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Issue 55, April 2001

Problems for Jospin

FRANCE'S LEFT coalition government (the 'gauche plurielle', led by the Parti Socialiste - PS - and involving the 'Communists', Greens and smaller left-wing groups) faces a unique political situation.

The conservative parties achieved overall election success while losing the two biggest cities, Paris and Lyon, to the gauche plurielle. These divided parties need to reunite if they are to pose a real danger to the government. That is unlikely in the short term, as the bitter quarrels between Philippe Séguin and Jean Tiberi illustrate. The similarity between conservative and gauche plurielle policies resulted in right-wing candidates generally retaining their seats, and winning or coming close in areas where they are the opposition. Between the first and second rounds, the right saw a significant mobilisation of its electorate.

Voters differentiated between gauche plurielle in general and the government in particular. The more visible ministers up for election were generally hit hard. Jack Lang's defeat in Blois is symptomatic - his vote fell by 10% as compared with 1995. The 52.5% abstention rate in Lille, Martine Aubry's base, is another manifestation of that.

The elections also exposed a thinning activist layer, exacerbated by internal disputes. This was typified by the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) losing Evreux, where the mayor no longer has the party behind him after a number of purges. Gauche plurielle lost these elections because the effects of its neo-liberal policies on the working class, unemployed and young people. That is even more pronounced with the PCF.


To its left, the gauche plurielle has had some difficulties. Green candidates played the role of opposition lists to the government, 'constructive opposition', of course. The Greens at times found themselves in the second round, often as a result of abstentions. The PCF continues to lose towns and proves incapable of regaining those it had lost before: Amiens and Le Havre stayed on the right; Drancy and Montluçon were won by the right. It is a sign that the whole PCF apparatus is collapsing. The PCF has lost control of its large cities and more and more of its traditional strongholds.

Although the PCF decline continues, its role in the coalition is not in question because it is still influential in trade union federations, especially CGT and FSU. Having accepted a compromise agreement with the rest of the gauche plurielle, however, the PCF seems to have lost sight of any perspective outside government participation. The frustration of the activists can only increase. PCF leader, Robert Hue, is set to accelerate 'the change': launching the Nouveau Parti Communiste at the end of October.

Bursting onto the scene was a significant electoral expression by the 'social movement'. The Motivé-e-s list in Toulouse, an electoral list of young people, 'The Motivated', based on a group of anti-establishment musicians, is in the spotlight after gaining 12% of the vote. But there are many towns which had lists, often created around specific issues: nurses in Rouen, Motivé-e-s in Rennes, for example. These expressed the growing lack of political representation for sections who consider themselves thinking people, and who want to push existing politics towards the left.


It is not yet a definite attempt at alternative politics, or a particularly harsh criticism of the government, but more one of making it known that they are monitoring the situation. This is the attitude of many of the anti-globalisation movements, like ATTAC. At the same time, they will quickly reach crisis points given that councils do not have much room to manoeuvre. The often significant impact of lists like Motivé-e-s is a sign that the space to the left of gauche plurielle is getting bigger. Because of the lack of a real political alternative, and the lack of a coherent movement fighting government policies, this phenomenon will increase.

Motivé-e-s received much media attention and mobilised people for important debates - for example, on tactics for the second round, even though it unfortunately decided to support gauche plurielle. On the other hand, by not actively campaigning against the government, and by not breaking with capitalism, this type of list will reach its limits when the demands of young people, workers and the unemployed directly conflict with gauche plurielle policies.

The Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) vote stabilised at a fairly high level with some impressive scores, up to 19.44% in Liévin for LO (with 43% abstentions). The radical vote is continuing to grow. The vote was even better in gauche plurielle heartlands, with voters registering their dissatisfaction with gauche plurielle and attempting to put strong leftward pressure on PCF or PS councils, without necessarily wanting to break away.


It remains to be seen how the left-wing local councillors use the support they have received. Bulletins, resolutions and council protests, on issues such as public services, should be the way of developing active campaigns in these towns. Unfortunately, LO's regional councillors have set a sad example. They hardly do any more than record the decisions of the council and never organise campaigns or action using their council positions.

Adding the LO and LCR totals shows that in practically all cases the 5% mark was easily passed. But the numbers elected were reduced. The main reasons there was no alliance between LO and LCR were over disagreements on opening up the lists, and the question of second-round tactics. Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI/CIO France) took part in the lists put together by LCR in Amiens, Rouen and Nanterre.

On a national scale, a LO/LCR alliance would have been a clearer step towards a political alternative to gauche plurielle. It is possible that Arlette Laguiller (LO) will stand in the presidential elections in 2002, backed by the LCR. The two parties are currently discussing this proposition and it could have a big impact. The LCR is being pulled in two directions: by a current which thinks that talks with LO are blocking other opportunities; and another which wants to build a political alternative around an LO/LCR alliance.

These elections saw the strongest ever abstention rate for council elections, 32.7%, on top of which should be added the millions not registered. Abstention was very strong in working-class areas. That shows the growing distrust vis-à-vis the institutions and politicians. But it is also a sign that this distrust has not found an expression except in the refusal to participate.


The far-right saw its decline stop, although they had fewer candidates, and the vote was about 5% down on 1995. In the North and South-East, the far-right held up well, while it collapsed in Paris and Toulon. In its victory in Orange, the mayor, Bompard, did not draw attention to his membership of the far right.

There was a small movement towards criticism of the government and the capitalist system but, not yet - far from it - a significant upsurge for socialism. It has not been fully accepted by the majority of workers that the government betrays their interests from A to Z. It is necessary to counterpose to that a broader position, allowing those who want to create an alternative to the gauche plurielle, to get on with it. The LCR's latest statement recognises that it and LO have a particular responsibility towards that goal. It should not only be for the next elections. An alliance of those forces and individuals in opposition to the government's politics, putting forward the perspective of fighting against capitalism and for socialism, could be realised. Around the defence of pensions, regaining public services, education, health, fighting redundancies, and so on, united struggles are possible.

Alex Rouillard

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