PARIS, France – “We are living in an unprecedented political moment,” Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the Communist Party of France (PCF), told the one thousand delegates and guests at that Party’s 37th National Congress.
Laurent focused his remarks on France’s 2017 presidential and general elections, and the Party’s concomitant goal of building a broad left popular front against the right-wing.
He asked the assembled communists, “How do we approach these elections within a political context”?
Laurent asked the audience to consider first “what’s real”, meaning the actual balance of political power. “Then,” he said, “identify what has the potential to become real. What are the aspirations and potentialities of today’s world?”
In recent years the 120,000 member-strong PCF has seen a modest decline of influence at the ballot box. While still one of the largest political parties in France with numerous elected officials – including Laurent, a senator and senator of Paris – the PCF has nonetheless been losing members and votes.
Unlike in the United States, elections and parties in France are publicly funded. Parties receive state funding based on their electoral results, which has meant fewer resources for the PCF in recent years.
A main topic of discussion at the 37th National Congress was how to win back a larger share of the electorate, particularly against the conservative governing Socialist Party – the current dominant force in France’s political landscape. The Socialist Party, headed by President François Hollande, has been responsible for a new business-friendly labor law, which has caused a recent wave of strikes.
“We must show millions upon millions that they are a majority force that can take power,” Laurent told the delegates and guests.
He urged communists to put aside their differences with other left forces and mass organizations. Instead, he urged, communists must “gradually build that dynamic of a popular left front, to build alliances with those willing to act along with us on a socially transformative process.”
Additionally, Laurent told PCF members not to fear disagreements with would-be allies, or to “abandon” workers who have drifted to the right.
The working class, he said, is “not a homogeneous bloc free of contradictions,” he said.
Any broad-based left coalition would inevitably bring “forms of unity and different currents ripe with contradictions,” he added. We must “work with all of these forces.”
Stopping the rightward drift in France is “up to us,” he continued. “We need to take the initiative.” Laurent was referring to the recent rise in popularity of the National Front (FN) party, headed by anti-immigrant demagogue Marine Le Pen, who has proposed closing France’s borders and wants to take the country out of the European Union. The FN was founded in 1972 as a far-right nationalist outfit by Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has faced repeated prosecution and fines for Holocaust denial. The party is currently performing well in opinion polls and is widely expected to make it to the final round in next year’s presidential election. As in other countries, the far-right in France is running a populist and racially-tinged campaign that plays to economic insecurities and the perceived failures of mainstream parties.
Laurent added that the PCF should be primarily concerned with rebuilding the left and “shifting the battle-lines,” rather than with “who our candidate is.” He said that focusing on individual candidates misses the point of the political process of building power.
Earlier in the Congress, PCF leaders had proposed an ambitious but time-tested strategy for building the popular left front: organizing to build unity. Leading into the fall, the PCF plans to have 500,000 one-on-one conversations with PCF members and broad-left voters. Leaders are calling it the “people’s primary.”
Alain Hoyot, a PCF member of parliament, called this “a possible turning point for a new initiative in our party.” Hoyot talked about the “link between politics and culture” in a “globalized, financialized world.” He said, “alienation goes hand in hand with exploitation. Human beings have become merchandise.”
While a majority of the delegates supported Laurent and the Party’s overall political direction, there was some debate, with a small minority of delegates arguing against the building of an alliance with broader left forces. Some delegates expressed a fear of watering down the party’s unique political identity by partnering too closely with others. In addition, there was criticism of the Party’s former alliance with the Socialist Party and the way that that alliance helped create the conditions for Hollande and the SP to pass the new anti-worker labor law. Delegates had small machines that they used to vote yea nay or abstentions on the question of building alliances, which passed with a majority.
PCF delegate Cecile Dumas echoed Laurent and the majority perspective.
She said, “we must make a forceful appeal for unity. We aren’t afraid of differences with allies. We are sure of ourselves,” as the political reality is such that we can “no longer vote based on what we believe in, rather on what will be the most useful, what will build the most unity.”
“We have to bring together all social forces for broad left unity against austerity,” she concluded.
Andre Chassaigne, another PCF member of parliament, summed up the thrust of the 37th Congress, when he said, “It is necessary to unite. It is necessary to converge. The interest of the people are at stake.”
Photo: Tony Pecinovsky/PW