As European elections are held

Macron and Le Pen – not a duel: more like a duet!


European elections are going ahead on 9th June and shedding a sharp light on political crisis in France. The far right National Rally (formerly the National Front) is leading in the polls. Macron is claiming his candidates are the only alternative to the far right, while the radical Left France Insoumise (France in Revolt) is hoping the Palestine issue will mobilize many of those who usually stay at home.

Because most people have the feeling- not unjustifiably-  that the European parliament has little power,  European elections tend to be more based on general national politics than on specifically EU issues. The elections work by proportional representation, but any party with less than 5% of the votes gets no seats. These are the first significant elections since Macron won a second term as president but lost his absolute majority in the parliament (in 2022). They are also the first elections since the historic explosion of creative class struggle in 2023, in opposition to the raising of the retirement age, a movement which despite its dynamism and huge popularity went down to defeat as national union leaders refused to organize a general strike.

At the last European elections in 2019, there were 47 million people registered to vote. Twenty four million stayed home. Five million voted for the fascists, five million for Macron and his allies, 2 million for other right wingers, 3 million for the ecologists, one and a half million for the radical left France Insoumise, one and a half million for the  Socialist Party and its allies, and  a million ballot papers were spoiled.

Polls now suggest that the far right could get well over seven million votes this time, if abstention rates do not change. National Rally is running at over 30% in the polls. Macron’s list is around 16%. The alliance around the Socialist Party is around 13%, and the France Insoumise is around 9%, but hoping for a last minute spurt by motivating those who generally stay home. The traditional right wing Republicans are estimated at 7%. The Communist Party is around 3%, the ecologists around 6%. Another fascist group, Reconquest, led by Eric Zemmour, and openly to the right of Le Pen, is on 5%.

The left campaign 

On the left, the Socialist Party is slowly trying to rebuild from its historic collapse due to its time in government organizing neoliberal attacks on workers. In 2022, it was down to under 2% of votes in the presidential elections. Present polling gives its joint list with smaller social liberal groups 13% in next Sunday’s vote. The lesson for us is no doubt that Blairite politics can always bounce back, particularly if mass social movements do not bring clear victories. Its vision of society is strongly supported by the mainstream media, and voters are tempted to be satisfied with a slower, less harsh version of the dictatorship of the market, rather than any real alternative.

By far the most valuable left campaign is that led by Manon Aubry of  the France Insoumise,  radical left reformers calling for “a citizens’ revolution”. A dynamic campaign of door to door canvassing around the country (not a habitual part of French electoral politics) has involved many new activists. Successful mass meetings have often needed to open overflow halls, as was the case in the multiethnic working class suburb, Garges les Gonesse, last week. Candidates are touring the universities, while regular education weekends are training a new generation of political leaders. The FI campaign slogan is “the strength to change everything”, and key proposals are a rise in the minimum wage, a return to retirement at 60, a price freeze on basic foodstuffs and other necessities, and a ban on arms sales to Israel.

Most importantly, the FI leadership (with whom Marxists like myself have plenty of disagreements), has held firm on key questions in the last year or so and is on a sharply radical path. When young people rioted in dozens of towns after a racist police murder last year, Mélenchon, principal leader of the FI, declared, “We have been told to appeal for calm. We appeal for justice!”. Secondly, despite tremendous pressure, with meetings banned and leading members sued, the organization has held to a clear position of support for Palestine and has refused to dismiss attacks on Israel organized by Hamas as “terrorism”.  Two FI MPs waved Palestinian flags in the parliament in the last couple of weeks and were suspended for it, while one FI candidate for the present elections, Rima Hassan (who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp), is being officially investigated for “supporting terrorism” and is attacked in the media for “antisemitism” since she has dared to denounce genocide in so many words. Finally, the FI has maintained a principled anticolonialist position on the present crisis in New Caledonia.

Le Pen

The far right National Rally, Marine Le Pen’s party, is hoping to build around a racist idea of defending French values against  the supposed danger of immigrants and Muslims. Just recently, Le Pen said that the Muslim headscarf should be banned in all public places. Nevertheless, in the last few years the National Rally, now presided over by young well-dressed fascist, Jordan Bardella, has been very successful in persuading most people that it is just a political party like any others. To portray this image, Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, was thrown out of the organization, and the 82 MPs the RN has are, in general, tremendously careful to avoid controversy (while attending every car boot sale in town, shaking hands and trying to look normal). Recently the RN, pretending to be shocked, broke most of its links with the AfD party in Germany, after one of its leaders made positive comments about the SS.

The RN is claiming to defend the ordinary people of France, despite having voted against raising the national minimum wage in 2022 and against a rent freeze in 2023. Its elected representatives have voted against easier access to abortion (2015) and against increasing resources to help victims of domestic violence (2016). They have voted against many green regulations and against reinforcing business responsibility to avoid environmental damage (2021). Its MPs have supported most of Macron’s neoliberal reforms. The RN campaigns in favour of nuclear energy and against wind power. It promises to slash inheritance taxes for the rich and reserve social housing for people of French nationality. It aims at increasing prison sentences and making it even harder to prosecute killer cops.

A duet

The rise of the RN has been crucially helped by Macron repeatedly supporting its vision by passing Islamophobic laws, banning Muslim legal defense organizations, as well as by supporting vicious police repression. Macron’s ministers, screaming about universities being “controlled by Islamo-leftists”, and Macron’s trigger -happy cops killing young Arab men are just what the fascists need to build their influence further.

These days, endless government training courses for civil servants on “defending secularism” aim at making mistrusting all Muslims a national sport, and they mostly help the far right. Macron further pushed Marine Le Pen into centre stage last week by agreeing to a one-on-one TV debate between his Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal and RN leader Jordan Bardella, thus pushing the idea that the left doesn’t matter, it’s just Macron’s band against the extremists. In the debate, Attal carefully avoided mentioning racism or fascism.

The result of all this could be seven million votes for the RN on Sunday, perhaps as many as 32% of French voters, more than any other slate. The organization is still having great difficulty building a party machine, and throughout the European elections campaign has had only eight public meetings, far fewer than other parties. But the urgency of a large scale national antifascist campaign is ever more evident. The march of 800 open fascists through the streets of Paris three weeks ago served as a vital reminder.