Why the New Popular Front Won

This article first appeared in Counterpunch.

Post-election rally in Paris

On the evening of our stunning victory, I listened to the speeches of our politicians: “glory to the people!”, “we must stay mobilized to push forward the program!”, &c. And then as the orators turned to depart the stage, Jean-Luc Mélenchon paced back up to the microphones and addressed the crowd, “I have heard that some of you do not understand the words of the Marseillaise. I am going to explain the two parts that may irritate your ears: the country was invaded by all the monarchies of Europe that sought to reestablish inequality against the Declaration of the Rights of Man. And so the people, armed, drove off the invaders: hence, 'To arms, citizens! &c.' And as for 'impure blood', don't grimace! In that day, the nobles were supposed to have 'pure blood', and we the poor people were supposed to have 'impure'. And so they bellowed, 'Oh? Impure blood? Come and see what you can get!' In this anthem—yes it is a song of warriors!—there is nothing other than the honor of the people marching to victory, fearing nothing and no-one!” And he led the crowd singing.

The New Popular Front (NFP) sees itself as having saved the Republic. This was not merely an election like any other, but a struggle for France, a contest over the definition of French identity. Against the racist and xenophobic far-right drunk on conspiracy theory and Islamophobia, the French left united to insist that this nation, this people, is not determined by skin color, neither by religion, nor by language: but is constituted as a legal community by its common good. And it is now the Popular Front that rallies the people anew around its program of free school lunches, increased wages, and repairing the damage done to society by neoliberalism.

This conception of France explicitly includes both immigrants in mainland (or “metropolitan”) France and indigenous peoples in the overseas collectivities, regions, &c. (“outre-mer”). This was brought up several times on election night by various speakers, and always with a universalizing angle: the natives of the outre-mer, the immigrants of the Paris suburbs, and even Mélenchon, the son of pied-noirs himself, are all striving for dignity, liberty, and justice. This universalism allows for the inclusion of members like Emmanuel Tjibaou, a militant in the Kanak independence movement elected to represent New Caledonia on the NFP ticket. For the French left, solidarity with the palestinian people is critically important; the flag of Palestine is everywhere flown as a symbol of universal, socialist, and republican values: liberty, equality, and fraternity.

LFI representative raises the flag of Palestine in the National Assembly

To anglophone leftists, this discourse may seem strange. To understand its inner logic requires following the historical thread of French socialism back from 2024 to 1968, 1917, 1871, 1848, and 1789. Gracchus Babeuf, Jean Jaurès, Léon Blum, & al. had their political imaginary bound up by this republican thread. As Auguste Blanqui put it: “The Republic means the emancipation of the workers; it means the end of the reign of exploitation; it means the advent of a new order that will free labour from the tyranny of capital” and “The oppressed rise up [...] they begin to struggle against this impudent aristocracy of parvenus. Since 1789 this struggle has been relentlessly waged, forever the same yet forever new.”

Throughout French history, from the days of Abbé Sieyès and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to Simone Weil and The Need for Roots, the question of France, of how the Republic is constructed, recurs. We hear this resounding through the words of Manès Nadel, vice-president of the high-school student union, who at a recent NFP meeting got up and quoted Lenin, saying, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”, before going on to urge the audience, “we have two weeks left to finally produce in France the social Republic and to root in this Republic our social gains!”

Macron's gamble of a snap election cost him more than he thought possible; he united the left against him and fumbled legislative initiative to his newly-made enemy. Technocratic neoliberalism has been rebuffed by the risen “extremes”, a nightmare of Emmanuel's own making. His allies on the center-right are at daggers drawn and frankly look like fools—consider the miserable figure of Éric Ciotti, spending his TV-time beefing with local rivals while the party he nominally leads revolts against him.

And what more needs be said about the neofascists? They lost! The National Rally (RN) ran antisemites, racists, and a hostage-taker. Some of their candidates appeared to have not campaigned at all. As much as the RN has gained over the last few election cycles, as much as the bourgeois press has worked to normalize the party of Nazi collaboration then and now, the people of France continue to oppose the suit-and-tie skinheads. Le Pen and Bardella smell power, yet cannot taste it; even with the help of the media and influential figures, the RN is thin on the ground.

Apart from the municipal bulletin boards where all candidates, including the most quixotic, are allotted space for a poster, I saw almost no RN propaganda—and I myself was out and about in districts that the RN finally carried. My wife was handed one RN flyer on the last day of the campaign in a touristy area. The frazzled centrists pulled together a better ground game than the neofascists, but the NFP exceeded all my expectations. I met scores of activists from the coalition that I did not know previously while canvassing. Strangers approached me, even up to the final hours of Friday evening, and asked for stacks of flyers to distribute to their neighbors. There was a palpable urgency, not only among activists but also the veiled mothers and queer youth picnicking in the park; our solidarity was met with silent nods and warm smiles wherever the people were gathered.

NFP victory rally in Marseille

The Popular Front made a simple wager: unite the left and make the center follow along. First, the NFP mobilized social institutions—the unions and associations that organize the working class in this country. Second, the NFP rallied the politicians and parties against the threat of the far-right. Third, the NFP developed a strategic line, including a strong program, to shift the political terrain of France leftward for a generation. Lastly, the NFP tactically withdrew in concert with liberal forces to make as many districts as unfavorable to the far-right as possible.

Even in some places where the far-right won, like on Ciotti's own home turf, the NFP made a strong showing, gaining ground between both rounds even when the centrists did not drop out of the race. The RN and the NFP compete for voters, e.g., Gilets Jaunes who voted for Mélenchon in 2022 and Bardella in 2024. A major challenge of the French left remains how to communicate that the far-right is not reliable when it comes to pro-social reforms like the retirement age issue. This can only be achieved by proving that the NFP gets the goods.

The New Popular Front was faced with a hostile media and government, and we overcame the odds. We proved the pollsters and experts wrong: history is not written in advance. We showed what political strength the working class can muster. Now the NFP has to deliver. Our majority is only relative, and while several elements of the program can be accomplished by decree, it remains to be seen who beyond the ranks of the NFP in the National Assembly is willing to support which proposals.

Macron's project has been repeatedly censured by the French people. If he had shame, he would resign. Yesterday he definitively lost the last shred of whatever mandate he thought he had. The center is rejected. The right has splintered. The left now must push the advantage and implement the program of the New Popular Front: anything less than this would be a shameful betrayal of our victory.

Public services and social gains, won through hard struggle by generations of workers, are not the result of providential grace. They are not the property of the State. They belong to all citizens.

—Raoul Vaneigem