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.