Jordan Bardella: nicely packaged, but ideologically empty

New old popular frontism

Marine Le Pen’s RN is predicted to make big gains, the centre is not holding and what passes for the left has cobbled together an electoral front. Bariş Graham looks at the possibilities of a cohabitation regime

Marx, in his seminal work on modern French history The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), included this famous passage: “Hegel remarks that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.

Marx continued: “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” If the vector of French political space at the time looked this dreadful to Marx, then today’s situation could be regarded as mortifying.

Indeed, ‘farcical’ perfectly encapsulates French politics after president Emmanuel Macron, having seen far-right electoral gains in the European elections, announced a snap legislative election (first round: June 30). An outside observer would be guessing whether Macron has any ‘tricks up his sleeve’, so to speak, or strategies - at least for preventing the decimation of his governing Ensemble coalition.

The answer to such a question, at least currently, would be ‘no’. There are in fact quaint theories pertaining to what Macron thinks he would gain by calling the election, from discrediting Marine Le Pen and her National Rally in a cohabitation agreement (a risky deal, if ever there was one) to narrowly winning the ‘anti-fascist’ vote in the second round (July 7).

She, of course, has her eye on the main prize: the presidential election of April 2027, where she will face, not Macron - he has to stand down after two consecutive terms - but an unnamed someone from his Renaissance party. Macron has of yet not announced a successor ... and there are already stories circulating about him considering a 2032 run and a third term. Playing a leading role in French politics will not finish with the end of his second term, that is for sure. Unlike Tony Blair he appears uninterested in making pot loads of money or fancy international job titles.

However, to say that this July’s election, combined with the European parliamentary elections, represents a crisis of neoliberalism in an age of war, climate crisis and mass migration would not be wrong. It would be as if Nigel Farage and his Reform UK were expected to be the biggest party in the House of Commons on July 5 (not a minnow with five or six MPs, as some psephologists are predicting).

Of course, the unpopularity of the French government, at the moment headed by prime minister, Gabriel Attal, is nothing new. French presidents, including Charles de Gaulle, normally go through one prime minister after another. The fifth republic, established in October 1958, has a crowned monarch at its top - a perfect fit for de Gaulle. A constitutional arrangement which goes hand-in-hand with a weak parliament. The prime minister is, of course, appointed and unappointed by the president. So an RN victory in the second round - ie, RN emerging as the dominant, if not the majority, party in the National Assembly - could easily see him opt for the nicely-wrapped Jordan Bardella as his prime minister. A real prospect that has already spooked the markets. The valuation of the Paris stock exchange dropping behind the City of London as a result.

It is worth noting, therefore, that French big business has been seeking avenues through which to influence - and moderate - RN’s leadership. Bardella has, presumably as a result, recently backtracked on the idea of taking France out of Nato. With the centre not holding, corporate France will not hesitate to go with the far right - if the choice is between it and the left. The hope is of RN taking its cue from Giorgia Meloni in Italy and steering a Euro-Atlanticist course.1


Politically, Bardella is widely regarded as Le Pen’s creature. His biographer, Pierre-Stephane Fort, says there is little substance behind the carefully-crafted personable image. “He is a chameleon. He adapts perfectly to the environment around him,” he said. “And he is a chronic opportunist. There is no ideology there. He’s pure strategy. He senses where the wind is blowing, and gets in there early.”

So, as well as suiting Le Pen, Bardella, may well suit Macron as prime minister in the run-up to the really important election in 2027. However, a Le Pen presidency would rock the whole post-1958 political order in France. It would certainly put the final nail in the coffin of the project of ‘ever closer union’ dreamt of by de Gaulle, which would, supposedly, see Europe emerge as the world’s third superpower (alongside the US and the USSR).

The closest historical analogy to Le Pen’s and thus RN’s rise is Pierre Poujade’s UDCA (Defence Union of Shopkeepers and Craftsmen) in the 1950s - a xenophobic, anti-centralist and petty bourgeois reaction against the highly unstable fourth republic.2 Indeed, while in terms of origins, RN has a distinct ‘fascist’ strand to it, in reality nowadays it has more in common with the Poujadist movement, which can really be said to be its avant la lettre.

What is particularly worrying, though, is the broad appeal of RN today, not least to the traditional working class.3 Poujade’s movement, while attaining a certain popularity, was mainly composed of anti-tax, petty bourgeois and small independent farmers - the French Communist Party having at that time the support of the core sections of the working class. Meanwhile today the situation is much more dire for the left, with working class preferences split between the New Popular Front and RN, with the latter enjoying, when it comes to votes, majority support.

As discussed frequently in the Weekly Worker, the causes of leftwing decline are multileveled: from failing to offer any realistic alternatives to ‘end of history’ liberalism to repeatedly capitulating to bourgeois demands for austerity and ‘fiscal restraint’ (France’s one-time ‘socialist’ president, François Hollande, being a particularly striking example). But what lies beneath this is, of course, the issue of working class independence, which, if it is to mean anything, must be based on a strong, disciplined, programmatically coherent Communist Party. Without that the left is destined to continue to stumble and repeatedly fail.

That in turn results in much of the working class being trapped by rightwing ‘false consciousness’ and xenophobia (a crude reaction to competition in the labour market from migrants which is, unfortunately, an all-too-common pattern).

Nouveau front

Thankfully, the French left, despite its popular frontism, has not fallen quite as low as in some other countries, and in this election it has been unified after a fashion, mainly thanks to the popularity and charisma of Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise. That and, of course, fear of Le Pen and RN.

Indeed, when looking at past left, broad-frontist coalitions, the survival of the French left bloc since 2022 (then constituted as Nupes) seems like a miracle presented by a socialist god himself. When speaking of ‘fronts’, however, what immediately comes to mind then is France’s experience with the first popular front government. The present New Popular Front (whose formation was announced on June 10) is straight from the Dimitrovite popular front song book of the mid-1930s - while on paper the main groups within it commit themselves to ‘socialism’ of some kind, when it comes to its programme, the right always has the trump card. In this case Les Écologistes, Génération·s, the Socialist Party … and the PCF (the latter two organisations were toying with the idea of an anti-fascist alliance with Macron and Renaissance).

However, none of the parties in the NFP can really be described as socialist: at best they are left social democratic, with, inevitably, a strong nationalistic element. A description which just about sums up the ‘official communist’ PCF.

Unlike 1936 the NPF is not on course for forming a government - a government, which, of course, would have to cohabit with Macron. If, on the other hand, NPF does well but falls short of an absolute majority, we can be pretty sure that Macron would go for RN (with the full backing of corporate France).

Regardless of the outcome of the July elections, the task of communists in France is clear: a thorough-going criticism of past failures, fighting for theoretical and programmatic clarity and organising themselves in a party that is neither a confessional sect nor dominated by a proletarian Bonaparte. That means having no illusions in the NPF whatsoever.

  1. See www.ft.com/content/e28f9753-1770-4c8c-91d8-e7bb7ed44feb.↩︎

  2. www.britannica.com/biography/Pierre-Poujade.↩︎

  3. ukandeu.ac.uk/french-politics-and-new-divides-in-european-politics; www.politico.eu/article/macrons-france-vs-le-pens-france-in-charts.↩︎