Going against the majority of French and international opinion, your editorials in Le Monde diplomatique have argued that the 2022 National Assembly elections demonstrated the strength of the ‘bourgeois bloc’ in France and the weakness of the left, even though Macron lost his parliamentary majority, dropping from 350 seats (out of 577) to 245 seats, while the Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale (Nupes), led by Mélenchon’s La France insoumise ( lfi ), saw a large swing in its favour, with lfi taking 75 seats for a total of 142 with its coalition partners. Many saw Macron’s position as having been decisively weakened since 2017, after a term marked by police brutality against the Gilets jaunes and a highly repressive pandemic lockdown. Despite the difference in the number of seats, both the Nupes and Macron’s parliamentary coalition, Ensemble, won 26 per cent of the popular vote. Could you explain why you saw this as a sign of the strength of the political establishment and of the right? Has anything happened to change your mind since?
Eighteen months after the re-election of Macron without a parliamentary majority, three major forces still define French politics: Macron’s centre right, the far right, and what used to be the Nupes. But while the first one is holding, and the second strengthening, the third is fragmenting. There used to be a traditional right, the parties backing Giscard d’Estaing in the 1970s, then Chirac until 2007, finally Sarkozy. Most of it has been eaten by Macron already, and what’s left of it—between 5 and 10 per cent of the vote—is increasingly tempted to rejoin either Macron and the bourgeois bloc, or Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (rn). The left, on the other hand, is not a magnet for anyone, all the more so because it is increasingly divided between its four constituent parts: La France insoumise, the Greens, the Communists, the Socialists. lfi is at once the largest—Mélenchon polled 22 per cent in 2022, whereas the Greens, Communists and Socialists received less, sometimes much less, than 5 per cent each—and the one most disliked by the other three. In other words, the outlook is quite grim for the left. Its four parties are going to compete against each other next June during the European election which the extreme right is very likely to win handily at this point. The war in Gaza has only strengthened the Rassemblement National and weakened the Nupes. The rn managed to be welcome in a demonstration against anti-Semitism, whereas lfi was stigmatized as anti-Semitic, including by some of its left-wing partners, because of its pro-Palestinian position.
In other words, the ‘cordon sanitaire’, the ‘republican arc’ which used to unite most of the traditional parties against the far right, explaining how in 2002 Jacques Chirac could receive 82 per cent of the vote against Jean-Marie Le Pen, is now starting to operate against the stronger party of the left. Meanwhile, when it comes to immigration, crime, Islam—issues which are increasingly merged in the dominant political discourse and gain importance with each terrorist attack in France—the differences between Macron, the right and the far right are fading away as the get-tough ideas of the Rassemblement National become hegemonic. One conservative paper summed it up this way: lfi is now easier to hate, the rn more difficult to fight.
Your renowned anatomizations of the French media and political-cultural sphere, Les Nouveaux Chiens de garde (1997) and L’Opinion, ça se travaille (2000) have detailed a lockstep ideological Atlanticism among pundits far more thoroughgoing than is to be found in the political world, where Macron, for example, will occasionally hint at more pragmatic positions—the possibility of negotiations on Ukraine, for example, or the desirability of European ‘strategic autonomy’.
Macron is always criticized by the media’s ideological watchdogs when he says something sensible—that Russia won’t be an enemy forever, for example—which he’ll contradict two days later. Even his greatest admirers say, ‘Ah! What a mistake to say that we shouldn’t humiliate Russia! Thankfully, he’s gone back on that, and now he’s corrected his mistake, he’s great again.’ Macron hasn’t been echoing the line that China will be tamed if it sees Russia being beaten, which French media figures picked up from the Biden Administration. The worst is France Inter, our equivalent of the bbc. It has a very wide audience because it’s public radio, with no advertising—unlike commercial broadcasting, which is impossible to listen to because it’s so stuffed with ads. France Inter’s line is ultra-hawkish, not unlike that of The Economist. But overall, opinion-makers in the public media are not that keen on Macron. Some like him, but most would vote Socialist or Green, whose candidates have got barely 5 per cent in recent elections—Anne Hidalgo, the last Socialist presidential candidate, got less than 2 per cent.
On the other hand, Mélenchon is really loathed by the French media, public and private, to an extent you can’t imagine—or maybe you can, post-Corbyn. He’s attacked for everything, constantly, and now some are even presenting Marine Le Pen as a better, quieter option. This is something new. When her father led the party in the 1990s and early 2000s, the far right was so repulsive to everyone, including the right, that there was a sense one should vote for any candidate but the National Front, even a Socialist, perhaps even a radical leftist. That’s no longer the case. Mélenchon has been tarred with the suspicion of radicalism, anti-Semitism and Islamo-leftism because of his condemnation of the Israeli assault on Gaza and his concern for Palestinians. While Le Pen seems very tame, almost domesticated by the media, not so far from the reactionary mainstream, Mélenchon has been made into a fanatic, a Robespierre, a stooge of dictators. The right is against him, but the so-called left-leaning media hate him passionately too: Mediapart, Le Monde (though Libération maybe not to the same extent because they will calculate that many of their readers voted for La France insoumise). The public broadcast media detest Mélenchon with a vengeance; it’s incredible—they are sometimes much worse than the right-wing press in this respect. I’ve been advocating for public media most of my political life, and, worryingly, now it’s reached the point where I wonder, do I want to pay for this?
Mediapart’s speciality has been to police and intimidate the left. Any time a left voice strays from Atlanticist orthodoxy, they try to whip it back into line. Edwy Plenel, the ex-Le Monde, ex-Trotskyist founder of Mediapart, has been particularly virulent on Ukraine. He’s recently recycled his pro-nato analysis of the Yugoslav war and his verbose charge against Régis Debray, trying to associate Mélenchon with Milošević, while Zelensky would be the new Trotsky and Putin, Stalin. It’s obvious from his book that he knows almost nothing about Ukraine. But attacking Mélenchon has become the national sport, of which Mediapart is a keen practitioner.