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Thursday December 18 2008

And the winner is liquidationism

Factions at the recent 'factionless' Parti Communiste Francais congress provided little hope. Jean-Michel Edwin reports

The 34th Congress of the Parti Communiste Français, held over the weekend of December 11-14 in La Défense near Paris saw general secretary Marie-Georges Buffet’s list for the PCF national council secure 67.7% of the vote. This was quite an improvement on the 55.3% support for the leadership’s motion in October’s preliminary voting.

No tendencies are recognised and no factions allowed in the ‘official communist’ PCF, of course. No tendencies, no factions ... but the reality is rather different - everything is dominated by rival groups struggling for influence. Pre-congress policy resolutions are one thing and can indicate a general mood. But the election of leaders by the 1,000 delegates is what matters and that involves deals and manoeuvres between allies and rivals. Behind the facade the real decisions are made behind closed doors..

Three documents had been presented to the PCF membership in October. With nearly 10% of members casting a blank or spoiled vote, Andre Gérin’s strange alliance of traditionalists and populists got 21.8%, as against the leadership’s 55.3% and, to everybody’s surprise (including their own), the 13.7% gained by the Grantites around the journal La Riposte.

Their ‘Strengthen the PCF, re-engage with Marxism’ was, compared to the other two, a thoroughly principled and acceptable document. The rightwing refondateurs did not present any text and most of their supporters cast a blank vote.

Although proportional representation is not part of the PCF tradition, you might expect that the relative support for the three documents would provide at least a basis for elections to the national council. Nothing could be further from the intentions of the leadership, which presides over a delegate system designed to reduce minority representation to a minimum. Local and department congresses elect so-called majority delegations with no clear positions to the next level and this method in effect eliminates those minorities unable to win a certain threshold of support - specifically La Riposte in this case.

At the end of this process the hard bargaining began. Buffet proposed that a single list be presented to national congress delegates, including Gérin and some of his supporters, together with some refondateurs. To the disappointment of his non-Stalinist Gauche Communiste allies and other more orthodox factions, Gérin at first accepted the deal proposed by Buffet. His document’s co-sponsors felt they had been betrayed by their reformist-chauvinist leader, who likes to mouth ‘revolutionary’ phrases. But at the 11th hour the ‘traitor’ was repaid with some treachery from the leadership: only a handful of Gérin supporters were to be included in Buffet’s ‘unity’ slate. So Gérin decided he would present his own last-minute list in the hope of picking up more posts. His list obtained 10.3% of delegates’ votes - less than half of his October support from the membership as a whole.

But there were two other surprise slates: the refondateurs rallied behind Marie-Pierre Vieu, a former close supporter of Marie-Georges Buffet, and won a handy 16.4%. And Nicolas Marchand, an ‘orthodox’ bureaucrat claiming to stand in the tradition of Georges Marchais (the 1970s Soviet-backed general secretary), presented his own list, which won 5.6%. All three minority lists will now be represented on the NC in proportion to the final delegate ballot.

So what happened to the La Riposte tendency, whose text had been supported by 5,419 PCF members in October. Even without proportional representation, it seems obvious that the Grantites should be represented in the party’s ‘parliament’. Some close Buffet supporters had spread the word that they would accept one of them - presumably the tendency’s leader, Greg Oxley - on the ‘unity’ slate. La Riposte did not put forward its own list, but not unreasonably requested that four of its comrades be included on the slate (2.5% of the 160-strong NC, compared to the 13.7% support it had won from PCF members as a whole). As well as comrade Oxley, the Grantites proposed writer Jerome Métellus and two prominent trade union leaders, Hubert Prévaud and Sylvain Roch. None of them were accepted and so La Riposte will have no representation on the NC, thanks to the manoeuvring of the leadership and alternative bureaucrats.

La Riposte was not the only disappointed leftwing tendency following the congress. The hopes of Gauche Communiste of sneaking in a comrade thanks to its unprincipled alliance with Gérin were dashed, as Buffet secured a clear ‘circumstantial’ majority (divided on individual questions, but not on overall politics). That leaves two main winners after the PCF congress.

One of them is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, former Parti Socialists leftwinger and leader of the newly established Parti de Gauche. He was an honoured guest at the congress and his proposal for a left front for the European Union elections next June was agreed virtually unanimously by delegates.

Marie-Georges Buffet has advanced her own proposal for a Linkspartei à la française - just as Oskar Lafontaine’s Die Linke was originally made up of ex-SPD lefts and the ex-Stalinist PDS, so her proposed Progressive Front would have a Parti de Gauche and PCF wing. In fact it fits in nicely with Mélenchon’s plans.

The other winners are the refondateurs, who did not even present their own text in October, remember. They are partisans of ... the very same Jean-Luc Mélenchon. They put on a big semi-public meeting of their faction on December 13 and managed to exert significant pressure on PCF delegates. Their call for a “unitary force of the other left”, the “left of social transformation”, is not incompatible with the unity-mongering of both Mélenchon and Buffet.

According to the refondateurs, “It is difficult but reasonable to bring together in a single movement communists, left ecologists, feminists, Trotskyists, republicans, ‘altermondialists’, fighters for culture and popular education, anti-racists, trade unionists …” It might be even more difficult for such a motley crew to agree a programme.

Many of them spoke at the rally nevertheless - including a good few “Trotskyists”. Although Christian Piquet, leader of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire right wing and fan of Mélenchon, was strangely absent, amongst the speakers were supporters of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) such as, on the right, feminist and Mélenchon enthusiast Clémentine Autain, and, on the left, Jean-Philippe Divés of the LCR majority. Also there were Patricia Latour, a Gauche Communiste leader, plus a variety of Attac members and supporters of former presidential candidate José Bové.

Perhaps the biggest winner of the lot is not a particular grouping or individual, but liquidationism itself.

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