France: "Republican Front", or class struggle?

The second round of the French presidential elections will take place on 24 April. All the parties of the left and trade union leaders are pressuring their supporters to get behind a ‘Republican Front’ to beat Marine Le Pen who they believe is a fascist – by voting for Macron’s government of the rich. This rotten class collaboration is already being rejected by thousands of young people, who have occupied their universities and demonstrated with the slogan: neither Macron, nor Le Pen!

On Wednesday 13 April, hundreds of students occupied Sorbonne University in Paris, along with the École Normale Supérieure in the capital, as well as at the Nancy campus of political sciences institute Sciences Po. In Sorbonne, a historic staging ground for the revolutionary movement in May ‘68, students maintained their occupation for 30 hours before being brutally evicted by police. As one student told Reuters: “We're tired of always having to vote for the less bad of the two, and that's what explains this revolt.” There is a widespread rejection of the whole establishment by the youth, who are moving to the left.

In subsequent days, there were big demonstrations in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and elsewhere. The largest was held by several organisations on Saturday 16 April. It was clear from the mood and slogans on the ground that the masses were directing their rage against both reactionary candidates in the second round. Around 20,000 people hit the streets in the Paris area, and thousands more around the country.

We are witnessing the germ of the future class struggles that will erupt in France, regardless of who ultimately wins the elections. The political field has been blocked for now for workers and youth (at least until the legislative elections), but in every other avenue it will massively intensify. The following article, by the editor of French Marxist website Révolution, attacks the class collaborationism of the left parties and trade union tops. It explains that progressive workers and youth must resist the pressure to back the ‘lesser evil’ Macron, and instead maintain a clean, independent banner, and prepare themselves for battle.


Read the original in French here |

Since the first round of the presidential election, the leaders of most trade unions and left-wing parties have been calling for a “barrage against the National Rally (RN)” on 24 April. Some have explicitly called to vote for Macron. Others are calling to not vote for Le Pen. Lastly, some are calling to ‘beat Le Pen’.

From the point of view of medieval scholasticism, the difference between these three positions is certainly worthy of interest, as are the controversies over the sex of angels. But from the point of view of the class struggle, it is one and the same mistake: the “Republican Front against the extreme right”. This “front” with Macron’s party, (La République En Marche) LREM – because that's what it is, concretely – is a policy of class collaboration. And the alternative to this mistaken policy is one of class struggle.

In the first round, Mélenchon's candidacy represented the only chance of victory on the left. His elimination leaves us facing two implacable enemies of our class, two bourgeois politicians determined to make us pay for the crisis of their system: capitalism. As a consequence, the struggle against this system and against all the bourgeois politicians cannot proceed through the presidential elections. However, this struggle can be pursued – and even intensified – in all other fields: protests, strikes, unions, meetings, strengthening workers’ trade union organisations, etc. As for the electoral struggle, it will continue in the framework of the legislative elections, which will be held in two months' time; but the electoral struggle is over as far as the presidential elections are concerned.

The ‘difference in nature’

Students in several universities – notably in Paris – have set an example: they mobilised to protest against the result of the first round, that is, against Le Pen and Macron. At the Sorbonne and elsewhere, they were violently repressed by the police. At Sciences Po, they were attacked by far-right militants. We are used to such repression and aggression under Macron's government. His term in office has been distinguished by extreme police brutality, which reached its peak during the Yellow Vests movement. As for the violence of extreme right-wing groups, they have been allowed to act with impunity.

This should be stressed, because it is in the name of a “difference in nature” – between LREM and the RN – that the supporters of the “Republican Front” call for voting Macron (or “not voting Le Pen", etc.). This is notably the case of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Here is how he explains precisely what this “difference in nature” consists of:

“Marine Le Pen adds to the project of social abuse, which she shares with Emmanuel Macron, a dangerous ferment of ethnic and religious exclusion. A people can be destroyed by this type of division. (...) I admit that my assessment here is as much moral and philosophical as political. That is why I have said and I repeat that not one vote should go to the far-right candidate.”

The problem is obvious: the facts contradict the claim of such a 'difference' between Le Pen and Macron. For five years, the Macron government has not stopped feeding a “dangerous ferment of ethnic and religious exclusion”. It has systematically resorted to racist propaganda and the stigmatisation of Muslims. In this area, as in that of police repression, it has gone even further than its predecessors. Has Mélenchon forgotten the Macron government's crusade against “Islamo-leftism"? Has he forgotten all the other crusades of the same kind? One assumes not. But such is the logic of the “Republican Front": it implies ignoring concrete reality. Mélenchon, moreover, recognises this indirectly: he drowns the political facts in the mist of a “moral and philosophical assessment”. Instead of clarifying the situation, this confuses people.

Roussel's pleas

Fabien Roussel is an enthusiastic supporter of the “Republican Front”. He therefore pushes its erroneous logic to an extreme. Here, for example, are excerpts from his statement following the results of the first round:

“The extreme right reaches the second round, with a reserve of votes that poses a major threat to the future of the Republic. The president-candidate is the first person responsible for this situation. (...) A large part of France has just told him that it can no longer stand his contemptuous behaviour and his desire to enrich the richest. It is now up to Emmanuel Macron to say that he has heard the message. It is up to him to speak! He must say, today, clearly that he will renounce his senseless counter-reforms. (...) For my part, on Sunday 24 April, I will choose responsibility. (...) I call on you to defeat the extreme right, to defeat it by using the only ballot paper available.”

Mélenchon is silent about Macron's racist policies; Roussel is imploring Macron to spare us five more years of social regression. Instead of calling for class struggle against Le Pen and Macron, instead of explaining that only massive struggles will make it possible to bring the next government to its knees (whoever it may be), Roussel calls for a vote for Macron – and calls on Macron to renounce his programme, the programme of the bourgeoisie. There is no need to organise and prepare for big struggles: it's enough for Macron to renounce the “senseless reforms” he plans to inflict on us.

Alas! From the point of view of the bourgeoisie, the counter-reforms that Macron is preparing are not at all “senseless“; on the contrary, they are indispensable to the defence of its interests, i.e. its profits. And to defend our class interests, we can only count on our own forces and those of our own organisations, on mass mobilisations and the class struggle in general. But there is not a single mention of class struggle in the statement of the “communist” leader. In his own way, Fabien Roussel confirms the two options we are faced with: “Republican Front” or class struggle.

The misadventures of “trade union independence”

When it comes to the “Republican Front", a special mention must be given to the CGT leadership[1]. Before the first round, when it was clear that Mélenchon had a chance of qualifying for the second round, the CGT leaders did not lift a finger to try to contribute to it. They did not make even a single statement – in the name of the so-called “trade union independence” from political parties. Following this so-called “principle", the CGT leadership refused to enlighten us on what it considered preferable, from the point of view of workers' interests, between Mélenchon's candidature and those of the bourgeois parties. Of course, the bourgeoisie is full of praise for this “principle”.

However, once the first round was over, once Mélenchon had been eliminated, the architects of the “Republican Front” shattered the “principle”. In its declaration of 12 April, the CGT confederal leadership explained:

“The CGT does not own the votes of its members. Our organisation is independent but not neutral, it has a history and collective values opposed to those of the extreme right. Not one voice in the world of work for the far right, it must be fought everywhere.”

It would be funny if it were not so serious. To hide the abandonment of “trade union independence” (for the benefit of Macron), a new concept is put forward: “neutrality”. The CGT is “independent", but “not neutral”.

Let us admit for a moment that this distinction between “independence” and “neutrality” is not a miserable deception (which it is). The question remains as to why the CGT, which is “not neutral", observed the most complete neutrality when it came to choosing between Mélenchon and the candidates of the bourgeois parties. Was the choice not clear, from the point of view of the “history and collective values” of the CGT? Did the CGT leadership feel that, from the point of view of these “values” and “history“, the candidacies of Mélenchon and Macron, for example, were indistinguishable? How does the CGT leadership manage to distinguish Macron and Le Pen, from the point of view of its “values“, but not Macron and Mélenchon (or Le Pen and Mélenchon, or Pécresse and Mélenchon, etc.)?

This absurd story can be explained very simply: “trade union independence” is a lie, a pure hypocrisy, whose function is to mask the submission of the CGT leaders to the fundamental interests of the ruling class. It is a pretext for passivity, for moderation, for giving up on seriously fighting the bourgeoisie. And when this “principle” is no longer in line with the fundamental interests of the bourgeoisie, as is the case these days, the CGT leaders abandon it and give their support to the favourite candidate of the ruling class without a fight. In 2022, as in 2017, the CGT leaders will give a single voting instruction: “vote Macron” (sorry, “do not vote Le Pen“).

Thousands of CGT activists, no doubt, reject this erroneous position. They must make this known and demand that their leadership change course. At the same time, they must resolutely turn their backs on this policy of class collaboration – and prepare the workers for great struggles against the next government, whether it is led by Macron or Le Pen.

The strongest argument

As in 2002 and 2017, a key argument has been put forward in favour of the “Republican Front": voting for Macron “is to ward off the danger of fascism”. Since Marine Le Pen has gone to great lengths over the last ten years to demonstrate that the RN is not a fascist party, the reconfigured argument now admits all sorts of variants, in which “fascism” is replaced by various no less frightening formulas. Roussel speaks of a “democratic catastrophe“, Mélenchon of an “irreparable” situation, and so on.

neither one nor the other Image RévolutionThe arguments of the leaders of the “Republican Front” neglects the real balance of power between the classes, which Marine Le Pen – like all other bourgeois politicians – would be obliged to take into account / Image: Révolution

As we explained in our last editorial, this argument is based – among other things – on a totally wrong analysis of the balance of power between the classes. In the short and medium term, France is not heading towards fascism, a military-police dictatorship or who knows what “irreparable democratic catastrophe"; on the contrary, it is heading towards an intensification of the class struggle, under the impact of the organic crisis of capitalism. The Yellow Vests movement and the December 2019 strike were only a foretaste of what awaits the French bourgeoisie in the period to come. The latter is aware of this, by the way, and that is why most of the big French capitalists support Macron: they fear that a victory of Marine Le Pen would provoke explosive, uncontrollable mobilisations of youth and workers, exactly as most of the big American capitalists feared that a victory of Trump would aggravate social instability in the US.

Listening to the supporters of the “Republican Front", one gets the impression that the fate of the French working class will be decided on 24 April: if Macron gathers 50.1 percent of the votes, we will (temporarily) escape the “irreparable“, the “democratic catastrophe“; but we will sink into hell if Macron gathers only 49.9 percent of the votes. This is what the wisdom of the leaders of the “Republican Front” can be reduced to. It totally neglects the real balance of power between the classes, which Marine Le Pen – like all other bourgeois politicians – would be obliged to take into account.

What is to be done?

We must not minimise the danger of the RN. Marine Le Pen and her party are implacable enemies of our class. But calling for a Macron vote does not weaken Le Pen. On the contrary, she takes advantage of this to say to her potential voters: “Look! Once again, the political caste that has oppressed you for decades, right and left, is ganging up on me. I represent a real danger for this corrupt system", etc. Le Pen – and her father before her – have systematically used this argument, not without success. The current “Republican Front” offers a new opportunity for Marine Le Pen to use it.

The “Republican Front” confuses and demobilises our camp, even in the face of the danger represented by the RN. Let's take a concrete example. If Marine Le Pen wins on 24 April, far-right activists might be tempted to celebrate their victory by committing acts of violence against immigrants. In fact, they could also engage in violence if Marine Le Pen loses, out of spite. What to do in the face of this real risk? The leaders of the “Republican Front” do not even ask the question, because they are too busy “beating Le Pen” by calling for a Macron vote. Yet, there would be much better things to do. For example, the left and the trade union movement could call for vigilance rallies in the working class areas of our cities on the evening of 24 April. It is likely that many young people and workers would respond to this call. This would be much more effective in the fight against the RN and fascist groups than a thousand “Republican Fronts”.

Let us conclude. Our criticism of the “Republican Front” is not aimed at the young people or the workers who, with a heavy heart, will go and vote Macron to “keep Le Pen out” next Sunday. Our critique is aimed solely at the leaders of the left and the trade union movement who defend the “Republican Front” and call for a vote for Macron, instead of calling for the class struggle, for organising to prepare the struggle against the next government, whoever the president may be. And the scope of our critique goes far beyond the question of the second round of the presidential election. The “Republican Front” is only one expression, among many others, of the limits of reformism, which constantly sinks into class collaboration.

The fate of the working class will not depend on the result of the second round of the presidential election. In the final analysis, the fate of the working class will depend on the construction of an alternative leadership to that of the reformists, a revolutionary leadership, capable of mobilising the youth and the workers to the end: until the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. To help us in this task, join the International Marxist Tendency!


Notes

[1] We choose to discuss the position of the CGT because it is the most powerful and militant trade union confederation. The position of the leaderships of the other trade union confederations is no better (in general, it is worse). Similarly, it is useless to comment on the participation of Jadot and Hidalgo in the “republican front", because nobody expected anything else from them: if Macron wins, a certain number of “green” and “socialist” leaders will gleefully join LREM. As for the NPA, its rallying to the “republican front” is just a new illustration of the political bankruptcy of this organisation.