France: Popular front pushes back far right (plus statement from New Anticapitalist Party)

France popular front

First published at Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

Journalists in France were quickly deleting the drafts they had been preparing when the exit poll came up on their screens. All the polls had been suggesting that Le Pen’s far-right National Rally would be at least the largest party and possibly even get close to an absolute majority. In the event, the mass mobilisation of the Left with the New Popular Front helped it become the largest bloc without getting a governing majority. Thanks to the call from the left to tactically vote for the best candidate to defeat the RN, the Macron bloc also did better than expected, although losing 80 seats in the process. Le Pen had been predicted to win up to 200 seats but did far worse. However, we should not forget her group topped the vote share, and the increase in her party’s seat tally is still historic.

Formation of the New Popular Front (NFP)

Given the collapse of NUPES in 2020, the previous left coalition that had blocked Macron from getting a working majority in 2022, it was not at all inevitable that the left would come together in a broad united front in these elections. The New Popular Front (NFP) ranged from the very moderate ex-President Francois Hollande to Philippe Poutou, the former presidential candidate from the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA). The action programme it put before the electorate was a clear break both with the anti-working class neoliberalism of Macron and the social liberalism of the Socialist Party. People reacted positively to the idea of dumping Macron’s raising of the pension age or an increase in the minimum wage. There was a wave of enthusiastic support in the neighbourhoods, and the unions helped build big demonstrations against the post-fascist Le Pen.

Some small ultra-left organisations in France like Lutte Ouvrière and a split from the NPA criticised the NFP, stayed out, and stood candidates in the first round. They also refused to clearly call for a vote for the best-placed candidate in the second round in order to stop Le Pen. This is not so different, for example, than refusing to vote for Biden against Trump in swing states. The British Socialist Workers Party, in an article on their site, supported this position. If the left had not voted for Macron candidates in the second round, it would have meant an overall majority for Le Pen. Just listen to the relief expressed by ethnic minority people on TV in the Republic Square last night. They were terrified at a Le Pen government moving aggressively against so-called bi-nationals. Stopping a Le Pen government makes a real difference. Counter-posing mass struggles or street mobilisations as an immediate solution to defend black or Arab people is just demagogy. In fact, there is a strong argument that the formation of the NFP actually encouraged some of the biggest anti-racist, anti-fascist mobilisations we have seen in France for some time. As the NPA has argued, the NFP was not a barrier to mobilisations. Nor did it prevent the NPA from putting a class struggle line against the moderation of the PS or the Macronists.

The road ahead for the NFP

Today in France, people feel more confident and hopeful about keeping Le Pen out of government. The idea that the results just reinforce the moderate wing of the movement is just a one-sided analysis. Indeed, despite the huge media offensive against Jean Luc Melenchon that labelled him and his party as extreme or antisemitic for standing up for Palestine, his party is still the leading one inside the NFP. Of course, the PS has recovered some of their support – they always retained a local base – but they are still facing a strong challenge to their left, which did not exist a decade or so ago. The PS was not able to resist the fairly radical action programme adopted by the NFP. Today it is important because La France Insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed, led by Melenchon) is arguing that this programme should be the basis of any new government that the NFP leads.

This week the big issue is what next. There is no working majority for any of the three political blocs in parliament. Normally, the president approaches the biggest party or coalition to nominate a new prime minister. The current Macronist prime minister has already tendered his resignation pending a new order. Clearly, the non-LFI components of the NFP are not in favour of Melenchon as prime minister, despite him being the leader of the biggest party inside the NFP. Leaders of the Ecolos, like Tondelier or Rousseau, CP leader Roussel, as well as the moderate Glucksmann who is aligned with the PS, are calling for a discussion and vote involving all the NFP MPs. Hollande will also be using his influence to stop Melenchon. Olivier Faure, PS leader, has said a name will go forward to Macron by the end of the week.

Challenges for Melenchon and the NFP

Melenchon himself is a problematic leader. He purged a number of his dissident MPs at the start of the campaign, like Alex Corbière and Danielle Simonnet, who are certainly not ‘rightists’. They defied him and stood, eventually winning their seats. Melenchon has never really allowed democratic structures inside the LFI. So a certain reluctance to put him forward as Prime Minister is understandable. Corbière used his appearance on TV after the vote to raise the issue of democratic accountability inside the LFI. François Ruffin, another LFI dissident with a big national profile, has said he will no longer sit with the LFI group in parliament. He has presidential ambitions.

Macron’s strategy will be to try and set up some sort of emergency national coalition detaching moderate components of the PS and the Ecolos. This is not straightforward as these people have opposed his reactionary social policies on pensions and the like. If they got into bed with Macron, it would be a political gift to the LFI. At the moment, the LFI are emphasising the action programme that all the NPF signed up to. It is a good basis for further mobilisation, as the statement by the NPA points out (see below).

Glucksmann and others, on the other hand, are talking idealised scenarios of giving the parliament back to the people, apparently over and above the political parties. He waffles about a new politics, inventing a new political culture. Whatever happens, it is clear there will be new fissures and debates between and within the components of the NFP.

The Rassemblement National and future prospects

Although the RN has been pushed back, their position has still been strengthened compared to the previous parliament. An unstable period with no majority and various stitch-ups means they can frame it as the caste ganging up on the true defenders of French identity. So it could still provide them with plenty of space to build their forces.

One important task for radicals and progressives in this period will be to try and keep up the mobilisation of young people that we have seen in the NFP campaign. Le Pen and its youthful leader, Bardella, have been successful in winning a lot of young people. Mobilising progressive young people can eat into that support. Maintaining the neighbourhood NFP structures developed in the campaign would be one way of doing this.

Macron’s position has been weakened. The vote against the RN is not an expression of support for his policies, which have in fact made the bed for Le Pen. It cannot be excluded that down the line he will be forced to call early Presidential elections. Although it is a few years away, the question of candidatures, including Melenchon, will not be far from the political debate. Macron cannot stand, and it is questionable whether Macronism without Macron will remain a viable option.

Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

New Anticapitalist Party (France): The far right has been pushed back by popular mobilisation — Now we must implement the program of the New Popular Front

First published in French at l’Anticapitaliste. Translation from International Viewpoint.

The main lesson of the first results of this second round is the setback suffered by the Rassemblement National (National Rally, RN) and its allies. The defeat of the hundreds of fascist, racist, Islamophobic, antisemitic and ultra-racist candidates put forward by the RN is a huge relief for racial minorities, women, LGBTI+ people and workers. This victory for the united left has halted the momentum of the far right, which nonetheless won around fifty more seats. This defeat of the far right of Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen is the result of the popular mobilisation that took place thanks to the unitary impetus provided by the creation of the Nouveau Front populaire (New Popular Front, NFP).

This is already a victory for the NFP, which was made possible by the rallying of the entire left — political parties, trade unions and campaigning groups — and above all by the grassroots mobilisation of large sectors of the working classes, in particular racial minorities and young people, who committed themselves everywhere to blocking the RN. This made it possible for a very large number of NFP MPs (including a relative majority for La France Insoumise [France Unbowed, LFI]) to be elected to the National Assembly on the basis of a program that breaks not only with Macronism in the service of the ultra-rich, but also with the liberal left of the François Hollande mandate, which had followed the policies of the right.

The defeat of the RN should not hide the fact that it has increased its number of MPs very significantly and remains a threat to racial minorities, social rights and democratic freedoms. Nor should it obscure the defeat of the Macronists, who lost a third of their seats. If they still have so many MPs, they owe it only to left-wing voters, who largely switched to them in the second round to block the RN. This blocking vote in no way changes the electoral results: in both the European and legislative elections, Emmanuel Macron and Gabriel Attal were clearly disowned and therefore no longer have any legitimacy to claim to lead the country. Macron now has no option but to submit to the will of the people and allow a left-wing government to implement the NFP program, which now has the legitimacy of the ballot box. Otherwise, he must leave.

This rejection is also a rejection of the Fifth Republic and its authoritarian and undemocratic institutions. The popular mobilisation, marked by a turnout unprecedented in decades, also raises the need to move towards a Constituent Assembly, for a genuine democracy of the majority. From now on, the commitments made must be honoured, and all the emergency measures set out in the NFP programme must be applied, starting with the repeal of the pension and unemployment insurance reforms.

This can only happen if popular momentum is maintained and extended. That means building NFP collectives at grassroots level, open to everyone, which can help to amplify the movement and build mobilisations and strikes over the coming months. No government of national unity can respond to the aspirations expressed in the ballot boxes today. We must remain united to act, to debate and to map out an emancipatory perspective that will push back the far right in the long term, around a left that fights and breaks from the system, a left that can radically transform this society!