by David Broder
With France's presidential elections looming fast, the Trotskyist left looks hard-pressed to repeat its 2002 successes, when Lutte Ouvrière and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire captured 2.84 million votes (10%) between them.
As in 2002, the left has failed to reach any deals to run joint campaigns or unitary candidates. The LCR had made sustained efforts to mount a unity deal with the Parti Communiste Français (a huge party in the heyday of Stalinism, now reduced to a small social-democrat rump) as well as others on the left who fought successfully against the European Constitution, such as anti-globalisation peasant leader José Bové.
The PCF's determination to impose their leader as the "joint candidate", and to make deals with the Parti Socialiste and their Blairite candidate Ségolène Royal was significant to this failure - now the LCR, the PCF and Bové are all competing with one another, as well as Lutte Ouvrière. The ultra-sectarian Parti des Travailleurs is also standing a candidate, Gérard Schivardi, on a ticket whose central feature is a crude anti-Europeanism.
This is particularly problematic since they are also competing even to get to stand in the elections. Candidates must have 500 nominations from elected officials; the 45,000 eligible officials across France may nominate only one candidate each. Given the relative scarcity of far-left mayors and representatives, groups have to rely on the "republican" spirit of liberal and even right-wing officials in order to find their nominations - but there are not infinite numbers of such people.
The Parti Socialiste has told its members not to nominate anyone, having had its fingers burnt in 2002 where its candidate Jospin did badly in the first round of the election (largely due to the strength of the far left), clearing the way for the xenophobe Jean-Marie le Pen to stand in the run-off against Chirac.
The PCF has enough local representatives (not to mention its 21 MPs) to secure its place in the election, while Schivardi's posturing as "the candidate of the mayors" has also seen him win support. Lutte Ouvrière's candidate Arlette Laguiller says she has 500 "promises" and will need 100 or so more to be sure. But the LCR, which has barely reached 400 promises, has a large hurdle to jump if it is to secure the necessary signatures by the March 16th deadline. A significant minority within the LCR is calling for the group to withdraw in favour of Bové, despite the fact that the latter is way off the radar of revolutionary socialist politics and has little support behind him.
This is combined with poor ratings for the left in opinion polls. Laguiller is averaging at around 2.5% - down from 5.72% in 2002 - while the LCR's Olivier Besancenot looks to get around 3%, down from 4.25%. It is the disunity of these two groups which does the greatest damage to the Trotskyist left's bid to present itself as a serious political force - the problem lies in their failure to present a joint programme for independent working-class political representation.