Macron Reelected — Now What?

By Michael Lenoir

Translated from the original French, published May 5th, 2022

On April 10th and 24th, France held its presidential elections. As with the 2017 elections, the second round of votes pitted Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen. A standoff that polls and media had long prepared us for. A standoff between a rightwing president (even if he refuses to present himself as such, preferring to call himself “progressive”) and his rival on the far-right (even if she rejects the term, and if her campaign focused much on social questions, namely purchasing power). A first round of votes that once again eliminated everyone who, in a vast, confused melting pot, is considered left-wing in French politics. And the preferred candidate of the bourgeoisie and its media, Macron, was reelected.

Some reminders about Macron’s first term

We need only recall a few important facts about the past five years. This reminder allows us to pose a first question: How did it happen that Macron remained Head of State, despite his performance up to now, which has brought him widespread contempt? Indeed, while in office, he has passed measures and assumed an arrogant manner that have certainly made him the most hated President of the Fifth Republic, especially among the popular classes. His reelection thus seems paradoxical, at first.

Macron’s presidency has never been that of the rich — the rich people’s president was already Sarkozy —, but rather that of the super-rich. Notably, the first measures passed was the replacement of the “Solidarity Tax on Wealth” with a flat tax, i.e., the “Single Lump-Sum Payment.” These are measures purely in favor of the very, very rich, to the detriment of what is typically called “national solidarity” — which leads one to believe that Macron is indeed a puppet of the high bourgeoisie.

The Macron era has seen handouts to billionaires on the one hand, and a violent targeting of the most oppressed workers on the other. In particular, Macron has been steadily eating away at the Labor Code since he was François Hollande’s Finance Minister; furthermore, he viciously attacked retirement benefits, which resulted in a large social movement over the winter of 2019-2020. Meanwhile, during his devastating five-year service, the Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer has: increased personnel’s workload at all levels, dismantled measures aimed at decreasing historic and ongoing inequalities in education, attacked the national curriculum — in brief, Blanquer has put in place a school system that generates ever-increasing social segregation. As for immigration, Macron’s “progressivism” has meant nothing but police violence against undocumented migrants and a “tougher” policy of deportation against these travelling workers, the most vulnerable members of our class. At the same time, Macron slashed unemployment benefits at the end of 2021.

Early on in his presidency, it was clear that Macron would support the rich in social struggles, notably with the fight for railway reform in spring of 2018. But it was on November 17th, 2018, that a vast social movement arose. The uprising of the Gilet Jaunes, or “Yellow Vests,” swept through the country for a number of months, occupying roundabouts and other places; staging more or less spontaneous and unstructured protests; organizing the class; mobilizing layers of the proletariat, often times those that are situated the most precariously, those that are largely non-union and politically unstructured. The revolt, which was triggered by a legislated rise in the price of carbon, was quickly politicized towards the Left. They integrated social demands such as the reinstitution of the Solidarity Tax, and democratic ones, such as the “Referendum of Citizen’s Initiative,” a tool for direct democracy. This powerful social movement was nevertheless foiled by a lack of strategic perspectives and by the ferocious repression that contributed in a large part to diminish the number of protesters. Police brutality was widespread, no matter how much the ruling classes and their media deny it. This time saw suspicious deaths — despite the government’s refusal to accept responsibility and an obstructionist bureaucracy. Some thirty people had their eyes gouged out by rubber-coated bullets, or else suffered serious amputations (feet, hands). And then there were the mass arrests, and as a result, hundreds faced imprisonment.

Then the pandemic arrived. Just as the social uprising against the attacks on retirement were burning out — smothered by union leaderships’ policies — Macron found himself in charge of managing a health crisis; the least one can say about his performance is that it was far from brilliant! A number of repeated lies, a paternalistic, authoritarian approach to the populace, pro-business policies — especially after the first quarantine, from mid-March to early-May 2020 —, chaos in schools, overflow of hospitals, and a continued destruction of public health programs: cutting hospital beds despite the pandemic. That kind of gall and cynicism could win him an Oscar!

Macron’s neoliberalism is characterized by its authoritarianism. It was evident in the renewed police brutality, and not only against the Yellow Vests. Macron also relies upon the State of Emergency’s exceptional measures, which use the health crisis as pretext. The police believe themselves to be above the law, and Macron and his Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin encourage this attitude. The grim so-called “Law of Total Security” initially sought to outlaw the filming of police operations. Mass protests in 2020 forced them to abandon this outrage and ultimately, the final law, passed May 25th, 2021, does not mention it — even if it does attack basic freedoms in terms of municipal police, private security firms, surveillance apparatuses (pedestrian cameras, video surveillance, etc), and the protection of the forces of “law and order.” Meanwhile, the law passed August 24th, 2021, “Against Separatism,” infringes upon public freedoms — of religion, association, education — as a war machine against Muslims, under the pretense of fighting political Islam.

In terms of the environment and the struggle against global warming: despite the presidential announcements, and beyond his posturing and “progressive” greenwashing, Macron’s record is a complete failure. As a result, the media announced the departure of the only Minister of the Environment who wanted to believe in the President’s good intentions, Nicolas Hulot, after one year and three months. As for the 150 people randomly chosen to constitute the Citizens’ Convention on Climate (in November 2019), their work was largely buried. Around 90% of their proposals were rejected by the executive branch, and the referendum that Macron promised to hold never took place. The President’s collaboration with TotalEnergies — a French oil and gas giant —, notably for their operations in Uganda, clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy and irresponsibility that hold sway in his policies. Additionally, the French State has twice been condemned for inaction in fighting the ecological disaster.

Without even going over the affairs and scandals often swept under the rug that have proliferated over these past five years, nor the growing mediocrity of political figures and their consequently revealed entanglement with the business world — it is evident that given such a record, a large part of the electorate, especially among the lower classes, would never vote for Macron under any circumstances.

A very odd presidential campaign

But it is precisely Macron’s political deftness — or, as some might see it, political cowardice —and the opportunities afforded him by a series of national and international crises that have made it so that his record is not really discussed; the presidential candidate never has to face up to it, which is absolutely ludicrous, both from a democratic point of view, and because he wished to be reelected.

How did this happen? Many factors come into play, namely regarding the President’s campaign choices. First of all, even if the entire country expected Macron to run again, he did not officially declare his intentions until very late, last March 3rd: a month and one week before the first round of voting. He thus chose to do a speed-campaign, basically no campaign at all. For the first round, after a press conference on March 17th that announced his platform, he held his one campaign meeting in the Paris region, on April 2nd — one week before the ballots opened. Second of all, unlike in 2017 and contrary to usual practice, Macron refused to debate the other candidates, where he would have run the risk of turning a spotlight on his policies and his record. Clearly, he wanted to face off Marine Le Pen in the second round, where he believed he would be able to beat her. The only televised debate he participated in was in fact with Le Pen, between the two rounds of votes. Despite the mediocrity of the exchange and of the subjects broached — unsurprisingly, given the debaters —, the general impression was that he came out looking better than she did.

Beyond his strategy of avoiding debate on his record, and of betting on being perceived as a “barrier” to Le Pen, Macron was aided by other events of the past months. Firstly, the Omicron variant — which took a large toll over the winter — was thankfully less lethal proportionally than the previous COVID spikes. Macron was able to exploit its subsiding over the last weeks of the presidential campaign, eliminating the majority of public health restrictions from March 14th onward. Quasi-miraculously, COVID, which had been front and center of the news cycle, was relegated to the backburner, leading many to believe that the pandemic was already behind us. Secondly, Putin’s shameful war against Ukraine passed to the forefront of the news. Macron ceased this new opportunity to not have to explain his broader record, pretending instead to be some great statesman, the modern world’s political caretaker. These two factors helped the presidential candidate on his mission, in a context in which social struggles were narcotized even more by the media than they had been over the first half of his term. But the logic of Constitution in regard to presidential candidates also played in Macron’s favor.

First round candidates

For the majority of the Fifth Republic’s presidential elections, the second round of votes pit two kinds of candidates against each other. They formed two opposing political blocs. On the one hand are those of the classic, traditional right, “republicans.” On the other is the “left wing,” generally social-democrats in origin. They represented the reformist Left, even if they proposed fewer and fewer reforms and more and more counter-reforms. It seems that this pattern has changed irrevocably. The scope of this development must be understood because the logic of voter preference has adapted to it and continues to modify as a result. When two blocs — Right and Left — faced off, voters could easily vote for the candidate with views closest to their own in order to pose an obstacle to the opposing camp. As the saying goes, “First round, you choose; second round, you eliminate.” Left-wing voters in particular often had the luxury of voting for candidates to the left of the Socialist Party during the first round, just to come back to them during the second. Increasingly, however, a third bloc has arisen and then developed: the far-right, in the form of The National Front party, now called “National Rally.” Obviously, if the key election of the Fifth Republic — the second round, which only allows for two candidates — now involves three blocs instead of two, one of the blocs will have to eventually be weeded out. The degree to which elections can even offer to represent the people is lessened, and thus, their legitimacy. During the 2002 Presidential Elections, Le Pen Sr.’s National Front was weaker electorally than his daughter Marine’s party is today. Jean-Marie Le Pen won 4.8 million votes (16.86%) the first round, whereas this year, Marine obtained 8.1 million (21.95%). However, in 2002, the diffusion of the Left among warring currents placed Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party in third position. In 2017, four principal blocs emerged in close competition: Emmanuel Macron (24%), Marine Le Pen (21.3%), François Fillon (a classically right-wing candidate, 20%), and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (a reformist left candidate, 19.5%). In 2017, the reformist left was less divided than it was in 2002 or in 2022, but the Socialist Party’s candidate (Benoit Hamon, 6.35%) most likely took votes away from Mélenchon that would have allowed him to move onto the second round.

What was the situation leading into the 2022 Presidential Elections? Around a year ago, say, we could have a priori expected four main forces to appear, or reappear (as in 2017), organized around four main candidates: Macron, Le Pen, Mélenchon, and a candidate from the party The Republicans (classical right), TBD. But that is not exactly how things happened, for a number of reasons.

First of all: in the summer of 2021, another voice arose from the far-right to compete with Marine Le Pen — that of Éric Zemmour —, unofficially, at first, but officialized on November 30th. Zemmour, a racist and islamophobic polemicist and a rewriter of history, deeply familiar with “the great replacement theory,” seemed up to the task of setting the tone for political and media debates at the end of last year. He might have been able to regroup around him not only a part of Le Pen’s electorate, but also segments of the  reactionary bourgeoisie, often of the Catholic right — he was supported financially by the billionaire Bolloré. Moreover, he could have won over every single fascist and racist group in the country. But Zemmour, as opposed to National Rally, always presented himself as a great defender of social inequalities, neoliberal policies, austerity, eating away at retirement… In the Fall, some polls had Zemmour winning 17%, even 19%, of the ballot, often exceeding Marine Le Pen, whom it appeared he would block from reaching the second round. A far-right that was divided to that extent was a relatively new phenomenon. Plus, a third crook, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who had run in 2017, announced his candidacy on a sovereigntist platform — although he is more often qualified as a member of the far right, as opposed to the far-right: a subtlety of the media! There were thus ultimately three far-right candidates, which changed the terrain of the 2022 election.

The second reason that predictions from a year ago fell short has to do with the classic Right. In the spring of 2021, it seemed possible that given Emmanuel Macron’s deteriorating political sway, and the fact that a large portion of the population vehemently rejected him, the dominant sectors of the bourgeoisie might be pushed to opt for an alternative candidate from The Republicans. In particular, Xavier Bertrand, formerly a minister under Chirac and Sarkozy and currently President of the Regional Counsel of Hauts-de-France, seemed likely. Eventually, however, The Republicans organized an internal election, in which Bertrand was eliminated in the first round and Valérie Pécresse and Eric Ciotti ended up facing off. Pécresse and Ciotti are, respectively, President of the Ile de France Region and the Deputy of Nice. Pécresse soon positioned herself as more moderate than her more openly reactionary and islamophobic counterpart, and became the Republican candidate. Things did not turn out well for her — Sarkozy personally refused to support her and called on his base to vote for Macron! —, and her campaign was increasingly bogged down by its focus on tired debates on immigration, Islam, and national identity. These subjects were taken up by the far-right, notably Zemmour, and also brought up again by the Macron camp. Pécresse quickly ceased to appear like a credible alternative to Macron from the point of view of the bourgeoisie’s interests. However, with 20% of the voting public polling in her favor in December, it still seemed possible for her to fight Macron in the second round, and she did not lose ground.

We can pass over the candidacy that is rather difficult to qualify, situated around the demand for a broader bourgeois democracy — that of the Deputy Jean Lassalle, the rosy-cheeked life of the party and iconoclast of the National Assembly. The third reason the Presidential Election unfolded differently than expected lies in the range of left-wingers who ran.

Beginning with the bourgeois Left, especially the Socialist Party and Europe Ecology Greens. The bourgeois character of the Socialist Party — or more specifically, its transformation from a reformist, “bourgeois-workers’” party, like it was in the 1970’s, to a purely bourgeois party. In recent years, it has become a not-always-shameful neoliberal shill, as demonstrated in its politics over the past decades, reaching its heights under Hollande’s term. This party, already gutted by Macron’s election in 2017, put forward the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, as its candidate. Another of the Socialist Party’s attempts fizzled out, that of the former Minister Arnaud Montebourg. Then, when Hidalgo’s campaign seemed unable to launch off, Christiane Taubira, former Minister of Justice under Hollande, took a stab at it, representing a large coalition of the Left that seemed more or less coagulated. But Taubira also did not last long, and finally, Hidalgo and Jadot (from the Europe Ecology Greens) went on to represent the bourgeois Left in the elections. The bourgeois character of the Europe Ecology Greens is maybe less evident than that of the Socialist Party’s, but its electorate remains anchored in the upper-middle classes that care about environmental issues. Furthermore, their version of environmentalism is largely compatible with capitalism and cannot go very far. Its attachment to the European Union, in particular, renders them incapable of breaking with the dominant logic of neoliberal economics. It also houses political currents that are even more reformist than Mélenchon and his party, Insoumissibles. The Europe Ecology Green candidate, Yannick Jadot, represented the most right-leaning, capitalist wing of the party. His unlucky competitor within the Europe Ecology Green primary, Sandrine Rousseau, who was quickly defeated, headed the most reformist, France-Undefeated-compatible sector.

It is difficult to class the French Communist Party among the bourgeois Left, given its historical origins and its continued working-class base. However, it must be observed that the persistent decline and right-ward swing of this party has only worsened in the past few years — which does not prevent there from being identity tensions, which consisted in presenting Fabien Roussel as a candidate. The Communist Party has largely campaigned to the right of France Insoumise. A defender of the bourgeois order, the Party has recently supported a protest of a sect of police officers, just like the Socialist Party and Europe Ecology Greens, by the way. The Party’s reformism veers more and more to the Right. And among the still-extent old Stalinist tendencies, nuclear energy is still widely supported. Roussel’s candidacy was ultimately nothing more than an affirmation of the Communist Party’s identity, motivated by a frustrated desire to take revenge on Mélenchon and France Insoumise, who have previously helped to marginalize them.

Before the Constitutional Counsel verified the candidacies by affirming that they had collected the requisite 500 signatures, three far-left figures could be expected to announce their bids: Philippe Poutou, from the New Anti-Capitalist Party, Nathalie Arthaud, from Lutte Ouvriere, and Annasse Kazib, a railway unionist at Sud Rail and a member of the Revolutionary Communist Current (tied to the Trotskyist Faction, Fourth International, and which split from the New Anti-Capitalist Party in the summer of 2021). Ultimately, Kazib was unable to obtain the 500 signatures, and Poutou and Arthaud represented the far-left.

Among the Left, the wind was very evidently blowing in the direction of Mélenchon and the Popular Union, rallied around Insoumissibles. This was already the case in 2017, and it was to be expected in 2022. Albeit with its own characteristics, Insoumissibles represents a French neo-reformist current, seen around the world: in Greece with Syriza, in Portugal with the Bloco de Esquerda, in Spain with Podemos… They seek institutional and electoral solutions to change the political landscape, to institute a Sixth Republic. The Popular Union’s program, entitled “The Future Together,” announces a series of desired progressive economic and social reforms: policies that favor public services, guaranteed minimum income, a minimum wage increase to 1,400 euro per month, the return of the age of retirement to 60, ecological planning, etc. But all of that is meant to be achieved without a major confrontation with the bourgeoisie, without any expropriation… There are also a number of points to be critiqued in terms of foreign policy and their position on the State and its repressive apparatuses. For a long while, polls only had Mélenchon as likely to win 8 to 10% of the vote. Although he obtained around 15% in the final days before the first round, he was still far behind Macron and Marine Le Pen.

A few surprises in the first round

One of the issues at hand is the low voter turnout. Indeed, perhaps with the exception of the very end of the campaigns, this presidential election unfolded against a backdrop of mass indifference and a weariness at the political options. Disinterest or even disgust towards politics — at least, establishment politics as they currently stand — has only increased over the past years. The sense that change cannot be accomplished via elections is spreading, especially amongst the disenfranchised and popular sectors of the population. Broadly speaking, abstentionism is rising across the board, even if participation is usually heightened during presidential elections. And yet, the presidential election of 2017 already saw a greater degree of abstention than might be expected: 22.23% for the first round, 25.44% for the second. Shortly thereafter, in June 2017, even elections with national consequences (such as those for legislative seats) garnered under 50% participation — 51.3% abstention for the first round, 57.36% for the second. Other kinds of elections have also been met with high rates of abstention. The European elections, typically characterized by a low turnout, nearly broke 50% in 2019 (49.88%). Municipal elections in 2020 saw 55.25% abstention in the first round, 58.6% in the second. The regional and departmental elections of June 20th and 27th reached record levels of abstentions: respectively, first rounds, 66.72% and 66.68%; second, 65.31% and 65.64%.

Certainly, participation in the 2022 presidential elections did not nosedive — in and of itself a relative success for Macron — but it did still diminish in comparison to 2017, reaching 26.31%. This participation confirms the rise of disinterest in political life as it currently exists, even if its level does not constitute a complete devaluation of the presidential election. Nevertheless, it must be noted that this year, the two finalists for the presidency only received 20.07% (Macron) and 16.69% (Le Pen) of total votes. This means that combined, the two figures up for France’s key election only received roughly a third of the population’s support (36.76% exactly). Put differently, nearly two thirds of the voting population — 63.24% — either abstained or voted for different candidates, and thus did not have their choices taken into account. The situation speaks to the undermining of institutions that are less and less able to represent the people’s will.

Still, Macron’s primary success in the first round, other than coming out ahead at 27.84%, was to have imploded the two parties of the traditional “limp oscillation” between Left and Right. That competition between the current Republicans on the one hand and the Socialist Party on the other has structured France’s politics for decades. In 2017, the Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon’s popularity had already plummeted to 6.36% of the vote. Fillon, meanwhile, was still receiving 20%. By 2022, these two political forces have all but disappeared: for The Republicans, Valérie Pécresse only obtained 4.78%, and the Socialists’ Anne Hidalgo fared even worse (1.75%). In terms of national representation, the Socialist Party appears to have undergone the same process as Greece’s PASOK. Neither candidate, each having not exceeded 5%, will have their campaign expenses reimbursed by the State. Keep in mind that a mere ten years ago, the Socialist Parti (Hollande) took 28.63% of the first round’s votes, and the precursor to the Republicans (Sarkozy), 27.18%. Between the two, these parties gathered 55.81% of the vote. Today, the Republicans and the Socialist Party combined represent no more than 6.53% of the electorate! If the political marginalization of the Socialist Party began in 2017, in 2022 it seems to be definitive, at least on a national scale — while the Republicans are well on their way out! The bourgeois, neoliberal, authoritarian political space that used to be shared between the classic Right and the fake Left, as recently as under Hollande, has been occupied by Macron’s so-called “extreme center.” As a result, the first round of presidential elections was unable to produce a strong political bloc on the classic Right, unlike in 2017 with Fillon.

This year, we ultimately saw not four but three candidates at the lead, polling at over 20%, but neck-and-neck: Macron (around 9.8 million votes, 27.84%), Le Pen (8.1 million, 23.15%), and Mélenchon (7.7 million, 21.95%). The other candidates fell far behind them. The strongest demographics for each ended up being the following: for Macron, the upper managerial class and retirees; for Le Pen, a noticeably younger electorate, a segment of the popular classes (often from peri-urban areas, impoverished former industrial zones — the North and East, especially) and the Mediterranean region; for Mélenchon, a strong youth turnout, the majority of non-European France, often a very good run among the working classes. Good results in Paris (30.09%) and in the Parisian region; broadly, similar results in big cities as compared to 2017 (31.12% in Marseille, 35.48% in Strasbourg, 40.73% in Montpellier, 29.06 in Bordeaux…). The poverty-stricken inner-cities of Paris voted emphatically for Mélenchon, especially Seine-St. Denis, where the Popular Union far outdid Marine Le Pen.

Mélenchon’s performance came as something as surprise, since, scoring around 7 points better than predicted, he nearly made it to the second round. Marine Le Pen’s weak lead (of 400,000 votes, some 1.20%) enraged a number of Popular Union voters. Mélenchon, contrary to the polls’ expectations, improved his scores from 2017 (7.71 million votes in 2022, up from 7.06 million; 21.95% from 19.58%). It seems that the ballot’s final days, or even final hours, saw a vast number of people decide to vote for the neo-reformist. Left-wing potential abstentionists ultimately decided on Mélenchon, who was perceived to be the only way to avoid a Macron-Le Pen stand-off in the second round. However, Mélenchon’s polling likely demoralized a number of would-be voters. Moreover, the atomization of the Left’s candidates was the subject of bitter criticism, the Communist Party’s Fabien Roussel in particular.

Another point must be brought up. Ultimately, Zemmour’s candidature — i.e., the division of the far-right — was not fatal to Marine Le Pen. Quite the contrary. The niche usually filled by that political movement, broadly represented by National Front/National Rally (insecurity, xenophobia, islamophobia) was primarily occupied by Zemmour. Thus, Marine le Pen, who constantly seeks democratic respectability as her party becomes more and more normalized, was pushed to emphasize other aspects of her campaign. She especially leaned towards a defense of the poorest parts of the population, touching on the fight for purchasing power, against rising prices, etc. That choice, albeit disingenuous and used as a demagogic trick, but against a context of inflation and widespread difficulties making ends meet, ended up paying. On his end, Zemmour was able to win over Republican cadre, notably the lawyer Gilbert Collar and Marion Maréchal, Marine Le Pen’s niece. He insisted many times that he would make it to the second round, and he seemed to present a real challenge to the Republicans. And yet, he saw his campaign come to a grinding halt in mid-February when he was still polling at 15%. Why? Many factors came into play: first of all, his brutal ultra-liberalism must of shocked a part of his potential electorate. Furthermore, whenever he had to speak about anything other than his racist and islamophobic obsessions, he was unable to seriously speak to topics that might have interested voters, such as employment, social protection, health, purchasing power… Finally, Zemmour’s proclamations on the war in Ukraine sent his popularity into freefall: a longtime admirer of Putin the “patriot,” Zemmour claimed that Russia would never invade Ukraine; then he said that the arrival of Ukrainian refugees would destabilize France, and that it would be best if they stayed in Poland. Here, in contrast, Marine Le Pen had her finger on the pulse: she was more than willing to forget her previous support of Putin, notably during his invasion of Crimea, and the fact that National Rally was largely funded by a Russian bank with ties to the dictator. She openly condemned the invasion and showed herself to be more accepting of refugees than Zemmour.

Another Macron-Le Pen stand-off, won by the president

Throughout the weeks that preceded the first round, Macron did not hesitate to make central to his campaign the severe blows he plans to deal social safety nets. He highlighted two deeply unpopular measures in particular. Firstly, the raising of the age of retirement to 65, under the pretext of aligning France’s policies to those of Central Europe. Secondly, making unemployment benefits accessible only to those who work 15 or 20 hours a week. Behind the flimsy arguments against “handouts” and for the “putting France to work” is, of course, the funneling of wealth to the richest few. Macron, assured of his victory by the polls, arrogantly thought he could get away with these two intended policies at the forefront of his campaign. Macron was also trying to win over a conservative, moneyed electorate. However, as the vote approached, opinion polls indicated a tighter race than previously expected, with Macron losing his base and Marine Le Pen gathering strength. The very last polls, while still favoring Macron, were open to the possibility of Le Pen gaining the upper hand. Projections for the second round were even closer. Still, Macron’s lead on Le Pen for the first round (around 1.7 million votes and 4.7 points) turned out to be stronger than predicted. Opinion polls between the two rounds saw a renewed increased gap between the two finalists.

After the first round, most of the eliminated candidates threw their weight behind to a specific candidate. For Le Pen: Zemmour and Dupont-Aignan. For Macron: Pécresse, Hidalgo, Jadot, Roussel. But for “not Le Pen,” without calling on their supporters to vote for Macron: Mélenchon and Poutou. For “neither Macron nor Le Pen”: Arthaud. Lassalle did not take any position. However, opinion polls clearly demonstrated a big divide between the candidates’ exhortations and their supporters’ votes. It became more and more apparent that Mélenchon voters would hold the key for the second round. However, this electorate seemed largely hesitant and divided. They mostly oscillated between abstentions or protest votes and Macron, so as to block Le Pen, with a slim minority going over to Le Pen so as to be done with Macron. Unsurprisingly, both candidates attempted to woo this electorate. Hoping to please them, Le Pen focused on social issues. Macron, meanwhile, was quick to appear “conciliatory,” talking about only (!) raising the age retirement to 64, and of organizing debate with a referendum on the question. Macron’s cynicism took no time at all to reveal itself: the day after his victory on April 24th, his Minister of the Economy Bruno le Maire claimed that it was not out of the question to employ Article 49.3 of the Constitution in order to push the intended counter-reforms through parliament without debate. Yet another insult to those who voted for Macron to block National Rally!

Finally, the gap between Macron and Le Pen in the second round was larger than even the very last polls could have predicted. He was reelected with around 18.7 votes and 58.55% of the ballot, as opposed to Le Pen’s 13.3 million and 41.45%. But the pretentious establishment candidate’s victory must be contextualized. First of all, abstentionism in the second around increased to 28.01% compared to 2017’s 26,31%. Meanwhile, some 3 million protest votes were left blank, which are not taken into consideration in France, as opposed to 4 million in 2017. Second of all, Macron lost around 2 million votes since 2017 (18.7 million in 2022 compared to 20.7 million in 2017), shrinking from 66.10% to 58.55%. Third of all, in a certain sense, there are two uncontestable winners of this election: Macron AND Le Pen. Never has the far-right obtained so much support in an election of this importance. In 2017, Marine Le Pen won around 10.6 million votes in the second round. This year she came close to 13.3 million. It is clear, then, that the far-right has gained strength over Macron’s first term. Ironically, Macron intended in 2017 “to combat political extremism.” Of course, Macron would include France Insoumise among the extremes. On both the Left and the Right, Macron patently failed.

Macron was reelected largely thanks to left-wing voters, Mélenchon’s in particular, worried by the thought of Le Pen in power. As for non-European France, whose Mélenchon supporters overwhelmingly turned to Le Pen in order to defeat the President, it seems that a majority of Popular Union voters ultimately decided to vote for Macron, albeit holding their noses. Indeed, the idea that a vote for Macron would defeat “fascism” — a term incorrectly thrown around, as a separate and much longer article would have to demonstrate — was put front and center, from the moderate Right to sectors of the far-left. The fear of National Rally and “fascism” in power once again aided Macron, even if less than it did five years ago. The reelected President referenced this point in his victory speech, the evening of April 24th : “A number of our compatriots today voted for me, not because of my ideas but in order to block the far-right.” What political conclusion, according to him, can we draw? Can we expect concessions, fewer “tough” policies, fewer slashes to public budgets? Small chance! Because, contrary to appearances, Macron’s project does not answer to his voters but to the high bourgeoisie, which needs political power to augment its profits and continue to attack social progress. Certainly, Macron claimed to want to be “President for everyone,” meaning not only his supporters, but also those of Le Pen and Mélenchon. But he said the same sort of thing in 2017, while his policies have been nothing but a continued affront to left-wing voters. Bruno Le Maire’s declarations on retirement, referenced above, indicate that Macron 2.0 will be just as brutal and contemptuous as the original! At least, if the ensuing political configurations allow it.

The legislative elections of June 12th and 19th

The incumbent President was reelected, and for the time being, his old cabinet remains in place under Castex. The Constitution, however, necessitates that the legislative power be renewed, with elections in the National Assembly. 577 seats are contested; with this mind, the political machinery began turning the moment the election was decided. In the legislative elections that will be held on June 12th and 19th, voters will choose a single local candidate at a time, in two rounds. The 577 locales are very unequal in terms of how many people live in each one. As a result, it is harder for left-wing candidates, which need a great many more votes from overcrowded working-class locales, to win seats than their right-wing counterparts, who need fewer people to vote in order to win a comparable percentage of their locales. Legislative elections such as they are organized have the tendency to intensify parliamentary majorities. In fact, electoral forces that are important on a national level may find themselves with little to no representation in parliament. This is the case for National Front/National Rally (which for a long time had no representatives, and only now has 6 in the Assembly) and France Insoumise (which only has 17 deputies) — despite the Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchons’ performances in 2017. At the time of writing this article, the polling method, added to ongoing political uncertainties, make it impossible to make any kind of real prognostics as to how the elections might turn out.

Nevertheless, it is still possible to take note of a few tendencies and make some observations.

First of all, even if the parties of “the limp oscillation” (the Socialist Party and the Republicans) are losing influence on a national, presidential scale, they still hold sway on the local level. In fact, it is striking how the presidential candidates’ principal political forces — The Republic Moving Forward for Macron and National Rally for Le Pen — are so much weaker locally than the Socialists and the Republicans. As comrade Léon Crémieux explains, “The Socialist Party, the Republicans, and their candidates are much more present in departmental and regional institutions than Moving Forward: 685 departmental counselors for the Socialists and 838 for the Republicans [and an equivalent number for the regional counsels], as opposed to the 400 departmental counselors and 118 regional counselors for Moving Forward. Likewise, in cities with over 30,000 inhabitants, there are 50 Socialist mayors, 99 Republicans, and 3 for Moving Forward.” This institutional paradox cannot but have consequences on many levels. For Macron, who needs a majority in the National Assembly to impose his policies, the project of destroying the Socialists and Republicans on a national level must be completed locally by a mix of tactical alliances and winning people over — straddling the traditional Right and the bourgeois Left. Politics being as they are, corruption and opportunistic alliances will likely be in full swing over the next few weeks. For the far-right, the question is what the future of “Recapture” — Zemmour’s political party — will be. National Rally and Marine Le Pen have chosen to destroy this fledgling rival and to relance their presidential strategy: impose a kind of “tactical vote” for National Rally in the first round. There are not many National Rally figures on the local level, but they do outnumber the newly-minted party of the far-right. Even if it is highly unlikely that National Rally will gain a majority in the Assembly, it is possible that they will be able to significantly increase their numbers. The question is also one of finances — party funding depends in part upon the number of seats they can secure, and thus the pro-Zemmour circles pose an obstacle to be eliminated.

But it is for Mélenchon that things seem to be progressing the most rapidly. His good performance seems to stem from a dynamic, centralized strategy that did not exist in 2017. That there was not enough centralism in the Popular Union cost their candidate the presidency. Immediately after the Presidential Elections, Mélenchon and the Popular Union reached out to a number of political forces to propose a collaboration for the legislative elections. Since then, the following organizations have been meeting regularly: Europe Ecology Greens, Generations, the French Communist Party, the New Anti-Capitalist Party, and the Socialist Party — or at least, a majoritarian sector of the Socialists has knocked on the Popular Union’s front door. At the time of writing this article, the project has not yet been completed. However, the following elements can be observed:
Generations is a small movement launched by the 2017 Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon and a member of the Environmentalist Bloc that supported Jadot for President. On April 28th, they were the first to sign an agreement with France Insoumise regarding June’s legislative elections, seeking to form a parliamentary coalition headed by Mélenchon.
A second deal was struck on May 2nd, this time between Europe Ecology Greens and France Insoumise. Europe Ecology Green’s leading counsel ratified the agreement with an overwhelming majority; the “New Environmental and Social Popular Union” was born. The deal namely focused on a minimum salary of 1400 euro per month, a cap on the price of absolutely necessary products, the return of the age of retirement to 60 years, the principles of a “green rule” and a “environmental golden rule,” and the establishment of a Sixth Republic that would include a citizens’ initiative referendum. In the case of a majority in the Assembly, Mélenchon would become Prime Minister. Amongst the most bitterly debated questions was that of the E.U., of which Europe Ecology Greens are a staunch defender. France Insoumise suggestion that they disobey the European Union’s regulations was unacceptable for the Europe Ecology Greens. The compromise they landed upon stipulates that the “New alliance” seeks to “disobey certain European regulations,” mostly economics and budgetary, while maintaining “respect for the rule of law” when it comes to European treaties. Another sticking point, ultimately overcome, was how to divvy up locales. It seems that around one hundred were accorded to the Greens.
On Tuesday, May 3rd, the Communist Party decided to join the New Environmental and Social Popular Union. The main point of difference with France Insoumise was nuclear energy, which the Communists support and which France Insoumise repudiates. The agreement allowed for each section to defend its own positions in the Assembly. Similarly, the Communist Party maintained its right to argue for its own beliefs vis-à-vis the few other disagreements, such as on the nationalization of banks. The Communist Party obtained fifty locales, eleven of which will be overseen by deputies who are on their way out, notably Fabien Roussel.

On Wednesday, May 4th, at the moment of writing this article, the Socialists agreed to join forces with France Insoumise — at the cost of a huge internal rupture that could easily implode the party. A France Insoumise-Socialist Party communiqué reads: “We want to win a majority of parliamentary seats, in order to block Emmanuel Macron’s brutal and unjust policies while combatting the far-right.” This agreement is scheduled to be ratified on May 5th by the Socialist Party’s national counsel.
As for the New Anti-Capitalist Party, the internal struggle is reaching its peak. Nothing has been decided, but a majority of the executive leadership has long been pushing for an agreement with France Insoumise. A good number of their rank and file are opposed (unclear how many exactly, but they have made themselves known). France Insoumise’s recent concessions to the Greens and the Socialists would appear to lend credence to the New Union’s critics’ fears of reformism. Indeed, the very presence of the Socialist Party demanded many significant concessions, in particular on the European Union. Philippe Poutou, himself a believer in the majority line of opening up towards France Insoumise, seemed disillusioned. He wrote, “In a few days, we have gone from absolute refusal to work with the Socialist Party to an almost enthusiastic attempt on the part of France Insoumise and the Socialists find common ground. Logically, this translates to a very minimalist program and, of course, a divvying up of locales, trying to save as many seats as possible. The more France Insoumise tries to get along with the Socialist Party and the Greens, the greater the lowest common denominator. Retirement at 60 becomes an end goal in and of itself; the repeal of the El Khomri Law becomes a repeal of its ‘backwards aspects’; disobedience of E.U. regulations gets watered down and confused; not to even mention leaving behind nuclear power, no small affair; plus other important issues that would normally lead to a split. As a result, the desired unity — which is legitimate, and which we would like to see happen — loses radicality, originality, and even a backbone. Because even though it is weakened, the Socialist Party and Europe Ecology Greens set the pace, impose their own limitations, and put their own interests front and center when it comes to divvying up locales.”

To wrap up the question of legislative elections, let us assume that there is a strong chance that a large section of the Left will come to an agreement and unify on June 12th and 19th. The matter is not settled, though, because the Socialists have not yet ratified the agreement internally, and because the New Anti-Capitalist Party has not yet made its decision in the face of tumult within its ranks. It is worth noting that Lutte Ouvriere sticks out on the Left as the only organization that simply refuses to enter into any kind of pact with France Insoumise.

And now?

There are a few other general points to consider. First of all, as Philippe Poutou sharply observed, France Insoumise agreements drag their line further and further to the Right, away from radicalism. Establishment politics has already led us to expect this kind of development. The “institutional unity” that some, notably the New Anti-Capitalists, want to smuggle in as Leninist centralism, still applies. Then, even if precise studies are missing, it would appear that the push to centralize is effective, especially amongst the working classes. Many seem to want the various Lefts to unite in the hopes of winning more legislative seats and, to a certain extent, undoing the Presidential Elections. But this task is mired in confusion. Even if the media refers to France Insoumise as “the radical Left,” it is important to remember that they are in fact a neo-reformist force in politics. They want to change society — not in any anti-capitalist sense, but rather in the neo-liberal understanding: by way of institutional powers, not revolutionary struggle and insurrection. The difference is enormous. And it is important to remember how this “radical Left” has failed miserably around the world: Syriza, Podemos, Bloco de Esquerda, Rifondazione… What these neo-reformist currents all have in common is that they either do not know or do not wish to know what the bourgeois State is and whom it serves (the bourgeoisie). Moreover, they forget that the bourgeoisie is willing to do anything to defend its power and privileges, no matter what the cost for the rest of humanity and the planet.

An exemplary anecdote about the neo-reformists’ incapability to engage in class struggle is available online. The philosopher and economist Frédéric Lordon, who has been involved in many social struggles these past few years, claims that the bourgeoisie will do everything to wipe out a Mélenchon government: “Let’s imagine an France Insoumise government, that Mélenchon becomes president. What would happen then? … What would happen is that government would be burnt to the ground in two weeks.” Lordon also points to financial speculation, notably its effects on interest rates, and the hatred unleashed by the media against a left-wing government. Speaking on the issue of French debt being attacked by international finance, Mélenchon said, “Well, we’ll see.” His interviewer asked more precisely, “How do we fight international finance?” Mélenchon’s response: “We fight, we defend. But I have good weapons.” He added, “I don’t think it’s reasonable for France to be attacked… The results could be disastrous for everyone… I think that people are reasonable. They won’t do anything too stupid. But I do not suggest that anyone attack France if I’m the one in charge!” And that was it. Mélenchon, as opposed to Lordon, does not want to understand and say that direct conflict with the bourgeoisie and their expropriation in the most important sectors of the economy are absolutely vital.

It is still too early to predict any outcomes, but developments around France Insoumise and the its broad left-wing alliance is possible. This new configuration of the Left certainly seems to irritate the commentariat who are always keen to protect the bourgeois order. Mediapart, an online journal, even speaks of a “wave of panic.” Notably, the same article reads: “As the possibility of an agreement that could unite the Left and the environmentalists before the legislative elections on the 12th and 19th of June grows more and more concrete, the politico-media ‘voice of reason’ draws closer to a nervous breakdown. The political importance of the Mélenchon current since April 10th (winning 22% of the vote) and its potential capacity to coach the Left into shape does not sit well with zealous defenders of the status quo.” These upholders of the existing order, for whom the developing “radical” Left is a thorn in their side, recruit amongst the politicians of the ex-“limp oscillation” parties as well as amongst the mediocrity of media. The former include: Jean-François Copé, Eric Woerth, and François Bayrou on the real Right; François Hollande, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, and Julien Dray on the fake Left; the interim president of National Rally himself Jordan Bardella. The prescribers of opinions include Renaud Dély from Le Monde and Elizabeth Lévy from CNews. The list will conceivably grow if France Insoumise project develops any further. The political situation will certainly be different depending on whether allies of Macron or Mélenchon win a majority of legislative seats. But Mélenchon’s victory is far from likely. And if it were to happen, a political and maybe even social storm would be sure to ensue.

Workers must have some significant worries about the situation described above. A coalition of “the Left” embedded in the establishment, focused on elections, and including forces that have shown their willingness to betray working people in the past is nothing at all compared to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It is indeed a revolution that we need to prepare for, and for that, a revolutionary party is necessary. Unfortunately, the French Left is clearly lacking. Between the New Anti-Capitalist Party that allows itself to be bogged down by France Insoumise and Lutte Ouvriere, which stands its ground better but offers no concrete proposals, there is no political alternative capable of posing a real class analysis of the struggles that are underway, nor of facing up to the disillusionment that is just around the corner.

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