French elections produce … more of the same!

An opportunity further to upset the applecart in Europe has been lost, but the imperialists’ glee is likely to be short-lived.

Engles pointed out that universal sufferage acts as a 'gauge of the maturity of the working class'. French workers still have a long road ahead.

On 7 May, the Blairite Emmanuel Macron won the second round of the French presidential election and is now president of France, much to the joy and relief of the establishment. It was the result that the world’s imperialist ruling circles had been hoping and praying for – to say nothing of blatantly interfering to obtain.

“Whatever you think of France’s centrist establishment, you have to hand it to them: they took the threat of populism seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they dumped an incumbent president, created a totally fictitious party, and hitched their star to an unknown, telegenic 39-year-old whose defining biographical characteristic is that he married his high school French teacher.

“The idea was to give some revolutionary sheen to a centrist platform, and … it seems to have worked. Emmanuel Macron, a globalist nobody, is well-positioned to become the next president of France, and perhaps even the next interim leader of the free world – at least until a new American president is sworn in.” (Emmanuel Macron is everything America’s Democrats are not by Christopher Glazek, Foreign Policy, 25 April 2017)

The fact that this result most of all favoured US imperialism’s drive to war against Russia is shown by the fact that of the four leading contenders in the presidential race, Macron was the only one to subscribe to US imperialism’s anti-Russia agenda, which even the Republican François Fillon did not espouse:

“Policy towards Russia in particular has become a lightning rod for French anti-Americanism, which overshadows the country’s political landscape on the left and the right. Only Mr Macron of the leading candidates took even a moderately firm stand on the Russian threat to the west. Marine Le Pen flaunted her ties with the Kremlin … and echoed Donald Trump in declaring Nato ‘obsolete’. The conservative François Fillon has longstanding ties with Russia, decried the chill in east-west relations and argued for close cooperation with the Kremlin against the islamist threat.

“The defeat of Le Pen and the other pro-Russian presidential candidates removes the immediate worries …” (The security of Europe depends on Macron by Edward Lucas, The Times, 12 May 2017)

It is no coincidence that Fillon, the candidate of France’s major opposition party, was the object of a frenzied campaign, both in the bourgeois media and in the state apparatus, to discredit him by obsessing over the type of openly dishonest dealings he engaged in many years ago at a time when everybody knew politicians ‘employed’ members of their families at public expense to do nothing in particular, and this was accepted practice. That Fillon had also done so was suddenly excavated in order to discredit him only because of the one and only anti-establishment policy in his armoury – a policy of friendship with Russia.

It is quite impossible to believe that US imperialist interests did not interfere behind the scenes in helping its friends in the French establishment get the result they all wanted – though of course there is media silence about where M Macron’s non-party got the finance to support his presidential campaign beyond a few references to some relatively unimportant ‘business backers’.

In any event, what the imperialist interests and their French supporters wanted, they got. This was distinctly not what the masses of the French electorate wanted, as even Edward Lucas admitted:

“The pro-Russians gained more than 61 percent of the votes in the first round. The mildly hawkish Mr Macron and the mainstream socialist Benoît Hamon gained just over 30 percent.” (Ibid)

In the French elections there are four main policy positions that are of importance: (1) attitude to the EU, (2) attitude to supporting US hostility to Russia, (3) attitude to immigration, and (4) attitude to labour rights.

This is where the four leading presidential candidates stood on these issues:

Macron: Frexit – Anti; Russia – Anti; Immigration – Anti; Workers’ rights – Anti

Le Pen: Frexit – Pro; Russia – Pro; Immigration – Anti; Workers’ rights – Pro

Fillon: Frexit – Anti; Russia – Pro; Immigration – Anti; Workers’ rights – Anti

Mélenchon: Frexit – Pro; Russia – Pro; Immigration – Pro; Workers’ rights – Pro

It is clear therefore that of the four candidates whose results were close to each other in the first round, the worst possible candidate has won.

Although a large proportion of the French electorate has, like the British, been groomed by the bourgeois media to blame the ills of capitalism on immigrants, on the issue of peace they most definitely prefer the policies of Le Pen, Mélenchon and Fillon, who between them in the first round obtained 61 percent of the vote.

Those voting for Mélenchon and Le Pen, one can assume were voting for preserving workers’ rights and for Frexit. They made up 41 percent of the electorate, a minority substantial enough to alarm James Traub of Foreign Policy, who had pointed out:

“The dynamic of globalisation has increasingly compelled the parties of both the centre-left and -right to bow before the laws of the marketplace – embracing fiscal austerity, free trade, the free movement of capital and labour. The dream of escape from these apparently iron laws is especially potent in France, where a poll recently found that only one of four respondents viewed free trade as an opportunity rather than a threat. In England, Brexit notwithstanding, the figure was twice as high …” (France’s socialists are losing to a communist, 31 March 2017)

As It turned out, although the rust belts in northern and eastern France were, like their counterparts in Britain, strongly in favour of Frexit, to say nothing of preserving workers’ rights, they were outgunned by the comfortably-off in big cities like Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon.

Nevertheless, the result in the final round might have been quite different had more of Mélenchon’s first-round supporters not shied away from voting for Le Pen in the second round.

As with Fillon, so with Le Pen, the bourgeois media and state machine (with threats of criminal proceedings being floated against both) were mobilised to undermine their candidacies. The bourgeois media worked night and day to remind voters of the past association of Le Pen’s party, and especially of two of her most trusted henchmen, with Hitlerite fascism.

Whatever its murky past, however, the French Front National (FN) is not today a fascist party (as to which see further below), because that would involve it either in its programme or in its activity or both being engaged in the systematic forceful and violent suppression of opposition to bourgeois rule. Should that rule come under serious threat, it is of course more than likely that the FN would favour the forceful elimination of opponents, but so indeed, in all probability, would the other bourgeois parties.

But that is not currently the situation in France, where the bourgeoisie rules comfortably by almost unanimous consent, as it prefers, be it that the consent is obtained by deception, rather than face the disruption of continual violence. Of course, the FN does have unpleasant historical associations that are extremely offensive to the relatively progressive voter. It is also more vocal in its anti-immigrant rhetoric than En Marche, Macron’s ‘party’, which manipulates anti-immigrant opinion behind it in a more muted way.

So, while Fillon’s supporters could be expected to gravitate towards Macron in the second round, it was always going to be unlikely that many of Mélenchon’s supporters would go for Le Pen, and of course Mélenchon himself did not suggest that they should. As it is, they either voted for Macron, stayed at home, spoilt their ballots or left them blank. Abstentions plus blank and spoilt ballots in the second round accounted for 34 percent of the electorate.

How France’s 47.6m voters were divided %

Macron = 43.6%

Le Pen = 22.4%

Stayed at home = 25.4%

Ballot left blank = 6.4%

Ballot spoilt = 2.2%

If Le Pen had won, this would have carried the danger of spelling curtains for the EU and Nato – the realisation of which should make any anti-imperialist – even a hard-pressed immigrant – feel that a great opportunity has been lost. It is not difficult to see that if those who voted for Macron only because of LePenophobia had not done so, it would have reduced his share of the vote; and if those those who didn’t vote at all, for the same reason, had voted for Le Pen if they preferred her stated policies, the result could have been quite different.

This is more than apparent from the results of a poll by Ipsos for France Télevisions reported by Adam Sage in The Times, which showed that a massive 43 percent of those who voted for Macron did so primarily to block Le Pen. Le Figaro was forced to conclude: “Macron’s France – this positive, dynamic, reformist France [!], open to Europe and to the open road – truly exists. But it represents only a quarter of the French. Two other quarters are radically hostile to the values it embodies.” (Abstention and spoilt ballots at record level, 9 May 2017)

National assembly elections

Be that as it may, the fat lady has not yet sung – the opera is not over.

Macron, whose policies have nothing ‘positive, dynamic or reformist’ about them, but are largely indistinguishable from those of the discredited Socialist Party of François Hollande, in which Macron was not so long ago the finance minister, will not be able to do anything much unless his ‘party’ is able to control the national assembly, the elections for which are coming up on 11 and 18 June.

“Emmanuel Macron’s triumph in the presidential election will be worth much less to him if he cannot secure a majority in France’s 577-seat parliament in June.

“French presidents appoint the prime minister, chair cabinet meetings, can call referendums and dissolve the national assembly. But they cannot dismiss the government, which determines and runs national policy and answers to parliament.

“Preparing new laws and ushering them through parliament is the job of the prime minister, who depends on MPs’ backing. So if a president has a majority, he is effectively head of both state and government. If not, his hands are tied.

“Macron has said he plans to pass some urgent reforms ‘by decree’, but these are really just a means to speed up the process rather than bypass parliament, whose approval each decree will ultimately need.” (Emmanuel Macron picks centre-right Edouard Philippe as PM by Angélique Chrisaphis, The Guardian, 15 May 2017)

Macron’s ‘party’, being newly-formed, has not a single assembly member (MP) to its name, but now requires 577 constituency candidates. There is no shortage of applicants to stand for the constituencies, all hoping for a post in the new Macron administration.

“A total of 15,000 people applied to become République en Marche candidates in France’s 577 constituencies, including 1,600 in the past 48 hours.

“An overwhelming majority are political novices, including many women and people from ethnic minorities, but about 80 are sitting Socialist MPs keen to keep their seats by switching to Mr Macron’s camp.

“In a further sign of the changing political landscape, about 30 opposition centre-right Republican MPs are also believed to be preparing to defect to République en Marche.” (French MPs ditch their parties to join Macron’s En Marche by Adam Sage, The Times, 11 May 2017)

So Macron had little difficulty in poaching from both Republicans and Socialists to form his cabinet. Besides appointing the Republican mayor of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe, as his prime minister, he then went on to appoint Republican Bruno Le Maire as his finance minister.

“Mr Le Maire, 48, is a former agriculture minister under right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy. Sylvie Goulard, a centrist MEP and early supporter of Mr Macron, was appointed defence minister, while Francois Bayrou, the leader of the centrist Modem party, becomes justice minister. Former Socialist defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was appointed as foreign minister also in charge of the EU, while Gerard Collomb, the Socialist mayor of Lyon, becomes interior minister.” (Bruno Le Maire named French economy minister as Macron unveils his cabinet by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Financial Times, 17 May 2017)

With such an embarras de richesses, Macron happily turned down an application from would-be defector, the outgoing Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, whom he obviously heartily dislikes, but it would appear that he has already backtracked on his well-publicised promise that half his ministers would be women!

Time will very soon tell if all these defections will be enough to give Macron control of the national assembly, which it would seem is something that the French electorate do not want.

“One poll in Le Figaro, one of the country’s top dailies, suggests a full 69 percent of the electorate want the parliamentary elections to produce a different result from the presidential ones, and only one-fifth of voters believe that parliament should be of the same political stripe as the president.” (Emmanuel Macron’s electoral victory: now the hard work begins by Jonathan Eyal, Commentary, 8 May 2017)

Macron may also be helped by a certain level of disarray within the FN, which might otherwise have been able to rely on a solid 20 percent of electoral support. According to the Times: “Ms Maréchal Le Pen, the champion of the National Front’s traditionalist base, has been in disagreement with her aunt [Marine Le Pen] and has left the party in the lurch a month before the parliamentary elections. The party expects to bounce back from its defeat … and increase its strength in parliament. It hopes to win up to 100 seats.

“The resignation of Ms Maréchal Le Pen is a blow to Ms Le Pen as she tries to shore up her leadership against accusations from inside the party that she bungled her presidential campaign.” (Rising star’s exit triggers crisis for National Front by Charles Bremner, 11 May 2017)

On top of that, Ms Le Pen’s father, with whom she has been at odds as she has been seeking to discard the FN’s extremist image, is now setting up a new party, the ‘Union of Patriots’. Paradoxically, this could even help Ms Le Pen by drawing the stigma away from the FN and making her party appear moderate by comparison.

What do ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ mean these days?

We have frequently argued that there are rarely any significant political differences between bourgeois parties these days, as a result of which it is, in Britain for instance, absurd to talk about the Labour party being left-wing while the Conservative party is right wing. The only significant difference has been in the target audience of the party’s marketing exercises, which has traditionally been the industrial and poorer sections of the working class for the Labour party and the intelligentsia and middle and upper class for the Conservatives.

With the withering away of much of the industrial working class, the Labour party has had to make inroads into the preserves of the Conservative party, which it did most successfully under the leadership of Tony Blair. But at all times the actual policies of the two parties were largely indistinguishable: suppression of the working class at home and subjugation of the oppressed countries abroad.

In this French presidential election, however, there were tangible policy differences between the parties. To the extent that Le Pen was promising to defend workers’ rights and to maintain friendly relations with Russia, she actually appeared well to the left of Macron, who undertook to ‘modernise’ French labour law and was utterly hostile to Russia.

Of course, it can be argued that a workerist veneer does not prevent a party from being a fascist party, any more than it did the Nazis, and that the FN’s anti-immigrant, islamophobic stance matches that of Hitler towards the jews. In important respects, however, this comparison, although seductive, is invalid:

(a) Neither in its propaganda nor in its practice does the FN advocate the suppression of civil rights or the banning of opposition parties.

(b) Although it takes a hard line on the question of admitting immigrants and deporting those found guilty of criminal offences, and a stupid line of trying to force cultural integration on immigrants generally, it is not proposing to confiscate immigrant property wholesale, as Hitler did with the jews, nor proposing systematic discrimination against them.

(c) Its foreign policy is the opposite of aggressive, at least for the moment, as it favours rapprochement with Russia rather than following US attempts to impose its domination by force.

Of course, like any bourgeois party, the FN should not be trusted by the proletariat. But proletarian distrust needs to be extended equally to the other bourgeois parties rather than used as a reason to discriminate against any particular one in blind disregard of its policies.

What is most devastating is that, as a result of the ravages of revisionism, the French proletariat was unable to press forward for a communist party of its own to represent its interests and fight, insofar as is possible in bourgeois institutions, for the interests of its class, which are, in the ultimate analysis, the interests of the entire future of humanity.

Be that as it may, in the present situation in France, the best result would have been that Mélenchon and Le Pen faced each other in the second round of the presidential election and that the former should have beaten the latter. That really would have put the cat among the pigeons as far as the bourgeoisie is concerned.