Political life in France in 1998 has been a direct extension of the situation produced by the failed dissolution of the National Assembly (a failure from Chirac's point of view) in April 1997.
The institutions of the 5th Republic have shown themselves to be just as capable of functioning with a "cohabitation" between a right-wing President and a supposedly left-wing head of government as they were from 1986 to 1988 and from 1993 to 1995, when Mitterrand had to come to terms with first Chirac and then Balladur.
The return of the Socialist Party to government leadership was not the result of a leftward swing in the electorate, because the right (counting all tendencies) won a majority in the parliamentary election of 1997, as it did in the regional election of 1998. But nearly a quarter of the electorate votes for the far-right, and the main parties of the parliamentary right do not have an absolute majority on their own.
Since the emergence of the Front National as a significant electoral force in 1984, some leaders of these parties have been trying to find a way of gaining the support of Le Pen and his friends (since they cannot win back the far-right electorate), without running the risk of losing the more liberal among their voters to the Socialist Party.
The regional elections of 1998, and the events which marked the election of regional council presidents, nevertheless showed that some politicians of the right were prepared to reach agreements (at least implicitly) with the far-right.
It would obviously be an illusion to see this division between advocates and opponents of electoral agreements with the Front National as a split between a "republican" right and another section of the right which is prepared to sell its soul to the devil, as the Socialist Party and Communist Party leaders (unfortunately followed by a section of the far-left) tried to make out. The differences between people like Millon, Blanc and Soisson and those leaders of the right who condemned their attitude are much more a matter of opportunism, local conditions and personal career problems than of principle. And singing the praises of a "republican right" means attributing anti- fascist credentials to people who would not hesitate to call on the far-right (and not only electorally) if the interests of the bourgeoisie demanded.
To a lesser extent, the parties of the right are also suffering the divisive consequences of the in-fighting between its leaders, in the past between Chirac and Giscard d'Estaing (which enabled the election of Mitterrand in 1981 and 1988), and between Chirac and Balladur in 1995, or the conflicts between second-rank leaders like Bayrou and Léotard.
But today, what could lead in the relatively near future to a reshaping of the right-wing political landscape is the problem of the attitude to be adopted with regard to the Front National (particularly if it grows stronger, but even if it simply maintains its electoral influence). This could result in the forming of a party grouping together people both from the RPR and from the UDF who are ready to ally themselves with the Front National.
This crisis of the right probably explains to a large extent the fact that Jospin's government is still riding high in opinion polls (for what these are worth), despite the growing discontent of broad layers of the popular electorate, including of course its own electorate.
Up to now, the "Plural Left" formula has functioned without causing Jospin too many problems. The Communist Party and the Greens have seized a few opportunities to mark their differences, without however daring to call government solidarity into question. The approach of a new election campaign, with each party needing to appear to be defending its own identity with respect to its electorate, is admittedly liable to cause a few tensions. But quite clearly, neither Robert Hue nor Dominique Voynet and the leaderships of their respective organisations have the slightest desire to take the risk of leaving the government.
As far as the French Communist Party is concerned, its participation in a government which is basically continuing Juppé's policy obviously poses problems for many of its activists and sympathisers, even if the majority of CP cadres are perfectly happy with Hue's policy. This is obviously not a division between revolutionaries and reformists, for the Communist Party has long been recruiting and training its activists on the basis of a reformist policy. And rivalries between different factions and people probably play a big part in any agitation over policy within the party. But there are, both inside and around the Communist Party, thousands of working class activists conscious that it is conducting a policy which has nothing to do with the defence of workers' interests. And revolutionaries must, more than ever in the current period, be able to criticise the policy of the Communist Party leadership, while at the same time retaining their solidarity with this party's activists and their aspirations.
1998 did not see any large-scale social movements. The winter of 1997-98 was admittedly marked by the "unemployed peoples' committees" movement. This enjoyed broad sympathy within the wider public, and posed a few problems for the government. But, even at its height, it mobilised only a very limited number of people representing a tiny proportion of the unemployed population.
The high school students' movement in the Autumn, on the other hand, mobilised large numbers of young people. But the Socialist Party, using the high school student organisations it set up, sometimes artificially, and promoting a "no politics" approach, always kept control of this in such a way as to avoid causing the government too much difficulty.
As for workers' struggles, while the year has seen its share of demands and strike movements, it has not been marked by any increase in such movements.
This observation should lead us to put into perspective the significance of the election results obtained by the far left (mostly LO, but also, to a certain extent, the LCR, in areas where it ran under its own name) in the regional elections of March 1998. This relative electoral success does not reflect a radicalisation of the working class population, as this is unconfirmed by any other evidence. Nevertheless, it does show that an increasingly broad section of the popular and working class electorate identifies with what we are saying, and is conscious that a policy completely different from that of the so-called governments of the left needs to be conducted in order to genuinely combat unemployment and its consequences.
This trend began a few years ago. The scores achieved by Lutte Ouvrière in the regional elections were not a completely new thing, because they followed the 5% obtained by Arlette Laguiller in the presidential election of 1995 and results in the legislative elections of 1997 which, although they were more modest, were nevertheless higher than those we were accustomed to.
However limited the meaning of these results, they nevertheless have considerable political importance on the scale of our organisation. The mere fact of having broken through the symbolic 5% barrier in the presidential election and winning twenty seats in the regional elections, makes us more credible in the eyes of the broad mass of workers. But in addition, this helps to give new confidence to working class activists, particularly those of the Communist Party, who can see from this that radical policies can win support among the working population - support expressed by results which are only slightly lower than those of the Communist Party (and even in fact higher in certain places).
That is the reason why we must make every effort, in the European elections of 1999, to try to improve the far left's results still further and get revolutionary MPs into the European parliament in order to use every possibility, however limited, which this platform might provide us with. It is in this spirit that we declared ourselves ready, immediately after the regional elections, to form a joint slate with the LCR which would proclaim itself openly for revolutionary communism, on the basis of a programme corresponding to the concerns of the working population facing continuing high unemployment.
This is one of the means for morally preparing the coming struggles of the working class, struggles which remain the only means to genuinely change the situation.
27 November 1998