, I have confidence in me." But these spirits are so maddeningly unaccountable, and unyielding. Would that there were some way to take them into public ownership.

Beyond which mysticism lies a material question. Necessarily, capital is seeking to use this crisis as an opportunity to enhance its power. The bosses want answers to the crisis which transfer public assets to them, especially pensions and social security. They want answers that reduce the bargaining power of labour, on the pretext that a more 'flexible' and less costly worker is eminently more employable. And, why, if unemployment persists, this only means that the worker is excessively greedy, or lazy, unwilling to supply an advantageous exchange to the industrious wealth-creator. They want answers that reduce regulations overall (not necessarily in the financial sector), on the grounds that such regulations strangle businesses in a time of crisis. All of this is actually being pushed by neoliberal administrations at different paces, depending on the tempo of resistance. So, the question becomes: what are you going to do about it? Or, "what is to be done?", or something like that.

In this context, it is only fitting that this blog should note, if belatedly, the recent consummation of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Given that left disunity during the last election squandered the opportunity to capitalise on the successful campaign against the EU Treaty, and given that the rightward lurch of the Socialist Party (PS) is dragging others down in its wake, this is an important step. Launched earlier this month amid general strikes and mass protests both in France and in the Carribean colonies, and with a starting membership of 9,123 hommes et femmes (this editorial mentions a figure approaching 12,000), and a leader who happens to be more popular than either Sarkozy or the blur slightly to his left, the NPA is in a position to make serious gains. The buzz about the party has been hard to ignore: the French media is in a tizzy, torn between zoological fascination with this exotic creature and dread. The English language press is equally trapped between disdain for the uppity "Trots", and admiration for the ways of those eccentric grenouilles.

One of the strangest criticisms of the NPA is that it doesn't have any solutions, just slogans. This is rather cheeky. Political discourse has been degraded by politicians and the commentariat into sentiments and soundbites for some time. What the NPA proposes is actually a concrete set of measures. They propose to support demand by raising the minimum wage an extra 300 euros a month, and that can be paid for by taxing the profits of the most lucrative companies on the Bourse de Paris. They propose to stabilise the financial system by expropriating the banking and insurance industries and running them as a single public concern. Given that the financial system is already toppling into public ownership in the worst way, in a chaotic fashion that leaves power and wealth in the hands of those who have used it in such a lethal way in the past. They would meet the demands of the strikers in Guadeloupe and Martinique by making the uber-rich CAC 40 pay. And they intend to support employment through new legislation to make sacking workers far more difficult. They also propose to defend immigrants against racist state policies, at a time when racism could prove a deadly force in European politics. These are indeed solutions, not slogans. They just don't happen to be the solutions that either the UMP, the PS, or the bourgeois media happen to support. The only policies which tend to qualify as 'solutions' are, as a rule, those which are possible within the narrow spectrum of an extremist doctrine known as neoliberalism. It is not exactly an unfamiliar situation to us rosbifs.

The NPA is not the only party emerging to challenge the PS from the left. The Left Party (PG), a breakaway from the Socialists claiming 4,000 members under the leadership of former PS Senator Jean-Luc Mélenchon, represents the electoralist left's attempts to replicate the success of the German Linke. Mélenchon has explained that his model is Oskar LaFontaine, while his juniors express the party's difference with the NPA in terms of the PG's preference for the ballot-box and roots in the reformist socialism of Jean Jaurès. But the Linke was always, even in its inception, a much broader formation than the Parti de Gauche appears to be. As a consequence of which, in addition to elements of the left union bureaucracy and left-wing parliamentarians, it has included a radical and far left pole that has maintained an orientation toward the rank and file. The Linke currently has over 76,000 members and 53 deputies in the Bundestag. It has consistently been ranked the fourth largest party in Germany. It is doubtful that the PG is going to replicate that feat in its current state. The risk is that the PG will be drawn into the orbit of the PS, just as the Greens and the PCF have become sattelites of that imploding pole star. Nonetheless, there is a possibility that in order to fight the Socialists from the Left on the electoral terrain at least, the PG, the NPA and the much-diminished Communists will form a 'Left Front'. What gives the NPA its best chance of making an impact, however, is the militant struggle against sarozysme, and the profile that Besancenot et al have acquired from supporting the recent strikes.