Disappointing result for left

The far-left in France underwhelms as the hard-right advances and the mainstream parties sit about equal after the first round of voting in the general election. Jean-Michel Edwin takes the scene apart.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s 27.18% in France’s presidential election on April 22 - for the first time in the history of France’s 5th Republic the incumbent president came only second in the first round of voting - delivers a clear verdict on the last five years of austerity, cuts and attacks on the working class. Sarkozy was just behind Parti Socialiste candidate François Hollande (28.3%).

Readers will also know that the third-placed candidate was not Front de Gauche leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as many had expected. Mélenchon won only 11.11% - a particular disappointment for the candidate himself, who seemed to be convinced he was heading for second place. No, third place was won by Marine Le Pen of the Front National with 17.9%. All but a few commentators say that she did even better for the far right than her father in 2002, when he qualified for the second round with 16.86%. But in that year FN dissident Bruno Mégret picked up 2.34% in the first round, taking the far right’s total to 19.20%.

However unpleasant and annoying this latest vote may be, there is at present no ‘major fascist threat’ in France. So how could Marine Le Pen go from 11% in the polls a couple of weeks ago to nearly 18% last Sunday? The obvious reason for that is that another candidate unintentionally boosted her campaign by adopting and promoting parts of her programme for himself - I mean, of course, Sarkozy. But this had the opposite effect to what he intended, as many rightwing voters presumably decided they might as well switch to the genuine article ...

What happened to Mélenchon’s support? One cannot say that the 1.15% won by Philippe Poutou of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste made much difference to his score or even that Hollande did to Mélenchon what Le Pen did to Sarkozy. When asked, “How do you explain the distance between the dynamic of the Mélenchon campaign and his final result?”, PS leftwinger and former Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire leader Gérard Filoche correctly replied: “There is no ‘distance’ really. 11.1% is a good result. Millions thought like Mélenchon and voted Hollande.” Millions of Mélenchon’s potential voters backed Hollande because they feared that both men might be eliminated in the first round if Mélenchon took too many votes from the PS - that would mean another five years of the hated Sarkozy.

Filoche went on: “If the left wins, it will be because of the Front de Gauche’s campaign dynamics ... Mélenchon has skilfully revitalised such essential themes as pensions, the right to work, the redistribution of wealth, the struggle against finance and austerity … those slogans are massively shared on the left, including amongst François Hollande’s electors.”

In the second round Mélenchon has called for a vote for Hollande, while the NPA’s Poutou prefers to make the same appeal more cryptically - “make sure we get rid of Sarkozy on May 6”. As for the right, Le Pen’s supporters are unlikely to vote massively for Sarkozy: she has said she will not make any recommendation for the second round until May 1, when the FN is staging a big street rally in Paris. But she has already said, “Now Sarkozy is finished” and “I am the future leader of the opposition to François Hollande”. So she will probably call for an abstention. Meanwhile the 9.13% won by the centre candidate, François Bayrou, in the first round is an unknown quantity. Many soft-right electors find Sarkozy’s platform too extreme: the incumbent president continues to campaign along the lines of Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, chauvinist programme (perhaps even more so than before the first round) - to the disgust of the miserable people he is appealing to.

The Front de Gauche has called for a huge street demonstration “behind the trade unions” on May 1 - some have predicted clashes in the street with the NF. That would play into the hands of Sarkozy, the ‘law and order’ candidate, so Mélenchon himself is stressing the importance of the massive street rally he has called for May 4, just before the end of campaigning for the second round. This is a clear sign that his campaign for a ‘citizens’ revolution’ is not over. And many Hollande supporters may be attracted to such rallies, making them even larger than those called before the first round.

Whether members of the NPA or not, Marxists are calling for a Hollande vote on May 6 to make sure that we get rid of Sarkozy. When that result is secured, the task will be to draw up a united front programme of demands to put to comrades in the Front de Gauche as well as to the Parti Socialiste leftwing rank and file. Such demands must not be restricted to the trade union-type economic questions that the NPA leadership would undoubtedly prefer, but must address key social and democratic issues, including the right to vote for migrant workers and the end of the 5th Republic with its monarchical president. Only in this way can Mélenchon’s slogan “Take power!” be answered in a positive way.