The Fascists, a New Popular Front and the Crisis in France

One week before elections


One week before the first round of legislative elections, the Telegraph in London headlines on a “nationalist revolution” in France. The situation is changing constantly, with the far-right Rassemblement national (National Rally), led by Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, at 35% in the polls and being predicted to get more seats than any other party. This article tries to explain what the main political forces are doing, and why anti-capitalists should campaign enthusiastically for the New Popular Front while putting forward arguments about the limits of change coming from parliament.


The polls say that President Macron’s party will get around 20% of the vote (but the two-round voting system makes it extremely difficult to translate this into a number of seats in parliament, since so much depends on alliances, which can shift between the two rounds). He is widely unpopular due to his neoliberal attacks, but was hoping that an express election would leave the Left divided, and himself able to pose as only alternative to Le Pen’s far right.

In the past, he had portrayed himself as “neither Left nor Right” and chose some of his ministers among ex-Socialist Party members. Next,  he claimed to be the only obstacle to fascism. But this time round, 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 Left alliance New Popular Front’s programme as “totally immigrationist”, using a neologism actually invented by the fascists. The same day he tried to attract transphobes by commenting that some NPF 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 – the France Insoumise (France in Revolt) and the Rassemblement national. Macron has insisted 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 polls, do not think that the National Rally “is a threat to democracy”, and believe it has left its fascist past behind. But it has in fact 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 priorities for the RN. Excluding people with dual nationality from public service jobs has recently appeared in their programme, and banning the wearing of Muslim headscarves on the streets is also an RN policy (“not an immediate priority” according to Bardella).

As Kevin Ovenden writes, the last thirty 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 programme 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 normalized. You get the impression that the next TV programme will be “How will a RN government affect your gardening requirements?”. 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 of the far Left!

The traditional right-wing party, the  Republicans, at 9% in the polls, split spectacularly in two last week, faced with the question of allying with the 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 an alliance, the  New Popular Front, which includes the France Insoumise (France in Revolt) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the Greens. In the polls, its estimated vote is at 29% and rising. 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. The fact of this unity, and the quite radical joint programme produced, have motivated a dynamic campaign, and encouraged people to think that now is  the time to move against fascism. Over 10 000 new people joined the networks of the France Insoumise within a few days. Some people around me are out leafletting for their first time ever.

Two of the biggest union confederations have broken with tradition by directly calling for a vote for the New Popular Front. Some regional trade union federations have set up electoral campaigning networks. Jewish anti-Zionist groups and organizations 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 saying that they will refuse to obey far-right ministers if they are asked to implement racist measures or other measures which are 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 New Popular Front has allowed a far wider and deeper anti-fascist mobilization. Young people’s demonstrations last week chanted unanimously both “Front Populaire!” and “Siamo tutti anti-fascisti!”

The formation of a united Left front has also allowed the election discussions, even in the mass media, to be based on real issues. “At last the mega-rich will pay their share” declared Jean-Luc 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 perfectly possible to finance the raising of the minimum wage by 14% and the raising of all public sector salaries by 10%, as is promised in the New Popular Front manifesto.

Of course the New Popular Front is in some ways fragile. Its programme 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. Its fragility means there has been no attempt yet to designate a Prime Minister if there is a Left victory in the elections, which, in these days of over-personalized politics, is certainly a disadvantage.

Mainstream media and the political right are working overtime trying to smear the NFP and particularly the France Insoumise 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 thirteen-year-old boys of a twelve-year-old Jewish girl was the excuse for days of media “debates” about “the antisemitism of the radical Left”, while at one of the rallies called in response to this crime, extremist supporters of Israel chanted “Mélenchon should be in prison!”

Mélenchon is the target for attack from the right and from sections of the Socialist Party, and even from people further left who have not understood how smear campaigns work. 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. Anti-capitalists need to defend him, at the same time as 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 anti-fascist mobilization go hand in hand, and indeed the electoral alliance was made possible by pressure from below. Symbolically, last week, when the four organizations 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 mobilization. There were demonstrations in 200 towns against the RN on the 15th June led by trade unions, and there were many anti-fascist demonstrations on the 23rd June focussed around defending women’s rights. This in addition to picnics and dance parties, concerts, rambles, petitions and leaflettings by a great variety of organizations.

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 NPF understand that, as an invited trade union speaker declared at the NPF 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 mobilization.” If things go badly in the elections, 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 which she sorely needs, but which remain weak for the moment.