The 2017 presidential election will not be a normal election preceded by a normal election campaign. In recent decades, French elections have generally been a predictable duel between the Parti Socialiste (PS) candidate and a candidate from the traditional right wing. This norm, however, experienced its first exception on April 21st, 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National (FN) eliminated Lionel Jospin (PS) in the first round.
What was taken as rare at the time, is now shown by many polls to be a serious possibility: Marine Le Pen of FN could qualify for the second round by eliminating the PS candidate. The PS will try to exploit this threat to its advantage by calling for a "strategic vote" to block the FN. But this is a tired argument. Faced with the rise of the FN, PS leaders are not the solution; they are the problem. In pursuing a policy of unprecedented counter-reforms under a government of the "left", Hollande and Valls have pushed many voters towards the FN (or towards abstention).
Lenin said: "politics is concentrated economics". Ultimately, what we have just described is the result of the organic crisis of the capitalist system, the most serious since the 1930s. This inevitably leads to a crisis of reformism and growing political volatility. Once in power, the Social Democrats have to resort to counter-reforms, as demanded by the ruling class. In doing so, they disappoint their electoral base and lay the groundwork for the return of the right to power.
This movement, however, is not only in one direction. The crisis is causing a polarisation to the right and to the left. In France, millions of young people and workers would be willing to join a left alternative to the scenario described by the polls for 2017, which would see the right of the PS, the traditional right (Republicans) and the far-right (the FN) dominate the debates.
The potential for an electoral and militant left-wing opposition to the current policy of the PS is very important. Remember that since the midterm elections in 2012, abstention has risen to around 50% and 70% among young people. This mass of voters is one of the keys to the presidential election. They can be won over to a policy of breaking with the policies of austerity and capitalism in crisis.
The split of the Left Front
In the first round of the 2012 presidential election, the Left Front had won 11% of the vote after a campaign marked by the radical discourse of its candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and by a massive and enthusiastic response to his speeches at many rallies. But since then, the Left Front has split. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a candidate of a new political movement, la France Insoumise, while the PCF leadership will make its final decision concerning 2017 in November.
As we have explained in detail elsewhere, the PCF leadership is primarily concerned with maintaining its institutional links with PS - and electoral alliances that go with it, either in Parliament or in local administrations (municipalities, counties, regions). If this time, Pierre Laurent (PCF) refuses to support the candidacy of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, it is only because he offers a clean break with the PS.
Of course, Pierre Laurent did not say it that way. He says there is an "overflow of candidates" on the left. This refers not only to Mélenchon, but also Montebourg (PS), Hamon (PS), Lienemann (PS), Filoche (PS) and Duflot (The Greens). Therefore, the national secretary of the PCF wants to "discuss" with all of these candidates and "convince" them to agree on a single candidate.
Leaving aside the improbability of this succeeding, Pierre Laurent’s approach presupposes that all these candidates are more or less equal, and that in their program and strategy, there is nothing decisive that distinguishes them. But this is not true. Not only is the program of Mélenchon one of the most left, if not the most to the left among the candidates that we have mentioned, but the candidacy of la France Insoumise is also the only one that is accompanied by a strategy of breaking with a discredited PS and that is controlled by its right wing. Finally, unlike the four PS candidates, Mélenchon rejects the strategy of a primary with François Hollande, Manuel Valls and company.
There is no time to lose: we must build a left alternative to PS and its austerity policies now. This is what is proposed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his comrades in la France Insoumise. Revolution (IMT France) supports this approach and will get involved.
In particular, we count on making a contribution to the main element that will ultimately determine the success - or otherwise - of la France Insoumise: its program. This program must be consistent, combative and responsive to the situation, that is, to the deep crisis which the capitalist system finds itself in. In mid-October, a "Program Convention" of la France Insoumise will be held in Lille. Here are the first things that we would like to add to the debate.
Which classes must we lean on?
To whom must the program of la France Insoumise address itself? "The people"? The vagueness of this term is not a problem in its casual usage, but it becomes a problem when we need to develop a clear and scientific program. Indeed, the people is made up of classes that not only have divergent interests, but even irreconcilable ones. Therefore, we cannot advance a program for all the people. It's necessary to choose. The right has chosen. It defends its class: a class of big capitalists, the exploiters, the giant parasites that own the banks and the means of production. We must defend our class: the workers, the exploited, those who produce all the wealth and yet see their situation worsen with each passing day.
Our class is, by far, the largest in number in France, 90% of the active population are workers. Even if we subtract the thin layer of employees that have very high salaries and whose hierarchical positions put them closer to the capitalist than to the average worker, this hardly alters the powerful weight of our social class. It is this class which through revolutionary mobilization can transform society from the ground up. So we need a program that will put us in motion, a program that offers solutions to our most immediate problems - but also resolves to "take the power", to quote the slogan of the Left Front campaign of 2012.
And the middle class? Should we not also appeal to them as well? Sure, but we must first know what to talk about. First, contrary to a common idea, an employee who receives a "good" wage (i.e. 2500€/mo) is not part of the middle class; they are part of the working class. Secondly, the middle class is not homogeneous. Its upper layers - top lawyers, doctors, academics, etc. - lean to the side of the capitalists. Its lower layers - small artisans, shopkeepers, farmers, etc. - lean to the workers' side. This section (the largest) of the middle class suffers significantly from the crisis of capitalism. They are strangled by banks, multinational corporations and the state, as evidenced by the recurrent crises affecting small farmers and ranchers. But because of its position in the relations of production, it does not and cannot have independent politics and program. Either they rally to the side of the workers, or to that of the capitalists.
The reactionary parties seek to win using all sorts of old demagogic tricks ("against taxes", "against foreign competition"). We have to win by telling the truth, that in order to move forward, we must unite with workers in a common struggle against the large parasites of finance, industry and agribusiness. We must explain that by taking control of the banks and large multinationals, we can maintain favourable prices and interest rates. Struggling under the weight of the crisis, they are ready to hear some radical propositions. The error would be to imagine that it is possible to win with a vague and moderate discourse. In this game, not only will we not win the middle class, but we would also lose the support of many workers.
The "sharing of the wealth"
Mélenchon has placed "wealth sharing" at the heart of his program. On the website of la France Insoumise, he wrote: "I believe that the squandering of the wealth, the impoverishment of the middle classes and the miseries of the people is nothing fatal. Our country has never been so rich. It is therefore time to provide a different way in which to share the wealth produced by labour of all of us." During a speech in Toulouse on August 28th, he also said: "Enough of this great transfer that we are seeing take place in all possible ways, from the pockets and energy of labour, going to capital. Almost 10 % of the wealth in the country has been transferred in this way. This is what is on the order of the day: to take back the share, and give it to those who produce”.
What Mélenchon describes is accurate and cruelly felt by millions of workers. The crisis is accelerating this process: to protect its profit margins, the ruling class requires ever new "burden relief" for itself - and increasingly large cuts in public spending. Austerity for workers reigns in the private and the public sectors.
We must therefore tackle this problem. But how? There are many direct and indirect ways of increasing the share of wealth that goes to workers: increased wages, lower TVA (consumer tax), free access to healthcare and education, reduction of public transport fares, lower rents - among others. The Left Front program for 2012, “L’Humain D’abord”, advanced a series of progressive measures of this kind. These things should also be in the program of la France Insoumise.
But still, how can we finance these measures? By digging the government more into debt? By taxing capital more? In both cases, experience teaches us that when faced with such a program, the capitalists use their powers - starting with their control of the economy - to sabotage the reforms and make the government fold on them. Is this not what happened in Greece in 2015? Alexis Tsipras had not even committed the main measures of his program when the "troika" - and the big Greek capitalists - threatened to plunge the country into chaos. On the eve of the referendum on 5 July 2015, the "troika" plunged the Greek banking system into a coma. They only lifted the pressure after the capitulation of Tsipras, when he pledged to continue austerity policies.
This will not be different for France. The French ruling class react to genuine progressive reforms through a systematic economic sabotage policy: investment strikes, capital flight, plans for layoffs or threats of closures... Major European capitalists too, conspire against left governments. What solutions are left? Either capitulate, as Tsipras in Greece - or go on the offensive: expropriate the banks and the major means of production, placing the economy under the democratic control of workers, putting socialism on the agenda and call on the workers of Europe to follow suit. That should be the central focus of the program of la France Insoumise - which was not the case in L’Humain D’abord.
The expropriation of the major French and foreign capitalists will form the basis of a rational and democratic planning of the economy. Only this, in turn, can form the basis of what Mélenchon calls "ecological planning". The race for profits of the multinationals is the main source of pollution and other environmental damage. The chaos of the capitalist market is incompatible in the long-term (and perhaps short-term), with the survival of the human species. It is obvious, for example, that the capitalists will not be able to provide the huge investments that would be required in renewable energy. They only would if it was immediately profitable, and more profitable than the exploitation of gas, coal and oil. All this leads to disaster. Only a planned economy under the democratic control of workers and consumers can we avoid it.
The planning of the economy should not be limited to the national level. Marx pointed out that the division of the world into nation states is - with the private ownership of means of production - one of the two major obstacles to the progress of humanity. The European Union is a grim demonstration of this. Behind the rhetoric of "European unity", the various ruling classes of the continent struggle for dominance of the European market and only agree on one point: the need to impose austerity on the workers.
The European treaties are the legal expression of the reactionary nature of the EU. Mélenchon is justified to want to "leave" these treaties. But for this we must get out of the capitalist system itself, without which nothing would be settled. Capitalism is incapable of unifying Europe to harmonize its colossal human and productive resources. The problem is the economic and social system in France and in Europe. Only a Socialist Federation of European States will unify the continent on a progressive basis, paving the way for a world socialist federation.
This may seem distant and abstract, but it's the only way, the only perspective that is both realistic and consistent with the interests of the masses. A "Social Europe", on the basis of capitalism may seem more accessible and reasonable at first glance. But it is an illusion. It will never happen. As well, the idea that a capitalist France outside of the EU constitutes progress for workers is yet another illusion. After the events of Brexit, British workers are in a good position to tell us about it.
The Sixth Republic
La France Insoumise places the foundation of a Sixth Republic as its top priority, as the first act of a "citizens' revolution". There is a clear need to propose democratic reforms. For example, you must close the Senate, this institution made up of elites elected by other elites whose annual budget amounts to an incredible €300 million. Use this money to build schools and hospitals. We must also defend the right to vote for immigrants in all elections and the legalization of all undocumented workers.
The Fifth Republic is rotten to the core. Its institutions are riddled with favouritism and corruption of all kinds. Ultimately, however, this institutional crisis is only the expression of the crisis of the economic system on which they rest and their function is to defend: capitalism. This is the root of the evil.
In the Fifth French Republic as in all the other structures in Europe, the real power lies neither in assemblies elected by universal suffrage, nor in the councils of ministers, or even in presidential or royal palaces. It lies in the boardrooms of the banks and multinationals. In France, hundreds of big capitalist families have a decisive influence on the policies of successive governments. Lenin characterized the bourgeois democracy as "the temporary mask of the dictatorship of Capital”. This is even truer today than Lenin’s time, because the concentration of capital has since acquired colossal proportions. Mélenchon often emphasizes monarchical traits of the presidential office in France. But Hollande is kneeling before big capital, the real king of the modern world.
If the Sixth Republic does not dethrone this modern monarchy, it will only be another bourgeois republic. La France Insoumise must link the fight for progressive reforms with the need to end the domination of the economy by a handful of billionaires who only care about their profits. The "citizens' revolution" will be socialist or it will not be.