In the 2012 French presidential elections, the French Communist Party (PCF) will not run its own candidate, the first time that this has happened since 1974 when the Communists backed Francois Mitterrand.
Last weekend the Communists, who once commanded 20% of the French electorate, announced that they would support Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate of the Left Front. The Front now has a motley collection of greens, Communists and Socialists and is led by a person who used to be a socialist minister in the government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (1997-2002).
The French Communists were weakened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also saw a large part of the electorate appropriated by the Socialists under Mitterrand.
Lately, in the PCF's former working-class bastions, the party has suffered from competition from the right-wing National Front as working-class voters blame immigrants for job losses and the deterioration of their neighborhoods. French communism is thus following the path of Spanish Communists, German Communists after the unification of Germany and the Italian Communists who dissolved their identity and merged into a larger ideological grouping of the left.
For the French Communists this means an historic reversal, as its new bedfellows are people whom it used to revile as Trotskyites and bogus revolutionaries. This has been the pattern for the rest of Europe..
If Mélenchon is to be taken seriously, the leader of the Left Front is proposing a 6th Republic to replace the French Fifth Republic. The Sixth Republic will basically scrap the French presidential system and restore power to the French legislative branch (and therefore it will resemble Fourth Republic). It will also be guided by ecological planning, although it is unclear what that means.
What the left front does bring is an anger against those whom Mélenchon calls "a small group of oligarchs" who are despoiling the country. As in Spain, the far left is strongly against the European Union, believing that the organization has become too much the creature of the bankers and the economic establishment.
Melenchon began to part ways with the French Socialist party following the victory of the "no" side in the 2009 referendum on a European Constitution. The French Socialists as a party had decided to support the Constitution and Mélenchon and a few others bucked party discipline and supported the victorious "no" side. The rebels were punished buy being purged from the party bureaucracy.
In the public opinion polls the far left is getting between 4 to 7% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election. This seems a modest showing, but two factors should be borne in mind: If economic conditions aggravate further, both the National Front and the Left Front will be beneficiaries.
Secondly, most French presidential elections have been decided by a narrow margin and therefore assuming the Socialist candidate makes it to the Second round, if the Left Front was to withhold its support it could endanger a socialist victory.