French legislative elections: Left and right surge, center barely holds

Peter Solenberger

Posted June 23, 2022

On June 12 and 19, 2022, France held elections for the 577 deputies of the Assemblée Nationale, its principal legislative body. President Emmanuel Macron lost his presidential majority, as the left and right surged.

Macron’s coalition — and its prime minister, currently Élisabeth Borne — may be able to continue to govern through a deal with the center-right Gaullists, but a minority government dependent on a hostile competitor would be weak. It would survive only as long as its backers feared that they would do worse in another election.

The 2022 French Elections, our last article on this subject, appeared on May 7. Macron had won the presidency two weeks earlier in the second round of the presidential election, with 58.5 percent of the valid votes to 41.5 percent for Marine Le Pen.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon had just pulled together the Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale (NUPES), an electoral bloc of his La France Insoumise (LFI), the Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV), the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), and the Parti Socialiste (PS).

The left parties that make up NUPES won 137 seats, a gain of 79 seats from the 2017 legislative elections, The far-right Rassemblement National (RN), led by Le Pen, won 89 seats, a gain of 81. The parties of the Ensemble Citoyens, led by Macron, won 245 seats, down 103 from 2017. The parties of the Union de la Droite et du Centre (UDC), the heirs of Charles de Gaulle, won 64 seats, down 66 from 2017.

The popular vote in the first round shows even more clearly the strengthening of the left and right and the weakening of the center. Macron’s Ensemble won 25.8 percent of the valid votes, Mélenchon ’s NUPES won 25.7 percent, Le Pen’s RN won 18.7 percent, and UDC won 11.3 percent.

Turnout was low by French standards, 47.5 percent in the first round and 46.2 percent in the second round. Blank or null ballots were 2.2 percent in the first round and 7.6 percent in the second round. “None of the above” was another form of rejecting the center.

NUPES allocated constituencies to its component parties. Mélenchon’s LFI was allocated 326 constituencies, the EELV 100, the PS 70, and the PCF 50. The slate did far better than its component parties had been expected to do, running separately. LFI won 72 seats, a gain of 55. The EELV won 27 seats, a gain of 26. The PS won 26 seats, a loss of 4. The PCF won 12 seats, a gain of 2.

NUPES and the Gauche Plurielle

NUPES reunites the Gauche Plurielle, which had a legislative majority from 1997 to 2002 and made Lionel Jospin prime minister, “cohabiting” with Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist president. NUPES supporters hoped to repeat that arrangement.

Like the Gauche Plurielle, NUPES adopted a moderate left platform. Its Programme partagé de gouvernement promised to raise the minimum wage to to €1,500 a month (about $10 an hour), restore the right to retire at age 60 after 40 years of contributions to the social security plan, and set a goal of reducing France’s greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent in 2030, instead of the current goal of 40 percent. It declared that it would disobey any European Union laws or regulations that would prevent its realizing these priorities.

The NUPES platform was clearly better than the Ensemble platform, but that was never enough to win, since electing Ensemble seemed the surest way to defeat Le Pen and the RN. Mélenchon called on the NUPES parties to form a parliamentary bloc after the election. But, with the next elections perhaps five years hence, the other parties refused, preferring to caucus separately.

The experience of the Gauche Plurielle has much to teach today’s activists. It won the 1997 legislative elections not because of its moderate program, but because of a previous turn in the class struggle. Daniel Singer identified this turn in his marvelous book Whose Millennium? Theirs or Ours? In a review of Singer’s book in the September-October 1999 issue of Against the Current Samuel Farber wrote:

The discussion of France focuses on the 1995 winter of discontent, the strikes and mass demonstrations against the attacks on the social services that showed the reality and potential for a fight back in Western Europe.  Singer saw the French events as an ideological turning point, the first revolt against the notion that “there is no alternative” to the market, also known as TINA.

The Jospin government in part expressed the mass sentiment and in part diverted it into electoral and legislative channels. The government adopted some moderate social reforms, but it failed to alter France’s neoliberal trajectory.

The three most advertised reforms were the 35-hour workweek, universal health coverage, and civil solidarity pacts. All were less than claimed. The 35-hour workweek was really just a 25 percent overtime premium on hours worked beyond 35 hours, plus a subsidy to businesses that raised hourly wages to allow workers to make in 35 hours what they had previously made in 39 hours.

France already had the best healthcare among the advanced capitalist countries through its social security system. The universal coverage aded a relatively small number of citizens and legal residents who were not in the social security system, that is, the very rich and some of the very poor.

Civil solidarity pacts gave same-sex couples who registered their unions with the state rights similar to marriage. This was an important change for some couples, but it was hardly radical, since it recognized a by-then existing social fact.

While adopting these reforms, the Jospin government also privatized more state-owned enterprises than the conservative governments that preceded and followed it, including France Télécom and Air France, and lowered taxes on corporations and the wealthy. It proved to be no break with the “third way” of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Having delivered little, the government faced a backlash from the 2001 recession and the national-security and law-and-order panic following 9/11. In the 2002 presidential election Jospin was eliminated in the first round, coming in third behind Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father. The Gauche Plurielle lost the legislative elections too.

Two lessons stand out. First, mass mobilization — or its absence — sets the conditions for elections and post-election reforms. Second, demobilization limits the reforms and hastens the swing back to the right.

The Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA)

The NPA includes a majority of French supporters of the Fourth International (FI), the international organization to which Solidarity is affiliated. The NPA ran Philippe Poutou in the presidential election and did not join NUPES, although it supported NUPES candidates in constituencies where it couldn’t run its own candidate in the first round, and everywhere in the second round.

Ensemble! (with an exclamation point) includes a minority of French supporters of the FI. It backed Mélenchon in the presidential election and participated in NUPES. Our article The 2022 French Elections includes links and a translation of statements of both organizations explaining their positions.

The electoral success of the left and the weak government may encourage workers, immigrants, women, LGBTQ+ people, and youth to mobilize. But the success of the right and the weak government may also encourage their enemies.

The 2022 elections were an important test of the political balance of forces. But what happens now is decisive. The Macron government has said that it will raise the age of retirement from 62 to 65. Resistance to that and other neoliberal attacks may spark a mass mobilization like that of 1995.

We end with a June 19 statement by the NPA on the results of the legislative elections, Defeat for Macron, breakthrough for the far right: urgency of a fighting left.

(Photo: Photothèque Rouge / Quentin G)

Defeat for Macron, breakthrough for the far right: urgency of a fighting left

Statement by the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA)

The results of the second round of the legislative elections are a defeat for the current government. With 246 deputies in the National Assembly, Emmanuel Macron is indeed far from obtaining an absolute majority of in parliament, confirming his illegitimacy and his status of “badly elected president”.

The defeats of several leading Macronists, from Richard Ferrand to Christophe Castaner, including Amélie de Montchalin, who join Blanquer, defeated in the first round, testify to the rejection of Macron and his ilk.

Macronia weakened against a background of political instability

The composition of the National Assembly presages a continuation and amplification of the situation of political instability, with a minority “presidential majority” unable to govern alone. Given policies he pursued during his first term and the radically anti-NUPES campaign between the two rounds, Macron will undoubtedly seek support to his right, hardening his policies even further.

The democratic crisis is continuing and growing, with a very high abstention rate and a significant distortion of votes due to the voting system, which still does not include any form of proportional representation. Abstention is particularly high among young people and the working classes, who felt little interest in a campaign that the government did everything to make inaudible.

Against the danger of the extreme right, a surge on the left

With 89 MPs, the Rassemblement National has achieved a historic score, and confirms its process of “normalization”, with a real presence in several regions (in the north, east and south-east) and breakthroughs in others. The RN will certainly have fewer MPs than the left, but its capacity to cause harm will be considerably amplified, as it seeks – unfortunately with success – to take advantage of the political instability and the democratic and social crisis. The fascist threat is there, and the current government bears a heavy responsibility, through its policies and speeches, for this dangerous phenomenon.

The NUPES scores show the existence of a significant and positive dynamic on the left. The FI has four times more MPs, which confirms the presence of a significant rejection “from the left” of Macron and neoliberal policies, and of an aspiration for more social justice, ecology and democracy, and even of a hope for a better world. Despite our criticisms of the NUPES, the NPA called for a vote for its candidates we welcome the fact that millions of people have seized on its candidates to express their anger against Macron by voting for a left breaking with social liberalism.

Struggle and rebuild an anti-capitalist political force

From today we miust prepare the struggles of tomorrow, relying among other things on the militant dynamics generated by the campaigns of some of the NUPES candidates. We must constitute or perpetuate collectives ready to lead the coming battles against authoritarian neo-liberalism, starting with the defence of our pensions, which should be a struggle of the whole political and social left, as well as that for the defence and revival of public services.

In a situation where the danger of the extreme right is asserting itself, there is also an urgent need to build tools of resistance and organization for our social camp, including at the political level. We need a broad political force to defend the interests of the vast majority of the population and the perspective of another society, free from capital and social and ecological disasters.

Building this fighting left is the task of the coming months!

Montreuil, 19 June 2022, updated 20 June 2022