Liberal technocrat and former banker Emmanuel Macron will be president of France, having won 66 percent of the vote. Almost two thirds of his voters told pollsters they only did it to keep out his opponent.
Marine Le Pen of the fascist Front National (FN) received 34 percent of the votes.
It is welcome and important that Le Pen has lost. But coming second hasn’t removed the fascist threat.
Le Pen took over 10.5 million votes, and parliamentary elections next month could see the FN win many more MPs.
The abstention rate was 25 percent, the highest since the presidential election in 1969. In addition, there was a record number of blank and invalid ballots, accounting for 11.5 percent of all registered voters, compared to 2 percent in the first round.
Overall one possible voter in three decided not to choose either the fascist or the banker.
This underlines that there is far from an enthusiastic backing for Macron.
But he will now seek to form a government to attack workers’ rights and force through 120,000 public sector job cuts.
He has vowed to introduce “reforms” that go even further than the Labour Law passed by the outgoing Socialist Party (PS) government under Francois Hollande.
That reform was opposed by 70 percent of the population. To pass it, Hollande’s government had to suspend voting in parliament—and to deploy sometimes horrifying levels of police violence against protesters.
So it’s no surprise that Macron has said he too will, if necessary, govern by decree instead of through a parliamentary majority in order to take the attack further—although there are limitations upon such power.
A succession of French governments have failed to drag the country out of economic stagnation.
The recovery from the 2008-9 global crisis has been slow and limited. A new mini-recession hit just last year, and after a brief recovery growth is slowing.
Temporary jobs made up 85 percent of employment growth last year, most of them contracts lasting less than a month. Unemployment stands at 10 percent—rising to 23 percent among those under 24.
This age group voted the least for France’s traditional parties in the first round of the election, with left winger Jean-Luc Melenchon coming first and Le Pe second.
Since the 1990s the bosses have been rolling back the gains of the combative French workers’ movement.
As right wing former president Nicolas Sarkozy put it, the challenge has been to “liquidate once and for all the heritage of May ‘68”.
But no government, including his, has been able to achieve that. Mass strikes have won stalemates and costly, partial victories.
This has come at a political cost. The centre right has suffered for being so closely identified with the corrupt, arrogant rich at a time when ordinary people are suffering.
Francois Fillon, the homophobe who promised to do for France what Margaret Thatcher did for Britain, was no exception.
He campaigned for financial “restraint” and “family values”—then was revealed to have taken public money to pay his wife and children. He became the first Tory candidate in decades not to reach the second round.
For Hollande’s PS, doing the ruling class’s dirty work meant going to war with its own base. It suffered a rout comparable to that of the Greek social democratic party Pasok.
Hollande stood down from seeking re-election after his approval rating plummeted to just 4 percent. PS voters flocked to Macron to the party’s right or Melenchon to its left
The party picked as its candidate a backbench rebel pledging to abolish Hollande’s legacy—and got less than 7 percent of the vote.
Party general secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadélis said it is “dead and truly dead”, at least in its current form. Hollande’s prime minister, thuggish Islamophobe Manuel Valls, called the election “the end of the story” for the PS.
As a candidate Macron sold himself as an “outsider” capable of rising above the parties’ limitations in order to finally fulfil their task.
His campaign was all about what he wasn’t, with a deliberate lack of detail about what he was. None of this can continue in office.
As president, Macron will have to lash together a government out of whatever MPs his online “movement” is able to elect and whoever will prop them up in coalition. It could be weaker and less stable than its predecessors while seeking to take their attacks further.
Hollande, Sarkozy and the previous president Jacques Chirac all came to rely on the policies of the far right to compensate for their weakening support.
They have attacked Muslims, curtailed civil liberties, given more powers and more confidence to the police and put a “republican” form of nationalism at the heart of their politics.
Though intended to compete with the FN, this only gave it openings to demand going further.
Macron will face the same problems as his predecessors. There’s no reason to expect him to break with their strategy. His neoliberal policies will continue to sow the fear, despair and resentment that gives the FN an audience.
And the FN has already succeeded in normalising itself in the eyes of the media and other politicians, giving it an unprecedented platform.
It’s shameful that Macron played his part in this by agreeing to a farcical debate with Le Pen—something even the racist Tory Jacques Chirac refused to do in 2002.
Without determined opposition the FN will continue to grow.
And in the long term the frustration that has broken France’s main parties and driven its governments to use emergency powers could make FN rule attractive to France’s rulers.
However, the election also showed a persistent hostility to Le Pen from wide sections of the population. This could be mobilised into an anti-fascist movement to block the FN’s growth.
And Melenchon’s high first-round vote revealed the appetite for an alternative—though he offers it little direction other than continuing to vote for him.
Hollande’s presidency left the trade union movement divided and weakened, torn over whether to fight his attacks or defend him rather than risk something worse.
But the inspiring movement against the Work Law began a process of renewal that is ongoing, with a new generation of militant activists looking for answers.
Macron can expect resistance. But to stop the parade of anti-worker presidents and the looming fascist threat in the background, that resistance will have to develop into something more.
Fascists are building a mass organisation
by Denis Godard
The fascist threat in France is more significant than ever.
Fascism comes from two directions. One is the logic of the ruling class in a society which it struggles to regulate through compromises.
The increasing nationalism, racism and authoritarianism we see in France is part of how fascism develops. It prepares the ground for fascism.
But fascism involves something more. It needs a fascist party that can mobilise part of the population and use it to discipline the rest of society.
That’s what the FN is building. It already has millions of voters, hundreds of councillors, dozens of MEPs and two MPs.
People often think that a party is only fascist if you see black shirts, street violence and some sort of military organisation.
That’s part of it. But for fascist parties to develop in the 1930s it also took a lot of building through elections, waging a battle of ideas and making and breaking alliances.
Finding violent gangs to build up fascist militia can be the easy part. In a period of crisis it can be done very quickly—if the fascists have a mass audience and have built a mass organisation.
We’ve had some warnings of this from the FN in recent years.
It succeeded in organising a militia alongside farmers to fight environmental protesters. They blocked off the region, searched the vehicles that left and attacked those with activists in.
In the port of St Nazaire even some dockers in the CGT union organised a gang with FN members.
The FN has a significant audience in the police—more than 50 percent of officers vote for the party. These include many of the cops who held masked, wildcat marches led by an FN candidate last year.
The fascist threat is growing. It’s a disgrace and a disaster that the left is not facing up to this—not least because we know the solution.
If we build unity in action between black, white and Arab workers, with young people, Muslims and non-Muslims, we have the strength to smash the fascists.