France sets an example for European left

In the first round of French legislative elections, New Popular, Ecological and Social Union goes head to head with Emmanuel Macron’s party. Instead of an electoral bonus for a president who recently won the election – we got a proof of how many French people expect real change.

Macron’s Together! – 25.75 percent, NUPES, or the United Left, 25.66 percent, Marine Le Pen’s National Unity lagging behind with 18.68 percent. These are the official results of the first round of the French elections. In a week’s time, there will be an extra round, as France has a system of single-member constituencies, and few politicians have already managed to gain the 50 per cent that gives a mandate in the first round. In the second round, politicians with at least 12.5% of the vote – usually two, rarely three candidates – will face each other.

So although there are still a few days left to find out the final distribution of seats, we can firmly expect that the Left’s hold will increase dramatically. In the previous parliamentary term, it had 68 seats – now it can realistically think of doubling this result. And it could be even better.

– While our candidates have qualified for the second round in a great many districts, and some ministers have lost, left-wing voters will realise that we really can win. There will be a leap of mobilisation in our favour

French Communist Party spokesman Ian Brossat told L’Humanité.

Jean-Luc Melenchon was apparently right when, in an interview published by Cross-Border Talks, he declared that Emmanuel Macron’s party had no hope of getting a bonus in the parliamentary elections after its leader won the race to the Elysée Palace in extremely poor style.

There are many indications that

Together! cannot expect an independent majority, or 289 seats.

It will have to look to other right-wing formations, especially The Republicans (13.62% in the first round). As for Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen – they wanted to have over 100 seats, which is unlikely to happen. And there will be no representative of Eric Zemmour’s chauvinist, Islamophobic party.

In a number of districts, the President’s camp will only watch further developments, or the duels between Nupes and Rassemblement National. Not long ago Jean-Luc Melenchon called on his voters not to vote for Marine Le Pen under any circumstances – now he cannot count on reciprocity. The representative of the presidential party announced on 12 June that there was no question of a nationwide endorsement of the NUPES. While there would also be no calls to vote for RN candidates, but Macronists in each district would make “individual decisions” on whether to support the representative of the Left. Some of them, suggests the power camp, do not deserve endorsement because they are “extremists”, not committed to “republican values”.

So what is “extremism” according to the Macronists?

The NUPES programme includes the introduction of 60-year-old retirement age, regulated prices, regulated rents, reducing unstable “junk” employment, raising the minimum wage to €1,500. There is the creation of a highly progressive 14-tier tax scale, a tax on financial transactions, the renationalisation of motorways and airports, the fight against poverty and a statement that everyone has right to affordable housing.

In the chapter on ecology, energy and common goods, among others, I found such an extreme demand as “access to all basic public services (school, railway station, hospital, post office, etc.) and to sports and cultural facilities within 15-30 minutes by car or public transport, from any populated place”.

Or perhaps the demands for the creation or strengthening of grassroots democratic institutions in neighbourhoods and municipalities, or the detailed part on preserving nature and transforming the economy in a green way are extremist?

One thing is for sure – none of these things were particularly on Macron’s mind; he brutally dispersed the Yellow Vests’ dream of grassroots democracy with rubber bullets and tear gas.

That dramatic confrontation between the authorities and the people, and the earlier unfulfilled promises of successive “friends of the people” or “renewers of democracy” – including those calling themselves socialists – makes it clear that

the left’s biggest opponent in this election was not even Macron and the apparatus of power, but the low turnout.

NUPES activists, like Melenchon’s staff before the presidential election, had to convince French workers not so much that they needed cheap housing and higher wages, but to prove that such a programme really could be implemented, and that their vote could help. But for many eligible voters, the feeling that the election changes nothing was stronger. The turnout was only 49 percent.

During the Socialism in Our Time conference, held on 10-11 June in Berlin, the socialist philosopher Nancy Fraser said that times of great systemic crisis like ours are favourable to people proclaiming fresh ideas and new solutions. These ideas, she pointed out, can be both wonderful and repugnant – it depends to a large extent on determination of the activists and on efficiency of their propagators which will win the approval of the broad masses.

NUPES has proved that it is possible to reach people (especially young: 40% votes for the left!) with a programme that responds to social ills and speaks the language of the masses. Even despite the extreme hostility of the corporate media. Regardless of the outcome of the second round of elections, France has already set an example.

Now a huge responsibility lies in the hands of the people who will eventually be elected to represent NUPES – and a left in other European countries. Will they be willing to draw conclusions?

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