By Charlie Kimber
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Macron wins French presidential election — but fascist threat has grown

Emmanuel Macron has defeated fascist Marine Le Pen—but his neoliberal, authoritarian and racist policies have fuelled her rise
Issue 2802
Election posters for Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen during the French presidential election

Fascist Marine Le Pen lost in the French presidential election, but her vote grew (Picture: Lorie Shaull)

Neoliberal Emmanuel Macron has defeated the fascist Marine Le Pen by 58.5 percent to 41.5 percent in the second round of the French presidential election. Left wing street protests began a minute after news channels published exit polls showing the figures. “I’m out protesting because I hate Le Pen. But I also know we will have five years of attacks from Macron,” student Patrice told Socialist Worker from the streets of Paris.

Macron is no block to the advance of fascism. For the third time in 20 years, the National Front—now the National Rally—was in the second round of the vote and it had never been so close to winning. 

Look at how its vote has grown in the first round of the presidential elections. In 1974, 0.75 percent, by 1995 15 percent, in 2012 18 percent, in 2017 21 percent—and this year to over 23 percent. Except it’s worse than that. This time the filthy, far right Islamophobe Eric Zemmour also took 7 percent in the first round. And, with another far right candidate, the total vote was over 32 percent.  

Le Pen won votes by saying she stood up for ordinary people and shared their concerns over the soaring cost of living. But she revealed her party’s real audience as she held a post-election event at the Armenonville pavilion. It’s a reception venue in the Bois de Boulogne in the very opulent 16th district of Paris. “The ideas we represent have reached new heights,” Le Pen told supporters.

The primary responsibility for the scale of the fascist vote on Sunday’s vote lies heavily with Macron’s policies, which brutalised working class people for five years. It has been five years of the savage crushing of the Yellow Vest movement that challenged neoliberalism and demonstrators’ severed hands and gouged eyes by riot cops. It has seen cops lacerate tents of refugees and the state pile repressive laws and rounds of attacks on Muslims. Macron’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin denounced Le Pen as “soft” on Islam.

There is no enthusiasm for Macron.  He was re-elected with around 38 percent of the votes of registered voters, compared to 44 percent five years ago. This is the lowest level since Georges Pompidou in 1969. The lack of real choice was the reason the voting abstention rate of 28 percent was the highest for more than half a century. Counting those who cast blank or spoiled ballots, more than a third of registered voters refused to back either Macron or Le Pen.

Left wing leader Jean Luc-Melenchon, speaking after the results, mocked Macron saying he “floats in an ocean of abstention from blank and invalid ballots” and would be “the most poorly elected president of the Fifth Republic”. He said his thoughts were with the “future victims” of the next five-year term. These included people on benefits, those “who will have to leave for retirement three years later” and those anxious about “climate inaction”.

This is the culmination of decades-long developments. Originally the fascists had a small base, largely made up of former military supporters of the colonial war in Algeria. Many of them were members of the OAS organisation that committed hundreds of terrorist attacks and thousands of murders in Algeria and France in the 1960s.

They grew partly because of disillusionment with the traditional rulers’ attacks on ordinary people. But a decisive element was the accommodation by the “moderate” political forces—and large parts of the left—to Islamophobia, anti-Roma and anti-migrant policies and authoritarianism. 

Jean-Marie Le Pen—founder of the Front National and Marine Le Pen’s father—was able to tell his followers that they could both influence the government and gain power themselves. The French people, he said, would “prefer the original over the copy”. 

In 2004, with support from the right and the Socialist Party, MPs rammed through a ban on wearing headscarves at school. The centre-right, centre-left and even sections of the far left argued that Muslim practices were a threat to the “Republic”, to secularism and women’s rights.

 

In the first round of this year’s French presidential election, the mainstream conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse copied the far right “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory pushed by Zemmour. 

The main parties also attacked ordinary people’s living standards in defence of a system whose crisis increased unemployment and uncertainty. At the same time as legitimising fascist policies, they fuelled the despair and disillusionment it feeds on.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the Daily Mail newspaper celebrated Le Pen’s 2017 success with a front page headline, “The new French revolution,” and a glowing two-page feature.

The fascists are advancing in other ways. Traditional fascist strategy requires a street army, initially separate to state forces, to smash the left and to harass and murder scapegoats such as Jews, Muslims and migrants. Le Pen does not have that at the moment, but there are glimpses of the potential. 

The far right group Generation Z— supporters of Zemmour—have carried out attacks on the left, LGBT+ people and anti-racists. Far right supporters ejected a left wing student occupation last week.

The state machine is also infested with fascist supporters. A group of retired generals published a declaration last year that threatened a coup against what they called “the disintegration which strikes the fatherland”. 

A poll of the police showed 42 percent voting for Zemmour and 60 percent for fascists and the far right in all.

Five more years of Macron increasing the pension age, attacking benefits, targeting Muslims and confronting working class organisations will give the fascists further opportunities. The warnings are clear.


The left has to fight

The failures of the left are the other side of the fascists’ rise. One obvious mistake was not to clearly identify Jean-Marie and then Marine Le Pen as Nazis who were not “just another right wing party”. 

It would then follow that all working class organisations should unite in action to propagandise and organise against the fascists, break up their meetings and confront them in the streets.

But there is also a wider political failure. The equivalent of the Labour Party betrayed its supporters when it ruled in recent decades and has virtually now disappeared. It took just 1.74 percent of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election two weeks ago. Its rule for the rich propelled millions of working class people into accepting the fascists’ lies.

Now there is a huge responsibility on the radical left Jean-Luc Melenchon. He won 22 percent in the first round of the presidential vote, just 420,000 behind Le Pen. He pulled big numbers of working class people in the big cities behind him, with queues to vote for him in some areas. And 69 percent of Muslims who voted backed him.

This force could have been mobilised in mass demonstrations. Melenchon could have said, “Whoever wins on Sunday, take to the streets, don’t go to work on Monday. Make it a day to signal that you won’t bow down to the fascist or the banker.” 

Instead, Melenchon remains utterly fixated on elections. He has called on voters to make him prime minister in the legislative elections in June and is seeking an electoral pact with the Communists, the Greens and the far left NPA party.

Such manoeuvres won’t be a barrier to the far right. The crucial battle ground in the next five years will be in the workplaces and the streets, building on the Yellow Vest movement, the strikes against pension attacks in 2019 and the women’s, environmental and anti-racism movements. Such struggles have to be a basis for a political challenge to all the traditional forces.

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