“The election of France’s youngest-ever president at 39 years of age, by an overwhelming majority, marked a new chapter in France’s history.” The words of Stephane Legrand’s article for a Warwick University publication (the Boar) are an enthusiastic voice for the liberal leader Emmanuel Macron; a voice that is poorly echoed within the French population. Legrand quotes a number of Macron enthusiasts from his British university, but for the rest of French society, especially the country’s working class population that isn’t able to send its English-speaking children abroad, the new president’s “overwhelming majority” consists of the 24% he obtained at elections. That is 18.6% of the eligible-to-vote population when abstentions are considered.
Even this neglects the share of that population which voted reluctantly on the basis of a ‘strategic vote’ against the National Front. Many felt it necessary to do this thanks to the media’s fear-mongering. This author can in fact quote many who, rather than voting for Macron in a sparkle of hope and inspiration, left the polling stations crying after voting for someone whose ideals went against everything they stood for. They had been told that the majority of French voters would not vote for the left-wing Mélenchon in the run-off elections should he stand against Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front portrayed as a ‘fascist’ threat to democracy. It was thus seen as best to vote for Macron to protect ‘democracy’ at the expense of a candidate that proposed a socialist change in society.
In truth, Macron and Le Pen are two sides of the same capitalist coin. Whereas Mélenchon became prominent as the head of the movement for a 6th Republic, accusing the current constitution – established by de Gaulle to maximise presidential power – of being undemocratic, Macron has thrived off it and has no intention of getting rid of it. It is this constitution that allowed Macron to obtain 61.5% of seats in Parliament despite his low actual vote share. Meanwhile Mélenchon supporters, who constituted over 19% of the population that voted, obtained 5.7% of seats. This is the reason why Macron is hailed as a ‘champion of democracy’ by the bourgeois press and why Legrand’s pro-Macron interviewees say that Mélenchon “fosters blurry ideas that make it hard to understand if he is for or against [democracy]”.
Macron is far from being a champion of peace or tolerance, not unlike his rival Le Pen. In tandem with the British Prime Minister, he did not hesitate to launch missiles against Syria in the recent attacks “to prevent chemical warfare”. This was a political stunt rather than a serious war-strategy, but they reveal the President as a trigger-happy war-monger, happy to sacrifice Syrian lives to boost his political standing. In line with the EU’s stance, he is not particularly pro-immigration either, at least not if the immigrants are coming from outside Europe’s borders. His new bill allows the police to detain asylum seekers awaiting deportation four times longer than before, and accelerates asylum applications and deportations. As quoted in the Financial Times, part of the motivation for the bill is the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland as a consequence of high asylum-seeker acceptance in Germany, according to the French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb. In other words, to avoid the rise of the far-right, the liberals’ solution is to be more like the far-right.
Of course, war and oppression are intrinsic parts of capitalism which are expressed more or less clearly from the far-right to the centre. Macron is described by Legrand as the “sparkle that will once again light the famous French “Joie de Vivre” (happiness to live)”, but Macron does not intend on introducing anything new to French society. In the previous president François Hollande’s government, Macron was the mastermind behind the Labour Code counter-reforms that marked the only significant (and extremely reactionary) thing that the Hollande government did. Now he intends to go down the same road by carrying out his ‘Loi Travail XXL’ (extra-large labour laws), that is, making it easier to sack workers and an expansion of the gig economy. He is a banker who made millions through his role as an exploiter of the working-class, it is only natural that he will not change the situation for the workers and in fact will try to widen the economic contradictions between rich and poor.
Macron has consistently used arguments around debt to make the Left’s promises look unreasonable, which is well portrayed by Legrand’s interviewees who claim they are happy that the debt will finally be reduced. The irony is of course that France’s debt was massively increased by the financial crisis and the bailing-out of the bankers, something that is more likely to be repeated with a new world slump on the horizon and a free-marketeer as the President.
In any case, Macron has already rapidly unmasked himself. His description of the French working class as “sloths” and “people who are nothing” did not go down well with the public. Now, as a response to his labour counter-reforms, to selection in universities and to the privatisation of transportation/health services, a wave of strikes is sweeping the country and threatening his position. It is illusory to pretend that Macron’s popularity is high or even that, as Legrand believes, Macron is respected around the world. International solidarity was demonstrated in his first presidential trip to the US, where students at a university he visited protested against him, in particular over the issue of the French Labour Code.
Perhaps the one thing we can agree upon with Legrand is that Macron is turning things towards a “new chapter in French history”. At the last election the president liquidated the traditional parties that represented the bastions of capitalism (Republicans & Socialist Party) to create his own. Now he is discrediting his new party in the eyes of the working class. The future then, is political polarisation and rising class struggle. The terrain is looking increasingly favourable for us to fight for and win a socialist transformation of society.
by Nick Oung, UCL Marxists