April 29, 2017

Big Corporations Win the French Presidential Elections

Adrien Welsh

On April 23rd, the French people were called to chose two out of the eleven candidates running for the Presidential elections who would make their way to the second round and aspire to be the next tenant of the Élysée palace.

In France, the first round for Presidential elections has never been a moment of great suspense. For decades, the two main political parties, the Socialists (PS) and the right (Les républicains and, formerly, the UMP or RPR) usually get to the second round with a comfortable margin. Polling institutions have an easy job in predicting who the two aspiring presidents will be. However, this year, until the last minute, four candidates  were polling at around 20% in the first round, namely Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine Le Pen, François Fillion and Emmanuel Macron.

At 8 :00 PM Paris time, the first predictions started to be broadcast, making it clear that the seats for the second round would be filled by Marine Le Pen and the “centrist” Emmanuel Macron, receiving 21.7 and 24% of the ballots cast. The candidate of Les Républicains, the right wing Party, came in third place with 20% and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, from the left, obtained 19.2%. As for the Socialist Party, its candidate, Benoit Hamon, had to settle for only 6%, its lowest score since 1969.

Thus, for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic – that is, for the first time since DeGaulle’s constitutional putsch of 1958 – none of the two main political parties, the two parties that ran the country for almost 60 years, are represented in the fight for the second round. Moreover, with Emmanuel Macron leading in votes, it is the first time that the front running Presidential candidate will campaign without the explicit support of any political party.

This certainly has a lot to do with the decadence of bourgeois democracy in France and elsewhere.

As the crisis of capitalism started hitting Europe, lines of a political recomposition started to emerge, especially in the so-called “peripheries” of the European Union. Examples include Greece with the rise of Syriza, Spain with Podemos or Italy, with Matteo Renzi and Beppe Grillo, or Corbyn in Britain through a pivot left in the Labour Party. In all these countries, the traditional parties of social democracy, because of their major compromises with neo-liberal policies in the 1980s – 1990s, are being replaced by new political forces that adopt seemingly radical rhetoric, rejecting the records of the “old” social-democratic parties.

In France though, probably because the Socialist Party was slow to adopt a social-liberal line (unlike in Germany or in Britain with Tony Blair’s “New Labour”) and because the PS was in opposition when the capitalist crisis burst in 2008, this political recomposition emerged slowly and tepidly. Up until the current electoral process, the old division between the “right” and the “left”, with some continuity all the way back to the French Revolution, seemed to serve bourgeois democracy just fine.

During the last five years though, the PS government has been constantly attacking the working class, the youth and popular masses. Unemployment now reaches around 10% and 20% for youth, social programmes have been ransacked from healthcare to universities, public services such as the nationalized railroad system and postal services are on the verge of being privatized, and the attacks on the Labour Code in spring 2016 went so far that even the right had no serious objections to the reforms enacted by the El-Khomri law. In the colonies, youth unemployment is over 60% in some areas (like in Guadeloupe and Martinique), access to education is highly compromised and the right to self-determination is still denied to those people who are not even recognized as nations. In French Guiana, social and labour movement actions paralyzed the whole region for weeks, even impeding the launching of rockets from the European base of Kourou.

With austerity for the people on one side, tax breaks voted in by the Socialists such as the CICE and the “Responsibility Compact” as well as high subsidies for low-paid and precarious industries were given to the corporations, totalled tens of billions of euros.

A big part of Hollande’s five year mandate is also marked by a series of attacks against democratic rights through security measures and the State of Emergency applied almost without interruption since the January 2015 attack against Charlie Hebdo. This measure led to people being arrested without evidence (including children), a deployment of the military in the streets and attacks on protestors. But in no way did it prevent terrorists from new actions, as the victims of the November 2016 attacks could testify. The rhetoric of “total war” against terror, as Prime Minister Valls called it, gave justification for France to be more involved in imperialist wars such as in Syria, Iraq and its former African colonies of Mali and the Central African Republic.

This all led to massive popular discontent and desperation which, coupled with the anti-terrorist rhetoric, became fertile ground for the ultra-right, xenophobic and fascistic ideas of Marine Le Pen’s Front National. This is particularly the case in the Northern and Eastern regions of France, who are victims of pro-European Union policies of deindustrialization. As a corollary, in all local and European elections, Le Pen’s party achieved its highest polling. Le Pen making it to the second round of the Presidential elections should therefore not be a surprise to anyone.

In short, the five years of anti-social policies imposed by Hollande and the PS government forced a drastic political recomposition on many levels. The results of these presidential elections are the reflection of this and they show that the big corporations are the big winners.

Compromised by the implementation of austerity measures and by the de facto adoption of neo-liberal policies, the Socialist Party could not play social democracy’s traditional role of channelling people’s anger towards reformist ideas. Hollande and his party were sacrificed to the benefit of both Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a mix between Tsipras, Iglesias, and even Beppe Grillo, and to Emmanuel Macron with his movement “En marche!”. Both Mélenchon and Macron are former members of the Socialist Party.

Mélenchon voted for the privatizations under the Jospin Government as well as voting for Maastricht and all subsequent agreements that reiterated the integration of France in the EU of capital. Now leader of La France insoumise, a movement adopting radical rhetoric but, on key questions such as the European Union, it refuses to be a clear voice calling for a rupture with the EU, implying that this free-trade agreement could be reformable. It has become more and more clear that he is perceived to be the one to become the official “leftist” opposition.

Macron, presented as the “new element”, actually bears the record of Hollande’s last five years. Despite his statements saying that he is both from left and from right, the reality is that he served as Minister of Finance and he gathered all his political legitimacy by participating in the past government. Macron: the voice of finance, young, not coming from the traditional right but perceived as a pragmatic leftist, and supported by people from the two main parties including François Hollande himself. In Macron, the bourgeoisie could not find a better candidate to revamp the image of bourgeois democracy. Pretending to be above the political parties, Macron is the most suitable candidate to continue the austerity policies and the measures initiated in the past five years without generating as much hostility of the popular forces as if the right were in power.

The Front National is on the other side playing an increasingly important role to foil, channel and discredit all kinds of opposition to the system. Its nationalist deviation of the popular rejection of the European Union, of NATO and free trade; its xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist rhetoric as well as its social demagogy constitute a dangerous and poisonous mix for the advancement of fascist ideas.

This rather radical and brutal shift in the French political landscape, which is passing from an opposition between the left and right parties to an opposition of personalities “above” political parties, will certainly force the capitalist class to change tactics. For the legislative elections, big question marks are being raised. With Macron having no political party behind him, nothing seems clear except that if elected, he will do everything to ensure that the agenda of the 1% is reflected in French policies. Pro-European Union, pro-globalization and pro-free-trade, the young candidate called, during his speech on April 23rd, for a break with the French economic model, meaning that he will forcefully attack all the gains of the working class obtained through its passed struggles.

In the second round, the outcome of Macron confronting Le Pen is the best case scenario for the bourgeoisie. On one side, this young banker has cleared the road to impose their agenda since opposition will be seen as objectively favouring the ultra-right. Indeed, odds are that in the second round, Macron will easily win the elections (polls predict results around 60-40%). The Front National and the ultra-right, despite a forceful attempt at “de-demonization”, still has difficulties getting rid of its old image of friendship with Nazi collaborators and holocaust deniers. A Donald Trump-like scenario is therefore very unlikely, especially since François Fillion, the candidate of the right, called for a vote for Macron.

Echoing Fillion’s position, most of the eleven candidates and most of the political parties, from the right to the PS, already called for a vote for Macron (or a vote “against” Le Pen) and for a “republican front”. However, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (critically supported by the Communist Party [PCF]) along with the class-oriented labour union CGT, did not give any voting advice, stressing that there is a clear correlation between austerity and the rise of fascism and that in this situation, voting for one or the other would be like choosing between plague and cholera.

“Of course, Marine Le Pen and the fascist groups supporting her are dangerous. But for us, what really matters is not so much the danger of her being elected as President (which is unlikely to happen now) but the danger, in the longer term, of her movement gaining more popularity as a result of the anti-people measures that Macron will impose on working people. As we know, fascism doesn’t fall from heaven, it is the expression of capitalism in crisis. This is why our anti-fascist mobilization cannot rely on a representative of the 1% like Emmanuel Macron. This is why our anti-fascist actions cannot be separated from our struggles against capitalism. As communists, our duty now is to be ready to hit the streets, go on strike to defend our public services, our rights and to oppose all resistance needed to block Macron’s pro-corporate agenda. And this has to start right now, with May Day being the first moment to show our strength and our opposition to both the voice of racism, xenophobia and fascism and to the voice of CAC 40 (the French stock market index) and the diktat of finance,” said Emmanuel Dang Tran, member of the National Council of the PCF.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular stories