France: cold winter, heated social and political climate

By Pablo Vasco

On Sunday, December 18, International Migrants Day, on a freezing morning, six degrees below zero, several thousands of people started the mobilization that went almost 40 blocks from Porte de la Chapelle to Place de la République. It is part of the struggles in France, in a social and political situation that is heating up day by day.

The demands included the regularization of all undocumented immigrants now and the repudiation of the bill of Darmanin, Macron’s reactionary Interior Minister, who intends to tighten immigration requirements even more and facilitate expulsions. They would only exclude certain trades at hand, depending on the need for personnel in gastronomy, construction, cleaning, logistics or child care, hard and poorly paid tasks almost always carried out by immigrant workers. An anti-democratic reform, utilitarian for capitalists and denying equal rights.

At the front of the march were migrant associations, including workers organized in the CGT and SUD trade union centers, and then social and human rights collectives and the Trotskyist left. Regarding parliamentary reformists, the NUPES[1] led by Mélenchon, were hardly there. There was a group from Lutte Ouvriére, but not from the CCR[2], which although they were at the congress did not even send a testimonial delegation. And as for the NPA[3], which split last weekend, the revolutionary left sector brought the largest and most militant column of the whole march, five times larger than that of the sector that seeks to unite with Mélenchon.

Crossroads on the left and extreme left

From the 9,000 militants it regrouped in 2009 when it was founded, now, in its fifth congress, of which I participated as a guest of the MST and the ISL, the NPA is reduced to some 2,000 formal militants and only 1,500 real ones. The leading Mandelist sector (platform B), which proposes unity with reformism and for that purpose seeks to put an end to the internal democracy of the party, obtained 48.5% of the votes. The left opposition (platform C), which groups three fractions, obtained 45.3%. And a third sector (platform A), related to platform B, obtained 6.2%.

On the second day of the three-day congress, sector B left the room and did not return, thus provoking the rupture of the party. This is a political shock, because together with LO the NPA was one of the two main forces of French Trotskyism, which in turn was always an international reference.

This profound crisis allows us to draw three first central conclusions:

1. If the CCR instead of leaving on its own had remained in the NPA together with the other left currents to dispute a militant political orientation, in this congress the revolutionary sector would have clearly won the leadership. But the CCR chose a sectarian and self-proclaimed course, whose recent congress unfortunately seems to reaffirm.

2. The Mandelist sector, which maintains the public figures of Poutou and Besancenot, continues in retreat as a result of applying in France and in other countries the mistaken policy of the Unified Secretariat: eternal “broad parties”, following reformism under the pretext of being the “left of the left” and abandoning the construction of the revolutionary party and intervention in the class struggle. For example, a third of their votes were by mail, from comrades who actually no longer militate.

3. The left wing, which in order of importance groups together the currents La Chispa, Anticapitalism and Revolution and Revolutionary Democracy, as well as independent militants, and which for now continues to dispute the legitimacy of the NPA, is facing the great political-organizational challenge of constituting a new revolutionary organization, neither opportunist nor sectarian. For that task there is undoubtedly space among the workers and youth vanguard, open to revolutionary ideas. The militants of the ISL in France are part of this regroupment through the comrades of La Chispa, a political current which in addition to its trade union insertion leads the Youth of the NPA.

On the other hand, there is a strong internal crisis in France Insoumise. It has already suffered some wear and tear with the recent parliamentary suspension and trial of Deputy Quetennens, former spokesperson and former coordinator of the bloc, for violence against women. Now greater problems have been added, with strong criticism for the notorious lack of internal democracy. Without a real militant structure, the FI is an assembly of movement-type figures whose leader is Mélenchon.

A few days ago the “representative assembly” met, made up of the coordination of spaces, local leaders and a hundred militants, one for each department, chosen… by lot! An easy to manipulate scheme. Several figures were relegated to a “political council” only consultative, in a de facto purge, but everything is decided by the coordination controlled by Mélenchon. These bureaucratic methods cause discontent among militants and supporters who had expectations in him. As we noticed, the Mandelist sector of the NPA chose a bad political moment to go after FI…

About to explode

In France the winter is cold, but the social and political temperature grows. Macron’s government rose with low vote rates and relies on a rather unstable coalition, the strengthened extreme right of Marine Le Pen, the FI with its electoral polarization in the presidential elections but accumulating more problems… Even the dissolution of the parliament and early legislative elections are not ruled out.

As for class struggle, in these previous months there have already been strong strikes and wage mobilizations of the workers of the oil refineries, railroad workers and drivers, nuclear power plants, public health and several private companies; also feminist marches and direct actions of environmentalist collectives.

In addition to the anger over low wages and the increase in transportation, electricity and food fees, Macron has a plan to move forward with his anti-retirement reform to raise the retirement age to 65 years and/or to 37.5 years of contributions. Under pressure from the rank and file, all the trade union and student centers are planning to take forceful measures if it is carried out. Macron will announce the details on January 10, just when a wage strike begins at the RATP, the public transport company of Paris and its suburbs[4]…

As the editorial of the revolutionary wing of the NPA rightly points out: “If the pension funds are really in such a bad state, there is a simple solution: a 5% deficit is immediately covered by a 5% increase in wages, and therefore in contributions! If wages were to go up what we need today, i.e. at least 400 euros, there would be no more ‘deficit’ problem. And that would also solve some other problems, our end of the month, for example!

“This is obviously not an option for the government. But it remembers the 2019 mobilization that had made it difficult for it to pass the old pension reform before the Covid crisis. Then he pretends to consult with the union leaderships, who rushed to the table even before trying to mobilize.”

“However, we all know that there is nothing to expect from these ‘concertations’ and ‘social dialogue’. Macron’s government knows very well what it is doing: acting on behalf of the capitalists, as it has always done. Our countryside does not need ‘concertations’: it is mobilization, strikes, all of us, together, as we did in December 2019. This is what, from now on, we must push for.”[5]

[1] New Popular Ecological and Social Popular Union: FI, PS, PC, Greens and smaller groups.

[2] Revolutionary Communist Current, French section of the international Trotskyist Fraction that leads the Argentine PTS. It was part of the NPA until it broke away in June 2021 when it presented a presidential candidate of its own.

[3] New Anti-Capitalist Party.

[4] Includes subway, colectivos, intercity trains (RER) and streetcars.

5] [5] Reforme-des-retraites-la-vie-devant-soi-abosser?navthem=1