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Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Double Game of French Socialism

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    • I. The center and the right in the face of French Socialism: optimistic illusion, scope of the defeat, and the crossroads
      • 3. The Great Factor in the Rise of Socialism in France: Abstention Prevails in the Center and the Right
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3. The Great Factor in the Rise of Socialism in France: Abstention Prevails in the Center and the Right

 

Observers and analysts of the recent presidential elections in France are certain that the victorious leftist candidate was helped by votes from considerable sectors of the center and the right. Since Mitterrand's  margin over his opponent was 1,065,956 votes (3.1% of the net valid votes not counting blank and void ballots) in the second round of the elections, the shift of centrist and rightist votes to the socialist candidate was a considerable - perhaps decisive - factor in the tight electoral race. One only need consider that a change of just half this number would have meant a tie (See Chart I - How 500,000 Votes Decided the French Presidential Elections).

This shift is shocking. Twenty years ago, every self-respecting centrist and rightist considered it treason to vote for a candidate of the SP, particularly one who was part of an open coalition with the Communist Party (CP). 2 In 1981 this sense of consistency failed in many centrists and rightists of all ages, 3 who, with a sometimes indolent or thoughtless tranquility, voted for Mitterrand. How could this have happened?

But the failures of the right and the center did not stop there . Their lukewarm election campaigns lacked the dynamism and force de frappe indispen­sable for generating popular support. These elements were not lacking in the socialist-communist campaigns.

This lack of dynamism, naturally more noticeable in the parliamentary elec­tions, had yet another consequence: increased abstentions. In an election so decisive for the future of France and the world, no less than 10,783,694 voters (29.6707o of the electorate) abstained in the first round of voting. Significantly, the abstentions outnumbered the votes for the SP (9,432,537).

The great loss in the final runoff was suffered by the center-right, whose total vote fell from 14,316,724 in the first round of the presidential elections (April 26) to 10 , 892,968 in the first round of the parliamentary elections (June 14) - a loss of 3,423,756 votes in this extremely brief period. Since between the two elections the number of abstentions increased by 3,900,917 and the total leftist vote increased only slightly (see Chart 11 - Abstention and Dispersion in the Center and the Right Favored the Left in the Recent Parliamentary Elections in France) in all likelihood most of those abstaining belonged to the center and the right. Many of them probably failed to vote because of party infighting, or simply to spend election Sunday the way they deemed most comfortable and entertaining.

An illusion held by the non-voters that a victory by an undoubtedly leftist, but easy-going, party would not have dra­matic consequences accounted in large measure for their critical non-participa­tion in the electoral process. Another consequence of this optimistic view was that petty personal and regional considerations, as well as the excitement gener­ated by Mitterrand's victory, led many centrists and rightists to cast their bal­lots for the SP. This helped to bring about a shift similar to that which had taken place in the presidential elections.

Everything leads one to believe that the greatest number of abstentions and largest leakage of votes must have occurred in the less rigidly organized parties, unless we were to imagine a SP or a CP softening its discipline or trying to outdo its centrist and rightist adver­saries in abstentionist apathy.

So the SP won, but its victory by no means indicates any increase in the socialist electorate, as skillful leftist propaganda around the world would have it.

A comparison of the 1978 and 1981 parliamentary elections shows that the leftist vote remained practically unchanged: 14,169,440 in 1978 and 14,026,385 in 1981. (In both cases these are first round figures since, due to the peculiarities of the French electoral sys­tem, that is the only round in which comparisons are possible.) But since the number of eligible voters increased by 1,138,675 in this period while the total leftist vote stayed about the same. it is clear that the left's share of the vote actually diminished. Thus, the left, which in Left, which in 1978 had the support of 40.25% of the total electorate, now drew only 38.59% - far from a majority (see Chart III -Stagnation of the Leftist Electorate in Parliamentary Elections from 1978 to 1981).

It is clear that the recent victory of the SP was due less to a real strengthening of the left than to lack of interest and some dispersion in the center and right. As we will see later, this dispersion was partly due to the disorientation and fragmentation of a considerable portion of the Catholic electorate.

If the socialist victory were due to an increase of specifically leftist voters, it might be very difficult to reverse. But since it was caused by disorientation in the center and the right, the situation is not irreversible; the SP's victory of 1981 may be followed by its defeat in future elections.

May these considerations be an encour­agement to those who imagine that the advance of socialism is definitive and who, instead of making use of their political liberties to mount an orderly but fiery, unyielding and fruitful opposition, run to shake hands and collaborate with the victors. Thus they give up the fight to halt their country's slide down the ramp of socialism (which they themselves call slippery) toward communism (which they recognize as fatal). Their explanation: the socialist victory is definitive - as though anything were really definitive in today's unstable world.

 




2.            Even though there is an open alliance between the SP and the CP, its beneficiary still has to be slightly dissimulated. This means that the socialists must be the ones who stand out:

"It is necessary for the Communist Party to accept this obvious reality of French politics. The majority of the French will not entrust their government to the left unless it is certain that socialism will establish freedom for our times,"

"Like it or not, to achieve that, it is necessary for the Socialist Party to appear as the animating force in the alliance. This takes nothing away from the role the Communist Party should play in it" (Program, p. 366).

The communists understood their role very well. According to the Secretary General of the SP, Lionel Jospin, one and a half million communist voters (one fourth of the Party) voted for Mitterrand in the first round of the presidential elections (cf. Le Poing et la Rose, no. 83, 5/30/81, p. 1)

 



3.            The references to the right in this work do not include the traditionalist French right, which often has a Catholic inspiration and whose presumable action in the elections of 1974, 1978 and 1981 is difficult to ascertain and therefore difficult to assess.

 






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