Crisis of the French left is a crisis of reformism

The bourgeois media never tire of repeating it: the French left is in crisis. Gone are the days in which the Socialist Party (PS) and the Communist Party (PCF), between them, held a clear majority of the electorate. And when it comes to France Insoumise (FI), they haven’t consolidated the success of the 2017 presidential elections, when Mélenchon got 20 percent in the first round, as we saw in the European elections last year.

Because of this, the growing opposition to Macron has not found an expression on the left at this stage. It has mainly expressed itself on the right: the Rassemblement National (RN, formerly Front national) got the most votes at the European elections and is hovering around 26 percent support in the polls.

And so, the bosses’ mouthpieces in the media have already written the script for the next national elections. We know it all too well, for it is the same as last time. Macron (or a carbon copy of Macron) against Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential, whereby Macron (or his double) would win, with the masses mobilised to block the RN. Then, the legislative elections would give a big majority to the winner of the presidential. Nothing to see here!

Such a scenario is possible, but it is far from inevitable. Firstly, we cannot rule out that, faced with a strong protest movement, Macron could be forced to dissolve the National Assembly before 2022. Secondly, the perspective of the so-called “moderate” right automatically beating Marine Le Pen is rather uncertain. The idea of blocking the reactionary RN by voting for Macron, the reactionary in chief, is not self-evident!

Finally, and most importantly, the victory of a left-wing force is still possible, provided it gives an adequate expression to the rage and the aspirations of the masses.

The material basis of reformism

In order to understand it, we must first identify the underlying causes of this crisis of the left – in France and elsewhere. The international character of this crisis highlights that it is a phenomenon linked to the general dynamic of global capitalism.

Melenchon wiki FileCOLONJean Luc Mélenchon visita Quito 9301728809France Insoumise has not lived up to its promise due to a watering down of its programme, and a lack of proper party structures / Image: public domain

The mass organisations of the workers’ movement (parties and trade unions) do not exist in a vacuum. They come under all sorts of material and ideological pressures. Throughout the 30 years after WWII, capitalism underwent a phase of unprecedented expansion. In the developed capitalist countries, unemployment was low. Standards of living improved for the masses. The ruling classes granted reforms when it came to pensions, healthcare, education, etc. This long phase of economic growth also had the effect of enormously strengthening reformism, that is to say the programme of fighting for a vague, gradual improvement in the conditions of the working class – without overthrowing capitalism.

The global crisis of 1973 opened up a new stage, characterised by the intensification of the class struggle in many countries. However, the stabilisation of the world economy that followed, coupled with the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, gave reformism a new lease on life. By the time the crisis of 2008 erupted, 60 years of reformism had led to a profound degeneration of the “left” leaders. When in power, these “pragmatists” defended capitalism – and therefore implemented the austerity policies demanded by the bourgeois.

In France, the policies carried out by François Hollande’s government were entirely in the interests of the ruling class. The PS came out of this presidency enduringly discredited. It is not a given that it will make a comeback. And as for the PCF, it proved itself utterly incapable of breaking with the PS – and is paying the price for that.

So the “crisis of the left” is first and foremost a crisis of reformism. In the context of the organic crisis of capitalism, the material basis of reformism has vanished. If there was a meaningful perspective of reformists in power carrying out reforms, that would be one thing. But when reformists in power actually carry out counter-reforms, their credibility in the eyes of the exploited masses is completely undermined.


Corbyn change Image Socialist AppealThe rise and fall of left-wing politicans and movements shows a general desire for change and the crisis of reformism / Image: Socialist Appeal

Faced with the 2008 crisis and the politics of austerity, a section of the youth and the workers searched for a left alternative to the old parties (or to the old, right-wing leaderships of these parties). This explains the emergence of SYRIZA in Greece, of Corbyn in Britain, of Podemos in Spain, of Sanders in the USA, and of FI in France.

However, these parties, movements and leaders do not represent a return to the ideas and programme of revolutionary Marxism. They represent the left wing of reformism. Consequently, they vacillated constantly and committed all sorts of errors. Brought to power in January 2015, the leadership of SYRIZA betrayed its programme six months later. In Spain, Podemos has just entered a coalition government with PSOE, despite the latter’s programme being distinctly moderate. In Britain, Corbyn lost the election because he made too many concessions to the right wing of the Labour party, especially on the question of Brexit. In France, FI has lost some of its radicalism since April 2017, to which we can add the negative effects of a disorganised “movement”, without a party congress, without elected and recallable leaders, without solid local structures, etc.

This type of process does not develop in a linear fashion. There have been – and there will be – ebbs and flows in the development of the (relatively) radical left.

In France, despite its limitations, FI still has an enormous potential, since millions of young people and workers are looking for a left alternative to austerity. But if FI wants to realise this potential, it will have to lend its ear to the radicalisation of the masses. In other words, it will have to turn to the left. We have often stated this on the pages of this publication.

For example, instead of proposing electoral alliances to the Green Party, the leadership of FI should explain that the pro-capitalist programme of the Greens is incapable of solving the environmental crisis. Environmental planning should be brought back to the centre of FI’s programme – and the idea of planning should be extended to the entirety of the economy. There will be no environmental planning if there is no planned economy, if there is no break with capitalism.

Generally, the more FI presents itself as a radical alternative to the status quo, the more echo it will find with the masses. This is the lesson to draw from past experience – in France and on an international scale.

Read the original in French |