Which way for the Left Front?
Melenchon is the leader of the Left Party and was the candidate in the presidential election of the Left Front – an alliance of the Left Party, the Communist Party and the Gauche Unitaire. After achieving a creditable score of 11.9%, Melenchon is now standing in the general elections in the same constituency as the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
The relatively high score of the Left Front candidate Melenchon in the presidential elections shows the anger of the working class after years of anti-social policies and its will to fight capitalism and not to pay for the crisis. With radical rhetoric and anti-capitalist speeches, Melenchon rallied tens of thousands of workers and youth in mass meetings and in a huge demonstration on the 18th of March to “take the Bastille”. His score was up to 14 or 15 % in working class districts, and even 20% in the North of Marseilles.
Many of Melenchon’s proposals, such as the raising of the minimum wage to 1,700 euro, the public ownership of the energy sector, and his stand against austerity, job losses and social inequalities appeal to workers and young people hit hard by the capitalist crisis, and looking for a radical left challenge to the ruling establishment.
However, Melenchon’s programme does not provide a comprehensive socialist alternative to capitalism. He frames his proposals within the current system, aiming to implement social reforms to reduce the effects of the crisis on the workers; he distinguishes financial capitalism -that is to be opposed from productive capitalism which he sees as good capitalism, creating jobs etc. The “6th Republic” that he advocates is not breaking with the capitalist system, but just less authoritarian and giving more rights to the workers. But it is exasperation against the system as a whole that leads workers to come to his meetings.
A left opposition to the National Front
Another good aspect of Melenchon’s campaign was that he opposed the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on a working class basis. Since she has been the leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen has implemented a strategy of trying to be seen as a defender of the working class. The Left Front fought her by showing her anti-worker agenda: reduction of the right of strike, against collective agreements, deregulation of working time…
Melenchon is continuing to fight her by opposing her in the general election in her constituency of Henin-Beaumont, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. This region used to be very industrial until the closure of mines in the ‘90s and of other industries. Unemployment in Henin-Beaumont is now 19.4% and the average income by household only €12,505 a year. In 2009, the mayor from the Socialist Party (PS) – the party of the new president Hollande – was convicted for misappropriation of public funds. Being a candidate in this town, Marine Le Pen opportunistically takes advantage of the anger of the inhabitants of Henin-Beaumont against the corrupt elite and of the lack of a left alternative defending the workers.
The fact that Melenchon is campaigning in this town and challenging Le Pen can change this state of affairs and be a step forward for the re-building of the working class movement in the area. An electoral victory of Melenchon would be a blow to Marine Le Pen and her party, and boost the confidence of left-wing workers, young people and all anti-fascist activists. However, this would not eliminate the danger of such a party continuing to gain ground in the neighbourhoods on the basis of its demagogic profile and of the continuing social crisis. That is why a successful Left Front campaign in Henin-Beaumont could be seized on as the first step towards a wider, national grassroots campaign to mobilise against the FN racist policies all over the country, and to build a real and fighting working class alternative.
On the 3rd of June, the Left Front is organizing a demonstration against the National Front that will also honour the miners’ strike for better working conditions and resistance against the Nazi occupation in 1941.
Position towards the PS government
On the other hand, Melenchon is not yet opposing the pro-capitalist agenda of the PS at the moment. The PS will not withdraw all Sarkozy’s cuts: 60,000 jobs will be created in education but with more cuts in other parts of the public sector. Sarkozy’s government cut 100,000 teachers’ jobs. The retirement age will be brought back to 60 again, but only for limited categories of workers…
After the first round of the presidential election, Melenchon called for a vote for Hollande without any negotiation. Now, in an open letter to the Prime Minister (“Dear Comrade”), he is pleading only for laws against redundancies and for protectionism. “Everything can not be done in one day”, he says.
There are differences in the Left Front between the Communist Party and the Left Party on what to do next and on the attitude toward the PS: the Communist Party will hold a national conference to decide whether they enter a PS government or not, which the Left Party (Melenchon’s party) correctly opposes. Indeed, when the PCF entered the government with the Socialist Party fifteen years ago, they collaborated on a neo-liberal agenda made up of mass privatisation and other anti-working class measures. However, breaking up the Left Front is not in the interest of either party.
The economic situation and the pressure of the European Union are not flexible enough to permit the PS government to implement social reforms on the basis of capitalism. After the general election, they will have to implement austerity to save the interests of the bosses. This does not mean that under mass social pressure, faced with a determined mood to fight back among the working class and an unstable economic situation, the PS might not engage in some limited moves to the left, in order to avoid a more serious crisis, a social explosion or a combination of both. But in the end, the only way the French working class can take back what Sarkozy stole during his term and not pay for the crisis is to organise the fight back and to strike.
There is an urgent need for a mass party of the working class that will struggle and defend its interests. This party would have to be a space where workers can discuss a strategy to fight austerity and organise struggle against factory closures and redundancies by unifying the isolated strikes that are taking place in different workplaces. The supporters, sympathisers and people who are looking towards the Left Front, but also those still around the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and the many ‘voiceless’ workers and youth, should be provided with a space where they can discuss democratically an alternative to capitalism, a system ruled by the workers to fit their own needs and not ruled by an elite for the interest of a handful of the rich and bankers. For this party to be successful, it will have to analyse the mistakes or successes of previous attempts to build new working class forces – in France with the NPA as well as in other countries.
Such a party could gain momentum from the dynamic behind the Left Front but it is not on the agenda of the Left Front at the moment. What the orientation and character of the Left Front will be in the coming period of struggle is crucial as it could become an important political force for the working class.