Emmanuel Macron falters as Melenchon rises
For the first time in decades, France’s president will not command National Assembly majority — and the left-wing Nupes now makes up the second-largest bloc. But what next for this deeply divided progressive alliance, asks NICK WRIGHT
THE Sunday night takeaway from the French legislative elections was that the political creation of two times President Emmanuel Macron, running as Ensemble, had lost its parliamentary majority.
This was a big defeat for the EU establishment, the big-business and banker caste of neoliberals who dispose of political, social and economic power in the French Republic.
Nupes, the new electoral alliance of Jean-Luc Melenchon’s La France Insoumise (“France unbowed”), Greens, communists and socialists has arrived at second place — and on the far right Marie Le Pen’s Rassemblement National reaped the benefit of Macron’s maladroit strategy to come a strong third.
The new National Assembly contains 201 seats for Macron’s electoral vehicle Ensemble. Nupes is on 142, Les Republicaines — the rebranded traditional right-wing ruling Gaullist party has 64, while the Rassemblement National has broken through with 89 seats. There is another dozen or so leftwingers and regionalists, a couple of extreme right-wing independents and half-a-dozen local heroes.
The voting totals deliver a different picture, with the right-wing establishment parties over-represented, the extreme right slightly under-represented and the left very substantially under-represented. Ensemble won 38.7 per cent and gained 35 per cent of the seats, Nupes 31.6 per cent and 25 per cent of the seats, Rassemblement National 17.3 per cent and 15 per cent of the seats while the Union of the Right and Centre at 7.29 per cent harvested 11 per cent of the seats.
These are the bare figures but the politics is both more complex and more interesting.
l’Humanite described the results as “a stinging defeat for the newly re-elected president, whose second five-year term promises to be under very different auspices from 2017, when Macron’s vehicle alone won 308 seats.”
Several of the most reactionary ministers lost their seats, the social composition of the Palais Bourbon is now rather different, while — without a majority and with two substantial opposition blocs representing powerful social forces that do not fully subscribe to the neoliberal orthodoxy which Macron personifies — France’s presidential system will be tested.
The forces of the right, the liberals and neoliberals assembled around Macron include a very substantial part of the Parti Socialiste and Macron chose as his front runner a former PS figure.
The rump Parti Socialiste barely survived the losses of the last few years and overcame grandee objections to its participation in Nupes. It has thus has narrowly avoided extinction, and despite its presidential candidate receiving fewer votes than the French Communist Party’s Fabien Roussel, has finished up with substantially more deputies.
The Greens did well from the new alliance gaining 23 seats up from the single deputy in the previous Assembly.
If we compare this election with 10 years ago the establishment parties — the parties of government, of the state — i.e. the Parti Socialiste, Les Republicaines (then known as the Union of the Presidential Majority), and the middle of the road MoDem (now absorbed into in Macron’s coalition) — captured between them nearly two-thirds of the first-round vote. This model is now broken and these forces command barely four in 10 voters. Between them Nupes and the extreme right assemble an absolute majority of those who vote.
Put another way, orthodox neoliberal supporters of the system can mobilise barely one in four of those entitled to vote. This is an incipient crisis of legitimacy for Macron and for France’s capitalist order.
While the wide spectrum of social forces represented by Nupes now are better represented in the National Assembly there still remains an absolute majority of the French electorate unengaged in formal politics and in this majority there is a very large working-class component. The abstention rate was 54 per cent and this highlights both a crisis of legitimacy and a weakness in the Nupes strategy.
Traditionally the two-stage French electoral system is characterised by a first round with a very diverse range of political forces on the ballot paper. But in this first round Nupes candidates, now united in a formal alliance, faced no significant rivals on the left.
This maximised their initial vote but left little potential for gains in the second round.
The Nupes strategy — in theory — was then to mobilise the abstentionists with its programme — a monthly minimum wage of €1,500, wage increases, retirement at 60, the allowance of €1,063 for young people, plus a programme of ecological planning.
Melenchon’s approach was illuminated by a telling phrase in appealing to “faches pas fachos” — angry non-fascist voters. There seems to be little evidence of this working to any significant extent.
This enormous reservoir of voters, many of them veterans of the Gilets Jaunes protests, the artisans, rural traders and dispossessed whose hatred of Macron’s neoliberal economic agenda and its direct effect on the way they live was seen as a reserve.
This did not happen, and in addition, the expectation that in a second round contest where a Nupes candidate faced a fascist that centrist, Gaullist and “Macronie” voters would back the left to defeat the far right did not happen to any great extent either. Centre and right-wing voters, responsive to Macron’s presentation of the left as “extremist” equals to the Rassemblement National either abstained or voted with the extreme right.
Here is two kinds of abstentionism. An enormous pool of voters, overwhelmingly poor, marginalised and working class are unconvinced that voting offers them anything worth the effort and another group, more wealthy, older and comfortable with the system cannot bring themselves to vote for the heterogeneous “left” even when this means a fascist is elected.
Macron’s hypocrisy is there for all to see when you compare his red-baiting in this election with his appeal to the left to vote for his candidates when confronted with Le Pen in the presidential election.
Perhaps it was in a burst of Gramscian “optimism of the will” that l’Humanite suggested that overcoming the working-class abstentionists tendency “is the challenge for the years to come.”
“The performance of the Nupes on Sunday, unexpected a few weeks ago, is a first and promising step” wrote l’Humanite’s Maud Vergnol.
Against this optimistic vision there exists a strong “pessimism of the intellect” expressed in considerable disquiet among French Communists not only about the outcome for the party in these elections but also about the the whole strategy.
The PCF leadership naturally maintains a positive posture and stresses the unity of the forces assembled in Nupes but in early exchanges the leader of the La France Insoumise group in the National Assembly Tweeted Jean-Luc Melenchon’s proposal to create a single Nupes group in the Assembly. This was instantly rebuffed by the PCF, the PS and the Greens who reminded Melenchon’s mouthpiece that their original agreement specified the autonomy of the groups in the National Assembly.
The PCF contingent of 12 deputies is allied in a “technical group” with eight left-wing deputies from France’s overseas territories.
With social-democratic politics now substantially reconstituted around La France Insoumise and this itself a highly fluid, somewhat unstable and politically heterogeneous formation politics is likely to undergo big changes with the PCF compelled to take account of the new realities in which LFI contains a distinct hegemonic tendency and a certain hostility to the PCF.
The PCF fights hard to retain its strongholds — both where it can win a direct mandate with a majority and the places where it constitutes well-organised, mostly working-class and intransigent opposition.
It retains considerable influence and holds many positions in local government but in very many cases this has been in a mutually advantageous but often highly conflicted relationship with the Parti Socialiste.
Where in previous parliamentary elections the PCF ran well-organised and effective campaigns and had a highly visible presence in hundreds of circomstcriptions in this election its communist profile was muted, its distinctive working-class polices lost and could present candidates in only a small minority of places. There is some unhappiness where well established local figures were sidelined.
Especially in the North the PCF directly competes for working-class votes with Rassemblement National — winning some and losing others — where the notional “republican front” in which all parties unite to defeat the far right is largely abandoned when the PCF fights alone.
The regions in which Rassemblement National deputies were elected are set to become an intense battleground. The social base of the far right includes many reactionary groupings in French life from unrepentant fascists to catholic traditionalists; para military squads and reactionary empire nostalgics; Algerie Francaise veterans and disgruntled petty bourgeois as well as many workers where mining and manufacturing jobs have vanished.
The battle for working-class hegemony has as its foundation the battle to defeat every manifestation of ruling-class ideology among workers and this is impossible without a clear socialist vision grounded in an analysis of the problems of contemporary capitalism and practical proposals to resolve the problems workers face.
One analysis has it that Macron and his backer’s nurtured the bizarre anti-semite Eric Zemmour to weaken Marine Le Pen’s anticipated presidential second round challenge. If so this was an echo of earlier times when the Parti Socialiste president Mitterrand “manufactured” the Front National of Marine Le Pen’s father to split the right. This time the strategy failed, Marine Le Pen proved too adroit and rather than the RN being confined to a few marginal seats it now has a powerful group in the assembly.
This the consequence of Macron’s “two extremes” strategy which flows from the racist, anti-migrant and xenophobic positions taken by his increasingly socially iliberal and economically neoliberal government.
The sharp polarisation between Nupes, which has a slight lead in the first round, and a defensive and alarmed Ensemble meant that Rassemblement National had smoother second-round contest. Macron’s conspicuous failure to invoke “republican front rhetoric” to defeat Le Pen’s candidates means the far right has broken out of its regional bases and is now represented in over a third of the departments. Le Monde’s headline on June 22 made it clear: “The republican front no longer rules.”
Thus the left as a whole and the working-class-orientated left in particular has to contend with two adversaries on the right in circumstances where the electoral front in which it participates — although united on a raft of progressive policies — is deeply divided over strategic conceptions, the character of the EU and industrial and energy policy.
Nick Wright blogs at 21centurymanifesto.