Jordan Bardella Jordan Bardella. Photo: European Parliament / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The French left is putting up a crucial, united fight against the threat of Le Pen argues John Mullen

It is a historic moment in France. After the far-right National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, gained 31.4% of the votes in the European elections, and President Macron’s party got only half that, Macron dissolved parliament and called a snap election.  Early projections, uncertain but scary, predicted a parliament with no overall majority, in which the National Rally would have more seats than any other single party and which would see well-dressed fascist Jordan Bardella appointed as Prime minister. 

I do not consider this the most likely outcome, but the danger is very real. Already the media are full of interviews of various union leaders, business leaders, and voluntary sector representatives asking them “How will your organization adapt once the RN is in government?” The idea of a far-right government as a realistic and acceptable option has been normalized. 

If the RN were to take office, it would be a catastrophe. Even without a parliamentary majority, they would have power to appoint or dismiss hundreds of top civil servants in every field, control of the police, education and cultural sectors and so on. Their capacity to persecute Muslims, trade unionists, LGBT people and others would be terrifying, and green initiatives and safeguards would be thrown on the rubbish heap. 

There are three main reasons that the far-right vote is so high. Firstly, Marine Le Pen has succeeded in persuading the majority of the population that the RN has broken with its past and is just a party like any others. We who think the organization is a threat to democracy are now in a minority (41% according to a recent poll). Secondly, Macron has been helping the far right by adopting parts of its program, in particular a whole series of laws victimizing Muslims, laws which do not have a serious practical aim, but are simply part of a “divide and rule” strategy, hoping people will hate Muslims instead of neoliberalism. Thirdly, Macron’s vicious attacks on pensions, benefits and public services have increased the misery which fascism feeds on. And finally, the Left has not organized a serious, permanent, long-term, mass national campaign of harassment and education to stop Le Pen from building her  party structures (the Left has generally considered that building a radical alternative is sufficient, and that there is little need to take aim specifically at  RN activities). 

Unity can beat the fascists 

There is everything to play for in the weeks to come. At the European elections on June 9th, nine million people voted for the far right. Eight million voted for some shade of left-wing politics. Seven million voted for Macron or for the traditional right wing parties. And twenty four million people stayed at home. Three quarters of these abstainers do sometimes turn out to vote at election time, so could certainly be persuaded to do so this time. 

The National Rally is still a party with a fascist core, and still uses a logo based on the flame symbol of supporters of Mussolini. It has been pretending to defend ordinary people even as it regularly votes in parliament against workers’ interests. It voted against raising the minimum wage (in 2022), against rent freezes (in 2023), against increasing resources for victims of domestic violence (in 2016) and so on. It promises to slash inheritance taxes for the rich and to reserve social housing for people of French nationality. It aims at increasing prison sentences and making it even harder to prosecute killer cops 

Unity is required to defeat the fascists, in parliament, in the streets and elsewhere. But two different types of unity have been proposed. Many have suggested the unity of all democratic parties – left and right – against the fascists. The ex-Socialist président, François Hollande has just this week insisted this is the best option. It has been tried at various elections in France over the last 25 years. Millions voted Macron at presidential elections in 2017 and in 2022 purely “to keep the fascists out”. A huge row broke out on the Left between those who wanted to vote Macron against Le Pen and those who would vote for neither.  

This idea of unity with neoliberals against the far right has been a disaster. Macron’s neoliberal crusade was strengthened by the votes lent to him by left-wingers, and, predictably enough, Macron’s strategy was to defeat Le Pen by stealing parts of her programme, an idea which backfired completely and led to millions more voting for the National Rally. 

The « New Popular Front » 

The unity we need is that of the Left. It is extremely good news then that the four main left parties – the France Insoumise (France in Revolt ), the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Greens – agreed an electoral pact this week, so that there will be only one left candidate per constituency. Several smaller groups, such as the New Anticapitalist Party, have joined the pact. 

These elections take place in two rounds. If there are several left candidates in a town, the chances of a second round opposing only right and far right are much increased. So this agreement will automatically reduce the number of far right MPs elected by several dozen. But it also has two other crucial strong points. 

Firstly, people will be able to vote for a break with neoliberalism. An alliance which simply says “No to fascism!” is not enough (especially when millions are not convinced they are fascists). This is why the new electoral alliance has also produced a programme for government. 

The alliance has chosen as a name the “New Popular Front”, in reference to a radical government from the 1930s which is remembered for important social reforms, notably for introducing paid holidays, (although its real history is far less glorious than its reputation). This name, New Popular Front, might be misunderstood by Marxist readers, because the alliance is only made up of left wing organizations, whereas Marxists often use the term “popular front” to refer to wider alliances which include parties which are not left wing. 

Its programme, published on Friday morning, begins by declaring the need for a complete break with Macronism. It promises  that  a left alliance government, if there is one, will raise the minimum wage by 15% and all public employees wages by 10%. It will cancel the recent two-year rise in the standard retirement age and aim at returning later to retirement at 60. It will cancel the recent cuts in unemployment benefit and re establish the wealth tax abolished by Macron. Other plans are to build a million homes, defend tenants’ rights, invest heavily in opposing violence against women, and abrogate the recent racist immigration laws. 

These are just a few of the many measures proposed in a programme which a dynamic campaign can use to get millions more to vote for the New Popular Front. And the campaign is set to be dynamic. The danger of the far right, the fact of the united front, and the radical program, are three enormous encouragements. Several thousand activists joined the France Insoumise networks in the 48 hours after the snap elections were announced. When, last Monday, the four organizations were negotiating, hundreds of young people outside the building were chanting the need for unity. 

The mobilization is not limited to political parties. There are demonstrations against the far right called by the main trade unions in 200 towns this weekend. Human rights groups, feminist organizations, cooperative groups, and campaigns such as ATTAC and Greenpeace are calling to vote and to mobilize against fascism. 

Serious mistakes 

Three  far left publications in France have declared this week their opposition to the New Popular Front . One argument they use is that elections don’t matter and electoral campaigns “undermine” the “real” antifascist movement. This is a serious mistake. Certainly, organizing outside parliament to oppose Le Pen and Bardella is essential. But how could we attract large numbers of people to fight fascism while showing them that we did not care whether Bardella gets to be Prime Minister or not?  

The other argument used is that, now that the radical Left France Insoumise is proposing a joint programme with the Greens and the Socialist Party, many important, more radical elements of the FI programme could be downplayed or omitted. For example,  stopping nuclear power is not mentioned in the programme, and nor is leaving NATO. But one cannot propose an alliance on the basis that other parties abandon their political ideas! In addition, there is nothing in the compromise programme that prevents each party from continuing to campaign for its own priorities. We must also remember that, if the Left should win the election, there will still be a need for mass movements and strikes to make sure the new government implements real change, faced with the organized hostility of investors, bankers, billionaires and their ilk. 

Though there is plenty of enthusiasm in the united left campaign, it will nevertheless be an uphill struggle, and much patient explanation will be required. Defeatism is common; you even hear people who have generally left sympathies suggesting that it would not be a bad thing for the National Rally to be in government for a few years “to show people how dreadful they are”. And many are tempted by Macron’s lie that “extremism” of left and right are similar. 

Anticapitalists must build the election campaign and the antifascist mobilization, as well as putting forward our own arguments. A radical left government would be under enormous attack by international and French capital. We need to be discussing what happens to left governments under press and what can be done about it. These debates in and around the France Insoumise have been rare, partly because the most prominent Marxist organizations have not generally debated seriously with left reformists. 

There will be many ups and downs. No doubt between the two rounds of elections there will be another blazing row about whether it is acceptable or not to vote for Macron’s candidate against a fascist candidate. This is just one moment in a long political crisis.  The existence of a  left-wing alternative, and the rise of the France Insoumise, are the results of the mass working class struggles of the last thirty years in which it has been shown that political class consciousness is widespread in France. If we get a left government, there will be much work to do to make sure promises are carried out. If the elections go badly for us, it will just be the beginning of the struggle. 


John Mullen is an anticapitalist activist in the Paris region and a supporter of the France Insoumise. His website is 

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John Mullen

John Mullen is a lifelong revolutionary socialist living in the Paris area and is a supporter of the France Insoumise.

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