Revolution #269, May 20, 2012

From A World to Win News Service

Francois Hollande: "Socialist" Captain of Shaky Imperialist Ship

Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party, one of France's two main bourgeois parties, was elected president, defeating outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy by a relatively narrow margin in the second stage runoff election. The most striking element in the election, however, was not the victory of "The Left" over a widely detested incumbent president—it was the very strong showing of Marine LePen, candidate of the far right National Front (FN), who came in third place with 18 percent of the vote in the first round of the voting.

The FN began in 1972 as a fringe party on the French political spectrum, bringing together different strands of fascist and extreme right groups such as unabashed supporters of the Vichy regime which had collaborated with the German occupation during the Second World War and representatives of those who detested Charles De Gaulle, the right wing president of France for much of the post war period, as a "traitor" for agreeing to independence for Algeria after recognizing that the bloody colonial war to maintain the French empire in North Africa could not be won. In fact, opponents of De Gaulle were even tried and executed for a terror campaign that included an attempt to assassinate him. When the FN was formed it was a motley crew of Holocaust deniers, racists, reactionary thugs, and those nostalgic for the dismembered French empire.

Starting in the 1980s the FN, under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine Le Pen, became more and more of a fixture on the French political scene. This is because the xenophobia of the far right was more and more of a useful weapon of the ruling class as a whole. While the French far right's traditional anti-Semitism was never far below the surface, (Jean-Marie Le Pen himself had called the extermination of the Jews in World War 2 a "detail" of history), over the years the main target of the FN had evolved to become the millions of immigrants and their descendants, especially from the former French colonies of North Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and West African countries such as Mali and Senegal, all of which are mainly Islamic.

People displaced by the changes in these countries and facing impoverished conditions had been actively recruited to work in France's mines and factories in the 1960s and '70s. They were herded into the banlieues (working class suburbs) ringing Paris and other major French cities. As the period of rapid growth came to an end in the 1970s, unemployment grew and the children and grand children of these immigrants suffered discrimination, massive unemployment and harassment at the hands of the police. It has been the particular role of the FN to whip up hatred against this section of the people and to rant and rave about France's "endangered Christian and European [i.e. white] traditions." But while the FN may be the spearhead of this chauvinistic assault, the need to "control immigration," "defend values," "fight crime" (a code word for fighting non-white youth) has increasingly become the general discourse of the capitalist class as a whole and major political parties.

In 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy, who had come to prominence as the government minister in charge of the police force who led the crackdown on the revolts in the banlieues in 2005, was elected largely by appealing to the FN voter base (in that election the FN received "only" 10 percent of the vote). But since then the FN has screamed that Sarkozy, despite his series of reactionary measures as president, did not adequately fulfill his promises to "clean out the scum with a Karcher" (the high pressure water hoses used to clean dog excrement from the streets) and the FN demanded more brass-knuckled attacks against the so-called "immigrants" (most of whom were born in France).

The FN, like fascist parties traditionally, has tried to portray itself as a party of the "little man," opposed to the big capitalists as well as to the masses of the poor. In reality, these parties are arch-defenders of the capitalist order and, like Hitler's Nazis, can grow as social contradictions intensify and also be pumped up and unleashed by the bourgeoisie, or sections of it, when it is considered necessary. Both Le Pen father and daughter have denounced the traditional "right/left" political cleavage and have threatened a radical and dramatic shakeup of the existing political structures.

The big change in the 2012 French elections is that this formerly fringe fascist element has taken on a whole new level of "respectability." Nicolas Sarkozy was particularly brazen in his pandering to the FN, adopting their slogans, defending their "patriotism" and promising to look out for the interests of those they claim to represent. His defense minister, Gerard Longuet, himself a member of fascist groups in his youth, gave an interview to an extreme right fringe journal calling Marine Le Pen a legitimate partner.

Francois Hollande, for his part, was very careful to do nothing that would disturb the FN electorate. A number of key Socialist Party figures—including Segolene Royal, Hollande's former partner and herself the Socialist Party presidential candidate against Sarkozy in 2007, who had called in her campaign for military detention camps for youths convicted of minor offenses or disrespecting teachers—made public expressions of "understanding the frustrations" of the FN electorate.

The most important moment in the runoff election between Sarkozy and Hollande came in a single televised debate just days before the runoff vote. Hollande, anxious to shed his "milk toast" public image, fought sharply with Sarkozy especially over how to interpret some unemployment and public debt statistics. But when Sarkozy delivered his open appeal to FN voters Hollande remained silent. In fact Hollande's only notable comment on this subject was when he shouted that if elected he would never allow halal meat [slaughtered and prepared in accordance with Islamic law] in school cafeterias!

Despite being courted openly or covertly by all sides, Marine Le Pen refused to make an endorsement in the presidential runoff between Sarkozy and Hollande, calling on voters to cast a blank ballot. A record six percent of the voters did so. Le Pen is counting that after Sarkozy's defeat a shake up on the French political scene could take place that would finally bring about an open alliance between the traditional French right wing and the fascist National Front (as similar alliances have taken place in recent years with governing coalitions in Austria and the Netherlands).

The other significant development in the 2012 elections was the emergence of a strong showing (11 percent) by the Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. The key organized force in the Left Front is the Communist Party of France (PCF), the traditional revisionist political party in France that long ago made its peace with the capitalist system while claiming to represent the "workers." In recent elections the PCF has been doing worse and worse (two percent in the 2007 elections). Melenchon collected not only the remnants of the PCF supporters in France's labor movement but also attracted a good deal of enthusiasm from many young people and lower middle class professionals who previously supported various "extreme left" and "alternative" political parties. While Melenchon, like the PCF, wrapped himself in the colors and traditions of the French state (singing the national anthem, the "Marseillaise," at his rallies and referring repeatedly to the French bourgeois revolution of 1789) he also appealed directly to more radical sentiments. One of his main campaign slogans was "Take state power" (Prenez le pouvoir). He was also the only candidate to directly take on the National Front. Melenchon drew enthusiastic crowds of tens of thousands of people, often more than either Hollande or Sarkozy. In reality, the Melenchon campaign did exactly what it was supposed to do: drag in the progressive sections of the population, and the youth in particular, into the dead-end bourgeois electoral arena.

Part of Francois Hollande's carefully cultivated public image was that he was not and never has been a "revolutionary." He would be a "normal" president who would prudently preside over the capitalist system, carefully manage France's imperialist interests, and not rock the boat of the world financial system. His first victory speech was in his home base in France where the square was filled with ''real'' basic French people (that is white, non-immigrant) and traditional French accordion music.

While many were excited to get rid of the hated Sarkozy, few have high expectations for a Hollande presidency. Hence the importance of Melenchon in drumming up enthusiasm for a tired and bankrupt "Left." On the night of the first round of the elections Melenchon called on his supporters to vote massively for Hollande in the runoff round, which they did in overwhelming numbers.

For the French ruling classes this election has gone well up to now. Despite predictions to the contrary, turnout was high, more than 80 percent participation. Tested and reliable servants of the capitalist system will be in charge and were not required to make many demagogic promises to the people. The basic program of budget cuts and austerity taking place on a Europe-wide basis will remain in place even if adjusted with a sprinkle of "stimulus" measures. Even while they may quarrel about details like pulling out French troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, France will remain vigorous partners in U.S.-led aggression and war, as was the case in Libya recently.

Two days after the election, Sarkozy and Hollande stood hand in hand on the anniversary of the end of World War 2 in a tribute to the "tomb of the unknown solider." It was carefully choreographed to be a bipartisan example of national unity and patriotism, a tribute to the "democratic virtues" of imperialist France.

Meanwhile the whole political spectrum moves to the right.

There are a lot of factors in the world, in Europe and in France that could lead to sharper divisions in the ruling class of France and/or new waves of struggle among the masses of the people in that country. How well Hollande will be able to "manage" this volatile situation remains to be seen. Possibilities for advancing a revolutionary agenda are likely to come to the fore, but realizing this potential depends on the development of genuine revolutionary communist program and forces.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.


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