French elections: No enthusiasm for Chirac - Labour movement must now mobilise against the right

Chirac has won the French presidential elections by 82.2% to Le Pen's 17.8%. This is more or less what the opinion polls were predicting. There was never any doubt that Chirac would win. As we said, many workers would vote for Chirac reluctantly. But the victory of Chirac has solved absolutely nothing. The task in the coming period is to defeat the right wing as a whole - Chirac and Le Pen. This can only done by mobilising all the forces of the labour movement around genuine socialist policies.

Chirac has won the May 5 French presidential elections by a very wide margin in the second round. He received 25,540,874 votes (82.2% of those who went out to vote) against Le Pen's 5,525,907 (17.8%). This is more or less what the opinion polls were predicting. There was never any doubt that Chirac would win. As we pointed out in our earlier article (The lessons of France: A warning to the workers of Europe by Alan Woods) many workers would vote for Chirac reluctantly.

The results of the second round show quite clearly that there was no mass support for Chirac himself. In fact, according to one opinion poll at least 48% of the electorate have no confidence that he can solve any of the more pressing problems facing French society. Most of those voting were voting against Le Pen, not for Chirac. Many felt they had no alternative. The workers and youth of France were put in this situation by the leadership of the Socialist Party. With their policies over the past five years they managed to alienate a wide layer of traditional Socialist Party voters. The failure of Jospin to get through the first round was a direct result of this. The lack of enthusiasm could clearly be seen by the low turnout at the Chirac victory rallies.

If we take a closer look at the voting patterns between the first and second round some interesting points emerge. For the second round 3,335,768 more voters turned out than in the first, an extra 10%. Of these 47% voted for Chirac and 5% for Le Pen. But a large number of voters actually went out to the polling stations and cast a blank vote. In the first round there were 997,262 blank votes. In the second round this figure had gone up to 1,764,720. This is a high figure, if we consider the disgraceful position taken by most of the left parties of calling for a vote for Chirac. These figures show that in spite of the large numbers voting for Chirac, the underlying mood was one of dissatisfaction with both candidates.

Chirac is seen quite rightly as a crook. Now that he has been re-elected President he cannot be touched by the judiciary for a further five years! The vote he received in the first round is a real indication of his support, 19.88%. This is the lowest vote for an incumbent president and it shows what the French electorate really thinks of him.

Le Pen hardly increased the vote of the extreme right wing at all. In the first round he received 4,804,713 and Megret (leader of a split from the National Front) received 667,026. This made a total of 5,471,739. In the second round he managed to muster 5,525,907, a mere 54,000 votes more. So although the overwhelming majority either voted against Le Pen or voted for neither candidate, the extreme right wing vote was still a sizeable one, in spite of the huge anti-Le Pen campaign. How do we explain this? Le Pen consciously appealed to the disillusioned left voters when on the evening of the first round he announced that: "Socially I stand on the left…" and he made an explicit appeal to the miners, the metalworkers and the unemployed. Of course he also added that "…economically I stand on the right." There is no doubt as to the nature of Le Pen - he is an enemy of the working class. But he understands that there is dissatisfaction among wide layers of the French population and he attempted to gather this around him, presenting himself as the "anti-establishment" candidate. What this proves is that the vote for Le Pen could not be reduced by appealing for a vote for Chirac. Those workers and unemployed who wrongly voted for Le Pen, believing him to be against the "establishment", will not be attracted to Chirac. These layers can only be won to the workers' movement with a clear socialist programme, a programme that attacks the very basis upon which French capitalism rests.

Of course, there is a limit to Le Pen's appeal. When it came to mobilising the masses actively on the streets, the anti-Le Pen movement brought out literally millions, whereas Le Pen was only able to muster a few tens of thousands. In Marseilles, one of his traditional strongholds, he could only gather 5,000 at his closing rally. This shows the real balance of forces. The fact remains that the bulk of French workers voted against him. But Le Pen stands there as a warning for the future.

In spite of the massive vote for Chirac, the French ruling class is not in an easy situation. Chirac has won, but his authority has been greatly reduced. There seems to be no party that govern France today and guarantee the stability required by the French capitalists. The world situation is pressing down on them. They need to go on to the offensive against the workers. For the past five years, in spite of a few reforms (such as the 35-hour week) the main thrust of the Jospin government was privatisation and so-called "market reforms". The situation for the workers has worsened. However the weakening of the Socialist Party has not particularly strengthened the position of the bourgeoisie.

Le Pen has gained, but his support is far from being enough for him to govern the country. If it were big enough, then we would be facing an extremely dangerous situation for the bosses. The workers of France would not sit idly by with Le Pen in the government. Therefore that option is ruled out for now.

The more traditional right-wing parties are also in a mess. Faced with the threat from the extreme right they are considering even the possibility of coming together as one force. But even that would not necessarily guarantee them the support they need to be able to govern the country.

After the experience of the Jospin government the left vote has splintered and that of the Socialist Party has been particularly weakened.

So the dilemma now facing the French ruling class is: how to govern the country? The option of leaning on the leaders of the workers' parties has been used and has led to the present stalemate. The right wing does not seem strong enough. If they are successful in the coming parliamentary elections and do manage to get a majority in the parliament then we could be facing an Italian type situation with the right wing provoking the workers thus forcing the trade union chiefs to lead a fightback.

This could even be reflected at the forthcoming parliamentary elections. In spite of the defeat in the presidential elections the Socialist Party could make a comeback. Having seen the threat of the right wing the workers could come out and make sure they do not get a majority in parliament.

The situation in France highlights the dilemma facing the capitalist class internationally. The world economic situation is forcing them to attack the working class. Whichever party carries out these attacks pays a price: they lose popular support. Over a period all the parties get discredited. The extreme fragmentation of the vote in the first round, together with the high number of abstentions and blank votes, underlines how distant the leaders of all the main parties have become from the ordinary working people.

In the end it comes down to a question of the leadership of the workers' movement. These leaders have adopted the policies of the capitalists as their own. They have now paid the price for this. The tragedy is that it is the French workers who ultimately pay for all this. But the French workers have not spoken their last word. In fact they have barely spoken their first. The magnificent May Day demonstrations all over France are an indication of the real mood developing among the workers.

A mood of militancy is spreading all over Europe. The French workers are one of the main protagonists of this process. French society has been shaken. Millions of ordinary people have been politicised. Faced with a possible impasse on the political front the workers could well turn to the industrial front over the next year or so. Workers both inside the Socialist and Communist parties and outside will be asking themselves many questions. Many will be asking themselves how all this could happen. This will inevitably affect the rank and file of these parties.

The responsibility for the present situation lies firmly on the shoulders of the Socialist and Communist party leaders. We cannot be satisfied with the defeat of Le Pen. Chirac also is responsible for the shift to the right that brought so much support to Le Pen. This victory of Chirac has solved absolutely nothing.

In his limited bourgeois reactionary outlook Chirac will draw the conclusion that what is necessary for France is to step up repressive measures. He will borrow from some of Le Pen's programme, thinking that this is the way to win votes. He will now attempt to apply the same racist, anti-immigration and anti-working class policies which Le Pen stands for.

On this basis France will enter a new period of social turmoil, even more turbulent than the past few years. The class struggle is being placed back on the agenda. The working class will be given a new opportunity to transform society. The polarisation shown at the extreme right and the extreme left of the political spectrum underlines the fact that two opposing enemy camps, the working class and the ruling class, are gathering their forces to give battle.

The task in the coming period is to defeat the right wing as a whole, Chirac and Le Pen. This can only done by mobilising all the forces of the labour movement around genuine socialist policies. The potential is there. The fact that Trotskyism is getting such a large echo in the French labour movement (as was clearly demonstrated in the first round) clearly demonstrates that millions of French workers and youth are looking for a revolutionary alternative.

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