By Gerry Bates
As we go to press, Arlette Laguiller, candidate of the Trotskyist group Lutte Ouvriere (LO), looks like getting maybe five per cent of the poll, or one and a half million votes, in the first round of the French presidential election on 23 April.
If this happens, it will be probably the best score that revolutionary candidates have ever achieved in a modern European election — better than the two per cent (600,000-odd) which LO has usually got since Laguiller first stood for president in 1974, and much better than the 236,000 which Alain Krivine got in the 1969 presidential poll, soon after the great general strike of May-June 1968.
It will be a tremendous demonstration that grinding mass unemployment and the collapse of Stalinism have not extinguished revolutionary socialism: on the contrary, they have made it even more clearly the only way forward.
France’s trade unions, and its big left-wing parties, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, have decayed terribly over the 1980s and ‘90s. In the working class and among youth — as in Britain — there is a lot of anger, disgust, and alienation from official politics.
Laguiller’s campaign has evidently succeeded in giving shape and direction to some of that anger. It has been organised round a few simple bread-and-butter slogans: a general wage rise; open the books of the bosses; expropriate profitable firms which cut jobs; end state subsidies to the bosses, and instead build new hospitals, schools, etc.
A big revolutionary vote on 23 April will be encouraging, but its real value depends on using it to boost organisation. Unfortunately, the revolutionary left organisations are in a poor state.
The Workers’ Party (“Lambertists”) is abstaining in the presidential election. It denounces Laguiller as being just the same as the right-wing candidates, Chirac and Balladur — “nine candidates, only one policy”, says their headline. Despite the crazy sectarianism, this is a big group, with a paper membership similar to the SWP’s in Britain.
The other sizeable avowedly-Trotskyist group, the LCR, the leading force in the international network of which Ernest Mandel is the best-known figure, is in great disarray. It has been unable to recommend an electoral choice because its central committee had no majority for any option. The largest minority wanted to vote for Laguiller, but others backed Dominique Voynet of the Greens, Robert Hue of the Communist Party, or Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party. This is particularly dismaying because the whole political life of the LCR for some time had been focussed on fruitless politicking with various CP, SP, and Green splinter groups to get a joint presidential candidate.