Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Regional elections: A first assessment - "Catastrophic"

Laurent Ripart

13 December, 2015
Originally published in French on MediaPart Blog

We cannot close our eyes: these regional elections were catastrophic, since they are a success not only for the FN (Front national – National Front) and the antisocial policy of the government that feeds it, but also a disaster for the working classes and parties who are supposed to represent them.

If the events of November 13 have played an important conjunctural role, these results are not any less indicative of a political situation that has deeply deteriorated in recent years. They remind us of our own mistakes, as the disaster is so general that no one can wash their hands. They probably also fall into the deep transformations of French society which is now dislocated by the deleterious effects of the crisis and regressive policies pursued by both the right and the PS. The radical left is in any case placed against the wall and now fights for its survival: A hypothetical scenario similar to that in Italy, which would see the total disappearance of the Left from the political field, is indeed no longer excluded.

1. The progress of the FN has essentially been done on the backs of the traditional right. Election after election, the FN ensures its hegemony over the social strata previously acquired by the Gaullist right. These consist of on one hand the most reactionary sections of the working class, which sees Raoult, Morano and others passing without difficulties to the Le Pen dynasty[1], and also the sectors most affected by capitalist globalization, for example farmers who seem in large numbers to be swapping their Gaullist vote for a FN vote. This social bloc finds its ideological cement in an obsessive xenophobia which expresses itself in a rejection of immigration, exiting the euro, protectionism, and the affirmation of national identity. These calls, which resonates all the more as it is not without roots in the contemporary history of France, enables the FN to develop the project of a national authoritarian state, probably more Putinist than really fascist.

The failure of the FN in the second round should however not lead to underestimate the extent of its progress and especially the acceleration of its rhythm: in the European elections of 1984, the FN had obtained 10.9% of votes; in the 2002 Presidential elections, it achieved the historic score of 16.8%; these regional elections, it reached 27.7% in the first round of votes. Although the most recent result is undeniably an effect of the attacks of November 13 and the anxiety-inducing environment that Hollande and Valls have striven to establish[2], the FN dynamics is very worrying. It collected the support of 7.6% registered voters for parliamentary elections in June 2012, it received the votes of 10.1% of registered voters for the European elections in May 2014, and 12% of those enrolled in the departmental elections of March 2015 before achieving in the first round of these regional no less than 13.2% of registered voters.

If it still continues to be rejected by the majority of the population, the FN has now reached thresholds that offer it the prospect of soon achieving power, whether as the beneficiary of an electoral accident, always possible in a presidential election, or perhaps more probably by an entry into a coalition government, as part of a parliamentary alliance with the traditional right wing parties. The situation is all the more alarming that there is no example in liberal democracies of a party that was able to maintain a lasting vote beyond the threshold of 30% of votes without being able to open the doors to power. Even in the days of the Cold War, the Italian DC (Democrazia Christiana) was being forced to consider sharing power with the PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano), when it achieved its historic result of 34% of the vote in the 1976 elections, and this "historic compromise" would very certainly have been achieved if the PCI had not been immediately struck by the general ebb experienced by Eurocommunist parties, when the PCI’s vote dropped below the 30% threshold in the 1979 elections.

To take the final steps that separates it from power, the Front National must achieve the support of at least part of the ruling classes, its current lack of support in media and intellectual circles, and amongst the bourgeoisie and employers, constitute for the FN a crippling handicap. In fact, the FN is sparing no efforts to attract employers, as evidenced by the recent disappearance from its program any mention of returning the retirement age to 60 or increasing the minimum wage. It thus sets up the conditions for rallying a part of the bourgeoisie, which is an assumption all the more conceivable with the still unresolved euro crisis which could prompt a fraction of employers wishing a return to the franc and who could see in the FN a movement conducive to its implementation.

2. At least as much as the FN, the PS is the winner of this election. By adding its voice to those of the PRG (Parti Radical de Gauche, Party of the Radical Left) and various left parties[3], the SP gets no less than 25.2% in the first round of the regional election. Not only has the hypothesis of a pasokisation the PS not been carried out[4], but using a clever cocktail tracks interference and appeal for a useful vote against the FN, Hollande and Valls have succeeded in achieving a first round score all the more remarkable in that it was totally disconnected from the obvious failure of their economic and social policies. When it is found that the lists of the PS and its allies increased from 3.2 million in the European election of May 2014 to 5.4 million votes in the first round of the regional elections, we imagine that Hollande may consider taking a further right-wing course by replacing Ayrault and Valls using Macron[5].

The success of the PS owes much to the strategy of Hollande and Valls who return with great cynicism to the grubby old Mitterand recipes. In presenting without fail the FN as his primary opponent, Valls has worked with the sole purpose of placing the right in difficulty. Wedged between a PS that is moving to the right and a FN that is building its presence in the institutions, the right is indeed torn between those within the right who cannot consider an alliance with the FN, and risk of falling into the arms of Hollande, and those who engage in a bidding game that legitimises the policies of Le Pen. By withdrawing its candidates in three regions, Hollande has managed a nice tactical blow, weakening Sarkozy while stoking the fires of discord within the right, which could ultimately end up with a double nomination in 2017. Although they have succeeded in the end in little more than pushing the country into crisis, Hollande and Valls can only welcome the success of their small political combination, since they have managed to transform the electoral rout all commentators foresaw into a resounding success, the majority of new regional presidents having been elected with their support and that they were successful in achieving a higher voter mobilization in second round.

If the PS lists have benefited from the attacks on November 13, they have also skilfully manipulated the power of the logic of a "useful vote", their success is also the result of a mutation of the PS that found its ideological expression in the strategy of a Republican Front. Beyond its politician character, the Republican Front fits indeed in the context of the profound transformation of the PS largely emptied of its former militant base, to avoid being elected today as a party of that base, and which focuses more on the middle class beneficiaries of globalization. Although Cambadélis is pleased to from time to time to dust off the old formulas of the Union of the Left he learned in his youth[6], the discourse of PS leaders is marked by a slow but real development, which replaces their old social references with cross-class values of the "Republic". From this point of view, the growing place taken by Republicanism in the trappings of socialist slogans is a sign of changes in the PS who in its ideological character, is now more democratic than social democratic.

3. The PS’s good score however is first and foremost at the expense of the left that Hollande has managed to marginalize and domesticate. The example of EELV (Europe Ecologie – Les Verts, Europe Ecology – The Greens) is emblematic: although it had acquired in the 2000s a stable electoral base of approximately 10% of the vote in local elections, EELV has been plucked by Hollande, who was able to skilfully play on the personal ambitions of its leaders, by baiting them, shadowing them, and dividing them by promises of parliamentary seats and ministerial positions. Having been left divided and discredited, the EELV lists eventually garnered only 3.83% of votes in the first round of the regional elections, an election that has traditionally been favourable to them.

A similar strategy has also allowed Hollande to marginalize the Front de gauche (FG – Left Front), whose lists only received 4.06% of the votes. By distributing some seats in the municipal elections, Hollande had already reached separate agreement with the PCF leadership and those of PG (Parti de Gauche – Left Party) and Ensemble! (Together!)[7], which had seemed to have understood how the alliance with the PS could be a kiss of death. The political disappearance of the NPA, which releases the FG of pressure on its left, combined with the ambitions of some and the illusions of others, has allowed this time to remove all blocks. After running a divided campaign in the first round, the various components of theFG have in fact all gathered in the second round on the lists of the PS, even as the government was establishing the state of emergency and declaring a war on the social movements. Furthermore, to justify the unjustifiable, ie their presence on the lists of the PS, EELV and the FG made the mistake of entering the trap set by Hollande, the call to "beat the right and 'extreme right’". They have rolled out the red carpet on which Hollande will only have to place his presidential bid because it will be easy to marginalize any candidate of the EELV or the FG, explaining that there will be no other way in 2017 to "beat the right and the extreme right" than to vote for the PS in the first round.

4. The virtual disappearance of leftist electoral field and the failure of the FG provide the popular classes with no political representation. If some of them still habitually vote for the PS, others are increasingly susceptible to the extreme right, but most took refuge in abstention. By not participating in the elections, the vast majority of the dominated and exploited shows that they are rightly aware that there is no political perspective on offer that could represent them and defend their interests seriously. These elections made a new demonstration, since participation by the popular classes in the election for offices does not exceed 20% of registered voters, which is even lower when a significant part of the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods do not even have the right to vote.

This lack of political representation of the working classes is the major problem of the period, since we are bound hand and foot by the anti-social policies of the right and the PS. Since the crisis of 2007 and the coming to power of Sarkozy and Hollande, the popular classes have paid the price through austerity policies, mass unemployment, precariousness and cuts to public services. They are also the first victims of the authoritarian state that Hollande and Valls are developing, as police searches allowed by the extension of the state of emergency focus almost exclusively on population of the neighbourhoods. They will furthermore be hit hard by the new anti-social offensive that the government has already scheduled for January: An approach reinforced by the elections, Valls will have even more legitimacy to lead his disastrous counter-reform of the labour code.

These regional elections will ultimately strengthen the political course set by the Valls government, putting into perspective the potential rise to power of FN and constitute a further stage in the decay of the labour movement that we have seen for some time. The danger level is reached; if we are not careful, the labour movement could disappear from the political field in the short term, without even the need for the FN came to power: the NPA is already lacking the strength to stand; LO[8] (Lutte Ouvrière – Workers Struggle) is cornered by its sectarian positions and the Front de Gauche is a vassal as never before to the PS. On the larger scale, there are already three forces in politics, the PS, the right and the FN, but it is not impossible that the first two end up, willy-nilly, merging into a vast Republican front.

Rather than launching swords in presidential campaigns, as Mélenchon is about to do, the radical left would do well to take the time to take stock of this situation and to wonder about its prospects. While it is obviously too early to identify a way, recent history has shown us anyway that there are two tracks that can only lead into the wall. The first is that of sectarianism, which would lead to a belief that these events are the just punishment of the radical left and therefore we should avoid any confrontation with the "reformists" and join with Lutte Ouvrière in hermitages of revolutionary thought. The second is opportunism, which leads to positions, via obscure tactical reasoning, of allying with the very people that we have fought all year, like Penelope destroying in the night the tapestry she has woven all day[9]. For my part, I am convinced that there is no future for the radical left that is strictly delimited to sectarianism and opportunism, but for now, the key is likely to be being aware of the magnitude of the disaster, noting that we confront a ruined field and it is no longer possible to continue as before, otherwise it will soon face disaster.

The situation is subjectively bleak, but yet the objective reality offers real potential. It is undeniable that despite the overall decline of workers' struggles, there are social explosions of great radicalism, the violence with which Air France employees were repressed by the government, from this point of view, constitutes an evocative testament to the fear that the ruling classes continue to experience when they face any eruption by the popular classes. If Hollande and Valls are now able to manage, via the state of emergency, to disarm the popular classes, anger remains sufficiently present to provide fertile ground everywhere in the reconstruction of a new emancipatory political project. Yet to do this, the left must not get bogged down in institutional manoeuvres, but it can assert its autonomy by combining forces with new forms of struggles we have seen emerge in recent years, such as those against productivism and large unnecessary projects that are taking place in the ZAD (Zone à defender – Defence Zone) Notre Dame Des Landes [10], or those against discrimination and Islamophobia that develop in neighborhoods.

1. Éric Raoult, currently associated with the Union for a Popular Movement, held two ministerial positions in the Juppe government. In April 2012, made public statements that he would not preclude an alliance with the FN.
Nadine Morano, member of Sarkozy’s Les Républicains, a minister in the Fillon government, caused controversy when in an interview in late September, she described France as a “Judeo-Christian and white country”. Morano was subsequently removed from the Les Républicains’ electoral list and there was question of whether she would join a FN list for the regional elections. 
2. Manuel Valls, prime minister of France since 31 March 2014, part of the dominant social liberal wing of the PS. 
3. PRG is a small social liberal party, it has been a close ally of the PS since 1972. The PRG candidates stood on joint lists with the PS in both the 2014 elections to the European Parliament and for the 2015 regional elections.
4. Refers to the marginalisation of the Panellinio Sosialistiko Kinima (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – PASOK), one of the dominant Greek political parties in the post-dictatorship period, in the wake of its support for austerity measures in Greece since 2007.
5. Jean-Marc Ayrault was PS prime minister of France from 16 May 2012 to 31 March 2014, he stood down following the poor performance of the PS in municipal elections that month. 
Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, has been the Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in the Valls government since August 2014. Macron has been responsible for pushing through a range of pro-business legislative changes. 
6. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, is the first secretary of the PS. 
7. Ensemble! Is a grouping of the smaller left parties within the FG. Ensemble! was formed by Alternatives (Les Alternatifs), Convergence and Alternatives (Convergence et Alternatives), the Federation for a Social and Ecological Alternative (Fédération pour une Alternative Sociale et Ecologique) and the Anti-Capitalist Left (Gauche Anticapitaliste). A number of these organisations, particularly the Gauche Anticapitaliste (which left the NPA in July 2012) come from a position critical of forming alliances with the PS.
8. Lutte Ouvrière is a French Trotskyist organisation and the main party of the International Communist Union. LO has a reputation for being sectarian, with a focus on workplace activity, and being suspicious of newer social movements such as the movement for alternative globalisation. 
9. Penelope – Odysseus’s wife, in Homer’s Iliad, Penelope sought to delay marrying unwanted suitors by saying she will marry once she has completed weaving a burial shroud for her father in-law, Every night for three years, she undid a part of the shroud to reweave it the next day.
10. Zone À Défendre – refers to occupations established by activists to block unwanted development. ZAD in Notre-Dame-des-Landes is an area of 2000 hectares of Fields and Forrests in Brittany which are threatened with destruction by plans to build a new airport.

Laurent Ripart is a NPA militant, and a former municipal councillor in the city of Chambery in the French Department of Savoie.


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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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