France is currently undergoing its first real electoral test since the coming to power of ultra-reactionary President Nicolas Sarkozy last May. On March 9, voters went to the polls in the first round of local and municipal elections. The results of the first round confirmed what was already clear from many opinion polls: Sarkozy has lost the support he had just ten months ago. Sarkozy's approval ratings had already fallen from his high point of over 60% to a mere 34%.
This result answers all those faint hearts who were crying about "reaction" and a "turn to the right" when Sarkozy was elected. Sarkozy's success was not due to any shift to the right in French society. It was possible because of the weakness of the official Left, who were incapable of offering a credible alternative. In fact on many of the economic issues there was very little to choose between the right-wing leadership of the Socialist Party and what Sarkozy stands for.
We are now currently between two rounds of voting in the municipal and cantonal (local) elections that take place every six years. Across the whole of France, the first round of voting has given a clear, although not massive advantage, to the Left wing parties - the second round takes place this Sunday (March 16).
The candidates supported by the PS (Socialists), the PCF (Communists), the Greens and other small left-wing parties obtained 47.5% of the vote in towns of more than 3,500 inhabitants and the candidates supported by the UMP (the main right-wing party) and other small right-wing parties obtained 40%. Individually, the Communist Party polled 8.85% of the vote nationally according to government estimates, which is a significant increase on the 1.93% the Communist candidate obtained in the presidential election last year.
In spite of this, this time round the Socialist Party won outright in the first round (winning over 50%) several local councils that had been in the hands of the right wing. This was the case in Lyons, Rouen, Laval, Alencon and Rodez. And in the second round it seems there is no way the right wing can stop the Socialist Party from holding towns such as Lilles and Paris, and also taking Strasbourg.
Significantly Le Pen's National Front was only able to stand in half the towns it stood in in the previous 2001 local elections. Le Pen had lost support to Sarkozy, but what is significant is that at a moment when Sarkozy is losing support he is not losing it to the National Front, who scored a miserable 1% in these elections.
This confirms the overall picture that the swing away from Sarkozy is clearly to the left. And it is not only the Socialist Party vote that confirms this. The Communist Party also did well, winning back some towns that it had administered in the past. The lists around the "Ligue communiste révolutionnaire" (LCR) also did well, breaking through the 5 percent barrier.
We will analyse further the meaning of all these results after the second round, which is this coming Sunday, March 16. But the purpose of this article is to highlight the contribution of the Marxists of La Riposte to the campaign of the French Communist Party (PCF).
For the first time this year, four supporters of the French Marxist journal, La Riposte, were able to stand as candidates of the PCF in these local elections, in three different "cantons" (electoral districts) around the city of Toulouse (in the Haute Garonne département). In all three cantons, these comrades managed to significantly boost the Communist vote versus the last time (2001) by campaigning on a programme that called for the nationalisation of the banks and industry as well as a "revolutionary change in society" amongst other demands [see below for the full translation of their manifesto]. Who said Marxism was going out of style? Here are their results in full:
Hubert Prevaud obtained 12.66%/2,421 votes (versus 5.72%/911 votes in 2001 for the PCF) in the canton of Leguevin;
Dominique Escouboue obtained 6.91%/1,778 votes (versus 5.68%/1232 votes in 2001 for the PCF) in the canton of Toulouse XV and
Jean-Louis Ruz and Marie-Ange Papaïs obtained 14.11%/484 votes (versus 2.13%/77 votes in 2001 for the PCF) in the canton of Aspet.
Although none of these candidates were actually elected as councillors, since the main Left wing party in south west France is the Socialist Party (which won all three of the above-mentioned seats), these results are excellent news both for the local Communist Party and supporters of La Riposte.
In short, La Riposte supporters, with their revolutionary manifestos, all succeeded in boosting the Communist vote. In the canton of Léguevin, where Hubert Prevaud stood, the vote more than doubled (this canton is what is known as a "dormitory" canton where many aerospace workers live). According to local comrades, many leading lights of the local Communist party, who are not exactly great friends of La Riposte, were literally left speechless by the results - however they also impressed many rank-and-file Communists who are sympathetic to La Riposte within the local federation.
In the cantonal elections of Haute Garonne, the Communist Party considerably increased its electoral weight (nationally as well). It polled a total 7.9% of the vote (equating to an increase of around 5,000 votes, versus the results of 2001, to a total of 18,935). The Socialist Party polled 48.6%, the UMP (the main right-wing party) 24.2%, the Greens 8.6% and the National Front 4.9%. As mentioned before, ordinary Communist Party members in the Haute Garonne were absolutely delighted with this performance. Furthermore, some members who had dropped out in the recent period are actually talking about rejoining and becoming active again on the basis of this performance (in this area, it is not uncommon to see whole families joining!).
In the canton where Hubert stood, the party gained its biggest score, in terms of numbers of votes, of the whole of the Haute Garonne département. Almost everyone was astounded in the party and in his CGT union branch and certain party members in the canton were so happy that they stayed up until the small hours, with a (little) alcoholic refreshment. Certain opponents were saying that La Riposte supporters could no longer be stopped and some were even worried the result would be headlined on La Riposte's web site. Others, more sympathetic to La Riposte, said when Communist ideas are clearly expressed, it is possible to win more votes! This augurs well for the upcoming national Communist Party congress at the end of the year. It should also boost support for La Riposte and its ideas within the Haute Garonne Communist federation!
Here is a translation of the manifesto (distributed to thousands of homes) written by comrade Hubert Prevaud, who stood as the Communist Party candidate in the canton of Leguevin on March 9 (Haute-Garonne département), near Toulouse in south-western France (the original in French is available here in "pdf" format).
For social justice and solidarity in our département
Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillion want to turn these elections into a political test. Well, you now have the chance to tell them what you really think.
By voting for the candidates of the Communist Party up and down the country, you will be expressing your rejection of a government that distributes almost 15 billion euros to the rich, claims "the coffers are empty" and refuses to take concrete steps to improve the purchasing power of the vast majority.
I am a trade unionist at Airbus and an active member of the French Communist Party and I have the firm conviction that the capitalist system is incapable of satisfying the needs of the population. Whilst a small minority of billionaires hordes the nation's wealth for itself, unemployment, job insecurity and poverty is spreading. In every field - employment, health, education and job protection - this government is busy attacking our conditions.
For characters such as the former CEO of Airbus, Noël Forgeard, and the company's main shareholders, such as Lagardère, Airbus is merely a huge trough of cash on which they can gorge themselves, to the detriment of its employees and its long-term survival. For tens of thousands of workers and their families, particularly those who work at Airbus' sub-contractors, which are heavily dependant on the aerospace sector, there has been a massive attack on conditions in our département.
Backed by the richest and most powerful capitalists, Sarkozy has reached new heights in deceit and hypocrisy. The Right has no other aim but to submit the whole of the economy and society to the rule of profit. It is leading a new and unrelenting campaign against all our past gains and it is continuing to feed racism and encourage police and judicial harassment of "foreigners".
In the next few months and years, more so than under Raffarin and de Villepin, this government is set to meet stiff resistance from the workers and youth. With this in mind, we need a Communist Party that is even more firmly rooted in our workplaces and communities, and which is strongly represented in local government.
For as long as the banks and major industrial and retail groups remain under the ownership of a minority of capitalists, our rights will always be in danger. It is therefore high time that the programme and principles of Socialism be put at the top of the political agenda. We need a fundamental and revolutionary change in society.
At the moment, the Socialist Party majority in the local conseil général does not facilitate the expression of all the components of the Left. By voting for the Communist Party you will be boosting democratic representation, opting for a genuine Left-wing policy and for councillors that will stand by you and defend your interests by opposing the interests of big business such as those represented by the "Portes de Gascogne" project. We are running as candidates in these elections in order embody these values. Together we can raise the flag of the Left high!
This manifesto shows that when basic Marxist ideas are expressed in the political programme of a traditional workers' party they can and do win votes. The comrades will use this performance to give a boost to their campaign to reintroduce genuine Marxism into a Communist Party that has been badly damaged over the last thirty years by successive Stalinist and then reformist leaderships. The first round of these local elections have marked a revival in both the fortunes of the Left and the Communist Party. We expect the second round of voting on Sunday March 16 to confirm the Left's victory all over France and mark the first in many battles against Sarkozy's reactionary government.