French election: ‘The banker’ and ‘the racist’ through to run-off

french election

On 23 April France went to the polls for the first round of the presidential election. No candidate secured a majority and the second round will take place on 7 May between the two highest scoring candidates: Marine Le Pen of the right-wing populist Front National (FN); and Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and economy minister in Manuel Valls’ Parti Socialiste (PS) government. This will be the first time in 60 years that the second round has not included either of the main two parliamentary parties.

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French election exposes splits in the ruling class

The French economy is not recovering well from the crash of 2007/8, especially compared to its major European partner, Germany. The French economy only grew by 1.1% in 2016, compared to Germany’s 1.9%. Since the introduction of the Euro in 1999, the profitability of French capital has plummeted by 27%, compared to Germany’s 21% rise. Investment has therefore stagnated, leading to low productivity growth and an unemployment rate of around 10%. The French ruling class has found itself unable to rule in the old way, and so social democracy has collapsed. The Socialist Party presided over the end of France’s famously short working week (see FRFI 251, ‘France: Working class battles ruling Socialist Party’) and has struggled to contain mass unrest among black, Arab and Muslim people. The superprofits of les trentes glorieuses (the thirty ‘golden years’ after 1945) are no longer available to sustain a large labour aristocracy and so its political vehicle, the Socialist Party, is becoming historically obsolete.

Into this gap have stepped two political forces: the Front National (FN) which is drawing votes from the most reactionary elements of the labour aristocracy, and the neoliberal Emmanuel Macron, who is claiming the middle class votes that in 2012 were cast for François Hollande, now the most unpopular president in French history with a 4% approval rating.

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French youth fight back against police racism

Against a background of years of racist police brutality, France has again experienced an uprising among black, Arab and Muslim youth. On 2 February 2017 four police officers arrived on a housing estate in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Parisian ‘banlieue’ (suburban working class district) and started asking youths for identity papers. When one youth, identified subsequently only as ‘Théo’ refused, he was forced to the ground. He was then beaten while he had racist abuse hurled at him, and finally he was sodomised with a baton to such an extent that he had to have emergency surgery and stay in hospital for 60 days. The officer accused of rape claims that it was an ‘accident’ and all four contend that they stopped Théo because they thought he might be an illegal immigrant.

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France – secularism becomes racism

burkini racism

On 28 July David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes, issued a temporary ban on the wearing of ‘ostentatious’ religious clothing at the beach. The order read that access to the beach would, up until 31 August, be prohibited to anyone dressed ‘incorrectly’, not ‘respectful of good manners and secularism’ and not ‘respectful of the health and safety rules of the public beach.’ Another 30 or so coastal towns swiftly introduced similar orders, now generally referred to as ‘burkini bans’. One such town was Nice, where on 14 July 86 people had been killed and 434 injured in a terrorist attack. This attack, along with those in Paris in January and July, has been seized upon by the French state to justify increasing violence and racism against French Muslims.

On 26 August, ruling against a decision of the resort town of Villeneuve-Loubet, the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, effectively set a precedent that the ‘burkini ban’ is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, many mayors who have issued such bans are refusing to lift them. In Corsica, the local Bastia court has upheld the ban at Sisco, despite the Council of State ruling. Sisco was the third town to issue a ban, following anti-Muslim violence over the weekend of 13 August.

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France: Working class continues the fight against ruling Socialist Party

Since we reported on the fight against the El Khomri labour law in France (see FRFI 251), resistance has not let up. On 29 August, an Île-de-France (Paris region) inter-union meeting, attended by unions including CGT, FO, FSU, SOLIDAIRES, UNEF, UNL and FIDL, decided to hold a demonstration at 2pm on 15 September at Place de la Bastille, marching to Place de la République, to fight for the repeal of the reactionary anti-labour El Khomri law, which was enacted on 8 August. People took to the streets en masse once again. 

The CGT (France’s largest union) estimate that 40,000 had turned out on the streets in Paris by mid-afternoon. The police estimate was between 12,500 and 13,500. The unions estimate that 170,000 protested across the country as a whole, while the Interior Ministry puts the figure between 77,500 and 78,500. The ministry has also announced that over 30 people have been arrested in connection with ‘violence’. 

One protester, 46-year-old Laurent Theron, who was standing peacefully with his hands in his pockets, lost an eye due to being struck with a gas canister launched by the CRS riot police. The police prefecture have had to admit that Theron was struck in the eye, but is attempting to claim that he was hit by an ‘undetermined projectile’ in order to try to shift the blame onto protesters and away from their own actions. They have launched an ‘inquiry’, which is likely to be no more than a sham. Protesters retaliated throwing Molotov cocktails, injuring up to 15 police officers. 

At the same time as the CRS was attacking those resisting the draconian new law, the police broke up, for the third time, the makeshift camp inhabited by asylum seekers and refugees at Stalingrad in north-east Paris.

French capitalism is stagnant, in danger of going into serious decline. Growth in the first quarter of 2016 was a mere 0.5% and France’s current account balance (an important indicator of an economy’s health) was -€20bn. The ruling class response is twofold: escalating imperialist plunder in the oppressed nations (in Mali, Syria, Côte d’Ivoire, etc) and an all-out attack on the working class at home. All capitalist crises are in the last instance crises of profitability. Developments in France are the French ruling class’s attempts to restore that profitability. This heightens the class struggle, as it is only the working class that produces the wealth on which profits depend.

As we argued in FRFI 251, capitalist crisis in France is forcing the ruling class to attack even the labour aristocracy, who they need to hold back the revolutionary activity of the mass of the working class. The door is open for the unions to line up with black and Muslim workers who already work the kinds of hours and under conditions that the El Khomri Law threatens to impose. As the French state uses the State of Emergency to conduct ‘administrative searches’ (violent warrantless searches) against Muslims, and continues to harass migrants, black people and Muslims, the objective basis for unity between different sections of the working class in France is becoming ever clearer.

In this period of crisis the repeal of the reactionary El Khomri Law, as well as the long-term victory of the working class struggle, is dependent upon the revolutionary action of the united mass of the working class. 

Repeal the El Khomri Law! Victory to the French workers! 

Séamus Padraíc