France: The need for a combative political force

More and more tensions develop in the Left Front

As economic crisis conditions hammer the lives of working people in France, a clear political alternative to the Socialist Party government in the local and European elections is vital. The alliance of the Communist Party of France (PCF) with the relatively new Left Party and some smaller forces is failing to build a cohesive, fighting force. carries an article by Leila Messaoudi, published in l’Egalite, the paper of Gauche Révolutionnaire.

The Front de Gauche (Left Front) in France has been split for several months now. Pierre Laurent (leader of the French Communist Party (PCF)) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (leader of the Left Party (PdG)) have been at loggerheads, there are disputes over electoral tactics, there is a re-shaping of the left inside the Front and the PdG has suspended its participation in the European Left group of MPs… And there are differences of approach over the Socialist Party and the future of the Front de Gauche itself!

A policy that is turning….around the PS

In relation to the upcoming local elections, more than ever the Front de Gauche is disunited; it has a logo that signifies an alliance and tactics which vary from town to town! Sometimes this can be explained by the local situation. But in general the variable geometry of the Front de Gauche lists demonstrates first and foremost the absence of a common programme in the FdG when faced with a PS – Ecologist government and pressure from the right and the Front National.

Yet faced with a government planning cuts in social budgets and offering bribes to the employers, a genuine Front de Gauche wanting to defend the interests of workers and ordinary people could put forward clear demands to stop a decline in living standards for the majority of people, on public transport, jobs and housing. These are the issues where a genuine stand in support of workers and ordinary people is crucial.

But for that to happen we need to decide what are the key demands, and not work everything out on the basis of what might or might not be acceptable to the PS. To make common cause with the PS in the first round, on the basis of minimal agreements on programme, as the PCF does in some towns (not all, fortunately), is deeply damaging. The decision of the PdG to stand separately in the first round as a matter of principle is a much clearer position. The only problem is that while their criticism is often sharp, their position loses credibility, and starts to look like a purely tactical one, when everyone knows that in the second round the PdG (or the independent FdG lists) will merge with the PS lists. The real issue remains: what is the basis on which that will happen?

The leadership of the PCF wants to make the PS its special, most highly sought after, partner, thinking that this will force them to bend politically. The PdG also hovers around the PS, but focusses on its ‘left’ wing. They both want to influence the PS, by leaning on its left wing, so as to make a decisive difference. However the Greens have been pursuing this kind of adjustment politics for decades in one direction or another and they do not even exist outside of election time. This kind of politics does not amount to a political programme and leads straight into a brick wall. The PS has chosen to serve the interests of the capitalists. A genuine Front de Gauche today, faced with a government led by the PS, would necessarily have to adopt an independent policy, taking as its starting point the interests of workers and ordinary people.

What future for the Front de Gauche?

These arguments are often seen just like those of politicians on a larger scale. They are sterile and off-putting for people who want to oppose Hollande’s policies. Nowadays the FdG meetings in many regions and towns are empty, and it is more of an election signboard for the PCF and sometimes for other alliances. Reduced to an electoral logo the FdG is moving further and further away from being a fighting organisation drawing into its ranks all those on the left who, at least on some issues, want to drive back the capitalists and those serving them, like the present government.

This critical situation has brought together some of the groups on the ‘left wing’ of the Front de Gauche in an attempt to influence the future of the alliance. A grouping called ‘Ensemble’ (‘Together’) was formed at the end of November. In relation to the election they are close to the position of the PdG, namely independent lists in the first round. They also insist that the FdG must be united and stand in the European elections under the same banner. They claim to be optimistic but come up against a real political problem which none of the groups in ‘Ensemble’ has really solved or even raised: that the Front de Gauche was never conceived as a tool for organising, discussing and taking action. This was never the aim of the PCF nor even of the PdG. Their programme is not one of moving towards the creation of a new political force able to meet the aspirations of those who are ready to struggle. Ever since Mélenchon’s 2012 appeal to ‘Seize the power!’ the civil revolution he called for has passed mainly through the ballot box, plus a handful of big demos. The ‘citizens’ assemblies’ never attracted large crowds and were dominated by a great deal of waffling. The question is not whether to open up the FdG widely or not, but what would be the programme on which such a broad political formation could exist? When industrial action takes place, for example, the FdG refuses to discuss, let alone criticise, trade union tactics. So when the trade union leaderships do everything in their power to prevent a coordinated struggle against the attacks on pensions, such an approach can only disappoint those who want to fight the bosses’ attacks.

At this stage there is still a layer of trade unionists and young people who will respond to the FdG’s call for a demonstration, but if the FdG continues to provide no answers to the real questions, it risks imploding for good, torn apart by the divergent groups which it is made up of, and faces being reduced to an electoral signboard.

We need to build a left opposition to the government and the capitalists. And to do that we need to campaign for an alternative to the PS, to clearly oppose the policies they implement, and put forward independent demands, whether in the elections, industrial action and other day-to-day campaigns, against job losses, workplace closures and public sector cuts.

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