French Election Has Lessons For Us All

The results of the French Presidential election are the latest, and perhaps most significant sign, that the shifts in global politics following September 11 are much greater than anyone on the left predicted. The failure of the French left to move to the second round in a run off election for the first time since 1969 is a serious sign of the weakness of the left in face of the militarization of corporate globalization.

Even though the combined vote of the left candidates was much greater than the 17 percent received by the neo-fascist Jean Marie Le Pen, the fact remains that the race for French President will be a fight between the right and the far right.

Several factors, all of which, have their reflections in Canadian politics affected the victory of the right in France.

• The inability of social democracy to challenge neo-liberalism; • The fragmentation of the left, including the division between social and political forces on the left; • The crisis of representative democracy and resulting decline in voter turnout; • The rise of the security state and its reinforcing of the right.


In France, where the far left is much stronger than anywhere in North America, there were three Trotskyist candidates who garnered 10% of the vote. The Green Party got five percent. The once powerful French Communist Party got only 3 percent.

The Socialist former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin ran a campaign barely distinguishable in its embrace of neo-liberalism from the centre-right campaign of President Jacques Chirac. He received 16% of the vote, just slightly less than Le Pen.

Voters stayed away in droves. The turnout was only 71.5%, the lowest in France since 1958. The right benefits from this crisis of representative democracy, which is rapidly spreading around the world.

Finally, the militarization of corporate globalization is polarizing society rapidly. The ‘war on terrorism” and the aggression of Israel against the Palestinians has led to a dramatic rise of anti-Arab racism on the one hand and anti-Semitism on the other. Le Pen reflects both.

There has been a serious rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France since the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians began.

During the election Le Pen told Le Monde that no new mosques should be built in France (with a population of 6 million Moslems) until Saudi Arabia allows the construction of a Christian church. He has consistently blamed immigrants for rising crime rates and ran his campaign on law and order issues.

The security state being constructed in North America and Europe in the aftermath of September 11 also favour those on the extreme right by playing on and intensifying people’s fears of terrorism and crime.

While the French left is already beginning a mobilization against racism, xenophobia and Le Pen, they will pay a heavy price for their failure to see the rise in support for the right.

And the French election is not isolated. Extreme right-wing parties have been elected recently in Denmark and Italy. Predictions are that Germany may be next. This is despite a massive rise in the anti-globalization and anti-war forces in Europe.

The strategic problem is the inability of the left to present a united vision of an alternative to neo-liberalism. The divide between the social left and the political left (less true in France than other countries); the move of most social democratic parties into the arms of neo-liberalism and the fracturing of the rest of the left means that the only realistic alternative to neo-liberalism presented during elections is right-wing populism.

No doubt social democrats will blame the far left for the defeat and there is no question that left wingers in France campaigned in the belief that Jospin would easily make the second round without their support. Nevertheless the real problem is that social democracy has moved so far to the right in Europe that it is difficult to distinguish it from the centre-right.

Most parties further to the left with some exceptions like the Workers Party in Brazil and the Scottish Socialist Party have not developed a strategy for winning mass support for a progressive alternative to neo-liberalism.

The Lessons

While in Canada, we have not yet seen a rise in support for the far right, we have seen an increased fracturing of the left in the aftermath of September 11. The left is also suffering from both low voter turnout and a deep division between the social left and the political left.

It seems to me that the militarization of the neo-liberal agenda in the aftermath of September 11 and the failures of the political left everywhere except Brazil, point to the need for new strategies.

We have to develop our analysis of the links among the neo-liberal agenda, the “war on terrorism” and Israeli aggression in the Middle East. I believe what we are seeing is a new highly militarized stage of corporate capitalism, a new form of imperialism. Accounts of pre-World War II Nazi Germany sound eerily familiar.

No matter how strong our social movements, if they have no reflection on the electoral level we will see an increase in support for the extreme right whether in the form of neo-Nazis in Europe, social conservatives in North America or Moslem and Hindu fundamentalists in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

This does not mean that we should support right-wing social democrats. Rather it means building new political alliances on the left that includes anti neo-liberal social democrats, socialists, Greens and can embrace the new generation of activists, many of whom describe themselves as anarchists. We need new kind of party on the left that is democratic, pluralist and presents a clear alternative to neo-liberalism based on participatory democracy and economics.

Judy Rebick is the publisher of www.rabble.ca and co-founder of the New Politics Initiative (www.newpolitics.ca)

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