Victory for Le Pen’s party will change nothing in France

The highest turnout in forty years demonstrates the electorate’s desire and hope for change. But voters are very unlikely to get what they want.

The first round of snap elections for the French National Assembly has confirmed the results of the European Parliament elections in early June. That outcome of the latter had encouraged Emmanuel Macron to dissolve parliament in the hope of stemming the rise of his opposition. 

It didn’t work at all.

Both votes were not just a slap in the face for the ruling party and for Macron himself, who, together with his entourage, has aroused a dislike in the French that he clearly fails to comprehend. They were not only a protest against his policies – be it the pension reform, the privatisation of national industries, the weakening of many public services, bonuses for large international companies, and an inconsistent and ill-considered foreign policy. The results can also be interpreted as a kind of revenge for the controversial 2005 referendum: for the first time, the extreme right and the extreme left (the heirs of the parties that called for a vote against the European Constitution less than twenty years ago) together won an absolute majority.

At the time, the French voted overwhelmingly against the draft European Constitution, which was nevertheless adopted a few years later by a parliamentary vote with minor changes (not as a constitution, but as a European treaty to replace it). There have been no referendums in France since.

This open disregard for the will of the people was the first serious blow to European ideals. Many began to question whether the words “more Europe means more democracy” were true. It also contributed to a decline in voter turnout: why vote if so little depends on it? Disillusionment with the promises of a ‘social Europe’, a ‘democratic Europe’, a ‘strategically independent Europe’ spilled over into the ‘yellow vest’ movement of 2018. One of its main demands was the restoration of the ability to influence local, regional and national budgetary, financial and social issues that directly affect the lives of the French.

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Why the French chose the ‘radical far right’ over Macron’s establishment

According to a number of sociologists, the elections on 30 June and 7 July could become a re-run of the ‘yellow vests’, the months-long social revolt by so-called ‘peripheral France’ – the inhabitants of small towns and villages affected by the processes of globalisation and European integration. 

This France is increasingly voting for the National Rally party, but the steady growth of support for the party, led for many years by Marine Le Pen, has also been observed in other sectors of the population –  among wealthier citizens, pensioners, residents of overseas territories, and so on. Initially a party of small businessmen, the so-called shopkeepers’ party, the ‘Front National’ (as it used to be called) has recently adapted its slogans and programme to its new electorate – the left behind and those who value social Gaullism and its achievements: developed social security, stability and France’s international prestige. 

According to the sociologist Luc Ruban, the National Rally’s growing popularity cannot be explained by ‘sharp outbursts of anger’, ‘racism’ or ‘the desire for an authoritarian leader’. Serge Klarsfeld, one of the most revered leaders of French Jews and a defender of the memory of the victims of the Nazi concentration camps, said that if he had to choose between the ultra-left and the ultra-right, he would not hesitate to vote for the latter because they are “neither anti-Semitic nor racist.” Evidence of a serious change in the party’s image.

By changing its name and shedding the “anti-Semitic” label (associated with the dubious statements of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen), the Rassemblement Nationale (National Rally party) has successfully exploited the long-standing discontent of those sectors that feel the negative effects of globalisation. The nationalism of the party is defensive rather than aggressive; it embodies a disquiet caused by the influx of immigration, which is affecting the labour market and employment conditions, as well as rapidly changing the face of a society that was culturally and ethnically mostly homogeneous forty years ago. The movement capitalises on all these fears, and its growing popularity is natural.

All the more so because the left has refused to respond to the issues, transforming itself from a working class movement into a liberal operation in defence of minorities, be they ethnic, sexual or otherwise. Of course, slogans of support for the poor are still present in their programmes, including that of the hastily created New Popular Front, which includes France Unconquered, the Greens, the Socialists and the Communists. But as the experience of recent years has shown, all these left-wingers are far less interested in the problem of social inequality than issues such as ecology, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and racial tolerance. 

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Macron just threw a live grenade at his own feet

Today it is impossible to imagine any of the ultra-left repeating the words of Georges Marchais, the leader of the French Communist Party, in 1980: “It is necessary to stop both illegal and legal immigration. It is totally unacceptable to allow more and more migrant workers into France when our country already has 2 million unemployed French people and immigrants who have already settled here.”

Today, the number of unemployed has reached almost 5.5 million, the amount of legal and illegal immigrants has increased tenfold, but the left does not see this as a problem and devotes itself primarily to fighting ‘all discrimination’. The Socialists seriously discredited themselves during the government of François Hollande, who positioned himself as ‘the enemy of international finance’ but did very little to protect the poor, presenting the ‘marriage equality’ law as his main achievement. 

Hollande’s inclusion in the ranks of the New Popular Front in the current campaign, as well the shift to the centre-left, devalues the promises of alternative policies from the ultra-left. Recent words about a ‘social, democratic and strategic Europe’ in its programme do not convince many people, and the convergence of the position on the Ukrainian conflict with that of Macron is unlikely to appeal to voters, most of whom did not support the president’s bellicose initiatives.

If in 2019 observers hoped for a convergence of the far-left and far-right protests and the emergence of a nationwide protest bloc, it is clear today that this has not materialised. One of the leaders of France’s decolonisation movement, the scandalous Huria Bouteldja, in her latest book contrasts poor whites (“deplorables”) and immigrants from former colonies (“barbarians”) and reflects on their ability to rally against Macronism. 

But in a multicultural society, income level is not the only criterion of class and political identity. The rapid growth of ethno-cultural diversity and the rejection of assimilationist policies in favour of multiculturalism by the ruling circles has led to the fragmentation of the nation into minorities and the emergence of what the popular sociologist Jérôme Fourquet calls “Archipelago France” in place of a united and indivisible French Republic.

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Fyodor Lukyanov: Here’s what the results of the European Parliament elections tell us

The electoral map will reflect this diversity perfectly. It can be predicted that the National Rally will win in small towns and rural areas (the deplorables). In the medium-sized cities, the majority of votes will probably go to the Socialist candidates (the bohemian bourgeoisie who are passionate about ecology and have made the fight against ‘fascism’ their raison d’être). The large suburbs of Paris, Marseille and Lyon will elect deputies from ‘France Unbowed’ (which appeals to the immigrant population). The central districts of Paris and Lyon will be the last bastions of Macronism (the upper classes, well adapted to globalisation). Finally, in Marseille, where Macron’s electoral base is extremely small, ‘France Unbowed’ will face the ‘Rassemblement Nationale’ (National Rally), the “deplorables”’ against “barbarians”.

Following the first round, the country and parliament are divided into three major blocs.

Opponents can be as radical as they like in words, but when it comes to action they are unable to offer a real alternative to the policies of their predecessors. This can be seen in other European countries where ‘extremists’ have been in power. The French far-right and far-left have toned down their criticism of Brussels and, if they come to power, a relatively smooth integration into pan-European structures is more likely than an attempt by Paris at radical reform (as the representatives of the National Rally and the leaders of France Unbowed recently insisted). The statements and actions of the opposition may be vibrant and demonstrative, they may cause riots and protests, they may lead to internal chaos. But they are unlikely to be able to break the general development trend.

The economist Frederick Farah has pointed out that “Over the past few decades, we have seen that whatever majority is in power, it implements roughly the same policies, leading to the deterioration of working conditions and stable employment, the dismantling of public services, increased poverty, the reduction of the country’s industrial base, strategic vulnerability and the rise of populism.”

The results of 7 July can therefore be greeted with the words ‘Macronism is dead, long live Macronism!’

This article was first published by Russia in Global Affairs, translated and edited by the RT team

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