The left in France’s presidential election

Submitted by Matthew on 1 February, 2017 - 12:18 Author: Marianne Davin

In my last letter I wrote about the far right, the right, and the almost right (the Socialist Party), but things have evolved since then. Here I will try to describe the current situation of the far left.

Les Republicans’s candidate, Francois Fillon, has had a bit of a tough time. It has been revealed that his wife, Penelope Fillon, was being paid as an assistant while he was a minister. Not a problem in itself but for about nine years she was paid first €3900 and then €7900 per month, a total of 500,000 euros (£430,000) for a job that sources claim she never actually did.

Causing further confusion, in a 2007 interview Penelope claimed she had always been a housewife and had never worked for her husband’s political career. Then Fillon admitted to have employed two of his children as lawyers “for their competencies”. Funnily enough at the time of this employment for their competencies, they were not yet lawyers but in Law School. The scandal has lead many to wonder if Fillon didn’t create an “emploi fictif” (fictitious employment) scam which is illegal. It is to be seen whether he gets prosecuted and what will happen to his run for President…

Meanwhile the Socialist Party has chosen their presidential candidate: Benoit Hamon. Hamon beat Manuel Valls 58% to 41%. Hamon’s campaign is centred on two promises — a universal basic income, and governmental reform. The basic income would still be under the poverty line — €750 a month by 2020.

Hamon’s policy is based on his belief that mass unemployment is inevitable and that robotisation is the cause of all the unemployment. He does not take into account the lay-offs occurring in companies that are highly profitable (like Sanofi who gave €6.6 million to its stockholders in 2016 and laid off 600 works that same year!) Hamon might say pretty things about the environment, assisted procreation, marijuana legalisation, and election reforms, but in the end he is only arguing for a “good” leftish government. One that is 100% compatible with capitalism, and will not contribute to a significant redistribution of wealth!

Among the more far left representation in the elections, we have Jean-Luc Mélenchon heading up his own party, La France Insoumise. Backed by the Parti Communiste de France (PCF), Mélenchon claims he is the only credible political alternative on the left. He is trying to make us believe that he is very “leftwing” by proposing to abolish the Fifth Republic and try again with a Sixth Republic; that it will be a nicer capitalism. However, JLM also proposes increasingly patriotic ideas including saying France should leave the EU. JLM denounces the fact that capitalism leads to constant international competition by evoking xenophobic clichés to attack Europe and especially Germany. He conveniently forgets that capitalistic competition also takes place at the national level.

Fundamentally JLM believes that capitalism can be reformed by keeping or modifying slightly the current institutions in place. A comrade expressed this well during a debate on JLM’s “gauchisme” (leftism) — JLM’s approach to politics centres around “I can do this, I can do that” while revolutionary socialist politics should be all about “Our class together can do this, our class together can do that”.

A small side note on the presidential elections in France. To run in the election, parties or individuals must be “presented” by 500 elected officials in front of the Constitutional Council. To run a candidate needs to find 500 mayors, senators, members of the National Assembly, etc. to sign a paper saying they support this bid for the presidency. This doesn’t mean that an individual personally supports that person or party, just their eligibility or ability to run in the election.

Until April 2016 the signatures were not published, thus mayors on the right didn't fear a backlash from their electorate for signing for a far left organisation. In the name of “transparency”, a reform passed by the Socialist Party now requires that the list of signatures be officially published. At the same time, elected officials must be the ones to send their signatures to the Constitutional Council, not the individual running for office.

Small parties were hostile to this reform because it makes it much more difficult to obtain the necessary 500 signatures. Philippe Poutou of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitalist (NPA) stated that this was “a way for the Socialist Party to eliminate all small candidates to its left, even a candidate who would only get 1 to 2%, like me”

Consequently NPA is struggling to find its 500 signatures and, as of early February, the candidate Philippe Poutou is not an official candidate for the election. The deadline for the 500 signatures is in March and it is important to get these so that during a voice of working-class politics can be heard.

With each candidate trying to remind us how anti-system they are (Macron is the main one but having worked at Rothschild Bank and being a minister in Hollande’s government makes it hard to understand his anti-system discourse…) it is important to raise our voice and ensure alternative, anticapitalist, revolutionary and communist ideas are presented to a larger audience.

Although it seems ridiculous to have a whole presidential campaign only to achieve electoral scores of 1 to 2%, the point of the Poutou campaign is not to win the presidency. With the laws in France giving equal speaking time to candidates, our party and our ideas can be debated and presented to a larger audience for weeks.

Rarely in the capitalist system does the media grant workers and communist ideas such air time. We are tired of always hearing the same discourse and we are ready to raise our heads and say no to a politics that continually attacks our rights and our standard of living.

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