Monday, April 23, 2007

France getting ready for round two

The first round of the French Presidential elections were understandably dominated by the fear that far right bugbear Le Pen would once again make it through to the second round. These fears squeezed the votes of the smaller parties many of whom defected to Labour's sister party - The Socialist Party.

Royal and Sarko: one of whom will soon be President of FranceIn 2002 the Le Pen / Chirac play off saw some from the left voting for right wing Chirac and then, literally, cleansing themselves in specially erected disinfectant booths afterwards to ensure the far-right did not seize the Presidency.

However, whilst all eyes were predictably on the four bigger players there has been some interesting developments in the second division. The Greens who achieved 1.5 million votes (5.25%) last time polled just 576,758 votes (or 1.57%) a massive drop that is difficult to explain just by looking at the anti-fascist squeeze. It seems to me that by campaigning for a YES vote in the Euro constitution referendum a couple of years ago and consistently courting respectability they are more and more positioning themselves in a place that makes voting for them rather pointless.

All the parties have taken on the environmental argument and ever since the French Greens took part in the neo-liberal coalition with the Socialist Party and the Communist Party they've ceased to look like a political force with a strong alternative vision as to how the world could be organised. That's not to say things will always be this way, but it seems that way right now.

Besancenot, candidate of the LCRThis was not the case for everyone on the progressive left. The LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) went from 1.2 million votes in 2002 to just under 1.5 million this time round establishing themselves as the strongest voice on the French left easily outpacing a number of opponents that used to regularly achieve far better results than this old school Trotskyist grouping (read their victory declaration here).

However, whilst the LCR may have increased its own vote the left as a whole has been slipping backwards and were hopelessly divided. For a member of the left the menu on the ballot paper was frustratingly large. The Communist Party (if they can be seen as left wing), Workers Struggle (LO), and the Workers Party (PT) all saw their votes drop and Jose Bove, despite some excitement around his candidature, received a minor league 1.3% - a vote that is meaningless in itself but could have been a valuable contribution to a united left challenge.

I noticed a piece on Comment is Free bigging up Bove even after the result. The article finishes with the delusional point "In finding answers to the evolution of unity on the radical left, José Bové's campaign points the way to a possible future."

First of all I find Bové's claim to be attempting to bring about unity on the left when he saw fit to stand against them all, further dividing the vote, as slightly self important. I'd have had far more respect for him had he said "I don't agree with the LCR on everything - but we need to build a united front so I'm backing them, let's build up some momentum!" But alas so much of politics is about ego and personality and people like Bove don't like playing second fiddle.

Ironically, it's only the LCR that's saying they want to be just one part of a united, pluralist anti-capitalist party and perhaps it's that healthy attitude that has helped them become the strongest force on the French left. They'd previously worked hard to gain greater unity with the LO, but even the non-aggression pact they'd negotiated previously had a pitifully short lifespan. There are, to my very unFrench mind, two key obstacles to achieving this. One organisational, the other political.

Revolutionaries in the thick of tear gasThe organisational problem is that players like the Communists or LO would have to make a leap of faith becoming small fish in a bigger left-pond, giving up privileges and rank built up within their own organisations for the sake of the left as a whole - not something the left is very well known for anywhere in the world.

The political question is: who would be part of an anti-capitalist coalition? Certainly Bove, LCR, PT and LO all fit that criteria - but what of the Communists, their past authoritarian history and collaboration with neo-liberal government would make them difficult partners in any left coalition and one that would inevitably drag it in a conservative direction. Likewise the Greens would need a vigorous debate and change of direction in order to be able to play a full and decent role in such a coalition - and frankly there doesn't seem to be any enthusiasm for it within their ranks. Which is a shame.

The fact is that whilst many parties on the left disagree on tactical points and political philosophy they should, in all honestly, be working more closely together and they tend not to due to ingrained habits of the past. But there are moments when parties want radically different things and will have to agree to go their separate ways - including standing against each other at election time. These political differences need to be played out rather than negotiated or compromised on in order for some kind of pretend unity.

A united anti-capitalist challenge at future elections in France needs to be broad enough to bring in those not traditionally part of the Trotskyist milieu including more anarchist or independent socialist minded activists - but robust enough to say "Right, those progressives not with us will have to take their own chances - and we hope to prove on the streets, in the workplaces and at the ballot box that we are taking the right course, and they the wrong one."

Whilst next month's Parliamentary elections are probably a bit too near to renew that process of left unity there is a space, I believe, to discuss and shape a radical overhaul of the way the anti-capitalist left approach politics in France, although unfortunately I'm rather more pessimistic about the chances of anything similar happening in the UK or US right now.

1 comment:

John Mullen said...

Hi Jim
don't have your email address at work.
Is there a problem?
John Mullen