Colin Foster reports from France
One of the major organisations of the revolutionary left in France, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), reckons that it may double its membership in the coming weeks.
Its reports on the flood of emails, letters, phone calls, and new arrivals at its meetings, appear as much stunned as enthusiastic. Although all the radical left in France have had a lift since the big strike wave of November-December 1995, it is a long while since they have seen a wave of interest comparable to today's.
Yet the facts are there - not only the influx of new recruits or possible recruits, but the three million votes for Trotskyist candidates in the first round of France's presidential election (10.4% of the total); the 14% share of the 18-24 year old vote won in that poll by LCR candidate Olivier Besancenot; the two million people on the streets in trade-union demonstrations on May Day; the hundreds of thousands on countless protests, sometimes daily, which exploded as soon as it became known that fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen had got through to the run-off round of the presidential election. The revolutionary left are not "dinosaurs"; or, if we are, then France at least has seen a Jurassic-Park-type revival, thanks to the tenacious activists who kept the Marxist DNA available through the hard times.
Lutte Ouvrière, France's other main Trotskyist group, did better overall than the LCR in the 21 April presidential poll, with 5.72% of the vote where the LCR got 4.23%. However, the LCR's vote was younger and "newer" than that of LO, who already got 5.3% in the presidential poll of 1995, and the LCR has been able to appear more open and warmer than LO.
Over the last month, LO has focused its arguments around a freezing condemnation of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and (at the last minute) the LCR, for voting Chirac in the presidential run-off round. In a chilly retort to the widespread argument that people had to vote "crook rather than fascist" to block Le Pen, it has dismissed Le Pen as a "bladder" artificially inflated by scaremongering which the SP and CP have concocted in order to evade any political accounting.
LO is right to say that Le Pen's Front National is still overwhelmingly an electoral force, not a fully-formed fascist movement in the classic street-fighting sense. LO's offhand dismissal of any real danger from Le Pen must, however, have rung false in the ears of many people who agreed with its conclusion on the run-off.
There are plenty of those in and around the LCR. The LCR's youth group, the JCR, pointedly refused to call for a Chirac vote. "The solution is not in the ballot box, as they try to tell us. The rise of the far right cannot be blocked by 'zero tolerance', nor by stepping up the 'Vigipirate' [stricter policing] plan, nor by successive privatisations and wrecking public services, in other words, not by Jacques Chirac. The only way to counter the Front National is to mobilise massively... They will have some difficulty convincing us that we have anything to gain from a Chirac victory..."
Inside the LCR itself, the Chirac-voters were only a small majority (38 to 34) on its leading committee, and unconfident of their case (a polemic in their paper, Rouge, by the dissident minority has passed without reply).
However, that debate has fast been overtaken by hectic activity, especially for the coming parliamentary elections on 9 and 16 June, where LO is standing 560 candidates (covering all the constituencies of mainland France) and the LCR 440.
An appeal by the LCR to LO for the two groups to work together and divide the constituencies between them got a sub-zero response. There is no early prospect of new left unity. The idea of a new workers' party, based on the three million Trotskyist voters, still remains in the mists. But these are exciting times for the French activist left. We have much to learn from them.
Colin Foster reports from France