The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The dead end of the ballot box

Jun 17, 2002

The following is taken from articles in the June 14th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of our comrades in France. In these articles they analyze the results of the recent two rounds of the presidential election and the first round of the legislative election, showing what these elections mean and don’t mean.

The right wing came out largely victorious in the first round of the legislative elections marked by the highest number of abstentions ever seen in this type of election. The parliamentary right very strongly improved its score in relation to the first round of the presidential elections and in relation to the first round of the legislative elections of 1997. It has benefitted by the decline of the left but also that of the National Front.

A part of the electors of the National Front clearly chose to vote on the first round for the candidates of the right in order to assure them a majority. But these extreme right voters obviously haven’t changed their opinions and prejudices because they voted in these elections for candidates endorsed by Chirac. They were able to switch to the Parliamentary right so easily because its parties and the government of the new Prime Minister Raffarin have taken up Le Pen’s demagogy about law and order, against immigrants, and phrases about state authority. This type of movement of votes from the National Front to the candidates of the parliamentary right is not a sign of the weakening of the influence of the extreme right over public opinion, but on the contrary, one of the signs of its influence. These voters will continue to influence the right wing politicians, by inspiring their language and weighing on the policies of Raffarin’s administration.

Chirac’s Party, the UMP (Union for the Presidential Majority), will doubtless have a majority by itself in the Assembly. The parliamentary representation of the left will be practically wiped out.

It’s necessary to say that what the left has done has brought this about. The policy which it led during the five years that it ran the government was so openly opposed to the interests of the popular classes that the two principal candidates of the governmental left in the presidential elections, Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party and Robert Hue of the Communist Party, had four million fewer votes than they had in the 1995 election. In addition to its disastrous governmental balance sheet, the left shamelessly helped Chirac be elected by a landslide on the second round of the presidential election. It isn’t astonishing that a good part of the popular electorate, deceived and disappointed, chose to abstain in these legislative elections. As in the presidential election, the Communist Party paid most dearly because of its alignment with the Socialist Party. Winning 1,210,913 votes (4.70 % of the votes cast), the Communist Party saw its electoral support split almost in half compared with the legislative elections of 1997, where it had 2,523,405 votes. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, while losing a half million voters compared to 1997, maintained its samepercentage.

The push to the right has been increased still more by the majority electoral system – which the left didn’t modify – which favors the strongest parties.

The extreme left all together and the candidates of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle) in particular, suffered the repercussions of the general swing to the right and, within this framework, the “make your vote count” argument for the Socialist Party. One can suppose that the largest part of the voters of Arlette Laguiller (the candidate of Lutte Ouvrière in the presidential election) thought that voting in the legislative election for the candidates of Lutte Ouvrière made little sense, since they had practically no chance at all of being elected. Many among them must have joined the important number of voters in the population who, discouraged, preferred to abstain.

The candidates of Lutte Ouvrière received only 304,077 votes (1,21 % of the votes cast) compared to 1,630,045 voters (5,72 % of the votes cast) who expressed themselves for Arlette Laguiller. The candidates of the LCR received 328,620 votes (1.27 % of the votes cast).

The right, assured of its victory, openly proclaimed that it will lead an anti-worker policy. It will favor the richest. It will seek to maintain low wages, to increase deductions from workers’ pay checks for Social Security, to reduce pensions. A government of the right certainly isn’t going to oppose itself to all the bosses’ power and, in particular, to mass layoffs. But if the left had been elected, it would do exactly the same as the right, for during the five years, when it led the government, it did the same thing.

The popular classes had in any event nothing to gain from these elections, which were carried out in order that the voters would have the illusion of a change despite the continuation of policy.

Left-right, right-left, they have us go the electoral route which doesn’t offer any choice other than the alternation of the two big leading parties, of which one is openly anti-worker while the other is as much so, but hypocritically.

For more than 20 years now, in order to increase their profits, the bosses have unleashed a permanent offensive against the working class, considerably reducing its share of national income. The various administrations have gone along with and carried out the bosses’ policy. It’s very difficult to say whether the working class suffered the worst blows from government when the Socialist Party held both the presidency and controlled the parliament, or when the right wing held both positions or during the periods when they split the power.

It has never been through the ballot box that the workers managed to stop the blows which were directed against it by the big bosses and the government. But what elections can’t give, struggle can impose. It’s necessary to remember that the last great victorious struggle in this country was led against a government of the right, that of Juppé.

What’s decisive for the world of labor is the relation of force between the big bosses and the workers. This measure of force isn’t measured by the respective parliamentary representation of the left and the right.

We have gone through round after round of elections. But what counts is the third round, the round of struggle. And the men of the right, who are preparing to monopolize all the institutional power, are wary. As in 1995, it can be their own arrogance which will unleash a social explosion that will make them back off, them and the big bosses.