Macron’s victory in France won’t stop the fascist Le Pen

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France’s historic presidential battle between fascist Marine Le Pen and neo-liberal Emmanuele Macron may be over, but the crisis in French politics that produced this remarkable contest is far from resolved.

It was the first time ever that neither the Conservatives nor the Socialist (Labor-type) Party made it to the second round.

Macron took 24 per cent to top the poll in the first round. He was able to build support simply on the basis that he wasn’t from the hated mainstream parties. He kept relatively quiet about his plans to attack trade unions and public sector jobs, instead promoting himself as “an outsider”.

Protester during the election campaign demands “Neither the banker (Macron) nor the racist (Le Pen)

In truth, he’s as insider as they come—an ex-banker, and a former Minister of Economy in outgoing President Francois Hollande’s government.

Macron won comfortably with 66 per cent of valid votes in the second round run-off. But almost two-thirds of his voters said they did it only to keep out Le Pen. Turnout at polling booths, usually high in France, was the lowest since 1969. And 12 per cent of people who did vote recorded a blank or spoiled ballot.

Now, in the context of such limited support, Macron faces the elections for parliamentary candidates without a party. As soon as he tries to cobble together a government of neo-liberals like himself, his claim to “outsider” status will be easily exposed. Like those that came before him, Macron will have a hard time trying to impose his ambitious neo-liberal reforms.

He takes the helm from the humiliated French Socialist Party, led by Francois Holland. Much like their Greek counterparts PASOK, they have been reduced to a pale shadow of their former selves after years of implementing austerity measures. Hollande achieved little in his time but a fantastic drop in support from 60 per cent when first elected in 2012 to an approval rating of just 4 per cent as he left office. The Socialists’ candidate, Benoît Hamon, recorded a derisory 6 per cent in the first round.

Austerity and racism

Hollande faced mass strikes in 2016 against his Labour Law, and he only got it through by suspending voting in parliament. The French economy is still in crisis, with unemployment at 10 per cent (and 23 per cent amongst young people).

Hollande’s government was also characterised by repeated Islamophobic offensives since the attack on Charlie Hebdo in 2015. He used nationalism and appeals to “Republican values” to obscure the focus on his austerity measures.

This climate of racism, authoritarianism and austerity has created fertile ground for the repugnant fascist National Front.

Of course, many breathed a sigh of relief that Macron defeated their leader, Le Pen. But it would be a mistake to equate this with a defeat for the National Front. The party’s Nazi roots were exposed in the election, with the party’s temporary leader revealed to have denied the Holocaust and supported the Vichy regime.

Not only did these fascists win nearly 11 million votes—a historic high—but they continue to organise and win support almost entirely unimpeded by an active protest movement against them. Some left parties and activists have even supported Islamophobic measures like the ban on the burqa, helping to legitimate and give cover to racism.

Le Pen’s strategy is to hide the true fascist roots and commitment of the National Front in order to “normalise” the party and chase mainstream electoral support. Macron’s presidency promises more of the policies the National Front fed off, which will help fuel their growth. That’s why it was right for sections of the French left to refuse to be drawn into backing Macron.

Building an activist movement to beat back the National Front’s advance is crucial. But a left alternative is also needed.

The vacuum in politics, and the hatred of austerity, means there is a real space for this. Left candidate Jean Luc Mélenchon won an impressive 19.6 per cent of the vote in the first round, nearly as many votes as Le Pen. He supported the rights of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to come to France, called for withdrawal from NATO, the abolition of the Labour Law, and taxing high income earners at 90 per cent.

Combining anti-racism and anti-austerity on the streets holds the possibility of transforming French politics. Mélenchon himself seems unlikely to build such a street movement. He deliberately ditched his old party and formed a new “movement” with nationalistic tones, France Unbowed, simply to stand in the election.

Macron is going to be a weak leader. It remains to be seen how many seats he will actually win in the French parliamentary elections in June. But unless a real extra-parliamentary opposition is built to fight racism and fight Macron, Le Pen and the National Front will keep growing.

By Amy Thomas

Website Comments

  1. Colin Falconer
    Reply

    Thanks for a useful article. As a socialist who has lived in France for nearly 40 years, I would like to make two points.
    You say that “it was right for sections of the French left to refuse to be drawn into backing Macron”. Here in France the left was very divided on the issue. I personally supported a call to back Macron simply as a necessary means not only to defeat Le Pen but to make sure she got the lowest possible percentage score. As it happened, her “disappointing” 34 per cent opened up major cracks in the Front National. The slogan “Beat Le Pen on May 7th, fight Macron on May 8th” laid out a simple strategy for the election and made it clear we had no illusions in a Macron government. While supporters of the ‘Neither, nor’ strategy could claim to be the most radical opponents of Macron and his liberal policies, they also often showed an astonishing complacency in the face of the fascist threat (indeed often going so far as to deny that such a threat even existed). However, we must now set aside these differences and concentrate on building grassroots resistance both to Macron’s policies and the ever-present danger of a racist, right-wing reaction.
    My second point concerns Jean-Luc Mélenchon. His score in the 1st round of the presidential election was excellent news. But socialists must also be critical of his positions – including on the refugees and racism in general (and islamophobia in particular). It is not only hs movement, La France Insoumise, which has “nationalistic overtones”. Mélenchon himself has consistently refused to support freedom of movement, saying that it would be better if migrants could stay at home. He thinks of himself as a progressive patriot, and is in favour of an independent French nuclear deterrent and arms industry. He boasts that France, with its overseas territories in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean and Guyana in South America, “is present on all the continents of the world”. I think it is right for socialists to support Mélenchon and his candidates in the parliamentary election – but we must make sure that an alternative, internationalist, voice is heard.

  2. Melanie Lazarow
    Reply

    Thank you Colin, I had a strong position on the beat Le Pen then straight away fight Macron. I cannot imagine the devastation of a Le Pen win, and even though we are not in the best position , and with a continuing danger we must still fight. And your call for an internationalist pro refugee, anti-border restrictions socialism, is of course right.

  3. Judy Mcvey
    Reply

    My take on France. Thankfully the French Left and largest union created an outcome which allowed for a workable terrain on which to build strategy. Not excellent but better than urging a strong vote for Macron. Macron did not receive the vote that could give him a strong mandate , and Le Pen’s vote left her third after the abstentions-plus-spoilage phenomenon (nearly 30%). Imagine if Macron was supported strongly by far left – how would the left easily build the movement necessary to fight Macron, the working class’s necessary next step. Macron’s historic role, without the necessary fightback and anti-fascist mobilisation (which I hope the far left can now lead), is to prepare the ground for a demobilised working class which could make it vulnerable to fascism. The election had allowed the division of the working class as many voted Le Pen, and others for Macron. To unite the left and working class requires a serious fight against fascism which means linking the fight against austerity (Macron promises more austerity than the Socialist Party) to anti-racism ( esp. fighting Islamophobia). Anti-fascist mobilisations in Britain and Greece (under leadership of our comrades) hold lessons that can help craft that anti-fascist movement.

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