The first round of voting in the French presidential election, held last Sunday, produced an unprecedented defeat for the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and his right wing Union for a Popular Movement party.
For the first time ever, the sitting president was defeated in this round, securing 27.1% of the vote as opposed to the 28.5% who voted for Francois Hollande the Socialist Party candidate.
The Left Front (a coalition of ‘left’ groups including the French Communist Party) candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, won 11.1% of the vote.
What is significant about this result – which sees a straight run-off between Sarkozy and Hollande in next month’s final ballot, is the complete rejection by the French working class and large sections of the middle classes of Sarkozy and the policy of driving extreme austerity measures through Europe in order to prop up the collapsing Eurozone.
After several years of pretending that this crisis was confined to the ‘lazy’ southern nations of Greece and Portugal, Sarkozy has found himself campaigning under conditions where the debt crisis is on the point of bringing down the entire French economy.
So heavily in debt is France that the interest repayments on its sovereign debt represent the second biggest public expenditure.
Hollande based his entire campaign around the promise that he would renegotiate the European treaty, pushed through by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the support of Sarkozy. this is the treaty that binds the Eurozone countries to legally binding targets for slashing public expenditure.
His campaign specifically rejected the introduction of austerity cuts, arguing for the reformist line that it is possible to achieve growth to avoid the capitalist crisis and banks collapse.
Melenchon, who only a few weeks ago was not considered anything but a fringe candidate likely to pick up a handful of protest votes, stood on a left reformist platform of taxing the rich, increasing workers’ rights and controlling the banks, while refusing to call for the complete expropriation of the banks and capitalist class.
Despite all the contradictions that of necessity emerge in these elections one thing is clear – in the words of one French banker: ‘The main message from the first round is indeed that a large section of the population already rejects the policies called for by the economic situation, whoever the next president is.’
Not just in France; in Greece a snap general election has been called for 6th May where it is almost certain that the two main bourgeois parties, the socialist PASOK and the right wing New Democracy, both of whom have supported the savage cuts imposed by the EU, will be annihilated.
Not surprisingly, Merkel and the European bankers did their utmost to convince the EU-appointed Greek prime minister, Papademos, to postpone this election.
Victory for parties committed, at least on paper, to pulling out of the euro and rejecting the savage cuts that capitalism requires if it is to make the working class pay for the massive debt crisis will cause a huge political and economic crisis in Europe.
This was the process that we saw in the Bradford West by-election where the working class voted for George Galloway and completely rejected the Labour Party as well as the coalition and showed that workers and youth will not meekly accept poverty and destitution.
These election results prove conclusively that the working class throughout Europe is not prepared to sacrifice its life to prop up a bankrupt system, instead it is embarking on a revolutionary road of confrontation with the bankers and bosses.
The urgent issue is the building of sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International to give the leadership required to take this confrontation forward to the victory of the European socialist revolution.