Huge abstention takes the gloss off Macron’s majority

21 June 2017

WITH 32 PER CENT of the votes in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections, Emmanuel Macron’s party, La République en Marche (The Republic on the Move), far surpassed the second party, Les Républicains (LR). On that basis, he is almost certain to get the vast majority of the seats in the National Assembly in the second round, perhaps more than 440 out of 577, and will be able to push through his programme with scarcely any parliamentary opposition.

In just a matter of months, French politics has been profoundly remodelled. Macron, at 39 the youngest French leader since Napoleon Bonaparte, shares with his predecessor not just his youth, but an appetite for personal control over the state machine and the pretension to be above classes. Macron has even theorised it by praising the French yearning for a “monarch” and by claiming his presidency will be “Jupiter-like”.

All this is, of course, ideological myth making. Macron, who pretends to be a “new man”, is in reality a product of the French elite education system, a former investment banker and minister of the economy in the Socialist Party (PS) government.

One of his first decisions has been to extend the state of emergency for another three months, for the sixth time. To save himself this routine he proposes to incorporate most of its measures into regular law: a state of the emergency in permanence!

In just a few weeks’ time, he will set out to apply the same old neoliberal recipes he was proposing two years ago when he was serving President François Hollande. Indeed, his first task will be to “free labour” from regulations; that is, to free employers to increase the exploitation of their workforces, by abolishing nation-wide contracts and workers’ recourse to the law.

Taming the militancy of French workers and robbing them of their legal protections are the main tasks that the bourgeoisie, internationally as well as nationally, have given him. His meteoric ascent is not simply a product of his own talents; that is another a fake claim spread by the media. Who could seriously believe that a man could single handedly found a new political movement from scratch and, just one year later, become president? This is not a credible plot for even a third rate Hollywood scriptwriter.

Macron’s lightning rise would have been impossible without two decisive factors. First, the enthusiastic support of big capital and its enormous economic and social resources, financing his movement and boosting him through their main media outlets. For the better part of a year, he has been on the front cover of magazines, all totally besotted with Macron. But the other factor was, and is, the deep disarray of the workers’ movement.

On closer inspection, however, the landslide is less impressive. Macron’s party actually won the support of only 16 per cent of the population. The abstention rate was a record high; 51 per cent. Firstly, the presidential election had already given Macron decisive power. In that, although the working class did not identify with Macron, many voted for him as a “lesser evil” as against Marine Le Pen. Many others, however, refused to choose between neoliberal austerity and racist social reaction.

Moreover, the “simple majority” system means that each constituency elects just one MP. There is no proportional representation, as there is in Italy or Germany. Tired of electoral campaigns dragging on for almost a whole year, disgusted with the lies and the corruption of the traditional parties, many voters, including a majority of young people, simply stayed at home.

Macron divides the left and the right

In the few weeks before the parliamentary elections, Macron succeeded in opening up divisions in both major parties; the traditional party of the right, Les Republicains, and of the reformist left the Parti Socialiste. First, he chose as Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, from LR, a right-winger reliable for attacking the workers. The LR is deeply divided between those who would like to collaborate with Macron and enjoy the fruits of office, and those who would prefer to play the role of the main opposition to him in parliament.

Actually, much the same is true of the PS, whose very survival is at stake. With a pathetic 9 per cent of the vote, it can only hope to get 20 to 30 MPs, compared to the 270 it had previously. In entire regions where the workers’ parties had their strongholds for more than a century, like the North or South-West, not a single PS candidate has even made it through to the second round.

For the PS, this is not merely a question of losing a voice in the Parliament; it will also provoke a deep financial crisis, as state subsidies to the parties are based on the number of MPs and the number of votes. The historic party headquarters in the Rue de Solférino will probably have to be sold. Even those few MPs who survive will be divided between those, like former premier Manuel Valls, eager to collaborate with Macron, and those wanting to join the opposition, like the humiliated presidential candidate Benoît Hamon. Few workers will shed any tears for the PS, since its debacle is clearly the product of decades of betrayals.

A Bonaparte of the left

With 11 per cent of the vote, the enfant terrible of the French Left Jean-Luc Mélenchon emerged from the first round claiming the role of leader of a new left. To some extent he has performed a feat similar to Macron’s, albeit on a much smaller scale. Without a party and with a very small activist base, he came out of the elections as the leading left candidate, ahead of both the PS, with 9 per cent, and the Communist Party (PCF) with 2.7 per cent.

However, his squalid little triumph was obtained at a heavy cost for the workers’ movement; the total score of the entire left is below 25 per cent, and they are likely to win an abysmally low number of seats. Firstly, since he refused any alliance with either of the two reformist workers’ parties, despite having much the same programme as PCF, they are now hopelessly divided, at a time when the labour movement needs to unite against Macron.

Secondly, and much more seriously, Mélenchon has “won” with his new brand of left populism, abandoning not only the red flag or any mention of communism or socialism, but replacing these with “a new social humanism”. His politics now avoid even the most basic class identification and internationalism. No wonder his movement is called “La France Insoumise” (Unsubmissive France) and sports the Tricolour, while his campaign is based on nationalist solutions like protectionist tariff barriers, rather than the class struggle.

In the coming weeks, the French working class will be confronted precisely with the need for class struggle. Macron, armed with his landslide victory, has promised that he will finish the job that PS started one year ago; the destruction of the Code du Travail, the employment regulations. The aim is to deregulate working time, wages, contracts, constraints on firing and so on, in such a way that the bosses will be able to impose their conditions through local agreements and workers will have no recourse to the law. Despite his huge control of the Parliament, Macron has already announced he will use presidential “ordonnances”, that is, executive orders.

Unfortunately, nothing in Mélenchon’s propaganda emphasises the need to wage a struggle against these attacks. He simply calls for a vote for his party, even though he knows full well that its handful of deputies will be practically useless in obstructing Macron.


As so often before, but now even more dramatically, resistance must come from outside parliament and largely from outside the ranks of the reformist parties. Two demos are already being planned in June against the attacks.

The first, on 19 June, is called by the Front Social (FS), a radical-left coalition of small trade unions, such as SUD, and CNT, and some sections of the biggest confederation, the CGT. On 16 June, the FS held a general assembly with 400 representatives of 30 or so organisations. It does not counterpose itself to the big federations and will support their mobilisations. Some members of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) have also been involved in organising two successful demonstrations of the FS, immediately before and after the presidential elections. The second demonstration, planned for 27 June, is organised by some regional bodies of the CGT.

Clearly, mass resistance to Macron on the streets and in the workplaces is the only way his vicious attacks will be stopped. Macron’s actions will quickly show how tactically foolish, as well as unprincipled, were those on the left who called for a vote for him to stop the “greater evil” of Le Pen. Macron, with a united European bourgeoisie behind him, and a huge parliamentary majority, was just as great a danger as Le Pen. Her victory, whatever her evil intentions, would have split the bourgeoisie, isolated France in the EU, and roused not only the whole working class but large parts of the middle class to resistance. No bourgeois candidate, neoliberal or racist populist, deserved the vote of a single French worker.

The collapse of the PS and PCF and the abandonment of a class perspective by Mélenchon indicate how important remains the task of building a new workers’ party on a revolutionary and anticapitalist programme. Despite past failures by the NPA, it needs now to raise this goal within the mass forces that will be mobilised this summer to defeat Macron.

Marc Lassalle is a member the New Anticapitalist Party and lives in Paris. He is a supporter of the League for the Fifth International

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