Paris – France will be celebrating their 139th Bastille day on July 14th; an event commemorating the seizure of the notorious political prison by Parisian workers that was a major event in the toppling of the Ancien regime under King Louis XVI and establishing the first revolutionary European republic. The new French president Emmanuel Macron should take the day to reflect on his country’s radical heritage and put serious thought into his promised ‘reforms.’
A Neoliberal Hail Mary
Despite this French election drawing worldwide interest from both the liberal establishment and various international fascists, with the former praying for a Macron victory and the latter cheering for far-right Front Nationale (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen, the actual voters in France didn’t seem as interested. The election did of course end in the result the global bourgeoisie hoped for and the corporate media has happily reported since about Le Pen’s embarrassing defeat in the presidential race and the parliamentary majority won by Macron’s new En Marche! Party.
While the electoral victories are true, and Macron does have parliamentary support to back his policies; what’s not discussed enough is that this ‘victory’ was won in an atmosphere of apathy. Macron and En Marche! won their ‘mandate’ with the lowest voter turnouts in over 30 years for both elections, and despite the assurances from imperialist media that Le Pen’s was no more, she still won 33 percent of the vote (10,638,475), almost double that of her more unapologetically racist and anti-Semitic father in his 2002 run, and won 6 seats (going from 2 to 8) in the National Assembly. Front Nationale may be down but is unlikely to be out if Macron keeps his promises.
The Insider’s “Outsider”
Macron was sold as an outsider by the pro-neoliberal global media, but anyone who took even a fleeting glance at the man’s history could see this was a ridiculous notion. A vote for Macron was far from a sign of “protest” against business as usual in the way support for candidates like Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders was considered in the US.
The En Marche! Party may only be just over a year old but Macron isn’t just some unknown who appeared and swept the people of France off their feet. The reality is that Macron is almost a caricature of a stereotypical western leader; think more Barack Obama (a Macron supporter) than some kind of “radical centrist.”
Prior to entering public life, Macron was hard at work in the chambers of the Rothschild & Cie Banque. By no means is this one of the world’s largest banks, and obviously it was seen as red meat for conspiracy-prone supporters of fascists like Le Pen, it is still proof of Macron’s close ties to the world of global capital. Macron left the bank in 2008 but not for any apparent altruistic reason. Instead he decided his knowledge of the finance sector would help in his new position as Finance Minister under the last French president, Francois Hollande.
Hollande was of course a member of France’s Socialist Party. Despite what the socialist label may imply, Hollande consistently proved to be an enemy of the working class. Upon his election in 2012, Hollande was immediately faced with the task of complying with European Union austerity requirements issued by Brussels. The new president initially promised to reduce France’s spending to GDP ratio by increasing taxes on businesses – primarily large corporations – but by 2014 (the year Macron was appointed) the new prescription was cuts to expenses from state and local budgets to the previously robust social security system. It’s these kind of damaging policies that Minister Macron helped enact that are also the groundwork of President Macron’s future plans.
Macron’s Continued March Down Hollande’s Path
Macron has already promised to continue to build from the blueprint that has put France in it’s current position. A staunch advocate for a stronger EU, Macron is seeking to reform the union’s structure by partnering with fellow economic powerhouse, Germany. The major change Macron has proposed to reach this goal is the creation of a centralized EU financial authority. The new “Finance Ministry” would be established by the unelected leaders in Brussels, further removing autonomy from member states over financial decisions and further tying the fate of countries that use the Euro together. This consolidation would bind healthy economies like Germany to essentially failed economies like Greece, leaving the poor across Europe even more vulnerable.
The new president also has plans that are familiar to anyone who understands the usual strategy of neoliberal technocrats. Macron stays true to the ideas of economic growth by enticing corporations from the technology and financial sectors. We all know that enticement will play out as subsidies and favoritism towards the most wealthy, which may even include banks fleeing post-Brexit U.K. after causing the island’s economic collapse in 2008 and forcing austerity there as well.
This grand scheme will also be occurring at the same time Macron guts the French spending for the social programs that keep the bourgeoisie safe. The new government has already promised to further cut welfare programs and move to change the labor laws to gut unions and reduce workers’ negotiation power to the level of the individual. Macron has also pledged to cut unemployment while firing 120,000 government employees. If Macron does go through with these plans then that’s his decision, but one key thing he should remember is that the people of France – especially Paris – don’t take attacks like this lying down.
The People’s Revolutionary Heritage
As previously stated, Macron’s victory was far from the media’s portrayal of a “mandate” by the people. For a moment it seemed the radical centrist faced a legitimate threat from Le Pen, who’s clique of fascists is still gaining popularity but there are also other new voices demanding real change. Another new party, the far left La France Insoumise (FI) won 17 seats in the National Assembly; compare that to FN’s 8. This adds a true socialist voice to the historical legislative body that toppled the French monarchy when it was first formed. While this isn’t enough to counter the presidential agenda there is another force that is a reliable source of resistance: the French workers.
The people should, and likely will, turn out to be Macron’s greatest opposition. This is the lesson that should be drawn from the popular uprising by the Parisian mob and their victory at the Bastille. From that day forward, the French people have lived in a continuous cycle of revolutions that change the country. From the first republic, the July revolution, the Paris commune and the brave resistance to Nazi occupation to modern times, the French let leaders know when they’ve had enough.
This legacy still holds true today and there are three great examples in just the past decade and a half. The first happened just last year, under Macron’s old boss Hollande, seeing Paris set ablaze by riots that followed months of mass protests over proposed changes in the labor laws that led to a strike by French transportation sector employees. Second is a series of riots that erupted in the suburbs of Paris where unemployment is rampant and residents live in inexcusable poverty.
Last but not least is events that occurred in 2003, when the people of France participated in one of the largest mobilizations against the US invasion of Iraq, part of global protests. Where did the estimated 200,000 marching in Paris end this iconic act of global solidarity? The site of the Bastille of course.
This post by Jim Carey originally ran on Workers.org