Scrapping to unite the French left

Submitted by cathy n on 19 November, 2006 - 5:29

By Joan Trevor

If you want to stand in the French presidential election you have to start campaigning early. You need to collect the 500 signatures (which need not be endorsements) from elected officials – mayors, regional councillors, parliamentary deputies, and so on – that one needs in order to be allowed to stand.

The fascist Front National leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, it has been reported, is struggling to get 500 signatures. (Such rumours abounded in 2002 as well, however, and we know how events turned out then!) In case Le Pen were not able to stand, one might speculate where his vote – likely to be around 17% – would go instead. One estimate, that in a two-horse race in the second round between Ségolène Royal for the Socialist Party (PS) and Nicolas Sarkozy for the current governing right-wing UMP, has 8% going to “Sarko” and 5% to Royal. What would these votes represent?, asks the left-wing newsletter Lettre de Liaisons (no.197, 26 November 2006). “Working-class votes? Or the beginnings of a national unity operation?”

Liaisons have some insightful comments on the meaning of the Ségolène Royal victory to be the PS candidate (she won 60.6% of the 170,000 votes cast in an internal party ballot; Dominique Strauss-Kahn got 20.8% and Laurent Fabius 18.5%). They say that far from Royal representing “the only way to stop Sarkozy”, as she is touted in the media, she might be the candidate of choice for the French ruling class and the establishment. Nicolas Sarkozy has several drawbacks: he is too friendly to George Bush; his abrasive style could very quickly bring him into conflict with the trade unions and wider society if he wins the presidency.

But what does Royal represent? Working-class voters, usually supporters of the Socialist Party, are waiting and seeing, according to Liaisons, not joining in the fanfare around Royal. Liaisons suggests that a Royal presidency, far from being a victory for the left, could unite the centre and the right of French politics against the “social movement”, that her policies are potentially profoundly undemocratic:

“Regions, decentralisation, participation are more and more the leitmotifs of ségolène-royalism which thus continues, each day… to get further and further from socialism.”

It is necessary to know here that “decentralisation” for the French left signals most of all an attempt by right-wing politicians to undermine national standards in employment protection, wages, provision of services, education, etc, and thus represents a reactionary attack on working-class living standards and egalitarianism.
Liaisons notes some interesting aspects of the wider situation on the left.

The far-left, which for Liaisons is synonymous with the left that campaigned for a “no” in the referendum on the European constitution treaty, has failed to build on the unity it created during that campaign. It has struggled to find a common candidate for the presidential election (if it ever sincerely wanted one).

Small farmer leader and environmental campaigner José Bové, who might, because he is independent of any party, have been able to unite the various parties and other independents, has withdrawn his offer to be a candidate, in frustration, it appears.

The Communist Party (PCF) is promoting its leader Marie-Georges Buffet as the unity candidate; the far-left Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) is promoting Olivier Besancenot. Liaisons suggests that by their behaviour the PCF and LCR have hindered the search for a unity candidate. They might well have done, but it is hard to see what else they could have done but throw their hats confidently into the ring early on.

Olivier Besancenot has an extremely colourful website up and running at http://besancenot2007.org/. In a section titled, perhaps too apologetically, “Why am I standing?”, he has an article titled “When are they going to redistribute the wealth?”.

There he explains the stance of the LCR on the Socialist Party (PS), and on the potential for a united left candidate.

“We should not [have] any illusion about the politics of the Socialist Party leadership. We don’t have the same ‘desire for the future’ as the runners for the PS candidacy because they incarnate a left which prostrates itself the moment the Medef [French equivalent of the CBI] starts to frown, a left whose politics genetically modify into the politics of the right the moment they get into power....

“In the LCR… we are in favour of united left anticapitalist and anti-neoliberal candidates in the 2007 elections. …That is why we are discussing with all those who together conducted the victorious battle of 29 May, with all the parties that called for a ‘no’ vote, from the Communist Party to Lutte Ouvrière… I am ready to withdraw my candidacy in favour of another if a political agreement can be found… But in order to get this agreement, we need an absolute guarantee that this united candidacy will not in the end serve to sanction the PS leadership in the name of ‘being effective’. The past and present policy of the PCF leadership, its participation in a government that, between 1997 and 2002, privatised more than its predecessors on the right, its attempts today to continue discussions with a PS leadership that has renounced the transformation of society, hardly makes us optimistic.”

There is some speculation that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the left of the PS, might stand since he has said he won’t back Royal. Lutte Ouvrière have not taken part in the negotiations over a unity candidate; they campaigned against the European constitution treaty as well, but aloof from the united campaign. They will stand their spokesperson Arlette Laguiller again, for the sixth and last time, in 2007; Laguiller has stood in every presidential election since 1974.

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