French election: ‘The banker’ and ‘the racist’ through to run-off

french election

On 23 April France went to the polls for the first round of the presidential election. No candidate secured a majority and the second round will take place on 7 May between the two highest scoring candidates: Marine Le Pen of the right-wing populist Front National (FN); and Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and economy minister in Manuel Valls’ Parti Socialiste (PS) government. This will be the first time in 60 years that the second round has not included either of the main two parliamentary parties.

The gap between the top four candidates was less than 5%. Macron of En Marche! (founded shortly before he resigned from François Hollande’s PS government in April 2016) came first with 24%. Le Pen secured 21.3%, which means 7.6 million voters. The last time the FN came anywhere near this was 6.8 million votes in regional elections in 2015. François Fillon, originally touted as the most likely winner before his campaign was racked by financial scandals, came third with 20%. Fourth was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the euro-sceptic leftist of France Insoumise (Rebellious France) at 19.6%. Perhaps most significantly, fifth place with just 6.4% went to PS candidate Benoît Hamon, signalling the collapse of the French social-democratic vehicle.

This election expresses 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 grew by just 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%.

The rise of the FN, on the one hand, and Macron on the other demonstrate the division in the French ruling class over how to restore profitability and solve the crisis. What both have in common, however, is that they seek to solve the crisis at the expense of the working class.

Macron represents business-as-usual for French capitalism. He proposes cutting corporation tax from 33.3% to 25% and eliminating 120,000 government jobs. As economy minister he presided over business-friendly reforms and was a staunch supporter of the El Khomri Law which savaged labour rights. Macron claims that his is the ‘only pro-European party’ in France. A supporter of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement deal between Canada and the EU, he argued that the deal does not need to be ratified by the member states as this would ‘undermine’ Europe.

The bulk of the ruling class has 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.

Like many bourgeois politicians, 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 but 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.

Le Pen and the FN represent a different wing of the ruling class. Where the dominant wing sees the salvation of French capitalism within Europe, the dissident section behind Le Pen is vying for the revival of an independent French imperialism. The FN has promised a referendum on EU membership within six months of coming to power and a return to the franc as currency. Because this trend is a minority trend within the ruling class, it must build a class alliance with other forces: this is the essence of populism, and it explains much of the FN platform. Le Pen proposes lowering the retirement age to 60 and assuring the 35-hour week which was attacked by the PS. She also proposes a 35% tax on goods from firms that relocate out of France. The FN’s 2017 manifesto proposes severe reductions to immigration, and the deportation of all illegal immigrants. In December 2016 Le Pen announced that she would end free education for the children of undocumented migrants. She advocates stripping ‘extremist’ Muslims of French citizenship and the provision of all services to ‘native French’ before ‘foreigners’. The kind of national-chauvinism the FN represents is the surest way of tying the labour aristocracy to French imperialism during times of crisis. The working class must not be fooled by the FN’s promises over labour rights and welfare: their programme is a ruling class programme.

Much has been made of the turnout for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, former junior minister in Lionel Jospin’s PS government, whose presidential bid was backed by the French Communist Party (PCF). Mélenchon proposed a €100bn economic stimulus funded by government borrowing, a round of nationalisations and withdrawal from NATO. In the past he has proposed a 100% tax on earnings above €400,000 a year. He was active in the 1970s in pushing for the alliance between the PS and the PCF, which eventually led to the PCF’s disastrous stint in François Mittérrand’s government. That government embarked on exactly the kind of programme that Mélenchon is proposing but, under fierce attack by capital, was forced to backtrack within three years and implement harsh austerity. The PCF never recovered and has stagnated ever since. Mélenchon seems not to have learned the lesson that the bourgeoisie will not stand by and allow this kind of radical programme to be implemented under crisis conditions. Unless Mélenchon had been willing to go to war against capital, his programme would have remained a reformist fantasy. Much of Mélenchon’s support comes from the youth and, as demonstrated by the PCF’s backing, he has also garnered the support of that section of the labour aristocracy which cannot accept that social democracy has collapsed and which sees a solution to the crisis in a radical version of managed capitalism.

Benoît Hamon is from the left of the PS and his platform included universal basic income and constitutional protection for the commons (air, water, etc). Like Mélenchon’s, these policies are of course fantasies under capitalism, as they undermine profits and so would not be permitted by the ruling class unless absolutely essential – for example as a concession to a strong workers’ movement. Such a movement does not exist. Hamon’s abysmal performance is a reflection of the death of French social democracy. Les trentes glorieuses (30 golden years) of high profitability following the Second World War are over. These high profits are no longer available to sustain social democracy, and so the project has collapsed, with the labour aristocracy and the middle class switching allegiances. The mass of the working class abandoned the PS decades ago.

The political establishment has rallied behind Macron. A snap Ipsos survey on the night after the first round vote said Macron would beat Le Pen 62:38 in the 7 May run-off. Hamon and Fillon have rallied behind Macron, urging their voters to stop Le Pen. Fillon said there was ‘no other option’ but to vote for Macron. Ex-President Hollande, the most unpopular President in French history, called Le Pen a ‘risk’ for France. The political establishment, and the bourgeois interests it serves, are rallying to rebuild the ‘Republican Front’ which opposed Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie in the 2002 run-off election, sweeping Jacques Chirac into office.

Markets responded well in anticipation of a Macron victory. The euro reached a five-and-a-half-month high against the dollar when markets opened on Sunday: a 2% jump from $1.0723 to $1.09395. Stocks on French exchanges reached a nine-year high.

On the night of the vote, demonstrations took place across France; protesters in Nantes carried a banner declaring: ‘Ni banquier, ni raciste’ (‘Neither a banker nor a racist’). As we said in FRFI 256

None of the electoral alternatives offer a positive outcome for the working class. The hope for positive change lies not with the bourgeois electoral circus but with mass resistance spawned by the crisis, from the recent resistance to the El Khomri Law to the protests against racist police brutality.

Working class people have nothing to gain from bourgeois politics and the task of socialists in France is to build resistance to the increasing attacks on our class and to build a revolutionary movement against capitalism, austerity and war.

Neither a banker, nor a racist, but working class resistance!

Séamus Padraic


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