The debacle of the NPA and the regroupment of the revolutionaries

On December 11, in a national congress divided into two blocs, the latest division -of a long list- in France’s New Anti-Captalist Party came to fruition. After a terminal illness that began a few years after its foundation, with this last division, the little that remained of the original project came to an end. At the time, the experience was followed with interest and expectations by the world’s left. A new now stage opens for revolutionaries, full of challenges and opportunities.

By Alejandro Bodart, General Secretary of the Argentine MST and member of the Executive Committee of the International Socialist League.

The initiative to build the NPA and its leadership were first in the hands of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and, after its dissolution, in those of the cadres from that current, affiliated with the Unified Secretariat – IV International (USFI), commonly identified as Mandelist for following the guidelines of its now deceased founder, Ernest Mandel.

Although, as in any crisis, multiple causes are concatenated, this does not exonerate the leadership of the former LCR, with a majority in the NPA, and the orientation it imposed from the beginning from holding the central responsibility of the derailment. It is then necessary to draw some conclusions at the service attempting to approach a balance.


This organization was formally founded in the heat of the revolutionary days of May 1968 and was for decades one of the currents identified with the most influential Trotskyism in the France and the ideological factory of its international organization, the USFI.

Since before the death of its founder in 1995 and the debates on the future of the revolution that began in the world left with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, a crisis and division began to incubate in its leadership, which, to a certain extent, it tried to contain years later with the founding of the NPA, though it was only postponed for a short time.

Taking advantage of the growth of its young and charismatic figure, post worker Olivier Bensancenot, who garnered 1,200,000 and 1,500,000 votes in the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections respectively, the LCR launched in 2008 the call to build a new broad party open both to anti-capitalist individuals and organizations. The call had a huge impact. After a few months of preparation, the NPA was born on February 8, 2009, in a foundational congress that counted more than 9,000 members and an extension that covered practically all of France.

The joy would be short-lived

Like all the broad left-wing parties that emerged at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, (1) which partly inspired the leaders of the LCR, in addition to its programmatic limitations, its success, development or failure was always linked to its electoral performance.

A few months after its founding, in the 2009 European elections, the NPA list achieved a significant 4.68% of the vote. But the expectations that had been created in the majority of its membership, especially in the independent sectors and in a large part of the “personalities” that had joined were frustrated because it was unable to elect deputies. At the same time, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s break to the left with the Socialist Party, who quickly became a dynamic competitor for the same electoral space, had taken place.

A year later, Besancenot announced that he would not be a candidate in the 2012 presidential election, crumbling the electoral illusions that still remained in the “broadest” sectors of the new party. A crisis of such magnitude began, that in 2011 it would trigger the split of a significant part of the leaders, cadres and militants that came from the LCR and a diaspora of about 6,000 members in a few months. The latent crisis of the old Mandelist leadership thus ended up exploding, taking the new party with it. The right-wing leaders who split joined the Mélenchon project of class collaboration part and parcel.

Thus, what had begun with great illusions, ended two years later in evident failure.

A lost opportunity

In addition to the responsibility of the right wing of the former LCR in the 2011 crisis, the responsibility of the rest of the Mandelist leadership of the NPA was undeniable.

  1. In the first place, they never seriously fought their old comrades, to whom they handed over millions in party funds when they split and with whom, years later, they still share the same international project. If they had confronted them consistently, the damage would have been qualitatively smaller. They did not do so because they never considered the differences that separated them as strategic.
  2. They underestimated Mélenchon and did not adopt a policy to unmask his reformist project, with which years later they are now trying to merge.
  3. They justified, instead of rejecting, Besancenot’s decision to resign as a candidate for president in 2012, which ended up sinking the NPA and paved the way for Mélenchon to become the main figure of the “new left.” This blunder, in turn, exposed the lax character of the younger generations that were taking the reins of the organization.

Despite this devastating blow, all was not lost. The nearly 3,000 members who still adhered to the NPA in 2012 and had resisted the reformist pressure were a very important accumulation that could allow, in a process, to begin to reverse the crisis. However, to achieve this, it was necessary to accept the failure of the original project and adopt a policy and orientation destined to build a strong revolutionary vanguard party, where the different currents that had been constituting within it could coexist democratically. This implied deploying an orientation attached to the workers’ struggles -always present- and fighting against reformism from a class and revolutionary position, something that the majority leadership was unwilling to do. Consequently, the loss of membership continued and the crisis became chronic. The division between a crystallized centrist majority and the rest of the internal currents that were politically located to its left, some sectarian, would become increasingly pronounced.

A revisionist strategy

The leadership of the former LCR had abandoned the strategy of building a revolutionary party for many years, replacing it with the construction of a broad party, centered on elections and an ambiguous program of radical reforms where reformists and revolutionaries coexisted. This is the reason that led them to dissolve the League and put all their energies into building the NPA. When that project collapsed and the few reformist sectors that had joined evaporated, it was left without a strategy.

While the majority entered more and more into crisis, causing the paralysis of the organization, the small currents that had entered the NPA with the aim of strengthening themselves dedicated their efforts to building their groups. Unfortunately, due to the difference in projects, these groups could not agree on a common strategy to challenge and win the leadership.

The current to which I belong never had a sectarian attitude towards the broad anti-capitalist groups that emerged in various countries and became points of reference for layers of the masses. In fact, we enthusiastically supported the founding of the NPA, we followed the experiences of Syriza and Podemos with interest in their early years, and we were co-founders of the PSOL. But we never confused things. All these formations, in our opinion, have had a tactical importance but were sooner rather than later doomed to retreat. The strategy for us continues to be the construction of revolutionary parties and that is why we have evaluated whether to participate in these experiences based on whether or not it helped develop that objective.

The LCR and its international current at the time, negatively impacted by the changes that took place in the world in the 1990s, fell into a deep pessimism that led them to elaborate a mistaken theoretical tripod –new era, new program, new party– that is behind all the political and orientation mistakes that they would commit in the following years, not only in France with the NPA but internationally in every country where this current has intervened.

In an article that I wrote in 2018 about the assessment of the World Congress of the Unified Secretariat of the IV, which I invite you to read, (2) I stopped to explain how disastrous the orientation that emerged from that formula has been for said current: since the era of the socialist revolution had closed, the transitional program no longer made sense and neither did the building of Leninist parties.

The broad party that they tried to build failed and they were opposed to reorienting towards the construction of a revolutionary party, so they began along the path to take the remains of the NPA into the center-left of Mélenchon’s LFI. As they ran into fierce resistance from the rest of the internal currents, it was a matter of time before they decided to break with all of them to achieve this new objective. This and nothing more is what just happened at the recent congress in December.

A revolutionary regroupment is needed

Around 1,500 members were represented at the congress. The leadership’s platform achieved 48.3% of the votes, the left platform, which we supported, 45.6%, and a third centrist list 6%. The final day of the congress, the leadershp did not attend. After the congress, the leadership (3) and the left wing (4) issued separate statements, which we published on our website at the time.

The dynamic that the Mandelist sector has taken can be seen in the recent statements by Philippe Poutou, its main spokesperson: “I no longer raise Trotskyism. It is Marxism, but from a very particular era that corresponds to the anti-Stalinist struggle. Today we are no longer in that at all…” (Libération, 1/7/23)

For their part, the comrades of the left platform, who have decided to remain unified, have chosen a common leadership and have been participating strongly in the struggles that are taking place, have just released the following public document:

“The last NPA congress, in December 2022, was the occasion for the majority of the outgoing leadership to organize the division of the party, without having submitted it to a vote by all the congress delegates because it was clear that such a vote would be unfavorable to them. So now there are two NPAs in the political landscape, similar in size. We regret this fragmentation and weakening of the revolutionary forces against which we continue to fight without having been able to avoid it.

“The split of the NPA is thus marked by the political division between, on the one hand, the orientation towards alliances with the NUPES in the electoral field, with Philippe Poutou and Olivier Besancenot; on the other, the orientation towards a Pole of the revolutionaries, with militants present in the struggles of the world of labor, and an NPA-Youth grouping together several hundred members.

“In a recent interview with Libération, Philippe Poutou launched the formula ‘our obsession is not the NPA,’ confirming the option that he had made public on the first night of the congress on the BFM-TV broadcast, of ‘working with the IF,’ aiming to form joint lists for the elections. For our part, the NPA militants who opposed this orientation towards NUPES and grouped around the platform ‘Relevance and urgency of the revolution,’ maintain, on the contrary, the obsession of an NPA that maintains the course of the extreme left, a militant NPA capable of carrying out a policy of unity of action, even with other organizations, without abandoning the construction of a communist workers party that will continue emerging through the regrouping of the revolutionaries in favor of the great social struggles that await us.”

The main and most numerous current of this left-wing NPA is L’Étincelle, with a presence in  the transport, automobile, education and health unions and holds the leadership of the NPA Youth. With this current, we agree on the position on Ukraine and on the statement they made about the need for a regroupment of the revolutionaries on a national and international scale. The other is Anticapitalism and Revolution (AetR), more focused on trade union activity. A third smaller current is Revolutionary Democracy (DR) and there are also non-aligned militants.

Responding to the workers’ struggles and regrouping the revolutionary left are the most important tasks facing the French revolutionaries. The comrades of the CCR should join this process that the comrades of the NPA Left Platform have initiated, without sectarianism or self-proclamation. They broke with the NPA in June 2021 after launching their own presidential candidate, providing the Mandelist majority a pretext to launch a bureaucratic series of expulsions and weaken the left wing so that it would not achieve a clear majority in the party.

If this process advances, all the conditions are in place to erect a great revolutionary party in France. The objective situation is ripe for the rise of a truly powerful far-left alternative. This is a new opportunity that must not be missed. In the ISL, we are committed to this perspective.

  1. In 1999 the Left Bloc emerged in Portugal, in 2004 the PSOL was founded in Brazil and Syriza in Greece, and in 2007 Die Linke was established in Germany. A few years later, in 2014, Podemos would emerge in Spain. Before these, there had been the birth of the Communist Refoundation in Italy and the Red and Green Alliance in Denmark.
  4. -of-the-npa-congress/