May 2002 

From Hindenberg to Chirac...

French Elections:
Beware of Bourgeois “Saviors of the Nation”!

Build a Real Leninist-Trotskyist Party!

On the eve of the second round of the French presidential elections, the bourgeoisie and the reformists who prop up capitalist rule are pulling out all the stops to get out a massive vote for the notoriously corrupt conservative Jacques Chirac against the sinister fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen. “Votez l’escroc, pas le facho” (Vote for the thief, not the fascist) has gone from a slogan on high-school students’ placards to being the marching orders of the ruling class. This in itself is a stunning indictment of the fraud of bourgeois “democracy.” 

The goal of this operation is to get the highest possible vote for Chirac, in order to “save the honor of France” and to restore faith in a discredited political system. In the growing inter-imperialist tensions, France poses as the defender of human rights, supposedly less bellicose than the warmongers in the U.S. White House and Pentagon. That is difficult when a substantial portion of the French electorate votes for an immigrant-bashing xenophobe who calls for setting up “transit camps” for deportees. 

  Election posters for reactionary Jacques Chirac and fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen in Niort, France, 3 May 2002.  (Photo: Franck Prevel/AP)

So worried are French rulers that the vote for Chirac will not be overwhelming enough that the Constitutional Council ruled yesterday that it was not permissible for voters to wear surgical gloves and clothespins on their noses as a sign of distaste for the foul “choice” they are offered!

In an April 26 statement, the League for the Fourth International warned against illusions in the capitalist electoral shell game, arguing for worker-immigrant-youth mobilization to sweep the fascist thugs from the streets on May 1, the international workers day, and for an active boycott of the electoral farce on May 5. A supplement to L’Internationaliste sold at the mammoth anti-Le Pen May Day march in Paris headlined: “1935-2002: The Popular Front Paves the Way to Fascist Reaction, Fight for Workers Revolution!”

While candidates making some pretense of Trotskyism gained over 10 percent of the vote in the first round on May 21, all of them, openly or tacitly, encouraged a vote for Chirac in the second round. In classic reformist fashion, they did so by opposing “abstention” and calling to “block the right” at the polls. This is in flagrant contradiction to the Bolshevik program of Trotsky and Lenin, who fought for the revolutionary independence of the proletariat from all the bourgeois parties. 

The ultra-reformist Socialist (PS) and Communist parties (PCF) were even more explicit in ordering their supporters to cast their votes for Chirac. On April 29 the PCF issued a leaflet headlined “Alarm,” calling to “bar the way to Le Pen” by “putting a ballot for Jacques Chirac into the ballot box without any crossing out or distinctive sign.” But the debate at the PCF’s National Council the same day revealed that many of its supporters were not buying its line: “Numerous comrades reported reticence, even among politicized union women and men, even among youth who have been active in demonstrations against the far right in recent days, to choose ‘the thief over the fascist’.” 

The daily Libération, close to the PS, has led the charge for voting Chirac, but even it had to report on April 30 that in the factories CGT metal workers were saying, “Blocking Le Pen means voting for Chirac, and that means intensifying what we undergo every day.” Never have discussions in the shops been so intense. “To vote for Chirac pisses many people off who think he should be in prison. And in the union, many said after the first round, ‘I’m not going to vote May 5’.”

"Millions Stand Behind Me." Illustration by John Heartfield on cover of Arbeiter-Internationale-Zeitung (Workers International Newspaper), October 1932. Title: The Meaning of the Hitler Salute. 

The main argument put forward by the Stalinist PCF and social-democratic PS to convince their ranks to vote for Chirac, the candidate of the big bosses, is the traditional refrain of “the Republic in danger.” In calling for a “Republican front” to justify voting for the bourgeois “democrat,” they uncannily reproduce the reasoning of the German Social Democrats (SPD) who in March 1932 called for a vote for Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg in the election against the Nazi Adolf Hitler. (At the time, the Stalinist German Communist Party (KPD) ran its leader, Ernst Thälmann as the third major candidate.)

At that time, many of the social democrats and bourgeois liberals who had opposed the World War I commander of the German Reichswehr when he was first elected president in 1925 “now saw him as the savior of the Republic,” wrote William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1959). With the SPD machinery working at full throttle, the incumbent von Hindenburg got a bare majority against Hitler and Thälmann in the second round. Yet less than a year later, the re-elected imperial president named Hitler chancellor (prime minister) of the German Reich, allowing the Nazi leader to take power by parliamentary means. 

In an April 1933 declaration to a international congress against fascism held in Paris a few months after Hitler’s takeover, Leon Trotsky wrote: 

“Descending from one step to the other in pursuit of the ‘lesser evil,’ the Social Democracy ended by voting for the reactionary field marshal, Hindenburg, who in his turn summoned Hitler to power. Demoralizing the proletariat by illusions of democracy in decaying capitalism, the Social Democracy deprived the proletariat of all its powers of resistance.” 
Today, calls on the workers to vote for Chirac against Le Pen in the name of “lesser-evil” politics will likewise undermine their power of resistance against the onslaught of capital. Parliamentary finagling with bourgeois “democrats” is no barrier to the fascists, for they ultimately represent the same class interests. To stop the likes of Le Pen’s National Front and Hitler’s National Socialists it is necessary to mobilize the power of workers in united class action to sweep the fascist vermin off the streets, opening the way to proletarian revolution.

Certainly, the situation in the first years of the 21st century is notably different from the 1930s. Le Pen is not about to take power, though there is a general rightward shift of the bourgeois political spectrum across West Europe. All the more reason to warn against being seduced by calls to “save the nation” by voting for a right-wing reactionary. In fact, an electoral landslide for Chirac will not “defend democracy” but may whet the bonapartist appetites of the former deputy and successor to General Charles de Gaulle. In the wake of the first round voting, Chirac proclaimed a “Union for a Presidential Majority” as a vehicle for executive rule using the considerable powers conferred on the head of state under the Gaullist Fifth Republic to overrule a bothersome legislature with decrees and plebiscites. 

Adolf Hitler (left) as he is named imperial chancellor (prime minister) by German president von Hindenburg, 30 January 1933. Social Democrats voted for Hindenburg to block rise of Hitler; Hindenburg then summoned Hitler to office.  (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

And what program will this latest “savior of the (bourgeois) Republic” implement? Following the re-election of von Hindenberg, the voice of German capital, the Berliner Bösenzeitung (7 June 1932), declared: “This increasingly low level of existence is the only possibility for a revival of production and thereby for the lessening of unemployment. More work and simpler life– this is the unavoidable fate for Germany” (quoted in Robert Black, Fascism in Germany: How Hitler Destroyed the World’s Most Powerful Labour Movement [1975]). Both Hindenburg and Hitler shared this program for reviving German capitalism by intensifying the exploitation of German workers.

Today, the French bourgeoisie is not afraid of fascism but of a rebirth of the working-class militancy that burst forth in the 1995 mass strikes. The popular-front government of the “plural left” headed by Lionel Jospin was brought in to divert and dissipate that combativity. Now that its job is done, the popular front is tossed aside “like a squeezed lemon.” The head of the leading organization of French bosses, Medef (Movement of Enterprises of France), Ernest-Antoine Seillière, is demanding that companies have complete “freedom to fire” workers, that income and business taxes be drastically lowered and the costs of medical insurance be transferred to the workers, that the 35-hour workweek be abolished and the age of retirement be raised. Medef has endorsed Chirac for president, but its program is shared by both candidates on the second round.

Moreover, Chirac, Le Pen and Jospin have all supported the U.S./NATO terror war against Afghanistan. All of them backed the police-state measures against immigrants in France (codenamed Vigipirate) and the crackdown on “insecurity” which was the “home front” of that war. So did the smaller parties of the popular front government (PCF, Greens, MDC, PRG). The pseudo-Trotskyist tails of the popular front (LO, LCR, PT) sought to pressure the government to the left and sidle up to the police rather than fighting to defeat the imperialist war at home and abroad. To fight the fascist threat and the war on the working class proclaimed by the leading voices of French capital, it is necessary to forge a genuinely Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party of the proletariat, not an opportunist imitation. 

– 4 May 2002

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com