Which French presidential candidate has declared, repeatedly, “We have reached a final stage of capitalism which finds itself today trapped in its own inability to regulate its excesses”?
One of the two Trotskyists, who may pick up 1% of the votes between them? Or the candidate the mainstream media here constantly describes as “the left-wing firebrand”, Jean-Luc Mélenchon? Or, may be, the Socialist Party’s Benoït Hamon, who muses over the possible destruction of millions of jobs under the hammer of computerisation in the hands of private enterprise?
Not a bit of it. It is the candidate who made his fortune at Rothschilds assisting one of capitalism’s giants, Nestlé, take over a large chunk of one of the other giants, Pfizer. It was said at the time that Emmanuel Macron made a cool two million euro in the 18 months before he entered the Elyssée Palace as President François Hollande’s principal economics adviser. With that in his wallet, Macron should know a thing or two about capitalism.
He provided Hollande, the patient, manipulator of the political and media machine, with the clear-cut ideological arguments finally sprung on the French public at the New Year of 2014, eighteen months after Hollande had won the 2012 election, with voters thinking he meant it when he said that his “adversary is the world of finance”. Go back into Hollande’s archive of articles from as far back as the ‘80s and you will find texts that outline the about-turn he announced then. Only the points had been made so soto voce that no one really noticed.
Macron played a key part in putting the pieces in place: massive reductions in employers contributions against vague talk of job creation, then a major law on deregulation followed by the labour law of last year that dramatically alters the balance of power in favour of the employer.
His book out last November, Revolution: It’s our battle for France, is not about repeating Trotsky’s ventures with the Bolsheviks, but about pushing this programme of dismantling the public, state-based structures of dialogue and social protection in France much, much further. One senses, listening to his speeches, reading his statements and the pages of Revolution that he was deeply frustrated during his time with Hollande, not by the President’s ideas, but by his inability to act.
In the same way, perhaps a reason why Hollande is not standing in this election is that he did not want to fight his young protégé. For Macron’s programme is basically that of Hollande, but given the glitter of an enthusiast who talks passionately about putting it into practice.
En Marche, the “political movement” or “collective” that Macron set up a year ago while still in Hollande’s government, is the first such vehicle created in France for the exclusive purpose of a lightening raid on the Elysée. It is like a gigantic political Ponzi scheme, a pyramid fraud feeding on the idea of success, constantly gathering new supporters without returning the rewards it supposedly promises.
Which is not to say he will fail in his raid. Indeed, it shows some promise of working, such is the state of play with French politics. The only thing that is solid is the vote for the racist Marine Le Pen on the extreme right. François Fillon, the right wing candidate mired in scandal, is down to his core support – true, still some 20% of voters – chased everywhere by protesters bashing saucepans, the French word for which is the same as the slang for a corruption case in court.
And if the traditional right is in chaos, the traditional left is deeply divided over how completely to break from the years of the presidency of François Hollande and oppose the ‘project’ offered by Macron.
The Green candidate Yannick Jadot will now stand down in favour of Hamon, party members having voted 90% in favour. But real exchanges between Hamon and Mélenchon are only just starting as I write. Were Hamon in complete charge of the Socialist Party machine they might be easier, but he is not. He remains reliant on some of the key figures who imposed the policies that he won the primary vote by condemning. For Mélenchon at the moment that remains an insurmountable obstacle to unity.
Hence, partly, the success of the fresh and modern declarations of Macron. The hope for the future, the rejection of racism. His repackaging of the unpopular reform programme of Hollande as an exciting vista of root and branch change. Out is tinkering and compromise with elites and in is “revolution” with the help of “you”, a word he uses frequently. Yes, he does not have a “programme” yet in the sense of a detailed manifesto (that is to come in March), but he does have a “project” and “vision”.
On this, he is earnestly assured, certain of his own capacity to take the lead and the justice of that belief in himself. He is also relentlessly optimistic. It is as if one had a video on a permanent loop of Tony Blair leaping up to the podium as the strains of Things can only get better ring in your ears. Indeed there much of the early Blair in Macron. Perhaps it is only because he found himself in a French Socialist Party government in power, rather than in opposition, that he chose to strike out on his own instead of creating a New Labour equivalent.
En Marche has run, it says, nearly 10,000 events, it claims 3,800 local committees and 192,000 signed up on its website with training and discussion sessions like a corporate communication exercise. It has over five million euro in the bank. In our local street market, the most enthusiastic, most messianic, activists are his.
There is also much that is progressive in the best sense of the word in what Macron says. He is scathing when it comes to those right wing politicians, “candidates to succeed de Gaulle, who interest themselves in school canteen menus [a reference to Le Pen and many on the right who want to ban halal food from schools] or in the type of clothes”. He dismisses much of the near hysterical law and order debate here as calling for measures that has added nothing useful to existing legal powers.
It does not take long, though, to spot the rattle of the Ponzi skeleton behind the buzz and chatter. He is, he announces, of both right and left. Much of what he declares is promptly followed by the very opposite. He talks at one moment in his book of “things that are splitting our country … making us run the risk of a civil war” and then just eight lines later intones, à la Dad’s Army, “Don’t panic”. That is his style. A grand pronouncement which seems to place him irrevocably on one side of the fence (“French colonialism in Algeria was a crime against humanity”, declared in an Algiers TV interview) has as its counterpart what appears to say the opposite (“There were civilising elements … the emergence of a state, of wealth, of a middle class”, in an interview last autumn).
Behind this juggling game lies the central proposition. He may happily say that capitalism is on its last legs but there is no talk of replacing it. There is plenty of talk about how French people must be prepared to face more risks – like “you”, that is another of his favourite words.
But risk for someone in his shoes is not the same as that for the woman who begs outside our local bakers. His success has been to make many French voters think it is. Like General de Gaulle telling the massed military and French colonists in Algiers in June 1958 who wanted to continue the war in Algeria: Je vous ai compris, I have understood you. He let them think he was on their side when he already knew that the days of the French empire were done for.
De Gaulle gets more than one positive mention in Macron’s Revolution. And so he should. De Gaulle was in Algiers to ensure the support of the generals there in the wake of his coup d’état that May. He used their support to help establish his Fifth Republic based on centralising powers in the hands of the President, himself.
Macron’s drive for power is like de Gaulle’s. En Marche is not a democratic structure. Control is in the hands of its leader. And for all his talk of changing everything in France, there is one thing that leader proposes to leave just as it is. Read through all the pages of Revolution and you will discover that there is not one word whatsoever about reforming the powers of the president.
You do not need to ask why, for it is by using those authoritarian powers that Macron proposes to remould France in the image of the business world he pretends to think is on its last legs.