In Other Words

France and a Fractured Left’s Future

Saturday 1 June 2002, by Judy REBICK

The stunning results of the first round of voting in France’s presidential elections was a warning bell for progressive forces everywhere.

The massive response in the streets to Le Pen’s victory does not change the fact that the only choice for President was between the right and the far right. Several factors converged to produce this victory for the right. All have reflections in Canadian and global politics.

Voters stayed away in droves this year. Turnout was just 71.5 per cent, the country’s worst showing since 1958. This crisis of representative democracy often benefits the right, and this crisis is spreading across the globe.
French social democrats may blame far-left parties for the defeat. but the real problem is that social democracy has become hard to distinguish from the centre-right ... while parties further to the left have developed no strategy for winning mass support for a progressive alternative to neoliberalism.

The militarization of corporate globalization is polarizing society. The "war on terrorism" has dramatically boosted anti-Arab racism. Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians is fanning fires of anti-Semitism. Jean Marie Le Pen reflects both forces.

The security state emerging in North America and Europe since September 11 also favours the extreme right by playing on and intensifying people’s fears of terrorism and crime. Le Pen’s campaign stressed law-and-order issues, and he has consistently blamed immigrants for rising crime rates.

The militarization of the neoliberal agenda - and the failures of the political left everywhere except Brazil - point to the need for new strategies.

We need to develop an analysis of the links among the neoliberal agenda, the "war on terrorism" and Israeli aggression in the Middle East. I believe we are witnessing a new, highly militarized stage of corporate capitalism, a new form of imperialism.

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

This does not mean we should support right-wing social democrats. Instead, we must forge new political alliances that include anti-neoliberal social democrats, socialists and Greens. These alliances must also embrace the new generation of activists, many of whom describe themselves as anarchists.
Growing mobilizations against war, the Israeli occupation, anti-Semitism and racism are critical to countering the rise of the far right. But they are not enough.

Despite the distaste for political parties among North America’s broad left, and despite continuing sectarian divisions in Europe, no task is more important than creating a new kind of political party that is democratic and pluralist. What we need is a party that can engage citizens in politics and present a clear alternative to neoliberalism based on participatory democracy and economics.


*The author is also publisher of rabble.ca.

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