The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Macron (Radical Neoliberal) vs. Le Pen (Reactionary Fascist) in France

So, this is probably the best commentary on why it’s close:

The current French retirement age is 62. Macron has said that, if re-elected, he will increase it to 65. Le Pen will decrease it to 60.

France has a run-off system. The top two candidates are pitted against each other in the second round. In the first round, results were approximately as follows:

Note that Jean-Luc Melenchon, the left-wing candidate, was less than three percent behind Le Pen.

Melenchon’s policies?

His manifesto includes lowering the age of retirement, hiking the minimum wage, and freezing food and fuel prices.

As a public denouncer of the free-market economy, Mr. Melenchon advocates “state intervention in the economy” to spread wealth, guaranteeing what he calls a “dignified life for all workers.” He told a campaign rally in Paris he would heavily tax the wealthy.

Mr. Melenchon said: “The free market, as you see, is chaos. Another world is possible.”

If he takes office, Mr. Melenchon hopes to pass a “social emergency law” as soon as possible, which would increase the minimum wage to €1,400 per month (from €1,269.03 at present) and cap salary differences between workers and CEOs at one to 20.

He pledged to enforce greater controls on the movement of capital, and guaranteed jobs for the long-term unemployed.

He also announced plans to give 800,000 public sector workers on temporary contracts a permanent tenure – as well as plans to prevent top companies listed on the French stock exchange from paying dividends.

He wants to lower the retirement age in France from 62 to 60, unlike Mr. Macron who currently wants to raise it to 65 to “balance the pension bill.”

As a keen proponent of mass wealth redistribution, Mr. Melenchon also wants to boost the capital gains tax up to the same level as income tax and introduce a progressive corporate tax, as well as seize inheritances greater than €12 million.

That’s a very left-wing program in the current context.

Meanwhile, as John Nichols points out:

If supporters of the French Socialist, Communist, Trotskyist, and Green parties had backed left-wing presidential candidate Melenchon, he would not merely have beaten Le Pen. Melanchon would have finished in first place, ahead of Macron.

So, because the left won’t cooperate with each other, they have wasted a good chance of a real-left wing government, and the French are now forced to choose between a nativist fascist (who, among other things, would not allow single women to have in vitro fertilizations), and an arch-neoliberal who wants to make everyone but the rich poorer.

Neoliberals have wanted to cut pensions for ages (true also in the US and almost everywhere else), so Macron is making the bet that people will hold their noses and vote for him, rather than for Le Pen. But the swing is five years; if Macron wins, you retire at 65, while if LaPen wins you retire at 60.

Strangely enough, old people prefer Macron, and young people prefer Le Pen:

Which is to say the strategy of forcing votes against the reactionary right-winger will work, until it doesn’t. Polls suggest it will work, again, this time, but polls have often been wrong in such close cases, and polls suggest it won’t keep working.

The Left will have one more chance to get its act together before the next election. It had best take that chance. Fortunately, Le Pen’s economic  policies are foolish and won’t entirely work (not because of the pension age, but because she still wants to make the rich, richer), but once reactionaries get in power, they tend to use their power to crush the Left.

France is one of the few places in the “developed” world where the Left still stands a good chance of getting into power. Once they do, if they run the economy well (which will be easy, because the world order which made it impossible is dying), then they can create generational change and lock in left-wing politics for 30 to 50 years.

If they don’t, however, the Right will set the new ideological terms.



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 10, 2022


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  1. Blueberry Hill

    Hell of a choice, but that’s our world. It’s not even Shitty & Shittier like the movie Dumb & Dumber, but in fact Shittier & Shittier. One’s as bad as the other in its own right. The unwashed are damned either way. The oligarchy wins either way.

  2. Dan Lynch

    “If supporters of the French Socialist, Communist, Trotskyist and Green parties had backed left-wing presidential candidate Melenchon, he would not merely have beaten Le Pen. Melanchon would have finished in first place, ahead of Macron.”

    Solution: ranked choice voting, or better yet, referendums on particular issues, like the retirement age, instead of voting for flawed politicians.

    Voting for politicians is bullshit. I say it’s not democracy unless we vote on policies.

  3. Ché Pasa

    The global oligarchy is on the march. Anyone who doesn’t play their game their way, is defenestrated without mercy. Imran Khan only the most recent example.

    And yes, our oligarchs are flirting madly with fascism and Nazis as the neolibcon phase fades out. Rather than authoritarian/corporate rule by deceit and corruption, why not put it out front and open? It’s already happened in so many lands; why wait any longer? Why not make it universal?

    What happens if Le Pen wins? To the Overclass nothing bad; to the neolibs, an “adjustment” in that every crisis is an opportunity. For the untermenschen, somewhat stricter control, but then there might be a benefit or two for the little people who behave themselves — benefits that the Macronites would fight to the death.

    All I can say is that the inability of the left in France to cooperate for political gain is inherent and ensured by the interests of the Overclass.

    In the meantime, war like a cancer spreads through Europe. In the end, will it matter whether one of the two bad choices is victorious in France? Or England? Or Germany? Or Canada? Australia? The United States of America?

    We’ll see, won’t we?

  4. Some Guy

    Generally in agreement with this, but a couple of quibbles.

    1) Seems a bit lazy to refer to Le Pen as a fascist. Nativist, maybe, reactionary, definitely, but I don’t really see how fascist is accurate. I understand that MSM uses this term for her, as they do for anyone who isn’t pro-unlimited immigration, but I feel like historically there is more to being a fascist (military aggression against neighbours, merger of state and corporate power) than wanting to reduce immigration.

    The surest tell that Le Pen is not fascist is the intense opposition to her from the corporate sector.

    2) I agree that the world order that was hostile to left wing governance is falling apart, however I don’t think that means it would be easy for a left win party to govern well. The energy limits, the environmental overshoot, the toxic nature of social media, the general breakdown in competence across western society, including hollowed out civil services, privatized services, constraining trade agreements and so on, I think all of this stuff makes it almost impossible to govern well in the west these days, no matter what the ideology.

    I think what we will see, what we are seeing, is a serial process of de-legitimization as various factions take power, fail to improve people’s lives and are discredited. Sure, the elites are corrupt, cartoonishly greedy, short sighted and incompetent, but that doesn’t mean our problems would be solved by getting rid of them (I mean, it wouldn’t hurt, but it is not a complete fix).

    We’ve seen the center left and center right take a beating in Europe as part of this process. Depending on the electoral system / local politics, the next step is playing out differently depending on the country.

    In England, the country is run by the newspapers, and the locals (enough of them to elect a government, at any rate) will happily grin themselves to death as the country is corrupted and destroyed by the Tory party.

    In France, we have the reversion to the Napoleonic figure of Macron, but the French are not as controlled by newspaper front pages, so this is proving less stable, and as you say, it seems like next up for a try in the batter’s box is the reactionary right (although Le Pen becoming President might not mean much without a legislative majority behind her).

    The countries with more proportional electoral systems are resistant to sudden shifts in the makeup of government, but mostly seem to be shifting towards a more right wing populist/nativist stance over time, one crisis at a time.

  5. NR

    Unfortunately the left in France has been a mess for over a decade. Harmon tried to unite them in 2017 and the far left ended up actively working for his defeat.

    Sadly France is far from the only place where that’s true.

  6. Feral Finster

    Keep in mind that the contemporary US definitions of “left” vs “right”, “liberal” vs “conservative” really only make sense in the context of contemporary US (and to a lesser extent, Canadian) politics.

    I could argue, for instance, that Germany was “right wing” or practically Stalinist, depending on which facts I wished to cherry-pick.

  7. Willy

    “The FN vote is made up of the victims of globalization. It is the small shopkeepers who are going under because of the economic crisis and competition from the out-of-town hypermarkets; it is low-paid workers from the private sector; the unemployed. The FN scores well among people living in poverty, who have a real fear about how to make ends meet.” – Sociologist Sylvain Crépon

    Sounds like the very folks who the left could help. Sounds like the left is losing the PR war. Sounds like somebody needs to try and figure out why.

    (I already get the part where limiting immigration is embraced by the unwashed natives, for what for them, are obvious reasons. I get the part where quasi-fascists are more likely to tell people anything they want to hear, just to acquire power. I also get the part where corporate sponsors will ally to smear anybody who seems likely to limit their power.)

  8. NR

    Seems a bit lazy to refer to Le Pen as a fascist. Nativist, maybe, reactionary, definitely, but I don’t really see how fascist is accurate.

    Part of the problem is that there is no universally agreed-upon definition of fascism. This is a problem that goes back decades; see, for example, George Orwell’s 1944 essay “What is Fascism?”

  9. GlassHammer

    The last hurrah of the “center left” is what I see, not only in France but across Western Democracies.

    The “center” (both left and right) imploded in the decade following the 2008 financial crisis.

    With the collapse of the center, voters have opted to simply not vote and let the most tolerable batch of lunatics run a defunct system. Of course this new approach isn’t working either but the center remains as unpalatable as ever.

    In the short term people are testing if the problem is the political system or the parties within them. In the long run they will conclude both are irreparably damaged and something new is required.

    The next decade is going to be interesting.

  10. different clue

    I either read or heard recently that Melenchon has implored all his prior-round voters to not vote for Le Pen in the next round. If his followers all follow that advice, then Macron could outpoll Le Pen. If his followers go further and vote for Macron in order to make sure to defeat Le Pen, then Macron will win.

    So the outcome may be determined by what the Melenchon voters will do.

    If Macron wins again, Le Pen will bide her time, prepare for the next election, and win that one, or the one after that . . . . if France still has “elections” by that time.

    If Le Pen wins, her Party-Movement will make some small headway in the teeth of unified Macron-Melenchon obstruction and sabotage. Her mission will be to make it very clear to all French observers and onlookers that the obstruction and sabotage is coming from a Macron-Melenchon coalition-of-the-saboteurs. If she succeeds in that mission, how will her Party-Movement members react and respond? Will her Party-Movement build up the strength needed to crush and destroy the “Macrelenchonites”?

    Of course I am neither Franco-Frenchian nor of Franco-Frenchian descent, so this is just a bunch of ” muh feelz” on my part.

  11. Joan

    Seizing inheritances over twelve million euros is a really good idea and should be implemented in the US, anything over fifteen million dollars. You still get to be rich and walk around like a peacock covered in gold and diamonds at fifteen million. Hopefully that means you can’t buy elections anymore.

    @Dan Lynch, rank-choice voting and direct ballot initiatives are a great idea. Both would need to be passed locally first, then at the state level on up.

  12. anon

    This reminds me of the elections in the USA and how Bernie Sanders would have had a better shot at winning the Democratic primaries had Elizabeth Warren and her supporters backed him rather than focus on a private conversation that may or may not have happened years ago. The real left will never get its sh*t together to beat the neoliberals and conservatives. Unfortunately, too many people who should be voting for progressive candidates back the neoliberal out of fear of the unknown. I have worked with liberals who voted for Biden only because they believed he was more likely to beat Trump than Sanders. Well, if we don’t try to the progressive candidate we’ll never know. Another reason why neoliberals and conservatives will never support rank choice voting because it opens the door for progressives and third party candidates to actually win elections.

  13. different clue

    Why did and does everyhard Left Party in France work against eachother and vote against eachother? Because every single one of them wants to be the Great Revolutionary Vanguard Party which will assume sole power over France and drive the great historical revolution forward. And so because every single party-load of party-identified hard leftists want their own selves to be The Great Historical Vanguard Selves, they all vote against eachother to make sure that no OTHer hard leftist party gets to usurp the Great Red Throne that each hard leftist party thinks is rightfully its sole and very own.

    And that will never change. Never. Ever.

  14. different clue

    This business of “Left” versus “neo-liberal” in France raises the question of what the most operative “this” versus “that” in the United States now is. Since the US is pretty big and populous, it contains several thises and several thatses. But Beau of the Fifth Column’s most recent video-talk makes me think of the Republicanazi MAGAtard Trumpanons and their Christianazi Satanofascist fellow travelers versus the CultureWokes and the wimpy limpy liberals.

    And since I am physically safer under a CultureWoke wimpy limpy liberal regime than under a Christianazi Satanofascist regime like what the MAGAtard Trumpanons are working towards in some of our more Shit Headistani states, I view what Beau says in this most recent video as being a welcome load of functional and operational good news and glad tidings . . . . if it works out the way Beau says it will.

    And since I get a feeling that these culture war-to-the-death issues will have to be worked out to the complete and utter political and public space “annihilation” of one side or the other in this country before we can even begin to clear the decks for a pragmatic consideration of the political-economic survival issues which used to be what the Left used to care about, perhaps Ian Welsh might consider this video just barely tangentially relevant enough to deserve being published.

    In case he does, here is the link.

  15. different clue

    After thinking about my just-above comment, I think a preferable outcome would be for the division of the US into two or more than two countries along cultural incompatability lines.

    “Abortion” might be a good proxy for a whole cluster of politicultural attitudes and standpoints. We could divide the country along Probortion versus Antibortion lines.
    We could have a United States of Probortia and a United States of Antibortia. The Probortianese could live in Probortia and the Antibortianese could live in Antibortia. We could have an India-Pakistan style partition of the country with the two culture-viewpoint loads of people moving to their own side of the line, with hopefully less multi-million massacres between the two groups as they moved to their own country.

    And then we could build a Big Beautiful Wall between the United States of Probortia and the United States of Antibortia.

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