The Guardian • Issue #2004

Macron beats Le Pen but growth of French fascism continues

Jean-Luc Mélenchon. (Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación CC BY-SA 2.0)

French President Emmanuel Macron has won re-election against far-right rival Marine Le Pen.

The first French president to be re-elected in twenty years, Macron’s margin of 58.55 per cent to 41.45 per cent was greater than expected.

Nevertheless, it represents a large swing to Le Pen of 7.55 per cent from the 2017 run-off. If this were to be repeated in 2027, Le Pen would be within a percentage point of winning the presidency.

It is clear that France remains not only divided, but that Macron’s pro-EU, pro-NATO, neo-liberal agenda is doing little to halt the growth of French fascism.

Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked France when he came second in the first round of the 2002 French presidential election, narrowly beating the Socialist Party with 16.86 per cent of the vote in a particularly widely contested election.

What followed was a broad anti-fascist united front campaign that saw conservative President Jacques Chirac re-elected in the biggest landslide victory in French history, securing 82.2 per cent of the vote compared to Le Pen’s 17.8 per cent.

Since then, Marine Le Pen has carried out a “de-demonisation” campaign in a bid to normalise the party and soften its image, Controversial figures including Jean-Marie Le Pen were expelled, openly fascistic cultural roots were hidden, and the party’s name was changed from National Front to National Rally.

Combined with making the run-off two elections straight in 2017 and 2022, Marine Le Pen has managed to turn a party once universally reviled for its fascism into the party commonly accepted as the legitimate right-wing opposition.

Le Pen has significantly reshaped French politics, with Macron’s formerly “centrist” party quickly dropping the charade, enacting right-wing authoritarian and racist reforms before running a law-and-order campaign that accused Le Pen of being soft on Muslims.

As Macron continues to attack and erode what little remains of the French welfare state and civil liberties, French voters are becoming increasingly sceptical of the “status quo”, instead seeking perceived radical alternatives.

By legitimising Le Pen’s racist and fear-mongering rhetoric, as well as contributing to ever decaying living standards through vicious assaults on the working class, Macron is ensuring increasing numbers of voters seek out her far-right populism as a solution to their problems.

But despite media assurances to the contrary, the left is not dead in France.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon once again enjoyed a conveniently “late surge” to place 3rd in the first round with 21.95 per cent of the vote, a mere 1.2 per cent off Le Pen’s 23.15 per cent.

While it’s true that the French fascist vote was split between Le Pen and Zemmour, it is clear that Mélenchon is a viable candidate capable of beating Le Pen and winning the presidency.

Importantly, this has been achieved despite fierce scrutiny and hostility from the French state and media.

After police attempted a search of Mélenchon’s party, France Unbowed’s offices in 2018, Mélenchon was arrested and convicted for intimidation after demanding the police let him in to witness the search.

While Le Pen has been normalised as the mainstream conservative opposition, Mélenchon is viciously attacked by the French media when not outright ignored.

This is unsurprising. Mélenchon is a steadfastly anti-NATO, euro-sceptic fighting for the scrapping of the Fifth French Republic’s “presidential monarchy”.

Mélenchon wants a democratically elected constituent assembly to create a new constitution for a new Sixth French Republic with proportional representation, a lowered voting age of 16, that gives voters the ability to propose new laws and recall politicians.

He wants to lower the age of retirement to sixty, increase wages, freeze food and fuel prices, guarantee jobs for the long-term unemployed, prevent top companies listed on the French stock exchange from paying dividends, reintroduce capital gains taxes, redistribute wealth, and have the state intervene in the market.

Refusing to submit to rising anti-immigrant views and support racist policies like other European social-democratic parties have, Mélenchon wants to regularise all undocumented workers in France and facilitate French nationality for foreigners legally present in France.

Furthermore, Mélenchon has criticised French and US imperialism and called for leaving NATO, disregarding neoliberal EU rules, and increased cooperation with Russia and China.

While bound by the limits of social-democracy, the popularity of Mélenchon’s program demonstrates that France need not submit to a simple choice between fascism and increasingly right-wing neoliberalism.

French society is becomingly increasingly divided and against the status-quo. But this discontent is not only leading to increased support for fascism.

The French left must continue exploit contradictions in capitalism to draw disillusioned voters away from fascism, and towards progressive politics and socialism. 

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