The Beating Heart of Macronism
If we can place any reasonable hope in the Macron presidency, it is that everything is going to become very, very obvious. Which is to say, odious like never before.
First published in Lundimatin. Translated by David Broder.
Logically enough, everything is proceeding in concert. At the very moment of Macron’s election, we discover that La Poste [French post office] is enriching its range of services with a "Check in on my parents" offer, starting at €19.90 a month (there’sseveral options: 1, 2, 4 or 6 visits a week). The person tasked with this will doubtless no longer be called an "agent" (so impersonal and bureaucratic, they’ll say); we will see if La Poste goes as far as calling them "the family friend." They will pop round, have a coffee, and send a little text message to keep the relatives updated. In short — as the prospectus itself says — it "maintains the social bond." In summary: just to maintain the social bond alone costs €19.90 a month. And for a concrete social bond (6 visits a week) it’s €139.90. Even so, ultimately the same also holds for living together.
In 1999 EDF [electricity line] installation workers came back from holiday — or even retirement — and spontaneously resumed service in order to turn the power back on after the cyclone. [lignards: electricity line installation workers but also soldiers on the front line/infantry.] They did this because they thought that in these exceptional circumstances something was at stake that also concerned them. Namely, the public service of which they were, or had been the agents, and society as a whole. For them, this was not at the level of a contractual-market relation, and they acted based on non-monetary motives. Now that we are at the stage of setting prices for the social bond, we see that their response was a tragic error. It has been decided that everything, absolutely everything, is monetisable. So we really hope that the next time that the lines fall to ground, any request to get the power going again will get the best of responses — the renegotiation of overtime rates from a position of strength. Better still, they will stick the pylons where the sun don’t shine.
The anthropological nonsense of a social bond that comes at a price seems to ignore the fact that no bond is based on the market-contract relation. That is to say, any bond other than the temporary one stipulated in the contract’s clauses, whose deadlines are fixed by the payment that — as the expression quite rightly puts it — allows this service to be discharged, which is to say, heaved off. After which, the contracting parties become totally foreign to one another again. Yet this is the "relational" model that neoliberal society, La Poste in the lead, proposes to generalise to all human relations. This is a civilisational disaster of which this spring’s electoral disaster is but the epiphenomenon. But also the accelerator. Perhaps with all the virtues of accelerations in the reverse direction: tearing away the remaining veils, clarifying the situation, bringing the critical points into one place. If we can place any reasonable hope in the Macron presidency, it is that everything is going to become very, very obvious. Which is to say, odious like never before.
Let us not be mistaken: France has not been Macronised at all. The leverage effect of the "pragmatic vote" put at ease a president with a real base of support standing at 10% of registered voters. As for the parliamentary elections, the legitimist reflex joins together with the pulverisation of the opposition candidacies to ensure that Macron will win the jackpot. Through this fatal combination, the 19th arrondissement of Paris, for example, which in the first round of the presidential election gave Mélenchon a lead with over 30% of the vote, has set off quite nicely on the way to giving itself a Macronian MP. We would be mistaken to draw definitive conclusions from this. But in reality, at the point we are at, all this is no longer of any importance. The truth is that "Macron’s France" is but a trifle, something stunted, however convinced it is that it is keeping up appearances. It is the pest class.
The pest class is one among the elements of the educated class, whose long-term growth is doubtless one of the phenomena that most powerfully structure society. Not far off 30% of the population have a qualifications level of Bac+2 [two years’ university study] or higher. Many draw from this the conclusion that, unbound from authority and able to "think for themselves," their opinion counts and deserves to be heard. They make up the richness of social media and the comments sections of the online press. And they are also good news for Europe and globalisation. For the educated class is hardly sparing in its number of halfwits who are the most susceptible to being carried off by empty abstractions like "openness" (to be desired), "retreat" (something to run away from), the "Europe that has guaranteed peace," the "debt that we cannot leave to our children," or the globalised-world-in-which-we-have-to-make-ourselves-count-faced-with-Russia-and-the-USA. The halfwit class is the Duchess of Guermantes within reach of an undergrad degree: "I’m worried about China."
The penchant to become intoxicated by general ideas, which give their author the feeling of having risen to the level of taking on the world — meaning, the level of those who govern — has the effect or correlation of a robust self-centredness. For half-wittedness does not go any further than empty abstractions, and knows nothing of all the real consequences of its abstract boasts. In fact, it does not want to know about them. It is a matter of indifference if the mass of society is devastated as a result. Even in the best of cases, inequalities or precarity can only ever extract a few fine words of sorrow, and in any case no political reaction. The essential thing resides in the advantages of having a loftier point of view, and thus, moreover, the possibility of preaching universalist lessons to the recalcitrant. It is fundamentally a moralism — as is so often the case, one nurtured by material satisfactions. Unsurprisingly, it resists barbarism by continuing to drink beers out on the terrace [Probably a reference to the hashtag #jesuisenterrace issued as a response to the terrorist attacks on various Parisian bars in November 2015] — or, yet more swankily, by brewing its own beer.
Half-witted and utterly self-centred: this is the pest class, the beating heart of Macronism. It is the spearhead of the "Macron way of life" — or La Poste’s idea of living together. Divided between those who have already "made it" and those who continue to nourish the fantasy of "making it" — sometimes against all evidence — it is the class of human capital: finally, a capital that can be their own, and allow them to be capital! These people are inhabited by the game: they join up to it wholeheartedly, they take delight in hitching up with its degenerated language, and they make all the signs of belonging. In sort, they live the life of this game. They are so homogenous in their thinking that this is almost a class-party, the party of the "modern," of "realism," of "French Tech," of the "personal project." And we could very easily draw up the list of modish commonplaces that set the terms of their contact with the world. They speak like a TV news programme. Their mouths are full of words that are not their own, but which have so long saturated them that they have ended up becoming their own — and that is even worse.
Yet a zealous self-centredness combined with the intensity of existential investments has the paradoxical property of making the class of "openness" a separate and cloistered class. A class that is sociologically in the minority, even though its political expressions are given a majority by the electoral institutions. Here like nowhere else, these institutions show us how much confidence they deserve. The only really majoritarian thing is its social power — but as we know, here we should speak not of a majority, but of a hegemony. Unsurprisingly, the journalistic under-under-class is its pearl, and its natural megaphone. For this latter, Macron’s election has been the opportunity for an unprecedented orgasmic flush. At the moment of writing, we are still not over this yet. In any case, the pest class makes so much noise that you would think it was a dozen times the size. It is able to make sure that no one else gets a hearing, and to reduce everyone else — white and blue-collar workers, the very real masses — to non-existence. Evidently it does so at the cost of a muted build-up of "misunderstandings," doomed one of these days to breaking out in rather noisy fashion.
That could be reason to lose all hope, if the population’s "intellectual progress" only produced yet more of the possessed, and made itself into the perfect bolt for locking in the capitalist social order. But the pest class is but a fraction of the educated class. In principle, we can also use extensive intellectual capacities for other things. Of course, we do not think in a vacuum, and our thinking is determined by all sorts of interests — including material ones — which we have to think through. From this point of view, neoliberalism has among the most ambivalent of effects. While it fashions the happily subjugated subject, the entrepreneur of himself, it also churns out graduates denied a job, precarious intellectuals, and start-up-ers returned from their slavery. The We’reWorthMoreThanThat platform, which did a lot more than the union leaderships in launching the spring 2016 movement [against the Labour Law] — which even acted against these leaderships… — is a veritable online anthology of the bosses’ violence. Backed up by experience, it explains rather well where a large part of the graduate youth is, in terms of its relationship with wage-labour. And — in an exactly opposite determination — in terms of what it is inclined to think. So we cannot fall into a "generational" exaltation without failing to see that something is happening in these age groups. Indeed, if a whole fraction of this generation is starting to call itself "ungovernable" rather than just watching The Social Network the tenth time over and dreaming that they can be French Zuckerbergs, this without doubt owes to the fact that they have thought a bit about what it means to be governed. Enough to realise that this is not only a matter of the state but the whole set of means of fashioning their conduct — something that capitalism’s formal and informal institutions fully play their own part in.
This side of the educated class is not all that Macronised. And that is not to mention all those whose prolonged experience has imbued them with the wish to change sides: the execs disheartened with what they are made to do, those disgusted with managerial life, the mistreated, those have been put to waste and make a virtue of necessity — but in a good way — who have decided that "bouncing back" is only of interest for a ball thrown for a dog. They no longer want to fight to get back into the game, and now go off at a tangent. Yet this contingent of the knackered never stops increasing. And this is the paradox of Macronism: at the same time that it crystallises the pest class, its radicalising effect — which gives an unprecedented clarity to this era — opens up interesting demographic perspectives for the restive fraction of the educated class.
Yet the educated class’s social privilege of visibility — a privilege of all its fractions — does not take away from the fact that you cannot get big numbers, especially in the streets, without the mobilised working class. As it happens, that must mean a working class unbound from the union leaderships, or at least determined not to wait on them any longer. But its goal has to be overcoming atomisation and fear. There is no choice: we need it to get organised — for it to re-organise itself. And then organise with it. Solidarity funds, meeting points: in marches, in new groupings where we think about action together… all that is good.
In any case, something is happening among the working class just as among the youth: numerous very combative trade unionists, hardened in the heat of especially violent social plans, and virtually breaking from the union leaderships, are now prioritising their solidarity in struggle over their corporatist attachments, leaving their labels in the wardrobe and putting together a united front. If there is no juncture between them and the youth determined to break the prohibitions, then nothing will happen. But the shopfloor disgust — which Macronism promises will massively progress — offers excellent reasons to believe that this will happen.
There is no guarantee that triumphant Macronism will indeed realise the Pyrrhic victory it is due. Up till this point, the patented lack of difference between the government parties which were meant to be on opposed sides still succeeded, come what may, in taking shelter behind the nominal illusion provided by the label "changes of government." Clearly this was no change at all, but there were enough moronic editorial writers left to certify that the "Left" had taken over from the "Right," or vice versa, and also enough people — with varying degrees of voluntary blindness — to believe it. Macronism’s problem is precisely… that it has succeeded. In discrediting the exchange of power between Left and Right, it denies the system its last degree of freedom — certainly a fictitious one, but one still endowed with some residual effectiveness. When it has indeed implemented its programme and fuelled all the fires, it will have made an ever greater part of the population crazy with anger. But where will it find its false but realistic alternative? Where will it find the falsely opposed, utterly twin-brother entity which under a previous system had the dual function of momentarily quenching anger through a simulacrum of change, even as it assured continuity, even if with a different label?
Let us summarise: we have a battle to the death over the hard kernel — the wage relation, via the labour code — the overt integration of the state and capital, the press served up on a plate, the rapture of the pest class and the antagonistic radicalisation of those who defect from it, the rumbling anger of the popular classes destined for the slaughterhouse, an end to the possibility of putting on the theatre of changes of government, and the final disappearance of any possibility of internal regulation and of any institutionalised back-up force or any mechanism for self-correction. Evidently, a situation is taking form. To a certain degree, this government ("a barrier against the very worst") must be aware of this, because it deepens the movement — one already well-underway — toward the proto-fascisisation of the regime. In the context of the decrees on the Labour Code, logically enough the normalisation of the state of emergency as part of common law was the government’s first concern. It thinks that this is its ultimate means of controlling the situation — but in fact it contributes to aggravating it. And it confirms that the question of the police will be at the top of the agenda, as it commonly is in all regimes where the state of illegitimacy can no longer be remedied and armed force is the only thing left to oppose the only substantial opposition — the street. For it is very clear that there is nothing left but the street. If the word "crisis" designates the resolution-moment where trajectories diverge, that is where we are at today. When everything is locked down and the pressure is relentlessly building up, then something has to happen. What the institutionally established forces are incapable of doing, only the event can accomplish.