27

As a background to this question, I know next-to-nothing about French politics other than briefly reading a few news articles about current events.

In response to the re-election of Emmanuel Macron in the 2022 election, some violent protests and riots have broken out in France. Macron's opponent, Marine Le Pen, has been referred to as "far-right" by multiple news sources. Without knowing much about Macron's policies; it seems clear that he is the more left-wing candidate of the two.

But it seems like these protests and riots are being carried out by far-left groups. This seems very confusing to me; even if far-left groups don't generally support Macron (similar to how far-left groups in the U.S.A. don't tend to support Biden because he is too moderate), shouldn't they be happy about this election outcome, as opposed to a victory by Le Pen?

Why are left-wing groups protesting an election in which the right-wing candidate lost?

https://www.news.com.au/world/europe/deadly-violence-breaks-out-in-paris-as-police-charge-protesters-furious-at-macrons-reelection/news-story/35ee330a949207ed472f356cb78c3931

17
  • 13
    To clarify: You're asking from the perspective of someone who's mostly (or exclusively?) familiar with a 2 party system, correct?
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 17:51
  • 27
    An analogy with American politicians: Suppose you are a Sanders supporter and there was just a runoff between Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. Romney won. Are you happy?
    – quarague
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 18:56
  • 4
    Or, as with what actually happened in the U.S.A.; plenty of Sanders supporters were upset when he didn't win the primaries. But I don't know of any Sanders supporters then reacting with anger when it was announced that Biden, rather than Trump, won the main election.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 19:08
  • 13
    Sometimes, riots don't start because people sat around making logical conclusions about whether their protest will directly change who is president. Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 19:28
  • 6
    Just as side note Mélenchon called his voters not to vote for Le Pen, instead of calling to vote for Macron.
    – convert
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 23:03

5 Answers 5

54

First, a bit of background is necessary: Macron was the Minister of Economy and Industry under Valls' government, when Hollande was president (this was a centre-left government). Previously, Macron was an investment banker (a profession which doesn't get much love on the left).

He successfully ran for president in 2017 as a centrist, practically destroying the traditional centre-left (PS) and centre-right (LR [UMP before 2015]) parties with his victory. At the time he managed to convince a huge majority of people (including political figures from the left and the right) that he represented a new, modern kind of politics beyond the old-fashioned system. It's worth noting that, already in 2017, the second round of the presidential election opposed him to Le Pen, and he clearly benefited from left voters. So there was a kind of expectation on the left that he would be especially moderate in his economic policy.

But during his presidency his economic policy was (unsurprisingly) consistent with his ideas, i.e. very liberal (in the sense of liberal capitalism). For example he started by removing l'Impôt de solidarité sur la Fortune, a wealth tax on the richest people. He also made various remarks which were perceived as offending to jobless/poor people. He became generally considered on the left as an elitist, condescending person, and of course not fundamentally different from traditional politicians.

During his presidency, the Yellow Vests protests were also symbolically important. From Wikipedia:

[..] Including many people motivated by economic difficulties due to low salaries and high energy prices, the yellow vests movement has called for redistributive economic policies like a wealth tax, increased pensions, a higher minimum wage, and reduced salaries for politicians.

The government replied mostly with police brutality against the protesters.

For all theses reasons, left leaning people who used to have hopes about Macron are now angry against him, and many of those who voted for him in 2017 consider that he betrayed them. Most people on the left (especially the far left) are fed up with these presidential run-offs where they feel excluded: they are given a choice between two right-wing candidates, one far-right and one moderate.

So these extreme reactions are not about Macron winning against Le Pen, they actually reflect the anger of these voters from the results of first round: between Macron and Le Pen, they feel that they don't have any acceptable choice.

11
  • 17
    About those police brutalities, your link says As of 22 December 2018, 10 fatalities had been linked to the protests in France,[216] one of which resulting from police action. I don't live in France anymore, but it has a strong tradition of very destructive protests, during which many citizens wished the police would protect property more. This is what the federation of insurers had to say : Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 20:17
  • 21
    The federation of insurers is not "many citizens", and whether or not the brutality was justified (erk) or not, the impact of seeing elderly people and nurses get tear gased, thrown to the ground and violently arrested, coupled with the mutilation of protesters, in the context of the yellow jacket which had a lot of first-time protesters, plus the mediatisation of all of this, left a huge impact in the collective consciousness. The amount of property damage, estimated by a biased source, does not compare to that
    – DrakaSAN
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 2:48
  • 9
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I don't think it's fair to compare property damage to personal injuries, and I didn't buy that argument of the violence of the protests as a catch-all justification of a "legitimate" police violence from the Interior Minister then, so I don't buy it now. But regardless, you have to remember Yellow Vests aren't unions, they're people. The optics here is the people vs the police brutality and the economic violence of the state. And that optic here is why those protesters hate Macron so much. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 9:21
  • 4
    @DrakaSAN (and the others). We're really talking about 3 different things here. 1. Whether the protests were violent or not (some of them certainly were, judging from damages). 2. Whether the police needed to suppress the violent ones (we'll agree to disagree on that) and 3. whether the CRS French riot police in general are needlessly brutal - we'll agree on that last one, under any French government. But my point in this comment, to people not familiar with French protests is that French civil disorders are not generally peaceful. Torching private cars for example is frequent. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 18:52
  • 8
    Additionally, a lot of left-leaning voters were compelled to vote for macron on the second round to block the way to far-right Le Pen. But the last thing those people want is to let Macon behave like he has won their true support. For them, protesting in the street is a mean to signal their "barrage" vote is not an adhesion vote. So even those who still think Le Pen is way worse than Macron have an interest in taking part in the protests.
    – Vallahga
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 12:31
23

Why are left-wing groups protesting an election in which the right-wing candidate lost?

The first thing I'd like to answer to that is this: did he?

An important element of perspective you're missing is that the election wasn't played between 2 candidates. There were 3 which broke 20% on the first round, but only two tickets for the second round. The important take-away here is that neither Macron nor Le Pen are left-wing.

A view shared among many on the left is that Macron is firmly right-wing. He might be less right-wing than the far-right candidate, but that's not saying much. He might be called a centrist in the foreign press, and that might have passed for true in 2017, but that's not how it feels in 2022. At the very least he doesn't represent the left.

This leaves us with the hard truth that the left has lost this election on the first round. Regardless of who ended up winning, it's still a loss. Macron's victory means 5 more years of Macron (if he also wins the legislative elections, which is very possible), and left-wing groups have little reason to be happy about that because, again, he isn't left-wing.

But I think that's only looking at 57.54% of the issue.

Here's a quote from the article you link:

Several hundred demonstrators from ultra-left groups took to the streets in some French cities to protest Macron’s re-election and Le Pen’s score.

That last part is very important. Le Pen scored 41.46% this time. That is less than 9 points away from victory. I'll call that coming dangerously close to power.

It demonstrates that the far-right's ideas are firmly installed in the political landscape. It demonstrates that the far-right has successfully de-vilified itself. In 2002 there was a strong rejection of Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. He scored 18%. In 2017, Marine scored 33.9%.

The far-right keeps gaining ground, and that's the second reason to be unhappy about the outcome of the second round.

4
  • 3
    You might want to hyphenate 'de-vilify' so it doesn't look like 'devil-ify' :)
    – AakashM
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 13:47
  • 1
    Of course Macron is centrist. He doesn't represent either extreme. Now there are plenty on the left who will feel that Macron is on the right, but that is a relative position. By the same argument, there are those on the right who feel Macron is too soft on immigration, and therefore on the left. Objectively, Macron can't be both on the right wing and on the left wing. But centrists can be on neither extreme.
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 11:15
  • 2
    @MSalters It's true his opponents on the right will call him not-right, because obviously they are the real right and not posers like Macron. What's important to the point though is that A) centre or right, a majority of people across the spectrum can agree he isn't left, and B) people on the left see him more right than centre, and absolutely not left. As for can't be both right and left, that works only on a linear 1D space, but then again he isn't left anyways, which is the important part here. Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 14:13
  • @MSalters Actually, a large part of Macron's campaign in 2017 was about convincing everyone that he was both right-wing and left-wing. I even recall him saying so explicitly. And it worked - in 2017 he somehow convinced enough people from the left that he was left-wing, and enough people from the right that he was right-wing, and he got elected. Some people on the left always thought he was right-wing, and never voted for him; some other people on the left believed he was left-wing, voted for him, and now they changed their mind and feel cheated.
    – Stef
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:47
10

The media like to slap labels on the protesters and paint them as extremists. But here there are some people who did not want to spend other five years under Macron, nothing else.

Some leaders of leftist groups have expressed disdain at the prospect of another term under Macron, but they do not represent all the protesters and obviously the left supporters were already unhappy about this elections way before the second round was held. Actually they were also unhappy about those chosen to represent them, this is shown by the very low support their candidates took.

Eventually the final result has become the occasion to gather people from a broad spectrum of political views in the protest demonstrations, they are on the streets together, but they don't fall under a single classification.

0
10

"(Far) right" and "(far) left" have become political labels that often have little to do with ideology. This is even more complicated by the fact that political spectrum is not one-dimensional, and the same issues may not be necessarily grouped as right or left in the same way as in the US, particularly in a multi-party political system, such as the French one.

Right usually refers to:

  • Liberal economic policies (i.e., pro-capitalist policies)
  • Greater emphasis on individual freedom, particularly in the economic sphere and vis-à-vis the state interference into private life
  • Socially conservative policies (such as opposition to gay marriage, abortion, etc.)
  • Support for religious institutions
  • More assertive national policy

Left usually implies:

  • Support for socialist/communist economic policies
  • Greater emphasis on the social good than on the rights of an individual
  • Liberal social attitudes
  • More secular attitudes vis-à-vis religion
  • More support for international integration, erasing borders, etc.

The bullets above are based on American division, but it is easy to see how they can be combined differently and, indeed, how they are contradictory: e.g., liberal attitudes in social sphere are an odd combination with non-liberal (socialist) views on economic freedoms; belief in more open borders is odd, if combined with opposition to economic globalization and free trade, etc.

Macron has emerged as a centrist candidate, exhibiting both liberal economic views and progressive (i.e., liberal) views on social issues. This is why he was able to oust more traditional Socialist and Republican parties (Partie Socialiste et Les Republicains, former UMP). As such he draws his support from the center-left and center-right, but decried as right-wing or left-wing by (respectively) the extreme left and the extreme right, which are mainly represented by Jean-Luc Melenchon and Marine Le Pen. It is fair to say that at the moment French have three-party system, each drawing support from about a third of the electorate (although there are many smaller parties that participated in the elections).

In a way, Macron was elected on a wave of a protest movement against the traditional policies, which were viewed as resulting in economic stagnation and degradation of the level of life. His attempts at reforming the pension system, the government monopolies (such as the train system), the small business, etc. have met many objections, including the infamous Yellow Vest protests (Les Gilets Jaunes). This gave the right and the left a possibility to claim that they care about "simple people", while opposing Macron as "the candidate of the rich". Note that "the rich" in France pretty much describes the 43% of the population paying the income tax, what elsewhere would be called the middle class, college graduates, etc.

Thus, the opponents of Macron are driven more by a desire to remove him from office than by specific ideas of how to solve the France's problems. Populism is by definition constitutes tapping into the popular sentiment, without proposing sensible and working solutions, so the attribution to political left/right is here more of secondary (or even historical) importance.

This situation is not dissimilar to anti-establishment populism of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. However, the party allegiance, traditional to the American political system, as well as the mack of any significant political movements alternative to the major tow parties, limit the flux of popular support between the two camps (or indeed their awareness of their similarity to each other).

11
  • 5
    The part about religion translates very poorly to modern French politics. I don't think any mainstream party wants to see government support for religious institutions, with the separation between church and state being so core to the state that opposing it would put one way out in the fringe.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 12:07
  • 2
    @gerrit Separation between religion and state is firmly encoded in the French law, but religion still plays an important role in France. For one, many French are practicing Catholics and regularly go to church. This translates in support for traditional values - anti-gay, pro-life, skeptical of cultural change (especially the one brought by immigrants) - all of which are well on display in the French politics. (contd.)
    – Morisco
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 14:06
  • 2
    Furher, private schools in France are usually Catholic schools which translates religion into the economic sphere, (although they are obliged to teach the same stuff as regular public schools, and significant part of students are non-practicing and even non-religious). It is not frequent to speak of Catholics as the group most "abused" by the multiculturalism. (contd.)
    – Morisco
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 14:10
  • 2
    Finally, Islam is another important religion which makes waves in France - in relation to wearing veil in public places, special swimming pools, etc. Jean-Luc Melenchon was even accused of "Islamo-leftism" ("islamo-gauchisme") by no less than the minister of education - hardly an unpolitical statement. (see, e.g., here) The cultural debate about "French identity" (promoted by figures like Eric Zemmour ??) implies Catholicism as a part of this identity.
    – Morisco
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 14:16
  • 1
    OK, fair enough. But then I think it's more accurately described as support for religious freedom (including the freedom to dress as one wants), which is not the same as support for religious institutions.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 16:00
8

Many environmentalists are lumped with far-left groups

There's a growing part of the population who feel that climate change and our dependency on fossil fuels are huge problems, that should have been tackled decades ago, and only appear as an afterthought (if at all) on a long list of vain promises by almost every candidate.

Somehow, the green party (EELV) failed, once again, to propose a credible program or candidate, and got less than 5% during the first round.

Many environmentally-inclined people turned to Mélenchon (far-left candidate), because his promises were the least far away from what should be done against climate change, and he had the potential to pass the first round of the election.

Those electors had nobody to vote for during the second round, after Macron and Le Pen won.

Macron proved that he didn't care much about the environment during his first mandate; he has now been elected for another 5 years; he wastes billions on fuel rebates; and the IPCC warns that global emissions should peak in 3 years to stay below 1.5°C.

6
  • 3
    I am not convinced that the Paris (suburb) riots consist of (potential) green voters.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 12:06
  • 1
    @gerrit As mentioned in other answers, there are many different profiles among protesters, and those profiles will be very different between Paris inner city and suburbs. In OP's link, there are a few pictures of Place de la République. On Marianne's statue, you can read "Le monde brûle (The world is burning)". Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 12:20
  • I certainly expect green party supporters to protest, and the more radical ones to block roads and industry. What doesn't fit in the picture is to riot, which is inherently disorganised. Tagging a statue is not a riot.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 12:22
  • 1
    @RogerVadim: 1/2 For what it's worth, I know many people who wanted to somehow vote "against climate-change", and weren't sure how to vote. Polls are a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy : it was clear to many people that voting for Yannick Jadot wouldn't bring much, since he'd never get past the first round. Many green-voters actually voted for Mélenchon, even though he might not represent them well otherwise. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 13:43
  • 1
    2/2 The Shift Project, "a French think tank advocating the shift to a post-carbon economy.", checked how environementally friendly the promises of every candidate were. (franceinter.fr/politique/…). The results didn't look good for Macron, and even worse for Le Pen. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 13:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .