Welcome defeat of Sarkozy, but French left has to prepare for new struggles

Author: BigonL
Departments won in Presidential election 2nd round (Hollande pink Sarkozy blue)

By Najete Michell

At last Sarkozy has been defeated! A relief for the French population after 5 years of a huge Thatcher-like offensive against the French welfare state, and the daily injection of racist and Islamophobic poison.

However, despite the opposition to Sarkozy, Hollande only won by 51.6 per cent and with only 1.1 million more votes than Sarkozy – a narrow victory, especially compared to what the polls had previously predicted.

What is clear is that the right was not demobilised for this second round and the rate of abstention was even slightly lower than for the first round. Moreover, supporters of the neo-fascist National Front on the whole did not pursue the strategy advocated by their leader, Marine Le Pen, who announced she was abstaining in the vote between Sarkozy and Hollande. In fact 60 per cent of National Front electors voted for Sarkozy, 14 per cent for Hollande.

A process of ‘Lepenisation’ of the main bourgeois party, the UMP, has been underway for decades, but this greatly accelerated in the last weeks of the elections. In the first round Sarkozy deployed political themes about immigration and Islam typically associated with the National Front, but without any endorsement of the neo-fascist party. The second round, however, was marked by an unprecedented ideological step towards the NF by Sarkozy as he courted their votes.

In this process Sarkozy legitimised the NF, declaring it was ‘compatible with the Republic’. He endorsed their policies saying he favoured ‘national preference’ (reserving jobs, some services and welfare, education and public housing for French citizens over ‘foreigners’). The UMP also organised its own alternative May Day rally on 1st May in which he called for support for ‘real work’ against socialists and the unemployed. He also went out of his way to defend a policeman who shot a man in the back, claiming it was self-defence.

Marine Le Pen greeted this new turn as an ideological victory for her party.

Although the UMP General Secretary has reiterated the party’s policy of no alliances with the NF for the coming legislative elections (10th and 17th of June), in certain constituencies such alliances are already on the agenda. In parts of the South East of France a process of electoral fusion between the NF and the UMP is quasi achieved.

As a result France is facing the likelihood of up to 12 members of the National Front being elected as MPs in the next National Assembly. The possibility of the NF entering the National Assembly has only existed once before, in 1986 when the voting system was changed to introduce greater PR.

In the end, Hollande won in 61 of the 101 French departments. A detailed analysis of the ballot shows this was in large part due to the mobilisation of the Front de Gauche, whose first round candidate Mélenchon, garnered 4 million votes. In the second round it fought uncompromisingly against Sarkozy and its 4 million votes clearly went to Hollande.

The Left Front created a dynamic that has revitalised the whole left in France.

Now the question is, how will the Hollande government deal with the economic crisis?

Everybody is watching with intense interest to see if he will live up to the different promises he made during the election, especially as his position shifted during the campaign as the struggle for votes become tighter. As recently as eight months ago, he explained his policy was to ‘give meaning to austerity’. But recently he shifted to criticism of the European policy of austerity which he argued was threatening to lead Europe into recession, and counterposed the need for policies to promote growth.

But, incoherently, Hollande committed himself firmly as his first priority to reduce the budget deficit to 4.5 per cent this year, and 3 per cent next year, which means continuing the policies of austerity.

His slogan amounts to ‘investments and cuts’, an equation which will not work.

At the moment, and until the legislative elections are over, Hollande remains ambiguous on his plans, giving the illusion there is some room for manoeuvre between the interests of capital and the working class in Europe. But unless he presents an alternative to the austerity offensive in Europe – which he will not do – the disappointment and disillusion in the population may not only result in some growth of the left, but will definitely lead to growth of the far right.

Already we have seen an indication of the likely response of the Socialist Party to this – capitulation to the far right – when this week they refused to make alliances with the Front de Gauche for the legislative elections in the constituencies where a NF candidate is likely to be elected.

The Front de Gauche on the other hand is facing fully up to its responsibility to fight against the NF by standing Jean Luc Mélenchon against Marine Le Pen in the Legislative elections where she is standing at Hénin Beaumont, in the north of France, making it a national debate.

The victory of Hollande and the SP in the Presidential elections was a welcome defeat for the right, which would not have been possible without the principled positions adopted by the Front de Gauche. While there will be some policy changes from Sarkozy’s, such as the welcome announcement France will withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan. the new goverenment will not deliver economic policies in the interests of the working people of France or set a new progressive agenda against Islamophobia and racism. As the population begins to feel the effects of this, there is a danger France will reap a whirlwind in a further advance of the far right. The defeat of Sarkozy is extremely welcome and a victory, but now the French left has to prepare for new struggles.