Monday, May 07, 2007

Political crossroads in France and Britain

The decisive victory of the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's French presidential elections and the crushing defeat for New Labour in last week’s elections in Britain may not appear to have much connection. But both mark the end of an era and signal periods of political and social upheaval. At the heart of the matter is how corporate-driven globalisation has changed, and will continue to change, the landscape of traditional politics on both sides of the Channel. In France, the Socialist Party has now lost three presidential elections in a row. In the previous one, it was even beaten into second place by Le Pen’s fascist National Front. This time, Le Pen’s supporters voted for Sarkozy to ensure the defeat of Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate. Sarkozy has pledged to end the French welfare state, target immigrant workers, end the 35-hour week and open up the economy to global competition. He is a kind of Thatcherite figure and France is now certain to endure a period of extra-parliamentary civil conflict and state violence. The fact that there is no reformist-type solution to the challenges posed by globalisation is evident in the performance of Royal and the Socialist Party. Swinging from a kind of Old Labour towards Blairism, Royal had nothing substantial to offer the electorate. Her defeat will usher in a sharp swing to the right by the Socialist Party, in much the same way that Blair and Brown transformed Labour to a party of big business from the mid-1990s onwards.

While France is set to enter the globalisation maelstrom in a new, dramatic way, the Blairite, New Labour period is coming to an end in Britain. In last Thursday’s polls, New Labour’s share of the vote in England was down to 27% , which is somewhere near the levels of the 1920s, while its performance in Wales was the worst for 50 years. In Scotland, the failure of New Labour led to the narrow victory of the nationalists, who are essentially Tartan Tories. The coronation of Brown as the next New Labour premier will mean more of the same and the most likely outcome is the return of the Tories at the next general election. That would signal the completion of a process that began over a century ago with the formation of the Labour Party itself. That was founded on the basis of using parliament to carry through reforms that benefited working people. Since in the globalisation period that approach is no longer sustainable, Labour was transformed into New Labour, to become a party that embraced and managed the global market economy as it operated in Britain. That has benefited a minority at the expense of the majority while subjecting everything that moves to market forces and competition has alienated more and more people and undermined many key services. Ultimately, the major issues of the day like climate change, corporate power, war and terrorism revolve around the question of political and economic power. At present, this remains in the hands of the capitalist state and corporate elites, whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the majority. The lesson from France and Britain is that the old parliamentary games offer only a cul-de-sac for those who favour progressive change. A revolutionary alternative based on extending democracy into the workplace and communities and wresting power from the ruling elites, is the only viable way forward.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

1 comment:

Peter Shield said...

Here in France it looks likely that the right, having convincingly won the Presidential will now go on and win heavily in the Legislatives as well. The Left is in disarray, the Parti Socialiste looks very much like it will move towards the centre in a big way. The issue is the space to the left of the PS, the elephant in the room is the Communist Party, in the No vote on the European Constitution the PCF played an absolutely pivotal role, it was they who formed the backbone of the campaign organisation, it was the PCF who organised and mobilised for the mass meetings held throughout the country, indeed with its 70-80,000 members it is the only nation wide force capable of organising on such a scale- the League (LCR) despite its wonderful Presidential candidate only has 5,000 members and is absent in any meaningful way outside of University cities. After the No vote it was the PCF that was the force behind the Union Populaires that continued the left unity forged in the fight against the EU Constitution. Sadly it was also the PCF with its imposition of its General Secretary, Marie- George Buffet as the candidate for the Left that then blew the unity apart.

We are now facing a very tough five years, five years of resistance to a dynamic, tough, overtly Rightwing President. The only way the Left can organise a meaningful resistance is to try and rebuild the unity that was so tragically fractured by the tactical errors of the PCF. To do so we need the PCF firstly to admit in public it made a grave mistake, and for the Party to seriously recommit itself to rebuilding a unified Left, it will take time. We have burnt a lot of bridges and they will take time to rebuild. Here in the Aude Department of Languedoc those of us committed to such a renovated left are proposing a University of the Left to form the intellectual basis for organising a unified resistance, so that all the left, regardless of party affiliation or without party affiliation can discuss ensemble the way that we can work together, see our common points and discuss our points of difference, we need an open free space to go over all this so that we can seriously regain trust in one another, without that trust organising the resistance will be impossible. The battle against the right will be a hard hard one, it all is painfully reminiscent of the first term of Thatcher’s regime, but without the will to unite frankly we are all going to hell in a handcart.