Macron secures second term as French President, despite huge unpopularity, amid an “ocean of abstentions”
News of Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the 2022 French Presidential election, broadcast worldwide before counting had closed, brought forth an audible sigh of collective relief from the global corporate neo-liberal elite. The City of London, Wall Street, the French Bourse, Washington, Westminster, Brussels, and the Bundestag, in short, all the economic and political mouthpieces of corporate finance capital, of western imperialism, were jubilant at their own victory. Business will continue, they hope, as usual.
An intense media-orchestrated campaign to deter left-wing voters from supporting his rival resulted in Macron’s 58.5% victory (with 18,779,641 votes) over Marine Le Pen’s 41.5% (and 13,297,760 votes) at the close of counting.
More than one in three voters did not vote for either candidate. While turnout was just under 72%, the lowest in a presidential run-off since 1969, more than three million people cast spoilt or blank votes. Just 42 percent of the registered French electorate, therefore, voted for Macron’s presidency. France’s population in 2021 was 67 million, and 51.6 million of its citizens are over 18, meaning just over a third of all French adults cast a vote in President Macron’s favour.
“A surge in the weeks before the first of the elections by Ms Le Pen, who inherited her father’s 50-year-old far-right political movement, had spooked European Union leaders, who [had] issued ringing endorsements for the incumbent.”
Marine Le Pen herself stated that “Tonight’s result is in itself a remarkable victory (for us). Emmanuel Macron will do nothing to repair the fractures that divide our country and make our compatriots suffer” (quoted in ‘the Loop’, Upjobs News, 25 April 2022).
In his carefully staged victory speech, beneath the Eiffel Tower on the Champ de Mars underneath the blue-and-yellow flag of the European Union, as well as the French Tricolour, Macron acknowledged the divisive strategy that had secured his victory, with the words “Many in this country voted for me not because they support my ideas but to keep out those of the far right. I want to thank them and know I owe them a debt in the years to come.”
The result cannot hide the fact that Macron’s Presidency of France is widely perceived by French workers as an abject failure. The French economy, at the centre of the ailing EU, continues to head into a tailspin. French workers are experiencing record inflation, a product of the general capitalist crisis intensified by continuing quantitative easing of the European Central Bank, and the unhinged policy of an ill-fated Brussels bureaucracy, hell-bent on intensifying the USA’s failing economic and proxy military war with Russia in the Ukraine.
As Europe’s long-term gas contracts with Russia come to an end, and Russia reduces gas exports to EU countries (as it will if those countries remain belligerent and moreover refuse to pay for the gas they are receiving, as in the instance of Poland and Bulgaria) a further huge spike in energy prices will hit French households and industry, bringing ever higher unemployment and social unrest in its train. It seems almost inevitable that despite this electoral ‘victory’, Macron’s rock-bottom approval rating, already languishing below 36 percent, will free-fall along with the living conditions of the French workers.
Fellow war-criminals greet Macron’s victory
Desperately searching for good news, and a distraction from his own languishing political reputation (scoring as low as 29% ‘approval’ in polls), Britain’s own cost of living crisis also exacerbated by the same proxy NATO war on Russia, UK prime minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter as polls closed: “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on your re-election as president of France.
“France is one of our closest and most important allies. I look forward to continuing to work together on the issues which matter most to our two countries and to the world…”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, keen to earn his ‘honours’ and demonstrate his faithful service to British imperialism, with ‘mature’ and ‘bipartisan’ solidarity, joined the Conservative prime minister, tweeting his own “Congratulations [to] Emmanuel Macron on defeating the far-right to win an historic second term, from all at UK Labour. The relationship between our countries is based on respect and allyship, and we look forward to that continuing” (quoted by Thomas Kingsley in ‘Boris Johnson congratulates Macron on re-election to French presidency after polls predict Le Pen defeat’, The Independent, 24 April 2022).
Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada also congratulated Mr Macron, writing on Twitter: “Looking forward to continuing our work together on the issues that matter most to people in Canada and France – from defending democracy, to fighting climate change, to creating good jobs and economic growth for the middle class.”
Trudeau could hardly have taken another position bearing in mind that with Canada being a junior partner of US imperialism, he had just 4 days earlier along with the UK and US staged a coordinated walkout from a G20 meeting in protest against Russia’s presence,.
US president Joe Biden tweeted on Sunday: “Congratulations to @Emmanuel Macron on his re-election. France is our oldest ally and a key partner in addressing global challenges. I look forward to our continued close cooperation — including on supporting Ukraine, defending democracy, and countering climate change” (quoted by Emily Goodwin, ‘Biden says he “feels good” about the French election…’, Mail Online, 25 April 2022).
Still smarting from USA’s humiliation of France by surreptitiously launching its anti-China AUKUS ‘alliance’ and simultaneously announcing the sale of $122 billion dollars-worth of US nuclear-powered submarines to the Australians, scuppering the previously agreed $90 bn French-Australian submarine deal, Macron apparently refused to take Biden’s call on election night. It is quite possible, of course, that in view of Biden’s deteriorating health, he is seen as an irrelevance when dealing with US imperialism.
“European Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were quick to hail Macron and divine in the 44-year-old’s re-election some sign of the EUs bright future: ‘In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union,’ Michel wrote on Twitter. ‘Together, we will move France and Europe forward,’ von der Leyen added.
“German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was one of the first national leaders to congratulate Macron, saying that the election result ‘sent a strong commitment to Europe’ — while Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the outcome was ‘wonderful news’ for the whole Continent. The French president will travel to Berlin to meet Scholz for his first post-election visit, according to Le Monde, as he did in 2017.
“One of Europe’s fiercest advocates, Macron placed a stronger, more independent EU — and the bloc’s [so-called] strategic autonomy — at the heart of his political agenda. In contrast, while Le Pen backtracked on former pledges to exit the euro and leave the EU, the National Rally leader had promised to radically alter the bloc and transform it into a looser ‘Europe of nations’ if elected president” (Victor Jack, ‘EU leaders breathe sigh of relief after Macron’s election win’, Politico, 25 April 2022).
Talking of the EU’s strategic autonomy is of course ironic, at a time when the EU is placing USA’s drive to war with Russia above its own core economic and political interests and in sabotaging its own energy supply irreparably, and is causing both the cost of living of its workers to soar still further, while rendering its industry uncompetitive.
‘The markets’ had been equally worried about the consequences of a Le Pen victory. Just days before the second round presidential election, with polls indicating the margin was narrower than in 2017, traders were reported to be “girding for a surprise Le Pen win, which would rattle Europe’s second biggest economy as fears of a recession in the region grow.
“‘It could be bigger than Brexit. It could be bigger than Trump, if Le Pen prevails,’ said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets” (‘Analysis: French election could be a bigger shock to markets than Brexit or Trump’ FGN News, 24 April 2022).
“‘Most of [Le Pen’s] policies would not be possible inside the EU,’ said Grégory Claeys, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a think tank in Brussels.
“That could spark a ‘Frexit,’ or French exit from the European Union ‘by accident,’ he continued. If France, under Le Pen, pushed ahead with policies that broke EU law, he predicted there would be an exodus of capital as investors pull cash from the country, as when the United Kingdom voted for Brexit in 2016” (ibid.).
Why is ‘western democracy’ afraid of Le Pen?
If Le Pen is simply a hard right representative of imperialism – hardly a new phenomenon in Europe – what are the nature of her policies that are apparently an anathema to finance capital and the EU? The very same article continues in the following vein:
“French inflation hit 4.5% in March, driving consumer confidence to its lowest level in more than a year. Energy prices, which have leaped since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are up 29% compared to 2021, while food prices are nearly 3% higher [in all likelihood far higher than this and rising].
“As inflation eats into spending, economists have warned that France’s economy could shrink later this year.
“‘Wages, especially low wages, are not increasing by the same proportion as the increase in prices,’ said Boris Plazzi, a board member of the Confédération Générale du Travail, a workers union with 700,000 members. ‘Therefore, there is a real concern on the part of workers.’
“Le Pen has pledged to restore between €150 and €200 per month in household purchasing power by slashing taxes on fuel, reducing road tolls…”
It will be remembered that these were widespread demands of the workers, made against Macron, and upon which the demands of the Yellow Vest movement were based.
This is considered unacceptable to the profit margins of finance capital. They are also against the spending requirements of the European Central Bank, which caps social spending of all member states and famously has gutted the social sector of the poorer southern and Eastern European states – most noticeably Greece. Workers, conversely, regard increase in social provision and wages as representing their core interests, indeed for many, they will be a matter of survival.
Well and good, but there is of course a divisive sting in Le Pen’s tail, for the last part of the list to “improve the lot of French citizens” is always given as “cutting social benefits like subsidised housing for foreigners.” The implication here is that responsibility for the fall of the conditions of the workers rests somehow with the immigrant population. It is a get out of jail free card for French capitalism, and is undoubtedly a mainstream policy of the majority of French parties contesting the election, and indeed all western capitalist powers: to divide workers in the face of the escalating crisis of monopoly capitalism.
“‘Food and fuel prices have really dominated the day-to-day campaign,’ said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a consultancy. ‘That’s one of the reasons she’s been so successful’” (FGN News, op.cit.).
The French Left
One cannot consider the rise of the French right, without also considering the demise of the French Left. Most notably, the French Communist Party (PCF) was once a party that could draw upon France’s deep revolutionary history to garner genuinely mass support in France. That revolutionary history not only encompassed the bourgeois revolution of 1789, with its guillotining of the monarchy, with its radical Jacobin club, Robespierre and Danton, but the many subsequent risings of the French working class of Paris, culminating in the 1871 Paris Commune – the first time that workers have ruled a major nation, and the prototype of workers’ rule that inspired Marx and the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The French communists who played the dominant role in the anti-fascist struggle in WW2, and a major role in the county’s post-war political life, have failed to connect with the last years of militant struggle in France. Dominated by Khrushchevism and Eurocommunism; failing to take a resolute stand against its own ruling class, French communism lapsed increasingly into plain social-democracy. Moreover, having on many occasions taken a resolute anti-immigrant stance through the 1980s until the present, and pledging in this election “to work with the broadest and most diverse partners in the national interest”, it was in many respects indistinguishable from mainstream bourgeois French politics.
The PCF had thrown its weight behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the 2012 and 2017 presidential elections, but in 2022 stood its own presidential candidate, Fabien Roussel, who is quoted in the press as taking “a strong stand on security and immigration”. One of his key pledges highlights “the right to happiness at work, but also to happiness on holiday.” And with such an emphasis and programme, divorced from even the language, let alone the content of the class struggle, perhaps it is little wonder that with 2.3% of the vote and its candidate coming 8th in the first round, the French communist ‘challenge’ to the status quo was marginal.
Moreover, “in a further boost for Macron the Communist Party candidate Fabien Roussel, [along with] Socialist Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot of the Greens and right-wing Les Républicains candidate Valérie Pécresse said they would vote for him to prevent Le Pen coming to power” (‘French Socialist, Green, conservative candidates back Macron in election run-off against Le Pen’, France 24, 10 April 2022). In doing so, the PCF was apparently keen to separate itself from the “underbelly of the far right.” Yet one only need take a glance at their bedfellows to see that something in that logic must be profoundly amiss – particularly in the case of the Republican party, as we shall see.
By contrast, it is widely believed that had Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader and presidential candidate of France’s left social-democratic formation ‘La France Insoumise’ (Literally ‘rebellious France’, or ‘France unbowed’) faced Macron, he would have swept to victory. He was denied the opportunity when he was narrowly beaten by Marine Le Pen in the first round of voting two weeks before, in which Mélenchon won 22% of the votes, to Le Pen’s 23.2% and Macron’s 27.9%.
Mélenchon himself has impeccable social-democratic credentials and has widely been compared to politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US. He joined the Socialist Party in 1976, and was successively elected a municipal councillor in Massy (1983), and general councillor of Essonne (1985). In 1986, he entered the Senate (France’s elected upper chamber), to which he was re-elected in 1995 and 2004. He served as a Socialist Party Minister for Vocational Education between 2000 and 2002, under Minister of National Education, Jack Lang, in the cohabitation government of Lionel Jospin. In 2008, however, he split from the party and allied himself with the communist party and others to form a new ‘left’ party in France. He has scored successively higher proportions of the vote in 2012 (11.10%, coming 4th), 2017 (polling an increased 19% of the vote, but still in 4th place) and this year in 2022 with 22% of the vote (placing third in the first electoral round).
Once knocked out of the contest, with only the highest two scoring candidates proceeding to the second and final round of voting, Mélenchon called upon his supporters not to vote for Le Pen, which was perhaps the greatest factor in the split of the anti-Macron vote, and the return of Macron.
While maintaining that in his view it was good that France had refused to place its trust in Marine Le Pen (although 42% of the vote represents an enormous growth in French support for the leader of the Rassemblement National or National Rally, and a clear advance on the 34% she secured against Macron’s 66% in 2017, or the 23% won by her father’s FN in 2002), he also observed that Macron had been elected with a worse result than any other president, stating that “He floats in an ocean of abstentions, and blank and spoiled ballots.“
Growing malaise of the French political establishment
Be in no doubt: behind the jubilant headlines proclaiming Macron’s victory across the entire western world, the leaders of imperialism are breathing a sigh of collective relief. After an intense media campaign, it is with some justification that despite her loss Marine Le Pen said her significant vote share “still marked a victory”. She won more than 13 million votes, largely fuelled by her platform of tax cuts to tackle the high cost of living.
The real story of this election is the deep and growing malaise that dominated both Macron’s first presidential term, and the 2022 election that witnessed the final and total collapse of the traditional vote of both the socialist and republican parties, who between them polled just 6% of the first-round presidential vote. These were the current embodiment of the two traditional parties of French establishment for a full 70 years of the Fifth Republic, and their demise represents an event as significant as the fall of Vichy.
Les Republicains’ presidential candidate, Valerie Pécresse, sounded far more extreme in her anti-immigrant ranting than Le Pen, yet with 4.8% received the lowest percentage of the first-round vote in the party’s history, while the Socialist candidate Hidalgo received a paltry 1.8%, and was placed tenth, that is, two places behind the communist candidate .
“Pécresse [leader of the former governing party of Nicolas Sarkozy, and Jaques Chirac], said her changes to the constitution would introduce minimum prison sentences for some crimes, quotas for immigration, and limit the Muslim headscarf in some public spaces, including banning headscarves from players in sporting events. No headscarves would be worn by mothers accompanying schooltrips, she said. She referred to her own clampdown on full-body swimsuits as head of the Île-de-France region, which includes Paris and the surrounding area, saying: ‘There will be no burkinis in the swimming pools of the Republic’.”
In point of fact, it was the rise of Mélenchon in 2017, and France’s deep discontent with the traditional political elite that prompted the latter to hastily produce Macron in the first instance. His ‘La République en Marche’ party (Republic on the Move), was literally manufactured as a vehicle of corporate interest, and after his presidential victory there was an intense and careerist scramble to fill the candidacies of the parliamentary elections that followed a month later – which, powered by his presidential victory and the mainstream media hype, also saw his rapidly fashioned party secure a parliamentary majority.
The polished media image and campaign surrounding him was every bit the PR vehicle of corporate finance capital. “Young. Dynamic. Genuine. New. Different.” This was Obama-style politics run by marketing and PR firms, unfettered by any historical popular encumbrances (such as parties and support from the population), other than the will of the ruling capitalist class. Macron appeared on the scene at the crucial moment of crisis, surrounded by a small army of Astro-turfed ‘activists’ that sprang ‘from nowhere’.
He surfed to victory apparently as an ‘outsider’ on a wave of ‘popular enthusiasm’, but in reality he was a safe pair of hands for the establishment, having served as deputy secretary general (under President François Hollande in May 2012), and as French cabinet Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs (in August 2014, under prime minister Manuel Valls). A Rothschild banker, educated among the political elite at the École nationale d’administration, he was every bit the continuity candidate for French Capital, and proved from the outset his impeccable neo-liberal credentials as a firm Atlanticist, an opponent of ‘excessive’ state benefits for workers, and a champion of the free-market fundamentalism beloved of Thatcher and Reagan.
Following his 2022 re-election, as if to leave no doubt about his credentials as the continuity candidate for French imperialism, “a government source said the president was at a retreat in Versailles consulting political figures such as ex-presidents Francois Hollande [Socialist Party] and Nicolas Sarkozy [Republican Party]” (Sophie Louet and Ingrid Melander, ‘No respite for re-elected Macron as parliamentary elections loom’, Reuters, 25 April 2022).
Macron’s policy and first term record
Notable among Macron’s early attempts to liberalise France’s economy, were policies designed to make it easier for companies to lay off workers and lowering business taxes, which haven’t been popular. Some critics have called him ‘the candidate of the rich,’ bearing in mind his moves such as getting rid of the wealth tax and reducing social spending assistance:
“For businesses, Macron dropped the tax rate on firms from 33.3 percent to 25 percent, and slashed the cost of labour by transforming a €20 billion a year tax credit into a permanent reduction on social security contributions for employers. He also had the French labour code modified to help firms by facilitating layoffs. For individuals, Macron did away with the wealth tax (the impôt sur la fortune, or ISF) and created a fixed one-time levy on capital gains to stimulate investment in companies and the real economy in trickle-down fashion.
“The country’s unemployment rate, moreover, dropped primarily on the basis of a rise in job insecurity for salaried workers. To spur recruitment, France sought to reassure companies that they could [fire] employees in the face of adversity, in line with 2017 reforms. As a result, firms more frequently provided low-security jobs (short-term contracts, temporary work, etc.). In 2020, 3.3 million people in France held low-security jobs, some 12.4 percent of total employment … But most importantly, the labour code change led to establishing a scale of labour court indemnities in cases of dismissal without real and serious cause. Employers can now lay personnel off without grounds, that is without respecting the law, and know beforehand how much such dismissals will cost them” (Geoffrey Skelley and Jean Yi, ‘ Emmanuel Macron Could Lose France’s Presidential Election’, Five thirty eight, ABC News, 8 April 2022).
In other words, increased profits for the capitalist class of employers, by enforcing casualisation, increased insecurity and reduction in wages were the cornerstone of his ‘reforms’. Workers were forced into poorly paid work and social benefits reduced. Does this sound familiar, dear reader?
“Beyond a rise in job insecurity, Macron’s five-year term was also notable for its diminished job quality for workers. The investigative news site Mediapart reported that the average number of hours worked fell from 32 hours a week in the second quarter of 2017, when Macron was elected, to 30.9 hours a week during the third quarter of 2021. Many of the openings created have been low-value-added commercial service jobs.
“In January, the government boasted that 2021 saw the creation of nearly 1 million businesses in France – ‘quite simply a historic record’, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said. But 641,543 of those businesses were what are known as micro-enterprises (formerly auto-enterprises), small businesses created by and for a sole trader” (ibid.). In other words, a million employees lost their rights and were forced to accept lower pay without employment benefits.
“Despite the fact that France tallied 1.9 million individuals who were no longer actively seeking employment in 2020, people thereby removed from the accounting of the country’s unemployment figures, … France’s unemployment was officially 7.4 percent…
“This is itself a ‘massaged’ figure, however, and is likely to be far higher as Macron’s unemployment insurance reform of autumn 2021, has ‘reduced the number of jobseekers who register with Pôle Emploi, the unemployment insurance agency, due to a higher threshold of conditions required to qualify, specialists say‘.
“The total increase is even more striking for the 0.1 percent of the country’s wealthiest, who saw their purchasing power leap by some 4 percent… [While] according to the IPP, the total average rise in the standard of living for the French as a whole over the past five years is around 1.6 percent. The least privileged, the 5 percent of France’s poorest households, were the biggest losers: their purchasing power sank 0.5 percent on average during the incumbent’s tenure.” (Romain Brunet, ‘Five years of Macron: France’s economy trickles down in drips and drops’, France 24, 11 March 2022).
No magic money (tree)
“Macron’s 2017 campaign platform had planned for some €25 billion in savings, including €15 billion in the healthcare sector. But as a result, the public health budget wasn’t meeting the sector’s needs, with personnel increasingly stretched to the breaking point. When a healthcare worker appealed to Macron for more resources back in April 2018, the president replied, ‘There is no magic money.’ The president’s top priority was ‘respecting France’s budget commitments to Brussels’. And on that score, the results were clear for all to see: France’s budget deficit dropped from 3.4 percent of GDP in 2016, before Macron’s election, to 2.8 percent in 2017 and 2.3 percent in 2018” (Romain Brunet, ‘Five years of Macron: Yellow Vests, Covid-19 stymie plans for social cuts’, France 24, 23 March 2022).
The Yellow Vest movement
It was this backdrop of widening inequality and impoverishment of the working class that saw militant protest movement rise in France.
Opening with mass protests over increased fuel prices and further planned hikes in ‘green’ diesel taxes; starting with actions in which over a quarter of a million participated in Paris and across France on November 17th 2018, they widened over the ensuing three years into an almost generalised uprising against Macron’s government and neoliberal policies and became the greatest challenge to his presidency, and the stability of the ruling capitalist elite.
In reality these were anti-capitalist protests, directed primarily against liberalisation, casualisation of labour, and the consequent steep decline of living standards of the working class – against the neo-liberal answer to the deepening crisis of global capitalism that is being applied across the entire western world, in fact. Wave after wave of exuberant mass protest was answered, on Macron’s part, by the most violent and brutal state-repression of the French workers.
Scenes of French teenage students kneeling in detention before an army of police, of striking teachers and firemen being attacked in the streets, and defending themselves militantly in what became open battles with police – these scenes of victims of state violence momentarily filled our media, and then were silenced, in a breath-taking media censorship that feared the spread of the movement across Europe. It was a mass militant protest movement that embraced millions and combined political and direct street action. Our media preferred to focus, in these months of European resistance, upon its own attempts to destabilise Russia, China (Hong Kong, Taiwan, S China Sea, Xinjiang, human rights…), Ukraine, Byelorussia, Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, etc.
Such was the extent of police violence under Macron, that “according to French Mediapart website, 11 people were killed, five lost their hands due to use of grenades and 23 lost their eyesight.
“Some 2,000 people were injured at the demonstrations. Of them 268 people suffered head injuries, 15 hand injuries, 64 body injuries, 26 back injuries and 106 leg injuries.
“In addition, 95 journalists, 40 high school students and 30 volunteer health officers were injured in the demonstrations and 145 acts of insult and violation of press freedom by French police were recorded.
“French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the National Police Investigation Unit (IGPN) launched 220 criminal investigations on suspicion of police violence against the demonstrations.
“Some 8,400 people have been arrested since the beginning of Yellow Vest protests and about 2,000 were remanded in custody” (Yusuf Ozcan, ‘Casualties from Yellow Vest protests rise’, Anadolu Agency, 3 May 2019).
In 2019 Macron compounded his previous attacks on the working class, when he sought to raise the age at which French retirees could collect a full pension by two years, to 64, while maintaining a legal retirement age of 62. Again, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest for weeks on end in late 2019 and early 2020, despite fears around the rising spread of Covid in Europe, which had become the epicentre of the pandemic.
The strike action became the longest ever in the history of the SNCF national public railway company and Paris public transit (RATP) as transportation workers sought to save their pensions. Yet Macron’s government forced the measure through parliament without a vote on February 29, 2020.
The movement secured some notable reversals in Macron’s policy, but was brought to a temporary halt by the rise of Covid, which along with the economic depression of 2020 also triggered a certain temporary degree of reversal in Macron’s spending cuts. France like the UK experienced a poorly handled pandemic with a large number of excess deaths.
Given this quite extraordinary unpopularity of Macron, who can quite reasonably be said to be France’s Margaret Thatcher; given the 5 years of open economic warfare waged against the French working class, and actual street battles with large sections of the organised French workers, how are we to explain his re-election?
The French Right
Notwithstanding Marine Le Pen’s performance in this election, we must admit that hers is a name that still strikes fear and hatred among large sections the working class – and not without reason. Marine is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen – still alive, and 93 years of age – who was the founder and leader of the Front National.
The FN was a pro-colonial and overtly racist party that fed off the anger of the repatriated ‘pieds noirs’, the ‘black feet’ or colonial settlers of Algiers, who after a bloody campaign fought by the French regime, were finally ejected by the victorious liberation struggle of the Algerian National Liberation Front.
After Ahmed Ben Bella rose to be the first president of independent Algeria in 1962, Le-Pen’s National Front, founded in 1972, was part of a reflex reactionary formation in France, harking back to a fading notion of French supremacy and colonial wealth. It was an overtly racist party and, in many respects, shared the hallmarks of European chauvinism in general and the reactionary and fascist far-right, including links to the political establishment and demagogic leadership of a section of the working class.
The FN remained on the fringes of French politics until Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly polled enough votes to enter the final round of the French presidential election against Jacques Chirac in 2002, losing with 14% of the vote. His daughter Marine became leader of the FN in 2011 and changed the party name to the ‘National Rally’ in 2018.
Yet despite its roots, it must be admitted that the party of Marine is different from her father’s, and is in many ways less extreme in its anti-immigrant sentiment than the Republicans – or Macron. Moreover, in 2022 Chirac’s party polled less than 2% of the vote, while Le Pen’s garnered 42%.
Crucially, Marine Le Pen’s policies include unorthodox and anti-establishment positions that actually garner majority French working-class support. These include her cost of living, anti-EU and anti-NATO stances, that would see her, for example, remove France from hostility with Russia. These are not secondary issues, especially in the context of the Ukraine war, a war which NATO itself has admitted is a proxy war against Russia, with US senator Lindsay Graham going so far as to call for the assassination of Putin.
War in Ukraine
USA and NATO are locked in a deadly war, fought via its installed fascist proxies in the Ukraine. For them, and the neo-liberal hawks in the White House, at stake is the global domination that they claim as their right, against a backdrop of an increasingly multipolar world in which they are losing domination with the rise of the BRICS countries and in particular Russia and China.
The fact is that at the time of the French presidential election NATO’s military and economic plans are going badly awry, as may be judged by any one of the statements issued by the agencies of imperialism. But it is enough to note the following: “It would be acceptable for Ukrainian forces to use Western weapons to attack military targets on Russian soil, a UK defence minister James Heappey has said., claiming that strikes on [Russian] supply lines were a ‘legitimate’ part of war.
“Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin met with Zelensky on Monday 25 April. Austen insisted that: ‘We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.’
“Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made a statement on 21 April that the US ‘continued efforts to ratchet up pressure on Putin’s crumbling economy together will help weaken the Russian Government’s position and further isolate them from the world until Russia ends its unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine’” (See ‘United States Pledges $600 Million to Combat Global Environmental Threats’, United States Embassy in Singapore, 22 April 2022).
It is little wonder that Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has pointed out what is blindingly obvious to any impartial observer – and indeed the whole world outside US and the EU – that western imperialism is fighting a proxy war, economically and militarily against the Russian Federation, using Ukraine as its tool.
A defeat for Macron, and the ascension of a candidate who would pull back from NATO’s war represented the real prospect of outright and immediate defeat in that war – which, although doomed to failure one way or another, at present the western imperialists are not willing to contemplate. So while overt ballot tampering is not the preferred method of stealing elections, very heavy media and state psychological warfare against the French people to ensure Macron’s victory was much in evidence.
Racism – the Achilles’ heel of the European working class
While constantly using divisive language and blaming immigration for the plight of French workers, the French establishment sought to paint Le Pen as the only racist candidate.
In particular, the media and political elite of France relied upon the strategy of appealing to Mélenchon’s left-wing voters to spurn Le Pen as a fascist and a racist, and thus vote for Macron – who, we note, ‘merely’ lectures African nations on their subordinate status to France, maintains and runs the racist French state machine, has supported the war in Syria to overturn President Assad, and of course openly supports the Ukrainian proxy war against Russia, with the Azov Battalion, Right Sector, SBU, OUN, and SS Galizien forces at the core of that imperialist-led action.
Marine Le Pen, in fact, has shed much of her father’s overt racism, but by no means all. The divisive and right-wing part of her platform, that openly plays to French colonial chauvinism, does indeed remain and manifests itself in policies that are positively divisive and unhelpful to French workers – such as calling for a ban on wearing the Muslim headscarf in public and a referendum on immigration controls.
But let us not be fooled that Le Pen is the only candidate to stoke racial tensions or maintain French chauvinism at the heart of their ideology and politics
The breakaway from Le Pen’s own party, Éric Zemmour fought the first round of the election under the banner of the Reconquête (‘Reconquest’ Party), and as “a proponent of ‘great replacement’ theory – a conspiracy theory claiming that elites are trying to replace white people across Europe with African and Middle Eastern immigrants…
“But conservative Valérie Pécresse [Republican party] is fighting for hardline votes, too. During her first major rally in Paris on Sunday, Pécresse assured the crowd that she was ‘not resigned to the great replacement’. She also appeared to question the loyalty of naturalised French citizens, touting the virtues of ‘assimilation’ because, as she put it, ‘I want people who are French in their hearts and not just on paper’” (Tracy McNicoll and Aude Mazque, ‘‘’Créolisation”: Candidates clash on immigration, assimilation and identity’, France 24, 15 February 2022).
Mélenchon, by contrast, suggested that the multicultural roots of France were a strength, stating that “the process of créolisation is neither a platform nor an idea that I am proposing; it’s a fact,” Mélenchon told Zemmour during another televised face-to-face clash in January. “Every place where human societies have brought their cultures together, they have been créolised. I’m talking about culture, about music … “
“Whatever one’s gender, colour or religion, we are called upon to love one another, and so we pool together our tastes and our cultures. That’s créolisation. Créolisation is the future of humanity,” he told a crowd of 5,000 at a venue west of Paris (Tracy McNicoll and Aude Mazque, op.cit.).
One can argue about the use of the term ‘creole’, and its different implications to different audiences. And while recognising that there is nothing particularly progressive in religious ideology, belief or dress of all sorts, it is clear that as socialists, we must stand for freedom of religious conscience for the mass of the working people – as well as freedom for workers to speak against religious mystification and confusion on the other hand.
Above all we must fight against social, national and religious discrimination and sectarianism in all its forms if we are to achieve unity of the working class around our common economic interests and political aims. Therefore we also stand implacably for the right of individual workers to follow their religious conscience – at the same time ensuring that the state itself is free of religious influence, be it Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other.
National politics and religion should not mix. ‘Banning the bourka’ is in fact a means of inciting one section of the working class against another – and also, by endowing it with the spirit of ‘resistance’, the surest means of entrenching its stubborn presence in society.
Immigration is inseparable from monopoly capitalism with its mass impoverishment of the mass of humanity and all the strife it causes by way of environmental degradation, hunger, competition for resources and war. Mass migration is not the fault of the migrants themselves, but of capitalism. The solution is not to be fought in blaming and victimising our fellow workers who are fleeing the consequences of the system we also fight, but in making common cause to end our mutual suffering. Understanding this well, the cancer of racism has been carefully fostered by European and American colonial regimes, remains with us today, and remains the Achilles’ heel of the European and US working class.
Until it is shed, it cannot but play a role that keeps the working-class tied to the coat-tails of their own exploiters, the finance capitalists. And this French Presidential election is another glaring lesson in that principle elucidated by Karl Marx that “labour in the white skin cannot be free, where in the black it is branded”. The black workers of France may not be slaves, but their subordinate position in French society, and the ongoing overtures made to the privileged sections of the white French workers, are dividing what is otherwise a shared platform of the vast majority of the French working class voters – as demonstrated by the fact that in the first round, adding the anti-EU, anti-NATO, anti-austerity votes of Le Pen and Mélenchon yielded 45.2% of the vote compared to Macron’s neoliberal policies that garnered just 27.9%.
The establishment’s attacks on Le Pen’s racism were not only extremely hollow given their own really racist imperialist record, but were intended to, and more importantly succeeded in driving Mélenchon’s voters to Macron – which according to polls they were absolutely successful in doing, with more than 40% transferring their votes to Macron, with another 40% abstaining (hence the “sea of abstentions”).
Mélenchon believes that in calling his supporters NOT to vote against Macron, he will be well placed to score victories in the Parliamentary elections on June 12 and 19. That remains to be seen. But what the working class needs is the truth, not plausible lies. Even supposing this calculation to be correct, he will play second fiddle to a President who will be empowered by all the real ties that the bourgeoisie has to the real levers of economic, administrative, and political power, of which Marx wrote so clearly and convincingly in his 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
Under the circumstances, there is no doubt that throwing a hand-grenade into the camp of imperialism, as the election of Le Pen would have done, would have been a far more advantageous outcome to the mass of the working class than the return of Macron who is a neo-liberal, free-market fundamentalist and a NATO and EU apparatchik to his core.
We must never forget that “Bourgeois elections can be no more than a gauge of the maturity of the working class.” The French working-class have demonstrated, through the yellow vest movement, a great deal of opposition to the status quo, and their anger at their declining living standards. But the political force has not yet arisen capable of galvanising and leading them forward. Such a leadership needs not only broad links to the mass of the people, but it must have the scientific understanding to enlighten the masses that liberation will entail replacing the system that is the ultimate cause of their anger and pain – the system of monopoly capitalism itself.
Over the coming months and years ahead, as the capitalist crisis and Ukraine war push the EU to the brink of existence, and drag increasing sections of the proletariat into the agonies of unemployment, homelessness and poverty, we have no doubt that there will be another great rise in the revolutionary mood of the French proletariat. There must be a theoretical political rise to match if their struggle is to be crowned with success. Above all, the French working class needs a Marxist-Leninist party.