Space opening up to left of Socialist Party
Alex Rouillard, Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI in France)
The situation in the run-up to the presidential elections in France at the end of April is extremely volatile. Over the past week-end three candidates held election rallies in the city of Lyon. Marine Le Pen launched her campaign - ‘In the name of the people’ – at a two day conference with around 1,000 in attendance. Macron’s rally drew 8,000 and Melanchon, for the left, had an audience of 12,000 plus 6,000 at Aubervilliers near Paris with a hologram of himself(!).
The following article assesses the situation after the primaries for the ‘Socialist’ Party's candidate selected Benoit Hamon.
The defeat of former prime minister, Manuel Valls, in the presidential primaries for the so-called Socialist Party was as devastating for its size as for what lies behind it. On the one hand, Benoit Hamon won the nomination with almost 59% of the votes. Despite the support of many local and national leaders of the PS, Valls had much less support amongst the members. His biggest campaign meeting saw barely 500 people attending while Hamon attracted between 2,000 and 3,000 to his. Just over 800,000 people, from a potential of 44 million, were prepared to go out and vote for Valls to endorse the record of the government and the five year presidency of Francois Hollande.
He had refused to listen to the millions of demonstrators and strikers in the spring of 2016 and to the polls that invariably said that more than 70% of the population was opposed to the Labour Law reform. He pushed for police and judicial repression. (1,750 people were prosecuted following those battles). Six times he used the executive manoeuvre “49-3” to push through the National Assembly his reactionary changes to the law. Did he seriously believe that as soon as he faced even a slight element of democracy he would not suffer the consequences of his authoritarian and contemptuous attitude? He has reaped what he has sown and it is unlikely that the rejection he has experienced will disappear anytime soon.
It is for the same reasons, and by the same means, that Sarkozy and Juppé were rejected during the primaries of Les Républicains – the traditional right. They paid for their intransigence in the face of social struggles and for their involvement in many “business scandals”. Many people want to see the back of these arrogant politicians who hold power only through anti-democratic manoeuvres and who could not care less about what the people think. It is therefore only logical that what little democracy is represented by the system of primaries was sufficient to push Valls out and demonstrate a rejection of his policies.
It was in 2014 that Valls found himself as prime minister, even though he had got less than 6% in the PS primaries in 2011, with his very neo- liberal proposals such as "unlock 35 hours". In nominating him, Hollande knew very well that the right wing of the party would take the reins and broaden the pro-capitalist character of its policies. Indeed, in spite of his speech in Le Bourget in 2011 ("My enemy, it's finance!"), he went along with the move to the right in the wake of other social democratic parties in Europe, from Blair in Britain up to Renzi in Italy. Valls, because people of his sort live separated from ordinary people and take them for idiots, even believed that his proposal to amend the law through the infamous “49-3” was going to be acceptable. In their small circles, only manoeuvres count, not respect for obligations, even less the opinion of the population. In a final manoeuvre, Hollande (whose popularity hit rock bottom), through not standing in the primaries, will have escaped ignominious punishment in the primaries and in the presidential election of April 23 and once more is making someone else wear the hat.
The second lesson is that it was the leftmost candidate who won in spite of the number of participants who had been put forward in order to disperse the votes. Hamon does not especially have a very left programme, despite what the media say. His proposal of a "universal income" at 750 euros (which is in fact only a rough figure as the first step announced is an increase of 10% in the social minimums to go to 600 euros, the rest to be decided by a "citizen conference”...) would in fact aim to merge the RSA (Revenu de solidarité active - a kind of minimum allowance for long time unemployed), with the various other allowances (housing, family etc.) for the most deprived. The gain would therefore be derisory. (A single person who gets the RSA and housing allowances, can receive 742 euros currently - far from the poverty line calculated at 1,000 euros.) By not demanding employment for all by obliging companies to take on workers due to reduced working hours, Hamon's proposal is in fact an acceptance of the domination of large capitalist enterprises.
Nothing very new, either, when he speaks about a Sixth Republic or meeting Hollande or Prime Minister Cazeneuve. He just draws attention to the fact that he has supported a whole section of the government's policy over the last five years. Hamon never followed through to the end his opposition as a so-called "splitter": he voted for the austerity budgets decided by the government.
Certainly, he calls for the abrogation of the labour law reform that afflicts PS representatives and he wants to accompany his neo-liberalism with less harsh measures. But the reasoning of those who voted for Hamon actually goes deeper. They were expressing the wish to beat Valls on the basis of a candidate to his left (just as the right-wing primaries had seen Sarkozy and Juppe defeated on the basis of using Fillon - the most neo-liberal, anti-welfare and bourgeois, that the right-wing circles could find). Hamon was the only candidate really on the left of the PS in this primary, so it is naturally towards him that what remains of the PS electorate has turned. (Only 2 million voters participated.)
The desire to launch a process that can lead to the re-foundation of a new political force to the left of the present PS lies behind this vote. And in itself, that is a positive. It is enough to raise considerable fears inside the PS. Some are already going towards the candidate of the bankers, Macron, while others are trying to use all the undemocratic mechanisms (and there are many) inside the "socialist" party to force Hamon to integrate into his programme the points advocated by Valls.
There will be no PS campaign for the presidential election on the basis of the Hamon’s programme in the primaries; this is already clearly stated by most of the PS's "tenors". Just as the selection of candidates for the legislative elections has begun, and many who are close to Valls have been nominated, including the author of the labour law reforms, El Khomri herself, it is difficult to imagine a campaign being made for its abrogation. Only a minority of candidates nominated by the PS will be on the line of Hamon.
He only has a chance if he takes stock of the potential explosion that is going on in the Socialist Party. Valls, himself, had to organise an emergency meeting on January 31 to call on many of the leaders not to "leave the PS". For the moment, the leaders will try to muzzle Hamon who does not have the base amongst the membership to stop them. He will inevitably fall in the polls. Or, these same leaders, feeling the wind turning in favour of Macron (who is potentially capable of establishing, outside the PS, the centrist party that Valls wanted to turn the PS into. And in this case, the Macronists will beat Hamon in the presidential election and the pro-Valls candidates in the legislative elections.
The next few weeks will be crucial. The potential for a new political force to the left of the PS has actually strengthened with Hamon's victory at the primaries. Even if, as is most likely, Hamon does not go in this direction, it is nevertheless the one that the people who voted for him have shown they want.
Mélenchon's candidacy in the presidential election, and his campaign - ‘France Insoumise’ (FI) (France Unbowed) - represent a part of this potential. It is also a good thing that Mélenchon has said he is ready to meet Hamon, while recognising that a whole series of positions adopted by the winner of the PS primaries are not compatible with those of the FI. Notably on jobs - the FI fights for a 32 hour week with an increase in jobs, higher wages. On Europe, Hamon does not argue at all for a challenge to the European Union. But the tactic of Mélenchon has its own limits by confining itself only to the electoral field.
On the one hand, a whole layer of the young people and workers are preparing to abstain in the next elections because they have had enough of this political circus carried out on the backs of the population and it is quite understandable. On the other hand, what is lacking in the face of the attacks of the bosses and the government against young people, workers and the majority of the population is a force capable of getting tens of thousands of people to organise, to reappropriate politics and to fight against capitalism. It is this aspect of things that the FI will have to discuss in the next few weeks, even more so if those who voted for Hamon come to see that the latter does not have a real possibility of carrying out a real break with the disastrous policies of Hollande.
The scandal about the fictitious jobs of the Fillon family, where, according to the Canard Enchaîné, his wife has been paid 900, 000 euros for doing nothing, is certainly the knockout blow for a candidate who was already on his way down. His plan to destroy social security, increase VAT by 2% (to finance the wiping out of taxes on large fortunes, in short, to take from the poorest to give to the richest) had met with the opposition of an overwhelming majority of the population (90% rejection of his social security ). It was already possible that Fillon could no longer expect to win the election, as the circles of the bourgeois right believed. It is now almost certain that the right will have to find a replacement candidate. A section is already looking towards the centre and the movement around Macron, for the moment devoid of a real apparatus.
As for the Front National and Marine Le Pen, things are not going too easily either.it is not the great facility either. Her declaration of support for Trump is turning against her as the latter seems to be uncontrollable and almost insane. Although high in the polls, Le Pen remains around the 25% mark and fails to make progress. Among her latest statements she has said she is not in favour of an increase in the SMIC (minimum wage) for example. This shows more and more that the so-called "social" posture of the FN was only an electoralist argument. Four hundred elected FN municipal councillors out of 1,500 - 28% - have resigned since 2014 citing internal dictatorial methods. One from Lorraine who resigned even added: "There are only opportunist people, there to fill their pockets. I saw from inside how the National Front was working”.
The situation is a reflection of what has been happening in society for more than two years. Social discontent at low wages and poor working conditions is being expressed every day by dozens of strikes and struggles. In this context, the lack of a real central day of action to fight for better wages and conditions at work and to reject policies of social cuts weighs heavily. Union leaders, rather than "consulting" the candidates when they know what they say about these issues, should campaign and prepare a major day of strike action and protests. And this would have a big impact on the campaign because it is struggles that will change things. And the election campaign could be a point of support for this, especially if a candidate like Mélenchon would take up and fight for the demands of workers on a large scale.
This would also enable all those who do not want to vote because they do not feel involved in the elections in their present form to take ownership of them. It is clear that a new political force fighting capitalism will come from both the millions of people who will vote for Mélenchon and other candidates to the left of the PS, but also of all those who participate in the struggles but are considering abstaining in the elections. The situation is entirely open; all the candidates for the service of capitalism are weakened and without a base of really active and solid support. A revolt is gradually bringing about a rejection of those who have been imposing an unjust, antidemocratic and pro-cuts policy on us all these years. From now on, no scenario for the presidential election is written in advance. On the contrary, everything becomes possible. The worries of the leaders of the PS, the right wing and the FN should be seen as a real encouragement for the camp of the young people and the workers.
All those who are tired of capitalism and aspire to a society of social justice - tolerant and fraternal, giving everyone a job, housing and a decent future - can play a role if they come together. This is why we call for a vote for Mélenchon, in spite of the fact that his programme remains too limited in dealing with the multinationals, the banks and the shareholders.
We argue, for example, that the entire financial sector, from banks to insurance companies, should be nationalised and put into public ownership under the democratic control of workers and the whole population when Mélenchon only puts forward the idea of a public banking network alongside the private banks. The majority of those who are prepared to vote for him are doing so to express their frustration with capitalism and its dictatorship of profit. But voting is only one aspect of the matter. We need a mass movement to overthrow capitalism. This is what the Gauche Révolutionnaire wants to build. Faced with political and economic crisis, it is a real alternative for a truly democratic socialist society where the economy is planned to satisfy the needs of all and not the profits of a few.
Committee for a Workers' International
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