Choosing democracy – or not

The results are in from the “consultation” conducted by France’s defeated far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Out of about 243,000 supporters who expressed their view, 36.1% opted for voting informal in Sunday’s second round, and 29.0% for not voting at all. Only 34.8% supported a vote for centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

The option of a vote for the far right’s Marine Le Pen was not offered.

Opinion polls give a different but fundamentally similar picture of where the Mélenchon vote is going. They consistently say that 40%-50% will go to Macron against about 15%-20% for Le Pen, with the rest voting informal or staying home. Either way, Macron looks like netting at most around a third of the far-left vote.

That, of course, will still be enough. Macron was already ahead of Le Pen on the first round, and he has been endorsed by centre-right candidate François Fillon and Socialist Benoît Hamon. Le Pen’s only endorsement has come from the Eurosceptic Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who came sixth in the first round with 4.7%.

In fact, if Macron wins with the 59% or more that the polls are saying, it will be the second-largest ever margin for a presidential election under the Fifth Republic, beating the record of Georges Pompidou (58.2%) back in 1970. Only Jacques Chirac’s demolition of Le Pen’s father in 2002 was bigger. (Much bigger.)

But Mélenchon’s stance, even if doesn’t seriously threaten to change the result, has upset many on the left. Greens MP Noël Mamère said that he “bears a heavy responsibility,” and the national secretary of the Communist Party, the largest component of Mélenchon’s coalition, explicitly endorsed Macron. Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, says that “it is nothing less than scandalous for any progressive to keep an equal distance from Le Pen and Macron.”

So, is he right? Should left-wing voters be rallying to Macron?

For someone of my political views, this is a no-brainer. I’m a left-wing free-marketeer; I want a society that’s free, prosperous and egalitarian, and I don’t believe that can be achieved without free markets. I don’t know how effective he’ll be in office, but Macron is clearly on the right track.

But there’s no particular reason you should care about my politics. Should those whose leftism is more bound up with state control of the economy still support Macron?

Yes, I think so. It seems to me that the major fault-lines between left and right in Europe today (and in other places as well) are not mostly about economics. They’re more like cultural divides: on the one hand, support for more tolerance between cultures, more free movement of people, more humane treatment of refugees, more building of institutions to foster international peace and co-operation. On the other, the reverse of these things: building walls, tearing down international institutions, friendship with dictators and persecution of minorities.

Macron, whatever his faults, is on the right side of all these issues. (More so, by and large, than Mélenchon was.) Le Pen is very clearly on the wrong side.

The counter-argument that’s made is that Macron is a proponent of globalisation, and that it’s globalisation that is driving the marginalised classes in the west to support fascism. But in fact the evidence both from Europe and from the Trump campaign in America is that the rise of right-wing populism has very little to do with economic grievances. Its driving force is ethno-nationalist: the accumulated resentment of privileged people against the idea of sharing some of their bounty with the wretched of the earth.

In any case, even if the premise were true, the conclusion is downright weird. Further liberalisation risks adding to support for fascism, so we should address that by (in effect, if not explicitly) supporting a fascist. How is that supposed to work?

Undoubtedly there are issues about how the costs of globalisation should be borne more fairly; I think Macron recognises this, although his background as an investment banker obviously alienates some people. But to respond by sending the message that people should hate and fear foreigners and should dynamite the structures that have tried (often clumsily) to build bridges between people is, to say the least, not a progressive move. And the idea that the French economy suffers from an excess of liberalisation strikes me as ludicrous.

Even if you don’t care about the cultural issues at all, and your only agenda is to hasten the destruction of capitalism, supporting Le Pen is dubious. The Communist Party of Germany tried that tactic in the 1930s – “heightening the contradictions,” it was called – and it ended badly for all concerned. Ditto for the American left-wingers in 2000 who supported Ralph Nader rather than choose between Bush and Gore; they discovered that the differences they had dismissed as irrelevant were in fact very real.

Not just out of principle, but for very important practical reasons as well, it’s vital for the left to stand behind democracy. Philippe Marlière, coming from a very different perspective to mine, nonetheless puts it well:

Between two evils, voters on the left should not hesitate to choose the lesser. First, emphatically defeat the far-right candidate by using the only means at its disposal – a Macron vote. … The left would have a chance to make a political comeback with a neoliberal president in office, but it would be trashed for good if it let the far-right come to power.

3 thoughts on “Choosing democracy – or not

  1. As expected the final debate has gone to Macron (63:37) though I can’t tell if that was really about performance or already-locked-in expectation. However Macron did win all the other debates in the first-round. Anyway it was probably the last real chance for Le Pen to change things around, or Macron to make a big mistake. And nothing changed. Judging from the snippets on Australian news media, it doesn’t seem to have changed the largely negative view of the Mélenchon camp but it won’t have a big impact on the outcome (unless a very large lump of those who claim they won’t vote do go along to vote and vote for Le Pen; highly unlikely).

    Meanwhile Macron has said recently that, for the National Assembly election, EM will field candidates in all 577 seats and half will be newbies (never before elected) and half will be existing Deputies from other parties. Including some from Les Republicains. That sounds very ambitious but since he will have to deliver on those claims very soon, one assumes there must be substance behind them? Apparently he has insisted that people who have publicly supported him, like Manuel Valls (former PM and aspiring for another go at the job) will have to resign from the PS and join and contest elections with EM. Again, presumably we’ll find out next week.
    EM will get a considerable boost when he wins the presidency. I hope he succeeds and that Australian politicians might take note (as today the far-Right reactionary backlash amongst our so-called Liberals flares up against Turnbull’s relatively modest Gonski 2!) But it won’t happen in this political cycle because Labor believes they will win, and they’re probably correct. Whether they can govern is another issue.
    As long as the major parties think they have a chance of winning nothing will change. But if there is another term like the Abbott-Turnbull years (like the Sarkozy-Hollande years) who knows maybe a political realignment could happen?

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  2. With regard to “former banker” Macron, I can only hope that “it takes one to know one and to fix the system” applies. It is very hard to tell but I get the impression that Macron is not an ideologue and not a pure economic-rationalist, but has a genuine wider view of the problems that afflict modern society. Don Watson in May’s The Monthly asks “Why do our political parties persist with economic rationalism?” can be applied worldwide, certainly to our current lot, the Brits, Americans and Merkel and Schaüble. He points out that both Keating and Hewson, two of the pollies most associated with the first Australian wave of neoliberal economics, have acknowledged that it has to change. I can only hope that Macron falls into the same, exceptional, class. But I admit it is more wishful thinking than evidence-based.

    But in fact the evidence both from Europe and from the Trump campaign in America is that the rise of right-wing populism has very little to do with economic grievances. Its driving force is ethno-nationalist: the accumulated resentment of privileged people against the idea of sharing some of their bounty with the wretched of the earth.

    Not sure I agree. About France. The surge in support that got her into the second round is not the FN core vote based on racism and ugly nationalism, but really due to the chronically high unemployment and the increasing economic uncertainty that is unsettling even the relatively secure. She tried hard to push the terrorism angle in last night’s debate and throughout this election but I don’t believe it has proved the critical factor, and has not gained traction. (As usual the Anglophone media don’t really understand this. Also the wave of refugees from Syria and elsewhere hasn’t hit France anything like it has Germany or the Nordics.) The disgruntled Mélenchon camp is entirely about economic disadvantage especially of the young (very much a mirror of the Bernie Bros phenom and often as inchoate in their frustration).

    By the way, I think it is telling that I am much more excited in anticipation of the French elections than anything in Australian politics!

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  3. Hah, Obama has released a video of himself urging French voters to give their vote to Macron! (I think this was immediately after the debate.) Really I am not so sure this is a great idea (not to mention an American prez intervening so personally in another country’s election). Though a bunch of disaffected raised 40,000 signatures to get Obama on the ballot in France:

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/28/oui-on-peut-petition-barack-obama-french-president
    ‘Oui on peut’: 40,000 sign petition for Barack Obama as next French president
    Campaign organisers came up with idea because they were disenchanted with the candidates running in France’s election
    Guardian staff and agencies, 28 February 2017

    If I was in Paris I would have stolen one of those posters to keep!

    Macron is suing Le Pen for defamation:

    Judicial sources told Agence France-Presse that Paris prosecutors opened a investigation after the complaint from Macron, which came three days before Sunday’s presidential runoff.
    “We will not hesitate to prosecute for defamation anyone who repeats this false information,” an aide to Macron said.
    Le Pen’s comments, in which she said “I hope that we will not find out that you have an offshore account in the Bahamas”, were an apparent reference to a set of clearly forged documents circulating on the internet that linked Macron to a Caribbean bank.

    Meanwhile we have our own investment-banker PM who openly admits to a Cayman Island account holding his $200m fortune, and no one raises an eyebrow!

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