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French elections: No vote for the Popular Front

28 June 2024

International Secretariat

THE VICTORY of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) in the European elections and the call for snap legislative elections by President Emmanuel Macron has brought the French workers’ movement face to face with its profound crisis of leadership.

The inexorable growth of the far right and the disintegration of the liberal-republican centre are the consequence of the failure of the French working class organisations to mount a firm united front against the bosses’ offensive on the rising cost of living, the attack on pensions and the retirement age, and in doing so present an alternative to millions of disillusioned workers and youth. 

The possibility of a RN government and the growth of outright fascist forces presents a real danger to the French working class, and in particular its millions of citizens of immigrant origin. The RN’s leader, Jordan Bardella, who serves as a fig leaf for Marine Le Pen, has continued his mentor’s policy of airbrushing the party’s fascist origins and links. Nevertheless, the new RN maintains the old FN’s hostility to immigrant workers and has promised to implement discriminatory measures against workers with dual nationality.

But the response of the reformist left to this danger has been to declare a New Popular Front, presented as the alternative to both Macron and Bardella. But this electoral cartel, which has carved up the seats between the moribund bourgeois-workers parties (PS, PCF), the left-populist France Insoumise, and the petty bourgeois Greens, ultimately stands for a ‘leftwing’ rescue of French imperialism from the impasse it finds itself in. 

Of course, with one hand its programme demands concessions from the capitalists in return for the NPF’s participation on the ‘republican barricade’ against the RN. But with the other hand it concedes the red lines of French imperialism: on the EU, on rearmament, even the maintenance of imperial control over Kanaky. 

The NPF is fighting to become the largest bloc in the parliament, with the intention of becoming a ‘government of opposition’ in cohabitation with Macron. In pracitce, in order for such a cohabitation to function and avoid Macron installing an RN government, the NPF would have to cooperate closely with the president for the two remaining years of his term.

The strategic perspective is clear: the NPF, a popular front named after the historic 1936 original, but without a serious bourgeois party, aims to form real popular front with the bourgeoisie if it becomes the largest grouping. The original carried out real social reforms before collapsing, with the return the right and eventually opening the road to Pétain. Today, without a massive wave of workers’ action, such reforms are out of the question. Genuine Trotskyists, have always rejected the popular front, as a self-defeating  way of  fighting the far right and fascism.

Ultimately, this Popular Front, like all other varieties, rests on the mobilisation of ‘the people’ in defence of ‘democracy’, fostering more illusions in the idea that a ‘republican’ majority in parliament can serve as a barricade against the far right. It is exactly this ‘republican discipline’—whether or not it is proclaimed formally with the open parties of the French bourgeoisie—which has paved the way for the growth of the FN/RN for four decades.   

The victory of the New Popular Front can only lead to an anti-working class government which will accelerate the growth of the far right and RN. The latter will paint the left as part of a corrupt establishment, responsible for the country’s crisis.  What is needed instead is a united front of the workers’ organisations against all manifestations of the bourgeoisie’s attempts to extricate themselves from their crisis, by whichever parliamentary combination emerges on 7 July. 

The legislative elections should have been a moment of clarification for those revolutionary forces that openly call for working class independent action, to oppose both the danger of an RN-Macron government, with the attendant growth of fascist street violence and  counterpose this to Mélenchon’s latest iteration of  petty bourgeois populism in the form of the popular front.  These groups need to prepare resistance based on a programme of working class action to defeat the ruling class offensive, in the workplaces, on the streets and in the banlieues. Likewise they need to challenge the passivity of the union federations to overcome their paralysis in combative class action.

But once again the revolutionary left enters the parliamentary phase of the struggle divided. A considerable number of far left groups, like the NPA-Anticapitalistes, the IMT and the CWI,  have openly endorsed the Popular Front, hiding their capitulation to so-called republican discipline behind empty phrases critiquing this or that aspect of its programme. On the other hand, separate appeals by the NPA-Révolutionnaires and Révolution Permanente for a common front of candidates with Lutte Ouvriere was rejected. Result: LO will stand everywhere, the NPA-R in about 30 seats, and RP in Paris. Therefore we call for a vote for all the NPA-R candidates wherever they are standing and where not for LO or RP. 

The starting point for a programme of action against the attacks of the next government has to be a correct understanding of the reactionary role played by the existing leadership of the movement in the last period. The parliamentary games of France Insoumise, aimed to divert the strikes against Macron’s pension reform into the dead end of parliament, while the CGT and CFDT trade union leaders, with the connivance of the PCF, obstructed the development of the strike wave into the general strike which was both possible and necessary.

France stands at a crossroads. Against the RN and against the Macron government, we need a united front on the streets, in the workplaces, in the districts, and we call on the LFI, CP, SP and the trade unions to do so. We need assemblies in workplaces, neighbourhoods, universities, schools, and the creation of action committees and their national coordination to unite these struggles.

The objective of the working class must be to prepare a working class offensive against whichever government is formed. In the event of a New Popular Front majority in parliament, we call on its parties to reject any open or secret collaboration with Macron, and to use the parliamentary arena as a tribune to mobilise direct action in the streets and workplaces for their pro-working class measures.

In the case of an RN-led government, ultra-reactionary laws may be threatened extremely quickly, requiring, for example, a general strike and self-defense committees against racist attacks. All this will intensify the class struggle. The route of this must be charted by a program of action is needed that connects these struggles with the struggle for power, for a workers’ government. That programme must be the strategy of a revolutionary party, which has to challenge for leadership of the most combative sections of the workers’ and youth. We therefore appeal to those elements to join the NPA-R and fight to give it such a programme in the course of the struggles to come.

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