Photo: Rail workers on strike in 2019 against Macron’s pension cuts. Credit — Paule Bodilis
On Sunday French President Emmanuel Macron beat out far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to win a second term by a margin of 58.5% to 41.5%. The capitalist media is hailing Macron’s reelection as a victory for stability and against both the “extreme left” and “extreme right”. But neither Macron or Le Pen will be able to offer a path out of the crisis facing the working class in France, and the anti-worker policies pursued by Macron’s government are likely to continue fueling the growth of the far right.
Unlike the United States, presidential elections in France take place in two rounds. The first round of elections feature a number of candidates, the top two of which proceed to the second round.
In the first round Macron won 27.85% of the vote, Le Pen 23.15%, and leftist Jean Luc Mélenchon scored 21.95%, doing particularly well in the working class and nationally diverse northeast of Paris and overseas colonies. Approximately 70% of Muslims voted for Mélenchon in the first round, a reflection of his strident stance against Islamophobia as well as support for his economic program that favors the poor and dispossessed. Missing the cut off for the second round by 1.2%, Mélenchon called on his supporters to vote against Le Pen in the second round.
The French elections are bound up in a complex tangle of domestic and international issues including the direction of the European Union, NATO, the fate of social programs, the authoritarian turn within bourgeois democracies, and the creation of a pluralistic, multinational society. The strong showing from Mélenchon demonstrates the popularity of a socialist, anti-war, anti-racist, pro-working class platform.
Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism is the hallmark of Le Pen’s politics. The daughter of a notorious holocaust denier who tortured idependence fighters during the Algerian Revolution, Le Pen advocated a ban on the wearing of the hijab in public. France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. In 2010, Le Pen compared the Muslim practice of praying in the street to Nazi occupation. She also has alluded to the fascist, anti-immigrant conspiracy theory known as “the great replacement.”
To sweeten her bigoted agenda, Le Pen has tried to style herself as a champion of working people by calling for a cut in energy taxes and opposing Macron’s pension “reform” scheme. A classic tactic of fascism is to selectively adopt pro-worker demands to split the solidarity of the international working class and confuse the people.
A large section of French voters chose to go to the polls for Macron purely out of disgust for Le Pen’s fascistic program. Even still, fewer voters were able to stomach a tactical vote for Macron than in the previous election, with Le Pen cutting Macron’s margin of victory roughly in half compared to 2017. The abstention rate stood at 28% in the second round. This is the highest rate in 50 years and signals dissatisfaction with the binary choice between Macron and Le Pen.
Macron’s anti-worker attacks fuel far right
Since his election in 2017, Macron has governed in a highly arrogant, authoritarian manner. In 2018, a movement against income inequality and lack of democratic governance was sparked by an increase in fuel taxes. This was in effect an extra tax on the poor and working class. The spontaneous “Yellow Vest” protests, named for the ubiquitous caution vests worn by protestors, were brutally repressed under a cloud of tear gas and semi-lethal flash ball grenades.
Macron’s dictatorial tendencies were on full display in 2019 when he attempted to pass anti-worker pension reforms. The French retirement age is 62, the product of many decades of working class struggle. Macron proposed to raise the retirement age to 65 and cut benefits rather than raise taxes on the rich and big business to fully fund the pension system. When parliament and politicians from across the political spectrum rejected Macron’s proposal, he attempted to ram through the changes using executive decree.
The working class responded with a massive show of force. The left-wing CGT union and others in the labor movement led a major strike action to oppose the move and shut down the country. Macron was forced to back off from his plan, first lowering the proposed retirement to 64 and then abandoning the plan altogether.
The odious policies of the elites of France are calling into question the legitimacy of the capitalist political system in the eyes of the people. The parties that had dominated French politics less than 10 years ago have nearly vanished. The pro-establishment Socialist Party, which controlled the presidency before Macron, received less than 2% of the vote. The mainstream conservative party did not do much better, winning less than 5%. There is a fierce struggle being waged between the left and the fascistic right wing to convince people that their program represents the change so badly needed in French society.
Conditions for the working class in France continue to worsen under the impact of the U.S.-led economic war against Russia. Mélenchon’s movement, strongly supported by youth, has staying power and vitality. He was the only candidate able to draw large crowds at a short notice. Calling Macron “the most poorly elected president” in recent French political history, Mélenchon and the left have asked the people to not fall prey to apathy but to head to the polls on June 13 and 19 to support the election of left wing deputies to the French parliament.
The fight against the far right will also take place outside of the electoral arena, in neighborhoods, workplaces and schools across the country as people look for a solution to the grave injustices in French society. The political program of Macron is a gift to the far right, giving them the opportunity to falsely pose as opponents of the establishment. Only the struggle of the working class on the basis of a platform demanding justice and equality for all is up to the task.