Home News French revolutionaries launch new anti-capitalist party

French revolutionaries launch new anti-capitalist party

Published on 06/02/2009

Saint Denis -- Hoping to ride a wave of popular anger unleashed by the economic storm, France's revolutionary left launched a new party Friday led by its most polished performer, a Trotskyist postman.

The New Anti-Capitalist Party held its inaugural conference in St. Denis, a drab working class suburb north of Paris, from where Olivier Besancenot hopes to lead a coalition of communists, left radicals and greens to power.

Once there, they hope to abolish the stock market, nationalize all large businesses, seize empty properties to house the homeless, boost the minimum wage and ban any firm that turns a profit from ever laying off staff.

"I want a revolutionary transformation of society," Besancenot declared to a crowd of several hundred new party members. Many of the crowd were drawn from his former party, the Communist Revolutionary League (LCR), which disbanded the night before.

At 34, Besancenot is already a veteran of France’s small but resilient far left movement and its most high-profile flag bearer. An accomplished television performer, Besancenot won 4.1 percent of the vote in the 2007 presidential election.

As delegates gathered at Friday’s conference, his books were arrayed on stalls alongside left wing writers of much longer pedigree, such as Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Noam Chomsky.

The new party is looking forward — keen to seize the moment as job losses, fraud and incompetence on the global financial markets undermine the image of market capitalism. The party hopes to encourage some to seek radical solutions.

Last week, more than a million French workers staged a one-day strike, and still more joined a day of street protests. On Thursday, President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared on television to defend himself, but failed to impress Besancenot.

"Over 90 minutes, we just heard 90 more reasons to mobilize," Besancenot told his supporters. "Sarkozy’s policies are brutal and capitalist. As well as being unfair, they are going to stoke the crisis themselves. We need a new May ’68 to stop them."

The iconic May 1968 protests eventually led to the fall of General Charles de Gaulle’s government.

Sarkozy’s right-wing government’s response to the crisis has been to pump billions of euros into banks and industry and to cut business taxes. The left also wants him to boost the minimum wage and pay grants to poor families.

The hard left knows that now is its moment to make its voice heard but realizes that it has a branding problem of its own — living down the failures and brutal excesses of many earlier revolutionary movements.

The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) will therefore have to be more than a repackaged version of Besancenot’s Trotskyist LCR, but draw communists, ecologists, radicals and disaffected Socialists into a broader movement.

Party leaders claim to have already recruited 9,000 members, roughly three times as many as the defunct LCR. It hopes that as the economic crisis grinds on and more and more workers see their jobs under threat, their ranks will grow.

"We’re still a revolutionary party, but we needed to broaden out," said delegate Vincent Maleuvre, 45-year-old youth worker from Quimper in Brittany. "We will be able to show people that our ideas have a future."

If the NPA is to have a future, it will have to recruit young supporters such as 22-year-old Morand Perrin from Nancy in the east, who said that the mainstream Socialist and Communist parties have lost touch with working class voters.

"Capitalism is an economic system that has no future," he said, confidently.

Rory Mulholland/AFP/Expatica