Here’s why I’m so angry about the French election

A relatively apolitical visitor to this website over the past week or so might be puzzled as to why on earth someone who doesn’t even live in France is getting so worked up about something so petty as the potential election of an undisguised fascist as leader of a major European country, not to mention so angry about the role of people supposedly on the left of the spectrum in helping to bring about such an eventuality by campaigning for people to abstain*.

I suppose from an early age I’ve tended to take politics too seriously and too personally. In the place and time I grew up everyone had a private store of venom reserved for the pronunciation of words like ‘Thatcher’ and ‘Tories’. Nevertheless, over the last few years I’ve made a concerted and conscious effort to uproot my political sentiments from the fertile manure of rage and resentment in which they originally flourished and replant them in soils of empathy and compassion. Some might say that given that over the last few days I’ve written lots of sentences like ‘I’m starting to despise the so-called ‘Left”, ‘FN voters are welcome to their shitty lives’ and ‘I fucking hope that President fucking Macron fucking puts anyone who fucking abstains in a fucking death camp’** I’m not trying hard enough.

Such sentiments do tend to stand out on my timeline of mostly liberal/lefty Facebook friends, where people generally avoid giving offence and potentially upsetting valued friends, family and acquaintances. In right-wing jerk circles, by contrast – and especially on Twitter – it’s fine to give vent to one’s most violent impulses and bond around the bonfire of all accepted values (except values oddly similar to those of one’s most conservative great-great-grandparents, but still). The libidinal charge of such outbursts helps explain why social media have contributed so very much to the recent success of a politics based on fear and hatred. It’s a version of Orwell’s two-minute hate and as such it can be exhilarating. 

I know this because I used to absolutely waste my time/try to escape my self-reaffirming bubble by arguing with racists and climate liars on Twitter. In the process I repeatedly saw confirmed the wisdom of the famous advice about never wrestling pigs: you both get dirty but the pig enjoys it. Nevertheless, in these fraught times and particularly among friends, those of us who worry about rather than welcome the rise to power of forces dedicated to scapegoating and violent repression should still open our mouths and express our fear and anger rather than hiding our feelings so as not to risk unpopularity. After all, members of our great-grandparents’ generation sacrificed their and others’ lives in the fight against Nazism. Surely the occasional Facebook post or tweet is not too much of a risk. Perhaps pretending we don’t know about climate change has taught us all some very bad habits with regard to (not) talking about unpopular topics.

Regardless of the comfortably numbing effects of social media, no one with a vote in the French election (remembering both that France has a comprehensive education system and that you have to officially be an adult to vote) can claim to be unaware that Le Pen proudly represents a lineage of racial supremacism as a justification for torture and mass death. As for those elements of the puerile and petulant left actively campaigning against Le Pen’s sole remaining opponent, let’s recall that France’s proud history of righteous political violence is by no means limited to guillotines and lobster thermidors. France in 1945 established a proud tradition of dealing with collaborators, which mostly involved shaving their heads and parading them through the streets so that normal people could spit in their faces. Presuming that the forces of reason rather than hatred do win out next Sunday, it would be hard to argue against the same treatment of those supposed progressives who, knowing the dangers of fascism, did everything they could to try to descredit the only candidate who could defeat it.

Now, I’m aware that the latter part of the preceding paragraph may be legitimately used as evidence by those who’ve argued that in my diatribes about the French election I’ve exhibited a lack of empathy for the plight of those left out of globalisation, people drawn towards Le Pen because they’ve had their life chances and those of their children damaged beyond repair, and who look to the future with fear mixed with a large dollop of resentment towards a political class that throughout their whole lives has lied to their faces while robbing them sourd, muet and aveugle***. I don’t want to come across like one of those Remainers who sneered at people whose plight was ignored by society and the economy to the point where they were desperate enough to fall for cheap demagoguery and tabloid manipulation, or smug Clinton supporters looking down on the millions who fail to qualify for the Democrats’ not-so-inclusive vision of ‘middle class’ Americans and who voted for a reality show tycoon in preference to a professional politician from one of the same old establishment dynasties. In the case of France I would have some understanding of those calling for abstention if it were the truly atrocious Fillon against Le Pen. But for all that I try, I cannot help but put voting for an actual fascist in an entirely different moral and political category. This is not about being duped by cheap promises of jobs or ‘sovereignty’. Successive generations of Europeans have grown up understanding Hitler and the Nazis to be an emblem of absolute evil. There is no one in France who does not know of Le Pen’s associations with those who deny the Holocaust and the monstrous crimes of the Nazi’s French allies (not because they think they didn’t happen, but because they approve and want to achieve something similar). In a French setting the FN openly celebrate the colonial wars, which brutalised entire societies – Le Pen’s father was a proud torturer of fighters for Algerian independence. There is no excuse for voting for such repugnant characters, and I also have nothing but seething contempt for those who ‘argue’ that an aspiring centrist Presidential contender is on the same moral scale. The trade unions and political parties who are calling the choice between a liberal democrat and a fascist**** ‘the plague or the cholera’ deserve to catch both, and as for the schoolkids running around organising anti-Macron demonstrations, they are, whether they know and are amused by it or not, tools of the far-right. As such I don’t find them a particularly compelling case for empathy. Let’s use whatever meagre means we might have – let’s, at the very least, use social media to share our anger and fear of a fascist victory – to help ensure that next Sunday the spirit of anti-fascist resistance fighters prevails over the fetid ghouls of Nazi collaborators.

* They might also be inclined to think, jesus, are all the sentences going to be this long?

** To be fair I didn’t actually write that one, although I might well have thought it momentarily.

*** The French term for ‘dollop’ is apparently ‘bonne cuillerée’.

**** Le clue devrait être dans le mots, n’est-ce pas?!

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