Sunday, 1 July 2007

Letter from France

Letter from France

by Olivier Besancenot, June 2007

The severe electoral defeat of the left doesn't automatically mean a social defeat, argues Olivier Besancenot of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR).

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president is a major event in French politics. For the first time since 1981 the political team in office has not been defeated in a general election, either presidential or parliamentary. It is the victory of a very hard right wing party whose programme was at the same time excessively neoliberal and excessively reactionary - many of its themes being borrowed from the far right and neo-fascist speeches.

One of the main reasons for this success is that Sarkozy has provided a very offensive and clear message while Ségolène Royal, the candidate of the social-liberal Socialist Party (SP), was unable to propose a different programme. A significant part of her campaign was about subsidies for small - and even big - business, "fair order", the French national flag and hymn, repression against youngsters, and so on. After the first round of the election, she even tried to propose a coalition with François Bayrou, the candidate of the centre-right.

Now the perspective is to organise the resistance against the coming attacks of the new government against workers, young people and immigrants in a situation worse than ever. But on the other side, since 1995, the left and the social movements have been able to resist and counterattack. This severe electoral defeat doesn't automatically mean a social defeat.

The main problem is the situation of the French left. The SP has been defeated and is now faced with a major crisis. Many leaders are trying to change the orientation of the party to move it into a centre-left party, very similar to New Labour or, eventually, similar to the Italian coalition supporting Romano Prodi.

Its various satellites have been severely defeated up to the point that their existence as independent parties is now threatened. The Communist Party (CP) is now at under 2 percent of the vote and is deeply divided, some of its elected members being more or less seduced by a closer alliance with the SP.

The presidential election has been a complete disaster for the Greens as they got only 1.5 percent. But the crisis has also reached the anti-neoliberal left as a whole. The attempt of José Bové, former leader of the Peasants Confederation and well known activist of the global justice movement, to regroup the anti-neoliberal left despite the "sectarianism of the apparatus of the CP and the LCR" has been a complete failure, he received 1.3 percent of the vote. Between the two rounds of the presidential election, he even accepted a "mission" for Ségolène Royal about "food sovereignty", leaving his supporters rather disoriented.

The political approach of the LCR for this election had been frequently criticised. But, finally, as a candidate of LCR, I was the only candidate on the left of the SP able to resist the pressure of the vote in favour of Royal.

I reached nearly the same result as in 2002 (one and a half million votes representing 4.1 percent of the vote) and 300,000 more votes were received. Was it because I'm a smart guy? No, it was for more substantial reasons. I defended a clear political orientation in favour of social and democratic emergency measures.

I have tried to speak to the new emerging political generation, in public schools, popular suburbs and workplaces. And the LCR was 100 percent independent from the SP. That's the main explanation.

This was exactly the reason why it has been impossible to build a broader anti-neoliberal coalition supporting a common candidate, as the other parties and movements that had successfully gathered against the EU Constitution were at least ambiguous about the kind of relationship you can have with the SP.

Independence is nowadays the main challenge the anti-capitalist left is faced with in France, in Europe and elsewhere. Now the LCR has new and huge responsibilities because it is the only French left organisation which "survived" the disaster and will eventually be able to take initiatives in order to regroup the left on a radical and independent basis. That issue will be the central one for our next national congress, in December 2007.

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