- 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.