1 million march in Paris

Mass demonstrations have been held in just about every city and town in France since the first round of the presidential elections on April 21. On May Day a million people marched in Paris - the biggest demonstration in France since the revolutionary upsurge in May 1968. Elsewhere 300,000 joined the protests. Their first target is Jean-Marie Le Pen. However, their other target is a political system that has left them with the 'choice' of either re-electing Jacques Chirac or the leader of the Front National. The overwhelming majority voted against them and everything they stand for in the first round. Many others, faced with the non-choice of Chirac and Lionel Jospin (who were perceived to be the front runners), abstained. The discredited Chirac won less than 20% of the vote. Allegations that he accepted cash for government contracts just would not go away, but the French constitutional court ruled that the president cannot be prosecuted, no matter how compelling the evidence. His opponent on May 5 polled under 17% in the first round, but it was enough to edge out Jospin, the Socialist Party prime minister. Le Pen is a reactionary in the true meaning of the word. He harks back to an imaginary France of Joan of Arc and feudal relations where everyone - from the grand to the humble - knew their place and kept to it. While it is wrong to describe Le Pen as a fascist - he has no counterrevolutionary fighting squads, nor has he a programme for abolishing parliament or smashing the trade unions - the ruling class still regards Le Pen with contempt. He is an outsider. A rabble-rouser. Anti-women. Anti-foreigner. With his origins in the Algerian war and the Poujadist movement of the 1950s he reminds official France of its shameful past. Le Pen stirs uncomfortable memories of Action Franà§aise, Pierre Laval, Marshall Pétain and Vichy. Such a history is best forgotten in the interests of the Fifth Republic. That is why the 'republican bloc' - from rightwing Gaullists to PCF 'communists' - is pulling out all the stops to ensure he is defeated. As Le Pen himself remarked in a radio interview, "The forces of the French establishment are united, hand in hand - the bosses with the communists, monsignor Lustiger [archbishop of Paris] with the Masonic lodges. We have national unity, thanks to Le Pen." But those below - those standing in the tradition of the First Republic, Marat, 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, Jean Jaurès, the French resistance and May 1968 - are also appalled by the FN. Those who voted for the PCF, the SP, the greens and the revolutionary left, as well as those alienated by the whole circus of official politics, have taken to the streets in huge numbers - not least youth and students, many of whom are too young to vote. Without a clear revolutionary lead, they have tended to come up with slogans such as Votez escro, pas fascho (vote for a crook, not a fascist) - a damning indictment of 'lesser evilism' is ever there was one. That plays into the hands of the ruling class, which wants to shore up the undemocratic Fifth Republic - established through a virtual coup d'état by general Charles de Gaulle in May 1958 - through winning a sweeping victory for Chirac, which it will claim as a vote of confidence in the current order. In this the PCF is continuing to play a despicable role. Having faithfully served in the left-right government (prime minister - Jospin; president - Chirac) since 1997 - and seeing its vote reduced to just 3.5% as a result - it seems incapable of learning any lessons. True, its general secretary and humiliated presidential candidate, Robert Hue, confessed in a statement to PCF members that the result had led him to "question and reflect critically upon our positions, practical policies and actions". Having nodded in the direction of contrition, however, Hue immediately went on to make clear that the PCF will carry on regardless, thus ensuring its continuing, possibly terminal, decline. In the name of doing "everything we can to ensure Le Pen's vote is the lowest possible" he called for a Chirac "crushing majority - achieved thanks to a very large number of left voters deciding to defeat Le Pen!" Lest some should question the notion of such wholehearted backing for capital's most consistent and committed representative in France, Hue came out with this convoluted reasoning. A huge vote for Chirac would not boost his rightwing Rally for the Republic party, as it prepares for June's general election. Quite the opposite: "The weaker Le Pen's showing, the more difficult it will be for Jacques Chirac to paint the result as massive support for his own candidacy." Obviously Chirac would much prefer not to have the support of voters who normally back the left parties - at least according to Hue. All this means one thing only: "the mobilisation of those who abstained and voted left to place their cross next to the name of Jacques Chirac." What a victory that would be for the working class! Another group that, after much heart-searching, has effectively come out for a Chirac vote is the Fourth Internationalist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, whose candidate, Olivier Besancenot, polled 1.2 million votes (over four percent) on April 21. Comrade Besancenot issued a call to "make Wednesday May 1 a historic day to link the necessary anti-fascist struggle with the urgent demands of the world of labour" (statement, April 29). Apparently these "urgent demands" can best be advanced by "voting against Le Pen on Sunday May 5 and preparing, from Monday May 6, the conditions for an all-out fight against Chirac's policies" (LCR central committee, April 28). While the LCR cannot bring itself to say clearly what it evidently means - presumably it would choke on a combination of the words 'vote' and 'Chirac' - there can be no further room for doubt over what lies behind the organisation's consistent but deliberately ambiguous call, first made on the evening of April 21, to "bar the route of the extreme right in the street, as in the ballot box". However, speaking at the CPGB's public forum on April 28, Alan Thornett of the International Socialist Group, British section of the Fourth International, claimed to be puzzled by talk of 'ambiguity'. He thought his LCR comrades' statement was quite clear - they were not calling for a Chirac vote at all. If they did so, stated comrade Thornett, that would be a "mistake". An understatement, I think. How anybody can seriously suggest that voting for Chirac one day, and preparing the conditions for an all-out fight against his policies the next, are compatible beggars belief. Arlette Laguiller, the candidate of the largest revolutionary group, Lutte Ouvrière, was equally ambiguous in her initial reaction. She told reporters that LO, which won 1.6 million votes (almost six percent), was "not calling for an abstention" in the second round. Later, however, comrade Laguiller 'clarified' this statement, urging supporters to "go to the ballot box to cast a blank or spoilt vote" (communiqué, April 27). This is, of course, an essentially passive position - why not smash ballot boxes and occupy polling stations, for example? Unfortunately Lutte Ouvrière is fighting shy of an active boycott. Though the Fifth Republic is in crisis - producing an election in which there are only two rightwing candidates who between them polled less than 37% of the votes in the first round and, taking into account the 72.5% turnout, won the endorsement of just over a quarter of those entitled to vote - LO believes that the working class must concentrate on bread and butter issues at the point of production, not dabble in constitutional issues. Franà§ois Rouleau, speaking at the London CPGB forum, confessed to being a "little bit anarchist" in his attitude towards state structures. Yet the left - if it sheds its anarchistic and economistic baggage - has a golden opportunity to unleash a mass democratic movement against the Fifth Republic and its despotic elected monarch. While LO and LCR leaders have displayed their programmatic weakness, others have been showing what is possible. Not all factions in the LCR are going along with the leadership line and some demonstrations have seen dissident LCR comrades and other groups, who are calling for a rather different perspective. The Jeunesses Communistes Révolutionnaires, the LCR's youth section, have carried banners reading, 'Unity against Le Pen and Chirac', and distributed leaflets urging: "Neither super-liar nor super-fash. Down with the Fifth Republic. For a democratic alternative." Correctly they called for the "annulment of the second round". Such demands go hand in hand with calls for the abolition of the presidency, for annual parliaments with recallable, accountable deputies and a Sixth Republic, won under the hegemony of the working class, which will enshrine extreme democracy. The task is clear. No vote for the lesser evil on May 5. Fight for an active boycott, not spoilt ballot papers or sit-at-home abstentions. The period up to May 5 must be used to get more people onto the streets and into direct political activity. May 5 can then become not an election day which gives Chirac his "crushing victory", but a day of political strikes, protest demonstrations and militant occupations. Peter Manson