France: The Rise of the Left Front

a new force on the Left – Published on The Bullet, by Murray Smith*, August 22, 2012.

The Left Front (Front de Gauche) emerged onto the political scene at the beginning of 2009. As the Left Front to Change Europe, it was established by three organizations – the French Communist Party (PCF), the Left Party (Parti de Gauche, PG) and the Unitary Left (Gauche Unitaire, GU) – with the aim of standing in the European elections of June 2009. (The Workers’ Communist Party of France and other smaller political movements joined the party during the 2010 regional elections).  

These three organizations were not of anything like equal weight. The Communist Party, though much weakened over the previous 25 years, was nevertheless still a mass party with well over 100,000 members and thousands of elected representatives at every level. More than that, it was an inseparable part of the history of the French workers’ movement, which it had largely contributed to defining. The Left Party was a recent split from the Socialist Party, numbering at the time at most 2000 members. The Unitary Left was even smaller, having left the newly formed New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) just after its founding congress.

More important than numbers, however, were what the three organizations represented politically. In addition to being a mass party, the PCF represented the international current that had for decades been linked to the Soviet regime, though it began to take its distance from Moscow in the 1960s and has now pretty thoroughly settled its accounts with Stalinism. The Left Party came from the tradition of French social democracy, its principal leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, having spent more than 30 years in the Socialist Party and the founding core of activists came from that party. The Unitary Left has its origins in one of the three main Trotskyist organizations in France, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR). Never a mass force, the Trotskyist movement, and the LCR in particular, nevertheless had considerable political influence, especially after May-June 1968. So the Left Front brought together from the beginning political forces of different origins.

Prehistory: … //

… Melenchon:

  • Melenchon, after a brief spell with the Trotskyist OCI in the 1970s, had spent the rest of his political activity in the Socialist Party, in a series of left currents. But after 2002 he began to reconsider his political perspectives. In 2004, he and his supporters took a step that was already putting one foot outside the party. They formed “For a Social Republic” (PRS). This was not an internal current of the PS but a political association or club that intervened both within and outside the Socialist Party and recruited some people who were not members of the PS. There followed the decision to take part in the unitary campaign over the European constitutional treaty. In the movement of committees that tried to find a joint candidate for 2007 Melenchon was present, but was not taken too seriously because he was still in the Socialist Party, though the idea of himself as a unity candidate was floated at one point.
  • Melenchon was looking for a way out of the Socialist Party, but lacked a credible perspective. The turning point was the evolution of the PCF. In the run-up to its 34th congress in December 2008 there was discussion as to how to formulate the party’s willingness to open up to other forces on the left. The initial draft spoke of forming “fronts on the left with personalities.” Later, and after discussion with PRS, the words “and organizations” were added. For Melenchon that was important. That meant that the PCF was ready to ally with the party he intended to create, not just to put some ex-Socialist Party members on its lists as individuals. On the PCF side, it needed to be sure that Melenchon would actually break with the PS, and apparently doubted it until the last minute.
  • Melenchon announced his departure from the Socialist Party on November 6, 2008. He left the PS with essentially the forces of PRS (though some refused to leave), plus the deputy Marc Dolez and a few supporters. But the PRS members were largely experienced political cadres. The rapid creation of the Left Party was criticized by some who thought Melenchon should have taken time to discuss with and regroup broader forces.
  • But the decision was probably right. The fact that a new political force existed acted as a force of attraction, for existing Socialist Party members and former members, for former supporters of Jean-Pierre Chevenement and for people who had never been in the Socialist Party. The party grew quite rapidly to around 2000 members. A significant addition to the party came a year later with the entry of Greens deputy Martine Billard and her supporters. This reinforced and made more credible the ecological dimension of the Left Party.

UNIR current forms Unitary Left: … //

… Where Next?

  • Where does the Left Front go from here? It is faced with a number of challenges. First of all, there are no more elections until 2014. It will therefore have to act and build its forces and support through extra-parliamentary mobilizations. The circumstances in which it will have to do this are those of a left government with a solid majority in the National Assembly (less solid in the Senate, where it depends on the Left Front). Obviously no one expects Francois Hollande to conduct an anti-capitalist policy. He wasn’t elected to do that. But he was elected to break with Sarkozyism and take measures in favour of working people.
  • In fact he is trying to conduct a policy where there will be some austerity for working people but also to repeal or modify Sarkozy’s measures, raise taxes on the rich and seek to protect employment. He is much criticized for this, both by employers’ circles in France and internationally. So far he has sometimes wobbled; he has certainly not done enough, but not completely capitulated.
  • But he has capitulated on one thing. He has not succeeded in renegotiating the treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG) and he is nevertheless proposing to have it ratified by parliament in September 2012. In this he is not only going back on his electoral promise, he is making a stick for his own back. He is giving the European Commission the right to exert pressure on his budget. And that is important in a situation where Hollande and his government will be subject to all sorts of pressure from European institutions, from other national governments, from the markets to get into line, to carry out labour reforms, pension reforms and cuts in the public sector – the well-worn litany. Some people in the Socialist Party will relay this pressure, some will resist it.
  • How should the Left Front act now? Carefully. The odds are that as time passes, the Hollande government will gradually cede to the pressures and get into line, and the Left Front will have to oppose that. But announcing today that it will be a left opposition to Hollande, as some on the far left do, is not the answer. The danger in the present situation is that the Socialist Party government will disillusion and anger its supporters and the right will come back in 2017, as it did in 1986, 1993 and 2002. And it will be a very dangerous right wing, closer to the extreme right. The Left Front cannot necessarily stop the drift of the Socialist Party. But it can oppose it from the left and not just oppose but systematically present the outlines of a left alternative. That implies being lucid as to the Socialist Party’s limits, but ready to support any move in a left direction and only to move into sharp opposition as it becomes clearly (to many of those who voted for Hollande) necessary. Let us recall the figures already quoted: 30 per cent of those who voted for Hollande on April 22 hesitated about voting for Melenchon; 38 per cent of those who voted for Melenchon on April 22 voted Socialist Party on June 10.
  • That shows that there is a large body of opinion between the hard-core support of the Left Front and the Socialist Party, enough to shift the balance of forces on the left, one way or another. Indeed, within the PS itself there is a left current of about 22 deputies led by Benoit Hamon who may decide to vote against the fiscal pact, as did 23 SPD deputies with whom they are in contact. It would be unwise to have too many illusions there, but would be equally wrong to write them off in advance.
  • An indication of the tactical choices facing the Left Front is given by how it votes in parliament. When there was a vote of confidence in the Ayrault government, the choice was to abstain – no overall confidence, but not frontal opposition. As the government now presents a much revised (compared to the preceding government’s) budget for the remainder of 2012, particularly concerning taxes on companies and wealthy individuals, the Left Front parliamentarians are voting for it, while pointing to the contradiction of adopting the fiscal pact. When the pact comes before parliament, the vote will certainly be against.

Organization:

  • The other problem for the Left Front is how it will organize itself. The original three components have now grown to eight. They include the ex-Chevenementists of Republic and Socialism, the Federation for a Social and Ecological Alternative (FASE), and two currents from the NPA – Convergence and Alternative and the Anticapitalist Left. The first broke away after the regional elections and the 2011 NPA congress and involved mostly people already critical of the leadership. The second has only just joined the Left Front and involves about half of the leadership that led the process of dissolving the LCR and founding the NPA.
  • One challenge is to get all these components working harmoniously together. The other is what to do with the not inconsiderable number of people who support the Left Front and would join it individually if it were possible. That would be a step forward, but a big step. It is one thing to organize individual supporters during an election campaign, as was done. It is another to say that what began as a cartel of organizations will now have individual members. But calls for this are being made and it might happen.
  • Of course, the simplest thing would be for the Left Front to become a party. But that would be a huge step and it seems clear that most members of the PCF in particular are not ready for that. It might also be difficult to reconcile the different ways of functioning of the PCF and the Left Party. But things can evolve. Speaking of the process that is underway of transforming Greece’s SYRIZA coalition into a party, now supported by an overwhelming majority, party spokesperson Panos Skourletis remarked that “the crisis has changed all political parties, and things that would have once taken decades to achieve come to fruition much more quickly.” Let us hope it will not take decades for the Left Front to become a party, but if it happens, it will certainly take more than a few months.

Left Criticism: … //

… (full long text).

* (Murray Smith is a member of the anti-capitalist party Dei Lenk (The Left) in Luxembourg. This article first appeared on the
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
http://links.org.au/
website).

Links (in french):

Official website: Front de Gauche;

anpag.org;

Répondre à gauche;

Parti de Gauche;

Association Citoyenne Front de Gauche Hérault;

RÉPONSE DU FRONT DE GAUCHE À L’ASSOCIATION NATIONALE DES INDUSTRIES ALIMENTAIRES, le 10 avril 2012;

Association pour une gauche républicaine;

À gauche en Guyane;

Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique.

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