I have a very bad habit: signing up to and spending time in Facebook groups. Around Brexit it was the various Remain groups, during the US election the anti-Trump ones and over the last couple of weeks I’ve been hanging out with the French Left.
When I say ‘Left’, it’s an odd melange, in that there aren’t at present many contributors who define themselves in opposition to the right. In such groups supporters of the growing movement for abstention increasingly rubs shoulders with open supporters of the Nazi candidate Le Pen.
I saw something similar late last year with so-called ‘Bernie’ supporters who were far too busy propagandising against Hillary to even mention Trump. It has recently turned out that some of the groups are actually orchestrated by the far-right, which partly explains why they are happy to host posts in favour of far-right causes, including Le Pen. Although I’ve always found the cliché that the two ends of the political spectrum meet up contemptible, on social media it is often very difficult to tell who is what.
As someone whose knowledge of French politics is limited (I’ve never lived in France), I respect the opinions of friends who insist that some of the anti-Macron stuff being shared is a healthy letting-off of steam and that most of those disappointed with Méchelon’s failure to get through to the second round will do the sensible thing in ten days’ time. It’s also possible that the Facebook groups of France Insoumise Ici, the inappropriately-named 100% Anti-Facho and others are not representative of the debate in society at large. Espérons-le. It’s worth acknowledging are also sections of the Left (notably Ensemble) who have actually taken an anti-fascist position on the election – shamefully, that doesn’t include the once-prominent Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA).
However, what I’m seeing repeated exponentially more often is the argument ‘there’s no difference between Macron’s neoliberalism and Le Pen’s fascism’. The hashtag #sansmoi is being used by those who will proudly refuse to exercise their democratic responsibilities on May 7th and will presumably wash their hands of the consequences of the result.
That’s what a lot of ‘Bernie supporters’ did. They campaigned against Clinton to the point where millions who clearly should have voted for her were unmotivated to do so, and now they happily blame others for the outcome. The far-right is now tearing up the rights and protections of ordinary citizens at a ferocious rate, held back only by the courts. Trump is trying to bomb his way to popularity but the consciences of those who helped him into power are clear. It’s apparently all the fault of the Democrats who treated Bernie unfairly, the diddums.
It’s distinctly possible that the memes and tropes being shared against Macron right now on the ‘Left’ will help to elect Le Pen. They will depress Macron’s vote, increase abstention, put his campaign on the back foot and let a Holocaust revisionist and open racist into power in one of the world’s most emblematic democratic and powerful countries. In the process they will jeopardise the future of Europe and encourage the exponential growth of the far-right across the world. There may well be death camps; no one can pretend they don’t know what Le Pen stands for.
But what will the consequences be for those who let it happen? As so often on the ‘Left’, the ultimate prize is a pure, unsullied pair of hands and a smug sense that although there may be massive injustice in the world, I have played no part in its perpetuation. In the justifications of anti-Clinton leftists, pro-‘Lexit’ voters and French abstentionists, the key words are me and my: my beliefs, ma conscience… I know this because for years I was involved in leftwing organisations (although presently unaffiliated, I still hold basically socialist values and principles) and with some honourable exceptions those who were or aspired to be at the top of such groupuscules were far more concerned with promoting their egos and the name of their parties than with actually achieving meaningful change, except in some never-to-be-achieved wonderland.
I don’t know if Jean-Luc Mélenchon falls into that category. I’m reliably assured that he has in the past shown himself to be an admirable and consistent anti-fascist. It may be that his ego was damaged by his failure to get into the second round; he may just be sulking. He may, like Jeremy Corbyn, be tragically incompetent when it comes to strategy and leadership. Of course I would rather have seen him in the second round against Macron or Fillon. The support he built up in a few short weeks before the election is an encouraging sign that there is a huge appetite for a radical egalitarian alternative to neoliberalism. But there is no way that he is unaware that Le Pen is harvesting similar sentiments, that a key part of her strategy is to position herself right where he stood. For his supporters to be repeating this arrant nonsense that there is no difference between a banker and a Nazi AND NOT BE CONTRADICTED indicates an absolute abdication of moral and political leadership at the most critical point in the history of post-war Europe.
This is what I feel like screaming in the street right now (instead, I’m writing it on my website, which is sort of similar): IF LE PEN WINS, IT WILL BE THANKS TO THE CONNIVANCE OF THE ‘LEFT’. Any and all anti-fascists worthy of the name need to learn a very important lesson from the US and and STOP telling the world that Macron and Le Pen are indistiguishable. Doing so may involve a self-sacrifice of one’s impeccable anti-neoliberal credentials and necessitates a measure of humility. For me it’s another test of whether or not today’s ‘Left’ is anything other than a long-running vanity project, a puerile or senile delusion, a shiny accoutrement which looks nice but refers to nothing but itself. The dominance of the notion that the market and finance should control every aspect of our lives is a catastrophe for the human species, but if you think it’s as bad as what Le Pen stands for, you’re a cretin and a connard. Grow up, vote Macron. C’est tout.
PS: Bonus quiz question: does the follow clip depict fascism or neoliberalism?