Vote Macron on 7 May
The French leftists who advocated a vote for Macron in the second round of the French presidential election - Arguments pour la lutte sociale, Ensemble, (implicitly) the NPA, and even the French Communist Party - were right.
Macron, a standard-issue Blair-Schröder-Renzi-Clinton-type neoliberal semi-cosmopolitan, was a lesser evil than Marine Le Pen, an outright fascist.
That Le Pen's party, the Front National, is an electoralist party with a fairly small membership base, and thus not a fascist movement comparable to the Nazis or Mussolini’s Fascist Party when they were on the eve of power in the 1920s and 30s, does not reduce the difference to an indefinite and speculative balance of probabilities.
The FN has a fascist core cadre and a fascist ideology. It functions as the electoral-political wing of a broader fascist current, with varying relations of collaboration with smaller street-fighting fascist groups. The French presidency is the strongest elected position in the advanced capitalist world. It has powers to legislate bypassing parliament. It is immune to removal by parliament. Study of what the FN has done where it controls municipalities indicate that an FN presidency would grievously hurt trade unions, workers' rights, and immigrants in France, and probably trigger a reraising of national frontiers across Europe.
Of course, in every situation, we want to do better than backing the lesser evil and opposing the greater evil. We want to advance the good. We fight for working-class alternatives in triangular contests against bourgeois evils both lesser and greater. We are for a working-class third camp even if there are real differences between the first and second camps of established power. Only as a secondstring of action, and only while still using all the audibility and visibility we have to promote working-class alternatives, do we ally with bourgeois lesser evils against greater, as for example we sided with "Remain" in the 23 June 2016 European referendum against "Leave".
French leftists could and did use what audibility and visibility they had to promote working-class alternatives. They could and did support the revolutionary socialist candidates in the first round, Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou, and labour-movement-based candidates opposed to both Macron and Le Pen in the legislative elections which followed the second round. Arguments pour la lutte sociale had the slogan: defeat Le Pen on 7 May [presidential second round], defeat Macron on 11-18 June [legislative elections].
The second round of the presidential election was a case for second-string tactics because it was a run-off. Only two candidates were allowed. No candidate of even the most vestigial working-class character could run. Only three options were open: vote Le Pen, vote Macron, or abstain or vote blank.
To explain that we "supported" Macron only in the sense of voting for him as a lesser evil to fascism was no more complicated or liable to misunderstanding than to explain, in 2001 or 2005 say, that we "supported" Blair only in the sense of solidarity with the (much-attenuated) workingclass base of the bourgeois workers' party to which he was attached. Less complicated, if anything.
To vote for bourgeois lesser-evils in such run-offs, when there is no other option bar abstaining or voting blank, has Marxist precedent. The German Social Democratic Party in its heyday faced an electoral system with second-round run-offs. They always voted for the bourgeois liberal progressives where they themselves had been eliminated. Left-wingers in the SPD and in the wider Second International - Rosa Luxemburg, Franz Mehring - criticised the SPD leaders sometimes for "soft" slogans which implied too much credit for the progressives (such as "against the blue-black [conservative] bloc"), but did not dispute the policy in run-offs.
The high run-off abstention rate in 2017 did not reflect a swing between 2002 and 2017 towards more independent working-class political self-assertion. On the contrary. In 2002 the revolutionary left had scored 10% in the first round of the election, and there were huge demonstrations between the two rounds.
In 2017 the revolutionary left totalled 1.7% on the first round, and there was nothing more than the routine May Day demonstrations. The anarchists who were the most vocal in proposing abstention on the second round had stupid slogans like "ni banquier, ni facho" - neither a banker nor a fascist - as if fascism relieves us of the exploitative role of the capitalist banks! Since no-one other than Lutte Ouvrière, who with a 0.64% first-round score cannot have had much sway, positively called for blank votes, there is no political basis for differentiating the mass of blank or spoiled ballots from the simple abstentions. To surf on the abstentionist wave of indifference, demoralisation, and nationalism, and call it a stand for independent workingclass politics, would have been utter self-deception.
No vote for Macron
Our principles are drawn from our understanding of socialism. The way we fight for socialism is conditioned by our goal: working-class power.
Within that there is much scope for nuance within our tactics. However, these must remain consistent with our understanding of working-class socialism and how we fight for it. When we alter our traditional responses we must also fully account for ourselves with reference to our past political positions.
Not endorsing bourgeois candidates in elections where there is no working-class organisation to input in to the campaign or where there is not a significant part of their positive programme which we agree with (for example, where their programme represents the advancement of a particular liberation struggle) is one of these traditional responses.
Although, not endorsing bourgeois candidates in elections remains open to tactical considerations, these must at all times be informed by the principle of working-class independence. Where a traditional course of action is deviated from it must be because, in a particular circumstance, the deviation better serves that guiding principle.
The second round of the French presidential election had some exceptional features. However, it did not demand that we call for a vote for Macron. Had the French far-left called for a vote for Macron the likely effect would have been to miseducate those around it, and potentially to hamper its ability to organise against Macron, or indeed Le Pen if she had won. While we recognise that Macron’s victory was clearly the lesser evil we do not believe that the principle of working-class independence was better served by calling for a vote for him.