Chirac and Raffarin suffer a crushing defeat in regional elections

The right-wing parties suffered an absolutely crushing defeat in the local elections in France. Never, in the entire history of the country, have the capitalist parties been so completely eradicated from elected institutions at any level. As we predicted the victory of the right two years ago was merely preparing an even bigger swing to the left at a later stage.
See the original in French: La déroute électorale plonge le gouvernement dans une crise majeure

The right-wing parties have suffered an absolutely crushing defeat in the regional and cantonal elections in France. Never, in the entire history of the country, have the capitalist parties been so completely eradicated from elected institutions at any level. Of a total of 22 regional authorities, 21 have been won by the left, leaving only the traditionally conservative Alsace in the hands of the right. A number of regions have been won by the left for the first time ever. Every single one of the government ministers who were candidates in these elections were beaten. The former President of the Republic, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who has reigned over the Auvergne region for the last 18 years, was also carried away by the "red tide". The scale of this defeat, which has taken place less than two years after the coming to power of the Raffarin government, has plunged the latter into a profound crisis which cannot be overcome by any amount of cabinet "reshuffling".

One might have expected Chirac to sacrifice his Prime Minister, the ill-fated Jean-Pierre Raffarin, in the wake of such a colossal setback. However, Raffarin has been kept on. To sack him at such an early stage after the 2002 legislative elections would have created more problems than it would have solved. After all, if Prime Ministers are to be changed after such defeats, what options would be left open to Chirac when his party, the UMP, suffers a seemingly inevitable new setback in the European elections coming up in just two months time? So he has no alternative, for the time being at least, but to soldier on with a discredited and seriously weakened government. Chirac wants Raffarin to push ahead with further attacks on workers' living standards, and in particular against the health insurance system and against the Code du Travail — the legislation which offers minimal safeguards to workers in terms of working conditions and job security. Raffarin will also attempt to carry out the privatisation of the national electricity and gas industry, EDF-GDF. Then, at some future date, he will be cast aside.

Of course, from the point of view of the labour movement, the name of the Prime Minister is of no particular importance. The policy of this government will not and cannot change, since behind it stands a capitalist class which is absolutely determined to push ahead with the destruction of all the major social gains made in the past by organised labour. The nomination of the notoriously reactionary and ambitious upstart, Nicolas Sarkozy, to the Ministry of Finance is a flagrant provocation to the working class, and an unmistakable sign that the social and economic policy of the new Raffarin government will be no less implacable in it's attacks against workers than the old one.

These elections in France, like the recent events which have shaken Spain in recent weeks, are further proof of the growing social and political instability of the present epoch. The fundamental cause of this instability, which expresses itself in sudden changes in the psychology of the different classes in society, is the inability of the capitalist system to further develop the means of production and to take society forward. This coming year, as in previous years, the stagnation of the French economy will mean a further worsening of unemployment, attacks on social services and benefits, and a general decline in living standards. This is the background to the spectacular and historically unprecedented landslide for the left in the recent elections.

The defeat inflicted on the capitalist parties is a transfer onto the political plane of the movement of strikes and demonstrations which took place on a massive scale last spring in relation to the struggle against the attacks on pensions. This transfer did not benefit the ultra-left candidates. It moved towards the traditional workers parties, namely the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. The increase in electoral support for these parties has led their respective leaderships, François Hollande for the Socialist Party and Marie-George Buffet for the Communist Party, to claim that the results are a confirmation of their strategy and program. This is not the case, however. The policies of the two left parties are essentially the same as those which led to the calamitous defeat of the left in 2002. While there are some differences between the policy of the SP and that of the CP, neither of them contains any measures aimed at breaking the economic stranglehold of the capitalist class, and accept, in practice, the maintenance of capitalism. It was these same leaders who carried out the massive privatisation program under the Jospin government, whereby public assets worth 31 billion euros were transferred to the private sector. The central problem facing the French labour movement, that of the program of the left parties, remains intact.

The truth is that this victory has taken place in spite of the policies of the present leadership of the left parties. When working people move on this kind of scale in order to defeat their enemies, they inevitably turn to their traditional mass organisations, which are the only ones capable inflicting such a defeat. The leaders of sectarian organisations such as LO (Lutte Ouvrière) or the LCR (Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire), who dissociate themselves from the workers' parties and oppose them because of the pro-capitalist policies of their leaders, are absolutely incapable of understanding this. Having been eliminated everywhere in the first round, they gave no voting instructions to their electorate for the second round, claiming that there was no difference between the right and the left parties. The SP-CP candidates, they said, were also representatives of "capitalist parties" and were therefore no better than the representatives of Chirac's UMP. Such people should now explain to us how two "capitalist parties", similar to the UMP, have won such a landslide victory. Are we to conclude that it is a pro-capitalist wave which has just rolled across France?

On the eve of the first round, LO leader Arlette Larguiller explained that the "worst possible scenario" would be if there was a general shift in support for the left parties, but not for the LO-LCR. This is exactly what happened. And yet, outside of the microcosm of incurable sectarians, the results of the regional elections are not by any means a "worst scenario". Quite the contrary. This defeat puts the Raffarin government in an extremely difficult position, and will strengthen the hand of all those who engage in struggle against it. This election victory was an extension of the strike movement in the preceding period, and it will serve in turn to reinforce the morale and the fighting spirit of the workers in the trade union struggles which lie ahead.

Clearly, no cabinet "reshuffle" of capitalist ministers can possibly meet the needs of the working people. The left parties must now force their advantage, and demand immediate legislative elections in order to sweep away this government. We must demand the return of a socialist-communist government, not in order to privatise and "manage capitalism" as was done under the Jospin government, but in order to take decisive measures to break the economic power of the capitalists on the most important sections of the economy. All the banks, and all the major companies should be nationalised under the democratic control and management of the workers. The struggle for the adoption of a genuine socialist program must be waged there where it counts the most, within our most powerful trade union and political organisations. The Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the main trade union confederations were built by our class in order to fight against the capitalists and to put an end to their system. But these organisations have been neglected to the point where they fell under the sway of elements whose ideas bear little or no relation to the great socialist and revolutionary traditions of the French working class.

The most important task before those interested in a serious struggle against the right parties and against the system they defend is to re-establish these great traditions within the organisations of the French labour movement. Divisions and sectarianism will only reinforce our enemies and lead the movement into an impasse. Unity is strength, and we must now work to link the potential power of the French left, of which these latest elections are a striking demonstration, to a socialist program which will prepare the way for the accomplishment of it's historical mission : the abolition of capitalism.