Fascist nightmare in France: What should anti-capitalists do?

June 21, 2024
election leaflet in a door
La France Insoumise, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Greens have agreed on an electoral pact, which is supported by the New Anticapitalist Party and others. Photo: @abomangoli/X

It is a historic moment in France. After the far-right National Rally (RN), 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 RN 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 with various union leaders, business leaders and voluntary sector representatives asking them: “How will your organisation adapt once RN is in government?” The idea of a far-right government as a realistic and acceptable option has been normalised.

If RN were to take office, it would be a catastrophe. Even without a parliamentary majority, it would have the power to appoint or dismiss hundreds of top civil servants in every field, control over the police, education and cultural sectors and so on. Its 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. First, Le Pen has succeeded in persuading the majority of the population that RN has broken with its past and is just a party like any others. We who think the organisation 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 victimising Muslims, as part of a “divide and rule” strategy. Thirdly, Macron’s vicious attacks on pensions, benefits and public services have increased the misery that fascism feeds on. Finally, the left has not organised 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 June 9 European elections, 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. Twenty-four million people stayed at home. Three-quarters of these abstainers sometimes turn out to vote at election time, so could be persuaded to do so this time.

RN is still a party with a fascist core, and still uses a logo based on the flame symbol of 20th century Italian fascist Benito Mussolini’s supporters.

RN pretends to defend ordinary people even as it regularly votes in parliament against their interests. It voted against raising the minimum wage in 2022, against rent freezes last year, against increasing resources for victims of domestic violence in 2016 and more. 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.

Two different types of unity have been proposed. Many have suggested the unity of all democratic parties — left and right — against the fascists. Former Socialist party (SP) President, François Hollande insisted this week that this is the best option. It has been tried at various elections in France over the past 25 years. Millions voted for Macron in presidential elections in 2017 and 2022 purely “to keep the fascists out”. A huge row broke out at the time 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 program — an idea that backfired and led to millions more voting for RN.

The New Popular Front

We need unity of the left. It is extremely good news then that the four main left parties: La France Insoumise (France in Revolt, FI), the SP, the Communist Party and the Greens — have agreed on 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 (NPA), have joined the pact.

These elections take place in two rounds, beginning on June 30. 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 that simply says “No to fascism!” is not enough (especially when millions are not convinced RN are fascists). This is why the new electoral alliance has also produced a program for government.

The alliance has chosen to call itself the New Popular Front (Nouveau Front Populaire, NFP), in reference to a radical French government in the 1930s, which is remembered for important social reforms such as paid holidays — although its actual history is far less glorious than its reputation.

The alliance may be misunderstood by some Marxist readers, because it is only made up of left-wing organisations, whereas Marxists often use the term “popular front” to refer to broader alliances, which include parties that are not left-wing.

Its program, published on June 14, begins by declaring the need for a complete break with Macronism.

It promises that a left-alliance government, if elected, 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 retirement to 60 over time. It will cancel the recent cuts in unemployment benefits and re-establish the wealth tax abolished by Macron.

Other plans include building a million homes, defending tenants’ rights, investing heavily in opposing violence against women, and abrogating the recently adopted racist immigration laws.

A dynamic campaign could encourage millions more to vote for the NFP. And the campaign is set to be dynamic. The danger of the far right, left unity and the radical program are three enormous encouragements.

Several thousand activists joined the FI’s networks in the 48 hours after the snap elections were announced. As the four organisations negotiated, hundreds of young people rallied outside the building, chanting for the need for unity.

The mobilisation against the far right is not limited to political parties. Demonstrations against the far right were called by the main trade unions in 200 towns over June 15‒16. Human rights groups, feminist organisations, cooperatives and campaign groups such as ATTAC and Greenpeace are calling for people to vote and mobilise against fascism.

Serious mistakes

Three far-left publications in France have declared this week their opposition to the NFP. One argument they use is that elections don’t matter and electoral campaigns “undermine” the “real” anti-fascist movement. This is a serious mistake.

Certainly, organising 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 against the NFP is that now that FI is proposing a joint program with the Greens and the Socialist Party, many important, more radical elements of FI’s program, could be downplayed or omitted.

For example, stopping nuclear power is not mentioned in the program, nor is leaving NATO.

However, one cannot propose an alliance on the basis that other parties abandon their political ideas. In addition, there is nothing in the compromise program that prevents each party from continuing to campaign for its own priorities.

Importantly, should the left 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 organised hostility of investors, bankers, billionaires and their ilk.

While 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 RN to be in government for a few years “to show people how dreadful they are”. Many are tempted by Macron’s lie that “extremism” of left and right are similar.

Anti-capitalists must build the election campaign and the anti-fascist mobilisation, 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 pressure and what can be done about it. These debates in and around the FI have been rare, partly because the most prominent Marxist organisations 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 FI are the result of the mass working-class struggles of the past 30 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 anti-capitalist activist in the Paris region and a supporter of France Insoumise. His website is randombolshevik.org.]

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