May 7 presidential election in France: Election further aggravates crisis of French nation-state

Demonstration in Paris says “NO!” to the state of emergency, January 30, 2016 | LDH

By CHRISTIAN LEGEAIS

The second and final round of France’s Presidential election takes place on Sunday, May 7. The official results published by the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic, following the first round held on April 23, determined that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen received the most votes (24.01 per cent and 21.30 per cent, respectively) and will compete in the second round.[1]

Far from contributing to the resolution of the social, economic, cultural and political problems which plague French society, the election results will further aggravate the crisis in which the French nation-state is mired. In the first place, it is indisputable that the two contending candidates deprive the working class of its own voice in this election. On the elections themselves, there is nothing free or fair about them. They are being held under a government of police powers, in the conditions of a state of emergency which has become permanent after two years. The stated purpose of this état d’urgence is to “reclaim lawless areas” (“zones de non-droit”) — working class cities and suburbs — and to pacify resistance to the neo-liberal agenda. The Ministry of the Interior reinforced this state of emergency for the first round of voting. More than 50,000 police officers and gendarmes (including 12,000 for Paris alone) with 7,000 Sentinel Operation soldiers were mobilized to “secure” the 67,000 polling stations. This is one quarter of the total number of law enforcement personnel in France, and the same scenario will be repeated during the second round on May 7.

The problems and contradictions plaguing France have stood unresolved since the end of the Second World War and in particular since the national liberation struggle of the Algerian people. The contradictions have resurfaced with a vengeance since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was supposed to prove the superiority of Western democracy and end the Cold War. Far from it, the neo-liberal agenda adopted and the nation-wrecking it engendered has compounded all the problems by further enshrining, instead of eliminating, the privileges the police powers enforce.

Current problems stem from the arrangements which were brought into being following World War II. The U.S. imperialists imposed the Marshall Plan and NATO on Europe with the avowed aim of dominating the continent, conquering new markets and, within the framework of the Cold War, containing communism.

The state and the Constitution of the Fifth Republic are themselves illegitimate. They emerged from a military coup d’etat in Algiers on May 13, 1958, with the aim of keeping Algeria French and crushing the national liberation struggle of the Algerian people. The institutions of the Fifth Republic are based on the crushing of the aspirations of the French people expressed in the Constitution of 1946 which said, “In the morrow of the victory achieved by the free peoples over the regimes that had sought to enslave and degrade humanity, the people of France proclaim anew that every human being, without distinction of race, religion or creed, possesses sacred and inalienable rights.” The Constitution of 1946 further proclaimed, “as being especially necessary to our times the political, economic and social principles” enumerated as the duty to work and the right to employment, the right to belong to the union of one’s choice, the right to strike, nationalization of national public services, the right to protection of health, material security, rest and leisure and the right for children and adults to instruction, vocational training and culture.

This Constitution lies in tatters, but the rulers do not want to heed the calls for its renewal coming from the base of French society, which is fighting for the dignity of labour and demanding that the rights of all be upheld. On the contrary, changes to the constitution are considered for purposes of making government of police powers permanent and “lawful.” This contempt of democratic principles will never legitimize the rulers’ attacks on the working class and its organizations. Nor will it legitimize the anti-social offensive against the working people in the cities and countryside, the criminalization of their struggles for the recognition of their rights, the imprisonment of trade union leaders, the state-organized racist attacks on the working class that get blamed on the people who are called xenophobic and racist, the ghettoization of people of Maghrebian and African origin or the criminalization and social exclusion of youth and the “suburban crisis.”

Today, fighting within the ranks of the rulers is very sharp. One faction represents financial interests which are striving to control the French state to secure a base which can compete with Germany in particular and directly exploit the county’s resources and markets, as well as those of the neo-colonial French empire. Not only German capital is fishing in troubled waters but also the U.S. imperialists who want a candidate which favours their interests. They are attempting to either smash France as a competitor or control France so as to dominate Europe through the aggressive NATO alliance as well as through the European Union. They want France as a springboard for the domination of Asia as well as to deprive it of and usurp its influence and interests in the Middle East and Africa.

Demonstration against NATO, Strasbourg, France, April 4, 2009.

The creation of the European Union had similar aims. Through the pooling of European markets, the basis of which was the reconstitution of the big monopoly pre-war coal and steel cartels, the founders of the European Union, in particular the French monopolies, sought to protect their colonial empires, especially on the African continent. At present, the development of the European Union is taking place through the transfer of state sovereignty to supranational bodies, such as the European Commission, as well as warmongering blocs, alliances and coalitions such as NATO. It signifies the abandonment of the sovereignty of the peoples and of countries to the moloch of international finance capital and the grave dangers which lie ahead. This includes the slaughter of the African peoples the imperialists are planning under the social-Darwinist and neo-Malthusian arguments that overpopulation is the cause of crises including migration, wars and starvation.

In the name of a free market within the European Union, the privatization of all public services and assets required by modern societies is proceeding at a rapid pace. Everything nationalized in the aftermath of the World War II is now either privatized already or in the course of being privatized, including railways and communications. Under the impetus of the European Commission, in the name of the unification of labour standards in the European Union and the modernization of markets, neo-liberal anti-worker laws such as the 2016 Labor Law are imposed and French jurisdiction stands for nothing.

The French election is a fraud because it is not the people who define the agenda and provide France with an aim which serves them. The system whereby the only role for the people is to mark a ballot to hand over their political right to govern themselves to alien class forces will not legitimate the election result. The election is providing no alternative to the current state of affairs. Pitting against each other two factions which serve alien class interests to keep the working class in check shows that even when the old two-party system is finished, its form continues to be used to deprive the people of any say over the candidates selected and make sure that their program does not represent the people’s striving for empowerment.

In fact, the official vote count after the first round, including spoiled and blank ballots, shows that more than 65 per cent of voters choose neither Macron nor Le Pen for the second round and that these two candidates obtained only slightly more than 35 per cent of the registered vote. Counting the abstentions, it means that the candidates of the oligarchy were imposed on 80 per cent of registered voters.[2]

The program of Emmanuel Macron is to Make France Great Again by establishing a new “contract of rights, duties and responsibilities.” His new contract is based on denial of rights to destroy all social gains. Macron’s program is the continuation of the program of Margaret Thatcher of whom he is an admirer — the anti-social offensive based on the “free market,” which says that society has no responsibility to its members. It is not a program to solve the crisis and change the situation in favour of the people. Macron’s discourse on “the spirit of French conquest,” a phrase he pulled out during the May 3 election debate, is a discourse of empire-builders, a continuation of the same neo-liberal program that has deepened the crisis of French nation-building. Despite this, he is called a centrist and the election in France is presented as a clash of ideologies with Marine Le Pen representing what is called the “extreme right xenophobic” position.

The program of Marine Le Pen is to renew this “spirit of French conquest” and restore the French dream (“roman national”). She says “the winds of history have turned” and order must be restored in France. Marine Le Pen represents the spirit of pre-revolutionary France, the état c’est moi spirit of Louis XIV, with her slogan, “In the name of the [French] people.” Her agenda of empire to “restore order to our country by re-conquering the lost territories of the Republic” is against the call of history. She says she will “put [the] economy back in order by valuing labour; reorganizing our social system by rejecting the globalization of benefits; restore order to the state by restoring its authority, its means (justice, police, defense).” Such a program does not even pretend to address the need of the French people to establish a new regime so that they can govern themselves directly instead of giving the power of representation to others who govern through the police powers.

This dream of a “pastoral” France is a figment of Le Pen’s imagination and a fraud to establish a government of police powers favouring specific private interests. France was never pastoral for the peasantry, which was subjected to the most oppressive feudal yoke before the creation of the Republic and to capitalist oppression since then. Today, French farmers are at the mercy of international finance capital and its man-eating free trade agenda, not “foreigners.” It is moribund capitalism that maintains feudal relations to expropriate the peasantry and migrant workers on a global scale. Marine Le Pen pits her retrogression into a pastoral past against the “modernization” of Macron into a hopeless future. Both support the use of unfettered police powers to maintain the order of the oligopolies against the working class and people. This is not only precisely what keeps the people of France without power to effect change which favours them, but also points the way forward — that the working class must constitute the nation at long last and vest sovereignty in the people and unite with all others on the world scale on the basis of their common cause.

Free trade and protectionism are two sides of the same coin. The current disputes over membership in the European Union are in fact a reflection of the dangerous inter-monopoly and inter-imperialist contradictions over control of resources, spheres of influence and zones for the export of capital and labour. Elections based on national forms which no longer function are utterly incapable of sorting these contradictions out. The solution to free trade is not “protectionism” and the solution to neo-liberalism is not old forms of the welfare state. The solution is for the working class to constitute the nation and engage in nation-building on a modern, proletarian internationalist basis and unite the workers of all lands to take up their historic responsibility to vest sovereignty in themselves, not the propertied interests which today operate as oligopolies rampaging all over the world leaving death and destruction in their wake.

To change the direction of the economy to serve the people, the working people are striving to take charge of their own affairs by advancing their own programs and demands. Only this will settle scores with the rotten and desperate forces based on old colonial and new neo-colonial imperialist values which have seized power through force and fraud.

In 1871, the Paris proletariat rose up in arms and created the Paris Commune, a mighty historic attempt to establish its own rule. The Paris Commune was brutally crushed by enlisting the help of the conquering Prussian army which ushered in a period of dark reaction.[3]

The content of French rule has not changed since that reaction seized the upper hand, no matter what forms have been brought into being to keep the content in place. The claim that the fight in France is between “extreme right” and “centrist” solutions is a fraud. The fight is between the Old and the New. To accuse the people of xenophobia and extreme right beliefs, or try to mobilize them behind neo-liberal so-called centrist candidates and fraudulent movements such as Emmanuelle Macron’s En Marche cannot change the fact that these are not the alternatives to the present crisis in which the French nation-state is mired. It makes no sense to persist in seeing the problem as an antagonism between right-wing, extreme right-wing, centre and left ideologies and policies, since this does not correspond to reality.

We are confronted with a particular historical moment. The old forms established in the constitutions of the bourgeois nation-states as created in the 18th and 19th centuries, and which gave birth to the kind of civil society that was necessary for the bourgeoisie to protect its property rights at that time, have outplayed their role, are exhausted and no longer function.

In this French election, the financial oligarchs are embroiled in a life-and-death competition to seize power as they have been time and again in the past, through forms which include multi-party elections and a legislature which, in the language of the French revolution, is called a National Assembly. This competition time and time again brought the propertied classes to power, not the people who shed their blood to overthrow their oppressors and win empowerment for themselves. Civil society, with its hundreds of organizations, institutions and agencies is today reduced to government of police powers to keep the people’s movement for empowerment in check. Governments of police powers mean that all rights as recognized in the previous period, all forms such as the legislatures and civil society organizations, all laws, no longer enforce any aim of nation-building but the narrow private interests of the biggest financial oligarchs. The promise of the French revolution of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity lies in tatters. What are called the traditional parties are shown to be incapable of functioning and, for that matter, not fit to rule. They are not only corrupt, but above all else unable to provide France with a goal that fulfills its needs and the needs of its people in the 21st century.

What these elections show is not the “impossible choice” with which the working class is said to be confronted. The bankruptcy of the French institutions and state of the oligopolies shows that the only choice is to take up the alternative. The working class must lead the people to bring about political renewal and a modern constitution which truly vests sovereignty in the people. A genuine political movement of the people will achieve this historic task.

The big bourgeoisie is so desperate that it manufactures movements without motion, said to be a “renewal” and “the expression of the popular will.” Such is the En Marche “movement” of Emmanuel Macron which, should he win, then needs to be implanted in the National Assembly to claim legitimacy for the mandate to serve the moloch of capital ruling over France in its competition with German capital and U.S. striving to control Europe. It is the height of absurdity and incoherence.

The workers and people of France demand a new system capable of fulfilling their need for nation-building based on the affirmation and defence of the inalienable modern rights of all.

Grave dangers lie ahead for the French people and the peoples of Europe who already suffered two cataclysmic world wars. The peoples of the world should take heed and unite to bring in the New. The Canadian working class and people stand as one with the French working class and people in their striving to uphold their rights and fight for the rights of all.

Notes

1. Results of the First Round of the French Presidential Election held on April 23:

Candidates
Votes
Number
% of registered
% of votes
Nicolas DUPONT-AIGNAN
1,695186
3.56
4.00
Marine LE PEN
7,679,493
16.14
21.30
Emmanuel MACRON
8,657,326
18.19
24.01
Benoît HAMON
2,291,565
4.82
6.36
Nathalie ARTHAUD
232,428
0.49
0.64
Philippe POUTOU
394,582
0.83
1.09
Jacques CHEMINADE
65,598
0.14
0.18
Jean LASSALLE
435,365
0.91
1.21
Jean-Luc MÉLENCHON
7,060,885
14.84
19.58
François ASSELINEAU
332,588
0.70
0.92
Total
36,058,813
75.78
100.00

2. The party system divides the people to keep them out of power. Even the results of the First Round of the French election could have been very different if the Socialist Party, which since the beginning of the election with its candidate Benoit Hamon was unable to increase support, withdrew in favour of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This would potentially have given Mélenchon, said to be the candidate of the left, nearly 27 per cent of the vote, thus eliminating Marine Le Pen from the second round. A second round between what “financial analysts” and the corporate media called the radical left and the centre was to be avoided at all costs, which is why it was important for the candidate of the Socialist Party who garnered 6.2 per cent of the vote to stay in the race. He can now claim election expenses from the public purse.

3. The independent French state was in fact established under the French kings, Louis XIII (1601 – 1643) and Louis XIV (1638 – 1715). Its independence from the Vatican was expressed eloquently when Louis XIV declared in 1655, “L’État, c’est moi!” and on this basis created a centralized state unprecedented in history under Comptroller Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Control of New France was taken out of the hands of Cardinal Richelieu’s “Compagnie des Cents Associés” and placed under Royal Administration in 1663, with a Minister of the Marine, an Intendant, a military Governor and a “Sovereign Council.” The French Revolution one hundred years later in 1789 with its slogan of Égalité, Liberté, Fraternité brought into being the bourgeois nation-state. In the name of the people it vested sovereignty in the propertied classes, not the Crown.

The French state which was brought into being by the French Revolution conferred citizenship based on nationality but, even then, never recognized the right of the sans culottes to govern. It did not confer citizenship rights to its colonial subjects in the French Antilles or North Africa, including Algeria and, to this day, the racism of the French state against north Africans and immigrants which it considers undesirable is one of its distinguishing features.

France then went through a series of revolutions and restorations of monarchy, and then a coup d’état in February 1848 by Louis Napoléon Bonaparte about which Marx wrote in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte :

“On December 2 [1848] the February Revolution is conjured away as a cardsharp’s trick, and what seems overthrown is no longer the monarchy but the liberal concessions that had been wrung from it through centuries of struggle. Instead of society having conquered a new content for itself, it seems that the state has only returned to its oldest form, to a shamelessly simple rule by the sword and the monk’s cowl. […] Society seems now to have retreated to behind its starting point; in truth, it has first to create for itself the revolutionary point of departure – the situation, the relations, the conditions under which alone modern revolution becomes serious.”

Marx concluded:

“Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm swiftly from success to success; their dramatic effects outdo each other; men and things seem set in sparkling brilliants; ecstasy is the everyday spirit; but they are short-lived; soon they have attained their zenith, and a long crapulent depression lays hold of society before it learns soberly to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, criticize themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh, deride with unmerciful thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses and paltrinesses of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order that he may draw new strength from the earth and rise again, more gigantic, before them, recoil ever and anon from the indefinite prodigiousness of their own aims, until a situation has been created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

Here is the rose, here dance!”

Source: TML Weekly, May 6, 2017 – No. 16

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