An exchange of views on the French Presidential election

The following is a short exchange of views on Facebook on the French Presidential election which is taking place today:

LMcQ – See if you can guess which candidate’s leaflet has three explicitly racist pledges.  I’m struggling with this “they’re as bad as each other in the final analysis” line of argument.

Sráid Marx:  I don’t think that’s the argument being put. What about – how will Macron defend workers against fascism (or however one wants to characterise the FN) by implementing an austerity offensive against them, pushing them even further into the pursuit of bad alternatives (like FN)? And how will you explain to them that when you said they should vote for this offensive you didn’t actually mean you supported this offensive. I seem to remember we have been here before with a Le Pen and some geezer called Chirac and voting for the less worst alternative has just brought us to here. At what point, or how bad, would the lesser alternative have to be before you said – stop! The workers cannot lend support to those who simply prepare the way for the fascists and who you must at all times regard as your enemy. And if this is a frightening prospect to you that is only because your only defence ultimately is your own strength and this you cannot delegate – and certainly not to shits like Macron!

RM: Macron is an immediate short term defence against fascism simply because he is the only possible non-fascist outcome at this point. Everything starts from the present. The Chirac argument here is interesting. Yes, voting Chirac to defeat le Pen brought us to ‘now’ but that is surely a better option than to be looking back after 15 years of fascism in power!

Sráid Marx:  Everything starts from when it starts, which at any point in time is usually not the present. Today the weakness of the workers’ movement arises from its failure to successfully oppose austerity and build its own alternative political position in the past. This weakness is not addressed one iota by voting for Macron, in fact it is set back and will always be set back as long as the Macron’s of this world win and the likes of a Le Pen can be waived in front of us to get everyone to vote for the lesser evil. We know this because, as I said, it has happened before. An immediate defence against fascism? But the present passes into what we view now as the future and we will be weaker because we believed that Macron is some sort of defence. If he is one at the election then by definition his success is also a continuing defence, or do we only oppose and fight him unless there is an election. At what point do we say that workers must create their own alternative and cannot support the politicians and policies that brought us to this horrible choice? That is the political choice that we must take; that it is not on the ballot paper is more than unfortunate but that is the case nevertheless. Having our political choices determined by electoralism is not the way forward but is often a trap.

———————————————————————–

SD: In an election which can only have one of two outcomes the alternative to the lesser evil is the greater evil.

Sráid Marx: Of course you are correct, but the question is whether the lesser EVIL is actually too high a price to pay.

F-CL: Well, if you don’t go with the lesser, surely the question is, is the greater evil too high a price to pay?

Sráid Marx:  Yes, a very good answer. But it still leaves you with the option of determining that both evils cannot be endorsed and that the elections leave you with no acceptable choice and to reject the choice given to you. Or do you believe that in all elections one must vote and endeavour to find the lesser evil?

F-CL:  It depends on circumstances … if there is a real, public abstain campaign and a refusal to vote can be seen to have meaning in the election then I think not voting could be the best option. And having “None of the above” on the voting paper – so you can actually show rejection of all – would be good (in fact, I think we should have a policy of including this option in all votes). But in my experience it is very rare for this to be the case, and going for “None of the above” would encourage people to not maximise the opposition to the greater evil, so even if “None” were an option I think I would usually come down in favour of lesser evil

The other alternative justifying not voting is for the candidates to be as close to as awful as each other to make any differentiation pointless. But this awfulness also involves assessment of the perceived consequences of who gets voted in. Even if Macron and Le Pen are close to each other (in fact I don’t think they are), Le Pen getting in would boost the far right far more than Macron would and you have to take that into account as well as the politics of the candidates

SD:  Surely the issue is about which outcome leaves the working class best placed to fight. In almost all circumstances the working class and the oppressed are going to be able to resist a lesser evil better than they could resist a greater evil, otherwise it wouldn’t be a greater evil.

Sráid Marx:  Not if they are disarmed politically by believing their class enemy is in any sense their protector against reaction. Workers must be taught again and again that they share interests as a class and not with liberals or other bourgeois figures.

SD: That’s quite a big if that you have inserted there. You think it is possible to convince people threatened by the rise of the FN to abstain, yet you don’t believe it possible to convince people that voting for a lesser evil still means they need to organise against that lesser evil?

Sráid Marx:  First I think that the threat that they will most likely face is Macron and his reactionary agenda and a vote for him is a statement that ‘it could be worse’! If such a view is justified in the election – why not afterwards? Fighting the FN is not the only issue in this election. In fact the rise of the FN is due to the policies now being pursued by Macron, policies that the FN say they have an alternative and a left that simply wants to fight the FN and votes for Macron and his policies makes their pretence all the stronger. The message for an active abstention is that you cannot rely on a simple vote to stop the FN, that the FN will get stronger if everyone else rows behind Macron and his reactionary policies and only the FN is seen to stand against them all the way. It’s a message that if you hate or fear the FN there is no solution but your own activity and a workers’ alternative to the policies that Macron will pursue, which the FN will feed off and attempt to continue to grow from.

SD: But “active abstentions” don’t actually exist, except in the heads of ultra lefts who try to comfort themselves that doing nothing out of sectarianism is a political act. Voting or not voting won’t make an iota of difference as to whether people fight back after the election. It just might be slightly harder to do so with an FN president.

Sráid Marx:  Let’s assume for one moment you are right – this would still not justify support for Macron, nor would it invalidate the objections to such support. But while living in Belfast I have seen a number of active abstention campaigns where leafleting, postering and canvassing were all carried out to encourage abstention. It is not even a merely ‘ultra-left’ notion – the greatest number of posters I ever saw in an election in West Belfast was when the Provos wanted an abstention when Bernadette McAliskey stood for the European parliament and the republicans still opposed participation in Brit elections. As to whether voting will affect how people will behave after the election, it must be clear that a working class vote for Macron will strengthen him. It would really be a sort of ultra-leftism to believe workers will vote for a bourgeois candidate but mobilise against him the day after, on the understanding that he is the lesser evil. Of course I have seen a similar view that they would immediately mobilise against a Le Pen victory dismissed, although you only claim it might be slightly harder.

 

 

3 thoughts on “An exchange of views on the French Presidential election

  1. Some communists think voting for Marine Le Pen is the lesser evil. James Petras has an article on his personal web page called ‘Twenty Truths about Le Pen’ making the case for voting Le Pen. Here is just a taster :

    ‘ Every day in unimaginable ways, prominent leaders from the left and the right, from bankers to Parisian intellectuals, are fabricating stories and pushing slogans that denigrate presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
    They obfuscate her program, substituting the label ‘extremist’ for her pro-working class and anti-imperialist commitment. Fear and envy over the fact that a new leader heads a popular movement has seeped into Emmanuel “Manny” Macron’s champagne-soaked dinner parties. He has good reason to be afraid: Le Pen addresses the fundamental interests of the vast- majority of French workers, farmers, public employees, unemployed and underemployed youth and older workers approaching retirement.

    The mass media, political class and judicial as well as street provocateurs savagely assault Le Pen, distorting her domestic and foreign policies. They are incensed that Le Pen pledges to remove France from NATO’s integrated command – effectively ending its commitment to US directed global wars. Le Pen rejects the oligarch-dominated European Union and its austerity programs, which have enriched bankers and multi-national corporations. Le Pen promises to convoke a national referendum over the EU – to decide French submission. Le Pen promises to end sanctions against Russia and, instead, increase trade. She will end France’s intervention in Syria and establish ties with Iran and Palestine.

    Le Pen is committed to Keynesian demand-driven industrial revitalization as opposed to Emmanuel Macron’s ultra-neoliberal supply-side agenda.
    Le Pen’s program will raise taxes on banks and financial transactions while fining capital flight in order to continue funding France’s retirement age of 62 for women and 65 for men, keeping the 35 hour work-week, and providing tax free overtime pay. She promises direct state intervention to prevent factories from relocating to low wage EU economies and firing French workers.
    Le Pen is committed to increasing public spending for childcare and for the poor and disabled. She has pledged to protect French farmers against subsidized, cheap imports.

    Marine Le Pen supports abortion rights and gay rights. She opposes the death penalty. She promises to cut taxes by 10% for low-wage workers. Marine is committed to fighting against sexism and for equal pay for women.
    Marine Le Pen will reduce migration to ten thousand people and crack down on immigrants with links to terrorists.

    Emmanuel Macron: Macro Billionaire and Micro Worker Programs
    Macron has been an investment banker serving the Rothschild and Cie Banque oligarchy, which profited from speculation and the pillage of the public treasury. Macron served in President Hollande’s Economy Ministry, in charge of ‘Industry and Digital Affairs’ from 2014 through 2016. This was when the ‘Socialist’ Hollande imposed a pro-business agenda, which included a 40 billion-euro tax cut for the rich.
    Macron is tied to the Republican Party and its allied banking and business Confederations, whose demands include: raising the retirement age, reducing social spending, firing tens of thousands of public employees and facilitating the outflow of capital and the inflow of cheap imports.
    Macron is an unconditional supporter of NATO and the Pentagon. He fully supports the European Union. For their part, the EU oligarchs are thrilled with Macron’s embrace of greater austerity for French workers, while the generals can expect total material support for the ongoing and future US-NATO wars on three continents.

    Propaganda, Labels and Lies
    Macron’s pro-war, anti-working class and ’supply-side’ economic policies leave us with only one conclusion: Marine Le Pen is the only candidate of the left. Her program and commitments are pro-labor, not ‘hard’ or ‘far’ right – and certainly not ‘fascist’.
    Macron, on the other hand is a committed rightwing extremist, certainly no ‘centrist’, as the media and the political elite claim! One has only to look at his background in banking, his current supporters among the oligarchs and his ministerial policies when he served Francois Holland.

    The ‘Macronistas’ have accused Marine Le Pen of extreme ‘nationalism’, ‘fascism’, ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘anti-immigrant racism’. ‘The French Left’, or what remains of it, has blindly swallowed the oligarchs’ campaign against Le Pen despite the malodorous source of these libels.
    Le Pen is above all a ’sovereigntist’: ‘France First’. Her fight is against the Brussels oligarchs and for the restoration of sovereignty to the French people. There is an infinite irony in labeling the fight against imperial political power as ‘hard right’. It is insulting to debase popular demands for domestic democratic power over basic economic policies, fiscal spending, incomes and prices policies, budgets and deficits as ‘extremist and far right’.

    Marine Le Pen has systematically transformed the leadership, social, economic program and direction of the National Front Party.
    She expelled its anti-Semites, including her own father! She transformed its policy on women’s rights, abortion, gays and race. She won the support of young unemployed and employed factory workers, public employees and farmers. Young workers are three times more likely to support her national industrial revitalization program over Macron’s ‘free market dogma’. Le Pen has drawn support from French farmers as well as the downwardly mobile provincial middle-class, shopkeepers, clerks and tourism-based workers and business owners.

    Despite the trends among the French masses against the oligarchs, academics, intellectuals and political journalists have aped the elite’s slander against Le Pen because they will not antagonize the prestigious media and their administrators in the universities. They will not acknowledge the profound changes that have occurred within the National Front under Marine Le Pen. They are masters of the ‘double discourse’ – speaking from the left while working with the right. They confuse the lesser evil with the greater evil.
    If Macron wins this election (and nothing is guaranteed!), he will certainly implement his ‘hard’ and ‘extreme’ neo-liberal agenda. When the French workers go on strike and demonstrators erect barricades in the streets in response to Macron’s austerity, the fake-left will bleat out their inconsequential ‘critique’ of ‘impure reason’. They will claim that they were right all along.’

    It could be said that Petras has finally lost his marbles, he has just turned 80 years of age. However at the level of words at least the programme of Le Pen is preferable to the one of Macron. His contention that that Le Pen has systematically transformed the leadership, social, economic program and direction of the National Front Party, is refuted by those actually living in France. Political knowledge is hard to come by, after watching the television serious The Line of Duty, you have to know what a good cop in truth is before you can decide who is the good cop and who is the bad cop. We no longer know have confidence in saying what is good, this is why we prefer to weigh up lesser or greater evils, Nietzsche called his last lucid book Beyond Good and Evil, to describe the European intellectual culture of his time and ours.

  2. Part of the debate above revolved around whether an active abstention was an effective approach in the election and whether the only meaningful intervention was to register a vote. On the question whether an active abstention was possible the debate concluded it was and the results of the election – including the media coverage – indicates that, even without a significant abstentionist campaign, the large opposition that exists to the two candidates was reflected in abstentions. The high abstention and lower turnout was recognised by the media as opposition to both candidates, an opposition that now potentially strengthens opposition to Macron and his planned attack on workers’ rights.

    The establishment choice, Emmanuel Macron, won with 65.5 percent of the vote against Le Pen’s 34.5 percent, a 31 percent lead. However, this compares relatively poorly with the performance of Jacques Chirac who, in 2002 beat Le Pen’s father with 82.21 percent of the vote against 17.79 percent. And that was on an 80 percent turnout, compared with the 74 percent this time round. The strategy of the lesser evil, even ignoring its misguided and wrong assumptions, has a shelf life and predictions that it would not halt the rise the FN has been confirmed.

    Last night on the Radio 4 PM programme the reporter interviewed four voters from Amiens, Macron’s home town. One had voted for Le Pen because Macron represented ‘European neoliberalism. One had not marked the ballot paper, one had spoiled their vote and one had also abstained. Of the three who abstained, one said Macron was “Hollande 2”; one said Macron didn’t stand up for the little person and one abstained so that her voice of opposition to both could be heard. All who abstained resented the choice presented to them and rejected it. And how will the left win the first to opposition to austerity through supporting a working class alternative when the FN appeared to show itself a more principled opponent of Macron than them?

  3. So, if there is an election, where you find yourself in a situation like the one I faced last week, where the Labour Party is not standing in your ward, and where I had the choice of voting for either UKIP or the Tories, should I simply vote for the Tory, as a lesser evil to the UKIP candidate? Should workers across Britain be told to vote Liberal, so as to keep out Tories, where Labour has no chance of winning. Indeed given that many of the Left sects describe Labour as being “Red Tories”, should they not have stood candidates everywhere to stand against these Red Tories, and called on workers to vote for them. But then wait, the SP thinks the SWP are heretics and vice versa!

    What all this comes down to is democratic primitivism and parliamentary cretinism. For Marxists it comes down to the question of understanding the difference between governmental office and holding state power, and it comes down to the question of what is the purpose of voting, and of taking part in elections.

    To answer the last question first, the reason we take part in election campaigns is not primarily about winning those elections, but of being involved in a movement of the working class, so as to build its own class consciousness, to become a class for itself, aware of what its interests are, and how to fight for them. As Lenin says in State and Revolution, Engels had described elections as nothing more than a measure of the maturity of the working class, but he says it is just this “more” that the reformists expect from that bourgeois democracy.

    We do not sow illusions in the minds of workers that winning an election and assuming governmental office is the same thing as taking power, as the reformists including reformists such as the Militant (Socialist Party), or Communist Party have argued, because power resides not with elected politicians but with the capitalist state, and if the government threatens the interest of the ruling class, that state, with its bodies of armed men will simply sweep the government away as it did in Chile.

    The fact is that the FN, no more than UKIP, and even the BNP are not the same as the Nazis, or Mussolini’s Fascists, or Franco’s fascists etc. All of these latter forces, had their own paramilitary forces, usually tied to sections of the armed forces, and bodies of armed men of the state itself. The fact is that when these forces won elections, it was also a matter of them fusing their political office with also taking state power, to be used immediately to beat down with violence their opponents and the working-class. But, in one universe, if things have reached that turn of events is the answer to that to vote for anything, let alone to vote for some lesser-evil bourgeois party, in the hope that the fascists will respect the vote, and in the hope that the lesser-evil bourgeois party will ride to the workers rescue? That would be crazy, the response under such conditions is for socialists and for the workers to arm themselves, to build workers defence squads, to build workers militia, to establish alternative democratic structures wherever they are strong, in the factories, and workers districts etc.

    If the FN won an election in France today, it would not be a question of them sending out troops to break up workers organisations and meetings, or taking ovr the state power. It would in many ways be no different than situations where in Britain UKIP won Councillors, or the way they were the largest party in the European Parliament elections, or the way the BNP had large numbers of Councillors in various Councils. In fact, an FN President, would not only face, opposition in the french Assembly, where the FN have few representatives, and little chance of winning a majority, but would also face opposition from the french State itself, just as the BNP and UKIP have done in Britain.

    Nor is there any chance that such a President would be able to do what Mussolini, Franco or Hitler did, which is having won an election to them establish a totalitarian regime, and to scrap elections. This after all is not a situation like the 1930’s in Europe, or like Chile in 1973, where sections of the ruling class, and its state are worried about the power and revolutionary intentions of a large mobilised working-class. If only that were the case! No, the ruling class despise the FN, UKIP and these other popular forces because they threaten their own bourgeois democracy and the stability it brings with it. The ruling class certainly do not want the EU breaking up, as the FN, UKIP and the other right-wing populists are seeking. And especially after the ruling class saw the experience of the rule of Hitler and Mussolini and Franco, a resort to such forces is even more a thing only to allow in the most extreme conditions of danger to their rule.

    Just because forces of our enemies sometimes fight our enemies is no reason for us to tell workers that they are our friends, and we have to know what season it is. The whole point for us of taking part in elections is to relate to the working class, which is why we can take part in the election campaigns of those parties that the working-class itself relates to and sees as being its party, just as Marx and Engels did with the German Democrats in 1848. We do so not because we have any illusions in these parties or their candidates, but simply as a means of talking directly to the active workers themselves. The only party that really offered that in France was the Socialist Party, although a realignment with the forces of Melenchon now looks likely, and it would be necessary to relate to that too. But, once those parties were no longer in the race, workers had no dog in the fight, the emphasis had to shift at that point given the electoral system, to an active campaign to educate and organise the workers around a rejection of both bourgeois candidates, and for a renewed effort to build a working-class alternative, and immediately to prepare to organise to fight whoever won the election.

    Some years ago, my mother, who by that time was quite old, suffered a debilitating pancreatitis caused by a stuck gallstone. It caused her to be in hospital for several months. each day when I visited her, I tried to get her to walk around, but she found it very painful to her feet. I tried to persist, and asked the doctors to try to get her to move around to, but they said that under Human Rights laws they could not, if she insisted that it was too painful. The end result was that having failed to persist with what was difficult and painful, she went from being able to walk around and take care of herself, she ended up bed ridden, simply because of having been in bed for so long.

    And, having become bed ridden, she could no longer look after herself in other ways. She lingered on in bed, then slowly deteriorating for another five years, and her wait dropped to around 5 stone, and being in bed her bones lost density, her skin suffered bed stores, so that it was painful to be moved at all.

    Yes, we do have to start from where we are, and where we are depends on where we have been, and the choices we have made in the past. If we do not try to get workers to stand on their own feet today, even when that choice is hard, rather than telling them to rely on the forces of the bourgeoisie and its state, we only weaken them, miseducate them, and lead to their degeneration, so that when they really do have to fight, they will be too emaciated to do so.

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