Created: Sunday, 14 May 2017 09:56
Written by Séamus Padraic
On Sunday 7 May France went to the polls for the second and final round of the presidential election. The country faced a choice between the two highest scoring candidates from the first round: Marine Le Pen of the racist, right-wing populist Front National (FN) and Emmanuel Macron of the neoliberal ‘centrist’ party En Marche! Macron, a former investment banker won by a landslide with 66.1% of votes cast (excluding spoilt ballots).
The campaign leading up to this second round saw the political establishment urge a vote for Macron in order to stop the FN, and according to a pre-election Ipsos survey, 43% of those intending to vote Macron were doing so to purely stop Le Pen, while just 16% were voting because of his political programme.
Le Pen says that the election result shows that the FN is the ‘number one opposition’ in France and has vowed to ‘continue the fight’ in the legislative elections next month. Macron will face these legislative elections on 11 and 18 June, and could be left without a legislative majority, meaning he will have to govern by decree.
Ruling class splits
The background to the presidential election is the ongoing capitalist crisis. The French economy is not recovering well from the crash of 2007/8, especially compared to its major European partner, Germany. The French economy only grew by 1.1% in 2016, compared to Germany’s 1.9%. Since the introduction of the euro in 1999, the profitability of French capital has plummeted by 27%, compared to Germany’s 21% rise. Investment has therefore stagnated, leading to low productivity growth and an unemployment rate of around 10%. In fact, the profitability of French capital has been weak for some time: it made only a limited recovery in the neoliberal era. This was in part due to the relative militancy of French labour which was less willing than its British counterpart to have the crisis solved at its expense. France retains the world’s best performing health service and generous social security, and some protection remains for the 35-hour week.
As the crisis deepened, François Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS) government went on the offensive and attacked social security and labour rights. The election exposed splits in the ruling class over how to solve the crisis. What both sides of the split have in common, however, is that they propose solving the crisis at the expense of the working class.
The bulk of the ruling class rallied behind Macron, who proposes solving the crisis of French imperialism in the same way that the mainstream French bourgeoisie has since the Second World War: by means of greater integration into the European imperialist bloc. Macron advocates the creation of a joint investment budget and a finance minister for the eurozone, as well as regulation of foreign investment into the EU. The FN, on the other hand, represents a dissident section of the bourgeoisie which sees the salvation of French national capital in protectionism, and in the revival of an independent French imperialism.
These two opposing solutions to the crisis were on show during the televised debate between the candidates. Le Pen called for a return to the French national currency, the franc, and for ‘freedom for economic patriotism, for giving an advantage to our French businesses in the marketplace, to practice intelligent protectionism’. Macron, on the other hand, argued that leaving the euro would be dangerous for French capital, saying: ‘My vision is to build a strong euro, a European politics which will be strong and in which we will defend the interests of France.’ His later comments on international trade made clear his concerns: he said ‘We need a European trade policy. Why? Because it is this which protects against China and other large countries.’
Macron and the dominant wing of the ruling class see French imperialism best served against its rivals by integration into a European imperialist bloc. Macron vowed in his first speech after his election to defend France, ‘her vital interests, her image, her message’, and to defend Europe, because ‘our civilisation is in danger’. He vowed that France would be ‘present and diligent’ on the world stage. Macron is clear: he will defend the interests of European imperialism.
Domestically, too, Macron will defend the interests of capital. He was briefly Economy Minister in Manuel Valls’ PS government where he presided over the ‘Macron law’, extending trading hours on Sundays, as well as being a staunch supporter of the El Khomri law ,which savaged over-time benefits and made it much easier for capital to hire and fire. Macron has been very clear that he will attempt to solve the crisis by extending these attacks. He has vowed to increase ‘flexibility’ in the labour market by extending the El Khomri law and giving companies the power to ‘negotiate’ the 35-hour week, destroying it in all but name. Increased ‘flexibility’ in the labour market meant that in the financial year 2016/17 86.4% of hiring was into temporary jobs, and of these 80% were into contracts of less than a month; 43% of France’s unemployed have been out of work for over a year. Macron has vowed to cut corporation tax from 33.3% to 25% and to eliminate 120,000 government jobs.
He has also promised to reduce unemployment with an investment plan and to exempt low-paid workers from welfare levies. He has not, however, explained how he will pay for this. It is clear that these measures were included in order to appeal to labour. Once a pro-business assembly is elected in June, these promises will go out the window as Macron begins his attacks on the working class.
The Socialist Party is dead
One of the most significant outcomes of this election has been the complete collapse of the PS. As the crisis worsened, the ruling class found themselves unable to govern in the old way and so social democracy has collapsed. The PS candidate in the first round of the election, Benoît Hamon, received just 6.4% of the vote. Ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced on the morning of 9 May that ‘the Socialist Party is behind us’ and announced his desire to run as a candidate for En Marche La Republique! (En Marche’s new name). Valls in fact saw the collapse of the PS before Hamon’s defeat and backed Macron in the first round after losing the PS primary. Didier Guillaume, the PS vice-president of the Senate, also announcing his support for Macron, put it succinctly: ‘the Socialist Party is dead.’
No trust in politicians – build the resistance!
Macron also faces social unrest on a huge scale. French society, and black, Arab and Muslim youth in particular, is more disillusioned with establishment politics than ever before. A Sciences Po survey conducted in December 2016 found that 70% of those surveyed believe that democracy does not work well in France. Only 11% trust political parties, 56% do not trust big business and 55% do not trust the justice system. 28% of those surveyed expressed ‘disgust’ at contemporary politics and 40% ‘mistrust’. 41% said that they believed the capitalist system must be ‘fundamentally reformed’ (down 1% on December 2015). Another survey by Generation What? found that 62% of youth said they were ready for a ‘largescale revolt.’ The abstention rate of 25.44% in the second round was the highest since 1969 and was actually up 3.21% from the first round.
Macron’s election is already being resisted. Reuters reported that 141 people were arrested in Paris on the night of the election. May Day demonstrations saw firebombs thrown at the police as people opposed both ‘the banker’ and ‘the racist’. The day after the election, a collective of around 70 unions calling itself the Social Front organised a demonstration in Paris. Hundreds of police were mobilised to contain the threat. During the second round campaign, the Social Front likened the choice to one between ‘plague and cholera.’ Anticipating resistance, Macron has vowed to create 10,000 new posts in the military police to combat attacks by the ‘extreme left’ and wants to grant police extra powers without legal process. When asked by Le Pen what his response to antifascist protestors would be he responded that he is ‘for the dissolution of every known violent group’. He has also vowed to massively extend surveillance, intelligence gathering and the security services, including online.
Much has been made of the defeat of the FN, but it must be remembered, however, that Macron, too, is an unrepentant racist. Like any bourgeois politician, he makes a big deal of the distinction between refugees ‘in need’ and ‘economic migrants’. He supports greater immigration because refugees represent an ‘economic opportunity’ for France. Simultaneously he considers the Frontex EU security agency ‘insufficiently ambitious’ and has called for greater investment in border controls. He also believes the period of consideration for asylum claims should be significantly shortened and that all those who fail should be immediately deported. He has made much of the fight against Islamist terrorism, calling it ‘the priority’ for his foreign policy.
We must celebrate the defeat of the Front National, but we must by no means celebrate the victory of Macron. In him, French imperialism has found a president who will defend the interests of French capital by attacking the working class at home and the oppressed globally. The years since the financial crash have seen a rising tide of resistance against racist police violence and militant action against labour reforms. The conditions are ripe for revolutionaries to organise and fight back.