Le Pen - non! Chirac - non!

Peter Manson says that there is a third option

Success for Jean-Marie Le Pen in winning through to the second round of the presidential elections has provoked almost unprecedented unity amongst the French ruling class. The eclipse of one of the two mainstream candidates, Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party, was, as Le Pen himself triumphantly declared, "a great defeat for the establishment leaders" and the political establishment now wants a landslide for Chirac so as to safely confirm society behind the Fifth Republic. But with the overwhelming majority disinfranchised by the May 5 poll, millions of workers, migrants, democrats and youth have taken to the streets in cities and towns across France - amongst them the 'apathetic' abstention vote. Previously left cold by the prospect of what had seemed the certainty of a second round contest between the Tweedle Dum of prime minister Jospin and the Tweedle Dee of president Jacques Chirac, they now have an impossible choice. Things can either be settled by an illegitimate ballot on May 5. Or they can be settled using other means: not only street demonstrations, but occupations, strikes and street barricades. Raw anger must be organised and given a definite political programme - for a sixth republic which enshrines extreme democracy and puts people before profits. Of the 14 defeated would-be presidents, 10 have now called on voters to plump for Chirac on May 5 - "for the honour of France", as Jospin's campaign manager, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, put it. Lining up amongst the 10 was Robert Hue of the Parti Communiste Francais, for whom the defeat of the incumbent had been the highest priority before the first round. Reformists like Hue must be forced to choose - Chirac or the mass democracy of action. Thankfully the three candidates of the revolutionary left - Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvriere, Olivier Besancenot of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire and Daniel Gluckstein of the Parti des Travailleurs (Workers' Party) - refused to recommend such an unprincipled course. However, the left has been characterised by indecision, to say the least. Comrade Laguiller, who won a disappointing six percent of the vote (opinion polls had consistently put her at just under 10%), at first told the press that she would "not be calling for an abstention in the second round". Later though, Lutte Ouvriere issued a statement calling on supporters to help swell the demonstrations, at the same time warning against backing those "whose purpose was to boost Chirac" and against "joining some republican front of all the parties, from the CP to the Gaullists, via the Socialist Party and the greens, under the pretext of being anti-fascist". Alain Krivine, veteran leader of the Fourth Internationalist LCR, was convinced that the demonstrations would continue "from now until the second round". But the LCR's advice to voters was far from clear-cut: "We must bar the route of Le Pen, the worst enemy of the workers, in the street, as in the elections". We understand those who will vote Jacques Chirac in the second round to keep out Le Pen, but we don't think Chirac will be a bulwark against this new rise of the extreme right". This is not Germany 1933 and it is clear that Chirac will win without difficulty." The LCR statement did point out that Chirac was no friend of the working class: "Right from his election he will take measures against wage-earners, youth and immigrants." Quite correct - which leads me to suggest that the left should offer more than 'understanding' to workers tempted to vote for him. As the revolutionary democratic publishers of La Lettre de Liaisons noted, "The danger before us is the re-election of Chirac on an authoritarian programme inspired by Le Pen" (April 24). Chirac is indeed combining his populist appeals for 'democracy' and against extremism with an attempt to undercut the FN - more prisons, tougher sentences for criminals (mostly immigrants, of course, according to Le Pen), the partial removal of the 35-hour week, the stepping up of privatisation". The working class must look to its own strength and take the threat posed to its rights and conditions with the utmost seriousness. The 'lurch to the right' is no illusion. Le Pen might have won just 200,000 more votes on April 21 than he did in 1995 (4.8 million, as opposed to 4.6 million), but in conditions where the Fifth Republic is losing legitimacy - no one should forget the 1995 strike wave - the very political establishment that is today united in denouncing Le Pen could effortlessly turn to him as an extra-parliamentary auxiliary. French society is polarising. This is partially reflected in just under three million votes (more than 10% of the total) for three candidates openly standing for revolution. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg. By taking to the streets, those who voted Socialist Party, PCF, Green or stayed at home are now free agents. On the streets the reformist pleas of Hue and Jospin to vote Chirac will be questioned, found wanting and discarded. Everything depends on programme. Some on the left will no doubt grit their teeth on May 5 and then look forward to a left recovery in the June parliamentary elections. That is certainly the perspective of the reformists and centrists. However, the key for revolutionaries lies with organising the self-activity of the masses themselves - committees of action, defence squads, lines of communication - and mapping out a line of march. Not for us the dry calculus of first round tallies, but the algebra of the imagination. Demonstrations will be maintained - and probably grow - until the May 5 presidential elections. The argument must be made for an active boycott and ensuring that an illegitimate Chirac presidency must be made into a lame duck. Our strategy must be for upping the tempo at every stage up to May 5 and beyond. May Day could be decisive. Paris must top Rome. Millions will surely want to protest - slogans should be directed not only against Le Pen but Chirac and the presidential monarchy of the Fifth Republic itself. Le Pen is intending to mobilise on May Day too. Our forces should be prepared for battle.