On April 10, French president Emmanuel Macron qualified for the second round of the elections with nearly 28 percent of the vote, ahead of right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen, who won just over 23 percent. It was a high total for the outgoing president, the product of the “lesser evil” vote from the wealthiest and oldest sectors of the population, as well as of the unprecedented collapse of the traditional Right. Not only did the traditional Right fail to reach the second round for only the second time in the history of the Fifth Republic,1Translator’s note: The Fifth Republic is France’s current system of government, which was established in October 1958 under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle. but also its vote total was ridiculously low. Among the mainstream parties, only Anne Hidalgo’s 1.7 percent for the Socialist Party was worse.
The Return of Lesser-Evilism
The celebration by Macron’s supporters of coming in first in the first round didn’t last long. Even if the second round has a certain air of a “rematch of 2017,” Macron no longer enjoys the aura of “novelty.” The “disruptive candidate” of five years ago has given way to “unprecedented detestation” of the president for his record of social attacks and authoritarianism by entire sectors of France’s population, as Britain’s Financial Times — a newspaper that has never been hostile to him — pointed out. Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party aims to take maximum advantage of this situation, which allows it to disguise its own racist and neo-liberal agenda. It is a maneuver facilitated by failed candidate and bogeyman Eric Zemmour, whose Pétainist2Translator’s note: Marshall Philippe Pétain led the French government that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Zemmour has repeatedly sought to rehabilitate his reputation, even claiming that the Pétain government had “protected” French Jews. and openly racist outbursts have contributed to smoothing Le Pen’s image. These are among the many advantages the RN is counting on to achieve a much better outcome than in 2017.
In this context, the gap between the two candidates going into the second round looks smaller than ever. Macron certainly remains the favorite, despite a larger reserve of votes for the RN candidate. A massive abstention, however, along with what would be an unusual “anyone-but-Macron” shift of votes from a substantial fraction of the left-wing electorate to Le Pen, could bring the Far Right to power. It is a scenario that is highly unlikely, but not impossible.
Since 2017 in particular, the “Republican dam” that has held against this outcome has taken a beating, with 12.1 million abstentions that year (25.4%) in the second round — a level not seen since 1969 —and a little more than 4 million blank and void ballots (almost 11.5% of voters). To understand the deepening crisis of the regime even better, compare those figures to the 2002 elections, with its second round of voting between Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine’s father). Analysts at the time spoke of a real “earthquake,” the result of the seizing of classic institutional mechanisms, but the “Republican front” fully held, allowing Chirac to win the second round with just over 82 percent of the votes, a participation rate of 79 percent, and only 1.7 million blank or void ballots.
With the fear aroused by the narrowing of the gap between Macron and Le Pen, the “dam” has tended to regain some life in recent days. The election saw an affirmation that there is a left-wing pole of attraction, as expressed by the more than 22 percent (more than 7.7 million votes) won by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.3Translator’s note: Mélenchon is the founder of the social-democratic populist party La France Insoumise (LFI, Unbowed France or Unsubmissive France), and was the candidate of its coalition Union populaire (Popular Union) in this year’s presidential elections. This result, which contradicts the idea that society is only heading to the “Right,” gives to the “Left” electorate a central role in the second round, and intensifies the pressure for “blocking” Le Pen, whether it be with a “Republican dam” or a “Left dam.”
While the Socialist Party, Europe Ecologie–Les Verts (the Greens), and the Communist Party all called for a vote for Macron against the Far Right the very night the first round results were in, Mélenchon’s statement along the same lines was rather hollow. As soon as the results were announced, he declared that “not a single vote should go to Madame Le Pen.” It was the same slogan raised by the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), as it had done in 2017. Through its candidate Philippe Poutou, the NPA stated that “the voting instructions are clear: not one vote should go to the Far Right.” This position was also adopted by the leadership of the CGT trade union confederation and by the Solidaires trade union.
This greater or lesser “openness” to a “blocking” vote has gone hand in hand with more explicit calls to vote for Macron, including on the Far Left — all in the name of lesser-evilism. Speaking with Mediapart, Ugo Palheta — editor of the journal Contretemps and a member of the NPA — calls for “dismissing the immediate danger and [to] deal with the day after Macron’s election.” Writing on the website Les mots sont importants (Words Matter), Pierre Tevanian — the well-known activist and one of the site’s founders — goes even further, denouncing the slogan “not a single vote for the Far Right” as confusing. He explained, “To say in such a context that the alternative candidate (Macron) is ‘in no way’ a bulwark against the Far Right is quite simply a lie and a criminal offense. It so happens that, whatever the turpitudes of President Macron, including in terms of the far-right politicization of the country, the Macron vote is, factually, at least in the short term, at least for the next five years, the only act that helps to keep the fascist out of the presidency.”
This logic of lesser-evilism was already a problem in 2017.4See the exchange between Emmanuel Barot and Sylvain Pyro. At the time, a period before the gloss had come off Jupiter [Macron’s nickname], we in particular noted: “The new bourgeois power bloc that he wants to forge is going to confront [the poorest, the working class, and the trade union confederations] with a new level of offensive, determined to put the entirety of the authoritarian, repressive, racist state, as well as the anti-militant cuttings that have taken root since the beginning of the Bonapartist turn in France in the summer of 2014 at the service of the ultraliberal counterrevolution and the French state’s imperialist commitments. … Let’s remember that it was Macron, in his May 3 debate with Le Pen, as Valls had done, who referenced the ‘Far-Left groups’ when he answered her that he would dissolve all the violent groups, anti-Republicans, antifas, and so on … Macron, the new champion of the bourgeoisie, is also going to be the champion of the embedding of the state of emergency.” After five years of Macronism, it is even more unacceptable. Indeed, under the guise of immediate defense against the danger of Le Pen peril and resistance against the Far Right, it disarms our social class ideologically, politically, and materially at the very moment that we must urgently prepare the resistance against the next government.
Five Years of Macronism: An Authoritarian and Neoliberal Agenda That Has Helped the Far Right Prosper
From the Labor Code changes to the reform of unemployment insurance, along with the abolition of the direct wealth tax (ISF), cuts in personalized housing assistance (APL), the (aborted) pension reforms, and enacting several provisions of the state of emergency into law, Emmanuel Macron’s record is that of a five-year period of social war. On the racist and security front, Macron’s actions illustrate that the neoliberal candidate has had no problem drawing on the program of the Far Right, reiterating his dog-whistles toward the most conservative and reactionary sectors of French society; these actions include the “separatism” and global security laws, the dissolution of organizations, the “anti-drug” laws, the many gifts to the police, visa restriction for North African countries, the big uptick in ultra-violent repression of social movements and working-class neighborhoods, the commemoration of Pétain, and the first interview a president has ever given to Valeurs Actuelles, the far-right newsweekly.
In recent days, with the tightening of the race for the second round, Macron has been sending more signals to his left in an effort to reach the voters of Yannick Jadot, the Green candidate, and Mélenchon above all. Thus, for example, he made a reference to Jean Jaurès, the French social-democratic leader from the early 20th century, the day after the first round, and announced a possible “shift” on raising the retirement age from 62 to 65, even mentioning the possibility of submitting his pension reforms to referendum votes — as if we’ll forget the efforts to use Article 49.3 of the Constitution to force the bill through without a parliamentary vote, which has characterized the Macron government. But the outgoing president’s program is fully in line with his first five-year term, with measures such as age-65 retirement, requiring unemployed and underemployed recipients of the Active Solidarity Income (RSA) to work 15 to 20 hours a week, strengthening the expulsions of foreigners, doubling the number of repressive forces “on the ground,” and continuing the Islamophobic fight against “separatism.” Weakened after five intense years that have given rise to very significant mobilizations and a deep hatred of the president, imposing such measures should Macron be reelected clearly means deepening the most authoritarian features of his first five-year term.
Given Macronism’s authoritarian and neoliberal character — its economic program having recently been endorsed by the MEDEF national employers’ association — any political support is off the table. But confronted with this realization, intellectuals close to La France Insoumise such as economist Stefano Palombarini and sociologist Dominique Méda are seeking a middle path, evoking the idea of a call to vote conditional on the dropping of certain counter-reforms or “evidence of respect.” In view of the character of Macron’s agenda — even if he were to abandon the pension reform, would we accept the doubling of the forces of repression? — such an approach is untenable. It reflects insoluble contradictions of a call to vote for Macron that leads to placing oneself de facto in his camp, in the name of the fight against the Far Right. The same is true of these calls to “impose” Mélenchon on Macron, either by electing a majority of LFI or Popular Union deputies to Parliament, or by negotiating support for the outgoing president in the name of obtaining the post of prime minister. The latter is more of a joke than a political program, but the former is purposeful for the idea that one should vote for Macron on April 24,5It aims to pull all the forces on the Left, the environmentalists, and even the Far Left into an orbit around the “Parliament” and the Popular Union in the coming legislative elections and beyond. even though the LFI leaders know full well that it will be impossible for them to win a parliamentary majority in a two-round uninominal electoral system.
In addition to the political problem it poses, the effectiveness of the more or less explicit call to vote for Macron is also doubtful, in both the short and medium terms. As far as the election is concerned, the only arithmetic possibility for Marine Le Pen to win on April 24 lies in an unprecedented “anti-Macron” mobilization of entire sectors of the electorate that abstained or voted for the Left in the first round. Such a phenomenon would be unprecedented, but it is not totally impossible in view of the catastrophic campaign and the hatred the president of the rich arouses. Recently, figures such as Yellow Vest leaders Priscilla Ludosky and Jérôme Rodrigues have testified to the existence of such pressure among some Yellow Vests, while they’ve called for a “neither Le Pen nor Macron” vote. Their position has the advantage of starting from a desire to engage in a dialogue with the sectors of our class that have been plunged into confusion by the hatred of Macron. But how can they convince people not to vote for Le Pen by siding with someone they legitimately perceive as a mortal enemy? This posture is untenable, and the refusal to call for a vote for Macron appears to be a condition for the fight against a potentially decisive part of the National Rally vote.
This is especially the case since the Macron agenda cannot be sold — in any way, shape, or form — as any sort of “bulwark against the Far Right.” On the contrary, it is a long-term guarantee of the Far Right’s reinforcement. After several years of authoritarian offensive, the Far Right has never been so strong, going from 26 to 32 percent of the votes in the first round between 2017 and 2022 with the emergence of the Zemmour phenomenon. The policies of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin against Muslims and other such designees, but also in support of the forces of repression, has played an active role in the “right-wingization” of the political debate. This is what has pushed the Far Right into overdrive and allowed it to flourish. Emblematic of this, remember that the presidential campaign opened with a debate between Marine Le Pen and Darmanin, the latter asserting just how serious his security and racist record is and assailing his opponent as “too soft.”
The contradictions of the call to vote for Macron thus reveal the dead end of any policy that locks itself into the reactionary alternative imposed by the election. Standing up for a revolutionary orientation also means fighting to get out of this impasse and raising, against the current of the reformist apparatuses of the Left, ideological and political opposition to this binary view. In fact, it is in the confrontation against Macronism, in all the resistance and mobilizations that its policies have generated over the past five years, that we find the origins of the struggle against the Right and the Far Right and the necessary antibodies to Le Penism. As soon as our class is united, it will mean much less ground for the Far Right to occupy. As we see it, working for this unification is the urgent task, to be undertaken by fighting the Far Right without calling to vote for Macron and by working to mobilize our class.
The Le Pen Danger: The Chilling Scenario of a National Rally Government
Some will call for a Macron vote “despite everything,” arguing that Le Pen represents an immeasurable danger in comparison. Ugo Palheta evokes an acceleration, should she win, of the “fascist-ization” tendencies Macron already embodies, while others depict a Le Pen victory as the establishment of a fascist regime in which any possibility of resistance would be immediately annihilated.
The fear aroused by having the Far Right in power is all the more legitimate given that everything it says and does, sometimes physically, those who are already in “normal times” the most vulnerable, precarious, and discriminated against among our class. Marine Le Pen, the National Rally, and its entourage come from fascist movements, impregnated with many ideological elements drawn from that heritage. They maintain active links with violent fascist groupings. However, the idea that an electoral victory for Le Pen would immediately plunge France into a fascist regime warrants discussion, not to relativize the Le Penist danger, but to understand the dynamics at work in France and the tasks that should be carried out by the organizations within the workers’ and people’s movement, first and foremost the Far Left.
It is certain that a Le Pen electoral victory would further radicalize the authoritarian and Bonapartist tendencies inscribed in the very DNA of the Fifth Republic. It is, moreover, under the “Left”, with the tandem of President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls that these tendencies have been driven as never before since 1961.6Translator’s note: The reference is to a massacre on October 17, 1961, of at least 120 peaceful Algerians protesters in Paris during demonstrations against a discriminatory night-time curfew in the Paris region. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested, and the bodies of those killed were thrown into the Seine River. This criminal act by the French state’s security forces was covered up for decades, and it was clearly linked to French colonialism and racism. Le Pen, however, tries to disguise this behind promises of democratic renewal. The “referendum revolution” she presented in recent days as a democratic renewal in the service of “the people” (and as a wink to the Yellow Vests) is thus only a cover for the plebiscitary Caesarism that lies at the heart of far-right populism. In the framework of Le Pen’s reactionary agenda, the referendum would first of all be a tool for bypassing the regime’s institutions, but also for “pacifying political debate.” It must be understood as a tool for containing and repressing mobilizations, because “one does not demonstrate against the results of a referendum that are binding on everyone.” The same goes for her promise to introduce proportional representation with a majority bonus system for the legislative elections.7Translator’s note: The majority bonus system is a form of semi-proportional representation used in some European countries that gives extra seats in legislatures to the party or parties in an electoral coalition with the most votes. The stated objective is “government stability,” but there is considerable research showing that the result is disproportionality. This is not some sort of renewal of the mechanisms of parliamentary delegation, but a way of building solid parliamentary majorities through new instruments, just as anti-democratic as those of the 1958 Constitution that established the Fifth Republic.
Foreigners, along with the Muslim population, would obviously be the initial targets of such a government. Symbolically, Le Pen would like to begin her five-year term by adopting, by referendum, her racist and xenophobic immigration law, which would revise the Constitution to include the notion of “national preference.” For the National Rally, which has historically made racism and xenophobia the glue that holds together the electoral bloc that supports it, taking xenophobic measures by force and stirring up hatred will be decisive — and a priority. The program is already written, and one can easily imagine the racist activism of such a government — along with it continuing the offensive against women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
The pseudo-“social” mask of the National Rally would quickly fall off if it came to power, and the racist attacks would be redoubled with anti-social attacks, along with the repression of any challenge to them. To silence dissent, such a government could rely on the zeal of a police apparatus largely committed to the “cause,” to which it promises a “presumption of legitimate defense.” But it would also take advantage of the role of far-right gangs, which would feel more assured than ever that they can act with impunity. In recent months, in the context of Macron’s authoritarian turn, local fascist groups have already felt themselves sprouting wings, multiplying their threats and even some outright attacks: against the March 8 International Women’s Day demonstration; against an antifascist meeting in Strasbourg; against political meeting such as those of Anasse Kazib at the Sorbonne and Philippe Poutou in Besançon; against antifascist activists; and even against an anarchist bookshop in Lyon. One can imagine the multiplier effect created by links between these groups and the highest levels of the state.
The Le Pen Danger: Fascism or Bonapartism?
But are these elements, assuming that Le Pen would be able to implement them, sufficient to describe a “fascist” regime? A rigorous definition of fascism is that it is a regime that breaks with bourgeois democracy and replaces it with methods of civil war aimed at crushing — through physical force — the exploited and oppressed and their organizations, as did the Italian and German fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. In this respect, fascism does not imply only that the Far Right stands at the head of the state apparatus, but also the existence of material forces capable of imposing it and, above all, a beleaguered bourgeoisie supporting it. In moments of crisis, the bourgeoisie can choose to resort to this exceptional type of regime, which relies on a mass movement — coming mostly from déclassée layers of the petit bourgeoisie — to crush all resistance and restore order.
Today, however, the bosses are more conventionally inclined to lean toward Macron. Yes, there are violent far-right groupings active in France, from Paris to Lyon to Montpellier, Besançon, Lille and Strasbourg. Yes, the dynamics of the class struggle have pushed sectors of the bourgeoisie to radicalize behind an agenda like that of Zemmour, with a form of support from industrialist Vincent Bolloré.8Translator’s note: Vincent Bolloré is the chairman of the huge French company Vivendi, the largest shareholder in two major French media outlets, Canal+ and the CNews channel, “known for adopting the flair, tics, and style of Fox News and which “play an outsize role in directing the national debate” (as one New York Times guest opinion writer described it earlier this month). But the scenario of a fascist regime is not yet a reality. This does not mean that it could not emerge, depending on how the political situation and the class struggle develop. We are not there yet, however, and the possibilities of resistance are far from being annihilated.
Recent experiences of the Far Right in power help support this perspective. The 5Star Movement that held power in Italy with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini in 2018–19, for example, has shown how even the most radical European far-right currents, such as Salvini’s Northern League, ultimately serve the system. The bourgeoisie, when it does not need them for other tasks, grooms their actions and program in the service of the greatest possible capitalist normalcy.
The Trump presidency — a vehicle for some of the worst supremacist, racist, xenophobic, and reactionary rhetoric — is another example of how the polarization that is generated intrinsically by efforts to consolidate the Far Right also opens up gaps and generates resistance. In the United States, the most important mobilizations of youth, communities, and labor in the last decade began to unfurl under Trump. They have ranged from demonstrations against racism and police violence, to the women’s and LGBTQI+ movement, to some extremely tough union struggles. The Biden administration has inherited this, including the unionization victory at Amazon; for the first time since the Reagan years, the U.S. bourgeoisie and employers find themselves in a position that is no longer one of unchallenged domination, and Democrats are working hard to curb this shift through co-optation. There are also the deep contradictions that have shaken regimes such as Bolsonaro’s in Brazil, which finds itself weakened only a few months before the next presidential elections.
None of this calls into question the fundamentally racist, authoritarian, and violent nature of governments of the Far Right. Nor is it meant to relativize the danger represented by the National Rally. Rather, these elements invite us to underline, against all skepticism, the potential for resistance that exists now and that will exist no matter the outcome of the presidential elections, as well as to spell out the tasks of revolutionaries and antifascists in this period. We understand that there are those who will vote for Macron out of fear of the Far Right, but we are convinced that this must be considered outside the narrow, reactionary framework of the Macron–Le Pen electoral alternative to which the calls for fortifying the “dam” tend to adapt.
An Active Abstention to Prepare the Resistance of Our Class
All this implies that the workers’ movement, social movement, youth movement, and their organizations must reject the current “dam” blackmail and instead build a great, united mobilization of our class. This is the only way to move from the current polarization bequeathed by the Macronists and those who came before them to an offensive aimed at pushing back the Far Right and making it, too, own the made-by-MEDEF program that Macron promises us should he be reelected. We call, therefore, for countering Le Pen without giving a single vote to Macron, through the only political approach that allows us both to fight the Far Right and reject any political support to Macron: the call for active abstention, “neither Le Pen nor Macron,” hand in hand with building — beginning immediately — a united resistance to the next government.
In this period between the two rounds, such a slogan, intransigent vis-à-vis Macronism and accompanied with the first shows of strength by the labor movement and social movements, would allow for drawing the outlines of a genuine radical opposition to Macron. Openly denouncing the Far Right, this dynamic would be an active factor against the Le Pen vote by offering a perspective other than making that reactionary choice. These politics would also be preparation for the coming five-year period, in which mobilizations will be intense and decisive.
Whatever the outcome of the second round on April 24, the foundation on which the next government sits will be fragile. Despite all the talk in recent months of a “rightward shift,” the last five years have been marked by the vitality of the class struggle, with waves of strikes and demonstrations that have been “stifled” by the pandemic but in no way crushed. What prevails is the “polarization,” while the different “bourgeois blocs,” beginning with Macron’s, have shown their fragility and their weak base.
Even on the bumpy terrain of the elections, and despite our disagreements with the agenda embodied by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the LFI results in the first round reveal a politicization to the Left among an appreciable part of the population, especially in large cities, working-class neighborhoods, and among the youth. It is not insignificant that it has been the youth who have spontaneously expressed a rejection of the deadly choice between Le Pen and Macron, mobilizing by blocking and occupying places of study such as the Sorbonne, Sciences Po Paris, and Sciences Po Nancy, and thus pointing the way to the independent mobilization that must begin to build and organize itself now, given what is in store over the next five years.
Whatever the result on April 24, we must bear in mind the entire cycle of demonstrations and resistance that has unfolded in France and in the colonies since the 2005 revolt in the immigrant suburbs and the struggle against the new employment contracts in 2006. Those actions rebounded anew with the mobilization against the Labor Code reform and have become a profound mark, from below, on Macron’s five-year term: from the Yellow Vests to the demonstrations against racism and police violence to the strikes against the pension reform. These movements, rich in lessons and promise for the future, often did not reach their full potential because of the hesitations and vacillations of the trade union leaderships, when — had it not been for betrayals done “formally” in the name of pragmatism or elections — strikes could have continued to victory and accounts could have been settled with the Right.
We have been able to show our strength in struggles, even though the pandemic and the authoritarian health measures have contributed to a passivization in a very polarized situation. But the embers are still hot, and Macron and Le Pen would be nothing compared to the strength of our class if the leaderships of the organizations of the workers’, popular, and youth movements lived up to independent, class-based politics. This is the orientation we must bring to the struggles to come, by beginning to build right now — with complete independence from the regime — a bloc of resistance against Macron, Le Pen, and the future they promise us.
First published in French on April 15 in Révolution Permanente.
Translation and adaptation by Scott Cooper
|↑1||Translator’s note: The Fifth Republic is France’s current system of government, which was established in October 1958 under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle.|
|↑2||Translator’s note: Marshall Philippe Pétain led the French government that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Zemmour has repeatedly sought to rehabilitate his reputation, even claiming that the Pétain government had “protected” French Jews.|
|↑3||Translator’s note: Mélenchon is the founder of the social-democratic populist party La France Insoumise (LFI, Unbowed France or Unsubmissive France), and was the candidate of its coalition Union populaire (Popular Union) in this year’s presidential elections.|
|↑4||See the exchange between Emmanuel Barot and Sylvain Pyro. At the time, a period before the gloss had come off Jupiter [Macron’s nickname], we in particular noted: “The new bourgeois power bloc that he wants to forge is going to confront [the poorest, the working class, and the trade union confederations] with a new level of offensive, determined to put the entirety of the authoritarian, repressive, racist state, as well as the anti-militant cuttings that have taken root since the beginning of the Bonapartist turn in France in the summer of 2014 at the service of the ultraliberal counterrevolution and the French state’s imperialist commitments. … Let’s remember that it was Macron, in his May 3 debate with Le Pen, as Valls had done, who referenced the ‘Far-Left groups’ when he answered her that he would dissolve all the violent groups, anti-Republicans, antifas, and so on … Macron, the new champion of the bourgeoisie, is also going to be the champion of the embedding of the state of emergency.”|
|↑5||It aims to pull all the forces on the Left, the environmentalists, and even the Far Left into an orbit around the “Parliament” and the Popular Union in the coming legislative elections and beyond.|
|↑6||Translator’s note: The reference is to a massacre on October 17, 1961, of at least 120 peaceful Algerians protesters in Paris during demonstrations against a discriminatory night-time curfew in the Paris region. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested, and the bodies of those killed were thrown into the Seine River. This criminal act by the French state’s security forces was covered up for decades, and it was clearly linked to French colonialism and racism.|
|↑7||Translator’s note: The majority bonus system is a form of semi-proportional representation used in some European countries that gives extra seats in legislatures to the party or parties in an electoral coalition with the most votes. The stated objective is “government stability,” but there is considerable research showing that the result is disproportionality.|
|↑8||Translator’s note: Vincent Bolloré is the chairman of the huge French company Vivendi, the largest shareholder in two major French media outlets, Canal+ and the CNews channel, “known for adopting the flair, tics, and style of Fox News and which “play an outsize role in directing the national debate” (as one New York Times guest opinion writer described it earlier this month).|