By Vicki Morris
Solidarity 3/9 - 25th June 2002
It is hard to imagine a more depressing outcome than that produced by the French general election on 9 and 16 June. The right-wing Unionfor a Presidential Majority - supporters of President Jacques Chirac - won 399 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, France's Parliament.
The new government, led by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, promises three main themes:
- "Cracking down on crime" - a major theme of the far-right National Front in the presidential election that has been nicked from them by the establishment.
- "Cutting down on state bureaucracy" - that is, attacking the conditions of public sector workers.
- "Freeing up the economy" - carrying through privatisations, attacking the minimum wage, etc.
All these at the expense of liberty and the vulnerable, such as immigrants and workers.
With these results and the outcome of the first round of the presidential election in April-May - the runoff between fascist Le Pen and Chirac - people could be forgiven for being very depressed indeed. "The French have gone right-wing".
Well, they haven't. Or at least, not especially. In a complicated scene, the following points must be taken into account:
- Chirac's party won less than half of the vote - abstention was at a record 39.7%
- The share for the National Front went down from 15% in 1997 to around 11%.
- The right-wing parties (except the fascist right) profited from their recent organisation into a new, unified party, the Union for a
Presidential Majority (UMP).
- The score of the far left was slightly up on 1997. Its balance shifted. Lutte Ourvriere (LO), previously by far the bigger electoral presence, got 1.18% this time; the LCR got a bit more, 1.24%.
People should not be depressed that the Socialist Party (PS), the Communist Party (PCF) and the Greens had a kicking. They deserved a kicking. In power for five years they did nothing to change the political economy of France to the benefit of the working class, their electors. The much-heralded 35 hour maximum working week became a shameful betrayal as it was paid for by the workers with more "flexibility". There were attacks on immigrants, privatisations and lay-offs.
If depression arises it comes mainly from the disappointment of the hopes raised by the impressive score of the far left in the first round of the presidential election, when LO scored 5.72% of the vote and the LCR 4.23%. Ten per cent voted for organisations offering a working-class alternative to the capitalist politics of the mainstream parties, right and "plural left" - the PS, PCF and Greens.
It could have been a massive springboard for class struggle and political reorientation (and it still could be). But in the first round of the legislative elections on 9 June that support seems to have stayed at home. What happened?
LO are characteristically "not surprised", "given the general and considerable retreat of the left in public opinion, and the prevalence of the ideologies of the right". This complacency is of a
piece with LO's refusal to contemplate setting up a broader working-class party that could campaign politically between elections and unite the left during elections. Instead, LO looks forward after the election to more of the period of "left right, right left... no alternative to the alternation of the two big dominating parties".
LO's dissident minority, L'Etincelle ("The Spark") takes a different view, a just one. For the far left to get 10% on 21 April and one-quarter of that on 9 June, something must have gone horribly
wrong. A chance has been missed somewhere along the way. They say LO was too self-sufficient - refusing to enter an electoral alliance with the LCR - and the LCR too insecure, collapsing behind the bandwagon to vote-Chirac-in-the-second-round of the presidential election. (You can read more about this in the 30 April issue of Solidarity or at www.workersliberty.org.uk.)
The LCR is proud they stood in more constituencies than ever before but acknowledges the result is disappointing. They issue an appeal fora "new anti-capitalist force". Certainly unity of all the old anti-capitalist forces will be needed, for the blue wave rolling over France - against the will of most - will drown many victims.
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Clinging to the wreckage
The SP, PCF and Greens, until recently "plural left" partners in government, avoided electoral wipeout by doing a deal whereby in many constituencies they did not stand against each other. By this means the SP hung on to 140 seats, the PCF 21, and the Greens 2. All go into huddles now to work out what they did wrong to have lost the election. All of them have grassroots trying to assert less pro-capitalist politics.