The Guardian • Issue #2104

Analysis

The French election and the Popular Front

French President Macron

French President Macron. Photo: European Parliament – flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

French President Macron, in calling an early election was hoping to head off an imminent threat from the far-right National Rally (RN) party of Marie Le Pen. According to opinion polls, it is a gamble that will see Macron’s centrist group Renew slip into third place. Those polls have RN on 29.5 per cent of the vote and Renew, with just 18 per cent of the vote. What is important is that a new ‘popular front’ of left forces (NFP) is likely to poll at least 28.5 per cent of the vote!

The NFP will run single candidates in all 577 electorates. It’s a broad coalition of left and progressive forces, including the French Communist Party, the Socialist Party, Generation, (a split from the Socialists), the Greens, Ecologists Party, the Republican and Socialist Left and Mélenchon’s France Unbowed, which has been the largest parliamentary party of the left.

The NFP has the support of the powerful French union movement. Unions called for actions against the right which became rallies for the left. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in support of real political change. A call of ‘Liberty for all, Equality for all and Fraternity with all,’ was heard across France. In a direct reference to the Macron government’s new and restrictive immigration bill, the chant was ‘Let’s break frontiers, documents for all, no to the immigration bill.’

As the right has grown, the government has shifted to the right. This has not weakened the right or their demands. Fascism finds fertile soil when there is economic crisis.

The extremist RN group surged dramatically in the European Parliamentary elections.

Many in Macron’s party do not share their leader’s optimism about the snap election. Cameras caught the response when Macron made the announcement to call the election. Prime Minister Attal simply sat, arms folded staring ahead. Another minister covered his face with his hands. The mood, in Attal’s words, was ‘grave.’

Equally grave, is the state of the French economy. Corporate debt is higher than even the United States. Austerity measures caused massive unrest. Capital and markets become fretful when political crisis surfaces. It is inevitably a reflection of an economic crisis in capitalism itself. The stock market and bond market plunged on the news of the coming election.

In part, the fears are that La Pen’s extreme right-wing party will come to power. There is also a fear, a deeper fear, that the left might form the next government. The spectre of a popular front government was also addressed by the extreme right’s parliamentary leader, Jordan Bardella, when he stated that his party was “the only one capable of blocking the far left.” He appealed to “all the patriotic forces of the republic” to unite to prevent the danger of the left winning the election.

Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, warned of a potential financial crisis, if power slips from the grasp of the centre. After a brief comment on financial problems that would arise from a right-wing victory, he turned his fire on the popular front. The left has already pledged to reduce the retirement age to 60. Macron had, in the face of massive resistance, raised it from 62 to 64. They have also promised to lift the minimum wage from 1,400 euros a month to 1,600. Le Maire described these policies and others that the left is campaigning around as “total madness,” saying that it would “break the rules” of the EU stability pact. It is just this thinking that has helped to make Macron’s government so unpopular.

The Prime Minister attacked the Popular Front’s policies as leading to higher taxation. The Ecologists Party pointed to the history of the present government and its reforms that were described as ‘Robin Hood in reverse.’ Money has been consistently siphoned from the poor to the rich, through taxation and austerity measures.

It’s uncertain who will form government in France, or what deals they’ll have to make. What is clear is that politics in France are changing.

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