Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Front National: Predictable progress, a danger to fight

Yvan Lemaître
May 2012
International Viewpoint

In number of votes, the far right is growing. It is one of the dangers of the time. To counter it, moral pieties are not enough, when the concrete policy of the left in power is to put itself at the service of the power of money and capital. That is why we need an anti-capitalist party, and a workers’ movement capable of opposing austerity wherever it comes from.

Marine le Pen did not make it to the second round, but she won 6.4 million votes and 17.90 % of the poll. This has a significant impact on the relationship of political forces emerging from April 22 and May 6, and will weigh on the subsequent parliamentary elections.

In 2002, Le Pen and Megret scored 19.20 % or 5.48 million votes, while the CPNT (the “hunters and fishers party”), a part of whose electorate is close to the far right, scored 4.23%. Marine Le Pen thus lost 1.3% but with a higher rate of participation she gained 900,000 votes.

Behind the figures, there are notable developments. The FN vote fell sharply in the big cities and the working class suburbs, where it was often behind the Front de gauche. It fell by more than 5% in Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier and Nice, and 4% in Lille, Paris and Marseille. In ten big cities out of fifteen, the FdG beat the FN. In five city suburbs in the most deprived neighbourhoods (Grigny, Vaulx-en-Velin, Saint-Denis, la Courneuve and Aubervilliers), the far right went from 20.63% in 2002 to 11.88 %. The FN did not really progress in its eastern bastions stretching from the Gard to the Moselle, on the contrary it went from 10 to 15% in the rural departments of the west (Dordogne, Cantal, Landes, Charente and so on).

Sarkozy lost 1.69 million votes in relation to 2007, while benefiting from some of the 3.5 million voters lost by Bayrou. Le Pen’s gains came mainly from this electorate of the right. Her strategy, seeking to break the ostracism to which her party has been subjected, worked. And this at a time when the defeat of Sarkozy and his politics of flattering far right prejudices while playing footsy with Bayrou has left the right weakened and divided.

Left capitulation, right demagogy

The political mechanisms which have led to this situation emerge from the capitulation and impotence of the left as well as the populist demagogy of the right, amplified by the pressures of the crisis. These are the essential components of a latent political crisis, which rapidly wears out the ruling teams, sharpens the contradictions between deeds and words, and strips bare the lies of the politicians, resented as so many contemptuous aggressions by the workers and the popular classes.

This logic was established in the first presidential term of François Mitterrand, when the right and the left cohabited in the management of affairs. It continued before the crisis came to put left and right policies back to back, both subjecting, through Europe, the interests of the people to the defence of the interests of the financial and industrial groups. The demoralisation of the world of work, struck full on by flexibility, unemployment, the degradation of living and working conditions, generalised social insecurity, has created the terrain on which reactionary prejudices have blossomed. All the more so in that the right tries to maintain its influence over a part of its electorate by playing the same sinister demagogic music, thus aiding the FN.

The left has remained incapable of reacting or offering a perspective, because it is subject to the established order, to the will of the powerful. Its victory does not reverse this evolution because it results from the rejection of Sarkozy, not from a politics rallying the popular classes in a perspective of challenging the dictatorship of finance. It left the field free to Marine Le Pen and her politics which divert social discontent onto the terrain of nationalism, chauvinism and racism.

That said, given the evolution of the FN’s results, the left dynamic expressed above all around the Front de gauche, but also witnessed in the campaigns of Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, illustrates the instability of the situation and what is at stake in the coming social and political struggles. Nothing is settled. Certainly, the political developments these elections bear witness to are also taking place in numerous other European countries, with the emergence of far right populist parties or even genuinely fascist formations, using physical violence against the workers’ movement. But there is nothing automatic about this. What happens depends on the capacity of the workers’ movement, both trade union and political wings, to retake the initiative by affirming itself as a force of opposition to austerity policies, including those of the left.

“La chef de l’opposition, c’est moi”

Marine Le Pen wants to create a new party of which she will be the axis, a party of the far right, nationalist and chauvinist, anti-immigrant, hostile to Europe and relying on its collapse, bringing together the FN and a part of the UMP. On May 1 she evoked the beginning of a “historic combat” for “the great party of national coming together”. The next stage will be the parliamentary elections in June, during which she wants to see “a massive entry into the national assembly of the ‘Rassemblement bleu marine’.”

On April 22 the FN scored more than 12.5% of those registered to vote – the threshold for going through to the second round of the parliamentary elections – in 353 circumscriptions out of 577. Even if its vote falls, it has a great nuisance capacity for the UMP. Obtaining deputies is another affair. However, the situation created after the presidential election constitutes a serious warning. It is clear that the influence of the far right, its ability to find a place in the institutional game and in the life of the county, represents a terrible danger for workers. It reflects a degradation of the relationship of forces in favour of the dominant classes.

A necessary counter-offensive

These elections constitute a warning; The left in power will bend to the needs of the markets, and the banks. François Hollande has undertaken to honour the illegitimate and unjust debt. His “humanist” speeches, like those on equality and justice, will in no way prevent him from defending national identity and counter-posing it to immigration.

In this social and political battle which is opening, what matters is not to abandon the terrain to the far right, but to build against it, but also against the neoliberal government , a left opposition force; a force which fights for the world of labour and of youth, to defend their rights, to fight for solidarity among all the exploited whatever their origin in the daily life of the neighbourhoods and workplaces, to combat racism; a force which situates its combat at the level of all Europe, against all nationalist and chauvinist reflexes. The task is to unite the world of labour and its organisations against any policy of austerity, to put an end to the dictatorship of the financial and industrial groups.

Yvan Lemaître is a member of the NPA Executive Committee. He was formerly a member of the LCR leadership.


Front de gauche: and now?

François Sabado
May 2012
International Viewpoint

One of the striking events of the 2012 French presidential election was the campaign of the Front de Gauche (FdG) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon: tens of thousands of participants at its meetings, a significant place in the political debate and 11.01% of the vote in the first round, a notable score.

Certainly the FdG leaders had hoped for a result of more than 15% and above all third place ahead of Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen. But going from the 5% which had been predicted for them in the polls at the beginning of the campaign to 11%, they have succeed in dominating the space of the “radical left” and marginalising the revolutionary left.

A real dynamic

During this campaign a left reformist political force of mass influence has been reconstructed. This is the result of several factors:  
  • A situation, marked by social defeats, which favours the aspiration and the illusion that “what is blocked by struggle can be unblocked by the election”.  
  • The remobilisation of the forces of the Communist parties (also seen in Portugal, Spain and Greece), resting on the fact that they have not been in government for some years and that they have preserved positions in the apparatuses of the institutions or trade union organisations.  
  • A good campaign by Mélenchon. Defending radical objectives, such as a minimum wage of 1,700 euros or the defence of public services, his speeches invoked the revolutionary imagination of the texts of Victor Hugo and the most glorious moments of the workers’ movement. This alchemy unleashed a political dynamic beyond the parties of the Front de gauche. A campaign which was all the more noteworthy in that it came as a counterpoint to that of François Hollande which was especially dull (to put it mildly).

Ambiguities and contradictions

Mélenchon’s impressive campaign was however heavy with ambiguities and contradictions which justified the NPA’s independent campaign. The NPA and the FdG shared common positions on such themes as social issues (wages, employment, defence of public services) or democratic demands (proportional representation or defence of the rights of immigrants). The two organisations are united in their opposition to the FN. On the other hand, other issues divide them sharply: on nuclear energy, there is a major disagreement between the NPA and the PCF leadership, attached by numerous links to the French nuclear industry.

We share then overall common objectives, and the dynamic around the Front de gauche campaign opens new political possibilities, for their realisation. However, in terms of engaging in a serious struggle and obtaining the implementation of our demands, the PCF and Jean -Luc Mélenchon reject confrontation with the power of the capitalists. They denounce finance, not capitalist ownership. They demand a public banking sector but reject the expropriation of the banks and their nationalisation under social control, preferring to see the private and public banking sectors compete. They denounce the scandal of the debt but reject its cancellation. Mélenchon proposes a repayment of the debt over several years, balancing off the sacrifices between the capitalists and the masses. Here again, it is necessary to be consistent. If we participate in a campaign for a citizen’s audit, it is to prepare the ground for the cancellation of the debt, and not its progressive repayment. The leader of the FdG evokes “ecological planning” without indicating the strategic resources necessary to this planning, in particular, the socialisation of the key sectors of the economy, transport, and energy.

On the political and historic level, the reformist orientation of the leadership of the FdG goes hand in hand with the “republican” positions of Mélenchon. Not those of the Communards, who opposed the social republic to the bourgeois classes, but those of republicans who in their defence of the republic merge the terms “nation”, “republic” and “state”. This conception subordinates the “citizen’s revolution” or “revolution by the ballot box” to respect for the institutions of the state of the dominant classes. Mélenchon freely evokes US imperialism, but not French imperialism. During the presidential campaign he reaffirmed “that in the current situation, the nuclear deterrent remains the key element of our strategy of protection”.

Far from being questions of detail, these conceptions are key elements in Mélenchon’s politics – he will do all he can to channel, subordinate, and render compatible the mass movements and the institutions of the republic. These questions also become decisive in discussing strategy and party or political movement.

What policy towards the Front de gauche?

In relating politically to the FdG, we need to take into account these elements: the dynamic, but also the project; the mobilisation, but also the overall political programme; the renewal of activism but also the policies of the leadership.

Tens of thousands of activists and hundreds of thousands of voters have given a radical, social, democratic content to their vote or participation in the initiatives of the FdG. For them, it is about rejecting the austerity of the right but also the austerity of the left by mobilising together around vital demands like the 1,700 euros, a ban on layoffs, the defence of public services, a regular status for precarious workers in the public sector, the defence of undocumented persons. For our part, we believe it is necessary to go much further than punctual unity of action. Faced with the austerity that a Hollande government prepares for us, we offer the Front de gauche, as well as the others (LO or the alternatives) the construction of a unitary opposition to the government. The NPA is ready for it. And the FdG? This battle is decisive so as not to allow the FN to take up the banner of the opposition. It is this which must lead us to dialogue, in common action, with the activists and sympathisers of the FdG.

At the same time it should not be forgotten that the FdG is a political construction, led by the PCF and Mélenchon and not a simple united front. This is not a party, is already a political movement. That means all is not decided, questions remain open. It seems at this stage that the leaders of the FdG do not wish to participate in the government. Targeting “the taking of power, all power, within ten years”, Mélenchon rules out participation in a government that he does not lead. The constraints of the crisis are such that the PCF seem to choose a formula of "support without participation", already used in the past. Tensions could surge between the leadership of the PCF and Mélenchon. Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the PCF, sets as the objective at the parliamentary elections “the election of a left majority in the National Assembly, with the maximum of Front de gauche deputies”. A left majority with the PS? What would the FdG deputies do when the budget of the Hollande government was voted on? What the regional counsellors of the FdG have already done in nearly all regions, aligning with the PS? These questions remain open. To allow common action, an appropriate tactical policy is needed on our part.

None of the hypotheses envisaged by the FdG at this stage challenge its reformist project. Thus, at a time when calls are made to join the FdG, including from inside the NPA, we think on the contrary that the organisation of anti-capitalists cannot depend on the tactical evolution of the FdG. To join the Front de gauche is to accept the leadership of the PCF and Mélenchon. To have weight on the political scene, stimulate unitary action and keep all the possibilities of criticism demands an NPA independent of the FdG. The independent organisation of anti-capitalists is not a tactical choice. It is a strategic option which maintains the historic continuity of the revolutionary current. A dual challenge is now posed to the NPA: to resume its construction and set out a unitary policy, in particular in relation to the FdG.

François Sabado is a member of the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International and an activist in the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France. He was a long-time member of the National Leadership of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR).


Sunday, May 6, 2012

France: Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Left Front, a dynamic, but to where?

With the second round of French presidential elections occurring and much of the discussion of the elections by the Anglophone left focusing on the performance of Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Front de Gauche I thought it would be helpful to air the views of the French far-left most particularly the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. Below is a rough translation of an article that appearred in the the NPA's Tout est à nous! in April in the wake of the first round of the presidential elections. I will be posting a translation of an article on the NPA's election campaign soon.

Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Left Front, a dynamic, but to where?
Manu Bichindaritz
Tout est à nous!
26 April 2012

With 11.11% of the votes, the candidate of the Front de Gauche registered a clearly improved result compared to the Parti Communiste Francais (PCF) results in previous presidential elections. It contributes to embodying the will for real change. However, the contradictions of the work of political regroupment have not disappeared and could even increase after a mixed result achieved by the militants of the FG.

Jean-Luc Melenchon final ballot result was below the result that had been predicted in polls for several weeks, between 12 to 15%. Moreover, the Left Front has failed to "put behind him" the far-right candidate, as its representatives had raised in the last weeks of campaigning. Yet the score is far from being a failure. Mélenchon surpassed by a factor of six the result achieved by Marie-George Buffet, the PCF candidate, in 2007. He managed to gather about his candidacy a large proportion of the votes of the radical left to occupy the space to the left of the Parti Socialiste (PS).  

With our bid and that of Nathalie Arthaud for Lutte Ouvrière (LO), this space results in 13, 23%. Roughly the same level as in 2002 but almost four points higher than in 2007. There is a little push to the left of the PS, but also a political shift towards anti-liberal forces of the FG. 

You can see clearly from the dynamics that they were able to embody the left of the PS, thus expressing a real distrust [in the politics of the PS ]if not a distrust of the socialist candidate. But we must also appreciate the programmatic limits, even in retrospect, of this transfer of votes from the extreme left to the PCF and the Parti de Gauche. Beyond an often radical discourse, Mélenchon was located in a permanent ambiguity with respect to institutions. In particular, references to the nation or the sovereignty of the Republic, its rejection of any denunciation of French imperialism have accompanied its advancement of proposals such as measures like increasing the after tax minimum wage to 1,700 euros. 

The Left Front has worked during the campaign to avoid the thorny question of the relationship with the Socialist Party, especially in view of a return of it to power. On this issue, the campaign needs to be judged both on the statements of the candidate "I will not go into a government that I don't chair myself ..." and the more direct statements of the PCF leadership, including most recently by Pierre Laurent, PCF National Secretary, setting the objective to mobilize the Left Front for legislative elections "to elect a leftist majority in the National Assembly, with the maximum of deputies of the Left Front." 

One thing is certain: more or less clearly stated, the candidate Mélenchon and various spokespersons, at the end of the presidential election campaign the Left Front is not positioned, in the way they wanted,  to have ministers in a future government. They had sought to force Francois Hollande to the left under the pressure of a high score of Mélenchon, and in the near future for a possible parliamentary majority including all or part of the FG. 

It is now quite possible that the lower election result,  the leaders and activists of the Left Front would have liked at least around 15%, will reopen the debate about the direction and strategy of political regroupment, particularly in relation to the Socialist Party and institutions. The NPA’s call to the FG, as to LO and all of the social left is that is time to build a united response to the austerity and prepare a left opposition to Hollande. Is the FG ready?


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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