Mélenchon could be the French Bernie Sanders, and that’s not a good thing

Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Wikimedia Commons)

Already 16% of Mélenchon’s voters have apparently decided that if they can’t have his version of socialism they’ll happily vote for the national variety instead.

I saw some startling examples of puerile posturing in my years of left-wing activism. They mostly involved people more concerned with (and competitive about) the purity of their (self-)image as anti-capitalists par excellence than with actual injustice, poverty and inequality.

We recently saw a revival of this in the US with the Bernie Sanders campaign. Although Sanders ended up endorsing Clinton, the fact that his campaign and particularly his ‘supporters’ had concentrated their fire on her using ammunition provided by Trump and Putin (most of it buckets of undifferentiated rubbish) and refused to sully their consciences by voting for someone ideologically tainted by neoliberalism meant that ultimately Sanders helped Trump win. In the UK we saw the example of ‘Lexit’: people on the left who voted to leave the EU because they thought a campaign led by far-right demagogues and sponsored by Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail might somehow help bringing about socialism in our lifetime.

It’s a good thing that Mélenchon didn’t get through to the second round. A  Frexit referendum, which he promised, would have been a huge gift to the global far-right.

Now there’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon. It’s good that so many people voted for him in the first round, and I think it’s also good that he didn’t get through to the second. Aside from the fact that the non-fascist reactionary right in France would have united to vote for Le Pen rather than for him, his campaign pandered to the same delusion as ‘Lexit’, that there is a stage-left exit from the EU. A referendum on a French exit (as he promised) would have been a huge gift to the global far-right.

I understand why people abstained in disgust at the whole charade. None of the candidates are capable of reversing Europe’s economic and social collapse, at addressing unemployment, terrorism or the climate crisis. Neoliberal capitalism is a zombie which will ultimately devour us all unless new movements find a way to articulate and diffuse an alternative. Leaving aside the EU, it’s a positive sign that La France Insoumise, Mélenchon’s political movement, struck such a chord.

Nonetheless, I have no sympathy with those who voted for Le Pen. They know what she and her father have always stood for. Even if FN voters are unemployed or overworked, I cannot sympathize with their tendency to become suicidal as a result. They could have expressed their anger at their plight by voting for a candidate who at least nominally represented an alternative rather than one who (aside from being openly corrupt) denies France’s role in the Holocaust, scapegoats all Muslims as terrorists and would even stop all legal immigration.

Now many of Mélenchon’s followers and the CGT trade union are calling for abstention in the face of the very real threat that such a person will gain power. As was the case in the US with those who refused to oppose Trump, this makes a mockery of what socialists are supposed to be committed to.

Any mature adult with a basic understanding of history would vote for a neoliberal rather than a lifelong national socialist.

Anti-fascism has to be the absolute basis of what people who see themselves as on the left stand and fight for. Encouraging the illusion that there is no difference between a banker and a fascist is utterly irresponsible, puerile, infantile, juvenile and obscene. It’s like Slavoj Žižek at his most obtuse. Any mature adult with a basic understanding of history and political realities would vote for a neoliberal rather than a lifelong national socialist. As the French themselves say , ‘c’est du gâteau‘ – it’s a no-brainer. Just as in 2002, when the slogan was ‘it’s better to vote for a crook than a fascist’, the French left must swallow its pride and vote to stop Le Pen.

Although I’m not as a rule religious, I pray that those who voted Left in the first round will see sense and oppose the far-right in the second. I hope they’re not so stupid as to do what so many so-called progressives in the US did, which was to propagate (probably with some prompting from the Kremlin) the lies of the Trump campaign against the only person who could defeat it, or the British ‘leftists’ who gave credibility to the Leave campaign’s attacks on the EU as a no more than a club for the rich.

I’ve always rejected the notion that the two extremes of the political spectrum meet up. Over the last few months, with this outbreak of ultra-leftist sentiment in the face of far-right electoral insurrections, it’s actually becoming true. Although Mélenchon himself has called on his supporters to vote with their consciences in the second round, some of them appear not to possess one.

The CGT is calling the next stage a contest between the plague (Macron) and cholera (Le Pen). Criticism of Macron is already focussing on his past as a banker for Rothschild, i.e. evoking and appealing to a deep-seated anti-semitic canard particularly prevalent on the internet among Putin, Trump and, bien sûr, Le Pen supporters.

It may well work. Already 16% of Mélenchon’s voters have apparently decided that if they can’t have his version of socialism they’ll vote for the national variety instead. It’s also possible that Le Pen’s extremist allies in Isis could arrange a convenient terrorist attack on the eve of the vote, or that the dark arts of Putin, Wikileaks and Cambridge Analytica could give the polls a sickening lurch to the right. There has rarely been an election in relation to which complacency (in the form of abstention) has been less warranted.

People forget how the German Communist Party’s denunciation of the Social Democrats as ‘social fascists‘ contributed to the rise of Hitler.

One pro-Mélenchon supporter who is refusing to vote for Macron posted in La France Insoumis‘ Facebook group ‘We are the only true humanist and ecologist force in the country’, and urged voters to write in the name Mélenchon on the ballot paper on May 7. Although this person doesn’t seem to know how the German Communist Party’s denunciation of the Social Democrats as ‘social fascists‘ contributed to the rise of Hitler, it’s impossible that he isn’t aware of what happened last November in the US.

Such people are too in love with their self-image as pure leftists to learn lessons from history, however distant or recent. Anyone who is genuinely on the left will vote for Macron to stop an actual fascist coming to power, just like those who were true progressives voted for Clinton and opposed Brexit. Ce n’est pas l’heure de faire des jeux vaniteux et infantiles.


UPDATE: I see that the Washington Post has reached much the same conclusion.

Richard Willmsen

Richard Willmsen teaches English to politics students at a university in Rome and is the author of the blog Infinite Coincidence.

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