|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Rightwing win in France
JACQUES CHIRAC has scored a second election victory, this time in the National Assembly (parliament), the second round of which was held on 16 June. The sweeping victory of his new ‘party’ – the Union de la Majorité Présidentielle – may have astonished some people who compared it to the less than 20% he received in the first round of the presidential election. It was, in fact, no surprise. Although the UMP won 355 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, it is not really a party at all. It is a loose conservative coalition and its continued unity is not assured.
During the presidential election in April and May, the main parties used the movement against the far-right Front National (FN) leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and channelled it into a vote for Chirac in the second round. It was, in a sense, an attempt to hide the huge anger against the establishment, which the first round of the presidential election had exposed, with only 35% voting for the official government candidates, 10.4% for the far-left, and 17% for Le Pen. On the electoral stage they appear to have been successful. Yet, even here, the total right-wing vote, excluding the FN, was 11,206,000, which is 586,300 less than in the second round of the Assembly elections in 1997. The more difficult terrain for them will be future confrontations over social and political issues.
The far-left practically disappeared in the first round of the parliamentary elections, scoring worse results than in 1997 (between 0.8% and 2.5%, but less in constituencies where Lutte Ouvrière – LO – and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire – LCR – both stood candidates). In Lille, for example, the vote for LO collapsed from an average of 3.5% to 1.2%, with the LCR maintaining its vote around 1%. If the overall national percentages for 1997 and 2002 were similar, that is because LO and the LCR presented many more candidates this time.
How could these two Trotskyist organisations fall from 10.4% in the presidential elections to less than 2.7% in the Assembly elections, from three million votes to 620,000? The two elections are very different. To become an MP, you need a mass electoral base in a particular area, or to belong to an organisation with national influence. In that sense for example, the Parti Communiste (PCF) scored better in the parliamentary than the presidential elections, getting 21 MPs elected. Nonetheless, it suffered a sharp fall from 38 MPs in the last government, with PCF leader, Robert Hue, losing his seat.
The memory of Le Pen’s first-round success in the presidential elections, with the Parti Socialiste (PS) leader, Lionel Jospin, missing out by less than 200,000 votes, shored up the ‘vote utile’ – anti-Le Pen, pro-establishment party support. But it could not stop the former ‘plural left’ government parties – PS, PCF, Greens and a few allies – falling from 12,387,400 in 1997 to 9,613,600 second-round parliamentary votes. Pierre Moscovici (former Europe minister), the Greens’ Dominique Voynet, and the independent social democrat, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, all lost their seats, as did Martine Aubry (the architect of the treacherous 35-hour week law, which has resulted in increased ‘flexibility’, annualised hours, weekend working and wage freezes).
Moreover, the abstention rate rose to 39.7%, a new record, again underlining the deep alienation from mainstream politics of increasing numbers of people. It was 28.9% in 1997’s second round. A further 986,000 votes cast (4.36%) were blank.
But we could say that LO or the LCR have done nothing to cut across that. Neither party campaigned on an independent position in the protests against Le Pen in April and May. LO declared against a vote for either Chirac or Le Pen, but did very little to promote that position. The LCR called for a vote against Le Pen, the logic being that people should vote for Chirac even though there was no danger of Le Pen winning. And both parties proved incapable of coming to an agreement for the parliamentary elections.
After the first presidential round, neither party explained to their voters that millions of people had voted for anti-capitalist candidates, and that this was a clear indication of the need for a new workers’ party. They should have then proposed joint meetings of the two organisations, open to everyone interested in building an independent, anti-capitalist movement in preparation for this parliamentary election. Discussions and action should have begun immediately to launch a new party, encouraging the active participation of their voters.
From completely different angles, the two organisations find ways of avoiding collaborating to build a new workers’ party, trying to build themselves at the expense of each other. Both make ‘correct’ but one-sided criticisms of each other. LO accuses the LCR of being opportunistic, and the LCR accuses LO of being sectarian. The LCR is more flexible in its approach, politically and organisationally, and is proposing open debates to discuss a new ‘radical and anti-capitalist force’, albeit on a very limited programme – but not until late September or October. It is clear that another opportunity has been missed.
The new finance minister, Francis Mer, presided over the closure of many mines in the 1980s and 1990s – a real jobs butcher. Prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, has decided to increase the minimum wage by the rate of inflation – the minimum legal requirement – as Jospin did for the last three years. Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, made an incredible, whirlwind tour of poor areas – as if he was in an old Starsky & Hutch episode – and then made a speech about the need for law and order in society, declaring a ‘war against crime’, and promising a large increase in expenditure for new police equipment.
Despite fear in some sections of society, this is a typical right-wing government. Sarkozy is as reactionary as Charles Pasqua, or Jean-Louis Debré (now president of the parliament and the man who sent the police against the sans papiers protesters in Saint Bernard church in 1996). Debré was a protégé of Papon, an official of the French fascist regime of Vichy.
This government will be careful to start with. It will be aware of what is happening in Spain and Italy and will put huge pressure on the former plural left (now known as the ‘united left’) not to mobilise. It will also try to win over sectors of society (for example, doctors and the police) in an attempt to divide the potential opposition to its attacks. One key question is pensions, although there are also the important issues of public services and social care (which led to the former right-wing government’s defeat in 1995), public education, collective working contracts, etc.
Under the pressure of the bosses, this government will follow in the tracks of José María Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi. For Raffarin, how the working class and youth respond will be decisive, as is the attitude of LO and the LCR, the thousands of anti-capitalist activists in the unions, the left trends of the PCF and the social movements. In the back of many people’s minds, next autumn could be the time for action. It is possible that the government fears that as well. But it will not be able to indefinitely avoid confrontation. The key question will be how to build a strong and unified movement which will start with defensive demands against Raffarin’s anti-working class policies. It will be a new test for all organisations that claim the need for a new workers’ party.
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