France - A revolutionary communist slate in the June euro- election

Mar 1999

Next June's euro-election will be a national test for Jospin's Socialist Party-led government in France, after two years in office - just as it will be for Blair in Britain. But neither in France nor in Britain will Europe be an issue in this election, except maybe for rival factions within the French right-wing and British Tory parties. Nor, of course, will this election's outcome result in any change of policy in Europe - if only because the European Parliament has even less power than the Commons, since all its decisions must be ratified by the European Commission, that is by all European governments.

For working class people, who have been at the receiving end of the pro-business policies of both governments, the real issues of the day are the catastrophic consequences of these policies in terms of living conditions and, above all, unemployment. Using this election to raise these issues and express their anger and determination to see real change would be at least a way of putting their ballot papers to good use - that is provided they can vote for candidates who offer the possibility of expressing this.

Such is the objective of the joint slate which has been announced in France by two Trotskyist groups - LO (Workers' Fight, the French group of our international tendency) and the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League, French section of the United Secretariat of the IVth International). This will be a national slate since, unlike in Britain, the French ballot is held on proportional representation on a national scale, with a required minimum score of 5% to participate in the allocation of seats. The LO-LCR slate will be led by Arlette Laguiller and Alain Krivine, the spokespersons of the two organisations, and the rest of the list will be made of 43 members of LO and 42 members of the LCR.

The two organisations have been standing candidates in elections for nearly three decades - separately in most cases and jointly on three occasions. So this joint slate is not, in and of itself, a new development. What is relatively new is the growth of the far-left vote in France over the past few years and the political context in which this is taking place.

It must be recalled that in the 1995 presidential election, LO's candidate Arlette Laguiller won 1.6m votes (5.3%), more or less double LO's share of the vote in previous elections. Subsequently, in the 1998 regional election, LO's 68 regional slates (out of 95 regional constituencies) won 782,000 votes (or 4.5% in average), while the LCR's 18 slates won 137,000 votes (or 2.5% in average). In other words, taking into account the fact that these slates were in the areas most favourable to the far-left, the 1998 result was comparable to that of 1995.

Of course, the scale of electoral support for the far-left opens the possibility for revolutionaries to win seats (LO won 20 seats in the regional election). But although having elected representatives may be of political and militant value for the organisations concerned, it is not decisive in the present context because it cannot make up for the fact that LO and the LCR have little real influence in the working class and the class struggle - they are small organisations, not revolutionary parties.

On the other hand, the fact that the far-left vote has become large enough to be visible, so to speak, allows the message it conveys to have a significant impact in the ranks of the working class itself. The present context in France - as it is in Britain - is one of disillusion and demoralisation. Many working class activists are tempted to give up, or already have given up fighting and many workers are increasingly despondent about any kind of politics, because they have been betrayed so cynically by the left-wing parties which claimed to represent them. In such a context, a sizeable vote for candidates who are not afraid to say that they are communists standing on a class basis, and for a programme which provides clear objectives for a counter-offensive of the working class, could have a decisive impact in boosting the morale of a section of activists and rank-and-file workers.

For many years, LO has argued, against most of the left, including the LCR, that to achieve this result, revolutionaries needed to be up front about their ideas and what they stood for. LO's approach has been not to seek gimmicks designed to "broaden" their appeal, by watering down their ideas. They have refused to shift their focus to so-called "new" issues, which may be important in some petty-bourgeois quarters, but are marginal to ordinary workers who are confronted with the social catastrophe generated by unemployment and the bosses' offensive. Nor has LO chosen to campaign on abstract ideas which would have been at best irrelevant to working class voters. On the contrary, went LO's argument, the primary reason for revolutionaries to stand in elections is to reinforce the working class by acting as a mouthpiece for its class interests (and being the only protagonist to do so) - but certainly not to win votes for the sake of it (which is at best a delusion anyway) or to use the election merely as a propaganda platform. And this is what this joint LO-LCR slate is about.

In the following pages we publish three documents. The first two documents were adopted by LO's national conference at the end of 1998. They outline LO's analysis of the political situation in France and their policy in the euro-election. The third document is the translation of the joint election address agreed by LO and the LCR.