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France: Macron smashes the left

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As was expected, Emmanuel Macron's party, La République en Marche, The Republic on the Move, won an absolute majority in the second round of elections to the French National Assembly on June 18. With 308 seats out of 577, it far surpassed the traditional party of the Gaullist right, Les Républicains with 113. Macron’s conservative ally, MoDem, also won 42 seats, although three of their ministers have already had to resign whilst facing charges of breaching electoral rules, hardly a good start.

Another aspect of the result that tarnishes Macron’s triumph is that 57.36 of the population abstained or voted blank, clearly a sign of being underwhelmed by Macron's new politics.

Again as many expected, the parties of the reformist left received a heavy drubbing. The Parti socialiste, PS, won only 29 seats and 5. 68 per cent of the vote. It lost a staggering 286 seats. The Parti communiste français, PCF, increased its seats to ten whilst losing votes. The success of the left was the arrival of Jean Luc Mélenchon’s highly personal populist party La France insoumise, with 4.86 per cent and 17 seats.

Marine Le Pen's Front national, FN, has finally made it into the Assembly, winning 8 seats, though grossly underrepresented because of France’s electoral system and a block against her by all the other parties, this quadrupled the FN's previous tally.

Thus, as far as parliament is concerned, Macron should be able to push through his programme with scarcely any opposition.

In just a matter of months, French politics has been profoundly remodelled. Macron, at 39 the youngest French leader since Napoleon Bonaparte, shares with his predecessor not just his youth, but an appetite for personal control over the state machine and a pretension to be above classes. Macron has even theorised this by praising the French yearning for a “monarch” and by claiming his presidency will be “Jupiter-like”.

All this is, of course, ideological myth making. Macron, who pretends to be a ‘new man’, is in reality a product of the French elite education system, a former investment banker and minister of the economy in the Socialist Party government.

One of his first decisions has been to extend the State of Emergency for another three months, for the sixth time. To save himself this routine he proposes to incorporate most of its measures into regular law: a state of the emergency in permanence!

In just a few weeks time, he will set out to apply the same old neo-liberal recipes he was proposing two years ago when he was serving President François Hollande. Indeed, his first task will be to “free labour” from regulations, that is, free the employers to increase the exploitation of their workforces, by abolishing nation-wide contracts and workers' recourse to the law.

Taming the militancy of French workers and robbing them of their legal protection is the main task that the bourgeoisie, international as well as national, has given him. His meteoric ascent is not simply a product of his own talents; another a fake claim spread by the media. Who can seriously believe that a man could single handedly found a new political movement from scratch and one year later, become president? This is not a credible plot for even a third rate Hollywood scriptwriter.

Macron’s lightning rise would have been impossible without two decisive factors: first, the enthusiastic support of big capital and its enormous economic and social resources, financing his movement and boosting him through their main media outlets. For the better part of the year, he has been on the front cover of magazines, all totally besotted with Macron. But the other factor was, and is, the deep disarray of the workers' movement.

Though the working class did not identify with Macron, many voted for him as a “lesser evil” as against Marine Le Pen. But many also refused to make a choice between neoliberal austerity and racist social reaction.

Moreover, the “simple majority” system means that each constituency elects just one MP. There is no proportional representation, as there is in Italy or Germany. Tired of electoral campaigns dragging on for almost one year, disgusted with the traditional parties with their lies and their corruption, many voters, including a majority of young people, simply stayed at home.

Macron divides the left and the right
In the few weeks before the parliamentary elections, Macron succeeded in opening up divisions in both major parties, Les Republicains, LR and the Parti Socialiste. First, he chose as Prime Minister Edouard Philippe from LR, a right-winger reliable for attacking the workers. The LR is deeply divided between those who would like to collaborate with Macron, and enjoy the fruits of office, and those who would prefer to play the role of the main opposition to him in parliament. In entire regions where the workers' parties had their strongholds for more than a century, like the North or South-West, not a single PS candidate made it through to the second round.

For the PS this is not merely a question of losing a voice in the Parliament, it will also provoke a deep financial crisis because the state subsidies to the parties are based on the number of MPs and the number of votes. The historic party headquarters in the rue de Solferino will probably have to be sold. Even those few MPs who survive will be divided between those, like former premier Manuel Valls, eager to collaborate with Macron, and those wanting join the opposition, like the humiliated presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon. Many workers will shed few tears for PS, since its debacle is clearly the product of decades of betrayals.

A Bonaparte of the left
With 11 per cent of the vote in the first and 4.86 in the second rounds, the enfant terrible of the French Left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has emerged to claim the role of leader of a new left. To some extent he has performed a feat similar to Macron’s, albeit on a much smaller scale. Without a party and with a very small activist base, he came out of the elections as the leading left candidate, ahead both of PS, and the PCF.

However, Mélenchon’s little triumph been obtained at a heavy cost for the workers' movement: the total score of the entire left is below 25 per cent and a miserable 27 seats. First, since he refused any alliance with either of the other two reformist workers' parties, despite having much the same programme as the PCF, they are now hopelessly divided, at a time when the labour movement needs to unite against Macron.

Second, and much more serious, Mélenchon has “won” with his new brand of left populism, abandoning not only the red flag or any mention of communism or socialism but replacing these with “a new social humanism”. LFI now avoids even the most basic class identification and internationalism. No wonder his movement is called “La France Insoumise”, Unsubmissive France, sports the tricolor, and his campaign is based on nationalist solutions, like tariff barriers, rather than the class struggle.

In the coming weeks, the French working class will be confronted precisely with the need for class struggle. Macron, armed with his landslide victory, has promised that he will finish the job that PS started one year ago; the destruction of the Code du Travail, the employment regulations. The aim is to deregulate working time, wages, contracts and constraints on firing in such a way that the bosses will be able to impose their conditions through local agreements and workers will have no recourse to the law. Despite his huge control of the Parliament, he has already announced he will use presidential “ordonnances”, executive orders.

Unfortunately, nothing in Mélenchon’s propaganda emphasises the need to wage a struggle against these attacks. Mélenchon simply calls for a vote for his party even though he knows full well that its handful of deputies will be practically useless to obstruct Macron.

As so often before, resistance must come from outside parliament and largely from outside the ranks of the reformist parties. Two demos have already being called in June to protest against Macron's attacks; one by some regions of the CGT for June 27 and the other by the Front Social, FS, a radical-left coalition of small trade unions such as SUD and CNT that mobilised some 3,000.

On June 16, the FS held a general assembly with 400 representatives from 30 or so organisations, including members of the New Anticapitalist Party, NPA. The FS does not counterpose itself to the big union federations and says it will support their mobilisations.

Clearly, mass resistance to Macron on the streets and in the workplaces is the only way his vicious attacks will be stopped. His actions show how tactically foolish, as well as unprincipled, were those on the left who called for a vote for Macron to stop the “greater evil” of Le Pen. Macron, with a united European bourgeoisie behind him, and a huge parliamentary majority was just as great a danger as Le Pen. Her victory, whatever her evil intentions, would have split the bourgeoisie, isolated France in the EU, and roused not only the whole working class but large parts of the middle class to resistance. No bourgeois candidate, neoliberal or racist populist deserved the vote of a single French worker.

The collapse of the PS and PCF and the abandonment of a class perspective by Mélenchon indicate how important remains the task of building a new workers' party on a revolutionary and anticapitalist programme. Despite past failures by the NPA it needs now to raise this goal within the mass forces mobilised this summer to defeat Macron.