Socialist Worker

Socialists from France speak out

Socialist Worker spoke to DANIEL BENSAID, a leading member of the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League) and to ALEXANDRE GAUDILLIÈRE from Socialist Worker's French sister paper L'Etincelle (the Spark).

Issue No. 1798

The first questions were put to Daniel Bensaid:

WHAT DOES the result mean?

THE TRADITIONAL government parties only got a third of the votes, while a third of people abstained, 20 percent voted for the extreme right and 10 percent for the revolutionary left.

It is a crushing blow to the neo-liberal policies pursued for 20 years by governments of both the traditional right and the establishment 'left'. Workers remembered the privatisations, sackings, and attacks on social security and welfare. And the recent Barcelona European summit paved the way for the privatisation of electricity and attacks on pensions.

All this has led to a perceptible growth in popular discontent since 1995, a fact confirmed by previous elections-European, council and regional. It has also been expressed in a profound crisis in the institutions of the Fifth Republic (the French political system of recent decades).

HOW SERIOUS is the threat from Le Pen?

WHEN 20 percent of voters back an openly racist and reactionary candidate it is obviously worrying, and is a serious warning. That said, one shouldn't panic and use analogies with the 1930s.

Their success in the first round could perhaps give a boost to the National Front. We will see in the second round and in the parliamentary elections in June.

But for the moment the far right has maintained its 1995 vote. It is the traditional right and traditional left that have collapsed. Le Pen's campaign was also very different to his previous electoral campaigns. And at the moment he does not have the support of a significant, or even marginal, section of the capitalist class.

Alongside the growth of Le Pen there is a danger linked to the uncertainty of the response which the left will be capable of giving. A 'front of fear' based on a moral anti-fascism without any social content will not lead to winning back the popular electorate. Transforming the second round of the presidential election into a plebiscite for Chirac isn't going to clarify matters either.

SOME HAVE argued that the far left is to blame for Le Pen getting into the second round by taking votes from Jospin.

THE LEFT? Which left? There are at least two of them-the 'plural left' which has governed for five years, and the revolutionary left which defines itself as a left opposition to neo-liberalism.

If division on the left was responsible for the defeat of Jospin in the first round, it was the division of the parties of the governing left. You can't attack the left opposition to the government for defending its programme in a two-round election, unless you want to institute a system with just two parties, one on the right and one on the left!

On the contrary, clear headed democrats ought to be pleased that there was a left opposition without which the popular vote in favour of Le Pen could have been even greater.

HOW SIGNIFICANT was the vote for the far left?

VERY SIGNIFICANT. It confirms a growing tendency since 1995 and it really underlines the bankruptcy of the Communist Party.

Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Fight) refused to have a joint candidate with us. Olivier Besancenot was the candidate for the LCR. His campaign has changed things on the revolutionary left, even though he was practically unknown just a few weeks before the election. His campaign reflected much better than LO's the radicalisation among young people, and the movements against the war and globalisation. It represents the future.

IN BRITAIN New Labour politicians argue that mainstream parties must be tougher on crime and immigration to undermine Le Pen.

QUITE THE opposite. Chirac and Jospin moved onto Le Pen's ground by responding to the feeling of insecurity with a barrage of talk of 'security' and repressive measures. Insecurity is above all insecurity about the future, insecurity about jobs, health and housing.

You can't respond to popular worries by joining in the scapegoating of immigrants, but only with firm policies of social justice. And you should remember that if the promises made by the Socialist Party president François Mitterrand in 1981 to give immigrant workers the right to vote had been kept then the results last Sunday could have been very different.

WHAT ARE the tasks of the left in France now in the light of the movement against Le Pen?

CERTAINLY NOT to oppose him with a front of all the mainstream parties, but rather to oppose him by winning back popular confidence. That means, of course, mobilisation against Le Pen, in the street and at the ballot box.

But that mobilisation has to be founded on a programme for a different Europe, for a social policy opposed to that of the French employers' organisation, for a different type of globalisation, and against war. Otherwise Le Pen will be reinforced in the role he wants-standing alone against the establishment. The election results mean there is an urgent need for a real left, for a 'left of the left', a red and revolutionary left.

The LCR is ready to face that responsibility. We hope that Lutte Ouvri?re, activists in the Communist Party, the Greens and people in the social movements will do the same.

These questions were put to Alexandre Gaudillière:

WHAT HAS the reaction to the election result been?

STRAIGHT AFTER the results tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the middle of the night. There were 30,000 in Paris and thousands in the main towns.

The main slogan was 'N for Nazi! F for Fascist! Down with the National Front!' The day after, thousands of school students struck against the National Front, and on Thursday several universities voted to strike against the FN. In many neighbourhoods anti-fascist collectives are beginning to be set up, and many old anti National Front networks are reactivating. Many are now presenting the second round of the election on 5 May as a referendum for or against democracy, and are backing Chirac.

But the traditional right is now condemning anti-fascist demos and, significantly, hundreds chanted in the demonstrations of the first evening 'Le Pen out! Chirac to jail!' The trade unions issued a call to demonstrate on 1 May against the National Front and for workers' demands. And the National Front wants to demonstrate the same day, so it will be a real focus for opposition.

WHAT HAS been the character of the protests against Le Pen?

MOST OF the demonstrators are under 25 years old, and the demonstrations are full of energy and confidence. There is a very high level of political competition between the lead given by those who stop at beating Le Pen on 5 May, and those who demonstrate not only against fascism but capitalism as well.

For example, some people want to limit slogans to 'Citizens! You have to go and vote!' Many others want to go further, to sit down and blockade the roads.

WHAT DOES the left need to do in the coming days and weeks?

FIRST OF all it needs to be on the streets. Remember that for more than three years, since the big anti-Nazi protests of 1997 and 1998, fascist organisations were knocked back in France and they kept their heads down.

They now have an opportunity to regain their confidence. They must not be allowed that possibility. It means they must be stopped from appearing-their posters must be destroyed. The movement has the numbers and the power to do that. We have to make it clear that Le Pen is a Nazi, and not the candidate of poor people as he tries to present himself.

Finally, we won't destroy rats without destroying the sewage they breed in. The anti-capitalist movement-those who were inspired by the demonstrations in Seattle, Genoa and so on-is a central force in the movement against the National Front today.

It is also the basis on which we need to build an alternative to this rotten system. In the election three million people voted for revolutionary socialists. That shows it is possible, and even more urgent, to build a strong revolutionary socialist organisation to push this fight forward.

Backing the far left

OLIVIER Besancenot of the LCR got 1.2 million votes, 4.32 percent of the vote, in the election. Arlette Laguiller, the candidate for Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Fight) got 1.6 million votes, 5.82 percent.

Among people under 25 years old Olivier Besancenot got 13.9 percent of the vote, beating both Lionel Jospin and Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 4 May 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1798
Share this article



Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.