On 3-4 November I attended, on behalf of AWL, the annual conference of L’Etincelle, a French Trotskyist group with whom we have had contact and discussion since about 1997.
From its origins in the mid-90s to 2008, L’Etincelle was a faction in a larger Trotskyist organisation, Lutte Ouvriere. It still officially styles itself “the Etincelle faction of Lutte Ouvriere”. It was expelled from LO in September 2008.
The trigger for the expulsion was the refusal of town councillors, members of the faction, elected on the LO ticket, to accept a new LO policy that year of joint lists for town council elections with the Socialist Party.
The faction joined the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), a broader group which had 9000 members on its formation in 2009 and which, despite many troubles since, still has about 3000.
Mostly, however, the activists of L’Etincelle do L’Etincelle activity, with some slower-paced NPA activity in the background. Although the NPA is more active and vastly more left-wing than the Labour Party, in some ways L’Etincelle being in NPA is like an activist left group in Britain being in the Labour Party.
In line with Lutte Ouvriere tradition, L’Etincelle gears its activity round fortnightly workplace bulletins. It publishes 42 bulletins, mostly under the L’Etincelle masthead, though some as “L'Etincelle/ NPA”, and some as “NPA”. In the NPA L’Etincelle figure primarily as the people who organise systematic political (as distinct from trade-union) activity aimed at workplaces.
The other main activity, for L’Etincelle as for LO, is sales, meetings, individual discussions and so on aimed primarily at winning new young recruits at universities and at the equivalents of sixth-form colleges. One theme of the conference was a call to increase this sort of activity.
The NPA is a relatively low-intensity group. Its local committees often meet only once a month. Its paper, Tout est à nous, has a print run of 6500, which, given that a paper sold hand-to-hand by activists cannot even at the best to sell much more than half the print run, shows that most of its 3000 members do little to promote the paper.
Its members are often active in unions and in campaigns, but mostly as unionists and campaigners rather than as fighters for clear-cut NPA ideas. Its public visibility comes mostly from the profile in the media of spokespeople such as Olivier Besancenot and from its election campaigns.
The discussions at the L’Etincelle conference covered four main areas.
• Detailed reviews of L’Etincelle activity: recruitment, bulletins, sales of the group’s magazine, work in NPA committees.
• Assessment of the class struggle. This discussion centred mainly on the battle against closure of the PSA car factory at Aulnay.
• Reports by L’Etincelle’s sister groups in San Francisco (Speak Out Now) and Berlin (Sozialistische Arbeiterstimme). There was a short report on discussions with the RSO, a group mainly based in Vienna but with offshoots also in Berlin, Zurich and Manchester. Several members of the RSO attended the conference.
• Election of a committee (in fact a short item, since the outgoing committee re-proposed itself, minus one member who wanted to withdraw, and was unanimously re-elected en bloc).
Speaking briefly at the conference, I outlined the defence campaign for Bob Carnegie.
And I mentioned the discussions, and plans for further discussions, between the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency, Marksist Tutum (Turkey), AWL (and its sister groups), and L’Etincelle (and its sister groups).