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The French Left should unite rather than consider supporting the Far Right Le Pen

Emmanuel Macron won the second-round of the Presidential election in France at the weekend (April 24, 2022), as expected. He easily beat the right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen – scoring 58.54 per cent of the vote compared to 41.46 per cent for Le Pen. Some might say that Le Pen was closer this time, having improved on the 66.1 versus 33.9 per cent from the 2017 run-off. That is true and the spatial concentration of the 2022 vote intensified with Le Pen improving her vote in the East, North, and South as well as the overseas territories. One of the notable features this year was the 28.01 per cent absentee vote (some 13.6 million registered voters), which represented more voters than actually cast their support for Le Pen (13.3 million). There is a lot of speculation about what the vote means in European terms and in Left-Right terms. I noted some commentators from the Left urging the voters with progressive inclinations to vote for Le Pen because she represented the best deal for workers. My view is that would have been a disastrous strategy for the Left to follow. That is what this blog post is about.

First-round redux

My analysis of the first-round of the Presidential elections appeared in this blog post – French presidential election – some hope for a future progressive, anti-EU Left (April 11, 2022).

The following table shows the percentage votes in the first-round by candidate and party leaning.

The turnout was 74.86 per cent of registered voters down from the 77.8 in the first-round 2017. So 1,390,970 less voters voted in 2022 compared to 2017.

In the first round the following data was recorded:

Category Number % Inscrits % Votants
Inscrits (Registered Voters) 48,747,876    
Abstentions (Absentee) 12,824,169 26.31  
Votants (Voters) 35,923,707 73.69  
Blancs (Blank) 543,609 1.12 1.51
Nuls (Invalid) 247,151 0.51 0.69
Exprimés (Votes cast) 35,132,947 72.07 97.80

The question then turned on where the votes of Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the Left and the votes for Éric Zemmour on the hard right would end up in the second-round.

On Sunday we found out.

Second Round Voting Analysis

The second-round vote breakdown is as follows:

Candidate Votes % Inscrits % Exprimés
Emmanuel Macron 18,779,641 38.52 58.54
Marine Le Pen 13,297,760 27.28 41.46

So 38.52 per cent of registered voters prefer Macron and 27.28 per cent prefer Le Pen.

Hardly a decisive vote of confidence from the French electorate.

Other details that help us further understand the overall outcome are:

Category Number % Inscrits % Votants
Inscrits (Registered Voters) 48,752,500    
Abstentions (Absentee) 13,656,109 28.01  
Votants (Voters) 35,096,391 71.99  
Blancs (Blank) 2,228,044 4.57 6.35
Nuls (Invalid) 790,946 1.62 2.25
Exprimés (Votes cast) 32,077,401 65.80 91.40

So, you see a large fall off in the actual votes cast.

The following Table compares the data from the first-round and the second-round.

Not only was there are large increase in absentee voters (an increase of 6.5 per cent over the three weeks) but also there was a massive increase in those that turned up to vote but cast blank or invalid ballot papers.

Overall, there was an 8.7 per cent decline in the votes cast.

The survey conducted by Ipsos & Sopra Steria for France Télévisions, Radio France, France24/RFI/MCD, Public Sénat/LCP Assemblée Nationale and Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France revealed some interesting results.

There briefing (April 25, 2022) – Presidential election in France: Emmanuel Macron re-elected but abstention hits record high – revealed:

… that neither Marine Le Pen nor Emmanuel Macron truly succeeded in convincing those beyond their electoral base of the first round.

The record high abstention was motivated by:

Rejection and a weariness of voting to keep candidates out rather than in is the prevailing sentiment among abstainers and voters who cast a blank or invalid ballot, with little support for the plans of the two candidates among those who did cast a ballot.

So what happened to the votes cast for Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise), Yannick Jadot (Europe Ecologie les Verts) or Valérie Pécresse (Les Républicains) in the first round?

The survey found that:

… a majority voted in the second round in order to prevent one of the candidates rather than to support the other, regardless of who they chose.

Which is a statement about the quality of the democracy and the choices offered.

I will come back to that issue soon.

On the Abstentions, the survey asked respondents for the reasons not to vote.

The most frequent reasons were (noting respondents could nominate two reasons):

1. “No candidate matches my ideas” (35 per cent).

2. “Fed up with having to vote only to block a candidate” (25 per cent).

3. “Refuse to choose between two candidates they totally reject” (24 per cent).

4. “The game is already up, there is no suspense about who will win” (24 per cent).

The age distribution of the second-round vote is also very interesting as shown in the following Table.

All age groups bar the 50-59 age group gave more support to Macron.

Macron gained the strongest support from those at either end of the age distribution.

The youngest voters also had the highest abstention rate (41 per cent of registered voters).

The oldest voters supported Macron and had the lowest abstention rate (15 per cent).

Age Group Emmanuel Macron Marine Le Pen
18-24 61% 39%
25-34 51% 49%
35-49 53% 47%
50-59 49% 51%
60-69 59% 41%
70 plus 71% 29%

In my commentary on the first-round voting, I wrote that Le Pen is unlikely to be successful in the second round as a result of the operation of the so-called – Cordon Sanitaire – which refers to a refusal of the voting population to embrace an extremist viewpoint.

That refusal has been important in keeping the Far Right out of power in France.

What about the occupational breakdown?

The next table shows the voting outcomes by occupation.

No surprises here that the 67 per cent of workers on a wage and 57 per cent of salaried employees went for Le Pen.

The top-end-of-town overwhelmingly went for Macron.

Occupation Emmanuel Macron Marine Le Pen
Cadre (Executives) 77% 23%
Professsion intermédiaire (Middle Managers) 59% 41%
Employé (Salaried Employee) 43% 57%
Ouvrier (Wage worker) 33% 67%
Retraité (Retired) 68% 32%

Broken down by the other first-round candidates, the survey found that:

Abstainers who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round were the most likely to reject the two finalists “totally” (43%) and to no longer wish to vote to prevent a candidate from winning (39%). Those who voted for Yannick Jadot felt more than others that their ideas were not represented in the second round (58%), while voters for Eric Zemmour (Reconquête), more than elsewhere, thought that “the game was already up” (44%).

So where did all those first-round votes go by candidate?

A breakdown of where is presented in this Table (from the survey):

Vote First Round Emmanuel Macron Marine Le Pen Blancs/Nuls Abstentions
Electeurs de Jean-Luc Mélenchon 42 17 17 24
Electeurs de Yannick Jadot 65 6 13 6
Electeurs de Valérie Pécresse 53 18 14 15
Electeurs d’Eric Zemmour 10 73 3 14

This is a very telling table.

You can see that the majority of voters who preferred Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far Left candidate in the first round, voted for the centre-right Macron in the second round.

Only a small per cent (17 per cent) went for Le Pen.

41 per cent either didn’t vote or cast nul/blank ballots.

So almost as many of his supporters as voted for Macron bailed out in one way or another.

The Green candidate Yannick Jadot saw his voters in the first round go to Macron (65 per cent), with 29 per cent bailing out in one way or another. Le Pen got only 6 per cent of those voters.

It was no surprise that 53 per cent of the voters for Valérie Pécresse (Republican) went for Macron. But 29 per cent also bailed out.

And also no surprise was that 73 per cent who had voted for Zemmour (far right) moved over to support Le Pen. But troubling for her was the fact that 14 per cent didn’t turn up to vote at all.

Should the Left have supported Le Pen?

As I noted in the Introduction, there was commentary in the lead up to the second round exhorting the ‘Left’, largely Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s supporters to vote for Marine Le Pen because she represented the interests of the workers and Macron represents the interests of capital and the EU cabal.

There is some sympathy for that view at a superficial level.

But I think the voters who had supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round who then abstained or cast blank/nul ballots showed better judgement.

Why?

When I saw the exhortations for Le Pen from the Left commentariat I thought back to the 1930s, at the onset of the Great Depression, which devastated workers all around the world.

In the 1930 German federal election – the National Socialist German Workers Party (led by Adolf Hitler) gained the second largest number of seats with a spectacular 15.62 per cent gain in votes on the previous election.

The SPD won the most seats with the Communist KPD coming in third.

The – 1932 German presidential election – followed with Hitler on the rise and Hitler confronted the incumbent Paul von Hindenburg in the run-off.

Also in the run-off was Ernst Thälmann, representing the KPD.

Hindenburg came from an aristocratic Prussian background and became famous as a result of his military exploits.

He supported the Prussian monarchy and was vehemently anti-socialist and opposed the SPD (Social Democrats). He was clearly the establishment candidate.

He appointed Heinrich Brüning as Chancellor in 1930. He was an economist wedded to austerity as a means of dealing with the Great Depression.

The 1932 Presidential election really was a battle between the incumbent and Hitler.

At that time, many on the Left decided to support Hindenburg, even though Thälmann was standing as the Communist Party candidate because they feared that Adolf Hitler would become President.

Thälmann was able to garner 10.2 per cent of the vote on the back of disquiet over the way Hindenburg had operated since his election in 1925.

Hitler was parading as the workers’ candidate and his economic policies after gaining the largest number of seats in the Reichstag in federal elections later in 1932, saw Hitler rise to the position of Chancellor and introduce many ‘Keynesian’-style policies to ameliorate the impacts of the Great Depression.

So should have the Left given support to Hitler in the 1932 Presidential run-off, given that Hindenburg was the establishment candidate who had allowed his Chancellor to introduce anti-worker policies and the KPD candidate had no real chance of victory?

That is, despite the repugnant social and authoritarian policies that the Nazis paraded.

I think not.

No Leftist should support a Right-wing candidate no matter if some of the policies advocated are pro-worker.

Le Pen is not a progressive option for the Left in France.

But where does that leave the Left?

Marine Le Pen’s Party – Rassemblement national – ran with a mixed bag of policies.

On the economic front, there is almost nothing to disagree with, which is why some Left commentators consider her to be the friend of the workers.

So she proposed:

1. Value-added tax on energy at 5.5 per cent from current 20%. VAT at 0 per cent for essential products such as pasta and diapers as long as inflation is one point higher than growth.

2. No income tax for those aged under 30.

3. No employer contributions on pay rises of up to 10 per cent.

4. Increase pensions at the bottom end.

5. Early retirement (60 years) after 40 years service.

6. Scrap inheritance tax for low- and middle-income families.

I consider the policies to be incomplete.

First, I disagree with lowering taxes on carbon-intensive products. It is better to compensate with cash transfers that allow the individual or household to substitute away from the higher-priced energy products to more sustainable resource uses, while maintaining real living standards.

Second, there was no public employment initiatives, which are sorely needed in France.

But then on the immigration, religion and law and order front, her policies are appalling.

We get:

1. Strip citizenship from those with ‘extreme’ Islamic views – what is ‘extreme’?

2. Close mosques and Islamic associations.

3. Ban the hijab and other religious symbols in public.

4. Restrict welfare payments to French citizens.

5. Ration public housing to French citizens – note: no extra housing, just prevent new entrants from getting a foothold.

6. Refuse families of immigrants rights to join them.

7. Deport migrants who have been long-term unemployed.

8. Abandon citizenship by birthright.

9. Refuse asylum seekers/refugees rights to enter to hear cases in safety.

She also supported nuclear energy, wanted to outlaw wind energy, etc.

While she backed off from a Frexit stance she wanted to reduce the association with and primacy of European law.

Does that look like a policy the Left should help push through?

Not from where I sit.

The problem is that there is nothing really to be gained by supporting a party that has some good policies but a host of disastrous policies from the perspective of decency and ethics.

That just coopts those who give the views succour and perverts the mission.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was correct to call on his supporters not to give Le Pen a single vote.

He should have also called on his support base to all abstain and not give a single vote to Macron either.

This is what the voting would have looked like under those conditions:

Candidate Votes % Inscrits % Exprimés Votes (No Mélenchon) % Inscrits % Exprimés
Emmanuel Macron 18,779,641 38.52 58.54 15,540,383 31.87 48.45
Marine Le Pen 13,297,760 27.28 41.46 11,986,632 24.58 37.36

So Macron goes from 58.4 per cent of the votes cast to 48.45 per cent if all of Mélenchon’s first-round supporters abstained.

Le Pen goes from 41.46 per cent to 37.36 per cent.

Which then makes it clear that neither candidate was very popular and there is a huge proportion of registered French voters who want something different.

The other point to make is that politics is not necessarily about ‘winning’ every election, especially when there has been a major disruption in the traditional voting patterns that the first-round made clear.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is now the legitimate voice of the Left in France and needs time to further build his party and his appeal.

Selling out his values by propping up the hideous Le Pen, just because that might have toppled Macron this time, is not likely to achieve that medium-term objective.

It is clear that the French people were not particularly enamoured with Macron.

The dynamics in Europe are turning away from his type.

There are French legislative elections for the Assemblée Nationale, coming up in June 2022 where the prime ministership and senior government positions are up for grabs.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has a good chance of achieving good outcomes in those elections, which means France will enter one of those strange cohabitation periods, where the President is not aligned with the Prime Minister and which would seriously erode Macron’s capacity to pass nasty legislation.

In France, the Prime Minister has control over legislative endorsement.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is offering the Left hope in the legislative elections and his policy platform is consistent from a Leftist perspective.

Conclusion

The real challenge for the broader Left in France is not to help a repugnant Right-wing candidate gain office.

Rather, it is to unite – and if that had have happened in the first-round of the Presidential elections, Jean-Luc Mélenchon would have been the second-round candidate up against Macron.

As France enters the next election period that should be what the Left conversation is about.

The Greens, the Communists and the Socialist Party should get behind La France Insoumise and ensure that Macron’s agenda is thwarted, while keeping the Far Right out of any official position.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2022 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    This Post Has 7 Comments
    1. Bill,

      That would be the common sense approach if you still believe that a liberal democracy is still a thing. The question now is – but is it ?

      Reclaim the state highlighted what needs to change and the role the IMF and World bank play. Which is a similar role as NATO. You can now see clearly why the EU was set up the way it was. It wasn’t set up for peace it was set up for war.

      So has your common sense approach become too simplistic as the neoliberal and globalism decades have passed by ?

      Let’s start off with Pakistan and how the US applied pressure to remove Imran Khan because he did not support the attacks on Russia. They tried the same with China and India who refused to cave into the pressure and Blinken immediately started talking about their human rights record. Sheer hypocrisy when you consider the number of deaths caused by US foreign policy in the Middle East.

      The US has applied severe pressure across the globe threatening elected governments everywhere to stay in line or else. This is not just because of the fog of war Bill this is the normal geopolitics that takes place and has done for decades. There is not a continent on earth that has been spared this bullying.

      How Biden moved right into the Northern Ireland space of the Brexit debate to make it more difficult to get Brexit done. Which still has not been completed because UK democracy has been trampled on by vested interests.

      You have had a front row seat with Corbyn, Bernie, right across South America and now with this war how the media are used to smear anybody and cancel them if they do not apply the laminated script. You have seen first hand how the technocrats in Italy shut down the Italian parliament to remove an elected government to be replaced by unelected Draghi.

      Jean-Luc Mélenchon or any left wing leader in France would be in the situation of all of the above. The pressure applied and the smear campaign would be immense. So much for a liberal democracy or democracy in any form.

      Why Left-Right no longer makes much sense. During Brexit the left acted like the right and the right acted like the left. Their roles were reversed and progressive parties radically shifted to the Right in economic terms and abandoned class politics in favour of identity politics. While at the same time nominally Right-wing parties have moved to the Left on many issues.

      The left – right debate has been replaced by those for globalism and neoliberalism v’s those against. If you are against you are either very quickly labelled ” far right” or a ” communist ” depending on who you are when you are against globalism and neoliberalism.

      The left – right debate has also been replaced by those who support censorship if it helps their cause against those who believe in free speech. Those who support trampling all over freedoms if it supports their cause against those who think our freedoms are worth defending.

      What you find is that many people who in the past were divided by the old left-right debate have now put their differences aside and United on many issues on this new political landscape. To try and keep the idea of democracy alive. Whilst the liberal left and right continue to destroy it and become more authoritarian.

    2. I, too, made a connection between Le Pen and Hitler re the same time period. One English commentator wanted to distinguish between Le Pen’s fascist party and Le Pen. He resisted calling her out as a fascist. He did not elaborate why he made this distinction.

      I am glad it looks as though Melanchon and his party will prevail in the legislative elections. And for the same reason you put forward. I really dislike Macron, but loathe Le Pen.

      Did you notice that Macron and his wife wore clothing of the exact same color? Although he apparently ditched his designer jacket — superficial gesture. Her dress, however, had the look of designer wear to me. But I am not a fashionista.

    3. One positive factor for Macron. He took onboard Melenchon’s advocacy of a cap on CEO salaries (at 20x the lowest wage). Not much, but is it a possible indicator of change?

    4. @ Derek Henry re: ‘It (the EU) wasn’t set up for peace it was set up for war.’ Frankly, this is nonsense. Quite right that the EU = years of peace and stability line, is nonsense, in that it’s raison d’etre was/is economic, but the EU elites are not so daft as to make themselves so dependent on Russian fuel, in order to set up for war.
      ‘Let’s start with Pakistan’ – no, let’s not. Pakistan’s history is political instability (admittedly not helped by meddling/support from both the US and China) and it always tries to look both ways, or anywhere but India.
      ‘So much for liberal democracy or democracy in any form’. – criticism of ‘western’ countries. the EU and US is merited, but be careful what you reject wholesale. I have no doubt you’d be more measured if you were Tibetan, Urghur, or in fact any citizen in the PRC who liked to write lengthy criticisms, or right now a Ukrainian seeing your country and people blown apart.
      ‘Left-Right no longer makes sense’ – well done for falling for the end of ideology nonsense and the ‘labels’ game.
      Thanks Bill for a good analysis and showing why the left is fundamentally different from the right and should never support the right. Melenchon and La France Insoumise have gained a lot of votes in a short amount of time (not as meteorically as Macron of course) and that isn’t about to be reversed no matter what the US or the EU want.

    5. Finally, a chance to stay on topic while talking about the Nazis. And all I can say is I agree with Bill that it is important to avoid ever allowing such to come to power- even if parts of that agenda might seem to embrace leftish goals at first. Personally, I would err on the side of neoliberalism if the choice was between that and Nazi nationalism and racism. I don’t see what globalization has to do with it. Hitler seemed to be quite into his own brand of globalization. Glad that brand of globalization failed.

    6. Totally agree that it would be an error for a left winger to vote for the Front National (the FN is called something else now) of Marine Le Pen based on its ostensible support for workers. Not only is part of its program based on bigotry and division but the apparent pro-worker parts are likely not real.
      In the May 2017 issue of Le Monde diplomatique, Renaud Lambert noted that the party’s pro-worker positions were hypocritical. The party’s deputies introduced anti-worker amendments to various laws and called for a balanced budget.
      The French periodical “Contribution eco-socialiste”, supported by several trade unions, provided a list of FN lies regarding its pro-worker positions in an article on April 29, 2017: “Les 35h, les retraites, la Loi travail : l’attrape-couillon du FN”. (translating freely: The 35 hour work week, retirement benefits, labour law: an FN scam).
      Definitely the only vote for a non-right winger in the run-off in 2022 would be to abstain in some way.

    7. Patrick,

      So you haven’t read reclaim the state or European Dystopia then ?

      The EU’s raison d’etre was/is economic now that’s hilarious.

      The MMT lens proves the EU was not set up for economic reasons. It was set up for political reasons. To control countries if they stepped out of line. Based on stealing of real resources from which to extract rent. It is written right through the EU treaties like Blackpool rock.

      That’s the problem you have Patrick. You can’t be against the EU and yet support NATO at the same time. Because the economics of NATO are based on the very same economic models. You learn that if you understand the MMT lens. You will just come across As a complete idiot if you do and will be trounced in any serious debate. You can’t win a debate if you talk out of both sides of your mouth saying different things. The sheer hypocrisy that you will show trying to defend your corner will probably defeat you before you even get the chance to speak with a fork tounge.

      As both the EU and NATO broke every PEACE treaty ever written as they expanded forever Eastwards. which clearly shows it was not set up for PEACE. Placing conventional missiles and nuclear missiles on their conquered territory. As they put the Berlin wall on wheels and pushed it right up to Russia’s borders.

      Now you have the unelected technocratic talking heads who were placed at the head of EU talking on behalf of ALL the EU nations regarding this war. How very convenient and accidental that was to make sure no country steps out of line and act like a sovereign nation state.

      Not only did they break every PEACE treaty and trample over International law as they expanded forever Eastwards. The PEACE option was already on the table and was on the table for several years. It was called the Minsk agreement that the EU refused to sign and would have prevented war.

      There has been absolutely no attempt by the EU to come to a diplomatic solution. They have all been at the trough selling their arms to Ukraine which have been completely destroyed the second they land on Ukrainian soil. Loading them up with foreign currency debt that the Ukraine economy will never be able to pay back.

      The truth is very clear if you have been paying attention. The EU is nothing more than an extension of the US military. To add to their 800 military bases around the world. In order to keep feeding the US military industrial complex.

      If the EU was built for PEACE then this war wouldn’t have even started the Minsk agreement that was an excellent deal for all sides would have been signed. If the EU was built for PEACE they would be doing everything they can to bring this war to a diplomatic solution. Their actions have been the complete opposite and to keep the war going for as long as possible and feed off the dead carcass of Ukraine.

      My guess is you think the West can win a war against Russia and China you support NATO that much. That is just as bad shit crazy as saying the EU was set up for ” economic” reasons to help the people of Europe. Bordering on complete delusional and a complete failure to understand the MMT lens.

      Your delusion belongs in the same camps as ……

      They didn’t know what they were doing when they set up the Euro and simply made a few mistakes along the way. So we better tell them how it really works, especially as government spending and bank lending was well known hundreds of years before the United States of America was created. It was very well understood in the East.

      We can change the Eurozone from within.

      How unbelievably lucky the French were when they set of the African Franc and stumbled across the perfect system that allowed them to expand their influence and theft. We better tell them how it really works. So that they don’t nearly make The same mistake again.

      The British had no idea what they were doing and the East India company were a bunch of amateurs as they expanded their empire and the commonwealth. We better tell them how the monetary system really works before they create more coffee plantations.

      Scotland will be independent run by Brussels.

      The founding fathers simply had no idea how the monetary system worked in the real world and were completely clueless on how to repel the British attack. How incredibly lucky they were to come up with the Paper Money Acts by pure accident . That allowed the treasury to issue notes also imposed new taxes that would be of sufficient size and over a period long enough so that all the notes would be redeemed? The colonial government clearly never understood that the purpose of the taxes was to “redeem” the currency, by accepting that paper money in payment of taxes. If only we could have told them how it really works.

      When the Romans introduced Roman coinage it was nothing to do with war or the expansion or theft of conquered tribes. It was a defensive measure to help the tribes and bring peace. Rome was the NATO of their day. A peaceful idea that never stole real resources or extracted rent. If only we had the chance to explain to them how it really works.

      What’s even more delusional Is you actually thought Russia and China were/ are just going to sit there and take it Patrick.

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