THERE’S nothing like the threat of fascism knocking on the door to make the French left get its act together.

As I wrote this, I was tuned into a press conference where the main left-wing parties – the Greens, Socialists, Communists, and La France Insoumise (LFI, on the radical left) – were unveiling their legislative contract for the upcoming elections, with the support of more than 100 civil society organisations and some trade unions. For the first time in a while, I feel a genuine sense of enthusiasm about politics.

This new legislative contract promises to raise the minimum wage, invest in public services, tax super profits, and combat antisemitism, racism and discrimination. It also pledges support for the European Union, solidarity with Ukraine, a demand for a ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages, and recognition of a Palestinian state.

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It seems it will be a summer of voting for you and me. I had hoped to stay a bystander to the big decisions being made, but in a crazy, and frankly infuriating turn of events, it turns out I’ll be making big decisions myself.

The European election results on June 9 were shocking but only confirmed what we already knew: the far right remains strong, shown by Marine Le Pen capturing 40% in the second round of the presidential election in April 2022 and her National Rally party getting nearly 90 MPs elected to the National Assembly a few weeks later.

People are sick and tired of president Emmanuel Macron and his party, Renaissance, took a beating. The left is still faring poorly, with the Greens losing votes and the overall left vote share remaining around 30%.

Just under an hour after the official European Parliament results were announced on TV, Macron decided to shake things up by dissolving the National Assembly. It was just before 8pm UK time. I was about to (finally) put my child to bed when I heard the announcement in the background. It felt like a bucket of ice being poured over my head.

Here we have a president making decisions purely on tactical grounds, driven by self-interest. He sees the risk of having the far right in power as a gamble worth taking. What could possibly go wrong, right?

From his perspective, it’s the same old tired strategy. Since becoming president in 2017, Macron has often positioned himself as the bulwark against the far right, framing elections as a choice between him and chaos. Macron’s strategy relies on the belief the left remains too divided to mount a serious challenge.

Since the last parliamentary elections in 2022, division has been the name of the game on the left. La Nupes – the New Ecological and Social People’s Union – was an alliance formed to bring together left-wing parties, including LFI, the Socialist Party, the Greens, and the Communist Party.

Despite its initial success, internal divisions and ideological differences have plagued the coalition. Meanwhile, the traditional right has also been in a state of disarray, struggling to recover from poor electoral performances and internal leadership crises.

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Macron’s calculation was clear: with the left divided and the right in disarray (we’ve all seen the memes about Eric Ciotti, leader of the right-wing Les Républicains, barricaded in his party’s headquarters after being unanimously disavowed for making a pact with the National Rally), the president could present himself as the only viable alternative to the far right, pushing voters to support him out of fear rather than enthusiasm.

But you won’t find many people willing to play this game anymore. Macron’s governance has alienated many left-leaning voters, who would rather unite with allies they might not completely align with than continue with a president who has enabled the far right by adopting parts of their agenda.

This includes the immigration reform that was passed by the presidential majority in parliament, with enthusiastic backing from far-right MPs. To grasp the seriousness of this situation, we need to look at the origins and history of the National Rally, originally called the National Front (FN).

The party was founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is known for his extreme views and far-right ideology. Even more disturbingly, many of the FN’s founders had connections to Nazi collaborators and people involved in atrocities during the Algerian War.

Le Pen has a controversial past. He served in the French army during the Algerian War of Independence, a conflict marked by extreme brutality and accusations of torture. Le Pen has been accused of participating in torture, though he has always denied these claims. His political career has been full of controversy, including convictions for Holocaust denial and hate speech.

Other founders of the FN included Léon Gaultier, a former Waffen SS officer, and François Duprat, a Holocaust denier who advocated for a neo-fascist revival in France. The party’s early years were marked by open racism, xenophobia, and a glorification of France’s colonial past. In the 1980s and 1990s, the FN started to gain significant traction by tapping into economic discontent and fears about immigration.

Le Pen’s provocative statements kept the party in the news, further polarising French politics.

His infamous description of the Holocaust as a “detail of history” led to widespread condemnation but also solidified his base among far-right supporters.

In 2011, his daughter Marine Le Pen took over the leadership and aimed to “detoxify” the party’s image, rebranding the party as the National Rally in 2018. Despite efforts to present a more moderate image, the party’s core policies remain deeply rooted in the same original ideas.

THIS is why, right away, left-wing activists and supporters started calling for a united left front in the upcoming elections. We all know how challenging it is to unite the left. But this time, the Greens, Socialists, Communists, and the radical left quickly began negotiations. They agreed on how many constituencies each party would contest, ensuring a single left unity candidate in each race rather than splitting the vote with multiple candidates.

This new alliance is both exciting and refreshing, capturing the broader imagination of the French left. It’s being called the New Popular Front, a nod to the Front Populaire that won the 1936 parliamentary elections. Mentioning the Front Populaire brings back images of better times. There’s a touch of nostalgia.

The Front Populaire gave us paid annual leave, reduced the working week to 40 hours, and more. It was a huge victory for the left during a time when fascism was spreading and threatening to take over France.

However, as historian Mathilde Larrère pointed out in a fantastic thread on Twitter, the success of the Front Populaire wasn’t just down to parties. It succeeded because unions, civil society organisations, and the broader public mobilised.

The parties involved didn’t agree on much, but under pressure, they settled on a very basic programme. It was only after their electoral victory, with massive strikes and demonstrations, that the Front Populaire implemented some of its most significant social reforms – demands that weren’t part of their initial campaign promises.

There are lessons to learn here and I can see the mobilisation happening. People are creating optimistic, exciting posters to take to the massive demonstrations planned in the next few weeks. I know several people who have become paid members of political parties and joined rallies against the far right. They’re sharing content, talking to their families and making sure people get the word out and vote on June 30 and July 7.

(Image: PA)

Macron (above) had one job: “faire barrage” (“block the far right”). He failed spectacularly, granting them concessions and victories they never imagined in their wildest dreams. Dissolving the National Assembly was the coup de grâce. It is a dangerous gamble that risks empowering the very forces he claims to oppose.

Macron cannot escape the fact that under his leadership, the National Rally has gone from strength to strength. But as the left mobilises there is a glimmer of hope – yet the road ahead is fraught with challenges, and the stakes could not be higher.