France Faces Turmoil After New Alliance of Trotskyists
By John Lichfield
France faces a year of turbulent and possibly explosive politics after a tactical alliance was formed at the weekend between two parties of a resurgent far left. Mainstream parties will go into three important polls next year, with a spluttering economy, rising unemployment, a continuing menace from the far-right and an extreme left which is united and powerful for the first time in 30 years.
In an opinion poll published yesterday, after two leading Trotskyist parties agreed to fight regional and European elections together next spring, 31 percent of French people said that they would consider voting for the far left.
One of the parties, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR, Revolutionary Communist League), has doubled its membership in the past 18 months, as young French people, seduced by the anti-globalization movement and cynical about conventional politics, flocked to the extremes.
So many new members have joined that the LCR has had to publish an A to Z of revolution, explaining, among other things, who Leon Trotsky was. The party has also abandoned its revolutionary policy of giving each member a code name and started to issue membership cards, previously regarded as bourgeois.
The veteran leader of the LCR, Alain Krivine, complained at the party conference at the weekendonly half-jokinglythat many new members could not even pronounce the name of the movements founder. Who is this Trofki, you keep talking about? he said. The conferences decision to link up with the other main Trotskyist partyusually known as Lutte Ouvrier (LO) or Workers Strugglethreatens to damage severely the chances of the center-left parties, the Socialists, Communists and Greens, in elections for regional assemblies in March and the European elections in May.
With the far-right National Front likely to score in at least the mid-teens, and many disgruntled voters likely to stay away from the polls, the scene is set for another democratic train-crash, just like in the first round of the presidential election last year.
On that occasion, a surge of votes for the far left, a small increase for the far right and many abstentions was enough to put the National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the second round of a presidential poll for the first time.
The main casualty next year could be Frances referendum on the new constitution for the European Union. All political party leaders have called on President Jacques Chirac to put the new treaty to a popular vote, rather than a decision of both houses of parliament. The rise of the political extremesviscerally anti-European on right and leftmay persuade M. Chirac that a referendum would be too risky.
The resurgence of the far left threatens to put the French political clock back to the 1950s and 1960s, when the strength of the Communist Party and other smaller left-wing formations prevented the emergence of a powerful movement of the center-left. Francois Mitterrand, the former president, changed that by building the Parti Socialiste and persuading the Communists into a series of alliances which ultimately withered their support among blue-collar workers.
With the Socialists damaged by their disastrous results in last years elections, and the Communists virtually moribund, a large part of the electorate has been attracted by the uncompromising anti-capitalist and anti-globalization message of the far left. Despite their success, the two principal Trotskyist parties do not even believe in democratic politics. They insist that change can only come through revolution.
Lutte Ouvriere (Workers Struggle) is a secretive, sect-like organization, which appeals largely to disaffected blue-collar workers and revolutionary ideologues. The LCR, whose spokesman, Olivier Besancenot, is a postman, is the more intellectual of the parties. It appeals to the revolutionary middle and professional classes and is strong among teachers.
The Guardian (UK), November 3, 2003