FRANCE HAS JUST HAD TWO MAJOR ELECTIONS IN 2022: THE PRESIDENTIAL IN APRIL AND THE LEGISLATIVE IN JUNE. THE POLITICAL CONTEXT HAS BEEN MARKED BY THE WAR IN UKRAINE, THE DEEPENING CAPITALIST CRISIS AFTER TWO YEARS OF A CATASTROPHICALLY MISMANAGED PANDEMIC, AND THE WORSENING OF THE INEQUALITIES. THERE IS ALSO THE WORSENING OF THE LIVING CONDITIONS IN THE POPULATION AND THE RISE OF THE EXTREME RIGHT.
PRESENTATION: NUPES is the ‘New Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale’. It was formed by left-wing deputies (MPs) in the French Legislative Assembly after the presidential elections (April) and in view of the legislative elections of June. La France Insoumise (LFI) of Jean-Luc Melanchon made a parliamentary accord with deputies from the ‘Europe Ecology-Les Verts’ (EELV), as well as with those from the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. NUPES won almost 8 million votes and 131 seats (32% of the vote), of which 72 are LFI. The Rassemblement National (RN) of Marine Le Pen got a little over 8 million votes (still in the first round of the legislatives) and 89 seats. Zemmour got more than 2 million votes, but was disqualified for the second round, hence got no seats, whilst he failed himself to become MP. 21.9.2022
The war in Ukraine barged into the electoral campaign, causing great confusion and a further division on the left. With very diverse and opposing positions, many on the left gave unconditional support to Ukraine, and to France (and EU) sending weapons to Ukraine. Others however raised the need to combat Nato and to make it responsible for the current conflict.
Largely instrumentalised, this war is continuously live-streamed on news-channels where multinationals and billionaires defend the interests of high finance and the arms industry. These channels lend their platforms to most determined far-right sectors, Éric Zemmour included, with his revisionism of history and his “great replacement” theory. Those far-right sectors champion racial hatred, call migrants ‘murderers, thieves and rapists’ and participate in violent and nauseating warmongering escalations.
The appearance of a presidential candidate like Éric Zemmour is not insignificant. As class confrontation sharpens and the acute crisis of the capitalist system mounts, the right-wing feels the need for a much more muscular discourse. It wants a government more authoritarian than that of Emmanuel Macron in matters of collective and individual freedoms that have already been curtailed and abused for several years. Against Zemmour’s extreme discourse, that of Marine Le Pen’s may have seemed more banal or acceptable, but the objectives are the same.
It is the first time in its history that France witnesses the development of two currents of the extreme right in this way, whilst a current of the traditional bourgeois right no longer defends the Republican values and feels no qualms about standing by the far-right. Regarding the left, its divisions have lasted too long and it is still weakened by dissensions. This makes it incapable of creating a real counter-power to Macron’s ultraliberal policy. However, the left recomposed itself for the legislative elections (12-19 June 2022) through the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES). This raises immense hopes, and also many questions.
The result of the presidential election (10-24 Ap 2022)
The most salient fact regarding the presidential election happened in the first round. Government and media tried hard to demonize the left and more particularly France Insoumise (LFI). The latter having become a group of “far-left anarchists”, the choice for voters seemed reduced to just two options: Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen. Far from this however, the third component of Jean-Luc Mélenchon made itself very present indeed as LFI came top in popular departments, and in cities that had traditionally voted on the right. The vote had three poles to polarise over (Macron, Le Pen and LFI) therefore. Those three collected a total of 25,629,406 votes out of the 35,096,478 who voted, leaving little room for the rest of the candidates, abstentions amounting to more than 13 million (28.01%).
With 9,783,058 votes (27.85%), Emmanuel Macron won the first round of the presidential election. Marine Le Pen got 8,133,828 votes (23.15%), an increase compared to 2017. In that first round, the Éric Zemmour’s movement did not win the audience it expected, but it still obtained 2,785,226 votes (7.07%) – coming 4th in this first round. The Le Pen and Zemmour’s scores added together show that 10,919,054 persons voted far-right, a matter of some real concern for the future.
The good surprise in this first round came from the score for Jean-Luc Mélenchon who won a total of 7,712,520 votes (21.98%). This made him 3rd in this first round of the presidentials, a result that few had expected. Being 3rd however meant that he could not stand in the second round, and face Emmanuel Macron. All the same, this result shows that the LFI represents today the left-wing party that corresponds better to the expectations of a large part of the population for real change in society. One can make many criticisms of the functioning of LFI – sometimes considered undemocratic – but this movement organised itself step by step over several years to build the Parliament of the Popular Union composed for a good half (not just of MPs) but of political activists and representatives of the social movements, Trade Unions, associations and artists, on the basis of a shared program called “The future in common“; the latter having been the subject of numerous workshops and debates.
In this new political situation, the traditional right-wing that Valérie Pécresse represented for Les Républicains has been swept away. It dropped from 3rd place in 2017 with 7,212,995 votes (20.01%) to 1,679,001 in 2022 (4.78%). Important divisions between the various bourgeois currents have been caused by some of Macron’s policies, but they come mainly from the far-right whose undermining work tends to blur the lines between right and far-right. Today, some representatives of the Republicans do not hesitate to speak like Le Pen, as in matters of national preference in employment, or the destruction of social housing.
Europe Ecology-Les Verts (EELV) with Yannick Jadot won 1,627,853 votes (4.63%) – very far from the 2019 European elections where they had won over 3 million votes (13.48%). For the Socialist Party, with the candidacy of Anne Hidalgo, the debacle is even greater, passing from 2,291,288 votes in 2017 to 616,478 in 2022 (1.75%). This comes on the end of twenty years of social democratic policies marked particularly by the François Hollande’s years in government 2012-2017 with important liberal reforms like the Labour Law. The politics of that time made major breaks with popular classes and citizens’ initiatives, causing great disillusionment and disinterest in many citizens who had supported the traditional political parties.
For the Communist Party, the candidacy of Fabien Roussel drew 802,422 votes (2.28%). The PCF’s position taken at its 38th congress had been to broaden the appeal as a political party. 66% of the delegates had voted for the PCF to present its own candidate in the presidential election, and 73% had chosen the Party’s national secretary Fabien Roussel as presidential candidate. It is the first time in 15 years that the PCF chooses to stand alone in a presidential election and with the (declared) aim of “rebuilding the left” from the result obtained. It is clear that this aim has not been achieved. Had there been the simplest of electoral agreements between the PCF and the LFI, the fate of France as a whole could have been changed in this presidential election, putting the left in a favourable position for the second round, way ahead of Marine Le Pen.
The second round of the presidential election brought Emmanuel Macron back to presidency with 18,769,639 votes (58.55%). That was a substantial decline however, with nearly 2 million fewer votes compared with 2017. Marine Le Pen garnered 13,288,688 votes, some 2,65 million more than in 2017. This result is partly due to a sector of the right preferring to vote for her rather than Macron. The level of abstentions increased enormously at the same time, between the two rounds, with more than 1.55 million people not moving. Unlike in 2017, the so-called “Republican Front” built to block the far-right, stopped working in this second round. And a large part of the electorate refused to vote for Emmanuel Macron.
The creation of NUPES and the future of the left
The LFI’s results in the presidential elections gave an important boost to accords for a New Popular Ecological and Social Union (NUPES) in view of the June legislative elections. This Union was made against all expectations in some ten days, in a real marathon of discussions between LFI and the other components of the left. Seeing this as a necessity, a large number of citizens and left-wing activists had called for it – and LFI made it possible. Such an achievement in so short a time was absolutely not guaranteed in advance, seeing the important dissensions that had followed the scrapping of Front de Gauche and Parti de Gauche, and the setting up of LFI in 2016.
In the presidential elections, the other left-wing parties, mainly the Communist Party PCF, the Socialist Party PS, and the Green EELV, each scored below 5% and lost their deposits. Obliging them to rethink strategies or risk disappearance. This is also one of the factors that facilitated the creation of the NUPES’ electoral agreement for the June legislative elections. Signed collectively, its shared program of government had to be a compromise. Points of contention on a number of issues had to be set aside for future attention. These include Europe (EU membership and treaties), the war in Ukraine and the sending of arms to it, the position vis-à-vis NATO, jobs and pensions, nuclear power and renewable energies, nationalisations.
Dissensions within the left continue to exist. A new rupture is taking place in the Socialist Party where a social democratic tendency rejects Jean-Luc Mélenchon and NUPES. It talks of setting up a new party now that its current first secretary Olivier Faure has become a “Most Unsubordinated Socialist”.
In the PCF, tensions are high between different sectors which hold LFI responsible for all the ills, namely: extreme-right augmentation, increased abstentions, the NUPES program weak and incoherent, the social movement supposedly in retreat and bent on eliminating the party… As it unfolds internally, this discussion carries a lot of anger, but an obvious bad faith too, and a great sectarianism. Should these aspects remain, they will put obstacles in the way that advances the construction a genuine left movement capable of transforming society.
NUPES has allowed for re-composition to take place in the National Assembly. It won 131 left-wing deputy seats, a number that could not have been reached otherwise. It had hoped for an upheaval even more spectacular, but it has gained greatly in the ability to weigh on the orientations of the bills. What remains somewhat more complicated and uncertain is the game of alliances in the votes between the right and the extreme-right, given the presence in particular of 89 deputies from the National Rally, NR (ex FN of Le Pen). Besides, the deputies from the various NUPES’ components themselves demonstrate a certain difficulty in facing up on certain issues. We saw this in early August when the PS and EELV voted for the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, while LFI and the PCF voted against.
However, today’s new and more leftwards repartition in the National Assembly makes possible real political and substantive debates on bills, and to modify their foundations. This is a completely new situation since 2017 when Macron and his majority imposed themselves to prevent any passage of amendment and any discussion.
Now the central question arising inside the left is about the strategy to pursue. Criticisms can and must be aired between the different left-wing parties, namely: on the internal functioning, on the program and the essential issues of the day, on the points set aside and left open. This must be done in a context that facilitates the forward-advance to build the future. In this Union, the role of the parties is not erased. Each can have a role in it, from the moment the general interest takes precedence over the particular interests.
This is where the PCF can find its place and pursue an intelligent policy free of the sterile criticisms and resentments accumulated over many years. The reality of the current situation and the actual reasons for the score obtained in the presidential election must be taken into account. In the absence of left unity, these matters must be discussed with the PCF taking its own share of responsibility: Why do so many party leaders support Jean-Luc Mélenchon? Is it really LFI’s aim to siphon off the PCF votes, and in a shove of hegemony, to remove the party from the political landscape? Was it a correct strategy to present the party’s own candidate? What can the party contribute now to NUPES? How is the party’s program so different?
All these questions must be posed clearly within the Communist Party and within NUPES, if we want this Union to be more than an electoral agreement to be disposed of at the next elections. It is certain that transforming society will not come solely through electoral episodes, but by mobilising the maximum number of people around common actions responsive to the social and environmental emergency.
These actions and the creation of another balance of power can only happen by uniting the forces of the left. For this, it is necessary to open oneself up to the pluralism of ideas, allowing everyone to express themselves whether in the PCF or within the NUPES.
So far, the PCF has pursued a policy dominated by a logic of competition, and not by the attitude that turns the Party into the common good necessary to break with capitalism and participate in the communist construction of humanity. The Party can however play an essential role on the terrain, wherever it can, at local and at national level, to enliven the Parliament of the Popular Union, broaden its audience with the participation of the greatest possible numbers for another society, to bring answers to the problems that this capitalist system poses to the whole of the population.
The NUPES represents a great hope for France; each party that composes it is collectively responsible for its maintenance, its development and its future.
The Posadists – August 12, 2022
Photo: The gathering of Left-wing MPs as it creates NUPES, 7 May 2022.
 The Future in Common – l’Avenir en Commun is a programme composed of 84 major measures and 690 proposals. Aspects include the fight for gender equality and parity, the protection of wages and the human conditions. And for its ecological planning project, it proposes an investment of 200 billion in transport, energy, agriculture and the protection of “common goods such as water”, etc – and ameliorations overseas as well.
 Jean-Luc Melanchon has his political origins in the left of the French Socialist Party (SP). A tendency of “Socialistes Insoumis” became formed in the SP in 2015. Led by Jean-Luc Melanchon, it left the SP in 2016, and after a transition, it eventually formed La France Insoumise (LFI). LFI operates outside the Socialist Party (SP), but there are still “un-submissive” tendencies in the SP whose present leader is Olivier Faure.
On 12 July this year, the NUPES tabled a motion of censure against the government, and Oliver Faure (this Most Unsubordinated Socialist) gave it his full support in the chamber. Not all the PS’ deputies agree with this however, and some PS members of the Senate are directly opposed. Six of them were absent at the time of the vote, including the vice-president of the National Assembly, Valérie Rabault.
On 3 July this year, and after the legislative elections therefore, a tendency in the SP led by the economist Liem Hoang Ngoc decided to suspend their participation to NUPES. Now they wish to reiterate their differences with certain European treaties regarding which, they say, Melanchon and LFI do not give enough seriousness and credibility.