European elections 2024 : Where does the current crisis come from ?
René Berthier
Article mis en ligne le 25 juin 2024

par Eric Vilain

European elections 2024 : Where does the current crisis come from ?

René Berthier

"The greatest king on earth never sits on anything but his arse." (Montaigne)

The far-right’s unsurprising victory in the European elections prompted the French president to immediately dissolve the Chamber of Deputies and call new elections. This decision would be incomprehensible if it were not in line with the policy followed by Macron from the outset of sowing chaos.
The French is today in a state of extreme decay with four or five competing and opposing parties.

Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s the Communist Party garnered a quarter of the electorate, going beyond the working class strictly speaking, today it only represents 2% of the electorate. To analyse this collapse, we need to go back to the 1970s, when a "Common Government Programme" was negotiated (June 1972) between the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, joined by a minority fraction of a current known as the "Left Radicals", representing elements of the middle classes with a centre-left, republican and secular leaning.
From then on, the Communist Party, whose hegemony in the working class was undisputed, tried to break up any social movements that were even slightly vigorous, because it was important not to frighten the middle classes in the run-up to the elections that were to bring the Left to power. As a result, countless strikes were nipped in the bud. It was the beginning of the downfall of the Communist Party.

Anarchists misunderstood the strength of the Communist Party over the decades and therefore failed to understand its downfall. From the narrow point of view of anarchists, the CP appeared to be a "reformist" and parliamentary party. However, in the internal discourse of the CP, "reformists" referred to socialists and trade unionists who were not under the influence of the CP. The Communist Party cadres conveyed to the new militants the idea that the party was revolutionary ; only the revolutionary methods of action were muted because the time was not ripe.
As for the CP’s parliamentarism, this was entirely theoretical. The CP’s seasoned militants were well aware that they would not take power through the ballot box, and parliamentary action was itself a temporary tactic which these militants regarded with a certain irony. The Communist Party had a hard core of activists within its ranks who were ready to take action if necessary when the time came.

In a way, it could be said that the CP had adapted to the evolution of society, maintaining, if only formally, its revolutionary project and discourse. In this way, despite the fact that everyone knew it would never come to power alone to implement a "revolutionary" programme, it retained the image of a party that unfailingly defended the workers, and this was true, on the whole. The municipalities controlled by the Communists set up infrastructures that were clearly favourable to the working classes.
The decline of the Communist Party began the day it abandoned this revolutionary "mythology". The militants were perfectly capable of understanding that they could not take power for the moment, and that they had to wait for the right moment, that they had to make temporary concessions, etc., and their patience was sustained by the maintenance of this "mythology" : dictatorship of the proletariat, class struggle, vanguard, etc. But at one point, the leadership of the Communist Party abandoned this revolutionary "mythology".

They were faced with a choice :
a) Accept the idea of not coming to power but maintain itself as a mass workers’ party (305,000 members in 1970) indefectively defending the workers ;
b) Give itself a modernist veneer.

The second choice was made. One day, the party leadership said : now we want the truth about prices, we’ll show ourselves for what we really are, a party that negotiates shitty political agreements with shitty allies to get into the ministerial trough. The party has integrated itself into a system that was meant to be consensual by making what Bakunin called "unnatural alliances" in order to win ministerial posts. The notion of class struggle was abandoned, and the CGT abandoned the notion of abolishing the wage-earner system : they now spoke of "citizens’ struggles". In this way, the Communist Party ceased to be the mythological party of the working class and became a party like any other, as there were plenty of others. End of the Communist Party.

In short, the Communist Party - its leadership - was caught in its own trap and, by obtaining ministers, it lost deputies... and members. The social strata who voted for Communist candidates turned to Socialist candidates who seemed more realistic. This was François Mitterrand’s plan, and in a way he lured the Communists into a trap : he very explicitly declared at a congress of the Socialist International that his aim was "to rebuild a great Socialist Party on the ground occupied by the Communist Party itself, in order to demonstrate that of the five million Communist voters, three million can vote Socialist".

But the Socialist Party itself had fallen into a trap of its own making and when the Socialists stopped being credible the workers massively turned to the extreme right.
The Left had constantly proclaimed : when we are in power, everything will be better ! While for the Communist Party the strategy of a "democratic path to socialism" was based on an electoral victory for the parties of the Left, this strategy was not limited to that. It was also based on the Communist Party’s ability (or illusion of its ability) to exert a "leading influence" on the popular movement. The electoral part of this project was only one aspect of it. The Communist Party was the "party of the workers", representing the revolutionary current of this popular movement, the Socialist Party being only the reformist current.

At the time of the signing of the Common Programme, the Communist Party was certainly in a position of strength, from an electoral point of view, in addition to the fact that it controlled the main trade union organisation, the CGT, most of whose leaders were also in the party leadership. But this was without taking into account the logic of alliances that Bakunin had prophetically explained :

"All the experiences of history show us that an alliance concluded between two different parties always turns to the advantage of the more retrograde party ; this alliance necessarily weakens the more advanced party, by lessening, by distorting its programme, by destroying its moral strength, its confidence in itself ; whereas when a retrograde party lies, it always and more than ever finds itself in its truth." (Bakunin, Letter to La Liberté, 5 August 1872, Oeuvres, Champ libre, t.III, p. 166)

When Mitterrand came to power in 1981, the "Programme commun" was in fact obsolete, the Communists, who were losing ground, were increasingly critical of it, and what the Socialists were most interested in was maintaining an electoral alliance that would give the CP a few ministerial folding seats. But the fall was irreversible. After failing to obtain anything more than a government seat, the 1984 European elections were an electoral disaster for the PCF, which obtained 11.1% of the vote, just ahead of the Front National (extreme right) with 10.9% : immediately the Communist Party resigned from the government.

After Mitterrand came to power in 1981, there was a year of more or less effective left-wing policies, with some ambivalence, but the first setbacks came in 1982, followed by the "austerity turn" in 1983 and a succession of right-wing and left-wing governments all pursuing right-wing policies. This situation led to an irremediable erosion of Socialist membership and votes, which steadily declined until, in the recent European elections, they scored disastrously.

The new President delivered the coup de grâce to the Left by making them believe that he was a leftist, which earned him his election, and he made young people believe that because he was young, everything would be better. When Macron came to power in 2017, he set about to liquidate the right. The naïve Socialsits who had praised him were surprised to see him appoint right-wing ministers on economic issues and reforms that the right had always supported.
"Les Républicains", the traditional right-wing party that was usually hegemonic within the right, began to break up into multiple tendencies competing for the leadership of the party, in the name of the inevitable "recomposition" that is de rigueur in times of crisis. The division of the traditional right increased with the rallying of some of its members and elected representatives to Macronism, but also with exclusions, which led to the political stiffening of those who remained. In short, the forces of the right were dispersing. What had happened on the Left in thirty years happened on the Right in four or five. A socialist named Manuel Vals, who we were never really sure was a socialist, spoke in his day of "irreconcilable lefts".

Today the same can be said of the Right, whose most glaring illustration of its liquidation is revealed by the decision of the president of the "Républicains", the ex-traditional party fallen from the Right, to make an alliance with the Rassemblement national, the far-right party.
In two quinquennia, Emmanuel Macron has displeased the overwhelming majority of French people, he has repressed demonstrators of all kinds with the utmost violence, he has trampled on representative democracy, broken every attempt to introduce even the slightest hint of democracy in the workplace, dismantled public services (a task the Socialists had tackled before him), sold France to American companies, tragically increased poverty, incredibly increased deficits, encouraged the two fascist parties that received 31 and 5% of the vote respectively in the recent European elections.

There is no doubt that the traditional parties, on both the right and the left, are largely responsible for their own collapse, a collapse that results from internatl causes, from their own political choices. Emmanuel Macron was merely the instrument that delivered the coup de grâce that definitively deepened this enormous void that the far right came to fill - a far right that systematically voted for the government’s anti-social measures.

René Berthier