It’s almost eight months since Emmanuel Macron took up residence in the Élysée Palace after a second-round “victory” over Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale. This “victory” was accompanied by a historic vote for Le Pen, dwarfing that of her father’s in 2002 against Chirac. Macron did not have the support of even a quarter of those who turned out in the first round.
This did not deter France’s new president from claiming an irrevocable mandate to push through his deeply reactionary, anti-worker agenda. The new force of French politics was a triumph of “centrism” and “reasonableness” in the face of “extremes”; except that it wasn’t so new at all. It was simply the French big bourgeoisie’s electoral recalibration to suit its interests, collapsing the vacuous opposition between social democrats and the traditional right.
A series of defections from these two formations swelled the ranks of Macron’s new party, La République en Marche (The Republic on the Move), in time for the legislative elections, coupled with its running dozens of candidates from civil society, few with any political experience or convictions—the perfect bunch of yes-men buying in to the illusion that they were part of a crusade to reform French society.
To characterise Macron’s manifesto as a departure from that of his political mentor, François Hollande, would be a mistake—not surprisingly, one might say, given Macron’s role as an economic adviser and minister in the Hollande government. The repeal of hard-won labour laws dating from the time of the communist involvement in post-war governments continued apace, dismantling the independent health and safety committees required by law in companies employing more than a certain number of workers.
Deaths at work will result directly from this measure, in industrial and agri-food sectors in particular. Employers of fewer than twenty workers will be able to conduct elections for employee representatives by a show of hands. The expansion of contracts of indefinite determination, relative only to a specific project or mission, defined by the employer, will increase precariousness in formerly well-paid technical and manual sectors, consigning young workers with appropriate qualifications to a sort of pariah status within any company that may hire them—for one specific project at a time.
Contrary to its fallacious self-image as a founder, promoter and defender of civil rights and bourgeois-democratic liberties, Macron’s tenure has thus far been marked by an increasingly authoritarian turn by France’s ruling class.
The Fifth Republic’s constitution was born out of a state of unofficial war with Algerian guerrillas fighting for independence. Even by the poor standards of classical liberalism, France falls far short. No proper separation of powers exists, with the judiciary and the legislature muzzled by the executive, and the intransigent upper echelons of the civil service ensuring administrative continuity, in true technocratic style.
By far the most egregious example of the deep state’s clampdown on political dissenters in recent years has been the state of emergency adopted after the terror attacks of 2015. Macron plans to revoke the state of emergency in the new year—while transcribing essential elements of it into ordinary statutes, including such powers as the arbitrary detention of suspected “terrorists.” This vicious legislation has already been used to arrest trade union activists protesting against the labour reforms.
The great lie of a grander EU-wide project of integration promoted by the latest French government, encompassing co-operation, enhanced security and other empty slogans, was laid bare after the steadfast support lent by the French state to its Spanish counterpart in the aftermath of the latter’s brutal crackdown in Catalunya. France has a vested interest in opposing self-determination, as swathes of the “national territory” would be clamouring for similar treatment should the Catalan independistas succeed in breaking away from Madrid’s clutches.
Yet what has been most conspicuous of all is the complicit media, particularly foreign correspondents, trumpeting the gains of France’s premier. Any reader familiar with the Irish Times will have surely remarked the fawning coverage of Macron by the besotted Lara Marlowe. He is a “pragmatist” and yet a visionary, still on a “winning streak”—just a few of her latest plaudits. His opponents are quasi-Luddites, afraid of that most meaningless concept that punctuates so much of accepted discourse, “globalisation.” She is but one example.
Make no mistake: the ruling class of the EU’s second-biggest economy is very much on the offensive. Lackeys such as Lara Marlowe undermine themselves by ignoring its ever more unnerving excesses. They are far more afraid of an organised working class that could strike back.