The French Regional Elections and the Future of the Left Front

The regional elections of December 6th and 13th accentuated trends already observed in recent municipal (March 2014), European (June 2014) and departmental (March 2015) elections. Faced with the economic crisis, a soaring unemployment rate and the austerity policies of a "socialist" government, the frustration of millions of voters has expressed itself mainly in two ways: abstention and voting for “le Front National”.

Considering the 3 million "non-registered" potential voters on the electoral list and the 900,000 blank or spoiled votes cast, the real abstention rate was well above the 50% announced on the evening of the first round. This almost seems to be the rule when it comes to these elections. Abstention is very high - over 70% amongst young people and the poorest of workers. These abstention statistics are enough to refute the propaganda of the bourgeois media that "youth and workers vote FN."

The breakthrough of the FN is nonetheless real. In the second round of the regional elections it won 6.8 million votes, 400,000 more than in the first round of the 2012 presidential election. This marks their record for number of votes. Yet, abstention was at 20% in April 2012, compared to 41.5% on December 13, 2015. The FN could therefore expect to garner even more votes during the presidential election of 2017. Marine Le Pen would then likely be qualified for the second round of said election.

As we already know, this conclusion engenders cynical calculations amongst the leaders of the Socialist Party and the Republicans: faced with Marine Le Pen, the victory of her opponent in the second round of any election, be the opponent from the PS or the Republicans, would be virtually guaranteed. This idea was reinforced by the jump in participation in the second regional round (+ 8.5%), which was essentially directed against the FN.

However, the electoral progress of the FN has another, more profound, consequence. It supports the cause of those who desire an alliance of some sort between the right-wing of the PS (which heads said party) and the so-called moderate wing of the right (The Union of Democrats and Independents, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, etc.). After all, they all seek the same things: the intensification of austerity and the destruction of social gains brought about by the labor movement. This is what the French bourgeoisie needs. But to achieve its goals, the bourgeoisie needs a government with a strong majority in the National Assembly. However, the PS and LR-UDI are so discredited that neither one of them can guarantee itself the ability to win a solid majority.

The need to invoke Article 49-3 [1] of the Constitution for the Macron Law has already highlighted this problem. But since right-wing MPs agree with this kind of reactionary law, why bother getting worked up over some "rebels" in the PS? The more the PS swerves to the right, the more it sets the stage for a "centrist" alliance with the right. However, this cannot be done without causing a serious crisis on the right and in the PS. We are now beginning to see the first signs of such political problems.

The possibility of a future coalition between the right and the extreme right cannot be ignored. But for now, such a merger is not supported by the decision-makers in the ruling class. The intervention of Pierre Gattaz against the FN, on the eve of the first round, proved this and also included a message to the right. Gattaz' problem is not only the demagogic program of the leaders of the FN, as they will abandon this evil upon the threshold of Parliament in order to implement policy in full conformity with the interests of the French bourgeoisie. What Gattaz and the capitalists do fear are the mass mobilizations against the FN. They have not forgotten the explosive situation created by the qualification of Jean-Marie Le Pen for the second round of the 2002 presidential election. And despite the efforts of Marine Le Pen and the bourgeois media to "normalize" the FN, this party always evokes a visceral rejection by much of the youth and working class.

The crisis in the Left Front

It is these perspectives that generally inform the manoeuvres of the leadership of the Socialist Party, of the right, and of the FN. However, the supposition that the anger and frustration of the people will continue to express itself primarily through abstention and votes for the FN is not the only possible scenario. Is it inevitable? Not at all. The crystallization of a political mass against austerity – like we have seen in Greece, Spain, and in the UK, would completely change the situation in France, including electorally. Votes would come from abstainers to be sure but would also come from other parties, particularly from the FN and the Socialist party. Many of the votes that are today for the FN would just as easily tomorrow go to a party, on the left, if that party shows a determination to fight the system.

The aforementioned process would have already started if the Left Front had not been hindered by its own leadership following their success in 2012. There was no objective reason to explain why the party went from 4 million votes in the 2012 Presidential elections to 1.4 million votes (according the most liberal estimate) in the 2015 regional elections.  On the contrary, the crisis of capitalism and the failures of the “socialist” government should have produced a climate conducive to the development of a left opposition. The problem is thus solely tied to the errors of the Left Front’s leadership.

A frank and serious analysis of these errors is of crucial importance, yet the leadership of the French Communist Party refuses to undertake such an analysis. As an example, let us look at the case of Olivier Dartigolles, spokesperson for the French Communist Party. In a recent interview with Marianne, he stated “The Left Front is a failure” Why? Because “we went off the path we had set for ourselves and did not achieve our goals such as doing politics differently. The fact that our political divisions had us scattered all over the place also played a role. Also, because of the last episode in the regional [elections], with lists of other lefts as diverse as the regions themselves, we clearly lost something in terms of visibility and credibility.”

All this is fair, but far too general - and begs the question, why is the Left Front divided? On what subjects are they divided? How do the parties of the Left Front diverge from one another? On these questions Dartigolles says nothing. Thus, the journalist of Marianne asks “Did the alliance of one of the parties of the Left Front, notably the French Communist Party, with the Socialist Party contribute to the lack of visibility?” This is a very good question, to which the answer is evident: the alliance of the French Communist Party and he Socialist Party was a catastrophe. It was a catastrophe compounded by the mistake of the Left Party forming an alliance with the Greens, particularly because they were in government. But this is not the opinion of Dartigolles, instead, he brushes aside the question, saying “I think that if our political debate boils down the simple question of electoral alliances, it would represent an impoverishing debate that doesn’t necessarily put the wind in our sails to be able to come up with the major proposals we are capable of, for it is out of such proposals that alliances emerge and not the other way around.”

What major proposals emerged from the alliance between the French Communist Party and the Socialist Party in the first round of the municipal elections in March 2014 or in the second round of the regional elections?  Dartigolles could not cite a single one. He circumvents a question about the problem of the past by talking about the future. This pitiful jargon is well known by activists of the Left Front. The real leadership of the French Communist Party has been unable to break with the Socialist Party. One day they softly protest the reactionary politics of the government, the next they are forming an alliance with them, despite the masses’ growing rejection of the government.  The only real justification for such a suicidal alliance is to ensure the maintenance of a certain number of privileged seats by French Communist Party officials. In the end, the French Communist Party will lose a lot of seats because the Socialist Party is linked to the electoral debacles. Yet the leadership of the French Communist Party is content with “saving” the best layers of its elected apparatus.  Floating along on a melting iceberg, they are merely navigating by sight and are incapable of conceiving an alternative to this strategy. With this the reality, these “major proposals” and recurring appeals to “start anew” are nothing but “wind”, to quote Dartigolles.

The leadership of the French Communist Party depends so much on the Socialist Party that they can’t even any other salvation outside of a “left turn” of the Hollande government, which continues to veer further to the right under the pressure of the ruling class. For example, Dartigolles believes to have found a glimmer of hope in a declaration by the First Secretary of the Socialist Party, Cambadélis, regarding a link between unemployment and votes for the FN. Dartigolles explains this by saying “We absolutely need to understand the vote for the FN. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, following the night of the results, has begun to address this fundamental question, giving the impression that he has joined the PS rebels. Will the government finally change its policies that have not succeeded in winning the most important battle, that of the fight against precarious work and unemployment? It is essential that this issue is on the table.” Since 2012, the leadership of the French Communist Party has done nothing but this, advocating the necessity that left government policies be “put on the table”. Meanwhile, also since 2012, the government has governed in an increasingly pro-capitalist and pro-business manner, which is to say increasingly to the right. Today, the government puts Jean-Pierre Raffarin “on the table”. In taking Cambadélis’ platitudes seriously, Olivier Dartigolles quite clearly “gives the impression” that he is mocking the readers of Marianne. But once more, the French Communist Party cannot conceive of an alternative to their current strategy, which keeps the door open to future alliances with the Socialist Party.  

The crisis of capitalism accelerates all processes. To the extent that the leadership of the French Communist Party clings to the Socialist Party, it is subject to making even bigger errors as the latter moves ever rightward. These errors are not only limited to alliances.  For example, the French Communist Party deputies voted to prolong and strengthen the “state of emergency” and later abstained on the question of bombing Syria (which caused civilian casualties and solved nothing). Following this, the leadership of the French Communist Party appealed for a vote for the right – confronted with the FN - in the second round of the regional elections which all plays into the hands of the FN. The result of this is three major errors in three weeks. All of this further alienates the most conscious elements of workers and youth, those that should serve as the natural base of the party.

The Left Party

On all of the fundamental questions that have arisen since 2012, the Left Party has appeared as the left wing of the Left Front and the French Communist Party it’s right wing. Unlike the French Communist Party, the Left Party is not linked to the Socialist Party through decades of electoral alliances. Since 2012, Jean-Luc Mélenchon systematically denounced (more firmly than the French Communist Party leadership) the submission of the leading “socialists” to the demands of the largest business federation of France (MEDEF). Consequently, Mélenchon has maintained his position as the most well known (by a long shot) and most popular leader of the Left Front at least in the eyes of the most militant layers of the population.

All that being said, Mélenchon and the leadership of the Left Party have their share of responsibility for the crisis in the Left Front. Since 2012, they have not stopped putting the Greens at the centre of their strategy for “growth” of the Left Front, as if the growth could come from the mathematical addition of the votes for the Greens to the votes for the Left Front. Differences between the Left Front and the Greens have been minimized in a very opportunistic fashion. Yet up until March 2014, the Greens participated in government and condoned the Socialist Party’s reactionary politics. In this context, the never-ending manoeuvres of the Left Party to attract the leaders of the Greens or their supposed “left wing” could not amount to anything but confusion. This strategy offers a new combination of political forces without principles and allows the leadership of the Greens to do what they love doing, being all things to all people, which we analyzed in June 2014.

Following the regional elections, Mélenchon said that he had taken note of the failure of this strategy. For example, in his December 19th blog entry he writes “The greens have changed direction under the leadership of Cécile Duflot. This means a return to working with the government in exchange for jobs for youth and two or three other similar concessions.” The fact is that the departure of elements such as Vincent Placé, Barbara Pompili, etc., does not change the inherent electioneering and opportunism of the Greens. To win the majority of the electorate and Green Party activists, one shouldn’t make manoeuvres amongst leaderships, what is necessary is to directly address the rank-and-file with clear and provocative language, underlining capitalism’s overwhelming role in environmental problems and unmasking the leadership of the Greens as supporters of an impossible “green capitalism”.

This is not only the case with the environment but for the all issues affecting the masses. On the question of jobs, working conditions, housing, and public services, the Left Front must be the most resolute adversary of the politics of austerity and the “caste” which defends it, including the big businesses, the right wing politicians as well as “left wing” journalists. The Left Front needs to energetically and incessantly be defending the interests of workers, the unemployed, and the poor against the attacks from the supporters and profiteers of the capitalist system. We are told that talk is out-dated, but this is false – it is well received by capitalism’s victims. For example, when Jean-Luc Mélenchon vigorously defended the workers of Air France after the rally on October 5, he received a favourable echo amongst a great many workers. On the other hand, when Mélenchon loses himself in tortuous considerations of the alleged “destinies” of France and Germany, the same workers are at the very least sceptical. Mélenchon points to the fact that his book sells well, but this doesn’t really mean much as a lot of bad books do well financially.

The Left Front will only be really well understood and popular when they firmly take a strong stand in favour of a struggle of the workers against their adversaries and when they call it by its real name, the class struggle. In Spain, the resurgence of Podemos in the polls, ahead of the elections on December 20th, was largely due to Pablo Iglesias and his comrades putting the class struggle and the revolutionary traditions of the Spanish workers at the forefront. The Left Front needs to learn these lessons.  

Perspectives

In the aftermath of the regional elections, some have announced the death of the Left Front, including some of its founders. Yet, as Mélenchon underlines in his December 19th blog entry, “it is unreasonable to jump overboard if we do not have an alternative.” From Olivier Dartigolles, among others, the leadership of the French communist party proposes “starting anew” and to “work with all sections of society, associations, unions, personalities from civil society, and intellectuals.” In reality, this is nothing “new”. The Left Front was already doing this, adding, unfortunately, the leadership of the Socialist Party and the Greens to this list of “sections of society” with whom they were “working”.

The question of “coming together”, upon which the leadership of the French Communist Party insists on, needn’t be posed in such an abstract fashion. Here, the experience in Greece and Spain prove one thing: the crystallization of a mass left opposition requires: 1) a clear and bold opposition to the politics of austerity. 2) A clear break with all the forces which defend or implement austerity. It is on this basis that viable “coming together” can happen and from which a mass movement can develop. In the current configuration of the Left Front, this presupposes that the leadership of the French Communist Party breaks with the Socialist Party. This is one of the biggest difficulties the Left Front faces. If it is not overcome, it not just the Left Front, as it stands, which will be condemned but the French Communist Party itself.  

The Left Front faces a paradox: it is weaker than ever, but its potential has never been greater. Three and a half years of Hollande’s government has destroyed the illusions that millions of workers had in the Socialist Party’s leadership. The youth would like nothing betther than to be able to support a movement determined to fight against this corrupt system which robs them of their future. There is therefore no reason to be pessimistic. The anger and frustration of the masses will culminate by expressing itself on the left of the political spectrum. The coming Presidential election campaign can provide such an opportunity. For now, activists with the Left Front need to make a serious assessment of the last three years and come to an understanding of what happened in Greece, Spain, and the UK. In so doing, they can more solidly pursue the fight against capitalism in crisis and all of its apologists on the right as well as the “left”.