The Lessons of France: A warning to the workers of Europe

The result of the first round of the French presidential elections was a political earthquake, which has shaken the country to its foundations. Within hours, in the best tradition of the French movement, there was a spontaneous explosion of popular protest. Anti-Le Pen demonstrators immediately poured onto the streets of Paris and other cities. The growth of votes for the radical right and left is more than a protest, it is a reflection of a growing polarisation between the classes. If the right wins in France because of the failure of reformism, a new and stormy chapter will open up in the the revolutionary process taking place all over Europe.

The French Presidential elections held on Sunday, April 21, was a political earthquake, which has shaken the country to its foundations. Its main feature is a marked polarisation to the right and to the left. The result was a partial collapse of the Gaullist right (Chirac), which got less than 20 percent. They lost about 14% of the vote in the last two weeks.

There was a record level of abstentionism for a Presidential first round: over 28% did not vote. This is a sign of profound disillusionment with all the established political parties, not only the Socialists and Communists but also Chirac. "All in all," concluded the Independent, "the results amounted to an extraordinary rejection of mainstream politics in France. The total score of the far and dissident left came to 22 percent. If added to the far right and other populist votes, almost half the French electors - admittedly on a low turn-out - cast ballots for so-called "marginal" candidates."

A section of Gaullist voters must have voted for Le Pen and thus enabled him to go on to the final round. In the last presidential election Le Pen got 15.3%. He is now at 17%. If we consider that the split-off from the NF got three percent, this means that the extreme right-wing parties got about 20 percent - roughly the same as Chirac. This has caused shock waves throughout the French political Establishment. They fear - quite correctly - that the advance of the Len Pen's Front National (FN) will destabilise the entire political situation in France.

The breakdown of the votes between the main contenders were as follows:

Jacques Chirac

5,666,440

19.88%

Jean-Marie Le Pen

4,805,307

16.86%

Lionel Jospin

4,610,749

16.18%

Le Pen is thus confirmed as one of the two candidates disputing the Presidency with Chirac. This was a terrible blow to the left and the labour movement. The socialist candidate Jospin was pushed into a humiliating third place, after the Gaullist Chirac and the extreme right-winger Le Pen. The whole emphasis of the press in their coverage of the election result has been on the shift to the right. This has been presented in the most alarmist terms, and not only in France.

Failure of reformism

The most striking feature was the collapse of the Socialist Party vote - they got just over 16 percent. In fact, Jospin's result was the lowest scored by a mainstream candidate of the left in any French presidential election. This has caused turmoil inside the Party. Laurent Fabius, the French Finance Minister, described the result as a "terrifying cataclysm. How will people view us abroad? What message does this send about France? This is not the France we love. Our people [on the left] are simply crying." What is required, however, is not tears, but a change of policy.

Jospin has announced his retirement from active politics. But the SP leaders have refused to draw the necessary conclusions. They blame the electorate for not voting for them! This reminds one of something Bertolt Brecht wrote after the abortive anti-Stalinist uprising in East Germany in 1953: "By its actions the government has passed a vote of no confidence in the people. It should therefore dissolve it and elect another one."

In reality the election defeat is the result of the failure of the SP to carry out a socialist policy. The SP voters, disillusioned with the government, punished the leadership by abstaining or voting for parties further to the left. The Socialist Party has only itself to blame for this. It has had many opportunities to carry through the socialist transformation of society. The last chance was in 1997, when Jospin was swept to power with an overwhelming majority. This massive vote was a vote for fundamental change. The right wing was shattered, split and demoralised. If Jospin had wished, he could have moved quickly to push a law through the Assembly nationalising the banks and monopolies, simultaneously appealing to the workers, small farmers and soldiers to take action from below to take over the running of society, establishing committees of action to combat reaction and defend the government.

Instead, the "realist" Jospin meekly accepted the rule of Capital, with all its consequences. True, he carried out some reforms, but as far as the majority was concerned, nothing fundamental had changed. Unemployment in France still stands at nine percent (officially). The situation of the youth - the natural constituency of the Left - is even worse. A recent article in BusinessWeek states: "Unemployment in France among those under 25 is 20.8%, one of the highest rates in Europe and more than twice the rate for older French workers. The poverty rate among French in their 20s rose from less than 6% in the 1980s to nearly 9% by the late 1990s, while living standards for the elderly improved." (April 22, 2002)

However, what the BusinessWeek says about improvement in living standards for older workers is also wrong. Although he talked "left", and carried out some reforms like the 35-hour week, Jospin has in practice been carrying out a policy in line with the pro-bourgeois liberalism of the IMF. Over the last five years, the rich have got richer and the poor, poorer. What is true, is that the young have suffered disproportionately:

"Unemployment is only one of the younger generation's woes. Public schools are in crisis, with many classrooms overcrowded and plagued by violence. Although France spends more than the European average on education, critics say resources are unfairly distributed, with a handful of elite schools getting more money and better teachers, while schools serving poorer students get short shrift. 'We have a two-speed education system, and we are getting fed up with it,' says Marilou Jampolsky, 17, a Paris secondary-school student. She belongs to a student group that has recently held protests in several cities about school conditions. A recent poll of 18-to-24-year-olds found that 60% thought the schools had failed them." (Ibid.)

Jospin presented the image of a left socialist as opposed to the openly pro-bourgeois Tony Blair. In reality, the difference between Jospin and Blair was a difference of style rather than substance. The Jospin government has presided over privatisations, closures and job losses - all in the name of liberalisation. As The Economist recently remarked, France has been "edging towards a more 'Anglo-Saxon' way of doing business. More of the French state, even under a Socialist prime minister, has been sold into private hands than ever before. Labour costs have been trimmed." (April 20, 2002)

This was inevitable. It is not possible to pursue a policy in the interest of the working class as long as the banks and monopolies are allowed to control the commanding heights of the economy. It is not the government that dictates to the economy under capitalism, but the economy that dictates to the government. Consequently, Jospin ended up as a prisoner of big business and alienated a wide layer of his electorate. Thus, the "realism" of the reformist leaders turns out to be the worst kind of utopianism.

After the first round, Le Pen was quoted as saying: "It is an inspiration to me that hard-work, perseverance and the help of God can finally overcome all obstacles." The Almighty may or may not have helped the leader of the FN, but he was certainly helped far more by the bad policies and worse campaign of the SP leaders. As The Guardian (April 22) admitted, Jospin had "disappointed supporters who had hoped for a more energetic and radical campaign."

"The Socialists' strategy," the same article explains, "was always based on appealing to centrist voters and Mr Jospin at one stage even went as far as to say that his campaign was 'not a socialist one'." This was a finished recipe for defeat. Ironically, Jospin was moving to the centre, just when the "centre" in France is beginning to disintegrate. As usual, these "realistic" labour leaders were hopelessly out of touch with the real mood of society. By contrast, Le Pen was far more skilful.

Le Pen is a reactionary gangster, but he is not a fool. In his election speeches he avoided references to immigration law and order, and instead made a demagogic appeal to blue-collar workers "ruined by Euro-globalisation and poverty" to vote for him in the second round. Le Pen said he was "socially to the left, economically to the right", and a "patriot" who would bring about a "French renaissance". One BBC correspondent stated that Le Pen's speeches would have been typical of a French CP candidate in the 1960s!

One of Le Pen's lieutenants pointed out that the reason that the FN leader did not concentrate on law and order and immigration is that he did not have to. Others did it for him - especially Chirac. The President of the Republic greatly assisted the rise of the far right by campaigning on Le Pen territory - crime and insecurity. Then, seeing the situation getting out of hand, he made one of his celebrated switches of direction, and appealed for "tolerance and openness and respect for human rights". He called for a national coalition of right and left to support his candidature in the name of "generosity and openness…and the great European adventure that we have supported and willed."

The Communist Party punished

The French have a saying: "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." The labour leaders are even worse than the Bourbons, of whom it is said that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. The leaders of the Socialist and Communist Parties, unfortunately, have learned nothing and forgotten everything. They now complain loudly about the danger of reaction, but what they cannot or will not understand is that their policies and conduct are directly responsible for this situation.

Even more striking than the defeat of the SP was the collapse of the vote of the Communist Party. Its electorate clearly wished to punish the Party for collaborating with the Socialists in carrying out a policy that included privatisation - for example in transport where the CP had a minister. The Communist Party got less than 4 percent - its worst result ever. Most of their voters shifted their support for candidates who call themselves Trotskyists. The results were very striking:

Arlette Laguiller (LO)

1,630,244

5.72%

Olivier Besancenot (LCR)

1,210,694

4.25%

Robert Hue (PCF)

960,757

3.37%

Daniel Gluckstein (PT)

132,702

0.47%

The fact that parties to the left of the CP could get about 11 percent between them is a clear indication of a growing potential for revolutionary politics in France. It is a symptom of a developing revolutionary mood among a layer of the advanced workers and youth. This shows the way in which France is heading. Unfortunately, the leaders of the SP and CP - not to mention the trade union leaders - understand nothing of this.

Naturally, the Communist and Socialist parties blame their defeat and the advance of Le Pen in the first round to the extreme left, instead of their policies of administering neo-liberal and imperial policies on behalf of the French ruling class. In fact, the results show that a united electoral front of Trotskyists and Communists could have competed for the second position with great possibilities (even fragmented, they got over 14 percent of the vote).

The reason for the success of Le Pen was not the fact that parties like the LO and LCR stood in the election. However, the two things are related. The vote for the parties on the far left and far right of the political spectrum - and also the widespread abstention - is an expression of the same thing. It is a product of the profound disillusionment of the masses with the existing order. It is useless delivering lectures on the wonders of democracy to those who have lost their employment in the last period, or to those who lack a house for their family; or to a small farmer or shopkeeper who is being driven out of business by the banks and big monopolies. What the masses are striving for is a fundamental change in society. They have shown this in various ways over the years, and such a change could easily have been carried out.

In 1968, the workers' leaders, and especially the CP, had the possibility of taking power peacefully. In reality power was in the hands of the workers, and no force on earth could have stopped them. Even De Gaulle confessed to the US ambassador: "The game is up, and in a few days the Communists will be in power." That perspective was entirely possible, had it not been for the conduct of the leaders of the CP and the CGT. Their refusal to take power when they could have done so prepared the way for a comeback of Gaullist reaction. The present defeat of the French CP is a punishment for their abandonment of a genuine Communist policy; not just now, but for decades.

The CP leaders for many years slavishly followed the dictates of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow. Some years ago, even before the fall of the USSR, they broke with Moscow. But instead of returning to a genuine Leninist policy, they became just another reformist party, not qualitatively different to the SP. The leaders imagined that this was realism, when in fact it was the exact opposite. It is a law that if there are two reformist parties, one smaller than the other, the workers will always vote for the bigger of the two, and the smaller one will tend to disappear.

By entering a coalition government with Jospin, the CP leaders completely abandoned any possibility of an independent policy. They faithfully carried out the policies of Jospin, including privatisation. This was the case with the CP minister of transport. The result was a foregone conclusion. The workers could see no fundamental difference between the CP and the SP, except that the SP is bigger. Now the CP has paid the price for its opportunism. Incredibly, its vote was lower than that of the LO and LCR candidates. The lesson is quite clear. Unless the CP breaks radically with the policies of reformism and begins to fight for a real Communist policy, it may well be doomed to extinction.

France and Europe

The "new world order", as we predicted ten years ago, is manifesting itself as the most disturbed and turbulent period since the 1930s. In many respects, the present period is far more similar to the stormy period between the wars than the long period of capitalist upswing that followed the second world war. We see this most clearly in France. And France shows all the other countries in Europe their own future as in a mirror.

The bourgeoisie and its strategists have only the vaguest idea of where the present situation is leading them. For some time now they have resembled the ancient mariners who sailed off the edge of the known world and entered uncharted seas where the old maps wrote: "here be monsters". As long as the boom of the last period continued, they felt reasonably confident. After all, "communism" had collapsed with the fall of the USSR, and capitalism was advancing victoriously on all fronts.

In the USA this period was marked by the ascendance of the Democrats. The people of America could bask in the sunshine of an expanding economy and full employment, and although they were sacrificing their family life, health and happiness, working long hours of overtime, they nevertheless felt better off. They were even prepared to put up with Bill Clinton's amorous peccadilloes, recalling his celebrated phrase: "It's the economy, stupid!"

In Europe, we saw the victory of the Social Democrats in one country after another. In Britain, the victory of the Labour Party with the biggest parliamentary majority in history signified the end of 18 years of Conservative government. President Kohl, the "hero" of German unification, was unceremoniously ejected and replaced by the Social Democrats. In Italy, the Left won the elections for the first time since the 1940s. In France, where the right-wing parties had won the biggest victory in over a century, they were driven from power in 1997 by a surprise victory of Jospin's Socialist Party, which won a record 47 percent of the vote.

With the exception of Spain, where the Socialists lost power to the right winger Aznar, the Social Democracy reigned supreme in Europe. This resembled the period after 1924, when, in a climate of economic recovery, Europe was dominated by what Trotsky called the Left Bloc. The failure to carry out the socialist revolution in Germany and other countries after 1917 led to a temporary stabilisation of capitalism, and a consequent recovery of reformism. However, this was only a temporary interlude between one crisis and another. It paved the way for the stormy period that followed the collapse of 1929 - a period of revolution and counter-revolution.

It goes without saying that the perspectives of the bourgeoisie at that time were just as short-sighted as now. Intoxicated by the successes of the American economy in the 1920s, they were convinced that the period of capitalist crisis was over, and that the future would be one of uninterrupted advance of progress, prosperity and, of course, democracy. Werner Sombart, a German economist who at one time considered himself a Marxist, wrote a learned book in which he explained how a slump was no longer possible. However, the timing of its publication could not have been more unfortunate. It appeared in the bookshops in 1929.

If the bourgeois at that time understood very little, the reformist leaders understood nothing at all. They were busy preaching class peace at a time when the contradictions of capitalism were opening up an abysm between the classes. Frightened by the rise of fascism, the Social Democrats (and later on the Stalinists) called for the Popular Front between the workers' parties and the "progressive" sections of the bourgeoisie to "defend democracy". This was the so-called policy of the lesser evil. But history has passed a most unkind verdict on this theory. In every case, without exception, the "lesser evil" led directly to the greater evil. The Popular Front, by subordinating the working class to the "democratic" bourgeoisie, disarmed and disoriented the labour movement and ensured the victory of reaction and fascism.

The most terrible example of this was in Spain, where a coalition of Socialists, Communists, Republicans, later joined by the Anarchists and the POUM, destroyed the revolution and ensured the victory of Franco. In France, where a revolutionary situation existed, the CP and SP formed an alliance with the bourgeois Radicals and thus threw away the chance of the working class to take power. This led to the victory of reaction in France and the establishment of the Vichy regime. As a matter of fact, the "democratic" French bourgeoisie preferred to capitulate to Hitler rather than arm the working class for the defence of France, fearing another Paris Commune.

Until recently, it appeared that Europe was firmly under the control of the Social Democrats. The contradictions of capitalism were supposedly being painlessly removed. But now the truth is revealed, namely that reformism does not remove the contradictions of capitalism but actually exacerbates them, while disillusioning the masses and preparing the way for the victory of reaction and even greater social and political convulsions. That is not only the lesson of the 1930s. It is the lesson of what we see unfolding before our very eyes in France - and not only in France. Blair in Britain and Schroeder in Germany are also quietly preparing the way for a movement in the direction of reaction. Of course, they have no inkling of this. They are, to quote Trotsky, tobogganing to disaster with their eyes closed.

Danger of fascism?

The spectacular advance of Le Pen has started the alarm bells ringing. The result has sent shock waves through Europe. The Daily Express, a right-wing Tory paper, today carried on its front page in big letters: THE RETURN OF FASCISM. The same theme has been taken up to one degree or another in many newspapers.

The leaders of the Socialist and Communist Parties have immediately come out in favour of a "democratic bloc" to stop Le Pen. They call on the workers of France to vote for Chirac as "the lesser evil". They justify this by arguing that Le Pen is a fascist and a threat to democracy. But this argument is fatally flawed and represents a dangerous trap for the French working class.

In actual fact, the attempts to compare the present situation in France with the rise of Hitler in Germany are entirely false. It is true that Le Pen is an extreme reactionary, a vile racist and a true inheritor of the traditions of Vichy France. He is like Haider in Austria. But Haider, as we explained at the time, was not a fascist, but only a pacemaker for fascism in Austria. His victory at the polls was undoubtedly a reactionary phenomenon, but it did not signify the establishment of a totalitarian dictatorship, the destruction of the trade unions and the victory of black reaction. On the contrary, it provoked a widespread movement of the Austrian workers and youth.

In practice, once elected, Haider behaved like a typical bourgeois right-wing politician. The same is true of Fini, the leader of the neo-fascists in Italy. There is no reason to suppose that Le Pen would act any differently if he were sent to the Elysées Palace. Of course, it is necessary to stop this right-wing gangster in his tracks. But in order to do this, it is necessary that the labour movement is armed with a correct understanding of the phenomenon that confronts it.

The class balance of forces has been radically altered since the days of Hitler and Mussolini. The mass reserves of reaction have been sharply reduced. The peasantry which was the big majority in Italy and France before the second world war, and a very big class in Germany, is now reduced to a small minority. The working class is the decisive majority of society. The power of the French proletariat was shown in May 1968, when ten million workers occupied the factories. Under such conditions, the victory of fascism in its traditional guise as a mass movement of the petty bourgeoisie and lumpenproletariat is ruled out. But as the crisis of capitalism deepens, it is not at all excluded that the bourgeois in Europe will draw the conclusion that democracy is a luxury that they can no longer afford.

At the present time, the decisive section of the French ruling class is not at all pleased at the prospect of a Le Pen victory. The reason for this dismay is not any particular attachment to democracy in the abstract. The French ruling class has always distinguished itself by its willingness to resort to dictatorial methods and violent repression against the working class, whenever it felt that its fundamental interests were threatened. It is one of the most venal, treacherous and reactionary ruling classes in Europe. And behind the polished veneer of Gallic charm and culture, Chirac is the representative of this ruling class. Let us not forget that Gaullism is a linear descendent of Bonapartism, and that Bonapartism is a French invention.

When the hour strikes to settle accounts with the working class in France, the ruling class will not want to hand over power to the mad dogs of fascism. No! These will be kept in reserve, as auxiliaries of reaction, to terrorise the workers, the immigrants and the left-wing students. When the time comes, the French bankers and capitalists will abandon democracy with the same ease with which they discard a used shirt. They will find some "respectable" man of business or general to assume the reins of power and "restore Order", as they did in 1848, 1871 and 1940. But that hour has not yet come. They know very well that if they move too fast in this direction, it would result in civil war, which they are not sure they could win. That is why they do not want the services of Le Pen.

Nevertheless, the tendency towards an open conflict between the classes in France is growing all the time. The attempts by the reformist leaders of the SP and CP to prevent this by appeals to maintain the unity of the centre are both futile and counterproductive. What is the content of this "centre"? It is a political bloc between the SP and CP and Chirac and the other "democratic" bourgeois parties. What is its programme? The defence of democracy against the alleged threat of "fascism". This, in essence, is a programme for the maintenance of the status quo. But where did this threat come from? From massive discontent with the same status quo that the "centre" seeks to defend!

How to defeat reaction

Actually, despite the noisy campaign about the threat to "democracy", it is ruled out that Le Pen will win in the second round. Although Chirac only narrowly defeated Le Pen in the first round - by 19.65 percent to 17.06 percent, there is little doubt that he will return to the Elysées Palace in two weeks' time. A telephone opinion poll suggested last night that Chirac would win the second round by a crushing 78 percent to 22 percent. Many Socialist and Communist voters will reluctantly vote for Chirac. But a Chirac victory will solve nothing.

Having taken full advantage of the campaign to build his electoral base, Le Pen will have the luxury of sitting back and watching while the bourgeois and reformist parties continue to administer the crisis of capitalism. This will provide him with all he needs to win new recruits and prepare for the next elections. By asking people to vote for Chirac, the Socialists and Communists will only prepare the ground for the victory of the right in the June elections. France may find itself with a right-wing President and a right-wing majority in the Assembly. And the SP and CP will be held responsible for the results. The only ones who will benefit will be the FN.

What conclusions will Chirac draw from the success of Le Pen? Only this: that in order to succeed it is necessary to imitate the FN, to beat the drum on law and order, to limit immigration (in a "moderate" way, of course) and so on and so forth. Under the guise of "strengthening the centre", the whole centre of gravity of French politics will be dragged to the right. By implicating themselves with the bourgeois parties, the Socialists and Communists will find themselves compromised. And the open agents of reaction will be waiting in the wings, preparing for the next crisis.

In order to defeat reaction, it is necessary to destroy the social conditions that give rise to it. In order to eliminate racism, it is not sufficient to deliver moralistic speeches about the brotherhood of man. What is needed is to eliminate unemployment, that terrible cancer that destroys human lives and creates an alienated generation that seeks someone to blame for its problems and finds it in the so-called problem of immigration. What is needed is to bulldoze the slums that deface the cities of France and give every family a decent house to live in. What is needed is a real reform of the education system to guarantee a proper education for all. But none of this is possible on a system that places the profits of a few wealthy families before the vital interests of the French people.

The prior condition for this is that the Socialists and Communists break with Chirac and the bourgeois and pursue an independent policy. No trust in the bourgeoisie and its parties! The Socialist and Communist Parties must fight for power on a programme of the socialist transformation of society. That is the only way.

Do we support the Stop Le Pen campaign? Of course! The French Marxists will be in the front line of the fight against this rabid reactionary. But we say that the working class must fight Le Pen with its own methods: with mass demonstrations, with public protest meetings, with agitation in the workplaces and with strikes. Let the CGT, CFDT and FO call a one-day general strike! Let us set up committees of action in the factories, in the workers' districts, in the schools, in the universities. Let us draw on the immigrants, the women, the youth. Let us organise a nationwide protest movement that will shake France to the foundations. Only in this way can we inflict a decisive defeat on the racists and fascists and halt the advance of the FN. But by combining our forces with the rotten and discredited political representatives of capitalism, we will only play into the hands of reaction.

A developing pre-revolutionary situation

Paradoxically, when everyone is shouting about reaction (and even fascism!) in France, we Marxists see things in an entirely different light. Noel Mamère, the Green candidate, said Le Pen's breakthrough had caused "the most serious, political crisis in France since the second world war." This may well be true. But what the crisis reflects is the impasse of capitalism, its inability to solve the most pressing needs of the people. That can only be resolved by a revolutionary transformation of society. And even in the present situation, revolutionary elements are clearly present.

It is well known that in France the first round gives an opportunity for people on both the left and right to express a protest vote. They can permit themselves the luxury of giving the traditional parties a well-aimed kick, to deliver a warning that they are not satisfied with their performance and expect something better. The political Establishment can therefore comfort itself that this is "only a protest".

To some extent this is obviously true, but it is no less true that on this occasion the protest went beyond the bounds that might have been expected. The results are quite extraordinary and were not at all what the political analysts anticipated. What we see here is the concrete manifestation on the political plane of a phenomenon that we have been consistently explaining for all who would listen: namely that the most fundamental feature of the present world situation is the most extreme instability at all levels: economic, social, political and military.

The immediate reaction in France was a mood of fear and apprehension, especially in the immigrant communities. Some Jewish people are talking about emigrating to Israel (which is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire), while some Arabs are considering returning to Algeria and Tunisia. This fear is understandable. The people of France face two weeks during which this reactionary demagogue will be given unprecedented access to television and press coverage to spread his racist poison. The fascists and racist thugs will be encouraged and will rally to the black banner of the FN. There is a danger of attacks on immigrants and Socialist and Communist activists.

The fear is very real. But as the first fog of confusion begins to lift, fear and despair are rapidly being transformed into anger and a desire to fight back. This is what most frightens the ruling class, which is well aware of the revolutionary traditions of the French people. Marx pointed out that France is a country where the class struggle is always fought to the finish. The widening gulf between left and right is a symptom of the unbearable contradictions that are opening up between the classes.

Newton pointed out long ago that every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. What is true for elementary mechanics is equally true of society. The rise of the extreme right will provoke a reaction from the left. It has already done so. For the last two nights there have been violent demonstrations in every major city in France. It is this that terrifies the ruling class and all the traditional political leaders.

We have explained many times the basic characteristics of a revolutionary situation. First, that the ruling class should be split and incapable of ruling in the old way. This is certainly the case in France, where the parties of the right are hopelessly fragmented. That is why Le Pen has succeeded in thrusting himself forward, to the dismay of the Establishment.

The second condition is that the middle class should be vacillating between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The basic feature of French politics for the last decade has been precisely the violent swings from right to left and back again. This tremendous volatility is a symptom of extreme instability, above all in the middle layers of society.

The third condition is that the working class should be prepared to fight. In the last period, the French workers have been in the forefront of the movement in Europe. There have been waves of strikes, including practically every layer and section of the class. The same fighting spirit can be seen among the students. The present situation is no different. The advance of the FN has not cowed the workers and youth, but brought them to their feet.

The last condition is the existence of a revolutionary party with a far-sighted and determined leadership. In France there is no shortage of candidates for that role. But not one of them has shown itself able to perform it in practice. After all, a revolutionary party should be able to lead the masses. The central task is just that: not the conquest of power, but the conquest of the masses. But despite the good showing of the left parties in the election, there is still a very long way to go before that aim is achieved.

What is increasingly clear is that Trotskyism is now getting an echo in the Communist movement in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past. This is a matter of great satisfaction to those of us who have fought for many years for the ideas of Trotsky. It is therefore a pity that so many who lay claim to the ideas of Leon Trotsky maintain a sectarian and ultra-left attitude to the Socialist and Communist workers who still command the support of the majority of the organised workers in most countries. If Trotskyism is to succeed, it must at all costs connect with the mass organisations of the working class. That was always the position of Trotsky himself, although for many who speak in his name this remains a book sealed with seven seals.

Marx pointed out that sometimes the revolution needs the whip of the counter-revolution. Within hours, in the best tradition of the French movement, there was a spontaneous explosion of popular protest. Left-wing anti-Le Pen demonstrators immediately poured onto the streets of Paris and other towns. John Lichfield, the Independent's correspondent in Paris reports:

"An estimated 10,000 people gathered in Paris in the early hours chanting: "We are all the children of immigrants." Violence tinged the peaceful protest as a few thousand broke away, apparently marching toward the presidential Elysées Palace, and confronted riot police in the Place de la Concorde. The huge window of Maxim's restaurant was smashed. Several hundred protesters then rampaged on the Left Bank, smashing some bus stops and shop windows. Police arrested several dozen people. Demonstrators gathered in other cities, from Marseilles in the south, to Lille in the north and Strasbourg in the east." (The Independent, 22 April 2002)

The growth of votes for the radical right and left is more than a protest. It is a reflection of a growing polarisation between the classes. It is an early symptom of a developing pre-revolutionary situation in France. On the streets of Paris, Toulouse, Lille and also Marseilles, where there is a big immigrant population, the workers and youth of France are demonstrating and the police are responding with baton-charges and tear gas. This is even before the campaign for the second round had started! It is a warning of things to come.

The movement in France is still in its early beginnings. The proletarian vanguard will have time to organise itself and build the forces necessary to carry through the struggle to the end. The workers and youth will learn from their own experience, assisted by the Marxist tendency that will participate in the struggle, shoulder to shoulder with the class. The movement may continue for a number of years, with ebbs and flows. There will be moments of advance, but also moments of defeat, of tiredness, of demoralisation, and even of reaction. But every victory of reaction will only be the prelude for new upheavals. The present events in France are living proof of this. One thing is certain: no real solution is possible on the basis of capitalism.

The crisis of capitalism is now assuming truly global proportions. Only last week there was the first general strike in Italy for twenty years, when millions of workers came out onto the streets of every Italian city. The right-wing government of Berlusconi suddenly found itself staring into the abyss. If the right wins in France because of the failure of reformism, that will only open a new and stormy chapter in the revolutionary process that has now begun in all Europe.