The French presidential campaign has given a new focus to a revitalised left in France, and one that has a different shape.

The various Trotsykite formations, whose media-blessed campaigns put them in front of the PCF’s Marie-George Buffet in the last presidential election, have vanished from sight and poll below 1%. Much the same has happened to the ecologist candidate, while the anti-globalisation movement, which had some minor electoral traction, has also vanished.

A lot of this is due to the personality and political style of Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has put himself at the head of a remarkable convergence of different streams of anger and resistance and who has dug into the support of both the middle of the road Socialist Party and the populist and racist National Front.

There was a great deal of suspicion in the PCF (Parti Communiste Francais, French Communist Party) about the candidature of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Part of this was grounded in his uncertain record as an ex-Trotskyite, former Socialist Party minister, and a former but now repentant advocate of the European Union.

Part of it was grounded in a suspicion that rightwing elements in the PCF leadership wanted to dissolve the party into an amorphous "Left Party" and they saw the alliance of the PCF and Mélenchon’s Party of the Left (Parti de Gauche)  – itself a breakaway he led from the Socialist Party – as the embryo of this liquidationist trend.

In the internal party ballot the leadership had to pull out all the stops to defeat proposals to run a strong and militant Communist rather than back Mélenchon. The leadership did defeat the proposal, but not comfortably. But French Communists – especially the left – are a dogged and mostly disciplined lot and they have loyally backed the decision.

Although the Front is made up of the Parti de Gauche, the Gauche Unitaire (a breakaway from the Trotskyite NPA) and a number of smaller formations, it is the 100,000 strong PCF which is the organisational core of the electoral machine. Probably one in three or more PCF members are either locally elected representatives or trade union delegates and it is the only party that is present in every working class community and the only one that has a national network of enterprise-based collectives.

The trend represented by Robert Hue (who only gained election to the Senate with Socialist Party support) has been on its way out of the PCF for some time and is heading in the direction of the Socialist Party rather than some new formation.

Nick Wright blogs at 21st Century Manifesto,<<>>. He is a frequent visitor to France.

April 7, 2012