In just two years president Francois Hollande has gone from being the new hope of European social democracy to its cautionary tale.
Meanwhile, what was until recently one of Europe’s most militant workers’ movements has gone quiet. Hopes of a resurgent radical left have faded, while Marine Le Pen’s fascist Front National goes from strength to strength.
And it could easily happen here.
Hollande always pledged to eliminate the deficit—just as Ed Miliband has promised to match Tory spending plans. But with a continuing capitalist crisis, that meant cuts would always be the botton line.
Faced with massive protests against gay marriage, Hollande also gutted proposed LGBT equality laws. His government has continued the persecution of Muslims and Roma people demanded by the racist right.
But far from winning the votes of racists and homophobes, Hollande has emboldened them to demand more. It’s a chilling glimpse of where Miliband’s strategy of constantly chasing Ukip’s attacks on migrants and welfare could lead.
Capitulating to poisonous arguments such as these only strengthens the right and weakens the working class, laying the ground for disaster later on.
Socialists don’t decide Labour policy. But our struggles can force it to make concessions, as the anti bedroom tax campaign has.
So what can we do to face the challenges that a “Francois Miliband” government would bring?
One of the biggest arguments on the French left concerns how much one can oppose a Labour-type government when it faces much stronger opposition from the right.
The Communist Party in particular has stood with Hollande’s Socialist Party in elections. This meant voters punished the CP along with the government.
It also meant there were fewer alternatives on the ballot papers. The choice was between the main parties’ austerity and the fascist politics of division and despair.
Many had hoped the radical left Front de Gauche would become that alternative. But the tensions are fueling an internal crisis.
Even those to the left of the Communist Party who were prepared to stand against the government have been under pressure to avoid embarrassing it.
This meant union leaders and prominent leftists abstained when workers protesting against job cuts and hauliers protesting against a new tax joined forces in Brittany last year.
The Front de Gauche helped the government defend its policy, denouncing the workers as “slaves protesting for the rights of their masters”.
There were certainly arguments to be had on the protests. But abstaining gives the right a free pass to pose as the option for people opposing the government.
It shows that the left cannot always choose its battles.
Wherever the right advances it must be challenged. When faced with a storm of racism or homophobia, the answer isn’t to try and change the subject.
This is sometimes a matter of politics. Even on the revolutionary left there are arguments about Islamophobia and how to fight the Front National.
But what’s really been lacking is a well rooted revolutionary organisation—one that arms militants in every workplace and makes the arguments that link the fights together.
If we are to avoid a France-like situation in Britain, it is precisely such an organisation that we need to build.
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