Is a Macron presidency the beginning of the end for fascism and Le Pen? Brian Heron investigates
First, the Austrian Presidency ripped away from one of Austria's modern Nazis. Then the Dutch elections that sidelined Wilders. Now France's Macron drowns Le Pen's Presidential bid, 66% to 34%.
The end? Or the end of the beginning?
The big majority are certainly breathing easier in France, albeit for quite different reasons than the current EU leaders that face elections, or those traditional party leaders that have been playing brinkmanship, as in Portugal or Spain.
There are already many new projections about the EU's future in the traditional media. The Trump phenomena and Britain's right-wing Brexit (that appears now to all mainstream commentators to be inevitable) seem for the time being to have been corralled into an Anglo-Saxon enclave in the West.
The French elections, and there are still vital Parliamentary elections to come, were always going to be the political cockpit of Europe. And Macron's substantial victory will increase confidence in the EU that they can defeat what they have come to call populism - from both the right - and the left. But the victory of the establishment deserves closer inspection.
Starting with Macron himself; Europe has seen this type of messiah before. In Italy, Matteo Renzi became Prime Minster from the new Social Democrat Party (established in 2007, a year before Berlusconi's Forza Italia dissolved - for the first time.) At the age of 39, Renzi announced the end of the 'right' and of the traditional 'left' in Italian politics when his new party swept to power in 2013. He was swept out again by a referendum three years later, apparently on an undemocratic constitutional issue, actually because of his anti-working class Jobs Act, which abolished article 13 of the workers' statute the year before. Renzi saw himself as a 'middle-way' type of politician (following Clinton and Blair.)
Rolling Europe's years back to the 1920s and 1930s, 'National Governments' of various sorts were established, led by the establishment, under the threat of economic collapse and revolution. They were all gatherings of the 'great and good', the experts that would apply themselves to the nation's needs rather than petty squabbles between parties. They were all 'neither left nor right' except in their relentless battle with working class organisation. All immensely popular in their first elections, they all failed and all were broken by Fascist victories or by military destruction.
In the new millennium and in a new crisis of capitalist economics and politics, 'populism' has re-emerged by becoming its opposite. Macron, an absolutely typical ruling class populist, with all the relevant trappings (his own 'party'; his 'neither left nor rightism', his fear of and antagonism to the strength of organised workers - especially in the public sector) is the saviour - of the establishment - not just in France but across the EU! T'was ever thus.
Le Pen's vote also merits more attention
The highest point for France's electoral experience of Fascism before Le Pen junior was Le Pen senior's bid in the Presidential elections of 2002. He scored 17.8% in the first round vote and 16.9% in the second. (5.5 million votes.) LP junior scored 21.3% in round one and 33.9% in round two. (10.6 million votes.) Note both the rise in % and in numbers of voters - and the 12.6% increase in votes from round one to round 2. Unlike the populist Macron who gathered his second vote from anti-fascists across the political spectrum, LP junior gathered more National Front support in her second round.
In anybody's book, this is a potentially frightening and immense social and political base in a major western country that was occupied by the last successful fascists 74 years ago. Should Macron join the long list of establishment populist failures then (with every other traditional party despised) the battle for political leadership in France will be bitter and hard. But at least there will be a battle and not a pre-emptive collapse.
Why will Macron fail? Because modern capitalism is not oriented to raise the working class. Last time it took world war and revolutions in Russia and China for capitalism to discover the merits of the New Deal, Keynes, Welfare States, full employment and Marshal Plans in the West. Today its main purpose in the West is to drive through the new contract with labour that started in the 1980s. One example; the UK government has commissioned a Study on 'a Review of Work' by Mathew Taylor (to be published after the June election.) This is one contribution to that Review which repudiates the idea that the remnants of industrial work are with us but their effect creating social decline will pass as the past fades.
'The growth of self-employment in Britain is one of the great economic and social realities of our time. On current trends, there will soon be more self-employed than public sector workers. These include nearly 1 million in the so-called gig economy. Their position is structurally insecure. Not only are they dependent on a contract for work being renewed, sometimes weekly or even daily, but around 80% earn less than £15,000 a year, two-thirds of the median wage. Worse still, their pay has been falling, on average by an astonishing £100 a week between 2006/7 and 2013/14. The number struggling with debt has exploded.
The impact on poverty is masked because so many people, especially women, are second earners in households where the principal earner enjoys full-time employment rights (holiday, sickness and pension entitlements) and some continuity and stability in both work and pay. A sixth of the self-employed are also pensioners, perhaps trying to supplement their pension income. These are plainly people who are just about managing, but whose capacity will weaken the more self-employment and poor personal pensions become the norm. What they are not is a new wave of entrepreneurs about to relaunch the British economy.' And the management consultancy McKinsey states that;
'More than 160 million westerners now work in the so-called gig economy ... and that is rising fast.'
This single element of modern western capitalism is enough to show that Macron has either to live with 25%+ youth unemployment in France or bust the Labour Laws and let the gig economy rip (and pretend as British politicians do, that this is the new enterprise marvel.)
Austrian Nazis, Wilder and various generations of Le Pens may have hit the wall for the time being. But the crisis that created them is growing and not fading away with the older generation. And in the case of Le Pen junior, although she did not close the gap with Macron, she is still the political leader in France with the most significant and growing base in society. The end of the beginning then.