England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

France: New Popular Front blocks far-right – for now

By Paul Gerrard, Socialist Alternative Manchester

The far right failed to win a majority in the French general election held over two weekends (30 June / 7 July), and the biggest grouping in Parliament is now the ‘New Popular Front’ left alliance.

In early June’s European elections, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) surged, spooking President Macron and triggering his sudden announcement of a general election. The left parties, including La France Insoumise (France Unbowed, LFI), the Socialist and Communist parties and the Greens, united behind a New Popular Front (NFP), and agreed both a common programme, and not to stand against each other, in order to oppose Macron’s anti-worker policies and prevent the far right coming to power.

Macron the big loser

The big loser in these elections was Macron himself. Like Rishi Sunak in Britain, Macron will be regretting calling a summer election! His party, Renaissance, supposedly a centre party, in reality a right-wing movement, was squeezed from the far right and the left and lost a third of its seats. Macron’s Prime Minister Attal is resigning.

French society is in crisis. Five years ago the country was convulsed by the strikes and roadblocks of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement which demanded lower fuel taxes, an increase in the minimum wage and a wealth tax. Two years ago Macron’s attempt to raise the pension age from 62 to 64 led to eighteen months of strikes and demonstrations before it was finally passed into law, but only by presidential decree. Workers in both private and public sectors, small business owners and farmers have all been hit hard by the soaring costs of living and affronted by the arrogance and sense of entitlement shown by Macron and his well-heeled cronies.

The RN sought to capitalise on these issues and have attempted to shift the blame onto immigrants and Muslims, many of whom are of North African heritage but who have lived in France for generations, and who are suffering the worst effects of Macron’s policies. Macron has predictably tacked to the right in response.

Cost of living

But the main driver of the surge in support for RN is the cost of living, felt most acutely in the wide expanses of the French countryside where villages and small towns are in decline, public transport is dire or non-existent and petrol prices are crippling. RN’s racist scapegoating never provided any solutions to the social crisis in France, but their anti-worker character has become clearer since the elections were called. In an effort to court big business, they have begun to equivocate on their previous commitment to reversing Macron’s hated pension reform, with parliamentary leader Jordan Bardella merely stating “we’ll see”.

Jean Luc Melenchon’s LFI is the most dynamic of the groupings in the NFP and successfully pushed within the alliance for an agreed programme not so different from that of Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour Party, including a higher minimum wage, an earlier retirement age and a wealth tax. This has earned them the hatred of the French capitalists, who have pursued a poisonous campaign, especially through the news outlets owned by the billionaire and media magnate Bolloré, with lurid and completely unjustified allegations of anti-semitism.

While RN is not the traditional, or preferred choice for most of France’s capitalist establishment, large sections of big business feared Melenchon far more than Le Pen. The Financial Times reported on June 18th: “France’s cor­por­ate bosses are racing to build con­tacts with Mar­ine Le Pen’s far right after recoil­ing from the rad­ical tax-­and-spend agenda of the rival leftwing alli­ance in the coun­try’s snap par­lia­ment­ary elec­tions.”

Warning: Left must stand firm against capitalist establishment

The moribund Socialist Party, the pro-capitalist equivalent of “social democratic” and Labour parties across Europe, has been dragged to the left by LFI’s rise and the previous departure of some of its most right-wing elements to join Macron’s governing bloc. Even former French President Hollande agreed to stand for the NFP, though his anti-working class record in power can hardly have been an electoral asset. LFI were right to attempt to galvanise the left against the threat of the far right, but workers and young people must organize and mobilize to ensure that no concessions are made to pro-establishment forces who will seek to domesticate NPF, in the service of capitalist “governability” in the new French parliament.

What happens now is very uncertain, with no force able to form a clear governing majority. Melenchon has correctly demanded that Macron — who under the “presidential” French electoral system has the power to appoint the Prime Minister — appoint a NPF PM to implement its programme, but this is of course highly unlikely. France’s constitution also prohibits any new elections within 12 months, which will lead to immense pressure from the establishment for a majority to be formed. Macron may seek to assemble a capitalist coalition over the heads of French voters, appealing to split the Socialists and Greens, for example, away from Melenchon, to join him in cobbling together a majority.

Any such government would only see the far right continue to grow in votes and seats, working towards the Presidential elections in 2027. It cannot be defeated by electoral alliances and parliamentary maneuvers. It can only be defeated by a mass movement, behind a programme that stands clearly against the crisis-ridden capitalist system and for a socialist alternative. Building such a movement is the way for LFI to build on this stunning electoral victory and prepare to strip the capitalist establishment of its power once and for all.

LFI is the driving force on the left but, like some of the capitalist parties, it is led by a figurehead, Melenchon, and is yet to adopt a structure which would allow full participation and accountability.

To build the movement the French working class needs in this situation, LFI should launch a mass party of struggle equipped with an uncompromising programme for socialist change which can win unity in action for workers, farmers, migrants and young people.

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