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A May Day Letter from France

Longtime activist, scholar and translator Richard Greeman writes to us from Southern France. The country is preparing for an election on Sunday. The ultra-right nativist Marine Le Pen is vying for the presidency against Emmanuel Macron, a former Rothchild banker. What Greeman observed at May Day rallies in Montpellier does not bode well for the left in France.

Richard Greeman May 2

I just got back from May Day demonstrations a bit discouraged.

First of all, there were at least three separate marches here in Montpellier, France. The two biggest unions (General Confederation of Labor and Workers Force) held separate gatherings. None of the unions wanted to be associated with “politics” by mentioning Le Pen by name, apparently so as not to offend the percentage rank-and-filers who support her.

Participants in the third demonstration — including the anti-racists, far left and members of former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Unbowed France crowd — of course reject Le Pen. But the demonstrators were still debating among ourselves whether to abstain, spoil their ballot or vote for the neo-liberal banker Macron in order to prevent the neo-Fascist Le Pen from taking power.

For what it’s worth, I told them I was afraid if abstentions were high, Le Pen might sneak through and that once in power, like Trump in the United States, she would make them regret it. France is still under the State of Exception, declared and renewed by the Socialist government, allowing the state to trample everybody’s rights, raid neighborhoods and lock up dissidents. My fear is that Le Pen will unleash France’s already brutal police forces and that fascist gangs will try to take over the streets.

I like the slogan, “Stop Le Pen Now, Fight Macron Later!” If Macron is elected, we will at least have a chance to fight him, as we did last year when he was the Socialist’s Minister of the Economy behind the unpopular anti-labor “reform” bill. After months of demonstrations and strikes, the law was finally imposed by decree.

I’ve never seen the French left looking so weak, despite Melanchon’s good turnout in the first round. We were at most a couple of thousand this morning, and Montpellier is the city in France where Melanchon got the hightest vote, around 30 percent. In years past I’ve seen this town so full of demonstrators on May 1 that the streets were overflowing and the marchers took hours to pass.

Back in 2002, when Le Pen père edged out Lionel Jospin, the sitting Socialist Prime Minister, in the first round, the far-left got over 10 percent of the vote. Then there were mammoth anti-fascist demonstrations all over France and the Gaullist Jacques Chirak trampled Le Pen père in the second round as people chanted, Mieux l’escroc que le fascho” — “Better the crook than the fascist.”

Richard Greeman has been a socialist and international activist in the United States and France since the 1950’s. He is best known as the translator (from French to English) of the revolutionary novels of Victor Serge

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Photo: Members of France’s General Confederation of Labour prepare to march. Credit: Flickr/marcovdz.