Voting against Le Pen: a painful necessity to ward off the horror of the far-right

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The far-right has never been so close to power. And given that it is the worst enemy of equality, rights and freedom, voting against its candidate on Sunday April 24th is the only anti-fascist option in the French presidential election, writes Mediapart’s publishing editor Edwy Plenel in this op-ed article. But, he says, it will be a painful act, because the other name on the ballot paper is that of the person who is chiefly responsible for this catastrophe: Emmanuel Macron.

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In the well-known Aesop fable 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' the ancient Greek storyteller describes how a young shepherd boy who wanted to make fun of the local villagers' credulity called for their help several times even though no wolf was threatening his sheep. Then, when there really was a wolf, no one came to his aid and the beast happily devoured his flock.

The moral of this story is: “A liar will not be believed, even when telling the truth.” We have now, tragically, been plunged into the middle of this tale: called upon by a lying shepherd to save his flock from a voracious wolf. And we are sorely tempted not to come to the rescue because of how much he has lied, deceived and humiliated. We were already citing Aesop's famous fable back in June 2021 and declaring: “Catastrophe is on its way!”

Emmanuel Macron would thus do better to keep quiet between the two rounds of this presidential election, given how much he resembles that irresponsible child who flirts with danger. While the far-right has come out stronger than ever from the first round of voting on April 10th, greater in number, more significant and more accepted, the sitting president is the very last person to urge people to stop the far-right in next Sunday's second round vote.

As the person who is responsible for this catastrophe after being elected to stave it off, he has added to this already distinctly unenviable record the disastrous example of a cynical election campaign. Acting already as if all the votes he receives in the second round will represent support for his manifesto, he is mocking the electorate with stolen slogans - “A Shared Future” was the title of the manifesto of Jean-Luc Mélenchon who came third in the first round – and with popularity-grabbing announcements. These include a proposal on the environment - to place the prime minister in charge of “ecological planning” - that comes from the very president who betrayed his own Citizens' Convention on Climate.

When on this third occasion – the far right also featured in election run-offs in 2002 and 2017 – the threat from the wolf is now even graver, this shepherd makes one very tempted to shun the voting booth altogether, whatever the threat to the flock (this debate is also one that's taken place inside the Mediapart team – see the black box below). Except that the flock isn't his - but ours.

This is about our common good: equality without any distinction as to origins, social status, birth, beliefs, appearance, sex, gender ... The promise of this appears in the first article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which is part of the preamble of the French Constitution. This is a promise which it has often been necessary to defend under the current government, given the way it has been harmed or betrayed, a promise which is a far cry from a presidency which tramples on, erases or disavows it. In this we can clearly see the difficulty, and at the same time the coherence, in having a global anti-fascist strategy.

Standing in the way of fascism, everywhere, and at all times, without haggling or hesitation, involves different methods. One is documenting the fascistic abuses of the government of the day (from the infamous speech by President Nicolas Sarkozy at Grenoble in 2010to the proposed stripping of French nationality from terrorists under President François Hollande in 2015, right up to Macron's decision to up the ante with a law on 'separatism'). Another involves protesting in the street (despite the recent assertion in Marseille by the current president that this is pointless) and a third entails using one's vote (even if it goes to a candidate you would have wanted to be eliminated).

The demonstration against the far-right in Paris, April 16th 2022. © Photo Ana Ferrer / Mediapart The demonstration against the far-right in Paris, April 16th 2022. © Photo Ana Ferrer / Mediapart

According to our information, she is completely far-right”: the slogan chosen by the Mediapart team for its involvement in the demonstration on Saturday April 16th against the Le Pen peril sums up our warning. This decision is not based on prejudice or intolerance but is a rational and informed one, an investigated and documented choice as one can check by consulting the articles from our file, which are available free. Here one can see the true reality; the violent and racist, antisocial and antidemocratic, anti-freedom and anti-feminist, cynical and amoral reality of Rassemblement National behind its new attire.

The far-right is a euphemism here to describe the ideological inheritors of the enemies of natural equality. Since the declarations of the 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the groundbreaking revolutions – the American, French and Haitian Revolutions – this camp has continued to hanker for a return to the past through the supreme domination of one single ancestry, one nation, one culture, one people, one social status, one appearance or one belief over all others.

Marine Le Pen's manifesto thus makes “national preference” - renamed “national priority” - its main political ambition, to the extent where it envisages the exclusion of all dual-nationals from public posts as quickly as possible. In other words, it wants to set up a discriminatory hierarchy linked to the accident of one's birth. And through placing emphasis on national identity, this would lead to choosing between the right and the wrong French people, the good and the bad. In doing so it would drag our country into a ruinous state from which there would be no return.

The idea of 'race', a fictional construction of a pure and unchanging identity, usually ends up dragging this obsession with uniformity and hierarchy into a murderous ideology. This ideology seeks the erasure, exclusion and suppression of everything that contradicts it, whether these be differences or disagreements. That is indeed why there is no issue here of opinions that one could debate, but of crimes that are now enshrined in law, as History showed that these ideas lead to mass crimes.

If one had any doubts about this, and thought that this madness was over along with the genocides of the last century, the way that talk about the “great replacement” theory and “remigration” has become commonplace during this election campaign shows otherwise. Such talk is nothing less than a call for the annihilation of France's Muslims. At least to start with. For racism is like a Russian doll that contains a number of other scapegoats along with the main target. This is shown by the persistence of anti-Semitism in the country, even its renaissance thanks to the rehabilitation of France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime and of its leader Marshal Philippe Pétain, and the doubts raised over the innocence of Captain Dreyfus in the infamous affair named after him.

Amid the diversity of their journeys that cross the entire political spectrum – the polemicist Éric Zemmour, who has backed Le Pen in the second round after his defeat in the first round, has expressed admiration for the views of left-wing nationalist Jean-Pierre Chevènement, while fellow defeated candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan comes from the Gaullist Right – the combination of three candidates from the far-right underlines the extent to which this ever-present past reveals France's shadowy side. This is the shady side of politics that remains active and enduring, like a dormant volcano; a dangerous powder keg, situated at the meeting place of Pétainism and colonialism, of imperialism and Bonapartism, whose legacies have still not been laid to rest.

Marine Le Pen is the ultimate reincarnation of a grim genealogy from which France has not yet succeeding in breaking free: from the philosophers of counter-revolution after 1789 to the anti-Semitic anti-Dreyfus activists of the end of the 19th century, from the supporters of Italian fascism to the collaborators with German Nazism in the first half of the 20th century, from the ideologues of colonial torture to the terrorists of the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) during the Algerian war, and from the 'New Order' pro-Nazi philosophy of France's wartime Vichy regime to Rassemblement National's forerunner the Front National, not forgetting the intellectual laboratory that was the Nouvelle Droite or 'New Right' of the late 1960s.

To allow oneself to be fooled by the far right's current disguise as a cat lover, good friend and relaxed gardener, thus enabling the neo-fascist wolf to gain entry to the democratic sheepfold, is to accept a point of no-return. Believing that there are enough antibodies in the state machinery and in social protests to expel it quickly is to under-estimate the inertia of this unresolved and still-present past. And it does not even take into account the distinctive nature of the French institutions that, once they have been conquered, make the presidency an almost unassailable fortress.

Unfortunately, this potential tragedy doesn't even seem to occur to Emmanuel Macron who, less than a week before the final vote, cheerfully pits the “far right” against the “far left” to allow him more easily to define his own camp as the “extreme centre”. Just one week before the first round of voting he dared to suggest an equivalence between the far right (the “politically abject”) and anti-fascism (the “politically correct”). This is an insult to those French resistance fighters who combated both Nazism and colonialism. The lack of historical awareness here simply increases the democratic irresponsibility of the comment.

Opposition to the far-right will thus be carried out despite Emmanuel Macron and against him. Elected to put an end to the interminable French democratic crisis - of which presidential absolutism is the accelerator and the rise of the far-right is the result - this president has done precisely the opposite over the last five years. It's hard to believe that on May 7th 2017, the evening of his election, he promised that a “new page has been turned in our long history”, one of “renewed hope and confidence”.

The renewal of our public life will be a requirement for everyone from tomorrow. Raising moral standards in our public life, recognising pluralism, and democratic vitality will underpin my action from the first day,” he declared. There was the same message in his investiture speech at the Élysée on May 14th 2017. “I will ensure our country experiences a revival of democratic vitality. Citizens will have their word to say. Their voices will be heard,” he insisted.

The opposite happened. Conducting a class-based politics with arrogance and brutality, one which served the interest of small groups in society, he unhesitatingly chose to divert attention to the domains of law and order, immigration and national identity, the very same issues which are the stock in trade of neo-fascism.

A voting office in the 10th arrondissement or district of Paris during the first round of the presidential election on April 10th 2022. © Photo Sébastien Calvet / Mediapart A voting office in the 10th arrondissement or district of Paris during the first round of the presidential election on April 10th 2022. © Photo Sébastien Calvet / Mediapart

If that same neo-fascism is today knocking at the door of the presidency it is indeed because fascistisation has continued to progress under this presidency. It has allowed free rein for the designation of scapegoats rather than uniting us around urgent environmental, democratic and social issues. Does one need to recall the president's determined courtship of Philippe de Villiers, a veteran of the identity-obsessed Right, or the concern shown towards Éric Zemmour, a proven racist propagandist, not to mention government ministers' indulgence towards CNews, the television station of racist hate and xenophobia?

Amid violence not seen since the time of the Algerian War, this presidency's repression of social movements, particularly the 'yellow vests' but also those staged by young people and residents from working class districts, has replaced the rule of law with rule by police, brutalising basic freedoms. The incessant campaigns against Islamo-leftist scapegoats and the indulgence shown towards media-based propagandists for Islamophobic racism gave birth to a freedom-killing law which, under the pretext of 'separatism' – a term that was in the past reserved for communists and anti-colonialists – criminalises the right of self-organisation of those who suffer discrimination.

On top of opening the floodgates to everyday hatred, something which has been widely documented by Mediapart, the Macron presidency has also taken a backwards step in terms of democracy, giving up on Republican virtue and showing disdain for any checks and balances against it.

Faced with a minister of justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti, who is under formal investigation over a conflict of interest, France's judges have never been so called upon to defend the judiciary's independence. As for the media, one only has to watch our film Media Crash to spot the accelerating disaster whose main protagonists are billionaire media owners pampered by this presidency. But the most illustrative example of this democratic decline is the case of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Even though he has twice been convicted at a criminal trial, in particular for corruption, and is still under investigation over the Libyan election financing case for “illicit funding of an election campaign”, “receiving misappropriated public funds”,“criminal conspiracy” and, once again, corruption”, the former president's judicial cause has shamelessly been adopted by the entourage of the current presidency. The current president and candidate eagerly greeted the news that Sarkozy had declared his support for him for the second round, even seeing it as a gesture that both “honoured” him and did him a favour.

All of the above spurred one to punish Emmanuel Macron in the first round of voting. And it should also be kept in mind now when the issue is about avoiding a far-right victory in the second round. So it will be with sorrow than many of us will, on Sunday April 24th, use the Macron ballot paper to vote against Le Pen in order to ward off the catastrophe and horror that will take hold of us if it happens.

This is about voting against her, and certainly not for him. It's a vote based on reason not on passion. Emotion does not give good counsel in elections. There are plenty of examples, both abroad and from the past, to remind us that voting in anger leads the following day to bitterness, greater suffering and worse oppression.

In particular, let's think about all those who will be the first victims of a neo-fascist presidency – Muslims, Arabs, Africans, immigrants, Blacks, refugees, foreigners, the LGBTQI+ community, Jews, Roma and so on. “If the far-right gets in power, it's a point of no-return,” the rapper Médine told Mediapart.

Let’s save liberty, liberty saves the rest”: this exhortation from the French writer Victor Hugo, in his essays Choses Vues ('Things seen'), reminds us that for those who support emancipation the choice at the ballot box now is between the maintenance of a space for dispute, opposition and mobilisation, or of its abrupt disappearance, over which Marine Le Pen's anti-constitutional manifesto leaves no room for doubt. It is better to be able to keep standing to continue the struggle against a fascistisation that, alas, corrupts both the Right and Left governing blocs, than to take the risk of having to fight fascism on our knees. As was said during the anti-far-right demonstrations on Saturday April 16th: “A vote that stinks is better than one that kills”.

An independent newspaper is not there to direct people's consciences, as we said before the first round when, taking account of the variety of different outlooks, we invited people to oppose the far-right through a vote for the best-placed candidate of the Left, in order to propel that candidate into the second round. Today, now that hope has been dashed, our attitude has not changed, and we hope through our information to convince those who, for all the reasons outlined earlier, envisage abstaining or leaving the voting slip blank, as to the peril of Le Pen.

However, we refuse to lecture or blame them. If, by misfortune, the far-right comes to power on the evening of April 24th, the people most responsible will be those who voted for her through conviction or out of complacency, thinking that she was not a danger. But also those who, for the last five years, have encouraged these voters by giving ground to her obsessions with national identity.

One can also add to this group those who, like the current president and his supporters, failed to get left-wing opposition voters to turn out, by ignoring their expectations and by being scornful of their anger.

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  • The original French version of this op-ed can be found here.

English version by Michael Streeter

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Combining a rejection of Marine Le Pen and criticism of Emmanuel Macron, this op-ed expresses an anti-fascist stance that is based on principle, independent of the vagaries of the election campaign. I, alone, am responsible for it even if, like the earlier one before the first round, it was fuelled by discussions with the Mediapart team. The latter has debated this at length since the first vote on April 10th, going through the same agonising as our readership, ranging from those who will not hesitate to vote for Macron against Le Pen and others who prefer not take part in the vote, while sharing the same commitment against the far-right. The Mediapart team also collectively decided to appeal for participation and to take part itself in the Paris-based demonstration against the danger of Le Pen on Saturday April 16th.