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The French Presidential Election, Arlette, Ol’ Uncle Tom Cobleigh an’ All, an’ All

Ted Crawford

WHEN THIS piece was written (11.3.02), support for the French presidential candidates, as estimated by the IFOP poll (7.3.02) which comes out every fortnight, was as follows. After Chirac and Jospin, both with over 20%, the third highest was Chevènement with 10%, fourth was Arlette Laguiller (Lutte Ouvrière) with 9%, fifth Le Pen (National Front) with 8%, sixth Mamère (the more right wing ecologist) 7%, seventh Hué (Communist Party) with 4%, then a whole number of candidates with 1, 2 or 3%. Finally, at the bottom of the heap, were half a dozen candidates with 2% between them. Those panting at the back of the pack included the two other "Trotskyist" candidates, one, Daniel Gluckstein, from the Lambertist stable, and the other from the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire écurie, Besancenot. These ratings have remained stable over the past two weeks, although Arlette seems gradually have improved her score since just before Christmas. The SOFRES poll is consistently less sympathetic to Arlette but the most recent also sees her with 9%.

Being an inveterate sectarian (I have been dubbed a "freelance" sectarian, as I do not belong to any tendency), let me make a few brutal factual points about the LCR and Lambertists. The first is that the larger the vote Arlette Laguiller gets the more quickly will the Communist Party disintegrate. If her vote is a multiple of the CP’s, it places the whole question of Trotskyism and Trotskyist ideas on the agenda of the French left, legitimises Trotskyism and forces the French CP to answer certain historical questions as never before. One would imagine that any Trotskyist group would be in favour of these developments, as it would attract people to them. Secondly, however sectarian one is, it is on the whole unwise to exhibit your weakness in front of the class, as the LCR and Lambertists are doing. Competing, but unsuccessfully, with the "Beer, Fags and Skittles" candidate, as the RCP did in Greenwich some years ago, did not engender confidence in their prospects among the toiling masses. This could be politely pointed out to Alain Krivine and Pierre Boussel, aka Lambert.

What is extraordinary is that even from the most narrow, mean and sectarian accountancy of small group politics there are alternatives available. The first is that the LO candidacy could be supported, and if the LCR had done that from the beginning they could go around saying that "Arlette has 9%, but at least a third of that is due to ourselves". No one would know, so no one could contradict them. That is to assume of course that she would have got just 9%; in fact, with an additional 0.5% from the LCR and extra publicity she might even have passed Chevènement and come in third place behind the two main candidates. The same goes for the Gluckstein candidacy. Of course, I do not recommend such cynicism, it is just that I want to argue with these comrades about this issue in ways that I imagine would appeal to them.

One Lambertist supporter has said to me that it is impossible to support Arlette since LO will call for abstention in the second round. It would surely be much more effective to campaign for Arlette and then call for a vote for Jospin in the second round. You might also affect her voters if you did that, whereas you will hardly move them if you opposed her from the beginning – that is, if you were really and truly interested a in a good vote for Jospin and not just a sectarian drongo. And you are differentiating yourself from her by doing that. As I understand it, the LCR-USec comrades disagreed with LO about the basis for the campaign, with LO insisting on a "workerist" approach while the LCR wanted to "broaden" the appeal of the candidate. 9% compared with 0.5% does suggest that Arlette’s appeal is a bit broader than that of Besancenot.

There are those who state that there are minor differences in programme which prevent them giving support to Arlette and that LO are not sufficiently R-R-R-Revolutionary. It is always difficult to judge these things, but from where I am sitting the important thing is to shift the whole spectrum of politics a little bit to the left by raising the banner of Trotskyism even if in a fairly non-specific manner. I do not think anyone can object to what is in the LO programme, it is just that some people object to what is not in there. It is easy to find something to which you can object if that is the criterion. That does seem sectarian to me, if there are the great advantages to be gained from a big vote for Arlette which I enumerated above. Of course, it may well be that it would be difficult to work with LO in any campaign that they are running. The answer would surely be to run an independent campaign on Arlette’s behalf and, if you disagreed with the LO line on the second round, you could put your position forward there.

Finally, what if you belong to a very little group that has very few resources and cannot really campaign independently? Very simple, call for a vote for Arlette and if you desire a good spat with other leftists aim your fire at the Lambertists and the LCR by calling on them to withdraw their candidates and build a broad campaign for Arlette. It will give you plenty to argue about with the comrades from these two tendencies and you might even pick up a member or two.

And by doing all this you may actually help the class a teensy weensy bit – but that surely comes well down the list of priorities.

I am afraid I sometimes despair of finding plain common sense among the Trotskyists.

P.S. There is also a SOFRES poll of 1,000 women which asks: "Which of the candidates best understands the problems of women?" At the top of the poll, 26% say Arlette is their man or rather woman. The next highest is 14%. And this is interesting, because LO puts forward no clearly feminist line but talks of the problems of working class men and women. And that clearly has a considerable echo. Perhaps most working class women see their main problems as those of income/class rather than those of gender.

Well, what can you expect from such ignorant and uneducated people?!