“For what tomorrow will be, no one knows.”
I turn to this Derrida title, borrowed from Victor Hugo: It is suitable to represent the torment of many voters of the more or less radical left who today carry out their election duties in the second round of French voting. I don’t think I can wipe out the uncertainties on the horizon. But, to help us all out, I’ll try to give them a shape and a name.
We know what we’re voting against, why we’re doing it and how. There’s no other way around it than to vote for Marine Le Pen’s opponent, who happens to be Emmanuel Macron.
This issue at hand doesn’t just pertain to the odious National Front program. It concerns the effects that would result from the coming to power of a neo-fascist party, born of French Algeria and the OAS [Organisation de l’armée secrète, the French clandestine paramilitary organization created in 1961 with the support of the Franco regime in Spain]. It’s a party founded on the antagonism of immigrants and the identification of “the enemy within.” It would ensure a rampage, like Brexit only tenfold, a wave of Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist attacks, along with the collapse of republican values and personal safety.
Therefore it’s not enough that Le Pen loses the election. Her defeat must be severe. But that’s not guaranteed.
It’s also important to know for whom we will vote: an ambitious technocrat, intelligent but in the minority, a supporter of neoliberalism and the “modernization” of French society in a European framework, driven into the mainstream by a network of financiers and top officials, back by a generation of young adherents to the “third way.” Macron has spoken out about the crimes of colonization.
But above all, what are the effects of our vote? How will it affect the situation that the first round revealed? I’m not talking about the “third round” or the potential majority, but of the entire French political situation.
I shall only address two issues.
Our political system is in a constitutional crisis, with no chance of recovery. It’s like elsewhere, though with distinctive features. It has become ungovernable via “normal” avenues: that is, alternating between the center-right and the center-left parties. The fact that both traditional parties have enacted policies that are increasingly indistinguishable is a symptom of this crisis and is largely responsible for the delegitimization of the “party form.” But it’s also one of the effects.
Macron, having in his time studied the Hegelian dialectic, is attempting to transform this negative into a positive by synthesizing the opposites. Facing the “neither right nor left” of fascist tradition, he’s proposing “both the right and the left.”
This could only work if he was seen as a man of providence, at the helm of social forces. But since he’s not, the crisis is set to worsen, endangering the solidarity of democratic ideals.
It’s up to us to invent institutions, with not less but greater representation and more sincerity in expressing actual conflicts, so as to give citizens the power to influence the government’s decisions.
This popular but not populist concept, which recent movements have delineated, including during the election campaign, must remain open during this dangerous period we’re crossing.
This idea cannot be separated from that of “social fracture.” There have been various arguments that attribute the fracture to new social, cultural, territorial, professional and generational divisions that have replaced the antagonism between the right and the left. This is not false, at least if it refers to the conventional definitions. But the translation of these divisions into ideological alternatives like “nationalism versus worldliness” or “closed versus open” is truly mystifying.
The truth is that on the one hand inequality has worsened dramatically, and on the other globalization has fostered new antagonisms among the poor, or, more generally, among non-wealthy workers, consumers, officials and students around the subject of financial profit.
This has not replaced the class struggle, but it has singularly dark features, and in particular it prevents the crystallization of political movements in a way that’s never happened before.
To exorcise the violence that these “contradictions within the populous” facilitate, to free up a vision for the future, it will take much more reflection, but above all we must push as strongly as possible toward different economic policies. Not wild deregulation and the restriction of labor rights, nor protectionism or the strengthening of borders, but — as suggested by the economist Pierre-Noël Giraud — neo-mercantilist policies of investment redistribution between the nomadic and the sedentary occupations (which is not at all the same as choosing between “domestic work” and immigration) as well as energy transition.
Now, for reasons of efficiency and solidarity, these only make sense on a European scale — provided, of course, that Europe reverses the course it took when it adopted the dogma of “free and undistorted competition” and its corollaries, budgetary austerity and immunity for banks.
It’s regrettable that in the current campaign the debate on the European implications of French politics is limited to the coarse opposition to the European Union or technical considerations about its institutions, rather than addressing the issue of power relations in Europe and the future of the systemic crisis.
There can be no different France without a different Europe.
The election of Macron is not a sufficient condition because the problems require a collective effort. But the election of Le Pen is a sure recipe for disintegration because it will definitively redefine the debate.
Instead of making a clean sweep of the past, we must draw the necessary lessons.
This election, for what it will do and for the fear that it arouses, is a significant moment, but an inevitable one. It’s up to us to move past it, usefully, with open eyes.
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