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   Vol.66/No.20            May 20, 2002 
 
 
What lessons should working people draw
from the elections in France?
(front page editorial) 

The results of the presidential elections in France hold important lessons for working people around the world. They point to the need to construct revolutionary working-class leaderships rooted within the struggles and organizations of workers and exploited farmers.

From one side of the globe to the other, capitalismís world disorder continues to generate economic, social, and political crises. It is also a breeding resistance among working people in country after country, out of which proletarian leaderships are beginning to be forged. Assessing events such as those in France, Venezuela, Argentina, or the Middle East is essential to begin to chart a road forward out of the devastation and wars that increasingly mark capitalism in decline.

The results of both rounds of voting in the presidential elections in France have deepened the crisis of all bourgeois parties in the country, along with the Socialist Party. The elections also confirmed the bankruptcy and dead-end roads represented by the various "left," "socialist," and "communist" groups who pose as alternatives for the working class. Their wholesale capitulation to bourgeois lesser-evil politics, the middle-class "antifascist" hysteria, and the "defeat Le Pen, vote Chirac" drive led by social democratic forces show how long ago they lost any connection to proletarian internationalism or integration with the living resistance of workers and farmers.

It is these intertwined crises that are sharply revealed in the elections and the political whirlwind that broke in their aftermath. Far from the threat of a resurgent fascist movement, the vote for Le Pen and dismal showing of the governing Socialist Party and Jacques Chiracís rightist Gaullist party simply illustrate the results of the political convergence of the major parties and their more-than-decade-long bipartisan shift to the right.

The vote received by Le Pen increased only slightly over several previous elections. In local, regional, and national ballots since 1997, both Chiracís Gaullist Rally for the Republic and the Socialist Party (SP) have been buffeted in the polls, indicating just how fed up working people are with the ongoing assaults by the French rulers. This time, the first round of presidential voting recorded a precipitous drop in support for both parties as workers and farmers stayed away from the polls or cast their ballot for one of the many small centrist or ultrarightist organizations.

To workers and farmers who are resisting the impact of the capitalist economic crisis and the assaults by the employers and their government, the policies of the major parties go hand-in-hand with these deepening assaults and make them appear less and less distinguishable from each other.

The abject capitulation of the "left of the left" in rallying to the French flag and joining the panicked cry of "Vote Chirac!" to "save France" is a fitting culmination of a decades-long course of rejecting any pretense at integrating themselves into the working class and its day-to-day struggles and battles. Their stand is another step in their evolution toward functioning in practice as a left wing of the social democracy.  
 
Dangers of French nationalism
On May Day, under the guise of fighting a rising "fascist threat," the union officialdom and SP leadership, backed by the Communist Party and other workers parties, organized French nationalist actions across the country to mobilize a vote for an enemy of all working people, President Jacques Chirac of the Gaullist party.

The nationalist depths of the workers partiesí treachery in joining themselves to the antiĖLe Pen get-out-the-vote machine can be seen in one fact: the role of the French imperialist state was never mentioned in the so-called battle to defeat fascism.

Turning their backs on working people from the South Pacific to Africa to Afghanistan, these parties and union leaderships urged working people to vote for a capitalist party that is directly responsible for the French governmentís foreign policy and military affairs. France is among the most heavily armed imperialist powers and maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons--the force de frappe so treasured by its billionaire rulers. Paris has troops deployed in Yugoslavia and a number of countries in Africa, and plays an active part in the imperialist occupation forces in Afghanistan. Are working people in these countries suffering under the boot of ultrarightist Le Pen? Or is it French imperialism, organized by the SP and Chiracís rightist party, which is their direct oppressor today?

Workers will pay a price for the impact of the French nationalist mobilizations. The protests reinforced the ability of the rulers to present their trade policies, austerity measures, "security" crackdowns, and wars abroad under the guise of what is good for "we French." They bolster the rulersí ideological offensive aimed at keeping workers and farmers from thinking that the only "we" is the exploited and oppressed around the world, and the only "they" is the capitalist rulers and their well-paid bosses and agents.

It is useful to remember the logical outcome of lesser-evil bourgeois politics. It was seen in 1932 when, under cover of the need to stop the fascist threat in Germany, the Social Democratic Party urged working people to cast their ballots for President Paul von Hindenburg, a conservative militarist. Following his electoral victory, Hindenburg handed power to Adolf Hitler.  
 
Roots of the crisis
The roots of the crisis facing the capitalist and social democratic parties lie in the inability of the superwealthy ruling class in France to break the resistance of workers to the effects of the world capitalist economic crisis. This includes worsening conditions on the job, anti-immigrant assaults, persistently high unemployment, attempts to erode retirement benefits, and austerity measures aimed at education and health care.

As in other imperialist countries, the main parties have moved consistently to the right over the last two decades as they act on behalf of the capitalist class. They try to sow divisions in the working class; whittle away at the social wage and workersí rights; and impose "law and order" by putting more cops on the streets and more working people in prison. Their only course has been--and will continue to be--to somehow, some way, press forward this assault--and face humiliation at the polls down the road.

The capitalist and social democratic parties, along with their centrist hangers-on, have done everything possible since the second-place finish of ultra-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen to blur the fact that the main themes of Le Penís National Front during the campaign--crime, the European Union, and immigration--have been the touchstones of bourgeois politics for some time in France. His campaign to halt immigration into France for many years, for example, is a policy adopted by the U.S. ruling class between World War I and World War II. He makes a distinction between "illegal" immigrants and those who have become citizens of France, saying the former should be rounded up and deported.

Le Pen, like other ultrarightists who function in bourgeois politics in the United States and elsewhere, simply advances his reactionary proposals by addressing these questions forthrightly, minus the sugarcoating applied by other capitalist politicians.

To better position themselves to compete with U.S. imperialism, the French rulers carry out their assault on workers and farmers under the banner of the need for a strong European Union and common currency. Budget cutbacks and other assaults on working people have been justified on the grounds that they are dictated by a nameless, faceless "supra-national" bureaucracy that oversees the drive toward European unity. Workers have been told that the increasing use of temporary jobs by the bosses, deterioration of working conditions, and plant shutdowns are necessary evils in building a common market and remaining "competitive" in the capitalist world market.

As the European Union expands east, moreover, the weight of Germany grows, and the anti-Euro banner of the radical right in France and some smaller countries of western Europe gains support. And the world recession weighs in differential ways on various countries and different layers of workers and farmers in Europe.

The anti-Americanism of the leaders of the Socialist and Gaullist parties has been cast in the framework of supporting a common currency in order to create a trade bloc able to stand up to U.S. imperialism, and to attempt to widen trade with the East European workers states.

While joining the jingoistic anti-American chorus, Le Pen focused his fire on Brussels, the seat of the European Union. He pounded away at the main parties, presenting his demand to withdraw from the monetary union as the only road to save "French jobs" and sovereignty.  
 
Evolution of the National Front
The election results also spell a crisis for the National Front, an ultrarightist bourgeois party. For a number of years Le Pen has moved away from the more openly fascist elements in his party, a process that led to a split by those who opposed his moves to become more "respectable" in bourgeois politics.

Fascist-minded leaders like Le Pen in France and Patrick Buchanan in the United States see that the only way the capitalist rulers will ultimately be able to crush the working-class resistance is through violent combat. Their perspective of organizing a cadre in the streets that can take on and defeat the working class runs up against the fact that it is still historically too early to actually construct and sustain such a movement. These forces can either remain isolated ideological groups, or make their way into bourgeois electoral politics, the other main arena in which they can gain a hearing.

Buchananís high point came in the 1996 primary elections in New Hampshire, when his victory shocked the Republican establishment. But temporary electoral successes like this donít lead anywhere for fascist forces today because they cannot yet construct an ultrarightist street movement. Their electoral results may take "respectable" bourgeois layers by surprise, but in the longer run the fact that they cannot be sustained results in disappointment to an ultrarightist cadre.

The vote in France will be Le Penís high point, even as the ideological, "anticrime," and nationalist anti-immigrant measures that are the touchstones of bourgeois politics today will continue to generate ultrarightist currents in every imperialist country.  
 
Constructing proletarian parties
The working class in France has time and again proven its capacity to fight and mobilize against the assaults by the rulers. Across Europe similar battles against the antilabor drive of the employers and their governments continue to break out. A day after the second round of voting in France, tens of thousands of workers in Germany kicked off rolling strikes to demand a decent wage increase from major employers in auto, steel, and other major industries. In Italy, one-day strikes have put the Berlusconi government on notice not to press ahead with a new round of attacks on the social wage in that country.

Working people involved in these battles vote many different ways in bourgeois elections when there is no clear working-class alternative being put forward. It is the fact that workers are on the picket line or in the streets defending their class interests that is important, not how they may cast their ballot.

Working people and revolutionary-minded youth have a wealth of material in English, French, and Spanish to draw on and use as part of these battles. This includes Capitalismís World Disorder, Cuba and the Coming American Revolution, New International no. 7, and the Changing Face of U.S. Politics (see advertisement on page 10). These titles draw on decades of lessons of working-class struggle to explain the roots of the capitalist crisis and the rightward shift in the major bourgeois parties, and to point to the possibility and necessity of working people building proletarian parties capable of leading tens of millions in the fight to take power out of the hands of the capitalist class and replace its rule with a government of workers and farmers.

Faced with the effects of the capitalist crisis, more workers, farmers, and youth people are open to considering a revolutionary alternative as they continue their day-to-day struggles. Small proletarian parties, rooted within this resistance and operating within the plants, mines, and mills can effectively reach out and gain a hearing with each successive wave of upsurge and crisis.
 
 
Related articles:
Workers discuss outcome of French elections
 
 
 
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