The French Left Unite Against Fascism

French politics has been in chaos since President Macron announced a snap general election after the victory of the far right Rassemblement Nationale (RN) in the European elections. Jordan Bardella’s RN list took 31,37 % of the vote.

Eric Zemmour’s Reconquest list led by Marine le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, took another 5, 47% of the vote. Macron’s Ensemble, (Together) list, only got a humiliating 14.6%. The traditional Conservative party, LR (The Republicans) did even worse with 7,25 %.

On the Left, the PS (Socialist Party) got 13,83 % and LFI (France Unbowed) list led by Manon Aubry, got 9.89%. The PCF (Communist Party) got 2.36% and EELV (the Greens) 5.50 %. When the General election was announced, the leader of LR, Eric Ciotti, immediately signed an electoral agreement with the RN.

In the ensuing uproar the party leadership voted to expel Ciotti, but he claims to have the support of the party’s members. In fact, LR have been singing from the same hymn sheet as Le Pen since Nicholas Sarkozy targeted immigrants in his 2007 Presidential campaign. Since then, politicians of the right and left have used anti-immigrant rhetoric and Islamophobia to win votes.

Emmanuel Macron has been no different. While using fear of fascism to bolster his own position, he also adopted key elements of RN policy – intensifying Islamophobia and hatred of immigrants and allowing racist police to shoot to kill in immigrant neighbourhoods.

This mirroring the RN was clear in January’s draconian Asylum-Immigration law which made it harder for migrants to get any kind of social welfare, and imposed migration quotas to satisfy the demands of the RN. Macron’s adoption of elements of the RN programme and his pandering to racism and Islamophobia means that, as one economist put it, ‘every game is a home game’ for them.

In his press conference on June 12th, Macron claimed to represent the centre ground against the twin threats of the ‘extremists’, RN and LFI. But he concentrated his fire on the Left. He accused Jean-Luc Mélenchon and LFI of antisemitism, and of antiparliamentary, disorderly behaviour. These charges have long been used in the media to discredit LFI, just as Jeremy Corbyn was undermined by accusations of antisemitism in the UK. LFI’s Manon Aubry led a dynamic campaign focused on the cost of living, the agricultural crisis, and Palestine, and this could allow the party to drive the rest of the left forward in the General Election.

Overall, LFI gained one million votes compared with 2019. Aubry did very well urban areas, with over 50 % of the vote in some working class areas with high immigrant populations like Seine St Denis. Over 60 % of French Muslim voters chose LFI. Most big cities resisted the RN, but it was able to pick up votes in rural areas and those on the outskirts of provincial towns devastated by the agricultural crisis and the withdrawal of state services. In the east, for example, LFI beat the RN in Strasbourg and Mulhouse, while the RN picked up votes in the surrounding countryside.

Macron did not expect the left to present a united response in such a short time, but the main parties – the PS, LFI, EELV, the PCF and Olivier Besancenot’s NPA (New Anticapitalist Party) have all signed up to a common electoral programme and a commitment to stand one candidate per constituency. The alliance has been baptised the New Popular Front.

This programme promises to impose a price freeze on basic foodstuffs, to return the retirement age to 62, to bring back the tax on the highest revenues, to annul the recent Asylum-Immigration law, to increase the minimum wage and to recruit workers to key state sectors like health and education. These are welcome perspectives for all those who fought over the retirement age hike in 2023, or with the Yellow Vests in 2018. Less welcome is the pledge of continued arms for Ukraine, and the commitment to a two-state solution in Palestine.

There is a danger that the fight will remain purely electoral. Without mass pressure from below, the conservative elements inside the alliance, the PS and PCF, will prevail and could even destroy it from within, as they did with the NUPES alliance in 2022.

The other danger is thinking that the RN vote is a protest vote, and that promises of economic reform will win voters back. This has been argued by left-wing economist Julia Cagé on social media; the truth is that the RN vote is a racist vote, and this must be addressed squarely in the course of the campaign.

Félicien Faury, author of a study on the normalisation of the far right, says

‘The RN has transformed racist feelings into votes and we cannotunderstand the RN vote without looking at hostility to immigration.’ 

He points to three mechanisms:the link established between immigration and economic precarity; the fear of losing social position, since many see immigration as the reason for their loss of status; and competition for access to the benefits of the welfare state. He also points to a cultural backlash rooted in the feeling that elites want to impose multiculturalism on a ‘people’ who do not share these values.

The limitations of the New Popular Front mean that some groupings on the Revolutionary Left like Lutte Ouvrière and Revolution Permanente have dismissed it and will be standing their own candidates.

This overlooks the role played by ordinary people on the left in pushing for left unity in the face of the fascist threat. So long as that pressure from below remains, we can go forward. Many groups outside parliament have offered support, like Attac and Greenpeace France, trade unions, the antizionist Jewish group, Tsedek, a collective of 6,000 young people from the banlieue have signed up. The main unions have called for demonstrations everywhere on

Saturday June 15th. The bigger the coalition is, the better chance we have of stopping Le Pen. Also, the more we can mobilise people on the streets, in workplaces and neighbourhoods, the better we will be able to stop neoliberal ideas from sabotaging the New Popular Front.

This piece first appeared at Rebel News.