Statement of Gauche Révolutionnaire, CWI France, on the second round of the French presidential elections.
The result of the first round has already had a big impact in Europe. The likelihood that Sarkozy will be defeated on May 7 is strengthening popular opposition throughout Europe to austerity policies. In France Sarkozy’s defeat could unleash a wave of demands from below for an end to cuts and for action to improve living standards.
The first round showed the polarisation taking place between left and right in many European countries. The huge left mobilisations in the first round campaign, with tens of thousands and on some occasions as in Marseille on 14 April around one hundred thousand rallying in favour of the Left Front showed again that many French workers and youth are not just fighting Sarkozy but reject the whole system he represents. The previous 2002 and 2007 presidential elections showed millions were to the left of Socialist Party (PS), this time workers and youth were attracted by the campaign of Mélenchon, the Left Front’s candidate. This is the potential base for building a mass party that will really fight against capitalism and in the interest of workers and youth in France.
Unfortunately, the potential shown in both 2002 and 2007 for a building a genuinely socialist, anti-capitalist party has not been utilised. This election showed how the NPA, the New Anti-capitalist Party launched in 2009, wasted the huge opportunities it had to help build the new party that is needed. While the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), the main motive force behind the NPA’s creation, won very nearly 1.5 million votes at the last presidential election, the NPA won 411,000 votes this time as many of those to the left of the PS switched and voted for the Left Front. Mélenchon’s radical campaigning mobilised many, but the Left Front does not have a consistent socialist programme. The Left Front’s main organised force, the Communist Party, for example supported privatisation the last time it was in government between 1997 and 2002 and so the question of building a genuinely socialist force is still posed.
As Gauche Révolutionnaire explains the defeat of Sarkozy is only the next step. Despite some radical sounding demands (75 percent tax on the rich, …) and questioning the “Merkozy” austerity policy, politically Hollande supports the trend among capitalists who favour a “growth” strategy alongside holding down living standards. But this should not mean an underestimation of the repercussions his success has already had in France and in Europe. A victory for Hollande would be seen by many as a defeat for the “austerity” politicians and could open up a new period of turmoil and struggle in many countries. Mass pressure from below could push Hollande to make more concessions that he wants to, something that will prepare the way for more struggles when the ruling class inevitably attempts to turn the clock back But the more unlikely, but not completely ruled out, possibility of a Sarkozy success would not been an acceptance of austerity, instead millions would draw the conclusion that struggle is the only way to defeat the capitalists’ attempts to make working people pay for their crisis.
It is clear that Sarkozy experienced an irrevocable punishment in the first round of the presidential election. We can only celebrate the prospect of removing this arrogant president of the super-rich - who while talking about “the France that gets up early in the morning” increased his salary by 172% and his personal assets by 663,000 euro during his five year term! This is the answer of numerous workers and youth to five years of policies that serving the interests of the capitalist ruling class.
Hollande takes advantage of the anti-Sarko vote
The candidate of the Socialist Party (PS), François Hollande, is the one who benefited the most from the anti-Sarko wave and skilfully surfed it. During the campaign he tried to position himself as the only credible candidate to defeat Sarkozy.
Apart from mentioning a few social reforms (raising the minimum wage, a tax of 75% on the highest income earners), he avoided highlighting his economic programme which is more or less the same as Sarkozy’s – except for a one year delay on the implementation of the austerity measures.
At the same time he did everything possible to comfort the capitalists and the stock market about the fact he would be able to manage the crisis, ie to handle an unprecedented social crisis in France with potentially explosive workers’ struggles.
Social issues and crisis
Indeed, the pressing social issues and the deepening economic crisis were prominent in the election campaign, even though very few candidates made them their priority. But it is impossible to hide from 46 million electors that there is more than eight million French living on less than 954 euro a month!
Also it was impossible to hide the avalanche of redundancies during the last three years and the closures of factories (one million industrial workplaces were closed). Despite these adverse conditions (and with no fight back organised on a national scale by the trade unions and the left parties), workers’ struggles have continued.
The stock markets and capitalists are well aware, and worried, of these impending social explosions. They also know well that people’s concerns over job security and falling living standards are a source of class conflict and massive social struggles in the near future - hence the sharp falls in financial markets a few days before the first round election. The ruling class is afraid that the situation will explode in their faces like has elsewhere in Europe.
Mélenchon campaign expresses the growing anger of the working class
The almost four million, 11.7%, vote for Left Front (FG) candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon expressed a huge part of growing working class anger.
This very important vote is due to a dynamic campaign during which Mélenchon presented himself as the defender of workers interests against the capitalists and the ruling classes, against racism, and he even evoked the ideals of socialism. Not since 1981 has a candidate to the left of the PS received such a high vote.
In 2002, the far left reached nearly 10% and a total of 4 million votes, out of 29.5 million, were then cast to the left of PS, compared to nearly 4.6 million this year. The success of the Left Front candidate is a result of a long accumulation of anger amongst the more radicalised workers and youth after years of neo-liberal capitalist policies, of cuts in the public services and of attacks on retirement rights.
The record attendances at the Left Front demos in Paris, Toulouse and Marseille marked out Mélenchon’s election campaign. It showed the willingness of radicalised workers to reclaim the streets – that a growing number of workers and youth feel the need to fight the government’s austerity policies.
This feeling was first expressed in the refusal of the so-called tactical vote for Hollande against Sarkozy, as the PS is rightly seen as insufficiently opposed to the policies serving the capitalists. And with the slogan - “Take the power” - Mélenchon raised the question of who has power in society, without answering it.
This anger was also expressed on a smaller scale with the votes for Philippe Poutou (New Anti-capitalist Party, NPA) and Nathalie Artaud (Lutte Ouvrière/Workers’ Struggle LO). The NPA put forward car factory worker Philippe Poutou as its candidate. However, the programme of the party did not address the desire of workers and the youth to fight back because lack of clarity and its inability to confront the new social and economic situation.
So the NPA was unable to become a backbone for the struggles and a voice of the workers and the youth during the election, whereas when it was created in 2009 it represented a real hope to build a fighting party of the workers.
But the refusal of NPA leadership to discuss amongst the ranks and also to present to workers a policy and a clear programme for socialism during the election debates led to failure. This is bad outcome for workers, and the NPA could have played a more important role in this campaign; the reasons for its failures have to learnt for any new left formation.
Indeed, the NPA’s statement on the eve of the first round election appealing for unity of the anti-capitalist left was ridiculous. Wasn’t this the goal of the NPA four years ago? Is it not too late after the success of the Left Front campaign?
Marine Le Pen will be unmasked!
Marine Le Pen’s result is important; the FN candidate came third. The racist and “security” policy of Sarkozy for almost ten years increased divisions among the working class and youth. Sarkozy’s anti-social policies had an impact on those people influenced by racist ideas, and at the beginning of Marine Le Pen’s campaign social issues were her priority. Many electors who voted for Sarkozy in 2007 voted for the far right this time to punish him.
The significant rise in votes, 3.8 million in 2007 to 6.4 million, for the FN candidate is especially worrying. However the fierce campaign of Jean-Luc Mélenchon against Le Pen definitely limited the extent of support in the working class for the FN. Nonetheless, the FN is in position to win parliamentary seats in the next general election in June.
The rise of FN has not come out of the blue during this election; two important factors can explain its high score, which is not simply a ‘protest vote’. The capitalist crisis and Sarkozy’s policy has worsened the living standards of many workers and youth. France and most of Europe is now suffering mass unemployment.
But above all, as crisis deepens the ruling classes appear in their true light: a clique of corrupt thieves.
The UMP, the “uninhibited” right of Sarkozy, is showing an unbelievable contempt for the workers and for five years legitimised the racist ideas put forward by the FN. The PS is promising nothing but a “lighter” austerity and in some way accepted the terms of the debate on immigration and “security” as they were set by the far right.
When the political class does not give an answer to the crisis, when it uses all its energy to save a capitalist system that is producing nothing but misery, the political class enables the divisive ideas of the FN to gain support. The collusion of the establishment parties is indeed rejected by FN voters; a collusion in order to manage capitalism in the interests of their social class. This is mainly what allows the FN to present itself as the only opposition against the world of finance and to the political and media elites.
The only way to make the FN retreat is to give workers, the unemployed and all victims of capitalist policies (whether the labels of those policies is ‘UMP’ or ‘PS’) an alternative programme; a programme of unity of the workers in the struggle for a society rid of miseries and of those political and financial parasites.
Away with Sarkozy and his austerity policies!
If Sarkozy is defeated in the second round, excellent! But all policies serving the capitalist system have to be defeated and this will not be done on 6 May nor in June’s parliamentary elections.
In the context of worsening crisis of capitalism, France is in the hot seat. We all know that the consequences of the crisis will be a high price to be paid especially by the working classes. It will mean worsening the living standards and the working and studying conditions of the workers and the youth, like in other European countries. A second term of Sarkozy would be disastrous. All the better then if Sarkozy, who exemplifies this ruling class policy, is kicked away.
In this context the vote for Hollande is going to have to be massive in order to get rid of Sarkozy and all of the racist and “security” policies. But this vote is very limited in scope; it does not express a real support for Hollande’s programme. Indeed, on the issue of austerity policies, nothing is solved. Hollande has said he is ready to carry on the necessary cuts… while he promises to be “fair”. He pretends it is possible to reconcile the interests of capitalists and the interests of workers and of the majority of the population.
He lies to us. There are many examples in Europe of parties similar to the PS making savage cuts to save the banks. And Hollande was not born yesterday. Politically educated under Mitterrand’s presidency, he already knows that then a PS-PCF led government, despite being backed with much hope and support in the population, conducted austerity policies from 1983 onwards. Between 1997 and 2002 the Jospin government also confirmed how much the PS apparatus was able, with the ‘Gauche Plurielle’ (“Plural left”, the PS and PCF), to attack the workers and the youth, defending the interests of the ruling classes and privatising more than the right wing governments of Balladur and Juppé had done during the five preceding years.
A “left” majority might win the general elections, but what “left”? Hollande proposes to “cut public spending”, while promising to create 60,000 jobs in education… Let there be no mistake; with the continuing crisis he will conduct the austerity measures demanded by the capitalists like his fellow social democrats have done elsewhere in Europe.
So, as early as next September the trade unions, left parties and workers will have to organise for a first big day of struggle, to warn the new government that we refuse to accept this austerity. The dynamic around the Left Front can be a backbone of this fightback if it is discussed now in its ranks and a turn is made toward the workers, the youth and other layers of the population suffering the crisis and the government’s attacks.
Initiatives seen in the presidential campaign could be repeated, but this time to develop the struggles and discussion about the necessity of building a party that genuinely defends our interests, and advances the need to overthrow capitalism and to build socialism.
The whole of the right wing (UMP and FN) is trying to hijack May Day for its petty political aims. To counter this millions should take to the streets rejecting their politics. We have to show our strength as a class, and that we are getting ready to resist all austerity policies. This opposition should build struggles but should also develop a political weapon in the form of a party uniting all those who want to end perpetual austerity. Let’s not allow the FN to pretend being the popular classes’ opposition! Let’s organise ourselves for the fight back, starting with a massive and combative May Day!
The right wing is very aggressive and Sarkozy has chosen to use the same issues that allowed him to win in 2007: work, immigration and security. There is a risk that a sufficient number of FN electors vote for Sarkozy and that he could win this election.
In any case, we shall not give up, and we must be ready to resist any politics serving the interests of the capitalists and to resist racist policies with a fighting programme:
- We won’t have to pay for the capitalists’ crisis! No bailout of the banks and financial sector. For the nationalisation of the finance sector, without compensation, under the democratic workers’ control.
- Against the FN; workers and young people unite against racism! Equality of rights for French and migrant workers!
- A secure job with a decent wage for all!
- A shorter working week with no loss of pay to create full employment!
- Decent housing for all!
- Free and good quality public services!
- Nationalization of the main means of production, distribution and exchange, under democratic workers’ control and management linked to the wider population!
- No to capitalism! For a socialist society base on the satisfaction of everyone’s needs!
This election shows that there is a need for a genuine mass, fighting party of the workers and the youth, against austerity, capitalism and any government serving this system; and for a democratic and socialist society. Capitalism is responsible for wars, misery and the destruction of the environment. Today it is unable to face the consequences of the crisis and instead tries to makes us pay the fine, whatever government is in office.
Gauche Révolutionnaire stands the end of all austerity plans, to rally workers and youth against capitalism and racism, whatever the government. To build a genuine alternative to capitalism we have to discuss with the majority population a revolutionary socialist programme and building a party able to advance this programme. This is what the Gauche Révolutionnaire stands for and wants to build, and what we are proposing in the debates and in the struggles to come against austerity policies.