Mass Demonstrations in France were Key to Defeating Far-Right Candidate


On the evening of May 5, following the second round in the French presidential elections, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, the French sister organization of Socialist Action, declared that a “huge popular mobilization” had barred the way to any further advance for the ultraright proto-fascist National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Despite the fact that Le Pen remained the only candidate still running against Jacques Chirac, the incumbent president and a dreary parliamentary rightist politician discredited by multiple scandals, the National Front leader managed to gain only one percent over his first round score of 17 percent.

The threat of gains for Le Pen apparently sparked a larger vote in the second round, in which the abstention rate declined from 26 to 20 percent. The fact that the ultraright demagogue had edged out the Socialist Party candidate in the first round sent a shock wave throughout France-and in fact throughout Europe.

In the two weeks between the first-round vote on April 21 and the second-round vote on May 5, this shock wave brought up to 2 million people into the streets throughout France to declare their opposition to Le Pen and what he represents.

In Paris alone on May Day, an anti-Le Pen demonstration rallied close to a million people, the largest mass march since since the revolutionary upsurge of May-June 1968 at least.

In its May 2 issue, Rouge, the weekly newspaper of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, stressed the leading role of young people in the protests. According to some estimates, one fourth of voters under the age of 25 cast their ballots for Olivier Besancenot, the 28-year-old candidate of the LCR, on April 21.

The results for the first round, cited in the April 22 statement of the Political Bureau of the LCR, are as follows:

Chirac 19.88%

Le Pen 16.86%

Jospin (Socialist Party) 16.18%

Bayrou (UDF, liberal Gaullist) 6.84%

Laguiller (Lutte Ouvriere, Trotskyist) 5.72%

Chevènement (nationalist left Social Democrat) 5.33%

Mamère (Greens) 5.25%

Besancenot (LCR, Trotskyist) 4.25%

St Josse (hunting and shooting party) 4.23%

Madelin (right wing) 3.91%

Hue (Communist Party) 3.37%

Mégret (far right) 2.34%

Taubira (Parti Radical de Gauche, woman from Guyane) 2.32%

Lepage (right-wing ecologist) 1.88%

Boutin (right-wing pro-family) 1.19%

Gluckstein (Parti des Travailleurs, Trotskyist) 0.47%

These results reflected a virtual meltdown of the long standing parliamentary political pattern in France.

The candidates of the revolutionary left, the three well-known Trotskyist parties, together got almost 11 percent of the vote, two thirds the total for the main reformist party, the Socialist Party, and almost three times the vote of the Communist Party-which was still the majority party of the French working class at the time of the May-June 1968 upsurge.

The Communist Party has been in and out of the SP governments that have been in power most of the time since 1981. But at the time of the elections it was in the ruling coalition, the so-called Pluralistic Left.

Thus, the parties that have claimed to represent the workers but actually carried out the program of the bosses got a resounding kick in the pants from working-class and young voters. It was made clear to them in no uncertain terms that they cannot continue their double game with impunity. The reformist parties are now in turmoil.

The April 21 election results and the mass demonstrations against Le Pen that followed them indicate a social and political crisis in France, in which the stakes are now very high. The LCR leadership responded to them by offering another Trotskyist group, Lutte Ouvriere, a pact for the upcoming legislative elections, in order to try to maximize the revolutionary vote and begin to build a credible general revolutionary alternative.

The statement of the LCR leadership following the second round said:

“This is not a plebiscite for Chirac’s anti-social, law and order policies. Starting this evening we must prepare a massive mobilization against the proposals of the right and the bosses’ organization, the MEDEF. We cannot rely for this on the forces of the ‘pluralist left’ whose governmental policies led us to this calamitous situation.

“Only a radical left with a social action program can offer a perspective of social transformation in opposition to the plans of the right and [through] making a balance sheet of the five years of the ‘pluralist left’ in government. This is also the only alternative which could put a definitive stop to the rise of the far right. Candidates defending these positions will be standing everywhere during the parliamentary elections in June.”

Many left voters undoubtedly voted for Chirac in the second round to block Le Pen, under the impact of the shock of his breakthrough in the first round. An April 22 statement of the LCR Political Bureau explained that this was a misguided reaction:

“We understand those people who vote for Chirac to oppose Le Pen, but we do not think that Jacques Chirac can be a barrier to this new rise of the far right. To the contrary, he is one of those responsible for it. And as soon as he is elected he will certainly take measures against the wage earners, the youth, and the immigrants.”

Unfortunately, a later initial meeting of the Central Committee-the broader LCR leadership body-momentarily yielded to the pressure caused by the shock of Le Pen’s electoral breakthrough when it took a position, flawed in principle, in favor of a vote for Chirac to block the proto-fascist candidate.

However, the May 5 Political Bureau statement indicates that the LCR leadership has not forgotten the lessons of the antifascist struggle of the 1930s, in which German liberals and reformists voted for von Hindenburg against Hitler, only to see the former eventually hand over power to the latter. These lessons are part of the fundamental heritage of the Fourth International.

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