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Issue 38, May 1999

French left's Euro challenge

ONE OF THE most significant aspects of the campaign in France for June's European elections is the list presented by two Trotskyist organisations, Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR).

The list is headed by the best-known public representatives of the two organisations, Arlette Laguiller, who received 1.6 million votes (5.3%) as LO's presidential candidate in 1995, and Alain Krivine for the LCR.

The parties that make up the Jospin government are presenting three lists: one from the Parti Socialiste, in which the Mouvement des Citoyens (Citizens' Movement) of Jean-Pierre Chevènement is participating; one from the Parti Communiste (PCF); and one from the Green Party. The latter two lists are trying to carve out a space for themselves by criticising this or that aspect of government policy. But ultimately they have to take collective responsibility for the government's anti-working class policies as a whole. The LO-LCR list has thus been able to establish itself as the only left list that is independent of the Jospin government. It has also marked points by coming out clearly against the NATO bombing of Serbia while, at the same time, defending the right of self-determination for Kosova. The PCF opposes the bombings, in a very half-hearted way. But many candidates on its list, which has been opened up to non-party members in a desperate attempt to garner votes, are in favour of the bombings, as many of them are also in favour of Maastricht.

The LO-LCR list is currently running at 7% in the opinion polls and has never gone below 5.5%. It is far from inconceivable that it could out-poll the PCF or Green list, or indeed both of them. If it gets over 5%, which seems likely, it will have Euro-MPs. That would, of course, have a considerable political impact, coming after Laguiller's score in 1995 and the results of last year's regional elections, where LO and the LCR got 22 regional councillors, breaking the 5% barrier in many regions and getting over 10% in the Toulouse area.

  Polls for the European elections confirm the profile of the LO-LCR electorate. Last March 8% of under-25s voted for LO and the LCR. This time the figure is likely to be higher. Polls also show that women are twice as likely as men to vote for the list which also gets the suppoprt of 12% of unemployed and 11% of manual workers. As to previous political allegiance, 11% of potential voters are former PCF voters and 17% state no previous political allegiance. These could be either first-time voters or part of the growing army of abstentionists which has developed over the last 15 years in reaction to the anti-working class policies of successive 'left' governments.

The platform of the list is open to criticism. On Europe it is far from clear, through a combination of LO's refusal to come out clearly against the Europe of Maastricht/Amsterdam and the LCR's unwillingness to come out clearly for a socialist Europe, using instead the extremely vague formula of a 'social' Europe. The platform also fails to call for the repeal of the Aubry law, which under cover of supposedly introducing the 35-hour week, is the vehicle for a major attack on wages and working conditions. And if opposition to the government's policies in general is firmer than has sometimes been the case with the LCR, there is no clear opposition to the government as such, and no socialist alternative put forward.

Nevertheless, the main issue is not the platform. The most important thing is how the list is perceived. And it is perceived by many voters as the only possible anti-capitalist vote. This is particularly the case with PCF or former PCF voters. In this respect the figure of 11% quoted above is not the whole story. Support for the LO-LCR list is almost certainly higher among party members and those who have left the party than among PCF voters as a whole. Party members have openly called for a vote for the list. In particular many PCF or ex-PCF activists of the CGT, the main trade union confederation, have come out in favour of the list. This is a clear reaction to the rightward shift not only of the PCF but also of the CGT itself, in particular, at its recent congress.

  Campaign meetings are getting a very good response. Tens of thousands of people have already taken part in them - and the campaign still has some weeks to go. Those attending go well beyond the traditional audience of the two organisations. For example, in Mantes-la-Jolie, a medium-sized working class town in the outer suburbs of Paris, 300 people came to hear Laguiller and Krivine. Thirty of them were from the big Renault car plant nearby. According to a participant, there were dozens of PCF members present.

The vast majority of those who will vote for the list will do so as a protest from the left against the government, and that in itself is positive. However, what the support for the list shows is that there is a space in French politics not just for an emphemeral electoral coalition, but for a party which would defend the working class in its daily struggles as well as at election time. Only a minority of those who will vote for the list give conscious expression to this need at present. But that minority is composed of some of the most advanced elements among trade unionists and youth.

At present neither LO nor the LCR, together or seperately, offers any real perspective to this layer. The campaign itself is not so much one as two parallel campaigns. Of course, no-one demands that the two organisations give up their separate identities, their own press, pamphlets and so on. However, the fact that, at present, they do not even manage to produce a joint leaflet for the joint meetings (each organisation produces its own) augurs badly for post-electoral perspectives.

No-one really expects LO and the LCR to announce a new party on the evening of the election. But steps could be taken for permanent collaboration between the two organisations, to create a common framework in which other organisations, as well as independent activists and members of the PS and PCF, could take part. For the moment there is no sign of that either. Nevertheless, the need for such collaboration is widely felt among activists, including members of LO and the LCR. If a good result on 13 June is not to be a wasted opportunity, it is up to all those who see the need to go further to work towards that end. That is the perspective defended by the Gauche Révolutionnaire-La Commune, the organisation within which the French supporters of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) play an important role.

David Cameron

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