France

Over the weekend several million people took part in demonstrations in Paris and many provincial cities of France. The government and the whole official establishment had called for the demonstrations and announced their participation. On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, declared that the people had rallied “behind President” François Hollande.

As I write these lines the drama in France has just been brought to a bloody climax ending in the death of the two men who killed the staff of Charlie Hebdo. This denouement was as inevitable as the ending of a Greek tragedy. There was no realistic prospect of any other. Three days of high drama that captured the attention of the world have ended with twenty dead, a further unknown number of wounded and a nation in a state of trauma.

The terrorist attack against the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has caused a huge wave of anger and indignation throughout the country. In the evening after the attack over a hundred thousand people took to the streets of many cities. The revulsion aroused amongst the masses by this brutal terrorist act has been exacerbated by the fact that many of the victims were very popular and held in high regard.

In the recent municipal elections in France the right wing did well, mainly at the expense of the Socialist Party which pays a heavy price for carrying out draconian austerity measures at national level. Unfortunately, in many towns the Front de Gauche (Left Front) split, with the Communist Party forming an alliance with the Socialist Party, and the Parti de Gauche (Left Party) presenting joint lists with the Greens.

Nearly five years after it was formed, the Left Front [Front de Gauche] is passing through a turbulent period. In a number of cities – and not minor ones at that – the French Communist Party (PCF) and the Left Party (Parti de Gauche, PG) have decided not to stand joint lists in the first round in the March 2014 council elections.

Francis Smaïl is a CGT shop steward – délégué du personnel – at Air France at the Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport, near Paris. The history of the persecution he has suffered over many years cannot be told here. But we want to bring most recent developments to the attention of workers, both in France and internationally.

On 5 May, more than 100 000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Paris in answer to a call from the Left Front, around the demand for a “Sixth Republic”. The Left Front is essentially an alliance between the Communist Party (PCF) and the Left Party (Parti de Gauche), led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The attendance shows the capacity of the Left Front to mobilise massive support, as it did on an even more impressive scale during the presidential elections one year ago.

Below we publish an interview with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left wing formation Front Gauche in France . Jean-Luc Mélenchon participated in the French presidential electionsearlier this year and received 11,1% of the vote. For more material on Mélenchon please read the following articles (Mélenchon as candidate of the Left Front – What campaign, on what programme? andMassive support for

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Since François Hollande came to power in May, unemployment figures have increased every single month. They have now gone over the 3 million mark. If we add those people who are surviving on a few hours work but who are registered as looking for a steady job, these official figures rise to 4.5 million. It is estimated that another 1 million people are out of work but, not being entitled to benefits, they are not registered at all.

The defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential elections opens a new phase of the class struggle in France. The socialist candidate, François Hollande, won 51.62 % of the vote. However, this overall score tends to conceal the social basis of the election result. Practically all the major towns and cities voted massively for Hollande – or, to be closer to the truth, to get rid of Sarkozy.

The results of the first round of the presidential elections in France mean that the second round will be fought out between Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Party candidate, François Hollande. Opinion polls consistently suggest that Hollande is most likely to win, although the very high score obtained by the Front National candidate in the first round, indicate that Sarkozy still has considerable reserves to draw upon for the second round. The main advantage Sarkozy has, apart from his own pugnacious and combative attitude, is the pro-capitalist character of the Socialist Party programme, which could lead to a demobilisation of left voters.

The most striking feature of the presidential election campaign in France is the massive support shown for the Front de Gauche (Left Front) under the leadership of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Long before the campaign was really underway, there were clear signs that the most conscious and active layer of the working class was mobilising around the Front de Gauche.

As in all other European countries, the Sarkozy government in France is applying a vicious policy of “austerity”. The workers – and also the middle classes – are to suffer further cuts in their standard of living in order to maintain and increase capitalist profits. In these years of crisis, French banks doubled their profits from 5.5 to 11 billion euros in 2009, and almost doubled them again to 21 billion in 2010.

Two months after it burst onto the scene, the scandal surrounding Dominique Strauss-Kahn continues to occupy a prime position in the coverage of the French capitalist media. Each day brings a bout of more or less anodyne ‘scoops’ against a background of a continuous flow of images.

The French army has bombed the residence of Laurent Gbagbo, to "protect civilians" we are told. One is struck by the wide variety of means used to achieve this so-called “humanitarian” objective!

In October we witnessed a massive mobilisation of the French workers and youth against Sarkozy's attacks on pensions. All the potential was there for the government to be defeated. The overwhelming majority of the population supported the protests. So what was missing? We are publishing an a analysis by the French Marxists of La Riposte to explain what happened and why it happened.

On Friday, October 22, finally the French government managed to get the pensions reform passed through the Senate. The increasingly unpopular government of Sarkozy, faced with an unprecedented movement of strikes, demonstrations, road blockades, mass pickets and general assemblies, hoped that this, together with the beginning of the All Saints school holidays, would bring the mass movement to a halt. This does not seem to be happening, however.

After October 12, the movement against the attack on pensions has reached a critical threshold. The great days of action are no longer the centre of gravity, although they are still massive and increasingly militant, as shown by October 19. Now, the central axis of the struggle has shifted onto open-ended strikes and pickets blockading different sectors of the economy.

On Saturday, October 16, more than 3 million people took the streets of France in hundreds of demonstrations in cities and towns throughout the country in the latest national day of action against the proposed counter-reform of the pensions system. The number was on a similar scale as October 2, the last time the trade unions called a day of action on a Saturday but the movement has certainly developed further. The demonstrations were another show of strength of this movement which has lasted for months and seen 5 national days of action since the end of the summer holidays.

The magnificent movement of the French workers is an inspiration to the workers of all Europe. It shows the real face of the French working class. Yesterday strikers were continuing their action for a second day running, following an impressive day of action on Tuesday.

A new national day of action against the pensions reform brought 3.5 million demonstrators to the streets of France on October 12, the largest number so far in this movement. The massive character of the demonstrations can only be compared with the strikes of 1995/96 when the government attempted to cut social security and pension rights of some sections of workers.

The struggle against the attacks on pensions in France is perhaps moving onto a higher stage. After mass demonstrations mobilising between two and three million workers, on 7th and 23rd September and on the 2nd October, a new demonstration is planned for the 12th. The national leadership of the trade unions intends to limit the action to “days of action” of this kind, but rank-and-file pressure is growing in favour of indefinite strike action.

The comrades of La Riposte once again had their stall at the Fête de l’Humanité, but this time much bigger than in the past. This year the Italian Marxists of FalceMartello were also present, explaining what is happening in the Italian labour movement, in particular the developments at FIAT.

The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) was set up in France, supposedly as an alternative to both the Communist and Socialist parties. The leaders of these two parties had shifted more and more towards market orientated policies. In reality the leadership of the NPA also suffer from the same illness, in that they believe that in order to be successful on the electoral front they must tone down the Communist and revolutionary content of this new party. That is not what many genuine revolutionary militants were expecting from the NPA.

Sarkozy lost his glossy image some time ago. But now he is exposed in the eyes of all. After all his bragging about his own extravagant lifestyle, he is attacking the living standards of pensioners, workers, students and the unemployed. The mood in France is an angry one. If the leaders of the left and the trade unions were to mobilise the workers, this government could be brought down relatively easy.

Last week in France around two million workers came out onto the streets to express their anger at the latest government attacks on pensions. The union leaders hope to hold the movement at this level, i.e. of formal protest but no strike movement. But the workers are looking for more than this, as the growing discontent in the ranks of the labour movement clearly indicates.

On January 30th a successful meeting was held in Paris to launch a network of PCF members who want to struggle to bring back the ideas of Marxism into the French Communist Party. Lessons of the past were discussed and conclusions drawn on what are now the next steps that need taking. Speaking at the meeting was also Alan Woods, editor of Marxist.com and a comrade representing the Marxists in the Italian PRC.

Last week mass demonstrations involving more than 2.5 million people took place in France. In the face of constant attacks by Sarkozy on the working class the trade union leaders have attempted to hold the movement back, preferring a series of government “consultations”, but the pressure from below is becoming unstoppable. A new period of militant class struggle is opening up.

At the end of January French students were out of the classroom and back on the streets. On January 29, students and teaching staff joined in the national strike that had an estimated 2.5 million French workers marching in the major cities to prove to President Sarkozy that his provocative remark in the summer of 2007- ‘These days, when there’s a strike in France, nobody notices,’ was as wrong as it was rash. [This article was originally published on February 9.]

An examination of the results of the recent vote in the different federations of the French Communist Party indicates a sharp shift to the left in the thinking of the membership since the previous congress. And the vote for the Marxists confirms this process.

PCF members have voted on which of the three alternative documents should be the base of discussion at the coming party congress in December. The document written by the comrades of La Riposte, "Renforcer le PCF, renouer avec le marxisme", obtained a resounding success which went beyond any expectations: 5419 or 15.04% of the total valid votes.

We are delighted to announce the launching of the Renforcer le PCF, renouer avec le marxisme website, whose aim is to promote a Marxist programme in the forthcoming congress of the Communist Party and to collect the required number of signatures. Watch also a video of Greg Oxley, member of the PCF and editor of La Riposte, speaking on the current programme of the PCF (in French).

Alan Woods went to Paris in May 1968 seeking contact with revolutionary workers and youth. He describes here what he encountered, the mood, and the discussions with workers and students. He explains how the workers were looking for leadership but never found it, neither in the ultra-left groups, nor in the Stalinist leadership that betrayed them.

May 1968 was the greatest revolutionary general strike in history. This mighty movement took place at the height of the post-war economic upswing in capitalism. Then, as now, the bourgeois and their apologists were congratulating themselves that revolutions and class struggle were things of the past. Then came the French events of 1968, which seemed to drop like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. They took most of the Left completely by surprise, because, they had all written off the European working class as a revolutionary force.

Last Sunday's first round in the French local elections confirmed a widespread shift to the left, with Sarkozy losing significant support. The Socialist Party did well, as did forces that stand to its left. Here we wish to highlight the Marxist candidates standing for the PCF in the area around Toulouse, who significantly boosted the party's vote.

How do you lose £3.7 billion? Down the back of the sofa? Meet Jérôme Kerviel. He lost £3.7 billion of his employer’s money, Société Générale, a French bank. Is it actually a good argument for capitalism that the whole world can be screwed up because of a solitary rogue trader? Is the system really so precarious that one crook can send world financial markets into freefall?

Sarkozy is consciously provoking some of the big battalions of the French labour movement. His strategy is clear: take on the strong sections of the class and, counting on the weak trade union leaders, smash them in order to prepare the ground for an all-out attack on the rest of the class. The stakes are high. With a bold, militant leadership the workers could win.

The legislative elections in France, despite giving a clear majority to the right, also marked the electoral recovery of the left. French society is increasingly divided, and the divisions in parliament will be reflected on the streets one way or another.

For the third consecutive time, the left has lost the presidential elections in France. Their programme did not have one single measure to seriously improve the lot of the victims of capitalism, through which they could have been enthused. This is the editorial of this month’s Marxist paper La Riposte.

The Haute-Garonne federation of the French Young Communists (MJCF - the youth section of the French Communist Party - PCF) elected an entirely new leadership at the end of November. At its federal congress in Toulouse, an overwhelming majority of delegates elected supporters of the Marxist journal La Riposteto lead the federation.

Today, 62 years ago, Paris was liberated from the Nazis in a mass movement from below. "It has been this mass movement of the French workers, peasants and middle class which has forced the retreat of the German army. The culminating point, which has marked the entry of the French masses once again onto the arena of history, was the insurrection of the workers of Paris." We republish Ted Grant's article from 1944, analysing these significant events.

The withdrawal of the CPE is a humiliating defeat for Chirac and the de Villepin government. They came out of this ordeal completely discredited. After the struggle against pension reforms in 2003, against the referendum on the European Constitution, and the revolt of the estates in November last year, the massive mobilisation of youth and workers against the CPE constitutes new evidence that France has entered an era of great social and political instability.