The French Presidential Election

by Meryl Fernando
The French presidential election of April-May 2002 would undoubtedly have aroused the interest of politically interested people for two reasons. Firstly, the entry of Le Pen and the Front National (FN) into the second round beating Lionel Jospin, the incumbent prime minister, and the Socialist Party into third place.

Jacques Chirac, tainted by sleaze allegations and a figure of contempt for many voters on the left, scraped home in the first round with 19.88% of the vote, a record low for the front runner.

Secondly, the gains made by the Trotskyists who won 10.44% of the votes in the first round by polling 2,973,600, nearly doubling their vote since 1995. The latter will be of particular interest to countries like Sri Lanka where there is a Trotskyist tradition.

It was the crushing defeat of the Socialist Party (SP) that enabled Le Pen to enter the second round. The S.P.’s vote declined from 7,101,992 in 1997 to 4,610,749 — in percentage terms from 23.3 to 16.18.

Jospin’s partner in government, the Communist Party, fared even worse. It’s vote fell from 2,634,187 in 1997 to 960,757 in 2002 — a mere 3.37%, its lowest ever percentage. The Trotskyists — three parties contested separately — gained from the loss the SP and CP, suffered.

Le Pen’s advance was immediately marked by tens of thousands of people who came on to the streets spontaneously throughout France to demonstrate their determination to stop Le Pen who they see as an outright fasicit. Between the first and second rounds almost daily mass demonstrations took place in which thousands of mainly young protesters expressed their outrage that a fascist had made it to the second round.

On May Day according to the police 1.3 million French people demonstrated against Le Pen and the FN. The actual figure must have been much higher. Some commentators stated that the demonstrations were the biggest since May 1968.

It was the popular joint government led by the SP and including the CP and the bourgeois Greens that prepared the way for Le Pen’s electoral gains. Jospin’s government in the last weeks before the election continued with privatisations, selling stakes in Renault, Thomson Multimedia and all of Autoroutes du Sud de la France (motorways in the South of France). This last sale was carried out under a Communist Transport Minister!

During the elction campaign voters with their experience of what took place under Jospin’s government would have realised that there was not much difference between Chirac and Jospin.

Chirac’s victory in the run-off on May 5 was a foregone conclusion. The broad spectrum of support from the Gaullist far right to the far left in defence of the republic and "Republican Values" ensured that, despite Chirac being widely despised as corrupt.

‘The Financial Times’ called the popular slogan "better a crook than a fascist" the "defining sentiment" of the second round campaign.

However the 82% of the vote that Chirac garnered, the widest winning margin in the 44-year history of France’s 44-year 5th Republic will only lead to even more severe repression against workers and all the oppressed.

Already Chirac has dramatically expanded subway "identify checks" of blacks and North Africans (Maghrebins) and has moved to reinforce police squads by 40% in the Paris subway system. He is also shutting down the Sangatte camp for asylum-seekers rear the English channel. Racist themes of ‘crime’ and ‘security’ dominated the presidential elections and this is Chirac’s response to the 82% of the vote in the run-off.

The Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire (LCR) rallied support to vote Chirac and save the Republic, which was impossible for a genuine Trotskyist organization. The LCR is the French section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. After calling for support to Chirac, the LCR is now engaged in entering a class-collaborationist coalition for the parliamentary elections scheduled for this month (June) called the "United Left" led by the Socialist Party.

The other large Trotskyist organization Lutte Ouvriere (LO) which resisted the presume to call for a vote to Chirac — for which it was reviled, hissed and booed — could be well positioned to make gains in the parliamentary elections.

LO’s main emphasis going into the second round was to appeal to workers who had voted for Le Pen on the first round not to do so again.

The electoral gains of Le Pen who once called the Holocaust a "detail" of history will give encouragement to his organization and followers. But there is no immediate danger of fascism in France. In the course of the year 1931 Hitler’s stormtroops had gone from 100,000 to 400,000. There is no such thing in France today.

The danger of fascism looms large when capitalism in France is in crisis and the ruling class is in an impasse. If Le Pan’s organization and strength grow the capitalists will oppose him passively. But if the traditional right wing makes common cause with him, the situation will be dangerous.

To stop Le Pen, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire should break from coalition politics and together with the Lutte Ouvriere struggle to build a fighting unity of the French left to bring the workers under the influence of the weakened Socialist Party and the C.P. and other workers’ organisations to a United Front against Le Pen and the capitalist order.