This piece first appeared in Jacobin.
The French presidential election later this month will be a major turning point in the country’s political history. Beyond the campaign’s many twists and turns — from François Hollande’s decision not to stand for reelection to the collapse of the mainstream right’s candidate, François Fillon — the fact that the two candidates most likely to face off in the second-round elections — Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen — do not belong to either the Socialist Party (PS) or Les Républicains (LR) represents a historic development.
Since the Fifth Republic formed in 1958, the PS and LR — or any one of the various Gaullist rights — have alternated power. This year, either social-liberal Macron, from the year-old party En Marche!, or far-right Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) will likely become president. Every pollster predicts Macron will win in a second round runoff.
David Broder's report on the French presidential election was first published in Political Critique, prior to yesterday's first round.
Without doubt the French election promises a political shake-up. The governing Socialist Party is at just 8% in the presidential poll while all four leading candidates vying to replace François Hollande declare themselves the challengers to "élites," or even to be "anti-systemic." Certainly the candidates are keen to represent a clean break with the record of both the Hollande and Sarkozy presidencies, associated with continual economic crisis as well as the insecurity attached to the mounting war on terror. Yet the "battle against élites" increasingly appears as a mere marketing strategy, the supposed fight against "vested interests" able to cover all manner of sins, or indeed, vested interests.
First published in Le Monde Diplomatique. Translated by David Broder.
Mélenchon rally, Lyon, February 2017.
1. In the so-called "democratic" era, a system of domination is a paradoxical creature. It categorically refuses to recognise its own systemic character, precisely because this era purports to be "democratic." However, even to begin to challenge its vital interests immediately reduces this playacting to nothing, making its systemic character manifest again. Indeed, so much is this system a system, that it comes out of the register of denial only in order to fall into a register of hysteria. As soon as Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s presidential bid became a serious possibility, leaving behind his outlandish fringe-candidate status, all the pretenses of upholding democracy, all the restraints of reasonable objectivity, instantly collapsed, ultimately allowing the system’s true face to come to light: furious, and of one mind.
In this column from Le Monde, philosopher Alain Badiou argues that voting only reinforces conservatism. He instead advocates "reinventing communism." Translated by David Broder.
20 March French presidential debate.
A lot of the electorate is still undecided about the presidential vote. I myself can understand. It is not so much that the programmes of the candidates considered eligible are somehow in the dark, or confused. It is not so much — to pick up on a turn of phrase I once applied to Sarkozy, which enjoyed a certain success — that we have to ask ourselves "what they are the name of." Rather, all this is only too clear.
Marine Le Pen is the modernized — and thus feminized — version of what the French far Right has always been. A tireless Pétainism.
François Fillon is a Pétainist in a three-piece suit. His (personal or budgetary) philosophy can be reduced to "saving every penny." He is not all that attentive to where his own pennies come from, but he is filthy miserly, intransigent, when it comes to fiscal spending and in particularly the money meant for the poor.
Benoît Hamon is the timid, rather limited representative of "left-wing socialism"; something that has always existed, though it is harder to identify or to uncover even than one of those characters we never see.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon — certainly the least disagreeable — is nonetheless the parliamentary expression of what we today call the "radical" Left, on the precarious boundary between the old ruined socialism and a spectral communism. He masks his programme’s lack of boldness or clarity with an eloquence worthy of Jean Jaurès.
Emmanuel Macron, for his part, is a creature brought out of nothing by our true masters, the latest capitalists, those who have bought up all the papers as a precaution. If he believes and says that Guiana is an island or that Piraeus is a man, it is because he knows that no one in his camp has ever been committed by what they said.