What Will Change in France?

July 21st, 2012

Published on The Bullet, Socialist Project/E-Bulletin No. 668, by François Laforge, July 19, 2012.

In the traditional speech to the National Assembly, France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault of the ruling Socialist Party laid out the political program he shares with the new President François Hollande. Hollande won France’s presidential election with a victory in a runoff vote in May over despised conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy. In June parliamentary elections, the Socialist Party and other center-left groupings won a majority of seats, which put Ayrault in the prime minister’s office … //

… Campaign on the Left?

  • Mélenchon’s radical speeches and his hard stance against the fascist National Front won him a big turnout in the first round of the election. His presence pulled the entire political debate to the left, leading Hollande to talk about standing up to “world finance” and promise many of the reforms that were included in Ayrault’s speech. But the Socialists know they won’t have to worry about a challenge from the Left Front in parliament. Because of France’s undemocratic election laws, the Left Front won only 10 seats.
  • After the first round of the presidential vote, Mélenchon said he wouldn’t participate in a government led by the Socialist Party, which he harshly criticized during the campaign. What happens to the Left Front now remains to be seen, though it is important to remember that parties belonging to it, especially the Communist Party, have a long history of reformism, including cooperation with previous Socialist Party governments.

Rule on the Right? … //

… The Far Right:

  • While the Socialist Party’s victories and the strong showing for Mélenchon represent a widespread rejection of right-wing former President Sarkozy and his right-wing agenda, the other major factor in France’s elections was the successes of Marine Le Pen and the National Front (FN, by its initials in France).
  • Le Pen won 17.9 per cent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections, the fascists’ best-ever showing. The FN’s hopes of winning a number of seats in parliament due to the discrediting of Sarkozy’s mainstream conservative party were foiled, but the fascists do have two representatives, their first presence in the National Assembly in a decade.
  • Le Pen and the fascists were able to gain a hearing because of the depth of the economic crisis, winning votes even in working-class areas with a history of voting for the left with their scapegoating appeals. But the FN can only succeed because of the help it gets from the general climate of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia that pervades the entire political spectrum in France.
  • In the campaign for the second round of the presidential election, Sarkozy made open overtures to win support from National Front voters, including vile attacks on immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants. But the conservatives aren’t the only mainstream parties guilty of pandering on themes that help the far right to thrive. The Socialists also vow to crack down on undocumented immigrants, and they have refused to call out the FN as the fascist organization it is.
  • The problem exists even on the left. Mélenchon’s harsh attacks on Le Pen during the presidential campaign – he called her a “filthy beast, spitting hatred” – were a breath of fresh air. But Mélenchon also contributed to the anti-Islam hysteria by supporting a law that banned Muslim women from wearing the veil. Even the far-left New Anti-Capitalist Party disgracefully refused in 2010 to endorse the local candidacy of its member Ilham Moussaid, a young student who defiantly wore the niqab. Such concessions to racism have contributed to the French left’s weak response to the FN.
  • Although the fascists’ surge in the elections is worrisome, historically, their influence has always fallen when large social movements are taking action. A case in point is the massive strike wave in 1995 against the conservative government’s attacks on workers. The FN lost its ability to send young recruiters into impoverished neighborhoods – it split in half two years later.
  • It’s quite possible that the honeymoon for the Socialist Party government will be short-lived. According to one leader of the Force Ouvrière (Workers Power) union: “Civil servants have been humiliated by Sarkozy. The ground is fertile for mobilization. We are ready for strike in autumn.”
  • Large mobilizations will be necessary to force Hollande’s government to acknowledge the demands of French workers against austerity, as well as to defend the right of immigrants and to combat the FN.
  • Fortunately, France and the rest of Europe have proven that such mobilizations are possible. In the fall of 2010, France was paralyzed by mass demonstrations and the biggest strike wave since the struggles of 1968 against Sarkozy’s proposal to raise the retirement age. Sarkozy got away with that measure, but the discontent expressed in the strikes set the stage for his election defeat this year.
  • In Greece, mass struggles in the streets and workplaces were turned into a political showdown with the ruling class when the Coalition of the Radical Left, known as SYRIZA, nearly won two successive elections on a platform of rejecting austerity and the rule of the bankers.
  • The French left should learn the lessons of Greece. The Socialist Party in France is the equivalent of PASOK in Greece, the center-left party that introduced drastic austerity measures as a condition of a European bailout of the banks. But do we have a French SYRIZA?

(full text).

(François Laforge is an organizer with ULANJ and writes for Socialist Worker where this article first appeared. Alan Maass contributed to this article).

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