Jean-Luc Melenchon speaking in Toulouse in 2013. Photo: Flickr/Pierre-Selim Jean-Luc Melenchon speaking in Toulouse in 2013. Photo: Flickr/Pierre-Selim

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s dynamic presidential campaign is proof that the Left can make serious gains

The crisis in French society is far from over. The victory of Emmanuel Macron – a political representative of the ‘extreme centre’ – averted a fascist head of state. But the anger that generated big gains for Marine Le Pen and the fascist National Front (FN) will not dissipate with Macron. His plans to continue with the same discredited neoliberal policies, including the further dismantling of the labour legislation – which will massively boost corporate power – will stoke further resentment.

A former investment banker and a political insider, Macron will take office with a very low level of legitimacy: over a third of the electorate either abstained or recorded a blank vote in the second round. Many of those who voted for Macron did so only to stop Le Pen. Neither of the traditional ruling parties made it to the second round. Macron represents the last gasp of the centre, not its rehabilitation.

The FN increased its popular support – it doubled its vote to 7.6 million since 2007 – as a direct result of decades of neoliberal policies. What we are witnessing in France, however, is not only the rise of the right, but a polarisation that has seen huge gains for the left. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, under the banner of La France Insoumise, secured a mere half a million votes less than Le Pen and almost doubled the share of the vote for the radical left since the last general election in 2012. A number of the policies put forward by France Insoumise were radical: 100 percent tax on earnings over €33,000 per month, a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, withdrawal from Nato and breaking with neoliberal European treaties.

The left needs a strategy for defeating the fascists and winning the battle against the neoliberals. For this to happen, strengthening the electoral alternative established by Mélenchon’s historic and inspirational breakthrough is crucial. It must be capable of uniting an even broader spectrum of the left – on a radical platform that breaks from the neoliberal centrism of the Socialist Party (PS). But the left must also move beyond electoral politics and focus on building a strong anti-fascist movement. The tasks of this movement must be to directly challenge fascist strongholds across the country and expose the FN as a fascist party.

Building active resistance to Macron’s neoliberal programme is also crucial. The impulse for France Insoumise came partly from the massive movements against the last set of labour reforms under Hollande. The months ahead need to see massive confrontation on the streets against Macron. The political earthquake represented by Mélenchon’s campaign, which has frightened the extreme centre, is a milestone in reconfiguring the left in France. His dynamic campaign and last minute surge should also inspire the left in Britain 
behind Corbyn.

Feyzi Ismail

Feyzi Ismail teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is active in UCU