France: Government punished in local elections

Far right gains highlight need for strong fighting left opposition

Local elections in France, which took place over two rounds on 23 and 30 March, confirmed the deepening crisis of the ‘socialist’ government of Francois Hollande government. It is paying the price for its wholesale capitulation to big business interests following being elected in May 2012.

Although mainly then elected because he was not Nicolas Sarkozy (the former right-wing UMP president) some hopes existed among workers when Hollande was elected. But a record number of people (the highest in over 20 years) abstained from the recent elections, showing the extinguishing of such hopes and disillusionment with the entire political establishment, which was especially strong among young people. Almost 40% of potential voters stayed away from polling stations (36% in the first round and 38% in the second).

In February unemployment rose to a record high of 3.3 million (4.9 million when taking into account part time workers who want more hours). Last year the government announced €15 billion worth of cuts to the public sector. Nearly three million children live in poverty.

In Sunday’s second round, the governing Socialist Party (PS) was routed, losing control of 155 large towns across the country, despite holding onto Paris. Despite its own crisis and deep divisions, the conservative UMP was able to make gains, winning 140 towns from the PS. The historic battering received by the PS has provoked a deep crisis in the government, with the resignation of the prime minister, Aryault, replaced by Manuel Valls, fromer interior minister. Hollande will announce a further cabinet shake-up in the next few days, as rumours abound that he may sack a series of other ministers, including finance minister, Moscovici.

Marine Le Pen’s National Front (NF) won a record number of local governments, with 14 mayors elected, almost tripling its previous high point in the 1990s. However, this should not be understood as reflecting mass support or enthusiasm for the NF’s populist, xenophobic policies. Although not gaining in larger cities, apart from Marseille, Hénin Beaumont and Hayange, the NF took power in many traditionally ‘socialist’ towns, reflecting that the former-social democratic PS’s betrayal of the working class is an important part of the roots of the NF’s success.

Being incapable of dealing with the crisis that the FN opportunistically exploits, the main parties’ response to the FN’s resurgence has been to move to the right to “cover its terrain”. The appointment of Valls as prime minister reflects a move along theselines by the PS. Valls, though merely representing a small right-wing faction in the PS, has been made famous for his xenophobic declarations and policies against immigrants, spearheading the expulsion of Leonarda Dibrani, a Roma schoolgirl snatched by police while on a school trip last year.

The FN’s rise also reflects the vacuum to the left of the government and the absence of a mass force of the left and workers’ movement capable of giving the mass opposition to Hollande a clearly progressive, anti-capitalist character. Despite being blacked out of the international media, the good results of the Front de Gauche (Left Front, FdG) where it stood independent left lists against the government and the right wing, confirms the potential that exists for such a force. These left lists (sometimes involving other left organisations such as the NPA) won over 2,000 councillors in the first round, and an average 11% of the vote in the areas that it stood..

Where the Front de Gauche’s components (especially the Communist Party) stood in alliance with the PS, they largely shared in its humiliation and defeat. This shows the potential that a genuinely left challenge to the old parties has, especially when these parties, like the PS, in in government, a debate which rages throughout the European left

As an earlier article by Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France) following the first round of elections stated:

“The more the FdG clearly stood for an alternative to the government, the better the votes in most cases. As we said, what was needed was lists of the FdG and the broader non-governmental left without any ambiguity vis-à-vis the PS.

We share the point of view of Mélenchon (leader of FdG), who said it would have been better if the FdG and all its components had a clear line of opposition to the PS and presented united lists everywhere. It is clear that such lists would have allowed at least the beginnings of an opposition of the left to the Hollande-Ayrault government.

But what Mélenchon does not say is that in the combinations he proposes, he combines the lists with EELV (which supports the government) – the case in 90 cities.

In the next few months the Responsibility Pact cuts package of Hollande will start to be implemeted, with many new attacks against public services, wages, welfare and numerous new gifts to the rich and the bosses. It goes without saying that Hollande has the same policy as Sarkozy – making workers pay for the crisis of capitalism.

Some may have believed that by voting FN it was a sufficiently noisy protest against the policies of the PS and the harshness of the economic and social situation. It is obviously nothing of the sort. The FN is in no way arguing for the end of capitalist exploitation, or the maintenance of all public services. The protectionist proposals or discriminatory measures it proposes against some foreign workers only mask the real culprits – the capitalists.

The good votes for some lists to the left of the PS show that there are some real possibilities and the situation shows that there is an urgent need to build a left opposition to Hollande and all the pro-capitalist parties. Such a broad and democratic opposition, bringing together all workers – youth, unemployed, retired, men and women, French or from abroad – who want to fight against policies that favour the bankers, big bosses and shareholders, can be discussed and put forward from now.

On April 12, a large demonstration calling for a ‘Left Revolt’ is being organised on the initiative of Mélenchon, Besancenot (leader of the NPA) and most of the forces to the left of the Socialist Party. This can be the first step towards building a genuine, united struggle against the policies of Hollande and against capitalism. “

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April 2014