The fascists, a New Popular Front and the crisis in France

June 24, 2024
candidate addressing a crowd
La France Insoumise leader Jean Luc Melenchon addresses an election meeting in Montpellier. Photo: @FranceInsoumise/X

With a week to go until the first round of legislative elections on June 30, London’s Telegraph headlined a “nationalist revolution” in France.

The situation is changing constantly. The far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally, RN), led by Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, is at 35% in the polls and predicted to win more seats than any other party.


The polls say that President Emmanuel Macron’s party will get around 20% of the vote. However, the two-round voting system makes it extremely difficult to translate this into seats in parliament, since so much depends on alliances, which can shift between the two rounds.

Macron is widely unpopular due to his neoliberal attacks, but he was hoping that a snap election would leave the left divided, and himself able to pose as only alternative to Le Pen’s far right.

In the past, Macron portrayed himself as “neither left nor right” and chose some of his ministers among ex-Socialist Party (SP) members. Next, he claimed to be the only obstacle to fascism. But this time around, he is claiming he wants to save France from the twin evils of left and right extremism. In reality, he steals policies from the far right, and attacks the left whenever he can.

This week, when not desperately looking for new tax bribes to trumpet, he was denouncing the newly formed left alliance, the New Popular Front (Nouveau Front Populaire, NFP).

He labelled its program as “totally immigrationist”, using a neologism invented by the fascists and said that some NFP policies were “grotesque, like the fact that you’ll be able to just go down to the town hall and change your sex”.

One of his main supporters, François Bayrou, railed against the supposed “two mortal dangers” facing France: Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Insoumise (France in Revolt, FI) and RN.

Macron insists that, even if he loses large numbers of MPs in this election, he will not resign as president. But nothing can be completely certain.

The fascists

Most people in France now, according to the polls, do not think that RN “is a threat to democracy” and believe it has left its fascist past behind.

But it has only pretended to change.

The slogan “To protect your identity and your borders” is still at the top of its leaflets. Refusing health care to undocumented migrants and reserving social housing for French nationals are RN priorities. Excluding people with dual nationality from public service jobs has recently appeared in its program. Banning the wearing of Muslim headscarves on the streets is an RN policy, too — although “not an immediate priority”, according to Bardella.

As Kevin Ovenden writes, the last 30 years “have been a victory for Le Pen’s deep strategy of a long march through the institutions, while her party core retains the traditions of French fascism”.

Many French bosses, frightened by the social justice program put forward by the left are now contacting Bardella for discussions.

In general, French bosses, while being happy to have the fascists as a minority pulling politics to the right, have preferred them not to be in charge. But this week the option of a government with a fascist core has been normalised.

You get the impression that the next TV program will be “How will a RN government affect your gardening needs?”, so much is the idea being taken for granted.

Helped by Macron and the media, the RN is able to pose as defenders of democracy. Bardella declared recently that his party would defend French Jews against the antisemitism of Muslims and the far left!

The traditional right-wing party, the Republicans — at 9% in the polls — split spectacularly last week, when faced with the question of whether to ally with RN or not. For many years, politicians of the traditional right had avoided this — some because they had principles, some because they thought it would upset their voters. Occasionally anti-fascist movements have pushed parties to avoid such pacts, as in 1998 when a campaign of what we called “democratic harassment” got rid of the beginnings of an alliance.

The New Popular Front

Contrary to Macron’s hopes, the main left parties have formed the NFP, which includes the FI, SP, the Communist Party (PCF) and the Greens.

Its vote is estimated at 29% and rising in the polls. The nature of the two-round elections means that a left alliance will automatically reduce the number of towns where the left is absent in the second round, and therefore the number of far-right MPs.

Left unity and the NFP’s quite radical joint program have motivated a dynamic campaign and encouraged people to think that now is the time to move against fascism. More than 10,000 new people joined the FI’s networks within a few days. People are out leafletting for the first time.

Two of the biggest union confederations have broken with tradition by directly calling for a vote for the NFP. Some regional trade union federations have set up electoral campaigning networks.

Jewish anti-Zionist groups, and organisations such as ATTAC and Greenpeace have voiced support.

Top footballer Lilian Thuram declared “we need to fight every day so that RN does not gain power”. Despite being warned not to intervene, Kylian Mbappe expressed his support for his team mate, and was promptly denounced by Bardella.

Several hundred public sector managers have signed a declaration to say they will refuse to obey far-right ministers if they are asked to implement racist measures or other measures contrary to democratic values.

Five hundred artists signed a declaration denouncing the far right, while academics have established a new “League for Academic Freedom”.

As we know, elections are not at the centre of class struggle, but the formation of the NFP has allowed a far wider and deeper anti-fascist mobilisation. Young people’s demonstrations last week chanted unanimously both “Front Populaire!” and “Siamo tutti antifascisti!” (“We are all anti-fascists!”)

The formation of the NFP has also allowed election discussions, even in the mass media, to be based on real issues. “At last the mega-rich will pay their share” declared Mélenchon on the front page of 20 Minutes, a free newspaper which distributes millions of copies in the Paris metro.

Meanwhile, Nobel Prize winner Esther Duflo explained on TV why it is possible to raise the minimum wage by 14% and public sector salaries by 10%, as promised in the NFP’s manifesto.

The NFP’s program is radical — mostly due to the strength of the France Insoumise and to the power of public hatred of neoliberal reform, as shown in the mass strikes in 2023. Yet its fragility means there has been no attempt yet to designate a Prime Minister in case of a left victory, which — in these days of over-personalised politics —is a disadvantage.

Mainstream media and the political right are working overtime trying to smear the NFP and particularly the FI as extreme, violent and antisemitic.

Mélenchon as the best-known orator and leader, is particularly under attack. In the most disgusting cynical manipulation this week, the rape by two 13-year-old boys of a 12-year-old Jewish girl became an excuse for days of media “debates” about “the antisemitism of the radical Left”. At a rally called in response to the crime, extremist supporters of Israel chanted “Mélenchon should be in prison!”

Mélenchon is also targetted by sections of the SP, and even some on the far left.

Mélenchon represents not just opposition to genocide, Islamophobia and neoliberalism: he represents a radical break with the status quo, demanding a constituent assembly, a new constitution with far less power for the president, a move to 100% organic farming, the end of nuclear power, and a rethink of the whole of society.

Anticapitalists need to defend him, while not hiding the many disagreements we have about the centrality of parliament, the role of French imperialism and so on.

The importance of elections

The election campaign and antifascist mobilisation go hand in hand, and indeed the electoral alliance was made possible by pressure from below. Symbolically, last week, when the four organisations were negotiating for an alliance, hundreds of young people outside the building were chanting “The youth demands a popular front!”

We need to fight for everyone to vote left, and for the widest possible mobilisation.

There were demonstrations in 200 towns against the RN on June 15, led by trade unions, and many antifascist demonstrations on June 23 focussed on defending women’s rights. This in addition to picnics and dance parties, concerts, rambles, petitions and leaflettings by a great variety of organisations.

But we need to go further. The vague calls for strike action against the far right last Thursday resulted in little strike action. It is an uphill struggle, but the campaign must be accelerated.

Many in the NFP understand that, as an invited trade union speaker declared at the NFP launch rally last week: “We must not give a blank cheque to a new popular front government. The capitalists will still be there. We will still need strikes and mobilisation.”

An NFP government would not eliminate the need for mass mobilisation. On the other hand, if the elections go badly, this will be only the beginning of a long struggle. And we need a national mass action campaign of harassment and education, in order to stop Le Pen building the party structures around the country that she sorely needs, but which remain weak for the moment.

[John Mullen is a revolutionary socialist living in the Paris region and a supporter of the France Insoumise. His website is]

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