PARIS — For all those opposing the destructive policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy and his extreme right government, the main result of the mid-March local elections in France is the growing voter confidence in the French Communist Party (PCF), which received 8.82 percent of the vote. This shows the party is still significant, at least for 1,150,000 citizens, as compared to the 770,000 votes cast for its presidential candidate, Marie-Georges Buffet, in 2007.

Continuing his dramatic slide in the opinion polls, President Sarkozy, whose policies are now supported by only 37 percent of the French people, can no longer argue that he has the country’s backing for his antisocial counter-reforms. The president’s party, the Union pour un Mouvement populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, originally founded by Jacques Chirac in 1976) lost many big city mayors and even some departmental (county) councils.

The Socialist Party (PS), which elected the most candidates, benefited from the defeat of the right parties and from a very high level of abstention (35 percent on average and nearly 50 percent in most large cities). But in terms of votes, the PS remained at its 2004 level of around 26 percent. In fact, it changed nothing in its program from the last presidential elections — which it lost — and it recently helped the right to adopt the new European Constitutional Treaty.

In spite of the current “union of the left” (Socialists, Communists and Greens), the PS strategy during the campaign was clearly that of openness towards the Modem, the new center-right party led by François Bayrou, who placed third in the 2007 presidential elections after Sarkozy (UMP) and Ségolène Royal (PS). This is the party’s basic political orientation as it looks ahead to the next presidential elections in 2012.

The PS leadership’s alliance with the “center” (that is to say with the moderate right), was rejected by many Communists, who refused to accept this submission to the neoliberal order. As a consequence, in many places the PS did everything possible to oust the Communist candidates, as in the Seine-Saint-Denis department. The same phenomenon happened with the Greens (Verts), allied with the PS, who won cities against the PCF (like Montreuil, near Paris).

As during the 2005 campaign against institutionalizing neoliberalism in the European Union’s constitution, the Communists’ resurgence arose from specific local mobilizations. It gives new hope to many workers, retirees, unemployed, young people and migrants for their future struggles. The next battles will be hard, like those against the planned destruction of the labor contract, public health, national education, public housing and the retirement pensions system.

These electoral results also make clear that the Communist Party must continue to exist as the main party of the working people, in order to consolidate these new positive developments and to advance the social demands and anti-capitalist claims of the working classes in France. What they need is a strong and fighting PCF. And they also know that the Communists presented more candidates than the far left parties have rank-and-file members taken all together.

The future of the left struggle for real social progress and democratization in France will not be that of smooth reformism, as many social democrats believe, but that of radical change and a thorough rupture with the aggressive neoliberal policy led by the ruling class and its allies. Some seven million people are still living below the poverty line in France today. For them, as well as for many modest households, the words “liberty, equality, brotherhood” are already devoid of meaning.

Rémy Herrera is a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research and teaches at the University of Paris Pantheon-Sorbonne.