The radical left in Europe has reasons to be cheerful. That was certainly the message from a 1,000 strong rally held in Paris’s Left Bank on Friday of last week organised by the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR).
The LCR’s Olivier Bescancenot, who polled over 4 percent in last year’s French presidential elections, joined veterans of 1968 Alain Krivine and Daniel Bensaid, and speakers from Poland, Italy and Portugal.
Besancenot argued that the left in France needs to fight for a 400 euro (£300) increase in the minimum wage for everyone earning less than 2,000 euros per month – up to 85 percent of the population.
The money could be found by cancelling “subsidies to big companies and fiscal gifts to the rich”, which he says amount to 165 billion euros.
His full-on attacks on neoliberalism and Nicolas Sarkozy’s right wing government have seen Besancenot’s popularity soar. He appeared last month on the French equivalent of This Is Your Life attracting huge attention and winning admiration.
Even the right wing Le Figaro newspaper said, “Behind his youthful appearance and his eternally relaxed manner, Olivier Besancenot is not a soft character, nor is he a man of compromise.”
The LCR has taken the initiative in launching an appeal for a new anti-capitalist party in France. This aims to link together those who have so far successfully resisted Sarkozy’s attempt to attack pensions, jobs and the right to strike, and those who united three years ago in the campaign which defeated the proposed European constitution.
The once powerful French Communist Party is in terminal decline and the Socialist Party, similar to Britain’s Labour Party, has embraced free market policies and created an opening on the left.
The appeal for the new party has attracted growing support, with over 8,000 people signing up – nearly three times the LCR’s membership, which has doubled since Besancenot first stood in the presidential elections of 2002.
The Friday rally was followed by a two day conference of radical left parties from 16 European countries to explore the possibility of creating a European alliance. The LCR and the Italian Sinistra Critica were keen on pushing for a cross-Europe alliance to contest the 2008 European elections.
Discussion about the participation of organisations elsewhere in Europe will continue but meanwhile it was agreed to forge ahead with common actions.
One is to work towards a joint presence at the summit being held in the French city of Strasbourg and across the Rhine in the German city of Kehl to “celebrate” the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Nato military alliance next year.
A major conference takes place in Germany this week to launch a campaign against the Nato presence in Afghanistan. That can provide a springboard for the Strasbourg-Kehl mobilisation.
Representatives from the Polish Labour Party reported on the growing campaign there and in the Czech Republic against US missile defence bases.
The radical left conference in Paris highlighted war, climate change and the defence of migrant rights as campaigning priorities.
Reports of the increasing racist attacks in Italy led to contributions from a number of countries indicating that immigration and crime were the two issues benefiting the right.
The experience of centre left governments such as that of Romano Prodi in Italy, which put the need to balance the budget ahead of its supporters’ interests, allowed the right to scapegoat migrants. The centre left is then unable to withstand the growth of xenophobia.
In contrast, the reports from Greece, Germany and France showed a radical left which is growing and is rooted in the growing resistance to the free market agenda. There was recognition that the organisations represented at the conference have to be an integral part of the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements and that they have to work with other forces on the left, such as the German Left Party.
There will be a further conference in the autumn but people left the Paris gathering feeling something had been achieved in providing a platform for the construction of a pan-European anti-capitalist left.