By Charlie Kimber
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French presidential election — face off between neoliberal Macron and fascist Le Pen

The real hope lies with the movements and struggles from below that have rocked France in recent years
Issue 2800
A picture of Emmanuel Macron to illustrate an article on the French presidential election

Incumbent Emanuel Macron’s racism and authoritarianism paved the way for fascist Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

A neoliberal and a fascist will contest for France’s presidency after the first round of voting closed on Sunday evening. With all the votes counted, incumbent president Emmanuel Macron came top with 27.8 percent and Marine Le Pen of the National Rally was second on 23.2 percent.

Left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon came close behind on 22 percent, a better result than in 2017. Speaking immediately after the exit polls, Melenchon said the result was “a strong disappointment, because of the things that could have been done and won’t be done”. “Now we have a social and environmental and political emergency,” he said. 

“It was not created by us but by this system that makes you choose between lesser evils. Each of you has to face this terrible choice. Madame Le Pen should not get a single vote. Madame Le Pen should not get a single vote. The fight goes on. We cannot let the rock we have rolled up the hill fall back. The fight goes on.”

Le Pen’s score is 2 percentage points higher than in 2017, despite Eric Zemmour—a vile Islamophobe—taking 7.1 percent of the vote.

The fascists have grown for 20 years in France. But Le Pen’s latest advance is a direct result of Macron’s rule for the rich. As Socialist Worker warned after the last election in 2017, “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 Le Pen an audience.”

Macron’s assault on pensions and protest rights, his repression against the Yellow Vest movement, his backing for killer cops and his failures over Covid all helped Le Pen. She has been able to falsely pose as the friend of ordinary people because Macron is so remote, so much a friend of the bosses. In the last week she effectively used the issue of a cost of living crisis to hammer away at Macron.

But her main push was brutal racism. Le Pen wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the veil in public, and deny most healthcare and housing subsidies to immigrants. And she intends to rewrite the constitution to harden France’s borders.

She also wants to end automatic citizenship for migrants’ children who are born in France. Eric Zemmour, who peddles the foul  “great replacement” theory which says Muslim immigrants will overwhelm Europe’s white inhabitants, has endorsed Le Pen.

If Le Pen is elected as president, she will boost the racism and impunity of the police and try to break trade union power. She could embolden street thugs who operate outside the official state structures to carry out a fascist programme “from below”.

School trade union rep Mari Lassale told Socialist Worker, “People at my workplace won’t vote Macron. We have been fighting against him for years. He is the enemy. Get ready for the social explosion whatever happens in two weeks’ time.”

One poll of second round voting—that takes place on 24 April—put support for Macron at 54 percent and Le Pen at 46 percent. Another had Macron on 52 percent and Le Pen on 48 percent.

Le Pen is a real danger but she can be stopped, and the best method is through mobilising at the base of society. That’s the way to take her on and begin confronting the conditions that produced her vote. One of the main anti-racist groups, backed by hundreds of campaigns and trade unions and political organisations, has already called for massive protests on the weekend of 16 and 17 April against the far right and the liberal and the policies that fuel it. That’s a good start.

Now Macron will make an appeal for “democrats” to unite against Le Pen. But that is utterly empty coming from the man who wants to raise the pension age by three years and kick away workers’ rights.

The Communist Party—which took 2.3 percent—and the Green party—on 4.6 percent—immediately called for a vote for Macron after the media published exit polls. But millions will disagree with them.

The mainstream conservative right and the Labour-type Socialist Party suffered shattering defeats. From 1958 until 2017 one or other of these forces always won the presidency. And generally, they faced one another in the run-off. But in 2017 neither made it to the second round and they took only 27 percent between them.

This time the conservative Valerie Pecresse was on 4.8 percent and the Socialist Party’s Anne Hidalgo was on a  pitiful 1.8 percent. This is a deep crisis for both of these forces. It would be like the parties of Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer taking 6.5 percent between them at a general election.

The abstention figure—over 26 percent—was 4 percentage points more than in 2017. In absolute numbers, nearly 13 million people, it was the highest ever, with people not moved to vote by any of the 12 candidates.

Revolutionary candidates from the NPA and LO parties won less than 1 percent each. That is still nearly half a million votes.

Philippe Poutou of the NPA said, “Macron is in no way a bulwark against the far right. Worse, his policy nourishes it. We are going to need to debate, to build together the mobilisations against the attacks that are taking shape, but also a political instrument—a party for all the exploited and oppressed.”

French workers have launched powerful strikes during the last five years. Black Lives Matter saw big marches and there have been repeated movements over police brutality. Movements and struggle from below are the real hope for the future.

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