Critiques and Solutions According to the Anti-Capitalists

Besancenot. Photo: Adrien Shimizu.

PARIS. –Thursday October 25 marked the first meeting of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA). After opening remarks, Olivier Besancenot – former presidential candidate in the 2002 and 2007 elections and spokesperson of the party – gave a speech outlining his views on the European crisis.

According to Besancenot, the growing social discontent and concrete concerns of the population- especially of the working class- are overshadowed by the media. He claims that the focus has been on a generalized “insecurity,” so as to create “fear and apathy” among the population, rather than on “social insecurity,” which can lead to a collective anger and discontent that can jeopardize the current social order.

Although the new Socialist government has engaged itself in creating public sector jobs, Besancenot stressed the fact that cuts are still occurring. He argued that some key services- in healthcare, for example- will have to tighten their belts even more than under Sarkozy, and that new jobs announced for education will only cover the departures due to retirement.

To Besancenot, we are in the midst of a global reorganization of capital. Indeed, in the context of this economic crisis, the capitalists have a great range of action. “A crisis context allows you to do everything, everything you would not have done normally,” said the former leader of the NPA, quoting Le Monde.

As a result, the working class is dealing with a rise in unemployment, a deterioration of working conditions, and an increasingly precarious economic and social situation. To Besancenot, this is the case not only in France and the EU generally, but also in the United States.

Regarding the agreements on competitiveness, which are already in effect in Spain, “The promises of Sarkozy are likely to be applied by President Hollande,” said Besancenot. He argued that in the current capitalist system, firms needed to be competitive in every matter in order to survive. The failure to do so, he said, somewhat tongue in cheek, would lead to the exodus of capitalists and intellectuals abroad.

Besancenot did, however, defend the fact that France is economically competitive on the world stage. What is hidden behind the agreement on competitiveness, he argued, is the will to call into question the normal hierarchy, which is among the main points characterised by French labour law.

According to Besancenot, the population at large is left to foot the bill of the economic crisis, rather than those who are responsible for it. The picture of Minister of Productive Recovery Arnaud Montebourg wearing a sailor strip on the front page of Le Parisien and asking for a purchase of French products will not be enough to remedy the crisis, he claims.

He therefore called for the defense of workers and the implementation of two important measures: the prohibition of firings, and the even distribution of work among all those who seek employment. Besancenot claims that these measures could be implemented in as few as four days. He demanded the right of workers to supervise corporateaccounting, and called for a requisitionof public companies that make profits but do not share them. Finally, he discussed the creation of a new governmental branch on social security.

Besancenot ended with a flourish by quoting Karl Marx: “When capitalists have taken everything from us: our jobs, our wages, a part of our belongings, we still have one thing: our dignity.” In Besancenot’s mind, in order to defend this dignity, workers need to concentrate their strength and mobilize.

Spain makes its voice heard

There were not just official representatives –Besancenot, Christine Poupin and Philippe Poutou among them- at the NPA meeting, but also Miguel Urba, a member of Izquierda Capitalista, a Spanish Trotskyist party.

As is the case in France, the Spanish are living through what Urba characterized as “hard times.” To remedy what he deems the inherent injustices in the capitalist system, revolution and socialism are needed. According to Urba, the situation in Spain is not a crisis, but rather a scam. Because 45% of young people are unemployed, purchasing power is decreasing by €4,000 per year and 21% of the Spanish are living below the poverty line.

In order to stem the tide of economic collapse, the Spanish government is making cuts in public necessities, including the health budget. The situation of Spanish students continues to worsen, as most have to take loans with rates between 8 and 20% in order to fund their studies. The scam, claims Urba, has its roots in the banks and the government, and affects the entire population, the young and vulnerable in particular.

This dire situation has caused great public indignation, which has lead to organized protest and collective action. Indeed, between January and August 2012, more than 30,000 strikes occurred in Spain. Since the government can no longer reach consensus with the people, acts of repression are increasing, including the recent prohibition against photographing the police hitting people during demonstrations.

Although those who are protesting “have no future, [they] are not afraid,” Urba claimed. He stressed the importance of remaining united, and he has therefore asked French workers to join the general and coordinated strike planned for November 14. This demonstration will not only take place in Spain, but also in Portugal and Greece, and Urba hopes it will mark the beginning of a new Europe.

A former candidate’s hopes for a better Europe

Among the other notable attendees was Philippe Poutou, a 2012 presidential candidate, and in his time at the podium he did not miss the opportunity to comment on the irony of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the European Union. Indeed, Poutou is of the belief that this reward flies in the face of the reality, as the European Union is currently home to 20 million unemployed and levels of discontent and unrest that are at their highest in decades.

Austerity measures are growing more drastic and public spending continues to be slashed. Poutou worries that living conditions across Europe are declining. According to the former NPA candidate, the solutions offered by the government are to the advantage the moneyed interests, of the richest citizens. But the viable solution of the NPA, he claims, should be to create a shift in the system and to fight capital.

Among the propositions Poutou put forth was the need to socialize the banking system by putting it under the control of wage earners. Moreover, he suggested cancelling the French public debt, which, he envisions, would raise the standard of living and strengthen public services. Finally, he advocated for a debate on the distribution of wealth.

Mr. Poutou emphasized the necessity of a democratic Europe based on a true freedom of movement, as well as equality of rights for all citizens. Change has to take place at a continental scale, because in Poutou’s view, the protection of people has no borders.

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