While France has a different system from the U.S. for choosing its President, their run-off election bore an uncanny similarity to America’s 2016 contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
French voters were offered a binary choice between Le Pen, a neofascist with an enthusiastic populist base, and Emmanuel Macron, a neoliberal investment banker with a largely disillusioned and unenthusiastic base.
While Macron swayed two-thirds of French voters, a majority of these seem to have supported him to stop fascism, rather than because they like his policies. And a full third voted for Le Pen’s National Front party, whose racist and isolationist views until recently placed it on the fringe.
The failure of neoliberal elites – whether they be Clintonite pro-corporate liberals in the U.S., or pro-austerity “socialists” in Europe -to address the needs of the working and middle classes is a major cause of Donald Trump’s victory, and of Le Pen’s rise.
Neither the Macron/Clinton brand of neoliberalism, nor the Le Pen/Trump brand of neofascism serve the interests of the majority of the working and middle classes. And without an alternative, if Macron’s brand of neoliberalism fails, it could further fuel the rise of neofascism.
Break Out the Beaujolais?
Still, there’s good reason to celebrate the defeat of Le Pen, whose National Front party has its roots in holocaust denial and in the remnants of the Nazi-collaborating Vichy government of World War II.
As David Sedaris wrote of the choice between Clinton and Trump, it was a bit like a flight attendant asking, ““Can I interest you in the chicken? Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”
Fortunately, unlike us Americans, the French chose the chicken over the plate of shit with broken glass.
But French, American, and transnational elites shouldn’t be too quick to break out celebratory cases of 1945 Chateau Rothschild to go with their rubbery chicken. The disaster of France electing a racist neofascist who wants to break up the European Union has been averted, at least for the moment.
But Macron’s neoliberal political project – which may weaken France’s social safety net, privatize government resources, and cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, is exactly the kind of approach that ignores the problems of France’s working class and led to the rise of Le Pen in the first place.
A former investment banker, Macron plans to:
– Cut 120,000 government jobs.
– Reduce public spending.
– Slash corporate taxes and capital gains taxes.
– Exclude financial investments (held mostly by the rich) from France’s Solidarity Wealth Tax on those with incomes over 1,300,000 Euros; i.e. a tax cut for the wealthy.
– Deregulate the economy.
In other words, Macron proposes Reaganism or Thatcherism lite, “a la française.” And he justifies it on the same grounds Republicans and corporate Democrats in the U.S. use to justify their policies – that it will promote job growth.
Where’s the Mandate?
Even though Macron defeated Le Pen, neither he nor his policies are particularly popular. Many in France compared the choice of Macron over Le Pen to a choice between cholera and the plague.
Indeed, according to a Harris poll, 57 percent of Macron voters chose him in to deny Le Pen the Presidency, not because they otherwise supported him. 25.3 percent of registered French voters stayed home, and 12 percent of those who did show up submitted blank ballots in protest of the choice.
So Macron hardly has a mandate for his neoliberal policies at this point. And if he fails to improve the lot of the French working and middle classes, Le Pen’s supporters could do well in June’s parliamentary elections, and she could even win her next presidential bid.
Both in Europe and America, there needs to be a political alternative to both neoliberalism and neofascism, to defeat them in the long-run. In both places, the established political parties are broken. In France, neither of the traditional major parties even made it into the final election round.
In the first round of the French Presidential elections, the leftist candidate, Jean-Luc Melanchon, received 7,059,951 votes, only slightly less than Le Pen’s 7,678,491 votes and Macron’s 8,858,341 votes. The Socialist Party received 2,292,288 votes. So when the Melanchon and Socialist Party votes are added up, the candidates of the left received more votes in the first round than either Macron or Le Pen.
In America, the Republicans are fractured between economic nationalist Trumpists and the traditional anti-government conservatives. As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton barely defeated the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who wasn’t even a Democrat, and a significant number of Democratic voters who had cast ballots for Barack Obama voted for Trump.
On both sides of the ocean, almost everything is up for grabs politically. To permanently vanquish right-wing-populism and neofascism, the energy of the progressive anti-Trump movement needs to come up with real alternatives, so it can transform itself from protest into political power.