“There is a growing pool of voters who fervently opposed both Macron and Le Pen, many of them workers and young people who are beginning to reject capitalism & demand a radical, socialist alternative.”
An alternative perspective on the French Presidential Election is that there is a silver lining for Mélenchon and the Left, writes Fraser McGuire, Vice Chair, Derbyshire Dales CLP.
The supporters of Emmanuel Macron’s ‘En Marche’ are doubtless celebrating a decisive victory in the second round of the French Presidential Election against the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Although it is a relief that the presidency has once again been kept out of the hands of the French far-right, who’s policies on immigration, minority groups and religious expression were nothing short of repulsive, it is understandable that many on the Left in France and across Europe will nonetheless be feeling disheartened at the overall result. The final round of the election came down to two right wing candidates, one a proud proponent of free market capitalism, with a history of trampling on worker’s rights and defending the French establishment, and the other a far-right candidate who ran a campaign of populist rhetoric, nationalism and xenophobia.
Many journalists and pundits have focused on the gains made by the far-right this year, with National Rally presidential candidate Marine Le Pen increasing her vote significantly since her last bid for the presidency in 2017, when she received 34 percent of the vote compared to 42 percent this year. The other far-right candidate in the election- Eric Zemmour- garnered nearly eight percent of the vote in the first round.
Many of the political commentators who see this result and subsequently argue that France is shifting further and further to the right appear to have missed the fact that French politics has also seen a resurgence of the Left, especially amongst the younger generations and working class. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the socialist presidential candidate for La France Insoumise (LFI), stood for the presidency and came in a strong third in the first round, narrowly missing – by just 400,000 votes – the opportunity to challenge Macron in the second-round ballot. Mélenchon’s support base has been steadily growing, as he stood in two previous presidential elections- receiving 11 percent of the vote in 2012 and 19 percent in 2017, and coming fourth in the first round of both elections.
Other parties on the Left also performed well in the first round of the presidential election. Europe Ecologie Les Verts (the French equivalent of the UK’s Green Party) achieved 1.6 million votes and the French Communist Party received more than 800,000. The combined vote of Mélenchon’s LFI and either the French Communist Party or French Greens would have easily been enough to launch Mélenchon into the second round where he would have faced off against Macron. It is likely, too, that he would have had a decent chance of challenging Macron, given a platform of anti neo-liberal policies based on the redistribution of power and wealth to tackle socio-economic inequality, including through nationalisation, the expansion of social welfare, and stronger labour laws and environmental protections. Mélenchon has also seen his support boosted due to his unwavering opposition to the neoliberal agenda in France, his refusal to adopt harmful ‘centrist’ policies and his support for social movements of resistance such as the French anti-fascist organisations.
As well as in France, activists around the world can learn from this outcome. If the left-wing vote, or a significant proportion of it, is able to unite behind a single candidate, significant gains can be made against the right, whether represented by a far-right demagogue like Le Pen or a poster child of neoliberal capitalism like Macron.
Indeed, other parties on the Left, such as the New Anti-Capitalist Party and Lutte Ouvrière also gathered hundreds of thousands of votes between them, meaning that the total number of votes which went to left-wing and green parties in the first round of the presidential election was over 10.5 million. This figure increases to over 11 million if we include the low 600,000 votes polled for the centre-left Socialist Party – further showing that the Left is a powerful and growing force in France, and that ever more people are rejecting business-as-usual capitalism.
There is still a good chance that the French Left can achieve an important victory this year, as the French Legislative Elections are still to be held on the 12th and 19th June. Mélenchon has called on his supporters to make him Prime Minister in the legislative elections, and if the votes in the primary round of the presidential election are any indicator they have a chance of making a big wave. It has been reported that Mélenchon and LFI are currently engaging in negotiations with the Green Party and Communist Party with the goal of forming a bloc against Macron’s En Marche in the National Assembly, which will hopefully materialise and give the Left the ability to block Macron’s more harmful right-wing policies.
Not only does the distribution of votes in the first round of the presidential election indicate growing anti-capitalist sentiment in France, but the level of voter apathy indicates that the French electorate is becoming ever more disillusioned with the country’s political system. Turnout figures from the French Interior Ministry show that the abstention rate for the second round of the 2022 presidential election is the highest in 50 years. This trend is especially apparent in the younger generation, with one Ipsos poll showing that the abstention rate in the first round was 42 percent among 18–24-year-olds. This is a pattern that is replicated in elections in many western countries and marks a widespread and growing disillusionment with electoral politics.
Although Macron has now secured a second five-year term, the French Left is now in a far stronger position than it was in the aftermath of the 2017 election. The growing pool of voters who fervently opposed both Macron and Le Pen, many of them workers and young people who are beginning to reject capitalism and demand a radical, socialist alternative, can find a home in the LFI and the broader French Left, driving victories in national, regional and local elections over the five-year period until the next presidential election.
Through educating and organising workers and those becoming increasingly worried about climate breakdown and disillusioned with free-market capitalism, the Left can build a powerful mass-movement to become a dominant force for good in French politics, win on a strong platform of socialist policies, and show that another Gallic world is possible.
- Fraser McGuire is the Vice Chair, Derbyshire Dales CLP. You can follow Fraser on twitter here.