The French election

May 20, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

On April 24, Emmanuel Macron won a second five-year term as president of France. He won 58.5% of the vote and far right candidate Marine Le Pen won 41.5%. This runoff election followed an election held two weeks earlier with numerous candidates. Macron received 27.9% of the vote and Le Pen 23.2% in the first round, followed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the leftist La France Insoumise with 22%. The two candidates with the largest number of votes went to the second round on April 24.

FAR RIGHT MADE SIGNIFICANT GAINS

In 2017, Macron received 66% of the second round vote to 34% for Le Pen. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had received 18% of the second round vote against 82% for center-right candidate Jacques Chirac in 2002. The voter turnout for the second round in 2022 was 71.9%, the lowest amount since the 1969 second round vote, demonstrating voters’ general disgust with both candidates.

Polling showed Le Pen won 58% of the working-class vote. Part of the reason is Macron’s neoliberal economic policies. Macron had proposed raising the retirement age for state pensions from 62 to 65, although he later changed this to 64. Le Pen demagogically took advantage of this as well as Macron’s indifference to industrial decline and the prosperity gap between the large cities and the periphery.

Like Donald Trump, Le Pen attacked “globalist” economic policies that have led to industrial decline by moving industrial production to low wage countries.

LE PEN FOMENTS RACISM

Le Pen proposed a referendum on reinstating capital punishment and a ban on Muslim head scarves. Her party, National Rally, was formerly known as the National Front (FN). The FN obtained a loan from a Russian bank and Marine Le Pen has lavished praise on Vladimir Putin.

The FN promoted anti-Semitism and xenophobia, which Le Pen tried to downplay while posturing as an economic populist. In 2017, without explicitly endorsing her, Trump said that Le Pen was the “strongest candidate” who would protect France’s borders. This year, Le Pen was outflanked on the right by Éric Zemmour, who received 7.1% of the vote. This may have helped to soften her image.

The rise of right-wing politicians posing as populists is a worldwide phenomenon aided by the neoliberal economic policies of centrist candidates such as Macron and Joe Biden. The absence of an effective left opposition, based on a philosophy of revolution, is also a large factor.

What has worked for socialist parties in the past no longer works because of the late stage of capitalism in which we find ourselves. It is far more difficult to enact reform legislation because the capitalist class resists any intrusion into its falling rate of profit.

—Dan B.

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