Denis Godard, a member of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France, spoke at the SWP’s Marxism 2017 festival in London on Macron and the political situation in France. Below is a copy of his speech.
Let me begin by breaking the hype about President Emmanuel Macron, who has portrayed himself as different to other French politicians.
Macron is not a new figure. As is well known he has been a banker and a Minister of the Economy.
Macron is not clean. In just a few weeks three key ministers have had to leave the government because of corruption. And the current Minister of Labour is under attack as well.
Macron is not soft. He plans to sack more than 100,000 workers in public services and introduce a new labour law already labelled as an “XXL labour law”. Politically he is not particularly “liberal”. He has already announced a new “anti-terrorist” law strengthening the state and the police and, symbolically, invited Trump to the military parade on the 14 July.
But most of all, Macron is not strong. His regime is the most unstable since the beginning of the Fifth French Republic in 1958.
Yes he won a landslide victory at the parliamentary elections with 370 MPs out of 577. But his candidates got only 16 per cent of the registered voters in the first round. In the second round the abstention rate broke every record. It is estimated that less than one people in every four people over 18 living in France, either registered voters, non-registered or foreigners, expressed a choice for one of the candidates.
And that is to say nothing about the lack of cohesion of his newly formed party and parliamentary group.
The lack of legitimacy of Macron and the wider political system is a result of the economic crisis which has seen French capitalism’s position in the global market weakened in the last ten years, compared to the other developed countries.
It should be a warning for all of us that, in this context, a fascist party, the National Front, got 11 million votes in the second round of the elections.
Strikes and mass movements
But if the political crisis and instability are real, the growth of fascism is not an inevitability. Because there is another side of the instability in France, which is the high level of working class combativity.
Everybody knows about the big movement of last year, not only the national days of strikes and demonstrations against the new work law but the occupied squares and the Nuit Debout movement as well, demonstrations, confrontations with the police, and political radicalization.
This didn’t stop during the election campaign this year. One of our comrades estimated that from the end of January to the end of March there were one million strike days, mainly local strikes, often invisible in the national media, but an unprecedented level during an electoral campaign.
There was a big audience for the movements against police brutality around the case of a young black man, Adama, killed by the police last July. This took new momentum after another young man, Theo, was raped by the police in February. After the destruction of the refugee camp in Calais, the refugees were moved to different locations, but this spread the movement of solidarity all over the country. And these movement against police brutality and racism converged in a 15,000 strong demonstration in Paris on 19 march. Again this was a huge achievement in an election period.
And there were two other significant events. The first was the big movement of rebellion in the French colony of Guyana that ultimately won after some weeks against the French state. One demonstration gathered 10 per cent of the population! That is the equivalent of a 6 million-strong demonstration in France!
The second event, less massive, but politically significant, is the fact that there were demonstrations from mainly young activists against National Front meetings during the campaign of thousands in Nantes, Bordeaux and Paris. In Corsica young activists stormed a National Front meeting to disrupt it.
The seven million votes and mass street meetings organised by Jean-Luc Melenchon’s election campaign also partly expressed the radicalization through a radical left-wing stance against austerity.
All this means there will be no honeymoon for Macron: the pressure on the trade union leadership and the CGT has seen them call a new national day of strikes and demonstrations on the 12 September.
Melenchon and the left
The big weakness in the situation is the state of the organised left. The crisis of the Socialist Party is good news. Even their candidate in the presidential election, Benoît Hamon, has decided to leave the party to build his own movement.
The big man in the left is now Jean-Luc Melenchon. But there are serious problems with him, organisationally and politically.
In the process of his campaign he weakened the political organisations that previously supported him by setting up a new, very top-down kind of movement around himself. And politically he nearly dropped references to class struggle for appeals to nationalism, even claiming he was a patriot and arguing that the only solution for refugees was for them to stay at home, since France could not welcome them. Significantly, he dropped the use of red flags and the Internationale from his meetings for the French flag and the French national anthem.
The issue of building class unity is vital in a country where one third of the working class is either black or Arab. This means taking a clear stand against racism, against islamophobia, police brutality and in full solidarity with refugees, not only in theory but through action as well.
France is an example of the instability, deepening political crisis and class confrontations that are becoming common features in many countries. This situation creates huge dangers but also huge opportunities for revolutionaries and the left.