Over the weekend of 29-30 April members of the French Trotskyist group, Fraction L’Étincelle met in Paris to discuss their industrial organising and the class struggle in France. I attended the meeting and this is a flavour of their perspectives.
Fraction L’Étincelle (which works in the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, NPA) overwhelmingly took the line “Ni Macron, ni Le Pen – Ni patron, ni patrie” [neither bosses nor nation] in regards to voting in second round of the presidential election. In a reflection of the depth of the social crisis, the Front National received close to eight million votes in the first round, a wide surge since its last serious challenge for the presidency in 2002. Both 2002 and this year’s poll came after French labour had been subject to five years of aggression from the Parti Socialiste, contributing to the rise of the far right.
In the recent election Macron proposed to deepen the cuts, privatisations and labour reforms of the outgoing Hollande-Valls administration. Militants in L’Étincelle see a left wing call to vote for these policies as counterintuitive. Voting Macron, they said, is a very bad way to combat the FN: fascism cannot be fought through a front with capitalist governments whose main objective is to attack our class. If Macron is elected, the FN will continue to exploit the crisis by blaming migrants for the pressure on wages, housing and public services. The socialist left needs, therefore, to find a way of opposing the incoming government rather than ushering it in.
Philippe Poutou, a militant of the car industry and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste candidate, delivered an energetic campaign during the first round following the initial feat of gathering the 500 necessary nominations from elected officials. He had a tough time from the wealthy media which dismissed him as un-serious for belonging to the proletariat. However he gained lots of sympathy following the televised debate in which he accused the right wing candidates of corruption. This became the media’s focus on Poutou, drawing attention from his main demand of outlawing redundancies.
L’Étincelle militants reported that their distribution at a branch of La Poste the following day was extremely well received: workers liked that he had “gone hard” on Fillon and Le Pen. Combined the revolutionary left (NPA and Lutte Ouvrière) gathered over 600,000 votes. This has produced a swell of interest in the NPA so great that they are struggling to respond to it. However Jean-Luc Mélenchon swept up a number of far left votes from people who thought he might reach the second round.
Mélenchon himself was strongly opposed by the NPA for his lack of interest in the organisation of workers. He did not present a programme for struggle nor an internationalist as perspective. Instead his rallies were adorned with the tricolore, while at some rallies red flags were actively rejected by the organisers.
Some tendencies within the NPA are hoping for discussions on a “new project” with elements of Front de Gauche, Ensemble and La France Insoumise. But this is difficult when the far left achieved only 1% of the national vote, compared to almost 20% for Mélenchon. Le Pen, though she has won support in many working class and deindustrialised communities, is not regarded “classically fascist” as the FN does not have a considerable violent street movement at its base. She would have governed constitutionally on an extreme right wing anti-union, anti-worker, and anti-migrant platform, rather than as fascist in its 20th century form.
The prospects for a combative mobilisation against both Le Pen and Macron are bolstered by the young, vocal and militant milieu which led the struggle against El Khomri’s labour law last spring.