Monday, 23 April 2012

French Election Results

The results of the first round of the French Presidential elections have predictably ended in Sarkozy and Hollande going through to the second round in two weeks time.  Sarkozy did worse than had been expected, and Hollande slightly better.  Sarkozy had hoped to have been slightly ahead in the first round.  In fact, he trailed Hollande by nearly three percentage points.  What was slightly less predictable was the size of the vote for the Front National candidate, Marine le Pen, who obtained around 19% of the vote.  The Left Front candidate, Melonchon, who had been showing at around 15% in recent opinion polls actually only polled around 12%.

This leaves the results of the second round more open to doubt, because it might be expected that the 20% of votes for the Far Right FN, would go to Sarkozy.  However, as pundits on France 24's coverage this evening pointed out, that is not at all certain.  The FN have spent the campaign slagging off Sarkozy, and its not easy to see how they could credibly now support him.  A large number of the FN's vote will have come from disenchanted, sections of workers, frightened by events, which they may see as outside their control.  For these workers, the simplistic formulas of the FN, might seem an easy option.  Its not clear that the reasons for them voting for the FN, translate into support for Sarkozy, whose government they may see as responsible for their conditions.  That doesn't mean they are likely to vote for Hollande either, but if large numbers of them abstain, in the second round, that will be enough for Hollande to win.

The reasons for the strong vote for the FN, are also likely to be the same reasons for the poor showing on the day of Melonchon.  Although, the media have described Melonchon as the candidate of the Far Left, in fact, his programme has largely been a rehash of traditional Stalinist positions.  Those Stalinist positions, which were summed up in the various "National Roads To Socialism", lean heavily on discredited, statist, reformist solutions, mixed in with a strong dose of Nationalism.  Indeed, as Trotsky said, the accurate description of Stalinism is "National Socialism".  In many ways the programme of Melonchon, was barely distinguishable from that of Le Pen.

We have seen this many times before.  In the 1930's, the German Stalinists attempted to outflank the Nazis by trying to demonstrate that they were better Nationalists.  In the last few years we have seen something similar in Britain.  The "No2EU" campaign, which was largely based on the Nationalist politics of the British Stalinists, also attempted to put forward a Little Englander, Nationalist program.  They too claimed that it was to take votes from the BNP and UKIP.

In fact, just as happened with the German Stalinists, in the 1930's, the promotion of Nationalist politics simply acted to legitimise them.  Faced with a choice, those workers attracted to these Nationalist solutions, did the obvious thing, they voted for the consistent Nationalists, the Nazis, the BNP, and now in France the FN.

But, the debate on France 24, tonight, was interesting in that a number of studio contributors pointed to the fact that extreme right-wing parties had achieved significant success across Europe.  The BNP, in Britain, had two MEP's elected - though the anomalies of the PR system used to elect MEP's on a very small poll means this result is not that significant.  The Far Right UKIP, also has MEP's, a number of Councillors, and is now ahead in the polls of the Liberals.  There are rumours of an SDP type split from the Tories, this time to their Right, which could then link up with UKIP.  A number of Far right politicans have been elected in a number of Nordic countries, and the Far Right have been able to use their positions in Italy to gain positions in Government.  The Far Right also managed to get into Government in Austria a few years ago, and, of course, across Central and Eastern Europe there are a range of Far Right and maverick parties, many of them in the same European bloc, as the British Tories.  This poses some questions.

What is the basis for the success of these Far Right groupings, and how significant is it?  The answer to the second question is, not that significant.  The Austrian Far Right were actually isolated, in Europe, by other European Governments, and their stay in Government was relatively short lived and ineffective.  The same is true in relation to the various right-wing groupings across Central and Eastern Europe.  The Tories have not lent them any credibility.  On the contrary, association with them has detracted from the Tories credibility in Europe, even amongst their natural Conservative allies.  In Northern Europe, the success of the Far Right has been limited, and where they have made significant gains, they have frequently been rapidly overturned.

In practice, the actuality of bourgeois parliamentary politics, and the fact that it is the Capitalist State, not Parliaments that actually exercise power, has meant that, even where Far Right parties have been in Government, they have been limited in their effectiveness, just as much as Left-wing Governments have faced the same kinds of restrictions.  The French FN, is a case in point.  In order to make itself electable, and in response to the needs of the reality where it has succeeded in getting candidates elected, it has toned down some of its rhetoric, and in fact, not just the rhetoric.  It has become more akin to a traditional constitutionalist Nationalist Party, than a Fascist party, whose real power base is based out in the streets, and whose function is to break up the workers organisations and struggles.  In fact, in order to win workers votes, it has been led to adopt a more Strasserite position.

Under Jean Marie Le Pen, the party was far more based upon Libertarian social politics, mixed in with a promotion of free market Capitalism aimed at the small capitalists and petit-bourgeois.  Under Marine Le Pen, the party has adopted a far more statist position, promoting nationalisation, increases in the welfare state, and attacks on the rich.  Its not hard to see how this programme was hardly distinguishable for those sections of workers attracted to these kinds of solutions, to those of the Stalinists.

The support for these Far Right parties is not significant for another reason.  Capital looks to fascism when its rule is under threat from a powerful working class, organised and led, by a revolutionary party.  Fascism is its last resort under such conditions, because it involves the bosses abandoning their preferred form of political rule - bourgeois democracy - which allows them to rule more or less directly, and instead to hand over that political rule to the fascists.  Moreover, fascist totalitarianism is a unique merging of the political power with the State power, in a way that not even traditional Bonapartism achieves.  Such a situation is extremely dangerous for Capital, because of its unpredictability, its lack of control, and the threat to individual Capitals it entails.  Before resorting to fascism, as Trotsky says, Capital is far more likely to make additional concessions to the workers, in order to buy time before reasserting control, through its trusted methods via Social Democracy.

But, although a number of EU countries face a political crisis, resulting from the consequences of the Financial Crisis of 2008, the economic crisis in the EU, is not in any way as threatening as is often portrayed.  As a whole the EU continues to grow, or at least not to go into any kind of serious recession, despite the debt crisis in the Southern periphery.  The real crisis in Europe is a political crisis, whose roots lie in the fact that the continued national interests, of individual States, and of sections of national Capital has prevented the necessary establishment of a European State.  The real crisis is a political crisis emanating from the jockeying for position, and in particular the attempt of Germany, to ensure that the new European State is shaped in its image.

Moreover, not only is Europe not in the same kind of economic and social crisis that engulfed it during the 1930's, the existence of a powerful global Capitalist Boom, means that the resources are readily available to prevent any such crisis.  But, even more importantly, the bourgeoisie are not under any kind of threat to their rule, by a powerful working class, led by an organised revolutionary party.  In short, the Far Right have not been called into existence by the Capitalist Class, but largely against the interests of the Capitalist Class.  For a relatively stable entrenched bourgeoisie, the rise of the Far Right only poses problems, because of the instability and unpredictablity they bring with them.

The rise of the Far Right is to be explained, not in the needs of the Capitalist Class, but in the fears of the working class, the small capitalists, and middle classes.  In Europe all these forces find themselves in uncharted territory.  The old certainties have gone.  Europe, and even North America are no longer the centre of the world.  Instead, power has shifted rapidly, and decisively Eastward.  A lage part of the crisis in the European periphery is to be explained by this shift, as any attempt to earn a living, around industries that can be located anywhere, and depend upon relatively low paid, unskilled labour is increasingly futile, as it is impossible to compete in these areas with China, and even cheaper labour economies in Vietnam etc.  The era of cheap money, and credit that ran from the late 1980's only acted to disguise this reality, and now, after the Financial Crisis, not only has that reality been shattered, but the costs of the pipe dream it entailed now have to be paid.

Olivier Blanchard, Chief Economist, IMF
The European politicians know this.  Their economists, or at least some of them, know what the solution to this situation is.  The Big Multinational Capitalists also know what the solution is.  Many of the technicians and bureaucrats of the international state bodies like the IMF also know what the solution is.  It is not austerity, but growth.  But not any kind of growth.  It has to be growth based upon a shift from consumption to investment, and investment in high value production, at least to a certain degree.  It requires a restructuring of European Capital, but in order to bring about that restructuring, the European economies have to be prevented from going into a serious recession.  That would only further increase the wariness of Capital to undertake the necessary investment.  It will require additional borrowing to finance this investment and restructuring to bring about growth.  That is why those economies like Germany, who ultimately will have to pick up much of the bill, in assorted transfer payments, are particularly keen to establish the necessary kinds of controls at an EU level that will prevent funds simply leaching away into unproductive consumption.

Many of the levers for achieving this have been put in place, despite the fact that only months ago, politicans and bureaucrats were saying that such measures were unthinkable.  For example, the ECB is now effectively engaging in QE through the Long Term Refinancing Operation, whereby they lend money to EU banks for three years at 1% interest, in order that those Banks can buy their Government's debt, paying yields of 5,6 and more percent.  The various firewalls established to back up European Banks, and Sovereign debts are also borrowing money in the Bond markets, which is a precursor to the establishment of EU Bonds.  But, for all these things to take their final form, it will ne necessary to introduce Fiscal Union, and there can be no Fiscal Union, without Political Union, for the same reason that the Amercian Colonists established - there can be no taxation without representation.

The Tories are not the only Party that face problems on this front in Europe.  All of them face right-wing Nationalist parties opposing any such move.  The reason these Far Right parties have succeeded to an extent in obtaining this support, is ultimately due to the fact that Big Capital has failed over the last 60 years of the European project, to adequately fight for it, because such a fight would have meant taking on the right-wing, nationalist, and reactionary elements of its own class.  Instead, it has preferred to adopt bureaucratic methods to advance its cause.  Deals have been done behind closed doors.  The consequence is that the working-class excluded from such decisions has itself become more wary of these internationalist tendencies.  The same kind of disillusion with politics in general that arises from commodified politics, where interchangeable politicians attempt to sell their particular brand to the voters, who find it works no better than all the others after all, is even more aggravated in relation to Europe, which is seen as even more remote, and where the propaganda of the Nationalists can be more readily swallowed.

The answer to the Far Right is not to adopt the approach of the Stalinists, and follow the fascists into the swamp of Nationalism, but to provide the working-class across Europe with a way out of that swamp, towards the sunny uplands, of socialist internationalism.

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