Blog post

Saying No to Disaster

Edwy Plenel 2 May 2017

Marine and Jean-Marie Le Pen lead an FN march, 2014.

Edwy Plenel, author of For the Muslims, calls for a vote against Le Pen and for Macron on May 7, not in order to endorse his programme, but for the sake of defending democracy as a space of free contestation, including in the face of the En Marche! candidate’s own policies. First published in Mediapart, which Plenel founded.  

Marine and Jean-Marie Le Pen lead an FN march, 2014.

To vote against Le Pen by voting for Macron is not to vote for this latter’s programme. It is to vote to defend democracy as a conflictual space, traversed by divergent interests and competing causes. A space where its contradictions, its pluralism, its diversity, its claims and its hopes can freely express themselves — including faced with the policies of a Macron presidency.

There would be nothing of the kind with the far Right, whose electoral programme, ideological inheritance and political practices we have documented on Mediapart quite well enough to know that its demagogic and sensationalist postures cloak an explicit will to challenge the republican values of liberté, égalité, fraternité. These are common republican values, however imperfectly realised they may be. Without hesitation, and as far as we can choose, we prefer to be in opposition to a Macron presidency than subject to a nationalist, authoritarian and identitarian power.

Marine Le Pen, we recently recalled, is not in the camp of the exploited and oppressed, the weakest and most precarious. She is even their most determined enemy, such is her plan to dissolve social conflicts — in short, meaning class struggles — into an indistinct people rallied around the nation and made to submit to its leader. That is all the more true given that the xenophobic and racist commitment in which she was schooled — "national priority" — makes the diversity of the world of labour, woven by plural cultures and migrations, her top-priority enemy.

Let us not confuse economic violence and social injustice under a democracy — however imperfect — with that which exists under an authoritarian power. In the former case we can still fight, organise mobilisations, build a test of strength, or even impose retreats on the authorities. In the latter case, the right to challenge and to resist is itself put in question, with all the means of coercion available to the state and its police. To think that there is some common measure between these two situations is to have no memory, or to forget history. Who demanded the banning of demonstrations against the Valls government’s Labour Law? Marine Le Pen! Who is contemplating putting the freedom of the press under surveillance? The Front National! Who wants to attack the right to strike — meaning, the right of those who have no wealth other than their labour to build a test of strength with the bosses and the shareholders, i.e. with capital? The Front National!

For example, during her brief appearance at the Whirlpool site in Amiens, it was not said enough that the picket line she went to meet would have great difficulties even existing were she ever to rule. After all, one of the Front National’s programmatic documents foresees "a major reform of the trade unions," such that they are "better able to enter into constructive dialogue and less tempted to resort to tests of strength (strikes, demonstrations) to compensate for their lack of legitimacy." The "social" finery the far-Right candidate dresses up in — rushing into the space freed up by the divisions, the silences, and the calculations of the radical Left — is evidently nothing but an imposture. This is similar to how the 1930s National-Socialists profited from the splits among the Socialist and Communist Left in order to win the German working class to their cause, before systematically destroying the class’s social movement, its organisations and its unions.

This is what is at stake on 7 May. Faced with this, we have no choice but to vote for Emmanuel Macron. That is all the more true given that there is a greater than ever possibility of an electoral accident; namely, the arrival in power of a fundamentally anti-democratic force, by way of a democratic vote. A strong shift of the right-wing electorate toward Le Pen and a strong mobilisation of the far-Right electorate, allied to a demobilisation of the left-wing voters on account of their anger, division or weariness — thus increasing abstention, to the disadvantage of Emmanuel Macron — would be enough for the Front National candidate to win out.

Saying that this risk exists is not at all a "blackmail" call for a pragmatic vote. More essentially, this is a matter of adopting the path of a lucid reconstruction and meaningful assembly of the forces of emancipation. That means a turn against the renunciations, the distractions and the confusions that have so long and so relentlessly given a helping hand to the Front National. For we should no longer be content with words; we should no longer get drunk on grievances. We are facing a political disaster for which many are to blame, in a sort of rush to the abyss in which the pyromaniac firefighters of both Left and Right have long played the leading role. They are joined in the final stretch by sorcerers’ apprentices, more or less all of whom are drunk on their own personal adventures to the point of forgetting that they are still short-sighted, constructing nothing enduring when measured by the yardstick of a shared democratic culture.

To say the least, we had been warned. In January 2015, Mediapart drew up a balance-sheet of the first half of François Hollande’s term in one of our collective books. It began with these lines: "France is at the mercy of a historic accident; the election of the far-Right leader Marine Le Pen as president of the Republic in 2017. This is neither a prognostic nor a prediction, still less a bet. It is simply a cool analysis of the unprecedented extent of the crisis of political representation, the sucking of the life out of our democracy, and the exhaustion of the projects within both the republican Right and the governmental or radical Left. Yes, this major political malfunction does make the electoral accident possible."

The pyromaniac firefighters and the sorcerers’ apprentices

And here we are — alas, all our warnings barely got a hearing. But we would never have imagined to what point this presidential campaign would confirm this clear-sighted warning: and this has been a campaign in which nothing has happened as the editorialists, experts, and pollsters predicted. We have a Right in a mess after submitting itself to a morally disqualified candidate who — by the by — has constantly made his electorate more extreme, to the point that even Alain Juppé sounds the alarm of a "No!" faced with the disaster. We have evanescent and splintered Left, incapable of the slightest unity initiative, with its yesterday-dominant party — the PS — seeming to have disappeared. Opposite to this is the far Right, triumphant and united, setting its own pace to the point of systematically and effectively setting the agenda for the period between the two rounds. But this far Right is faced with a paralysed radical left, as we saw with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s appearance on TF1 on the evening of 30 April. With the sudden absence of any anti-fascist pedagogy coming from its de facto spokesperson, his France Insoumise movement has fallen into disarray, confusion and doubt. Finally, we have a candidate "of both Left and Right," as Emmanuel Macron likes to describe himself. Not grasping the gravity of the movement, he believes himself the victor, in the manner of a casino gambler winning everything on a single throw of the dice.

"You made your own bed, now lie in it," one proverb tells us — a way of emphasising that we inevitably suffer the consequences of our own actions. First of all responsible for this disaster are the pyromaniac firefighters who have for so many years espoused the ideological imaginary and agenda of the Front National, pretending to hold it back when they have in fact merely strengthened it. They belong to both Right and Left. In 2002 Jacques Chirac did nothing with the mass vote he had achieved, except for reintroducing Nicolas Sarkozy to the national political game. In 2005, Chirac, like François Hollande, blithely rode roughshod over the majority "No" to the European Constitutional Treaty, thus giving a helping hand to its retrograde version — exclusion and nationalist retreat — rather than its democratic and social demands.

In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy hurried to legitimise the Front National’s identitarian obsessions, introducing a minister of national identity and immigration, the first holder of which post was a renegade Socialist. In 2012 François Hollande — who had been elected thanks to the dynamic rejecting a presidency based on brutalisation and stigmatisation — not only did nothing, but chose to take the same path of regression and blindness with the promotion of Manuel Valls. This latter embodied the authoritarian, identitarian and anti-egalitarian onslaught; a road to perdition, indeed. All these professionals of an aloof, battery-farmed politics — closed off, as they were, in a state and economic bubble — were utterly unwilling to see the deep expectations of the country, wanting an answer to the social emergency and the need for democratic renewal.

Added to the arrogance of these pyromaniac firefighters is the lack of consciousness among the sorcerers’ apprentices, who more preoccupied with themselves than by the gravity of the moment. The first of these is Emmanuel Macron, who — charged with mounting the republican challenge — has proven superficial and lightweight in the wake of the first round. It is high time that he "think against himself," as he was invited to do by a pertinent question in Mediapart, emphasising what a challenge a second round against Le Pen would be. Neither on 23 April nor on 7 May will Macron be the owner of the votes who turned to his name, by reason as much as by conviction. If he does not understand that this vote is something more than him, interfering with his plans and unsettling his certainties, he is rushing toward catastrophe — today as he will do tomorrow. To demand that people vote for him out of adherence to his programme, chasing after a "presidential majority," contemplating ruling by decree, settling for an umpteenth bill to restore morality to politics… all this is to fail to hear the democratic demand emerging from the country. And if there is anything at stake in the vote for him on 7 May, it is to make him understand that he is but the depositary of a general will.

Yet there is another sorcerer’s apprentice, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Like so many others, he has performed a reverse alchemy, transforming an undeniable collective success — La France Insoumise in the lead among the Left, far ahead of the PS — into a personal defeat. Rallying a number of ideas and experiences for which Mediapart has since 2008 been the point of intersection, his impressive campaign and the programme that structured it now run up against the limits, the quirks and the ambiguities of his political practice. Sectarianism, exclusiveness, and intolerance have never served the ideals of emancipation, equality, and fraternity. There are no owners of the true cross on the Left, legitimate in excommunicating anyone who contradicts them or dissents. Mélenchon’s success will be just an illusion without a future, unless it also takes into account the overall balance of forces, deeply unfavourable to a Left that is today more divided and minoritarian than ever. Unless it allows a wider participation in its reconstruction, in dialogue with all the other components of the Left.

This is what Leon Trotsky alone explained with realism, patience and pedagogical concern in distant times — in the 1930s — when Stalinist sectarianism and the divisions on the Left paved the way for the far Right in Europe. Citing him, as Michel Broué did on Mediapart — "Against fascism, Trotsky was ready to ally with the devil and his grandmother" — is not to adopt the posture of the initiated, but simply to recall the painful lessons of history. "If we quite justly accuse the Social Democracy of paving the road for fascism" — this prophet disarmed wrote in August 1931 — "then our own task can least of all consist of shortening this road for fascism." This text was entitled "Against National-Communism"; an opportune reminder that faced with the bearers of hatred against the other and the foreigner, a complacent attitude toward retreat into the national box is not a barrier against these forces, but a trampoline for them.

In 1933 André Malraux met Leon Trotsky, who was temporarily taking refuge in Saint-Palais, near Royan. "The sea," Malraux recounted, "continued to caress the rocks as the night advanced." And it was then that the former leader of the Red Army, murdered seven years later at Stalin’s orders, confided in him his summary of our duty, a both civic and journalistic duty: "Look, the important thing is: to see things clearly." Indeed, as Trotsky further said, to see clearly is to "liberate man from all that prevents him from seeing."


Filed under: france, frenchelection2017