France: Macron’s Pyrrhic victory

Whatever its scale, the 14th “day of action” against Macron’s rotten pension reform, scheduled for 6 June, will have no more effect on the government than did the 13th. Even if Macron did not really obtain the ‘appeasement’ he was hoping for, he can conclude that, on the pension reform, he has undoubtedly won the battle, at least temporarily. However, from the point of view of the French bourgeoisie, it is a Pyrrhic victory in which the winner emerges much weaker, overall, than the loser.

In a few months, Macron has clearly reinforced the opposition – and often, the pure hatred – that he arouses in the mass of the population. Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and the heavyweights of her government – Le Maire, Darmanin, Dussopt, Véran, Guerini, etc. – are hardly more appreciated than the head of state. As for Secretary of State Marlène Schiappa and her various escapades, they perfectly encapsulate the credibility of this government. Even amongst the large fraction of the middle classes who continue to support Macron because they are afraid of “extremism”, the enthusiasm of 2017 has given way to growing irritation, which sometimes turns into exasperation. The next step is support for one of “the extremists”.

In the absence of majority support in the National Assembly on the pension reform, the government had to deploy two articles of the Constitution – 47.1, then 49.3 – to bypass a debate and the vote by the deputies. Article 40 could be used for the same purpose. Twice, the Constitutional Council rejected the request to organise a ‘Referendum of Shared Initiative’ [a public plebiscite], in a context where all the polls indicate overwhelming opposition to the reform. All of this took place under the watchful and indignant gaze of millions of young people and workers, who rightly conclude that French ‘democracy’ is an utter farce.

These events therefore took the crisis of the regime to very dangerous proportions, from the point of view of the bourgeoisie. When not just this or that government official, but all ‘democratic’ institutions are discredited to this extent, the ruling class walks a thin tightrope. In 2018 and 2019, the gilets jaunes movement gave a glimpse of the explosive consequences of such a situation.

And this was only a first glimpse, because what is brewing in the depths of the French masses, whose revolutionary traditions are known worldwide, will give the giles jaunes movement the appearance of a simple skirmish by comparison.

The impasse of the regime

Macron Le Pen Image Foto AG Gymnasium Melle Wikimedia CommonsThere remains the possibility of a coalition government with Le Pen’s National Rally, but this option is far from certain to win electorally / Image: Foto AG Gymnasium Melle, Wikimedia Commons

All things being equal, the bourgeoisie would have every interest in cashing in on the pension reform, while putting pressure on Macron to dissolve the National Assembly, in the hope of restoring a semblance of democratic veneer through new elections.

But the bourgeoisie does not exert such pressure. Why? Because the depth of the political crisis is such that early legislative elections could aggravate the crisis, instead of alleviating it. Indeed, what kind of parliamentary majority could emerge from new legislative elections in the coming months?

Against the backdrop of the debacle facing Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) and the fracturing of the traditional centre-right Republicans, a coalition of these two parties seems very unlikely. A coalition of LREM and NUPES (the main left-wing grouping) is excluded as long as the latter is dominated by France Insoumise (FI). And precisely because it is dominated by the FI, the prospect of an absolute majority for the NUPES is not supported by the ruling class at all, because it urgently needs drastic counter-reforms and cannot depend on NUPES to carry them out.

There remains the possibility of a coalition government with Le Pen’s National Rally: a formulation much like the current Italian government. But this option is far from certain to win electorally, not to mention the electrifying effect it would have on large layers of the youth and the working class.

In short, the era of "political alternation", when right and "left" succeeded each other in power, like the peaceful ticking of an old clock, is over and will not return. The deep crisis of capitalism has broken this mechanism. In the final analysis, the crisis of the regime of French capitalism is the political expression of a crisis of the underlying economic and social system. And this crisis is very far from over.

The revolutionary alternative

The conclusion that flows from this, from our class point of view, is perfectly clear: to put a definitive end to the economic and social crisis, it is necessary to bring the workers to power, to expropriate the big bourgeoisie and to reorganise society on a socialist basis. That is to say, on the basis of democratic planning of the productive forces.

Any other ‘solution’ is only a decoy and a deception. A growing number of young people and workers are beginning to draw this conclusion, even if they do not always have a clear idea of the way and means to achieve it.

Unfortunately, they are not helped by the official leaders of the left and the trade union movement, who cling desperately to their worn-out reformism and explain to anyone who will listen that a capitalism "with a human face" is possible – at the very moment when this system threatens to plunge humanity into generalised barbarism.

Such is the central contradiction of the situation, in France as elsewhere. It remains consistent with what Trotsky wrote in 1938, at the very beginning of his Transitional Programme:

“The world political situation as a whole is characterised above all by the historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”

Sophie Binet “theorises”

Sophie Binet Image La CGT TwitterSophie Binet does not present the possibility of overthrowing capitalism / Image: La CGT, Twitter

To get an idea of the level of confusion being sowed from the top of the labour movement, just listen to the interview given to Médiapart, on 10 May, by the new general secretary of the CGT, Sophie Binet. Unsurprisingly, she does not present the possibility of overthrowing capitalism. But we also note what she says about the major mobilisations of recent months.

In response to the journalist asking why the CGT has not also mobilised at the national level on the burning question of wages, Binet answers:

“Pensions and wages, it does not work at all the same. WIth wages, the first interlocutor is the boss, and therefore there are mobilisations in businesses, in the workplace, directly linked to wage negotiations. But a national, cross-sector movement on wages is much rarer and almost never seen.”

Binet strives to cover her conservatism with a “theoretical” veil. But this ‘major difference’ between salaries and pensions is a ridiculous bureaucratic scholasticism. As we have been explaining since January: by confining the programme of the struggle to the isolated question of pensions, in a context where inflation – among other problems – is hitting all workers hard, the leaders of the labour movement limited the potential of the struggle.

In fact, workers in a number of workplaces and sectors seized the opportunity of the fight against the pension reform to go on strike over wages and working conditions as well. This was the case, in particular, for the striking workers of the clothing company Vertbaudet, whose courage and determination, in the face of implacable management and police harassment, aroused the admiration and solidarity of large sections of the population. This is the best rebuttal that we can give to the abstract reasoning of Binet.

Whatever the general secretary of the CGT thinks, major national struggles are on the agenda not only on the question of pensions, but also on the question of wages – and on all the problems that overwhelm the mass of exploited and oppressed people. We must prepare for it by sweeping away the conservative arguments that seek to limit the methods and scope of the fight.

In the end, our class will only be definitively victorious when it has expropriated the handful of giant parasites ruling this country, and reorganised society on a socialist basis.

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