Thanks for your coverage of the political situation in France.

In his excellent article ('Marriage equallity comes under attack', dated May 29 2013), Darren Edgar states that "Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Front de gauche (FG), a radical left coalition, has been preoccupied by infighting, but did organize a major demonstration in early May--providing a left-wing response to the goverment."

The terms "infighting" and "preoccupied" may give a false impression. They suggest a degree of internal conflict leading to an inability to take action which in my opinion is misleading. In fact, the Left Front is rightly seen, and often acts, as the main left-wing alternative to François Hollande's neoliberal policies.

The Left Front is a coalition of nine organisations, including the French Communist Party (PCF), Mélenchon's Left Party, and several smaller groups, including ex-Communists, Les Alternatifs (a 'red-green' party) and three groups of several hundred people who came out of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Clearly, such a coalition does not always speak with a single voice, or act collectively. As a counterweight to the rivalry of the two main parties in the Left Front, merger talks are taking place between most of the smaller groups.

The French Communists have in the past joined governments dominated by the Socialist Party (PS). Many of their elected officials hold office thanks to agreements with the PS and others. However, thanks partly to François Hollande's clear move to the right once in office, the PCF has increasingly  distanced itself from the government - though some deals are still possible locally. The Left Party, which was set up by ex-Socialists, tends to use more radical language to condemn François Hollande's policies than the PCF. It is opposed to local agreements with the PS. But it has some reactionary policies, including a defence of French nuclear weapons and military capacity, and defends an often virulent version of French secularism which denies rights to Muslim women who wear the headscarf.

Mélenchon's personality, including his often colourful language, has led to some criticism from supporters of the Left Front and left-leaning independents, and his leadership role is clearly resented by some Communists. But his ability to seize the time has often proved a major asset, as with the 100,000-strong demonstration against austerity on May 5 which Darren mentioned. Mélenchon has outspokenly condemned the racism and homophobia of the right, as well as the emphasis on law and order and anti-immigrant, anti-Roma, issues by the Socialist minister of the interior, Manuel Valls. He has ostensibly supported environmental and anticapitalist activists protesting at the building of a new airport in the West of France - the pet project of Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The Left Front is particularly active in defending union militants charged with offences in connection with strikes and protests. It has opposed an agreement championed by Hollande, and signed by several 'moderate' unions, which makes it easier for employers to sack workers and impose pay cuts, and is severely critical of Hollande's failure to act to prevent job losses in industry.

The French left, as elsewhere, does need to overcome many of its divisions, while continuing to debate strategy and tactics - hopefully in a more fraternal way. The successful demonstration on May 5 was supported by many outside the Left Front, and even by some members of the Green Party (including Eva Joly, their candidate in the 2012 presidential election), which is a member of the Socialist-led government coalition. One positive sign was the support from the NPA. However, part of the organisation decided not to take part, preferiing an alliance with the sectarian left.

Fraternal greetings,

Colin Falconer, Saint-Denis, France

Member of Gauche Anticapitaliste (Left Front)

30 May 2013

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