Although most people are relieved by the election result, we are going to have to fight the new president’s policies
So, the presidential elections here in France are over. As well as being a mechanism for choosing a powerful head of state, they are also a 24-hour media show. Were the candidates as witty in the debate as the candidates were five years ago? How were the camera angles negotiated? Do you think the two would-be presidents have difficulty sleeping the night before? What will they be eating at the party if they win? It can be hard to remember that the election affects ordinary people’s lives.
For Le Pen, who came second with over 10 million votes, 3 million more than in the first round and 5 million more than 5 years ago, this cannot be seen as a defeat. The mainstreaming of her racist, Islamophobic and hardline law-and-order ideas and policies is likely to continue, encouraged by future governments as by recent ones, as a diversion from the fact that they have nothing to offer the working class. Racist attacks are likely to increase, the ever more violent police (half of whom sympathise with the fascist candidate) will get even worse. The Front National, in general, will be emboldened and looking forward to making a significant breakthrough in national representation at the legislative elections in June (right now the FN has only one MP). Their determination to build a mass disciplined fascist party, and to sink organisational roots into the working class across the country will be very much strengthened.
Worse, the deep crisis of the traditional right, with no figure able to unite them, will lead to splits and some sections will likely follow Nicolas Dupont Aignan, leader of a small right wing formation, in sealing alliances with the fascists. This is something the traditional right wing has avoided for twenty years and will be an important strategic victory for Le Pen.
Emmanuel Macron, elected with 65% of the votes, is Mr. Technocrat-president-by-a-stroke-of-luck. A more empty-headed version of Tony Blair, and never having been elected to any post before, he will set off on his “the market is God” spree as soon as he can. He hopes the result will be a Thatcherite “modernization” of the role of trade unions in the workplace, of work contracts, of education and health, with massive redundancies in the civil service. If he gets his way, millions more will live in fear of their boss’s whims.
But it will not all be plain sailing for Macron. It is not a foregone conclusion that he will have a parliamentary majority after the legislative elections next month. He will get a boost from those many electors who feel that, since he won the presidency, he should be given a parliamentary majority to try his policies out. But for the moment, Macron has no MPs, little in the way of a programme, and no party machine as such. The legislative elections next month will see polarization and restructuring in the whole of the political spectrum. Many outgoing Socialist MPs will be scrambling to beg for a “Macron supports me” tattoo on their behind, abandoning the Socialist party which only managed 6.5% in the first round. The remaining centre and left wing of the Socialist Party will be looking for ways to regroup.
And the potential for radical left opposition is strong. The first round of the elections showed, more than anything, polarization: a record vote of 19.5% for the radical Left in the form of the red-green Mélenchon was cause for great celebration, and mobilized a new generation of activists. This radical Left has the enthusiasm and the base to run a powerful campaign in June. Mélenchon’s decision not to campaign for a vote for Macron these last two weeks has left his movement, Insubordinate France (La France Insoumise) in far better fighting form than would have otherwise been the case (even if it meant we had to put up with the withering moralism of those Socialist Party leaders and sympathizers who do two weeks of antifascism every fifteen years).
The massive wave of struggle last year against the vicious Labour law led to a certain radicalization which allowed Mélenchon to be so close to getting through to the second round. But the capacity of union organization and combativity on the ground to resist Macron’s reforms will be the crucial element. The probable rebuilding of the anti-austerity Left around Insubordinate France must find a way of linking parliamentary and electoral struggle to the fundamentally more important struggle in the workplaces and in the streets.
Although most people are relieved by the result of the second round, we can hardly celebrate the election of an enemy like Macron. We are going to have to fight, and the organisation, already, for Monday afternoon, of trade unionist demonstrations against the new president’s policies is an important first step.
The rise of a strong radical left gives the potential for bigger struggles and brighter days, but this new left will have a special responsibility to better organise mass harassment and obstruction of Le Pen’s attempt to build a powerful fascist party.
John Mullen is a lifelong revolutionary socialist living in the Paris area and is a supporter of the France Insoumise.
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