|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 209 June 2017
No mandate for austerity France
Widespread relief greeted the far-right’s defeat in France’s presidential elections. The winner, Emmanuel Macron, however, promises to continue the harsh neoliberal policies he implemented in the previous administration. A mass movement is growing to resist this plan – and the huge support for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the presidentials reflects the potential to build a socialist alternative. LEÏLA MESSAOUDI, from Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI in France), reports.
The presidential election in France demonstrated a historic rejection of traditional establishment parties. In the first round, the ruling Parti Socialiste of former president François Hollande was wiped out. As was the corrupt right-wing candidate, François Fillon, of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Republicains. And the strength of the anger in society was clearly expressed in the seven million votes for Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his programme of a complete break with austerity and the worsening conditions of life and work. This vote was not enough, however, to block the road to the Front National (FN) with its new look under Marine Le Pen. She was able to get into the second round and run against the ruling class’s nominee, Emmanuel Macron.
In the end, Macron was elected with 65.8%. It might be thought that the capitalists have now got their willing puppet in power and that he will pursue and step up their policies of austerity and repression against workers, youth, the unemployed and foreigners. But this is by no means guaranteed! Blank or invalid ballot papers made up 12% of all the votes in the second round – a record. It has forced the media to publicise the number of blank votes cast which is not usually announced. If we add abstentions, which were at a huge 25%, then 16 million of the 47 million registered voters (out of 52 million adults in France) did not choose between Le Pen and Macron.
This is a clear sign that Macron has a very weak base to govern from and that the months and years ahead will be very unstable. Behind the percentages, the reality is even less glorious. Macron received 20.4 million votes and Le Pen 10.6 million. In fact, despite the threat of Le Pen coming to power, Macron collected only 43.6% from the total number of registered voters. And surveys at the polling stations on Sunday 7 May confirmed it: 43% of those who voted for Macron did so to block the road to Le Pen; only 16% did so because they supported his programme.
Macron v workers and youth
Macron has a mission: to pursue and intensify the policies carried out by Sarkozy and Hollande for 15 years against public services, to facilitate redundancies and to make the labour market more flexible. He has already announced that he wants to eliminate 120,000 public service jobs over five years. And he will use the arsenal of anti-democratic procedures enshrined in the constitution of France’s fifth republic to pass laws which are vital for the capitalists, just as Manuel Valls did in his time as Hollande’s right-hand man. Macron wants to govern by decree, to side-step parliament and discussions on projected laws. The first one, for June or July, is already on its way: to implement more anti-worker changes to the country’s labour law. That is to be followed by decrees on unemployment pay, social security, etc.
Opposition to such policies is massive and was demonstrated during the election period. But this anger and opposition must find a social and political expression that champions the interests of workers, young people and the majority of the population. For there is a risk that the FN will increasingly seek to capitalise on the opposition to the bosses and divert it into the wrong channels using racism and other kinds of discrimination.
Instability for the ruling classes is at a high level. It is now time to go onto the streets, to make it clear that we are rejecting these thoroughly anti-social policies. The leadership of the trade union federations cannot remain silent when the ten-fold changes to the labour law are announced – opposition to the El Khomri law on increased job flexibility brought millions of people onto the streets less than a year ago. We must organise and show our collective strength without waiting until the end of June.
For Le Pen and the FN the election campaign was not that simple. They hoped to surf the widespread discontent and were expected to be given the biggest vote from the first round. However, Mélenchon’s campaign ate deeply into Le Pen’s support. She succeeded in getting 10.6 million votes in the second round, or 3.5 million more votes between the two rounds, probably among the most reactionary on the right who had voted for Fillon and for the chauvinist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (who got 1.7 million votes in the first round). There were certainly also some votes from those who understandably wanted to defeat the banker Macron by voting (erroneously) for Le Pen. Despite her populist rhetoric, Le Pen is a far-right capitalist politician, a dangerous enemy of the working and middle classes.
Now she wants to try to transform her party completely. On 7 May Marine Le Pen announced her project: the creation of a new party in the coming months to bring together the people who oppose Macron’s policy. But this has already created opposition within the FN itself, especially among the supporters of her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who look unfavourably on a rapprochement with certain sectors of the classic right. The challenge for the FN is to capitalise on the anger that has built up but also to allow its leaders to build their own careers. The tensions will be multiplied, especially when the real opposition to Macron – that of workers and young people – will be based on demands which contradict those of the Front National (by whatever name it becomes known).
2017 legislative elections
The next parliamentary elections take place on 11 and 18 June to choose members of the national assembly. It is clear that they will, in fact, be the third and fourth rounds – an extension of the presidential elections – during which this anger and the will to fight back will express themselves. More than ever, it is necessary for workers, young people and those who live in the poorer areas of France to have an independent political expression to confront the parties which are running capitalism: Macron’s movement around the presidentials, En Marche! (renamed La République en Marche), the disintegrating Parti Socialiste, and the EELV (Ecologists – who are seeking an alliance with Macron’s party), Les Republicains, and the FN.
In relation to Mélenchon’s campaign, candidates are needed who stand for a break with austerity policies. We can no longer accept agreements with parties that carry them out, such as the PS or some of EELV. Candidates are needed who fight against redundancies such as those at Whirlpool or Tati, who fight against the dismantling of public services, against the destruction of the environment, for increases in wages and pensions, reductions of working time, and increases in jobs. Candidates who are totally different from the corrupt and careerist ones of En Marche, the Republicans, the PS or FN, would show it by accepting only the average salary of a skilled worker.
Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI in France) is in favour of having just one candidate per constituency around this programme. It should be possible to campaign for the same candidate, whether from Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (FI – France Unbowed) or from the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), while maintaining their own freedom of expression if so desired. An agreement should be reached, if not for a joint campaign, at least for the distribution of constituencies. This is crucial. Unfortunately, it seems that the PCF is demanding to have the main candidates in an overwhelming majority of constituencies and to leave to the FI only those places where Mélenchon’s score was weaker in the presidential election. If that is the case, no agreement will be possible other than that which the FI has already proposed – to work out 26 constituencies that are winnable for the PCF and 26 for the FI in which there will be no confrontation between the two.
Time to create a fighting left!
Faced with the policies being pursued on behalf of the bosses, the real left has a great responsibility and cannot relinquish the territory to the FN. We must follow up on the momentum triggered by the campaign around Mélenchon in the first round of the presidential election. The Mélenchon vote brought hope to ordinary people and a progressive programme that takes on those who are really responsible for the crisis: the super-rich, the banks, the big shareholders.
Mélenchon was close to overtaking Le Pen on 23 April to the great alarm of the media in the service of capitalism – nine billionaires own 90% of the media in France. The unbridled offensive of the journalists and the ruling classes against Mélenchon, even going so far as to liken him to Stalin, betrayed their fear that the masses would seize on his economic and social programme and seek to put it into practice. On the night after the first round results, some were rejoicing at having avoided a second round of Mélenchon/Le Pen or Mélenchon/Macron which would have been very close!
We have to create a new mass political force capable of organising anger and resistance around an economic and social programme that identifies those who are really to blame: the capitalists and their representatives. Hundreds of thousands of Mélenchon voters want to carry on fighting on his programme. What was lacking in the final two weeks of the campaign was having a more structured FI organisation, more capable of taking root as a militant and combative movement against the pro-capitalist candidates.
It is urgent to move in this direction because the legislative elections will demand organisation and, above all, the electoral campaign will already be an opportunity to prevent Macron from getting a majority in the national assembly. It is a means of building mass struggle against his policies, which will involve demonstrations and days of strike action.
We are in favour of such a mass political force of struggle: a new, really democratic party which brings together workers, young people and all those who have had enough of capitalism. For this there is only one solution. We must fight to put an end to the capitalist dictatorship by removing the means of production from the capitalists and placing the major sectors of the economy in public ownership under the control and management of elected representatives of the people.
A new force can be built with mass mobilisations and discussion of an anti-austerity programme, but also by defending democratic socialism against capitalism and its dictatorship of profit. With Mélenchon’s first round score and the France Insoumise campaign, a big step has been taken in this direction. We can say that from now on the capitalists have a real opposition to face and that it will grow and build its strength. This is how Gauche Révolutionnaire will continue to fight in the period to come!