The current French election epitomizes the ‘choices’ that the capitalist system offers to working class people in the absence of revolutionary class politics. Arch-neoliberal Emmanuel Macron topped the poll in the first round on 10th April with 27.85 of the votes, followed by the fascist Marine Le Pen on 23.15%, with the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in third place with 21.95%. Thus, in the second round on 24 April, Macron faces Le Pen, and Mélenchon is eliminated.
There is a real possibility of a Le Pen victory in the second round, mainly because Macron is an arch-enemy of French working class people who has launched many attacks on democratic rights, living standards, welfare, pensions in the past five years, as well as pandering to anti-migrant racism and Islamophobia in a way that rivalled that of Le Pen. One factor that militates in favour of Le Pen in the second round is that while Le Pen has sought to play down the essentially fascist politics of her party (now called National Rally, previously the National Front) for many years now, there was another far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, a Jewish reactionary who particularly specialized in anti-Muslim attacks, who gained 7% of the vote. Naturally he has endorsed Le Pen for the second round. But Macron will not inspire class conscious workers to vote for him even against a fascist: many such people consider him equally odious.
There was a working-class popular uprising against Macron’s attacks in late 2018, that of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) who initially exploded against rises in taxes on fuel, and taxes on pensions. The fuel tax, in a typically mendacious half-truth, was ‘justified’ by claims that Macron was doing something about climate change. However as usual, he was attacking the poor: only 20% of the money raised by these taxes was even being spent on anything to do with overcoming the use of fossil fuels to produce energy – the rest was just the usual transfer from the rich to the poor, as of course were the taxes on pensions. All these just happened to coincide with cuts in a wealth tax. The far right attempted to exploit this movement but were driven away by those involved, and it began to show its potential to shift French society and politics to the left before the pandemic struck.
Macron’s response to the gilets jaunes was to attempt to brutally crush it by police terror – there were dozens of terrible cases of protesters being maimed, lost eyes and limbs, by police use of deadly high-explosive munitions against protesters. In fact, many may look at the way Macron treated the gilets jaunes and conclude there is little difference between this kind of criminal brutality and the behaviour of actual fascists in power in any case.
Mélenchon is a left-wing opponent of NATO and the EU, and of neoliberalism, albeit not a revolutionary. But many who can be won to a revolutionary position and party support him and must be addressed by Marxists with their tactics. His strong showing is undoubtedly linked to his support for the gilets jaunes, his involvement in attempts to unite this revolt of workers and lower-middle-class people outside the framework of the bureaucratized and class-collaborationist trade unions, with trade union militants in the period of the peak of gilets jaunes activity before the pandemic. Mélenchon called prominently for an amnesty for all gilets jaunes protesters victimized, charged, and convicted in his election campaign. This was certainly a campaign with a real class-conscious aspect to it that Marxists should have given critical support to.
He only narrowly failed to knock out Le Pen, which really would have been a political earthquake, as side by side with his strong showing, the candidate of the historically important French Socialist Party gained a tiny 1.75%; which was a product of the long record of this party in neoliberal treachery, anti-working class attacks, racism, and involvement in international imperialist crimes in North Africa and the Middle East. His narrow failure was partly the responsibility of some of the no-hoper leftists who stood in the first round, like the long-decayed Communist Party (2.3%), the so called ‘New Anti-Capitalist Party’ (0.8%), and Lutte Ouvrière (0.6%) who if they had withdrawn in favour of Mélenchon would likely have seen Le Pen knocked out in the first round. If Mélenchon is deemed critically supportable, then all efforts should have been made to maximise his vote in the crucial first round.
Quite correctly, Mélenchon has refused to endorse Macron for the second round. It would be fatal to class politics and class consciousness for the working class left to endorse a bourgeois reactionary like Macron as a supposed ‘lesser evil’ to Marine Le Pen. Le Pen’s rise to the position of not only coming second in the first round, but seriously posing a threat in the second, is a result of the further demoralization of the working class through the support of much of the workers movement and left for Macron as a ‘lesser evil’ to Le Pen. Five years ago, Macron was a new political entity. Though he had been a minister in the administration of the neoliberal ‘socialist’ Francois Hollande’s preceding administration, he split and founded his own (bourgeois) party, En Marche, beforehand and won the election as an overtly neoliberal pro-EU chancer, a sort of French Thatcher/Blair composite, but without even a labour movement connection. Now he is a discredited chancer, and if re-elected will only further undermine the working class.
Marine Le Pen fortunately does not have a fascist military cadre, steeled in battles against the working class, as Hitler did. If she somehow wins the second round, she will likely try to use her position to create one, but that can be nipped in the bud by determined action from below from the labour movement and the left, which must be prepared to use force in an (initially) defensive sense to stamp such things out. Indeed, the defence of the democratic rights of the French workers necessitates such a force, whoever wins. If Macron wins narrowly, which seems likely, despite his sudden hypocritical reversals of rhetoric to try and placate left-wing voters, he will no doubt be even more keen to adopt elements of Le Pen’s programme, particularly the anti-migrant hatred and Islamophobia, if not her kind of attacks on democratic rights more generally. We already saw that with the gilets jaunes.
The election takes place in the context of the war in Ukraine, and for several years now, one of the tactics of the Russian government has been to try to curry favour with various dissident trends in Western politics, including far right elements like Trump or Le Pen who it judged may be more isolationist than mainstream bourgeois politicians like Macron. There is an aspect of this that is a descendant of the Stalinist ‘tactic’ of the international popular front, seeking an alliance with whichever faction in the imperialist countries is considered ‘peace-loving’, i.e. more likely to leave Russia alone. Likewise with the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Stalin and Hitler, which proved to be Stalin’s biggest political mistake, which disarmed the USSR against the Nazi invasion, precisely Hitler’s biggest operation in World War II.
Earlier, Putin hoped to be accepted into the imperialist club (G-7). His bourgeois geopolitical illusions actually helped the expansion of NATO to the East. China and Russia tacitly supported the invasion of Libya in the UN Security Council abstaining on the creation of the no-fly zone that wiped out Gaddafi’s resistance to Libyan fascist mercenaries, NATO agents, as Azov are today.
Russian support to Trump backfired badly , as he tore up the INF treaty to enable introduction of ‘short range’ nukes into Eastern Europe, obviously a key element of NATO expansion. However, the bourgeois alternative to Trump in the US, the Biden Democrats, were up their necks in the Maidan coup in 2014 and have driven the world to the kind of confrontation and hysteria over Ukraine and Russia’s military action to defend the Russian/Russophone population that was last seen over the Korean War in 1950. Which also happened under a Democratic administration, of Truman. The pro-war liberal hysterics now claim that this particular Russian tactic ‘proves’ that Russia is ‘fascist’, or even that Russia is somehow responsible for the rise of far-right currents to contend for power in the imperialist countries themselves … a remarkable claim, as they arm Nazis with Western weapons and bloodthirsty torturers and mercenaries with immense capital investments as the vanguard of their anti-Russian and anti-Eurasian offensive.
Whether in France or the US, the varied policies of political support to supposedly ‘lesser evil’ or even ‘progessive’ (!!!) bourgeois figures and currents fails even in its own terms. Vote Democrat against Trump and his racist hysteria and attempts to incite fascist violence in the US, and you get Biden instead who funds Nazi violence in the Ukraine and whose efforts have reached the point where it can be said that, over Ukraine, the imperialist bourgeoisie is more and more openly seeking to rehabilitate Nazism itself, while threatening WWIII. In France, a vote ‘against Le Pen’ by the left in favour of Macron will in practice lead to a Macron regime that resembles much of what a Le Pen regime would do. Choosing between the Strangler and the Axe-Murderer has only one predictable outcome – murder. The left needs to steel the working class to fight back militantly against either murderer.