- Report on first-round result, Colin Foster, Solidarity 436
- Comments from the French left after the first round
- Two views on the second round, from Solidarity 436: Martin Thomas; Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson
- Discussion document 1 (Martin Thomas)
- Discussion document 2 (Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson)
- Discussion document 3 (Miles Darke)
- Further comments on the FN and the French second round (Martin Thomas)
- Four more contributions: Tony, Rosie, Duncan, Sacha
- Some quick responses: Martin Thomas
- "You can't claim it's a one-off": Duncan
- Quick response: Martin
- Emmanuel Todd: Martin
Report on first-round result, Solidarity 435
The first round of the French presidential election, on 23 April, confirmed that "Trump effects" are spreading.
The 2008 economic crash and the economic depression since then have discredited mainstream neoliberal politics, and so far right-wing nationalist, "identity politics", demagogues have seized most of the gains.
The revolutionary socialist candidates, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, with 1.21% and 0.65%, did a bit better than in 2012, but still worse than in 2007 (4.08% and 1.33%).
Soft-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 19.43%. The great gainer, however, was the Front National's Marine Le Pen, with 21.43%, up on 17.9% in 2012 and 10.44% for the FN candidate in 2007.
Le Pen won only 5% of the vote in Paris; 7% in Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux; 9% in Lyon; 13% in the whole Ile-de-France region including Paris; but 24% in Marseille, 25% in Nice, and more in small towns and villages.
Just ahead of Le Pen, and favoured to win the second-round run-off on 7 May, was Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in the current government (led by the Socialist Party) who split off to form his own "centre" neo-liberal movement, with 23.86%.
The "mainstream" left, the Socialist Party, had its chance in 2012, when it won elections by a clear majority - with some leftish policies which it then trashed in favour of harsher neoliberalism.
The task now is to regroup the real left, and equip it to win a majority.
Not an easy task, but an urgent one. The lesson is that if the left dawdles and equivocates, in economic turmoil like today's, then the right does not stand still.
The FN does not have the power to mobilise on the streets of a full-scale fascist movement. But Marine Le Pen herself is a fascist, surrounded by a cadre of fascists. France's constitution gives the president great powers.
Even if Macron wins on 7 May, he promises worse than Hollande rather than better. Unless the left rebuilds as an independent force in time, the next presidential election will be even more scary.
French left takes stock
Groups on the French left have commented on the first-round presidential results, the second round coming on 7 May, and the parliamentary elections following on 11 and 18 June.
The Socialist Party and the Communist Party - and mainstream right candidate François Fillon - will vote on 7 May for Macron to stop Le Pen. Although his main base was the CP and other groups taking a similar attitude, Jean-Luc Mélenchon says he will consult his supporters about what to say about the second round.
Ensemble (left group, including some Trotskyists who split from the NPA in 2012, which supported Mélenchon)
Ensemble calls for mobilisation on the street on 1 May, and in voting against Le Pen on 7 May, to stop the far right gaining power.
At the same time, we will fight Emmanuel Macron's project, Once Le Pen is eliminated, we must stop Macron constituting a majority in the National Assembly with the right wing of the Socialist Party and a section of the mainstream right around his ultra-neoliberal program, which will continue the policies of Hollande's five years in worse form. Let's pull together a left which stands up for itself.
NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party, a successor to the Trotskyist LCR, which stood Philippe Poutou in the first round)
On Sunday 7 May, many people will want to block the FN by voting for Macron. We understand the desire to push back the mortal danger for all social progress and rights, especially for immigrants and those of immigrant origin, which the coming to power of Marine Le Pen would represent. But we insist that it is the policies of cuts and repression, especially when carried through by the supposed left in government, which are the cause of the rise of the FN and its disgusting ideas. Macron is not a barrier against the FN, and to push back that danger durably, there is no other answer than going back on the streets, against the far right, but also against all those who, like Macron, have introduced or want to introduce anti-social measures.
Nathalie Arthaud, candidate in the first round of the Trotskyist group Lutte Ouvrière
Politically-aware workers should reject voting for Marine Le Pen. But Macron, this former banker and minister, is just as much an enemy of the working class as Marine Le Pen...
As for me, I will cast a blank vote [on 7 May], giving my vote the meaning of a rejection of Marine Le Pen without endorsing Macron...
Some of my voters will cast a blank vote like me. Others will spoil their ballot papers. Yet others will abstain. Some, maybe, will choose to vote for Macron, believing, wrongly, that by doing that they oppose the rise of the FN.
The main thing is to be aware that, whatever the result of the vote, the exploited, the retired, and unemployed, will have an enemy in the presidential palace.
Arguments pour la lutte sociale (a revolutionary socialist newsletter with whose editors we have friendly links)
Neither Le Pen nor Macron: this orientation [on the second round] does not play into the hands of Le Pen as both the partisans of "national unity" and comrades who see an immediate fascist danger are going to say, sincerely or not, because the orientation has immediate points of concretisation.
First, independent social struggle. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators should intervene on 1 May with the slogan of abrogation of the El Khomri law and all their other current demands...
And, in the same process, let us start the political struggle for unitary and democratic candidatures [of the labour movement] in the legislative elections...
Two views on the second round
1: Martin Thomas
Marine Le Pen's Front National does not have the mobilising power to install a fascist regime if she wins the presidency on 7 May.
But Le Pen's politics, and the FN top cadre around her, are fascist. The presidency will give them huge power to impose discrimination, heavy police powers, union-bashing policies, and re-raised frontiers between nations which will ricochet across Europe.
The mainstream neoliberals pave the way for Le Pen. The whole of the French left will mobilise on the streets on 1 May, and, one way or another, will seek to secure left-wing representation in the new National Assembly elected on 11-18 June to limit whichever president wins on 7 May.
On 7 May itself, in my view, workers can best serve the continuing struggle by using the only option available on the ballot paper to block Le Pen: vote Macron.
Macron is bad, and the neoliberal policies of a Macron presidency not curbed by strong left-wing remobilisation will bring an even greater fascist danger in a few years' time. Le Pen is worse, and Le Pen as president on 8 May is worse than a danger of Le Pen as president in some years' time.
It is a principle for us in elections to seek the maximum independent working-class intervention.
On 7 May we cannot stand or support candidates of the labour movement. Sometimes we shrug because the differences between bourgeois candidates are small and speculative. Sometimes we say that the "lesser-evil" bourgeois candidate is bound to win anyway, and in any case we are strong enough to make blank votes a real gesture of working-class independence.
The outcome is not certain. The revolutionary left is not strong enough to raise blank votes visibly above the random level. It would be nihilistic disregard for bourgeois democracy and bourgeois cosmopolitanism to deny the big difference between Macron's routine neoliberalism and Le Pen's fascistic chauvinism.
There is no Marxist principle against voting for a lesser-evil bourgeois candidate when it is impossible to have a labour-movement candidate. When the German Social Democracy was a Marxist party, before World War One, it routinely advised a vote for liberals against loyalists of Germany's bureaucratic monarchy in run-offs when the socialists themselves had been eliminated. Left-wingers like Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring did not dissent.
We tell workers: Le Pen is worse than Macron. And do we then say: you must not vote Macron, however much you indict him and organise against him? Once you vote, you will forget your indictments?
Those workers could reply to us: if you are so unconfident of your own political firmness that you dare not make an unusual step for fear of falling over, so be it. But do not attribute your own weakness to us, or make us pay the price of a Le Pen presidency for that weakness of yours.
2: Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson
A vote for Macron is not just, or even mostly, a vote for more open borders, a defence of Muslims and immigrants, and an expression of opposition towards protectionism and racism.
Macron is a former banker who wants to cut corporation tax to 25%, wants more flexible labour laws in the mold of the El Khomri Law, allowing companies to negotiate individual agreements with staff. His program is to reduce public spending by €60bn, cut 120,000 public sector jobs, and introduce greater “flexibility” in retirement age and the working week.
It is a continuation of the “liberalization” demanded by the French ruling-class which Francois Hollande’s Parti Socialiste was unable to deliver. Hence, the flocking of Hollande-Valls wing of the PS behind Macron, together with centrist François Bayrou and sections of the French centre-right.
Macron’s candidacy is a united front of the French establishment. Its neoliberal “reform” program will hit workers. A “critical” vote for this neoliberal programme will be indistinguishable from those who genuinely endorse Macron’s policy; both will be taken as legitimation for further attacks on our class, and will serve to undermine the credibility of the revolutionary left as it rallies a fightback.
A vote for Macron could drive workers further in to the arms of the “anti-establishment” Front Nationale, who will continue to prey on the fears and insecurities of those suffering under capitalism.
And it risks sowing illusions in the neoliberal center and its capacity to rescue us from a resurgent populist right. Lots of people who will vote Macron, people the revolutionary left needs to reach, will vote Macron not on the basis that he is a crook, but with enthusiasm and illusions.
It is only the labour movement which can combine a defence of the gains of the neoliberal period – cultural cosmopolitanism, freer movement, economic integration – with a fight against the poverty, alienation and social distress it inevitably creates.
As against Le Pen, Macron is a “lesser evil” but it is incumbent on Marxists to resolutely assert working-class independence and hostility to both. Even on the points on which we agree with Macron, our “Yes” is not his “Yes”. We say “Yes” to open borders, anti-racism and greater European integration but a resounding “No” to the capitalist nature of his programme, and even his capacity to defend those points on which we overlap.
By Martin Thomas
- Macron's policies are bad, they've paved the way for the FN, and if he wins and gets his way between now and 2022, then the FN is likely to come back stronger then? Only independent working-class politics can stop the rise of the FN or similar forces? Absolutely. And left groups in France which favour voting Macron on 7 May, like Ensemble, say that as clearly and vividly as those who recommending a shrug or a blank vote, or more so.
- The candidate is different, and the circumstances and reasoning are different, but the idea of casting votes for candidates whose program we hate, for reasons other than their program, is not new. The argument that "a 'critical' vote for [Macron] will be indistinguishable from those who genuinely endorse Macron’s policy" makes sense only if we think that every left-winger who recommended a vote for Blairite Labour candidates anywhere was "indistinguishable" from Peter Mandelson. People who understood that we voted Blair-Labour despite and against the Blair program, because it still had some links with the labour movement (although it was trying to trash them), will also understand voting Macron despite and against the Macron program, to stop a fascist gaining the presidency on 7 May. "Tactical voting" - voting which is not, as the French say, a "vote d'adhésion" - is not a specialised trick of Marxist aficionados, but a commonplace.
- Ensemble and others can say, in a way that is quite logical and widely understood, that they will vote Macron on 7 May, but hate Macron and mobilise to disrupt and defeat Macron's project. In 1998, no-one said in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement that they were voting for it, but hated the Agreement and were mobilising to destroy it. It's hard to see how you could have campaigned that way.
- It will look bad if Macron wins and the left is seen to have had a part in it? I don't see why. It is not so hard to understand that the left vote for Macron is coupled with mobilisation against his program. If Le Pen wins and the left is seen to have had a part in that, then it will be much worse than just looking bad.
- And if Le Pen wins, the left will have had a part in it.
- Departing from our tradition? In the first place, our tradition - unless we want to repudiate the left wing of pre-1914 German Social Democracy and the Bolsheviks - is one of always seeking maximum independent working-class intervention, but not of always refusing to vote for bourgeois candidates, not of saying that there is no difference worth bothering about between bourgeois democracy and fascism, and not of saying that there is no difference between a danger of fascism in five years' time and having a fascist president now.
- In the second place, if some comrades are so unsure of their political steadfastness, then they should educate themselves rather make French workers pay the price. "Why did you decide to let Le Pen in?" "I was scared that if I voted against her, I wouldn't be able to stop myself sliding down a slippery slope to voting for bourgeois lesser evils all the time".
- And in the third place, it is superstitious to reject a vote for Macron on the grounds that it implies that routine neoliberalism is not as bad as fascism, and so may blunt the fight against routine neoliberalism. Routine neoliberal capitalism is not as bad as fascism: that is a fact. If it is impossible for workers to hold in their heads the two ideas of a fight against capitalism, and that there are worse things than routine neoliberal capitalism, then there will never be a socialist revolution. But it is not at all impossible. The left used to be afraid of saying harsh things against Stalinism, for fear it would make routine liberal capitalism look good by comparison, but that fear was irrational and counterproductive.
- We can't convince Le Pen voters with a vote for Macron? We won't convince them with a shrug - "not enough difference to make it worth voting" - either. The core of convincing Le Pen voters is, of course, creating a force on the left strong and clear enough to give them hope. Part of that is convincing them that Le Pen is not just a routine politician with some nationalist overtones, but a fascist.
- The mounting evidence is that the mood in favour of shrugging among a significant minority of left voters in France - and the pro-Le-Pen mood among a smaller but still not negligible minority of them - is not the product of a shift to more left-wing views and more working-class intransigence since 2002. The contrary, as you'd expect with a drop in the revolutionary-left vote from 10% then to under 2% this time. Some of the left see large elements of Le Pen's chauvinist anti-EU and anti-"globalism" line as sort-of-left-wing. Others have been duped by Le Pen's "de-demonisation" effort, as she calls her cosmetic rebranding of the FN. Yet others are defeatist and demoralised: "if Macron wins, that only means the FN in 2022, so you might as well shrug". Or nihilistic: the slogan of the recent small anarchist demonstrations, "Neither banker, nor fascist", makes sense only if there is no difference between the general domination of capital (bankers, etc.) and fascism. There is nothing revolutionary about going along with that mood, or with the evasions to which Jean-Luc Melenchon has resorted for fear of confronting the pro-Le-Pen and pro-shrugging moods among his voters.
Cathy at the meeting on the 1st April is keen to stress that this a one-off in specific circumstances. The problem with this is that Martin citing a number of historical precedents cuts across this. He points to the pre-1914 German Social Democracy and the Bolsheviks. He argues that being positively for working-class representation never meant not supporting bourgeois candidates and this interpretation first appears tentatively with Cannon in 1950. If Martin is right then we have been wrong on in this in the immediate past and he is now reconnecting us with the authentic tradition. If that is the case it is surely not a one-off.
Martin claims a difference between being positively for working-class candidates and being negatively against bourgeois candidates. Clearly there is a difference, however the two are inter-linked. It cannot be reasonably argued that supporting bourgeois candidates even in a run-off doesn’t somewhat diminish our position on working-class candidates. We move from a position where we only support workers candidates to one where we only support workers candidates unless we are in a situation where there isn’t one. Then the calculation will begin to be (as Martin has indicated the American Trotskyists did in the past and indeed we have had similar discussion about independent candidates) where these candidates are plausible and if not then what?
Martin doesn’t address the Trump/Clinton question. Maybe in retrospect he thinks we got it wrong. If he does he should say so if not he should explain the difference. As Sacha points out that argument is essentially a ‘dodge’. Martin himself has pointed out that in the past American Trotskyists didn’t call for a vote in the American election despite the presence of ‘socialist’ propaganda candidates, presumably part of that calculation was that the election was to all intents and purposes a two-horse race.
I think that the problem with Martin’s position is a rather static and stagiest one rather than seeing, dare I say, the dialectical movement both in French politics and indeed within our organisation. Martin’s view is vote Macron and then we start again to build a left. My view is that Macron winning, whilst still the preferable outcome, will be part of the process of strengthening the nationalist right. In addition, the likely effect of this endorsement with the citing of historical precedents will set a trajectory for our group of assessing each ‘lesser evil’ candidate to see whether it is correct to endorse them. This will I think lead to diminishing of our politics.
Martin, with rather ridiculous hyperbole, claims that because we are unsure of our steadfastness, we are sacrificing the French workers (again transfer this argument to Trump/Clinton!) Firstly, our steadfastness can only be assured by our collective thought and discussion, which is what we are doing here. Secondly, I do not believe that our small British group advocating a vote for Macron will save the French working class. Indeed, what we can do is make clear the necessity for an independent working class voice and action and not take responsibility, no matter with what caveats, for the viciously anti-working class programme Macron will launch. It maybe argued that, in a panic, it is Martin who is sacrificing the future of French working-class politics.
In addition Martin impermissibly slips between having nuanced ideas, nuanced arguments and how you vote, votes by their nature do not allow for nuance. We have explained this to the Lexiteers ad nauseam. It is a vote for Macron no matter what you are muttering under your breath.
1. I have deliberately not used the euphemisms sometimes used on the French left - "use your vote to bar Le Pen" - and instead said plainly that I agree with voting Macron on 7 May.
2. Voting Macron to stop Le Pen is not taking responsibility for Macron's program or reducing the vigour of agitation for independent working-class politics. Any more than voting for Remain was taking responsibility for the EU's neoliberal policies.
3. The key difference with Clinton/ Trump is that there it was possible to run or back other candidates. Most of the left argued that the Bernie Sanders constituency should affirm its autonomy by voting for Jill Stein. She did poorly - the left in the USA is weak, much weaker than in France - but she did get 1,457,216 votes. The Socialist Alliance in 2001, when it did best, got a total of 58,553 votes across the country, the equivalent in proportion to population of 300,000 odd votes in the USA.
4. The American Trotskyists (SWP and WP both) "shrugged" in the 1940 and 1944 presidential elections - found themselves unable to recommend any action - both because they thought the left "propaganda" candidates too poor to back, and because they described the main bourgeois candidates as not very different from each other. In 1948 the WP recommended a vote for the SWP, the SP, or the SLP, not because the SP or the SLP had got better, but because it knew that otherwise left-minded workers might go for the Stalinoid candidate Henry Wallace. It was a judgement based on circumstances, not on worries about what this or that "might lead to".
5. I pointed out in 2002, when arguing against a Chirac vote then, that not voting for bourgeois candidates was not an absolute rule. It didn't take any "panic" to make me point that out. Of course it was and is a usual rule.
6. Probably Macron will win whatever we say. But it is entirely possible that the outcome may be depend on how the "constituency" of the left candidates goes, and that's something we should reasonably have an opinion about. (If someone asks you about voting on 8 June, you don't reply: "No point me giving an opinion, because our group is so small"). To argue against a Macron vote on specific grounds may make sense. I don't think so, because it is entirely coherent to recommend a Macron vote, on the grounds that he is not fascist, and denounce his program. But to argue against on the grounds that such a vote might lead to this or that (i.e., implicitly, that in and of itself the vote would be a good idea, but is disqualified only because of what it "might lead to") is unsound. It does amount to saying that the French working class must put up with an increased risk of Le Pen because we are unsure of our future virtue.
65% of the supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon have voted, in a consultation called by Mélenchon, for abstention or a blank vote on 7 May.
I'm not surprised. And I'm not pleased. I think it represents a compound of fatalistic demoralisation and left-nationalist complaisance towards Le Pen.
What we're seeing is not an advance of the left to a more independent and left-wing position than in 2002, but a regression.
It is epitomised by the well-known intellectual Emmanuel Todd. He will abstain on 7 May. He is and long has been considered a left-winger.
But what informs his abstention? He has become a sort of French nationalist. He was very pleased about Brexit. In advance of the first round, he said he did not know whether to vote for Mélenchon or the conservative nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who has now made an alliance with Le Pen.