Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Naming the baby, and other dialectical questions

30 October

In this week before the NPA's pre-congress, with no NPA-related trials in process, and just the usual run of Besancenot-sightings in various media, one could say that the NPA story is in pause mode. A vast number of small events are taking place, though, on a variety of levels (most of all in the extremely busy online forums). So let me signal two quite different activities I have been observing up close:

1) Of the various topics under discussion on-line, two draw the greatest activity: the party's program, and its name. But after a few hours of reading the many strings of posts for each, I realize that really the two are one: every proposal to name the party is finally a claim for some programmatic emphasis or other, and conversely, every program suggests a slightly different name. Whether this ferment will lead to some consensus on a program, and/or a viable name, is hard to say at this point. Some support is building to defer the name question and live with "NPA" for a while at least, even though the 'negative' cast of the phrase was intended as a place-holder for something more positive--but the place-holder has taken on a certain life. 

Meanwhile the temporary central committee CAN (Collectif d'Animation Nationale) issued a statement last week essentially suggesting that the name-the-party forum was hopelessly unwieldy as a mechanism to actually resolve the question. On the other hand the extended argument in that statement, and the mass of posts it responds to, shed valuable light on what it means to undertake this politics at this time. CAN's communiqué examines a series of key terms that show up in proposed names, as follows:
  • parti: or a movement?
  • gauche: is the relativism of the term useful? or is there an absolute of the term, which might be 'revolutionary' or some such? Even Ségo claims the term 'gauche' for herself ...
  • de classe: is the class analysis so central to Marxism appropriate for the present struggle? Is the party oriented toward a classless alternative? If it intends to gather (as it says) all the exploited, are these the same as 'workers' (travailleurs, but also ouvriers or even salariés)?
  • révolutionnaire: here there is substantial agreement: the party intends a break with capitalist forms of organization, not a reform or modification. But is the term too scary to put in footlights as the party's name?
  • socialisme: here again, substantial agreement that socialism is the pour, the counterpart of the anti- in the present name. But there is already a Socialist party, which no one wants to be confused with, and also a legacy from the discredited 'actually existing socialist regimes.' So how to convey the idea of a reinvented socialism?
  • démocratie: again, solid agreement on the goal of real participatory democracy, of which the forums give some anticipatory vision. But how to differentiate from the co-opted forms of democracy in evidence in France and elsewhere?
  • Other key elements: ecologism, feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and--perhaps most significant--internationalism all claim some visibility, but it's hard to privilege one without demoting the others.
So this name business raises lots of questions--good ones--but the simple marketing question--a catchy name-- gets quickly overwhelmed. My guess is that CAN will preempt the question, and the party will remain the NPA, even though (as many note) it isn't just against but for, it won't always be new, and it may already be more of a movement than a party. As Shakespeare noticed, the answer to "What's in a name?" can be "trouble."

2) Meanwhile back at the Chateau Ouvrier, NPA 14e met last Tuesday, and a little microcosm of the party's concerns unfolded. Apart from a lot of busyness as the core group tries to participate in various committees local, city-wide, and national, there is a constant drawing-in of new people. We were only 15 (the Toussaint vacation drew many away), of whom about half were attending their first or second meeting. And when the group tried to agree on a statement of party principles to send along to the national committee, a tempest blew up as one of the newer comrades roundly condemned the draft as involving all the old Marxist/Communist jargon and clichés that--in the speaker's view--have no use in the 21st century. Passion emanates from some precise source, and in this case that source was clear: the speaker evoked his grandparents, Chinese people who had participated in the revolutionary struggles of the mid-century. And his ingrained, almost phobic resistance to the terminology of those times was uncontainable: the meeting came close to collapsing into a shouting match more than once.

 Others supported his thesis in more nuanced terms: yes, there are large sociological changes to account for (eg: the fact that through their retirement accounts many union workers are shareholders if not precisely capitalists, the declining fraction of workers who are 'ouvriers' --factory workers?--and so on). But what impressed me was that the bulk of the committee held its ground: Marx was eloquently defended, his tenets knowledgeably applied to the present conjuncture, the goal of 'revolution' in no way relativized (though all agree that the tactics will have to be newly invented, and will not involve armed struggle per se). And through all the shouting and blunt contradiction, a certain sense of common purpose (if not quite civility) persisted. There is a lot of tolerance both in the on-line forums and in this group for controversy, with feelings only temporarily bruised. I come away with a new appreciation for not being 'nice' à l'américaine in these situations. 

So the party heads into its pre-congress, starting with the first Paris NPA rally--starring Olivier Besancenot-- on Thursday night. What direction all this fervor will take, whether so many intense expectations can be satisfied, whether the tension between democratic openness and expediency can be sustained ... these are questions that hang in the air, or rather criss-cross the virtual space of the internet.  


Monday, October 27, 2008

vive Jaurès

Today I read about the death of Jean Jaurès. It was not a big job of research--actually I just read the article in Wikipedia. Probably I once knew who he was, and what he did, and how he died, but all that was a blank slate when I started this morning. So here's what I learned:

Jean Jaurès was a leader of the French Socialist Party at the turn of the last century, a leading figure in the Second International, a deputy to the Assembly, a hero to many. In those terrible months in 1914 when the most horrific war imaginable at that time was drawing ineluctably toward its opening bombardment,  Jaurès had the idea that the working people of Europe could still prevent it by acting in concert. This idea was wildly unpopular in France, where the fires of chauvinistic pride were already burning high. Even in his own party Jaurès, though respected,  was in the minority. Still he spent the last two weeks of July shuttling frantically between meetings of workers' organizations, trying to build the foundations for a general strike, which could only work if every combatant country was paralyzed simultaneously--an unlikely outcome.  To achieve partial success in one's own country was to risk the charge of treason, but for Jaurès, who seemed to understand better than most the weight of devastation that pulled on the other side of the balance, the cost of failure was too heavy to bear. So he labored on, returning to Paris on the afternoon of the 31st of July. He went to his office at the newspaper L'Humanité, where he wrote another appeal against the war. Then he went as usual to take his dinner at the Café du Croissant, rue de Montmartre where, sitting with his back to the sidewalk, he was shot in the head by a deranged nationalist student named Villain. He died instantly. The French army, like those all across Europe, was already mobilizing toward the front. His socialist brethren, along with many of his nationalist adversaries, paid Jaurès the honor of a massive funeral, but there was no further opposition in France to the war, which broke out in force two weeks later. 

Villain was imprisoned for the duration of the war and tried only afterwards, in 1919. Despite the certainty of the facts, he was acquitted by a French jury, who judged that "he had done a service for the fatherland" by murdering Jaurès. Under French law Jaurès's widow was obliged to pay court costs.

Why do I bother to excavate this little footnote? Well, I happened to be reading an article on the NPA website this morning, in which the author offered the opinion--which I happen to share--that the capitalist system will not be able to respond to the urgencies of the impending environmental catastrophe in time, if ever, and he therefore called for an anti-capitalist party that would be "100% écosocialiste." The author, Raoul Marc Jennar, notes in passing that he was not a member of the Trotskyist LCR, did not share"the political culture born in 1917," but rather belonged to the tradition of 1793 (the radical phase of the French Revolution), 1871 (the Paris Commune), and "the man who was murdered in the Café du Croissant in Paris in August, 1914." That was the remark that sent me to Wikipedia, where I retrieved the rather moving story of Jaurès's murder. 

But still the reader--if any has penetrated this far--may well ask, so what? Why that, why now? Or better still, why this quixotic fascination for the improbable Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste, when you could be simply enjoying Paris (and perhaps entertaining a reader or two with your folkloric evocations, so much more fun to read than these tracts chiants)? But I find it remarkably interesting that M. Jennar, in the year 2008, continues to keep faith with Jaurès, let alone Robespierre and the communards. Like Jaurès we are staring into the abyss, though it may not cost us our lives to say so--just a little sleep, unless we change the subject. With whom are we keeping faith, dear reader, you and I?

So there, faithful reader, I'm done for now. Maybe tomorrow I'll have something lighter to talk about. But for now, vive Jaurès, vive le NPA, vive l'écosocialisme!

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Saturday, October 25, 2008


25 October

The outdoor market near my quartier,  the Edgar- Quinet,  happens twice a week.  On Wednesdays I go there because I'm hungry, but on Saturdays I try to work up a hunger just so I can go and hear the street-singer. He is quite a performer, with his traditional costume and his high, almost operatic baritone, and he positively preens for the many like me who take his picture. His repertoire, cranked out on a wonderful old hurdy-gurdy machine, includes all the old bal musette standards. Grandmothers often pause so their young charges can breathe in this air of an older Paris as it blows past. I don't recognize the tune he is playing when I enter the market this morning, but as I make my way down the stalls I hear 6, 8, a dozen mostly older folks still singing the tune long after the sound of the hurdy-gurdy has faded away.  



25 October

There are several bookstores just around the corner on the boulevard Montparnasse, including one that sets out a charming rack of antiquities, but the moment I saw Tschann Libraire I knew I had found the real thing: notices for meet-the-author events and other book news taped all over the door, a steady flow of serious-looking customers in and out, and BOOKS, lots of them, ranked ceiling to floor on every square meter of wall space with more piled on tables and desks. When I mentioned to Mme. la libraire that I wanted to read about the literary and cultural legacy of the quartier she gave me a sharp look, as if to determine how serious I was, marched over to one of the dense shelves, pulled down a small armload of books, and handed them to me. Then she directed me to her own swivel chair and suggested I take a look at them "in tranquility." Now that's a bookstore!

Among the volumes was a vast, 600-plus-page edition of the memoirs of André Salmon, a writer I had never heard of. Salmon was a poet, novelist, and art critic who lived just around the corner from where I am now through the golden Montparnassian decades of the '10's, 20's, and '30's, before decamping for the south of France, where he lived and wrote for another 30 years. As a young man he had been part of the Montmartre crowd, but in 1909 he joined the migration of artists from the one butte to its crosstown rival. In explanation he cites the adage, "Open a school, you close a prison," and elaborates: "Open a night club, you close an artist's workshop, and ten poets disappear." A succinct history of the decline of Montmartre.

Luckily for me, Salmon also published a shorter volume just about Montparnasse, and that's the book I walked out with and am deeply immersed in at this moment. Salmon is a challenging stylist, a bit like Proust in his attachment to a rarefied vocabulary and long, twisting sentences, but he is also (like Proust) a genial and pungent observer.

To give you a little sense of Salmon, and to give myself a little translating work-out, I am appending a short passage from his boyhood recollections (editorial suggestions and corrections welcomed):

[...] ça descendait, au clair de lune et en bande, bras-dessus, bras-dessous, la rue de la Gaîté pleine des attraits d'une rue chinoise, parfumée de friture, arrosée de lumières violentes charriées par les ruisseaux. Nos drôles bramaient, feulaient selon les temperaments variables d'une unique nature, leur hymne provocateur, cynique et fier, orgeuilleux et patibulaire: 

Faut qu' ça pète ou qu' ça casse,
V'là les gars de Montparnasse;
Ils sont tous rigolos;
Viv'nt les gars de Montparno!
                                                           ("Montparnasse," p. 9)

[... this rowdy bunch] strolled arm-in-arm under a full moon down the rue de la Gaîté, as full of attractions as any street in China, perfumed with the smell of deep-frying and washed with violent flashes of light that shone in the streaming gutters.  Some of our jokers bellowed out, while others growled, according to their particular variations on a single personality, their provocative anthem, proud and  cynical, felonious and bold:

Look out for that fart, it'll bust your ass,
'Cuz we're the guys from Montparnasse;
With this bunch of clowns you never know;
So here's to the guys from Montparno!

Fun, hunh? I'll look for more bits to pass along as I go.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

In the Ring with OB

23 October

As the economic crisis deepens, and the NPA moves closer to its actual founding congress, the swirl of media attention that his lifted Olivier Besancenot into a  prominence unheard of for many years on the far-left shows no sign of abating. Indeed le Monde seems to regard him as a ‘hook’ for its series of online interviews en directe and has been prominently displaying the notice of his participation in the series next Monday, complete with photo, in its online edition for the past few days.

But what is the real communicative value of these encounters between a serious revolutionary party leader and the mainstream (read: bourgeois, infotainment, commercial, sensationalized) media? Let’s take as an exemplary case Tuesday’s 15-minutes-of-fame for OB at the microphones of BFMtv, a relatively new and small (I think— anyone who knows more about the vagaries of French TV here, please weigh in) cable network. French speakers can find the footage on the new (and quite user-friendly, unlike the old LCR site) NPA site at, but for the rest I have prepared the following little recap of the proceedings.

The ‘host’ of the show, Jean-Jacques Bourdin, launches the exchange by asking OB what he thinks of Sister Emmanuelle, famously known to the media as the 'French Mother Teresa,' who has just died. OB makes a respectful acknowledgement of her work. “But you, you’re not a believer,” says JJB, as OB explains that no, he isn’t, but he finds some common cause with her work to relieve the poor, and plunges into an analysis of the shortage of public housing, and the decline in social security. JJB looks uneasy for a bit, but then interrupts him to ask if he doesn’t think Sarkozy is handling things pretty well. This sets off a long critique of the French government's bail-out plan, and a call for a new “service public bancaire,” a publically owned and managed financial sector, which is the core of NPA’s counter-proposal.

JJB breaks in on OB here to ask, smiling, “Are you still being spied on?” (Background: OB has been in court this week pursuing his complaint against the French CEO of the Taser-gun manufacturing firm, who has admitted gathering personal data on OB. He and six co-defendants may have violated privacy laws by supplying privileged financial data, taking  personal photos, even recording the daily schedules of OB's small children.} OB tries to establish his objection to deploying the Taser without a full study of alleged incidents—150 deaths in the US, according to Amnesty International—but JJB interrupts him with questions like, “Who do you think did the spying? Did you see them?” and “’Under investigation’ doesn’t mean he’s guilty, does it?”

As OB recites the cautionary practices of other EU countries on the Taser question, JJB abruptly breaks in: “Is Jean-Marc Rouillon a member of the NPA?”  (Background: Rouillon 20-some years ago, in an act of radical-left adventurism, murdered a French CEO, and had served 22 years, 10 in solitary, before being released on parole. He was just reincarcerated two weeks ago when he gave a magazine interview, a parole violation, and refused to express remorse, a political land-mine. During his brief liberty he did indeed join the Marseilles NPA, though only after the committee required him to renounce violence as a tactic. OB—against the advice of many in the NPA—has stoutly defended his right as a former prisoner to exercise his “rights as a citizen to engage in activist politics.”} OB notes wearily that he has been asked about this in the media every day for the past ten days, but JJB is tenacious: “But you understand that he didn’t show any remorse?” “Do you think armed struggle is justified?”

OB finally takes a high-speed exit from Rouillon into an elaboration of democratic socialist principles; JJB is non-plussed for a moment, but manages to break in with “You like soccer—what do you say to those soccer fans who booed the ‘Marseillaise?’” (Background: This happened at a recent match between the national teams of France and Tunisia, played in France. President Sarkozy has threatened to personally suspend any future match where such a thing should happen, though no one is quite sure how he will do it.)  OB managed to suggest that the entire world of professional soccer was “suffering from racism and nationalism,” but not before JJB asked him if he sang the “Marseillaise” at games. “No, but I don’t boo.” “Do you know the words?” OB, with a master’s degree in history, allowed himself to smile, and remarked, “I know a few things about history—and it’s a beautiful revolutionary song.”

On a final note, after asking OB if he owned any stock, and if he gave coins to street-beggars, JJB read from Steven Erlanger’s NY Times profile of OB published last month, the part where Erlanger suggests that OB resembles Tin-Tin. OB replied that he and Erlanger had had an interesting conversation about the financial crisis, and was preparing to elaborate, but—alas—time was up.

There is something undeniably comical about such an exercise as this interview—JJB  could play himself on Saturday Night Live without rehearsing. And the recurrent image of OB, lifting up the conversation and setting it back on the tracks again and again, is consistent with the overtones of David-and-Goliath that are part of his allure. But he and the French public will be forced to wade through a vast morass of such sludge in order to explain and learn, respectively, what this new party is actually about. There may be no other way to reach a public, and the times are too perilous not to try. Maybe OB even enjoys playing Muhammed Ali to JJB’s Sonny Liston, though one senses he would rather spar with someone of comparable skill.



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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

from the ground up

22 October

I happened to be walking this afternoon along the quais, looking up at Notre-Dame de Paris and thinking (once again) what a magnificent thing it is, despite all the efforts of the touristo-consumer culture to reduce it to a cliché of itself. What suddenly struck me, though, was a thought of a different order. What an unimaginable quantity of human labor is embedded in all those stones! Think of it: with nothing but hand tools and the most rudimentary machines, how slowly they must have cut and placed and mortared the stones, one after another, day after day. And in the first generation, how they must have known how little they would ever see of the built structure, how little of it their stone-cutter sons would see, or even their stone-cutter grandsons. Yet still they cut, placed, and mortared stone after stone, accumulating value through the decades and centuries. And finally, what value!

Perhaps it wasn't the first time I had thought these thoughts, but recent events have allowed me to appreciate them in a new way. Gazing up at Notre-Dame, I began to think about the tower of world finance, that bizarrely cantilevered structure whose trillions in hypothetical 'value' rest on so relatively small a base of real economic fact. (Is it $60 of speculative capital for every $1 of productive capital? Does anyone even know?) And the sheer speed  of it, which generates such huge profits by means of unbelievably rapid turnovers in finance capital through transactions that fly with electric speed around the globe. And still this monstrous and denatured construct continues to be buttressed on every side by the confident assurances of leaders and prudent commentators of every stripe, as if by some prodigy of faith we can will this engineering fantasy to stand ... for how much longer?

So I'm looking at the cathedral, thinking about all those stonemasons, and more and more I'm tempted to cry out like Ezra Pound against USURIA and on behalf of artisanry and the value of craft. But no, the Middle Ages are over, and I'm not so moved by nostalgia. No, we need to master the artisanry of our own age, in order to build a Notre-Dame that will address our modern needs for the centuries to come. The task will be slow, and the ones who started it have already died without seeing even a transept--indeed, their first structure collapsed not long ago, as did more than a few Gothic experiments in their own day. But that mustn't discourage us from continuing to cut the stones and lay the foundation for the new society, for a new social order built from the ground up,  built by ordinary workers to serve everyday human needs, built with love, not greed, built--like Notre-Dame in its day--to shelter us all in its compassionate embrace. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


21 October

Where is Vavin? Before I even got to Montparnasse I saw the name on the plan du quartier: Vavin. It seemed to be the nearest métro station, but I couldn’t find it for the longest time. Found the street, but not the station. Then for a while I would lose the street, because where it crosses my street it forms a Y, and I’d get it mixed up with the rue Bréa, the left fork.  The rue Vavin is actually very small, and the métro station isn’t on it at all:  it’s on the Boulevard Montparnasse. That’s why I couldn’t find the station: I thought it was the Montparnasse station, until I realized that that station is further on, and much, much bigger. So from the start Vavin posed a lot of questions.

Even after I mastered the topology of Vavin, it has taken me some time to figure out its sociology. As you walk down the rue Notre-Dame des Champs, you pass almost nothing but schools and apartment buildings in close formation with few breaks in the façades until you reach the rue Vavin, where it opens up into a little square. The café Vavin, whose double rows of tables wrap around the corner as if it were on a boulevard and not just two small streets, is always noisy and full of young people no matter what time of day or night. Eventually I realized that for all the many students in the quartier, the Vavin is the logical hang-out, along with the bakery that turns into a sandwich shop at lunchtime, and the sidewalk itself, which can be impassable in the mid-afternoon. So that is one Vavin, a magnet for the young, but there are others.

A different crowd, a more sophisticated twenty-something crowd, permanently occupies the sidewalk in front of the Lucernaire, the avant-garde cinema and theatre complex at the bottom of the square. They stand around or sit at a handful of tables, and fill the whole street with clouds of smoke. Threading these sidewalk societies is a near-continuous line of mothers with carriages and small children in tow, on their way to or from the nursery and elementary schools up the street. They too leave their mark on Vavin: for the children a large toy-store fills the top of the square, while their mothers lend to the scene the poignancy of their faded beauty.

Across the square is another café with just a few tables and an older clientele, but even it lights up on Saturdays, when the little specialty butcher draws a long line of mères and grand-mères de famille, and middle-aged couples window-shop the boutiques that line the square and overflow down the rue Vavin. In the stone-paved center of the square a newsstand spreads its wares around a belle-époque fountain whose basin is supported by a foursome of gracefully draped naiads. These seem impervious to the constant circulation of motos around and sometimes (illegally) through the middle of the square, drowning out the din of conversation as they roar past.

It took me many trips through Vavin before I noticed all these features, like little compartments that opened for me one by one. I’m sure there are others that are still shut.

I have seen numerous references to a ‘carrefour Vavin,’ though no street sign bears that name. It is rather a virtual carrefour, a word which literally refers to the bifurcations (fourches) of four (quatre) paths, but anyone conversant with modern French can be forgiven for seeing in its name the image of a big square oven. I have seen other such squares tucked away in Paris’s residential neighborhoods, each one a small dream of urban design.  All sorts of things get cooked up in these places. But Vavin is special because of the way the plane trees overhanging the fountain give it the air of an oasis, because of the way its two Vs seem to mirror the Y-shape of its defining streets, the way its very name seems to rhyme with an even more intimate emblem of hospitality and enclosure. Vavin is special because if only for a short while it has become my little carrefour.


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Sunday, October 19, 2008

just seen on the boulevard

19 October

So this afternoon was the big teachers' demonstration. Tens of thousands of teachers from all over France marched around, then through, the Latin Quarter, passing less than 100 yards from my front door, chanting, singing, waving signs and banners. Teachers are facing massive lay-offs, budget cuts, and worse, and their high degree of union organization can pull off a good old-fashioned labor protest--color-coordinated delegations, graphically brilliant banners, songs that everyone can sing, and does--of a sort one seldom sees anywhere these days.

Two or three guys from the NPA staked out a corner at the top of the Boulevard Port-Royal, where the march would slow to make the turn onto Saint-Michel, and hung their brand-new banner with the party logo: a bull-horn. Stacks of leaflets appeared, supporting the teachers and inviting them to join the NPA, and I joined a squadron of 10, then 25 or 30 militant(e)s, handing them out to marchers and passers-by. Hard, but high-energy work. It took about an hour for the whole cortège to pass. At some point in the middle I looked up, and there was Olivier Besancenot, doing what I was doing, handing out leaflets. Except that he was also talking with some of the party stalwarts, greeting well-wishers, planting bises on friendly cheeks, and looking after his good-natured but sleepy son, who looked to be 3 or 4. It all seemed oddly down-to-earth, oddly real somehow. As though he really does like to spend Sunday afternoons going to demos, taking care of his kids, talking politics with his pals. It's hard to think what other national-level political leader would turn up unstaged in just this way.

Cynical reader, stop: I know what you're going to say.  Plenty of other political types on the soi-disant French left are saying so, and I've even heard whispers from NPAers. People like me who feel this about OB are dupes and suckers and victims of the most blatant media-savvy manipulation. Perhaps, but I don't think so, not in this case. I think OB is actually trying, as the German Greens did years ago, to rethink the role of the politician, trying to undermine certain myths of the leader. He may fail. His skillful and unambivalent use of mass media already looks like a slippery slope to some of his friends. If the party grows according to plan, and he remains its public face, he will surely find it hard to maintain this low-key posture. But for now, OK, I think Besancenot is for real, and refreshingly so, and I don't care who knows it. 


Saturday, October 18, 2008

clouds giving way to sun

18 October

Even for someone accustomed to New England's fickle climate, the changeability of Parisian weather can be unsettling. You think you see the dawn mist dispersing into a clear sky, but then you go out without your umbrella, and sure enough it clouds over and starts to shower. If you wait it out, though, you may still get some sun in the afternoon.

My rather full day of politics was just like that. I spent four hours in a grueling session of the Paris NPA Coordinating committee, gleaning some exciting information, growing hungry and tired and a bit testy,then struggling to stay tuned as the meeting threatened to collapse into anomie. But after it thankfully adjourned on a note of agreement, I hopped on the métro, and just a few stations away, my ennui gave way to exhilaration as I joined this wonderful marche festive under the banner Bridges not Walls (Des ponts pas des murs), powered by an explosive drum corps you can barely begin to imagine from this little photo. (More on that in a minute.)

First, though, the meeting.  

We sat around a long table in the basement of La Brêche, Paris headquarters of the LCR, about 35 of us representing the 17 or 18 local NPA committees currently active in nearly all of the city's 20 arrondissements. For the first hour or more we went around the table and heard each local describe its various 'public outreach' initiatives. These spanned a broad range, from leafletting markets about the current crisis to forging alliances with other activist groups and movements to supporting individual undocumented workers threatened with expulsion. One group, the XXème, spent the last few weeks planning a big neighborhood party, starting with speeches from some party luminaries and then eating and dancing "into the morning." (I'd be there right now if I wasn't so tired.)

 Some issues are widely shared: almost every group is working with a coalition of left parties and unions--and mail carriers in their neighborhoods--to oppose current plans to privatize the French postal service. Many are creating public educational forums to discuss the financial crisis. Several work closely with immigrant support groups, but only the XIIIème had the honor to report that of the 29 undocumented workers it assisted through a cumbersome sort of amnesty program, all 29 received permanent working papers. This news was met with little nods and noises expressing admiration.

The actual status of these local committees is variable. Several just had their first meeting in the last week or two. Others have been meeting for six months, and have 50 or 60 active names on their distribution lists. In the aggregate, though, these party activists, with overlapping memberships in many activist groups, and cautious partnerships with other left parties and the Greens around select issues, are carrying the NPA message into all those little corners of the city where it is most likely to resonate. The enjeu, as they say, is whether they can bring some sizeable fraction of these partners into the party.

The second half of the meeting turned to some pressing organizational matters: the November 8/9 national NPA meeting (not a congress) of which the Paris groups are in the role of host; the status of the draft documents for that meeting and the sticky question of how open they are to amendment; and the procedures by which the Paris groups will meet on the issues they have    
agreed to research (public services, undocumented workers, urban housing). These are meaty topics, all important, but none especially suited to disposition by a committee of 35.  A notice I saw for a different meeting promised adjournment by 1 pm "for those comrades who need their aperos"; drinks all around would have helped this meeting a lot.

Of the two-plus hours of discussion that ensued, I will just point to several inter-related and quite interesting tensions surrounding the November 8/9 meeting. Recall that this is a party that doesn't exist yet, and will achieve critical mass only by making a clear break from its leninist antecedents in the LCR. Every organizational gesture is for this reason freighted with subtext, and the November 8/9 event is a big gesture. Is it more important to encourage the diversity of opinion by leaving major questions open in advance, or to show coherence and resolve to external observers? (Considerable attention will be paid to this non-congress by a political establishment that sees Besancenot and the NPA coming up fast in its rear-view mirror.) Will the key texts--the statuts, the principles, the 'orientations' (a draft I haven't seen yet)--be circulated at the meeting as drafts, or as finished documents? If drafts, how will they be amended? Can local committees have a say in those drafts before the meeting? For all the urgency of these questions, no definitive answers were readily available. At this stage of its fetal development the NPA is still an act of faith.

But let's get out of that meeting before we fall asleep, lose interest, or decide we hate each other.

Des ponts pas des murs was the most visible face of a 'Citizen Summit' organized by Association Emmaüs and a coalition of some 300 groups who support immigrants and their civil liberties. Its specific target was the European Union and its 'shameful directive' ("directive de la honte") authorizing member states to detain undocumented immigrants, deport their children, and so forth. Le Président Sarkozy, past the midpoint of his rotating term as European president and well-remembered for his shameful assaults on immigrant rights while Minister of the Interior, was clearly in the sights of the protesters as well. The whole event would be classed, I think, as part of that lively and multi-faceted movement here called Altermondialisme--not just an 'anti-globalization' movement as we know it but a host of initiatives in support of global equity. Thus an array of placards called for fair North-South trade as well as freer terms of immigration.

But the action was less in the signs than the body language. The corps of 30 or 40 drummers, nearly all women, dancing not marching to the polyrhythms they detonated, raising and lowering their arms in a synchronized ballet more African than European, seemed to be there to demonstrate the richness of world culture more than the short-sightedness of European policy. And the several thousands who were thus driven along from Bastille to République were a carnival crowd, despite their protest signs. For me, taking to the street just a few meters from where the French people seized the Bastille and launched a new epoch in human history, was no small thing. Mutatis mutandis, some such ferment was in evidence on the Boulevard Beaumarchais at that moment. 

The marche festive, technically unrelated to the NPA, was nonetheless mentioned numerous times in the flurry of NPA communiqués that flood my in-box, and there are clearly many altermondialistes participating in the NPA committees. Even before the financial crisis erupted, the gradual deterioration of France's social contract has given new life to a variety of activist movements. From the anti-libéraux (that is, anti-free-market capitalism) to the 'Non' campaign against the European constitution to the active daily support for undocumented workers and their families, there is vitality, purpose, and--yes, as I saw--joy in these movements. The great challenge for the NPA is to harness a sufficient measure of that energy.  We'll see.   

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Friday, October 17, 2008

close encounters

17 October

My street, Notre-Dame des Champs, is long, narrow, crooked, and very old. As its name suggests, it dates to a time in the Middle Ages when it bordered the fields; likewise, more recently, the nearby Boulevard Montparnasse once marked the edge where country and city met. According to old guidebooks Parisians as late as the Second Empire would repair there of a Sunday for recreation and country air. The name of my café, the Bal Bullier, recalls one of the open-air dances that regularly took place here. At another of these lieux de plaisance, the Grande-Chaumière, just across the street from where I write these lines, in 1845 the Can-Can was invented. There ought to be a plaque.

I can't recall if it was Georg Simmel or Walter Benjamin who  remarked that the essence of the urban experience is the incongruity of chance encounters, and the effet de choc that these routinely cause the city-dweller. One of the most incongruous juxtapositions I have encountered anywhere in Paris lies just at the bottom of my street, where it meets the boulevards. There at the corner sits the Closerie des Lilas, a famous old restaurant dating to Montparnasse's quasi-rural past. And there in the little square just in front stands the statue of le Maréchal Ney, Napoléon's most celebrated commander. The Closerie, as its name suggests, is completely enclosed by a tall green floral hedge, a singular fact that gives it an air of bucolic tranquillity despite the busy boulevard. Marshall Ney, on the other hand, stands in an agonized posture, his neck twisted sideways and his sword poised over his head as if to decapitate some aggressor approaching from behind. One struggles to imagine what these two landmarks can possibly have to do with one another--did M. le Maréchal fail to make a reservation? Was the Suprême de canette "vigneronne" avec galette de pommes de terre aux cèpes not prepared to his taste?--yet there they are, sharing en permanence the same little piece of Parisian sidewalk. 

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

the comrades roll up their sleeves

16 October

While my first NPA meeting at the Trojan Horse was quite festive, last night’s meeting of the 14th arrondissement committee of the NPA was a no-nonsense affair. Twenty-three of us crowded into a common room at the Chateau Ouvrier, a public housing complex locally famous for having defeated the efforts of urban renewal to tear it down. Dimitri, the presider by consensus, kept the agenda on track, shushed all side conversations—“pas de dialogue, s’il te plaît”—and restricted every speaker to three minutes, carefully measured on his battered travel clock. 

Time is short, he reminded us several times, and we have a lot to do. The party’s next organizational congress is November 8/9, and many of the outstanding points of contention will need to be resolved there, in advance of the founding congress in January. All over France local committees are meeting to hash out disputes and send position papers to the central committee, but I wonder how many are doing so with the focus and determination of NPA 14e?

I will have to sift through my pages of notes to highlight a few of the many issues we covered in three hours of intense debate, but first a word about the participants. Half a dozen, like me, were newcomers, mostly listeners. At the center of things was a core group, mostly men, mostly middle aged, though several younger women are also clearly mainstays. As we introduced ourselves, people stated first names and their engagements : labor organizers, movement activists, former Communists and Socialists, to be sure, and some long-time Communist Leaguers (LCR) who try hard not to come across as insiders. Dimitri is a former CP activist, tough-minded, sometimes abrasive, and very funny at the same time. His counter-weight, Marc, an “early retiree” who arrived on a bicycle with a sack of apples picked from his own tree for the comrades, is patient and avuncular, though no less intent. Several are graduate students, and nearly everyone speaks with intellectual clarity.

Elsa, a doctoral candidate in philosophy, presented the first topic: “programme,” or what the party stands for. Her summary of the subcommittee that is meeting on this question was laced with the terminology of academic Marxism, but her point was just that: the committee felt that all this terminology—“ bourgeois,” “class struggle,”  “socialized means of production,” even “state” and “democracy”—needs to be carefully scrutinized both for actual meaning and for its usefulness in a wider public forum. Our group generated a much longer list of such terms, and pledged to explore what we think they mean in an electronic forum over the next week, with resolution of differences (by vote of enrolled party members) at next week’s meeting.

This question of membership and cards is a serious business. You pay to belong, on a sliding scale by income: temporary memberships (till January) cost between E10 and E100. Cards are being distributed, and after next week no one without a card will be allowed to participate in decisions.

Overarching all questions of program is the big one, as Dimitri framed it: will this party call for the abolition of capitalism, or will it make a place for those who want to reform it? Dimitri supports the former, period; others think more flexibility, at least for a while, will encourage party growth. Next meeting NPA 14e will debate the question, take a vote, and send its resolution to the national committee. The technical term for this is démocratie de base, but what the central committee will do with these communications from the base is anyone’s guess right now. That crucial question loomed large over the second major topic of the evening, the statuts (the party’s charter or operational rules).

Drafts of possible structures are already circulating from the national committee, and our local group’s version, with annotations, comes to seven dense pages. In brief, the drafts envision a party whose semi-annual congresses would be “sovereign”; the congresses would elect a central committee, with some version of ‘term limits.’ That central committee, along with some administration, would effectively run the party between congresses.

 At the same time the party’s primary structure will be the local committees such as NPA 14e; all membership is to a local committee, and these will have some latitude in managing their affairs. How to run an efficient party without endowing the center with too much power is, of course, the big question, especially as many of these folks have bitter experience, direct or indirect, with the Stalinist residues of the PCF. So my colleagues asked a lot of shrewd and specific questions about exactly what mechanisms will ensure that the opinions in the field will matter at the central office. Marianne, one of the younger people most involved in the committee discussions, insisted that the overall design is not a pyramid, but a “système de retour par la base,” a sort of feedback loop whose mechanisms are far from clear. But the prominence of this topic, and the intensity of the questioning, suggest that this new party will feel quite different from the centralized and secretive LCR it springs from.

One interesting point of contention at first seemed small to me: should NPA sponsor, as most other French parties do, a youth organization? Laetitia, one of the younger comrades, sounded like the laissez-faire young people I know when she said in effect, why not? Why not reach people where they are, have a campus-based group (“un NPA de fac”), a way for the young to do their thing. Opposition from the older members was vehement, grounded in the principle of ‘why make distinctions? Everyone should be a member of equal standing.’ Ultimately the whole category of ‘youth’ was rejected as a social construct, an unhealthy one, and that was that.

A second quite fascinating exchange concerned the question of ‘parity,’ the rule that male and female members will be represented equally at every level of party structure. This is old news to most, from whatever left group they work with, and there was no objection—though I believe I detected some ironic looks from several older male comrades.  One of the grad students, Yoann, then proposed that the same principle should apply to guarantee right of access to the economically or socially marginal: immigrants, unemployed persons, he wasn’t sure of the definitions but wanted some principle that would assure some level of participation, even at the central committee level. This was a more challenging idea, though clearly well-received. But then Laetitia, who happened to be the only black person in the room, made a powerful declaration to the effect that she found it unbelievable (“hallucinant”) that this party, so keen on representing the banlieues, the marginal, the sans-papiers, would not design some form of parity based on race. “C’est un parti blanc,” she shouted, and looking around the room this seemed hard to dispute. But dispute it they did, nearly all the others, insisting that there could be no special memberships, that all were equal, and so forth. But what about male/female parity, asked one free-spirit? No, that’s different, that’s grounded in the historical specificity of the blah blah blah …. In short, Laetitia got nowhere, but I think she put her finger on one of the most essential questions for this party, if it wants to be a representative workers’ party, and I am drafting a little memo of my own in support of her position. We’ll see. To my American eyes the majority position looks like a huge blind spot, but given the venerable logic of French republicanism, it may be the only possible conclusion.

There was much more, but this post is already too long, so I’ll stop. The Paris-wide coordinating committee meets on Saturday, and I’ll be interested to see if the other local reps are as keen-witted and dedicated and I want to say professional in their approach to political organizing. NPA 14e is a formidable little group; writ large, they could move mountains.




Four days now since I landed on this blog, and still no sign of another sentient being ... But wait! Can those be human footprints?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Choses vues

15 October


At the market this morning I was buying fruit to replenish my fruit basket. The provenance of every item in the stalls tends to be written in chalk, along with the price, on a little blackboard overhead, so I could see that the clementines were from Spain, the figs and pears from France. But I wanted to strike up a conversation, so I asked the vendor, where in France? Normandy? No, from the southwest. Then I asked for bananas, and he said, these are from Martinique. Yes, I nodded, I suppose bananas don’t grow in France. No, no, he answered, surprised. Martinique, c’est la France.


In the Gardens

It was a gorgeously sunny day yesterday, but I was hurrying through the Luxembourg Gardens, head down, thinking about some project or other. I must have been pretty absorbed; at least, that’s the only way I can explain what happened next. I was passing a group of girls, young teens, gathered around a bench near the pétanque pitches. Suddenly a couple of them jumped out into the path, one carrying a little cardboard sign hand-lettered in English: Free Hugs.  Monsieur, she addressed me in rapid French, they were offering free hugs and would I like one? Deeply suspicious, I stopped, said “Oui, d’accord,” and let myself be hugged by this charming dark-haired beauty, not a day over fourteen.  And then I kept going. For the first and no doubt the only time in my entire life I had the chance to engage a whole band of pretty French girls on the subject of hugs, for goodness sake … and I kept on walking. I’ve gotten over it, but I don’t think I will ever quite forgive myself.



Chez Fernand is up on the boulevard Montparnasse, but it’s still a neighborhood place. Several gentlemen, like me, are eating by themselves, and people passing on the sidewalk stop to chat with the maitre d’. It’s a cozy, old-fashioned-looking place with big oak sideboards for waiter stations and cut-glass semi-partitions that reduce its size. The large framed sepia-tinted photographs add to this feeling—but as I look closer at the one nearest me, I realize I am looking at a famous portrait of Jean Cocteau by Man Ray. It looks perfectly normal until you notice that Cocteau is holding a pane of clear glass in front of himself. I ask the waiter about the photos, and he tells me that back in the Parnassian glory days of the 1920s this place was the Jockey, one of the famous haunts of the avant-garde. Fernand has only been here 8 or 9 years. I have just read something about the Jockey, and I suddenly feel one of those Proustian tremors as I realize I have stumbled into the sort of urban palimpsest that makes Paris or Rome so endlessly surprising.

When I get the chance I decide to learn more about the Jockey, and I discover that what the waiter told me was true—sort of. The famous Jockey relocated to the other side of the Boulevard Montparnasse around 1920, where it may indeed have been a scene for a few years, but it lost its lease and closed. But then an arriviste bought the place where Fernand’s is now and set up a new Jockey, which never had the authenticity of the old one. It was, my source tells me, “un bar americano-nègre égaré au plein far-West” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), where “the bourgeois came to play at being artists” until the Crash closed it for good.

So my waiter gave me a good tip after all: Chez Fernand is the model of an urban palimpsest, illustrating how successive layers of fact, not least the photographs on the wall, give rise to legend.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Olivier Besancenot and the Besancenot-Effect

11 October

Last night I met the phénomène Olivier Besancenot face to face. I greeted M. Besancenot, shook his hand, and then watched him fire up a packed hall of 500 shouting, cheering supporters. It was the full Besancenot-effect, and I came away thinking that history may have some chapters left after all, and this man may write an important one.

The meeting took place in Évreux, an obscure little one-street town on the eastern edge of Normandy, at the Zenith, a large movie theater rented out for the event. When I arrived OB was standing in front of the theater chatting with a few supporters, while several camera crews circled around him and four burly handlers eyed him protectively. He is a small man, fine-featured and impeccable in pullover and jeans; he could be a real heart-throb if he wasn’t so serious.

Politely excusing himself from his supporters, he turned to the micros and proceeded to give one of his unbelievably rapid-fire interviews, every word precise and logical, like a prof de lycée giving a lecture to his class—double speed. Having seen a number of such interviews on video, I expected the speed, but not the emphasis—even in this dispassionate and expository mode he makes every word felt. But he also maintained a cool and business-like demeanor.

When the interview ended, I made my move. I went up to him, told him I wished to greet him, shook his hand, and remarked that I had come from the United States to hear him speak . This remark must have sounded particularly absurd here in Évreux, and the only response I got was a quizzically upraised eyebrow as his handlers spirited him into the hall.

I went in, grabbed a spot and watched as every seat filled with people of all ages and conditions, a huge event for this little town. The program was carefully choreographed to reflect the NPA’s desire to form a broad coalition of people from many movements outside the traditional labor base of the Trotskyists. OB came out and sat with 5 or 6 others in armchairs at the front of the hall. Each of the others spoke briefly about her or his personal activism: an anti-nuclear environmentalist, a nurse/labor organizer, a former Socialist Party organizer, a member of a support team for undocumented workers, and—most movingly—a hoarse auto worker who had come directly from the picket line at the Renault factory, where several hundred workers are losing their jobs “so the shareholders can have their dividends,” as he put it.

When OB finally stood up to speak, he seemed quite literally to arise from this collectivity of bruised and embattled citizens. As he warmed to his speech, a quite different side of him began to emerge: animated, even radiant, a man who loved being here, speaking to his people. He was funny and charming, this OB, ridiculing Sarkozy and Christine LaGarde, the finance minister, pulling scraps of paper from his blue jeans to read excerpts from their speeches. “Ne  pa—ni—quez—pas,” (“Don’t panic”) he mockingly quoted from the overreactive president. “Doesn’t that always make you even more anxious?” And he made one-liners out of the cabinet’s substitute phrases - e.g. “negative growth” or “prolonged period of soft economic performance - in place of the banished word “recession.” This was OB’s bravura performance as the “mailman from Neuilly,” a folk opera about the local boy who scores first on the exams and outwits the profs, and uses his gifts to tell the people’s true story to the emperor. The hall loved it, and loved him, and you could see in his shining eyes that he loved us back. 

At a certain moment, though, this witty and sarcastic OB turned into a quite different speaker, this one angry, insistent, prophetic. He denounced the greed of the few, and the magnitude of the profits they “suck like blood from the economy,” leaving “pas un radis” (not a red cent) for healthcare and education and social solidarity. Again and again he pointed to lay-offs and unemployment, and demanded decent-paying jobs for everyone able to work.  Finally he called for nationalizing the entire finance sector, not just the “rotten fruit” but the whole orchard, a “service publique financier.” 

I could try to itemize the many changes OB rang on these themes—he spoke for nearly an hour without a moment’s lapse or lull—but I’ll just say that it was galvanizing. All over the hall teenagers, distinguished-looking older people, people of all sorts were laughing and cheering and shouting out, and quite a few rose to their feet in tribute as he finished.

We were warned that the meeting would end promptly, as OB was tired and had to go to work the next day—he really does deliver the mail in Neuilly. As his handlers slowly moved him out the door and toward the parking lot, I got another close look at him and saw yet another side of this remarkable man, no longer lit by klieg lights, no longer radiant.  His face was sweaty, and he was a bit slumped, clearly drained from the performance he had just turned in. He seemed as small as his actual size, an ordinary person like the rest of us, shouldering an enormous load. It no longer looked easy being Olivier Besancenot, not glorious, just a very big job. He is the lifeblood of this new party and the movements it embraces. Without him there would be no party, and everyone knows it. So his handlers gently detached him from his admirers, eased him into the back of a sedan, and drove off with him, to rest, to prepare to do battle another day.


Street Music

12 October

For the second day in a row our little street has exploded with street music. The genial but slightly daft lady in the basement apartment is beside herself, banging shutters and muttering imprecations. But what can one do? It's a trio who look like North Africans: the leader, a very brassy trumpet player, supported by a fast-fingered clarinetist, and a melodicon that sounds remarkably like an accordion.  
The music, above all the trumpet, is unspeakably, unbelievably loud as it echoes between solid rows of 7-storey buildings. But they play with passion, unembarrassed, and they play very well. The melodicon player waves a cup at me with one hand as I pass.
Today they begin with some Latin tunes--yesterday it sounded more Middle Eastern--but right now they're belting out a very Bourbon-Street cover of "I Love Paris in the Springtime." If only Marlene were here. Yesterday I dropped in a euro, but today it's down to 50 centimes. I'm actually hoping that tomorrow they'll choose another street. I can't take all the excitement. 

With the Militant(e)s inside the Trojan Horse

8 October

I went to my first NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party) meeting tonight. I had gone over to La Brêche (the Breach), a bookstore and city-wide party headquarters for the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League, NPA’s parent organization), on Monday. There I had a long talk with the manager of the store, Antoine, a slight, 50ish and extremely articulate fellow in that wonderful tradition of the French left that extends back to Voltaire. For him the great flaw of Capitalism is its unreasonable nature, an opinion that gains ground with each new turn of the present financial screw. At the end of our talk he encouraged me to come to the weekly meeting of the local 12th arrondissement NPA committee, of which he is a fervent partisan, and gave me a leaflet with the address.

So I jumped on the metro at Raspail, and rode around the peripheral neighborhoods of the 14th, 13th and 12th before landing at Ledru-Rollin, not far from Bastille. I had located the address on my plan, but I hadn’t noticed that it had a name: le Cheval de Troie (the Trojan Horse).  Turns out to be a little Turkish resto, and as I walk in (a half-hour late), I walk into the midst of a social gathering of 25-30 people filling all the tables in the front room, eating and drinking. It looks like maybe a boho birthday party in TriBeCa, dark, with loud chatter over a drone of Turkish music.  Except that just as I walk in and feel my way to a chair in back, a fellow stands up and brings the “business part of the meeting” to order. He gives a warm though somewhat lengthy welcoming speech, mostly about how he isn’t going to speak at length. Then a younger man—Patrick, 30ish, intense—stands up and presents a remarkably precise and efficient summary of the crisis, which he describes in quantified financial terms. But then he challenges that description as a media construct, and insists that the crisis is much more than financial, is in fact the inevitable consequence of the entire system, all the while ridiculing Sarkozy’s Toulon declaration to the contrary. The président, whose name I never learned, then calls on the woman to my right, a Lebanese woman of a certain age who speaks French elegantly with thickly rolled rrr’s. She identifies herself as a union activist, a long-time militante, and rather stirringly invites all present to work to build a better world. Marie-France to my left, also a little older and spot-on in her delivery, rises next to pursue Patrick’s analysis, declaring that the group has an obligation to support not just activism but theoretical understanding, and proceeds to offer some.

Let me just say that by this point I was completely enraptured: with the atmosphere of the place, with the level of the discourse, with my Turkish beer. It was a visually remarkable little group crowded into a small place, people evenly distributed in age from roughly 25 to 75, not dressed up but well dressed, attractive, and remarkably—I have to say it—petit bourgeois. At one point a clump of three or four of the younger ones got up and stood in the vestibule, causing the président to interrupt the proceedings to condemn the problem of smoker-factionalism (he was kidding).

The ‘meeting’ basically consisted of the leader inviting the card-carrying members (and no one else) to speak, one after another, and after the first few it became a little random. My pal Antoine was another of the professorially articulate, but others strayed. My Lebanese neighbor seized the floor and began to rant about how the Socialists once in office had turned their backs on the people, starting with Lionel Jospin in the 1990s … she was up to Bertrand Delanoe, 2005, when the président finally managed to head her off. Another militant declared that he had had lots to say, but had been made to wait so long he had "lost his inspiration." He gave a rambling address anyhow, at the end of which he rather politely denounced the authoritarian tendencies of the presider, who insisted in rebuttal that he was only correcting for the meeting’s lack of auto-regulation.

I was not the only one enjoying myself. The whole tone was congenial, not exactly a gathering of old friends, but people who seemed to know and like each other and like spending time together in little restaurants. There was a strong sense of political engagement, but not really much urgency. Beyond trying to assess the crisis itself, people were concerned with the question of how to organize. Many remarked that not just the Socialists but the Communists too had sold out to free market capitalism, and some wanted to reclaim ‘communism’ as a term for a humane alternative to competition, crisis, and war (though most agreed that the term was a hopeless impediment “among the young”). How the new party can negotiate with all its various ideological neighbors on the left is clearly a problem for which no one seems to have much of a solution. Perhaps the greatest consensus was around the double idea, that the crisis presents a whole new opportunity to talk to a larger public about capitalism’s failure, but the crisis is also a disaster in concrete terms for the very people the NPA wants to speak on behalf of.

By 10:30 or so the meeting adjourned with a reminder for people to pay the waitress—and some jokes about socializing the cost of the meal. But really the meeting only adjourned to the sidewalk, where 10 or 12 of the committee were still actively debating, and showed no signs of going anywhere, as I made my way back to Ledru-Rollin.   

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