By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2801

Anti-racist protests sweep France – but debate on voting rages

Argument flares on whether a vote for neoliberal Emmanuel Macron will help stop the politics of fascist Marine Le Pen
Issue 2801
Anti-racist protest in Paris

Anti-racists march in Paris

Tens of thousands of pepole demonstrated across France on Saturday against racism that infects politics and society. Their marches and rallies came in the days leading to the run-off presidential vote next Sunday between the neoliberal Emmanuel Macron and the fascist Marine Le Pen.

The protests’ organisers said nearly 40,000 took part in Paris and 150,000 people throughout the country. According to the government’s ministry of the interior, 13,600 people marched across the whole of France with 9,200 in Paris. At the end of the Paris march, police fired tear gas, tore down banners and arrested numerous demonstrators. Those protesting against the far right were targeted by the special police units set up by Macron—who claims to be a barrier to the far right.

The marches brought together a range of views. Many protesters support the slogan “not one vote for Le Pen”. But there were sharp divides over whether to turn that into a call to vote Macron. In Paris, François Sauterey, the co-president of the Movement against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, said, “We do not want Marine Le Pen in the presidential palace.  We are here to say ‘Use your ballot to prevent her from coming to power’, we don’t say ‘Vote Macron’, but it comes down to that.”

Emilie, a Paris marcher, told the Liberation newspaper, “The situation is critical, I have no other choice but to vote for Macron. I prefer to go out in the street with Macron in power than with Le Pen. You have to choose your enemies. With Le Pen, the demonstrations, we will no longer be able to do them, we will be too scared.”

But many others on the marches insisted they didn’t want to back either candidate. In Saint-Etienne hundreds joined a “Carnival against the electoral masquerade”, wearing Macron masks. Their slogans were “Neither Macron nor Le Pen”, and “No to the stock market”. On the Paris march, demonstrator William said, “It will be abstention for me, I don’t want to fall into the electoral trap. The left parties imposed this Macron-Le Pen duel on us.”

Some of the students who occupied their universities last week against the “rotten choice” of Macron and Le Pen were on the march. Sorbonne university student Marie told Socialist Worker, “We were right to occupy, politics is more than Macron and Le Pen. They are both the wrong one.

“Le Pen would be terrible, but Macron is no barrier to the ideas of the far right and is a leader in the rise of racist, Islamophobic and reactionary discourse.”

Calling  for Macron vote weakens movement

Opinion polls this weekend showed Macron ahead by around 53 percent to 47 percent. But his weakness is that most people think Le Pen might do more for ordinary people than him – the “president of the rich”. She won’t, but Macron is bitterly hated for his pro-boss policies. He wants to increase the pension age by three years—which Le Pen opposes. One recent survey showed that on action over the cost of living Le Pen led Macron by  40 percent to 32 percent with 28 percent saying they didn’t know—or were equally useless.

Le Pen is a real danger.

She is a continuation of the fascist party created by her father that brought together those who backed the Vichy regime that collaborated what the Nazis during the Second World War, the antisemites, the bitter racists and the defenders of torture in the colonial war in Algeria. Marine Le Pen has tried to “detoxify” the brand. But the reality keeps showing through. One element of her presidential programme, for example, is to block criminal proceedings against police officers who use guns to kill people.

Le Pen says, “We must reverse this logic and allow the police and gendarmes to use force with the benefit of a presumption of self-defence.” She says, “My way of increasing wages is to stop immigration,” and says she wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab. Le Pen also threatens abortion rights.

Millions won’t vote on Sunday. In 2017, with the same candidates, 12.1 million abstained and a further 4 million voted with a blank ballot or with their own message written on it. Taken together over a third of registered voters refused the Macron-Le Pen choice. Because polls show a closer race than when the fascists were in the second round in 2002 or 2017, most of the left is grudgingly backing Macron.

Well-known left winger Pierre Tevanian writes, “A fascist coalition is on the way to gaining the presidency of the republic. To say in such a context that the alternative candidate is ‘in no way’ a bulwark against the far right is quite simply a lie and a criminal fault. “Whatever the turpitudes of president Macron, including in terms of the extreme right-winging of the country, the Macron vote is, at least in the short term, at least for the next five years, the only act that helps to remove the fascist from the presidency,” he insists.

But this is the attitude that has seen Islamophobic, authoritarian and racist ideas saturate French mainstream politics and seen the steady growth of fascist forces. It’s always “vote for the racist right now to stop the fascist” and then afterwards allow them to escape as they ram through vile laws. Calling for a Macron vote precisely disarms the sort of people who protested on Saturday, just as it is urgent to prepare resistance against the next government.

The first round of the elections broadly showed three camps in France. There are the approximately 11.5 million who voted for Le Pen or the foul racist Eric Zemmour or the far right’s Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. Together that’s nearly a third of the vote. Then there are the 11.5 million who backed Macron or other neoliberal candidates.

Finally, there are the 11 million who voted left or green, with the large majority of these supporting Jean-Luc Melenchon. In the first round Melenchon came first of any candidate among young people, winning a third of 18-34 year olds. He was top in the Paris metropolitan area, Lille, Toulouse, Marseille, Montpellier, and a total of ten of France’s 16 largest cities. But Melenchon has given no lead to his supporters, except to prepare for the parliamentary elections in June.

Meanwhile, the mainstream right wing and social democratic parties that dominated official politics for half a century finally fell apart both winning less than 5 percent of the vote in the first round. French politics is in turmoil. If the left now meekly lines up behind Macron it will be accepting the continuity that has seen the fascist vote rise for more than two decades. The real “criminal fault”, as Tevanian puts it, is to back wholly ineffective liberal alliances while spurning the struggle outside parliament and effective anti-racist politics.


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