Christophe Aguiton is an organiser for the radical French trade-union group SUD and an activist with attac, a group opposing corporate globalisation. The following statement was distributed with the attac newsletter, Sand in the Wheels, which you can subscribe to at the attac website,

The French Situation after the First Round of the Presidential Elections

By Christophe Aguiton

Translation: Chris Arden, volunteer translator

The first round of the presidential elections was a very nasty surprise: the rise of the far right which allowed its leader, Jean Marie Le Pen, to stay for the second round against Jacques Chirac, the outgoing President of the Republic and candidate of the RPR, the main party of the French parliamentary right. This result was a political earthquake and was immediately followed by massive demonstrations all around the country: almost 100,000 people demonstrated spontaneously against the extreme right the very next day, Monday April 22nd, and on Tuesday there were just as many demonstrators, mainly students from secondary schools and universities.

Before outlining some of the statements and actions planned, especially by associations and trade unions, we need to look at the analysis of the vote and the political lessons than can be drawn from it.

A Rejection of Neo-liberal Policies

First of all, it would be a mistake that this result is not the sign that the French political scene is moving to the right and that democratic forces and the social movements are losing ground. More generally, it would be quite wrong to compare the shift to the right which has marked recent European elections (first Italy, Denmark and Portugal, now France) to the victories of Thatcher and Reagan which, in the early 1980's, were the sign of a reversal in the balance of power, a long-term weakening of the trade union movement and the rise of economic liberalism.

The situation in Italy gives a clearer idea of the real balance of power: despite Berlusconi's victory there is a massive and wide scale uprising both amongst the young, after Genoa, and amongst workers, as has been shown by the demonstration on March 22nd and the general strike on April 16th.

The results in terms of numbers of votes cast in the first round of the Presidentials paints a picture that is far from portraying a France that could be summed up as a clash between the right and the far right. In 1995, during the first round of the previous presidential elections the left, including the far left, totalled 12,357,000 votes; in 2002 it is still at around the same level with 12,220,000 votes. The right, including the far right, loses 2 million votes, going from 18,022,000 to 16,282,000. And that's counting, as part of the right, the hunting party which polled 4% with 1,200,000 votes.

The big lesson to be learned from this election is the weakening of the parties in power but, there too, this applies to the right as much as to the left. The government left (socialists, communists and Greens) lost around 1.5 million votes, dropping down from 10,741,000 to 9,246,000 votes, though that score includes the party of Jean Pierre Chevènement who resigned from the Ministry of the Interior less than a year ago and who ran a campaign focussed on defending the Republic, scoring 5.4% with 1,518,000 votes. The parliamentary right lost around 4 million votes, dropping from 13,450,000 to 9,604,000 votes.

This erosion of the parties in government is a sign that people are rejecting a system and political leaders who are considered dishonest, starting with the head of state, Jacques Chirac. It is also, and perhaps above all, the rejection of the neo-liberal policies which various governments, from the left and right, have adopted in recent years. Abstention has grown from 21% to 28% and more than a million voters (3.4%) cast deliberately void votes. The far left (3 Trotskyite candidates) gained 1.4 million votes growing from 1,616,000 to 2,974,000 i.e. from 5.3% to 10.6% and the far right (2 candidates) gained 1 million additional voters, going from 4,571,000 to 5,472,000 votes, i.e. from 15% to 20%.

The far right rooted in the working classes

The growth of the far right was all the more of a shock because many thought that it had been weakened for good: it had lost ground in the 1997 general elections and in the 2001 local elections and had undergone a major split. The debates during the first round of the current election provide part of the explanation.

By focussing on the issue of crime both Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin lent considerable weight to an issue traditionally raised by the far right. As for Le Pen, he ran a campaign that was more "moderate" than usual, less focussed on immigration and more on social issues, defending workers and the man in the street.

The exit polls show how successful this targeting proved to be.

Le Pen scored 30% of the vote with the unemployed, 23% with factory workers, versus only 16% for Chirac and 11% for Lionel Jospin. Looking at the poll of all voters currently in employment, Le Pen still ranks first (19%) in front of Jacques Chirac (17%) and Lionel Jospin (16%). The success of the far right with the working classes is clearly a particularly harsh indictment for Lionel Jospin who had refused any significant rises in the minimum wage or basic social rights and failed to take radical measures against redundancies and the drop in job security. But it is also a problem for trade unions and movements which, like ATTAC, fight against liberal globalisation and which had thought that the increasing struggles and mobilization, from the November and December strike in 1995 to the wide scale demonstrations following Seattle, had led to the long-term marginalisation of the far right.

For the trade unions, the challenge will be to speak up for the claims of the weakest members of society, including the unemployed and to marshal employees in the private sector. And, for movements like ATTAC, to find the means to link up with the working classes.


Starting straight away on Sunday night, demonstrations took place throughout the country and the next day the secondary school and university students were out in the streets. This spontaneous uprising provides the starting point for associations and left wing parties to lay out a mobilization plan.

The first point of agreement is to fight Le Pen.

The second round of the Presidential elections will take place on May 5th and, whilst there is no doubt that Jacques Chirac will win, Le Pen 's score will have repercussions later. Hence slogans like "Le Pen must have as few votes as possible" or "beat Le Pen with ideas, in the streets and in the ballot boxes" which appear in the communiqué issued by ATTAC France and, with equivalent wording, in most of the position statements issued by associations and trade unions. Leading up to May 5th there will be two major united mobilizations: on April 27th and, above all, Wednesday May 1st.

But many people, including of course ATTAC, don't think that it's enough just to mobilize against the National Front but that we should also defend working class claims and fight against liberal globalisation, which is the only way to attack the roots of problem and the causes of the growth of the far right.

Initial meetings have been held between associations and trade unions and initiatives are underway to assert these claims and create arenas which will be useful both for this mobilization and for the discussion and debate which many militants are calling for. The first big meeting, open to everyone, will take place in Paris on Thursday evening.

Paris, April 23rd.

Contact for this article. ATTAC France office of secretariat

This article argues for a new party in France which would unite the left around an anti-capitalist programme. The article was originally published in the French Marxist journal Carré Rouge, in 1999.