The Socialist Unity Network

Congratulations to the French left

Andy Newman, who is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive

french elections


In the first round of the recent French regional elections the far left alliance between the Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) has secured a remarkable 4.96%, ( 1,078,447 votes). In some areas votes of 7.5% were achieved.

    The full results are available on the LCR web-page: https://www.lcr-rouge.org/regionales2004/resultats.html

    The result is very creditable, especially as the two organisations only received around 3% in the 2002 parliamentary election. (Both results are down compared to the amazing 3 million votes they received in the presidential election earlier that year, but nevertheless the general trend is in the right direction). It is a remarkable and historic achievement that the far left are even playing in the same division as the Communist Party (PCF), which has been the traditional party of  French workers having significant links with the CGT union, (and is much less radical than its name suggests!)

    The alliance between LO and LCR illustrates that there are two complementary processes at work, which although intertwined are not necessarily identical.

    Firstly, the space is opening up across Europe for a credible electoral challenge to the establishment left parties. The exact form that this electoral challenge takes has varied from country to country, but the possibility exists to create broad anti-capitalist parties like Rifondazione Communista in Italy, or the Scottish Socialist Party, that can go beyond elections and also involve themselves in struggles and campaigns outside the electoral arena. These new broad parties are wider and more inclusive than the Marxist left. Indeed although the early promise of the Socialist Alliance was not realised, some key activists involved in building the SA have come from a social democratic background (the Labour left).

    Secondly, there is a process of realignment between the groups of the revolutionary left. There is recognition that none of the traditions of the far left have been uniquely virtuous and we can all learn from one another. Again the French experience is positive. Last year LO were not prepared to put forward a joint slate with the LCR, despite the fact that they had done so in 1999, successfully winning seats in the European parliament. This year an alliance was achieved. This is quite an achievement as the culture and outlook of LO and LCR are quite different and working together must require compromise and patience on both sides.

    The LCR issued a useful appeal in November 2003, calling for a regroupment of the anti-capitalist left. A "project addressed to all those looking for a political alternative in the interests of working people" ... "both to develop struggles and mobilisations, but also to build a new broad, pluralist political force, radically anti-capitalist and resolutely democratic". There has been some sharp criticism on the e-mail lists of the role their British cousins, the International Socialist Group (ISG), have played around the launching of RESPECT. This criticism is by and large very unhelpful, as even opponents of RESPECT should recognise that the ISG are acting in good faith.

    Of course the situation in England is very different from in France. RESPECT may have the potential to become a broad and democratic anti-capitalist party. However we must recognise that many activists are not yet convinced of this. This will largely, but not entirely be decided by how well RESPECT does in the Euro and GLA elections on 10th June. Another important factor is the degree to which RESPECT develops as an inclusive and democratic organisation whose members have genuine influence over policy.

    It is interesting to see what lessons the SWP are drawing from the French elections in an article by Alex Callinicos in Socialist Worker, 3rd April (https://www.socialistworker.co.uk/1895/sw189506.htm ).

    The first thing to note is that Callinicos believes the results for the French left are poor, indeed he says "There but for the grace of God go us" However, in reality if RESPECT gets 4.96% across England that would be an amazing achievement and it would silence many of the doubters.

    Callinicos identifies two problems with the French left's campaign:

      i)      underestimating the loyalty of workers to their traditional parties
      ii)     ducking the big political issues

    He argues that the LO/LCR failure to call for a Socialist Party (New Labour) vote in the second round of these elections will have alienated them from many traditional left voters. Indeed Socialist Worker is calling for a second preference vote for Livingstone in the London mayoral elections. But most voters don't live in London, and certainly most of them don't read Socialist Worker! As far as I know this is the SWP's policy not that of RESPECT as a whole - it is not for instance mentioned on the new London wide RESPECT leaflet published on 1st April. Elsewhere I have been unable to find any RESPECT literature distinguishing between Labour and the Tories. It will be interesting to see how RESPECT's policy evolves on this, particularly as many of the non-SWP activists in the Stop the War Coalition are profoundly anti-Labour.

    The second point raised by Callinicos is that the LO/LCR campaign ducked the big issues. Which big issues? Bizarrely, he argues that the LO/LCR list will have lost votes by failing to defend Moslem girls wearing a headscarf in schools. The French left are wrong not to have defended the right of women to choose for themselves what to wear, but this mistake is one of principle: and principles don't always help you at the polls! RESPECT will be standing for election on planet Earth where racism is a vote winner.

    Overall the article gives the impression that Callinicos is getting cold feet. Most class conscious workers who vote will put a cross next to Labour in June: not RESPECT, not Socialist, but New Labour. We will not change that in 2 months. So if we are not standing in the immediate expectation of defeating Labour we should be using the electoral platform to get as much of our politics across as we can. We do indeed need to take up the big issues, but many activists feel the founding convention of RESPECT went in the opposite direction.



April 2004

Other articles
John Mullen
on this site

Raymond Debord
in Le Militant
(article in English)

  Andrew Coates
on the Movements for Socialism site
  Alex Callinicos
in Socialist Worker
  Peter Manson
in Weekly Worker