France: Hollow victory for pro-capitalist Macron

Only fighting left can defeat the far-right

By Oisin McKeown

The election of the pro-EU, neo-liberal candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the French Presidential election has lifted the the spirits of the capitalist class internationally. He decisively beat the far-right Front National (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen, gaining 65.8% of the vote to Le Pen’s 34.2%. Macron’s mandate, however, is not as powerful as it appears and his programme of continuing austerity and attacks on workers’ rights will further cement the divisions in French society.

The result, in reality, represented a rejection of the far-right, but also of the pro-capitalist policies which have meant ruin for French workers. The election saw the highest recording of spoiled votes in French history at 12%, as well as a low turnout, with 34% abstaining. Of those who voted for Macron, 43% said they did so only to block Le Pen’s challenge, whilst only 16% said they supported for his draconian program.

The French establishment face a profound crisis, reflected in the exclusion of both traditional ruling parties – the Republicans and the “Socialist” Party (PS), which embraced the neo-liberal logic of cuts and privatisation – excluded from the second round of the election. Recently, mass protests and strikes took place against the Thatcherite labour law, of which Macron was a key architect. Opposition will intensify against his’s planned austerity onslaught.

Macron has announced his goal of axing 120,000 public sector jobs in five years, as well as reducing workers’ rights and giving tax cuts to business and the rich. This driving down of living standards to feed the capitalists’ greed, with unemployment already hovering around 10%, can propel more French workers and youth seek a political way out.

Despite her defeat, Le Pen hopes to capture more of the growing discontent by positioning herself as Macron’s main opposition, posturing as the voice of ordinary people and trying to distance herself from the FN’s fascist past. There is a danger that she and her reactionary co-thinkers could make inroads in the legislative elections on the 11th and 18th of June, as well as future elections down the road.

The representatives of French capitalism cannot snuff out the threat of the far-right. Only forces of the left which offer solutions to the problems facing the 99% can do so. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Unbowed managed to win seven million votes in the first round of the Presidential election, narrowly missing out on the second round and clearly eating into Le Pen’s vote. His programme of enhanced workers’ rights, clear opposition to austerity and the bosses’ EU resonated with working class people who are paying the price for the capitalist crisis.

Mélenchon has huge authority which he must use to build a fighting left capable of defeating both the far-right and the ‘extreme centre’ of Macron and Co. To do so, a left front must not confine itself to elections but connect itself organically to workers’ struggle and the social movements which are growing in opposition to austerity and racism. It must be federal and genuinely democratic, rather than organised in a top-down manner, which would allow it to overcome the cynicism which exists towards the political establishment. Such a force could transform French politics in the years to come.