French presidential election: Macron and Le Pen reach second round
Mélenchon result shows potential for building a mass left force
Statement from Gauche Révolutionnaire, CWI in France
The election results confirm that the establishment parties have taken a mighty blow!
The Republicans' François Fillon, who started out as the presidential front runner, ended up with 19.9% of the votes. The furore over corruption and his luxurious lifestyle (often at public expense) stemmed his popularity. But it was his plan to smash social security and put up VAT last December that began his free fall in the opinion polls.
The candidates of the two big parties responsible for all the policies carried out for the last 30 years have been truly swept aside, confirming the wave of 'clearing out' that left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has spoken about.
With seven million votes, along with one out of every three youth votes, Mélenchon almost got to the second round.
His campaign - promoting an anti-austerity and pro-worker message - brought together tens of thousands of activists, and a genuine hope of reaching the second round began to emerge. It was a wave of support that made all the defenders of capitalism tremble, so much so that the Washington Post could declare, paraphrasing Marx in the Communist Manifesto, "a new spectre haunts Europe, that of Jean-Luc Mélenchon".
The movement of the 'unbowed', in which Gauche Révolutionnaire participated, will not stop there. Seven million votes represent a gigantic force and potential for challenging the pro-rich policies of Macron - the probable winner of the second round.
Socialist Party punished
On the other hand, Benoît Hamon received the worst ever score for a Socialist Party (PS) candidate, with only 6.35% of the vote.
He refused to withdraw and support Mélenchon. The vote for Hamon directly accounted for Mélenchon being behind Le Pen and Macron, showing that the PS remained true to itself, only able to think in terms of cooking things up for the next election.
Apart from his proposal of a "universal income", Hamon was quite unable to say publicly whether he approved of Mélenchon's flagship measures such as raising wages, cutting working hours or retirement at 60.
Hamon will of course pay the price of his attitude: a complete sidelining after such a low score, and the team of right-wing former prime minister Manuel Valls and others will regain control of the PS, in order to reach an agreement with Macron and his movement. Already, many elected PS members have either obtained a place in Macron's movement for the legislative elections, or have entered into discussion with him.
Emmanuel Macron's candidacy has a specific role: to ensure the continuity of the policies pursued over the past few years: smashing up the labour law and public services, and policies in favour of the multinationals and finance groups.
It was with the discreet but real support of president Hollande and many big bosses that Macron was launched, like a marketing product, combining demagogic speeches ('everyone would have a chance to become a millionaire') to a (well masked) declaration of war on workers (ending the 35-hour maximum working week, the wiping out of tens of thousands of public jobs).
With 23.8% of the votes, his support in the population is not strong. Many will be quickly disappointed, and there will certainly be an angry awakening among his many young voters that Macron is only continuing the policy of his predecessors.
Facing him, far-right Front National's Marine Le Pen can play a very useful role for the capitalists. Her presence in the second round will favour Macron who has the support of the super-rich, the banks, etc.
Only the candidacy of Mélenchon would have been an obstacle to this ideal scenario for the bourgeoisie and the politician caste. He, at least, really denounced the policies pursued in the service of the super-rich without scapegoating the main victims of capitalist exploitation, especially migrants and Muslims.
Le Pen only secured 600,000 votes more than Mélenchon. The rural areas voted primarily for her, as well as many areas affected by factory closures and the running down of public services. But the large and medium-sized towns, especially the larger working-class towns, often supported Mélenchon more than Le Pen: Le Havre, Seine-Saint-Denis, Roubaix, Marseilles, etc.
If Le Pen's score is really high (but much less than what was predicted in the polls), her further progress is not inevitable.
Le Pen's speeches did attract a layer of angry young people, workers, retired people, and unemployed, who for more than 15 years have suffered the attacks of various capitalist governments.
She has recently, however, made it clear to the big bosses during her meeting with the employers' body, Medef, that she would not touch any of their privileges, nor would she be in favour of increasing workers' wages.
Her anti-migrant worker, anti-Muslim, nationalist position will be ramped up during the second round while attempting to publicly distance herself (temporarily) from her extremist Front National party.
Prosecuted for embezzling public money, she is protected only by her parliamentary immunity. Similarly, her party is filled with careerist politicians in exactly the same way as the PS or the Republicans.
Faced with Macron, Le Pen may receive votes from people who are tired of policies at the service of the rich. But in reality she does not propose a different policy; she defends capitalism as much as Macron. She does not call into question exploitation or the dictatorship of profit. On the contrary, coming from a family of millionaires; she is in the camp of the rich.
Many are rightly angry at this 'choice' of second round candidates. It is crucial that wherever possible, we organise and multiply mass initiatives against Le Pen, against capitalism and racism.
It is through mass mobilisation that the extreme right will be stopped. And by the construction of a mass party of struggle which really defends the interests of workers, young people and the majority.
Le Pen's electoral successes are because many are desperate and at the same time angry, but also because parties like the PS or the Republicans, carry out policies that aggravate the social situation for the majority.
It is understandable that many will vote for Macron to block the nightmare that Le Pen and her party represent. Gauche Révolutionnaire has always opposed Le Pen, and we must continue mobilising against her and her party.
The first mobilisations have a dual objective: to show Le Pen that she will not pass, and to prepare young people and workers, for the struggles that will have to be waged against the capitalist attacks of Macron.
We need a new mass left-wing party to collectively decide on our struggles and our demands. Along with a programme for democratic socialism and against capitalism, this is what Gauche Révolutionnaire stands for.
Rejection of the French establishment
Historically, our commune* in south west France was Socialist Party or Communist Party. In the first round of the 2017 presidential election votes for the five leading candidates (in an 84% turnout) were: Mélenchon 55, Macron 54, Le Pen 51, Fillon 37 and Hamon 18.
This reflects in part the history of the area (mining and glass manufacturing) and in part the way in which the elections went in France as a whole. It amounts to a massive rejection of the traditional parties of the French capitalist establishment.
So we have Macron and Le Pen in the second round on 7 May. Macron is expected to win by a sizeable margin. Already Fillon, Hamon and president Hollande have endorsed him. But it's not straight forward. Le Pen is campaigning as the anti-establishment candidate and with elements of an economic programme, at least in rhetoric, aimed at workers.
Whoever wins the second round, French capitalism will find no solution to the crisis it faces. A Macron victory will mean large scale industrial strife as he tries to enact his anti-worker, pro-capital programme. A Le Pen victory will be accompanied by massive social upheaval.
Terry Adams - Tarn, France
- A commune is an administrative area of varying sizes from a city to a hamlet