June 18, 2024

France between Fascism and the Popular Front

Nessim Achouche

Macron’s unexpected gamble has unleashed a new, dynamic mobilization on the Left

When Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France in 2017, he vowed in his first public speech that the far right would be erased before of the end of his mandate. Seven years later, Marine Le Pen’ Rassemblement National (RN) is on the verge of power, set to walk through a door that was left wide open by Macron when he decided to dissolve the French legislative assembly and call for snap elections after the highest result ever registered for the far right in France in the European elections on 9 June.

The results of the EU elections seemed to confirm the dynamics that were at play in French politics since Macron was re-elected in 2022. The RN under the leadership of Jordan Bardella, a young MEP often touted as the likely successor to Marine Le Pen, succeeded in claiming 31.3 percent of the vote, an increase of 2.2 million votes over its 2019 result, but still behind the 8.8 million won by Marine Le Pen in the 2022 presidential election. Together with the votes that went to the other main far-right party, Reconquête, the European elections saw a staggering increase of 3 million new votes for nationalist and racist parties. The RN will send a record 30 MEPs to Brussels, becoming the first European delegation ahead of the German Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU).

RN increased its vote total virtually everywhere in the country, with its list taking first in 93 percent of municipalities. Upon closer inspection, another tendency is confirmed: RN outperformed in rural and peripheral areas isolated from urban centres. However, the RN’s success was more limited in towns and neighbourhoods where poverty is higher, beyond 20 percent and tend to stagnate around an average score of 10 percent in localities where the poverty level rises to 30 percent.

Overall, the results constitute a political earthquake, the ultimate consequences of which will only be known in the weeks and months to come. Macron’s project is in tatters, while parties on both the Right and Left have watched old certainties collapse in a matter of days.

Setbacks for the Centre, Movement on the Left

The results for Macron’s Renaissance party confirmed what many felt was a calamitous campaign, in which the party proved unable to defend Macron’s disastrous record during the first two years of his second mandate or present a new vision. With 14.5 percent for the list headed by Valerie Hayer, the elections exposed the total disarray of the Macron project.

On the Left, the formal dissolution of the NUPES alliance, triggered by the Greens’ early refusal to present a common list, saw the former coalition members embark on separate, varying electoral trajectories.

Place Publique, a spin-off from the Socialist Party helmed by Raphaël Glucksmann, notably scored a comparatively impressive 14.2 percent. His similarities with the political profile of Emmanuel Macron garnered him a lot of media attention and could partially explain why a significant share of Macon’s supporters from 2019 switched to Glucksmann this time around. With 5.5 percent of the vote, Les Ecologistes (the Greens) barely reached the threshold to enter the European Parliament and dropped 10 points compared to 2019.

The list of La France Insoumise, by contrast, headed by the outgoing co-chair of The Left in the European Parliament, Manon Aubry, won 9.9 percent of the votes sending 9 MEPs to the Left group, making LFI the biggest delegation in this group. This constitutes significant progress over 2019, when Aubry’s list scored a disappointing 6.3 percent, even if it pales in comparison to LFI’s result in the 2022 elections, when Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 22 percent of the votes. The Communist Party, which insisted on running a separate list for the 2024 elections, remained stable around 2,5 percent and failed to enter the EU parliament for the second time in a row.

Taken together, the left-wing parties’ total vote increased slightly, up by 1.4 million. While the increase for the centre-left end of the alliance, the Ecologistes and Socialists, was fairly slight (300,000 votes, with the Socialists taking away large portions of the Ecologistes’ 2019 result), the radical Left and LFI gained around 1 million votes. This confirms the forward progress of La France Insoumise in France, highlighted by the very high score for Aubry’s list in many urban working-class areas.

Macron’s Gambit

 Macron’s decision to dissolve parliament comes at a time where the bourgeois bloc is the weakest and the nationalist and racist right is reaching new heights.

After announcing the dissolution of the French assembly and the organization of a snap election within 20 days on the night of 9 June, Macron himself made a major declaration, unveiling the real strategy behind this surprising move — namely, to isolate the radical Left, specifically La France Insoumise, and pull the rest of the centre-left into his orbit.

Macron announced that Renaissance would not field any candidates in constituencies with incumbent candidates from parties of the so-called “republican arch”. For those who follow French politics closely, it was clear that he was referring to the systematic campaign led by Macron and the majority of the media since to characterize La France Insoumise as outside of republican norms. This pernicious campaign reached new heights after 7 October, when LFI’s unwavering support for the Palestinian cause was used as a pretext to further demonize the party.

Macron and part of the ruling class seek to paint the RN and LFI as belong to the same “extreme” camp with the goal of exploiting the fracture between LFI and the rest of the NUPES. It appears that Macron hoped to appeal to Raphaël Glucksmann and the segment of the Socialists that has always refused an alliance with LFI in order to create a republican front between the republican Right, the bourgeois bloc, and social democracy and ensure a victory in the span elections.

Here Comes the Popular Front

Yet Macron’s hopes of dividing the Left were soon cut short when the four leaders of the former NUPES parties organized a common meeting to form a common front against the rising far right. In parallel to this dynamic within ex-coalition partners, the streets of France have been filled with people demonstrating against the prospect of the far right taking power and calling for the re-emergence of a left-wing alliance.

The urgency of such an alliance became more evident when Marion Maréchal Le Pen (Marine Le Pen’s niece) of Reconquête broke with the position of party founder Eric Zemmour and called for an alliance among the nationalist right, arguing that Reconquête should not put up candidates against the RN. Even more surprising was the fall of the last institutional wall between the traditional right (Les Republicaines, or LR) and the extreme right (RN), when LR leader Eric Ciotti announced that he was joining forces with Bardella and Le Pen for the upcoming campaign. This triggered a crisis within LR and the convening of an emergency congress to deprive Ciotti of his position.

The formation of the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP), encompassing the four main parties together with the post-Trotskyist party New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) and a group of smaller left parties, was officially announced on 10 June. The main trade unions (CGT, CFDT, FSU, and Solidaires) and civil society organizations from the antiracist movement, ATTAC, Greenpeace, and others quickly joined. The NFP agreement included a reshuffled allocation of candidacies compared to the NUPES agreement for the 2022 legislative elections. LFI went from 328 to 229 constituencies, the Socialist Party gained 105 constituencies, now reaching 175, while the Greens and the PCF remained stable with 92 and 50 constituencies, respectively.

The details of the programme were still unknown at the time of writing, but NFP representatives have already announced that some strong social measures would be included. These include the abrogation of Macron’s recent and widely reviled pension law as well as the socially regressive reform of unemployment insurance or the immigration pact passed by the presidential majority together with the far right.

It remains unclear whether the right wing of the Socialists, including Raphaël Glucksmann, will support and join the NFP. Nevertheless, the announcement by former president Francois Hollande to be a candidate for the front would make it much harder to oppose.

The news of a final agreement to form the New Popular Front was greeted with relief and hope by many supporters of the Left and seems to have unleashed a dynamic of mobilization, as is visible in the streets of Paris every night, as well as within the different parties’ local constituencies, which have recorded unprecedented levels of new members.

In the case of an NFP victory, who would actually become France’s prime minister is still not known, but an agreement appears to have been made that the most represented group in parliament, most likely La France Insoumise, will present a candidate to be discussed with the rest of the front’s members. This underscores the fact that LFI is the only left-wing force in the country that has made consistent progress over the last decade and can count on wide support among various segments of the French population. It thus makes sense that it will remain the leading force within the coalition.

Although the latest polls indicate a strong lead for the far right in the wake of the elections, it remains to be seen whether a campaign against a potentially fascist force taking power, driven by the enthusiasm of a rejuvenated left-wing front, will be enough to motivate non-voters and some remaining Macron supporters to support the NFP on 30 June. The prospects for the future of the NFP and its potential consolidation into a lasting united front will also become slightly clearer after the run-off election on 7 July, when voters decide whether an antifascist resistance front or a potentially fascist force takes power.

Nessim Achouche works as a project manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Brussels Office, focusing on socio-ecological transformation, energy democracy, climate justice, and their intersections with left-wing politics.

Top photo: AP Photo/Thomas Padilla

This article was first published on June 17, 2024 at rosalux.de