Emmanuel Macron, spasm of the system
First published in Le Monde Diplomatique. Translated by David Broder.
"I'm going to be very clear..." Probably ignorant of the basic logics of the symptom, Emmanuel Macron seems unable to see how this repetitive way of starting each of his answers betrays the deep desire to cover things up — or rather, to recover them — that animates his whole campaign. "Keep on bathing between vagueness and nothingness" — that is what we should take from each of his promises of clarity. In his defence, we will admit that deferring to the obligation to speak when one's intention is to say nothing at all is one of the curses of this "democracy" that we have still found no satisfactory antidote for. Some will object that most of the candidates end up accommodating to this long and difficult moment — a moment one simply has to go through — and that the campaign-season fib is a well-established genre which should no longer be able to surprise anyone. For Macron, however, the problem takes on unprecedented proportions: not just a matter of slipping across a couple of whoppers, even of the calibre of "my enemy is finance" [as François Hollande claimed before his election in 2012]: rather, his entire campaign, and even his very persona as a candidate, constitute an essentially fraudulent enterprise.
The end of an era
Without doubt, a whole era speaks through this candidate who does not want to speak — and for this same reason feels obliged constantly to warn us that he is "going to be clear." At a very general level, one of the traits of key events like presidential elections is that they express their conjuncture. Yet evidently this is a special conjuncture: it has the sense of an ending. We know that an era enters into its terminal phase when all the regulation mechanisms ensuring it some minimal viability collapse: as if exasperated, its most scandalous defects go off the handle, finally freed of any bounds of decency; its fault lines can no longer be accommodated by the established institutions, and with the tectonic faults set off again, the plates are starting to move. On the one hand is François Fillon, who saw nothing to stop him coming out as a sociopath. In his utter aloofness leaping across all and any boundaries to the obscenity of the wealthy, he is now nothing more than a living insult to society. On the other hand, we have the dislocation of the Socialist Party (PS) now that it is no longer possible to mask how far this nominally left-wing formation has slumped to the Right — in the image of [former Socialist prime minister] Manuel Valls, who, we now learn, is unashamedly considering "compromises with the parliamentary Right" should Fillon win the presidency, or Pierre Bergé, a shareholder in the "left-wing press," who like the Tea Party with Obama is now certain that [Socialist candidate] Benoît Hamon is a "communist."
But the final torments of a dying era that does not want to die are best expressed in Emmanuel Macron’s candidacy. Indeed, it was certain that a moribund world that is still very determined not to give up anything would end up finding an appropriate candidate, the individual capable of all the ambivalences required by the special situation. That is, a candidate capable of speaking and saying nothing, saying nothing but constantly thinking about "it," being at the same time utterly empty and dangerously charged with content.
Empty or full?
It is true that we are first of all struck by this dizzying feeling of the inner void, which the candidate should give up on pathetically trying to fill either by taking on annoying Christ-like postures. Playing at being full of substance when he is in fact empty, or inspired when he in fact he comes from the ENA [prestigious school for future government personnel] counts among these terribly embarrassing spectacles. So too, in a more profane register, when he recites (wrongly) lines from [hip hop band] IAM to make himself look young, invokes [‘60s comedy film] Les Tontons flingueurs to seem down to earth, or plays at being a philosopher in order to seem intellectual. Why impose all this ridicule on himself, why take on all this trouble, when his smiling vacuity can in any case serve as the ideal surface for the projection of all the fantasies of his followers, the start-up-ers awaiting a manager for the start-up France, before they in turn can become the Mark Zuckerbergs of tomorrow.
But with Macron the void is not in contradiction with fullness of content, even if at the present moment when he does have to show something to the outside world, the void is greatly preferable. For the substance is the oligarchy’s: this is the fullness of a class’s project to persevere, in the very moment that everything condemns it, testimony to an era that has perceptibly reached its tipping point. In these conditions, for the oligarchic substance to maintain itself in the face of — and against — everything else, it needed an empty candidate, a candidate who said nothing, for what truly had to be said would be too obscene to present openly: the rich want to remain rich, and the powerful to remain powerful. That is this class’s only project, and that is its candidate Macron’s raison d’être. In this sense, he is the spasm of a system pushing back its own death. He is its final response, the only way of disguising a continuity that has become intolerable to the rest of society, beneath the fakest of semblances of discontinuity, wrapped up in the competitive modernity in use among the half-witted columnists.
"En marche" or "In heaps"?
Hence the paradox, which is only a paradox for that last group: Macron, the self-proclaimed "anti-system" candidate, is the rallying point that all the dregs of the system, all the discredited who saw themselves on the point of being cleaned out are flocking to, without differentiation. They could not believe that such a favour had been granted to them by providence: the possibility of an extra ride around the merry-go-round. Through this aggregation of all the worst, Macron is the very personification of the system, and indeed thus provides its most fundamental truth: the habitual differences from which the fake changes of government draw their ultimate argument, and which the columnists feed off — the "Left" and the "Right," the "Socialists" and "The Republicans," "Hollande" and "Sarkozy" — are just a farce. The proof is the disconcerting speed with which the real ruling bloc accepted owning up to this, at the moment where it was really under threat. A vital urgency commanded that it merge into a single figure — and we might ask whether what Macron has assembled should be called "In heaps" rather than "En marche" ["On the Move"]. This is, in any case, an impressive tearing-away of the veil, leaving an open goal for the Front National: "all our hyped-up opposition, our artificial divisions, our great spectacle of clashes, were all just so much show. You poor naïve types who believed you could 'change government,' we were only ever slipping on one same reversible jacket."
However used we might now be to this, the unlikely list of supporters of Emmanuel Macron’s — running from communists who have shifted to the Right to ultra-liberals who have remained on the Right, passing via half the Chirac government in exile and the whole (vast) section of the Socialist Party sold out to capital — is nonetheless impressive. But yet more impressive is the fact that this absurd assembly of forces — whose revelatory power ought to be devastating — seems not to have revealed anything at all, in any case so long as it is up to media commentary to identify it. And that is especially true of the commentary of the right-wing Left press. Certainly, ever since its origin, this latter has had the higher calling of masking how right-wing this Left has become. But even an actual orgy of Left and Right — and now we are really not far off that — would still not give it any flash of insight. It is true that it, too, is "On the Move," for even without the shareholders having to lift their little fingers this press’s editorial lieutenants themselves take on the responsibility for setting operations on the right course. Between Challenges, shouting out its joy, and L’Obs, which has pushed rationalization to the point that a single cover model [i.e. Macron’s own face] will be enough to get it through the whole campaign, we know pretty much what we can expect, even if the moistened zeal of the devoted always reserves some opportunities for astonishment that we could not previously have imagined.
Since the archives are the only guarantee promising that a future reader will be able to believe this, we will now cite the [L’Obs] editorial by Serge Raffy. Reading this, we need to be strapped in tight in order to avoid falling over backwards: "The 'freshness of life' [slogan from a chewing gum advert!] candidate has come of age. Now he has come knocking, and he is taking all sorts of risks. And that is a pleasure to see". That is what we read in the free press in 2017.
Purifying the situation
The fakeness of the Macron candidacy, a democratic imposture such as we have rarely seen, is thus the extreme measure required by an extreme situation. More precisely, it is what is required by all those whose material interests now have no presentable solution other than this one. Of course, if need be they could settle for Fillon, but he puts things too bluntly and the populace is already a bit uptight.
In any case – and here we see another symptom of crisis — the situation is constantly getting simpler, we could even say purer, to the point of getting back to its very essence. Once upon a time it was necessary to deploy a whole sophisticated theoretical arsenal in order to reconstruct the domination of capital at work in the political and media institutions, through complex mediation-screens. Everything has now been so clearly exposed that even the most rudimentary of Marxisms now easily gets a view of the current events. It effortlessly hits the jackpot of the best explanation: billionaires own the press and have undertaken to lift an investment banker to the presidency. There you have it!
The situation has thus become so crude that even the most rudimentary instruments of thought are enough to succeed in explaining it with flying colours: on the one hand the mobilized class of oligarchs, on the other the bulk of society. Between the two, it is true, is the bracket of fantasists: the group of those dreamers of varying degrees of unrealism who tell themselves that they have a chance, if not to join the first bloc, then at least to stick close enough to it, even if only in their own imaginations, to have the impression of being with it. In reality this is a decisive population bracket, which allows the blurring of the violence of the basic antagonism. It allows the real domination by the oligarchy to be wrapped in the rags of democratic legitimacy. And these are indispensable. In consequence, this is the bracket toward which all the empty candidate’s efforts are directed, all his evacuations of his substance, all the heartening comedy of the "rupture," of the "anti-system," of the "freshness of life" necessary to covering up his real line, whose true slogan ought to be "More of the same." It is true that we cannot accuse "En marche" of itself being dishonest, for it prudently omits to say precisely what it is "On the Move" towards…
"Realism" and reality
It does indeed take all this large-scale enterprise of falsifications on media steroids to cover up — as is necessary — the enormity of what has to be slipped across: politically speaking, a pure service of one class, and "technically" the intensification of everything that has failed for the last three decades. In an irony characteristic of hegemony in the Gramscian sense, the party of those who warble on about "realism" is precisely identified with its loss of almost any relation with reality, even though it still succeeds in invoking "reality" as its best argument.
In the neoliberal era, "realism" names the continual transfiguration of patent failures into successes that are always and constantly still to come. What reality has long been condemning outright, "realism" orders not only that we continue to follow, but that we deepen it. The explanation for its disappointments is that they are only "temporary," that "we haven’t gone far enough," that we had settled for "half-measures" and the "true break" is always still to come. And that has been going on for thirty years. The perfect identity of arguments between Fillon and Macron, on this register, should be enough to indicate where this latter is really situated, and which term really prevails in his "both Right and Left" shtick.
For both of the right-wing candidates, as for all those who drone along with them, "reform" — interminable by its very essence — is the journey to the end of the night. Or, in less literary terms, a market Stalinism. Just as the failure of "socialism" — also termed "real socialism" [French equivalent of "actually-existing socialism"] — could be blamed on saboteur elements whose eradication continued without end, the failure of neoliberalism owes to the residual rigidity, the last still-encrusted pensions — the pensions of taxi drivers or train drivers, of course, and not the annuities for financial capital and the taxes that never cease to be deemed "theft" even when the rates are reduced close to zero.
If not a floating signifier, "reform" is the name of an indefinite process expressing nothing more than the project of a miniscule group seeking to push ever further its advantage over the rest of society. And since this road is a long one — and in reality it will never finish, all the more so given that since any progress is also the progression of its failure, this "justifies" the need for further progress — it is indeed time to set off "en marche." For this failure has differential effects, and amidst the general catastrophe the particular interests sponsoring Macron have never been so well advanced. This is another characteristic of the hegemony that passes off the pursuit of these minority interests as the pursuit of the general interest, even when their radical contradiction is more and more violently demonstrated.
Free trade, Europe, finance "our strong model of solidarity"
Thus while the European and international free-trade deals destroy the industrial base and smash up entire regions, most importantly they have the unsurpassable advantage of holding the wage-worker class at bay, through the pressure of competition and the permanent threat of outsourcing. The Eurozone displays these same excellent disciplining properties, albeit by different means, so it is most important that we do anything except touch it. The organized closing down of any degree of freedom of economic policy allows no instrument other than "internal devaluation," meaning pushing down wages using underemployment, in order to try and survive in the idiot "competitiveness" game (and in fact almost everyone will perish in this game)… yet that is what makes it desirable."Realism" long having been unbound from any reality, thinks nothing of the resulting social disaster, but in passing over the rubble it does not fail to cash the really pursued profits — so many possible variations around this "reality" — i.e. by putting the workers to heel.
The general fakeness however also demands a sham display of movement. So they give an interview to Libération to explain that the best strategy for change in Europe is to change nothing: "France can only bring Germany along if it is economically and financially credible".1 Let’s just understand that: in order to obtain Germany’s permission to do something, we must first show it that we have decided to change nothing. [Libération’s] Laurent Joffrin, wholly seduced by the "originality" of Macron’s method — which consists of perfecting two decades of lolling around on the floor by lying even flatter — comments "Let’s begin by giving these guarantees of good management and smart reforms, and then we can ask for concessions."2 Yes, let’s begin by crawling, that is how we will lay hold to freedom. Such is the perfect contentment of the encounter between a complexion and an ideology.
Since this is not the be all and end all of organizing external forces’ work, is also necessary to think about internal deregulation, which alone is able to maximize the internal effects of what happens elsewhere. Let us concede that at the moment Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to transform the labour code by decree — along the way making Valls with his 49-3 measure [to push the Loi Travail through parliament] look like some bashful innocent — this was indeed his full substance unexpectedly emerging amidst the void. The cross the candidate of the void has to bear is the duty to speak when the accusation of vacuity becomes too pressing, leaving him no choice other than to say what ought to have been kept quiet. It is true that between the word "hardship" which he "has no love for" , his desire "not to hear it said that it is more interesting to do something other than work"  and his comparative empathy for the saddened livestock farmer whose animals are sick, and the employer obliged to lay people off , the candidate had already said a lot, even if he thought he had remained at the register of the empty.
And then there is finance — but this is the candidate’s comfort blanket. If Emmanuel Macron does find himself caught up over Europe, the issue would be banking regulation — which Europe wants to remove from the control of prudential authorities, to hand it over to a more comprehensive governance. Even the innocuousness of European financial regulation is too much.
But doubtless it is with Macron’s plans for exempting shares from the tax base for the Solidarity Tax on Wealth (ISF) that the curtain is raised, allowing us to see a whole vision of the world that is already well established backstage — this being rebaptised, not without a certain humour, "the strong solidarity model we stick by."6 As this candidate backed up by years of the media beating us over the head continually repeats, he "fully embraces encouraging productive investment."7 Unhappily for him — and as it happens, the economists that ventriloquise him — there are only very distant relations between investing in shares and investing in production, the former only corresponding to the latter when these shares are underwritten by issuance. But shares portfolios are overwhelmingly composed of equities bought up on the secondary market, with the flow of liquidity from the purchaser going not to the underlying enterprise but to another financial investor who himself bought his equities from a prior one, etc. This money only circulates among speculators, without the company seeing the slightest trace of it for ages — after the shares are issued, indeed. Even if this is only an approximate indication — for we cannot establish any direct relation between capital flows and stocks — we get a closer view of the real proportions of things when we know that in 2015, for a capitalization of €1,430 billion on the CAC 40 alone, the issuing of shares corresponding to liquidity actually received by enterprises amounted to a generous €10bn.8 And we can make out the true merits of the "strong solidarity model" when we note  that the whole of share-capital is being taken out of taxation in the name of a "contribution to productive investment" that in fact represents… only 1% of this latter.10 Perhaps on this point more than anything else we understand — by way of a brutal illustration — what hegemony consists of, as the art of passing off the service of one class as a factor favouring the general prosperity.
"Free"… and a "dam"
"I am not anyone’s hostage, I serve no one" the candidate protesting his "freedom" nonetheless claimed.11 Emmanuel Macron has not been kidnapped by [businessmen] Xavier Niel, Bernard Arnault or Patrick Drahi, he has not been chained up in a cave and ordered to draw up a programme for a pittance. He is not the slave of these friends of his: he is their friend. He is one of them. And it is this community of affection, overarching their community of condition and orientation, that guarantees each of them the feeling of never being as free as when he does what all his social connections determine he should do.
These trivial protests of freedom thus struggle to wipe away the essential thing, which, on the contrary, they do but confirm. The natural way in which candidate Macron expresses the particular interests of his class in the cosmetic generalities of a "programme" indicates that we are at a point where claims of a hidden "subservience" fall away, for they have absolutely no use. Perhaps that is the real novelty of this candidacy: that now his class speaks straight from the mouth without the least mediation, no longer feeling the slightest need to dress things up or put them at arm’s length, however fictitiously. In this sense we cannot settle for saying that Macron is the pure and simple extension of Hollande, or we will miss the qualitative difference between them.
Hollande could wrap himself in three decades of political life, his manoeuvres in the party apparatus, as first secretary of the PS, his terms as a regional councilor and as an MP, in order to cloak himself in the illusion of the autonomy of a "politician," "obviously" separated from other social spheres — especially business. This allowed him to get people to forget all his social determinations, the whole network of connections unknown to the public that ended up making this apparent "autonomy" operate as a real heteronomy — that is, ultimately, perfectly in service of oligarchic interests. Today this whole work of mediation and recasting things — whose most fortunate property was precisely that it hid the real chains of cause and effect — is judged superfluous. Without doubt under the effects of what is a terminal situation, class domination has become exasperated. For now that it has had its fill of dressing things up, it no longer has time for the long detour via the production stage necessary for fashioning a politician. It wanted its candidate right away: an investment banker, rapidly pushed through the compartment marked "minister," and immediately propelled to the presidency. And may there be no more discussion. But the sharpening political crisis makes the outcome of this oligarchic "democratic putsch" rather uncertain. Almost everywhere the "big animal" is waking up again, and from Trump’s America to Brexit Britain it increasingly has serious sights on sending everything packing. French society has long since set off along this same trajectory, and it is just waiting for its own accident to materialize. Only the blindness of a class which — as Marx noted — has never been able to see beyond its own "narrow and dirty private interests" prevents it from seeing that the candidate it is obsessed with lifting to power is himself accelerating this disaster.12 Though it is true that it will probably very well get along with redeploying its interests within the context of the disaster…
Caught up in another flush of belief that he is Jesus, that is what Emmanuel Macron thinks, declaring himself the candidate of the great resolution — the candidate whose election will push back the Front National. This is a singular promise, indeed coming from he who not only already expresses, in his own person, all the historical causes of the rise of the far Right, but proposes to raise them to a higher point of perfection. Right on time, the second round polls give him a 60-40 victory over Marine Le Pen. There is no special reason to delight in this, however; rather, they are even reason for worry, when a simple comparison with Father Chirac’s 80-20 victory gives some idea of the loss over the last fifteen years. And allows us to anticipate that the next wave will come too, once the "dam" candidate is elected: for under his watch the water will build up even faster.
1. Emmanuel Macron, ‘On ne peut pas être timidement européen, sinon on a déjà perdu’, Libération, 24 March 2017.
2. Laurent Joffrin, ‘Gages’, Libération, 24 March 2017.
3. Speech to Medef [French employers’ association], 28 March 2017.
4. Rally in Lyon, 4 February 2017.
5. Emmanuel Macron, ‘I have never known a happy livestock farmer with sick animals … It is like the idea that an employer would love laying people off’. Speech to FNSEA farmers’ union, 30 March 2017.
6. Marc Ferracci, Philippe Martin (economists and advisors to Emmanuel Macron), ‘En marche : un projet pour le 21e siècle’.
8. Tableau de l’économie française (TEF), 2017 INSEE.
9. Simply hypothesizing proportionality among resident shareholders, and the individuals among them concerned by this ISF measure.
10. In reality it is the argument exonerating ‘contributions to business financing’ that itself invites this confusion of stocks and capital flows.
11. ‘I am as free as you’, Emmanuel Macron, L’Emission Politique, France 2, 6 April 2017.
12. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire.