The context of the presidential elections is years of deregulations and globalisation, and the discontent that has generated. Those years have also resulted in the weakening of the working class through deindustrialisation and the growth of services, whose workers are isolated and non-unionised, and the importation of an immigrant workforce. So the fight against liberalism is being fought without the working class. Marine Le Pen claims to fight ‘for the people’, but the unions have no place in her programme. The State under the National Front will protect and encourage entrepreneurs and that will automatically protect the workers at the same time, as they have the same interests, in the National Front scheme of things; there is therefore no need for working class organisations.
Macron, a minister in Hollande’s government until August 2016, favours more globalisation. Meanwhile the ‘left’ candidates are still full of liberal ideology. Melenchon ended his first presidential candidate speech with a call for freedom, spelled out as freedom of abortion and assisted suicide. Hamon, the actual socialist candidate, is already in the next historical period and will pay everyone 750 Euros a month regardless of situation, because ‘work is a thing of the past’. He also promotes ‘active euthanasia’.
The presidential elections will take place on two successive Sundays, 23 April and 7 May. The first round is likely to see Marine Le Pen facing probably Emmanuel Macron or François Fillon. The last time this situation occurred, the arrival of the National Front candidate in second position was a complete surprise and the country united to keep him out, giving Jacques Chirac an 80% majority. This time the situation is expected, and the Banque de France is already counting the cost of implementing National Front policy. (“François Villeroy de Galhaum, the governor of the Banque de France, estimated that the Front National candidate Marine Le Pen’s plan for France to leave the euro would add €30bn to the country’s annual debt costs” according to the Financial Times of 13.2.17)
National Sovereignty is the National Front’s main concern; they want to leave the EU and the Euro in order to regain the freedom to make laws and to set the value of the currency. On the contrary Macron sets little value on national sovereignty. He started his campaign launch speech with a genuflexion towards the United States, world defenders of freedom and democracy, with France alongside.
He said also ‘There is no French culture, although there is culture in France’, which is a remarkable statement. All other candidates pepper their speeches with references from classical literature. But Macron addressed a Malian writer on the platform near him by his first name, telling him how much he admired him. Marine Le Pen had a black woman near her during her launching speech, but Macron went further than just establishing non-racist credentials: he established himself also as multicultural and universalist.
Macron, just after his declaration of allegiance to the US, raised the question of France’s supposed anti-Semitic guilt, which is, to say the least, peculiar in a presidential candidate’s launch speech. This is the sort of dragging up of the past we are used to in the English press, to remind the French of their defeat in the war, and Britain’s ‘standing alone’ courageously. This is to be expected in England, but you don’t expect a French candidate to put France down on the occasion of an election.
Patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel?
Whatever was meant by this phrase originally, the idea today is that patriotism is a bad thing, a narrow minded, exclusive attitude that leads to hate and war, just like nationalism. We should wear our nationality discretely, like our religion, as something we are comfortable with at home but don’t mention when out with strangers. The 300, 000 French people living and working in London today might agree with this. They are happy with speaking English and there are lots of things they prefer in England. Indeed they gave Macron a warm welcome when he had a meeting in London on 21 February.
This attitude is fine for people whose profession or social life requires that they speak English, in other words it’s a middle class attitude. Those below on the social scale do not speak English and have no prospect of a good job in England. Their feeling that they are French is stronger. Pride in their Frenchness is more important to them, because they do not have a high social status as an alternative source of pride. This is what the National Front exploits.
She is not the only patriotic candidate; Melenchon’s speech on 5th February was to the glory of France, first or second in the world for its literature, science, the seas, space exploration etc. But the National Front candidate couples this patriotism with the question of immigration; this is both a strength, since white French people will support an end to immigration and a policy of ‘national preference’ and a weakness, since the population that comes from immigration is now French and will stay in France and must be included in the ‘national preference’. Marine Le Pen denies there is a problem. People can be French ‘whoever they are and wherever they come from’. That is, if they have French papers, it doesn’t matter where they or their parents come from originally. If they are Muslim, that makes no difference either, as Islam is compatible with the Republic—as long as it is private to the point of invisibility, like Catholicism or Protestantism.
But that answer is not reassuring. How do you distinguish between an Arab looking person who is French and one who is not?
The word Banlieues (suburbs) is now short-hand for poor immigrant suburbs. Marine Le Pen promises to sort out crime in the banlieues with violent repression. Since the terrorist attacks, the banlieues are portrayed in the media as inhabited by Islamists who impose their laws on the local population. Previously, they were portrayed as inhabited by Arabs.
There is little mention in the media of the ordinary population of Arab origin who just want to get on with their lives in France like the rest of the population. Strangely enough, a youngish French rap artist, Kery James, gives expression to them in the text of his songs.
Some great names of French rap were MC Solaar and the group Carte de Séjour. Both were strongly connected with traditional French culture in their references. Carte de Sejour made a famous cover version of the great Charles Trenet song ‘Douce France’ (Sweet France), with an ironical but not a savage slant; the bridges were not cut. All this is not dead. Kery James, a French rapper from Guadeloupe who converted to Islam, can be said to be taking part in the presidential campaign in his latest album. His lyrics of the song Racailles (Racaille means ‘Scum’, the word used by the National Front to refer to the youth of the banlieues in trouble with the police, but here used in the plural to describe money grabbing politicians) describe the disillusion of the population at large with politicians.
James accuses politicians of not being disinterested, of not fighting for the common good, of being servants of finance, of not caring for what happens in the banlieues, and on top of that, or in spite of that poor record, of wanting to spread ‘democratic values’ all over the world ‘with bombs’. This piece is the equivalent of a speech for the presidential campaign, and it is better than Melanchon, never mind Hamon. In January 2017 James had a play performed at a well-known Paris theatre, on the subject of the banlieues, and who bears the responsibility for the state they are in.
James was interviewed on French state radio France Inter in December 2016 in a programme repeated 14 February 2017. He was asked about Syria and the impotence of the UN; he said that the UN was perhaps not doing a lot for Aleppo, but it had in fact done a lot to create the situation. ‘terrorist groups financed by West have destabilized the country’.
One of his songs says:
- “De la Libye à la Syrie ils reproduisent les mêmes erreurs
- Leur politique extérieure fait saigner de l’intérieur”
- (From Libya to Syria they reproduce the same errors,
- Their foreign policy makes us bleed inside.)
- [pun on ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’].
The candidate Emmanuel Macron went to Algeria in February and told an Algerian TV channel that French colonization had been a crime against humanity. He tempered that by saying that French colons had been a decent lot, who could not be accused of crimes. The main point however is that France should acknowledge present crimes and in particular the crime of killing Gaddafi. Direct colonization is not the way the West and France gather the wealth of developing nations today. It is done by destroying strong leaders, who could serve their country’s interests against predators. People like Kery James are aware of that. According to the interviewer, James is much listened to (il est hyper écouté). It is striking and encouraging that artists like Kery James, and presumably his followers, still have hope for France, and still feel connected to it. It is dismal on the other hand that the so-called left is still concentrating on marginal topics and ignoring the big issues, how to keep good jobs in France, how to integrate the immigrant population and how to achieve an independent and non destructive foreign policy.