“Bourgeois democracy” as a term means something quite specific to Marxists. Lenin famously attributed to Karl Marx that bourgeois democracy is where “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament!” That’s because the operative principle in every one of these countries — whether the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, or wherever — is to protect the state and the bourgeois order.
The specifics of how each bourgeois democracy functions, though, differs from country to country, including in how they organize elections. Compared to the United States, it is quite different in most of the countries of Europe. There, some parties that emerged from the working class — such as the Socialists and Communists — have even managed to win the highest offices in the lands from time to time. Even they, however, “rule” to protect the bourgeois order.
Working-Class Candidates Face Big Hurdles
For working-class candidates, especially revolutionary ones, two electoral realities persist across all bourgeois democracies: there are challenges to getting on the ballot, and being heard as a candidate — even with ballot access — is severely limited compared to those who represent the capitalist interests that fund their parties.
The difference with how presidential elections are organized in the United States — where they are openly undemocratic (beyond hurdles to candidacies, consider the Electoral College) — may be most stark in France, where the veneer of democracy may appear to be greater. The first round of that country’s presidential elections is scheduled for April 10. To appear on the ballot, a candidate does not gather signatures from ordinary voters, but instead must obtain 500 “sponsorships” primarily from 42,000 elected officials nationwide: mostly mayors, but also members of parliament, and regional councilors from France’s 30 different departments (which are like counties). The official period for gathering those parrainages (“godfatherings”) began on January 27 and ends on March 4.
In the United States, the presidential campaign drags on for two years; in France, a formally recognized campaign lasts only two weeks ahead of voting. During that period, every candidate that has achieved ballot status is provided equal and identical space across the country to affix posters outdoors, the size and contents of which are regulated. Each candidate is given an equal amount of free airtime on television, spread over an equal number of advertisements, to present their programs. The law requires that those spots be broadcast at times that ensure equal exposure for all.
Campaign funding is strictly regulated, too, and the state distributes money to candidates for their campaigns. There are no corporate PACs, no “dark money,” no huge funding by “special interests,” be they corporations, trade unions, or others. While the individual contributions to candidates French citizens are allowed to make are larger than those in the United States, they are still only a few thousand dollars.
To be sure, there are primaries, rallies before the official campaigning period, and so on, all of which garner media attention. The candidates most likely to win get a lot of attention from the press. But in the run-up to election day, so-called “minor” candidates typically get much more attention in France than in the United States.
A French regulatory authority known as the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) regulates radio and television coverage of election campaigns. Its mandate had been to ensure “equity” in coverage during the “intermediary” period between the time the official list of candidates who have achieved ballot status is published and the opening of the official two-week campaign; in recent years it has shifted to “fairness.”
Which brings us to the case of Anasse Kazib, the revolutionary Trotskyist rail worker running for president as the candidate of Left Voice’s sister organization in France.
The Case of Anasse Kazib
Revolutionaries have no illusions that ridding the world of the capitalist system of exploitation, based on profits for the few to the exclusion of meeting human needs, will come through the ballot box. That, though, doesn’t preclude running for political office if it makes sense under particular circumstances, not to get elected but as a way to intervene in political life and promote revolutionary ideas. Workers need a party of their own, as Left Voice wrote during the 2020 U.S. presidential election campaign, “that doesn’t take money or advice from capitalists. One that relentlessly denounces the undemocratic character of the U.S. electoral system, not tries to find a way around it. One that fights within and outside bourgeois law, that shows no respect for the courts, the banks, and the rules of the game that keep the vast majority in poverty for the profit of a few.” This is no different in France — and to raise those ideas and advance the building of such a party is precisely why Anasse Kazib is taking advantage of the opening afforded by the French bourgeois democracy to run for president.
On Tuesday, February 15, the Constitutional Council of France, which is responsible for tracking the sponsorships candidates seeking ballot access receive, published its latest count. It showed that Kazib had obtained 116 sponsorships, more than many other candidates. Notably, he had more than Christiane Taubira (at 73 sponsorships), who won the so-called “French People’s Primary” to stand as a “unity Left” candidate in the elections. Taubira was minister of Justice in the Socialist Party government of President François Hollande from 2012 to 2106. “She enjoys a particular aura on the left,” as Révolution Permanente has written. But “her career is marked by opportunism and allegiance to the institutions of the regime.”
Kazib’s candidacy, by contrast, stands squarely against the institutions of the racist, capitalist French state. His program calls for a government of the working class and the most oppressed in French society, including the large immigrant community. Kazib himself is the first candidate of immigrant origin in the history of France’s Fifth Republic.
This program of the revolutionary candidate explains the other striking figure released earlier this week. The CSA revealed that between January 1 and January 30, Kazib appeared on French television far less than all other candidates, including those who are way behind him in obtaining sponsorships. His total: 2 minutes and 41 seconds. Taubira had 11 hours.
Kazib’s total equals 2 seconds for each of the sponsorships he has obtained. Taubira’s worked out to 17 minutes per sponsorship. The far Right candidate Éric Zemmour had 23 minutes and 29 seconds per sponsorship to spew his racist, xenophobic attacks.
Every other candidate — from big and small parties — is being covered more than Kazib. Even Hélène Thouy of the Animalist Party, which campaigns solely around animal rights, has gotten more coverage. After more than four months of campaigning, Kazib has not been invited to any television or radio program. In fact, even the news coverage of the Constitutional Council’s announcement used graphics that omitted Kazib as a candidate. This has led to a campaign on social media around the hashtag #OuEstAnasse (Where is Anasse?).
What explains this phenomenon of what our French comrades are calling “invisiblization”?
Censoring Revolutionary Ideas
The rail worker’s revolutionary program stresses the self-organization of the working class as a way to fight back against capitalist exploitation and oppression and combat the growing far Right and its attacks — along with those of the police — on people of color in France. He is an ally of the LGTBQ+ community. Kazib’s program demands an immediate increase in wages across the board for all French workers.
Kazib’s campaign has been targeted with violent threats from the Right that have galvanized support among trade unionists, the youth, and noted personalities in the country. He has been subjected to racist invective, declared to be “not French” (despite being born in the country), and accused of covering for Islamic terrorism. The “invisiblization” of his campaign is part of the same attacks, just wielded in a different way.
The French state — and the mainstream media that serves its interests — have a mission: keep Kazib’s revolutionary program from reaching a wide audience, and channel discontent among the French masses to a candidate who can be counted on uphold the interests of the French bourgeoisie and their “democracy.” That candidate today appears to be Christiane Taubira — until, perhaps, it isn’t. At the same time, Zemmour and the other candidate of the far Right, Marine Le Pen, enjoy considerable media coverage for their particular focus against immigrants, especially Muslims.
The media blackout around the Kazib candidacy, with its revolutionary, class-struggle program, is proof of where the institutions of the French state stand — not just the official institutions, but the overall “power structure” that includes the mainstream media. There are two weeks left to meet the challenge of 500 sponsorships, and the revolutionary campaign is going all out. But there are no illusions. Again, the campaign has never been about winning the French presidency, but about raising a revolutionary alternative to French capitalism.
No matter how many sponsorships the Kazib campaign ultimately obtains, the work of building an independent working-class party that challenges the French rulers will continue, unabated.