Mathieu Dejean's interview with Alain Badiou on "neoliberal phantom" Emmanuel Macron and the Front National’s "renovated Pétainism" was published in Les Inrockuptibles. Translated by David Broder.
On 7 May twelve million electors abstained, the highest number since 1969. How would you interpret this dissatisfaction with the two presidential finalists?
In the French electoral and parliamentary tradition, the second round of the presidential election is meant to oppose the candidate of the so-called "left-wing" party to the candidate of the traditional Right. Only in this way is the illusion of a clear choice between two distinct political orientations validated. This time, two factors prevented this illusion from working. Firstly, throughout their term of office Hollande and Valls did nothing but — more or less half-heartedly — ape the Right. Then there is the fact the two main parties are each divided. The result was that neither of them was present in the second round, and in place of the good old Left/Right fiction we had a forced choice between the far Right — in normal times barred from exercising power — and an improvised neoliberal centre-Right. A lot of people rejected this choice, instead following the logic of "neither one nor the other."
What is the meaning of Macron?
Macron is the name of a crisis of any politics that purports to "represent" political orientations in an electoral space. That clearly owes to the fact that the earthly disappearance of the communist hypothesis and its parties has little by little made the truth about parliamentarism apparent: namely, that ultimately it only "represents" small nuances in the dominant consensus around neoliberal capitalism — and not any alternative strategy. The far Right, in the brutal style of Donald Trump or the renovated Pétainism of Marine Le Pen, profits from this situation, since although it stands totally within that consensus it is alone in giving off the appearance of being on the outside.
Indeed, from within the terms of a capitalism that it does nothing to challenge, the far Right puts forward a rancid nationalism as a replacement for the globalisation of contemporary capital, which is rather more dashing. Macron, for his part, is the direct and undivided embodiment of the neoliberal consensus. He is its clone. He was hurriedly put together by our real masters — namely the entrepreneurial oligarchy — in order to do this.
The call to come together to block the FN was only of very relative success, compared to 2002. How would you explain this weakening of the republican front? Do you think that through this we can see that there is an unsatisfied political desire?
What is gradually being constituted, in any case, especially among educated youth, and at the same time among the properly "proletarian" layer in our situation — particularly workers of foreign background and their descendants — is a demand for a political offensive clearly situated outside of the consensus. But a real one, and not a fake and abjectly identitarian one like the FN proposes. That is what gave Mélenchon and France Insoumise its energy. This movement’s programme was not very stimulating at all, and it was very distant from any kind of communism. Moreover, it was centred on a parliamentary proposal, the Sixth Republic, which was as unrevolutionary and unclear as possible. But in the specific case of an election, we take what there is. And this unsatisfied desire obviously reappeared in the second round with the categorical refusal of the neoliberal phantom Macron. However vague that still is, it is a very good thing, the only thing in this whole electoral theatre that is worth taking interest in.
When she turned up at the Whirlpool factory in Amiens — which is threatened with outsourcing — Marine Le Pen said "Here I am in, in my proper place, exactly where I should be." Has the terrain of class struggle and resistance to globalisation been so abandoned by the Left that the far Right can now claim a monopoly over it?
That is exactly what I was just saying. I think that it is true that it would be a good idea to abandon the signifier "the Left," which has become utterly ambiguous. Mitterrand capitulated in open ground after barely two years. Jospin said "for sure, we will not be going back to a managed economy." Hollande persecuted Roma travellers, was incapable of dealing with the question of mass unemployment and waved around the French flag since, he claimed, "France is at war." What do they have to do with a resolute anti-capitalism and a combative political strategy?
What did you think of Emmanuel Macron’s attitude in his exchanges with the workers at the Whirlpool factory, assuming that he could not save their jobs?
He still has not acquired the talent of a professional left-wing politician, which has always consisted of promising something, only later to explain that to their great regret the "situation" did not allow them to remain loyal to what they had earlier said. A pure creature of the consensus directed by the economic oligarchy, Macron believes he can get off scot-free with admitting the nature of this consensus, its true content and its inevitable anti-popular effects. In short, he does not yet clearly understand why he is there: which is indeed to do what "the situation," i.e. the masters of capital, demand that he does, but also to have people believe that he is unhappy about this, and would like to do otherwise. He will learn.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon made an electoral breakthrough by setting himself the mission of "federating the people" against the oligarchy, in a post-Marxist perspective theorised by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. Do you think this is an opportune strategy for rebuilding the radical Left [la gauche de la gauche]?
The "gauche de la gauche" only exists insofar as its principles — what I call "the communist idea" are explicit, insofar as its activity is strategically independent of incidental electoral happenings, and insofar as it has a strongly established and organised relationship with the popular masses — first of all precarious workers and nomadic proletarians. I did not see any of that in Mélenchon’s escapade — indeed, any more than I see it in the populism which you mention. We are at the very beginning of a complete reformulation of the categories of emancipatory political action. We are, if you will, a lot closer to Marx in the 1840s than Lenin in 1917.
Do you think that the parties of government, kept out of the second round of the presidential election, are condemned to end up in the dustbin of history?
As you might expect, I am not too worried about their fate. But I have learned that we should not underestimate the capitalist oligarchy’s and its different political projections’ capacities in manoeuvring in the electoral configuration that is called "democracy." Look at the Parti Socialiste, and its ancestor the SFIO: after leading the sordid colonial war in Algeria almost start to finish and then licking De Gaulle’s boots during the military coup in 1958, it seemed that it was truly out of the game. At that time, it seemed that the Communist Party was about to sweep the board on the "Left." Remember the 1969 elections: Gaston Defferre [of the SFIO] was at 5%, less than Hamon this time, and the PCF could take the luxury of advocating abstention in the second round, saying that the two candidates Pompidou and Poher were "six of one and half a dozen of the other." Which the abstentionists and blank voters could very much have said of the second round this time. But twelve years later it was the Parti Socialiste that established itself in the position of a great party of government, to the point that it would go on to occupy the presidency for [a total of] almost twenty years. Conversely, the PCF — which took the very vexing decision no longer to be a party "outside the system," for it participated in several governments — shrivelled, shrank, and became almost impossible to make out. Of course, as we enter into the third sequence of the communist hypothesis, after its creation in the nineteenth century and then its — ultimately failed — experimentation in state-form during the twentieth century, all these incidental things will indeed end up falling into the dustbin of history. But it could well be that this comes at the end of a very long march. The communist hypothesis, which since its first appearance has proposed a rupture with all that has existed in politics over millennia, has only existed across two short centuries. As Mao once said, communists’ greatest failing is their impatience. So let us be patient about filling the dustbins. There will be many more elections, which means a lot more forms of disappointment, false choices and betrayals.
Protestors on 1 May already foretold a tumultuous five years in office for Macron. Do you think that the extreme political instability reached during the fight against the labour law reforms can continue with the same momentum?
But where the devil did you see "extreme political instability"? There were some trade union demonstrations, of much smaller dimensions than the ones protesting the pensions bill a few years ago. There were some clashes with the police, and they gave me a nice reminder of my youth, pointing to a certain rebellious courage, but in present conditions their political consequences are either non-existent or outright negative. There was Nuit Debout, a limited and rather bland imitation of the great square occupations we could earlier see in Egypt, in Greece, in Spain, in Turkey, in Hong Kong or even in the United Startes. We could already understand that all these spectacular mass actions were settled either through the major strengthening of the far Right or the military — al Sisi, Erdogan, Trump — or by the overwhelming weight of electoral capitulations, as with Syriza or Podemos. So frankly, in France… That said, any sign of a lasting mobilisation against the Macron government will be welcome, and worth going to watch up close. Patience is also knowing how to measure and welcome real progress along your own path, however small that may be.