France: the NUPES fiasco and the need for a revolutionary alternative

The crisis in NUPES – the ‘union’ consisting of La France Insoumise (FI), the Socialist Party (PS), the Greens and the Communist Party (PCF) – is increasingly taking on the air of a bedroom farce: shouting, declamations, doors opening, slammed, and then opened again, etc. Boredom mixed with irritation is spreading among the audience, and little by little the auditorium is emptying.

[Originally published in French at]

Launched in the run-up to the legislative elections in June 2022, NUPES has continually torn itself apart through publicly aired divisions. Let us be more precise: the leaders of the PS, the Greens and the PCF have systematically attacked Mélenchon and his comrades – from the right.

Both prior to and after the murder of Nahel by a police officer last July, they strongly criticised Mélenchon for saying that… the police kill. A few months earlier, these same people criticised the leaders of the FI for having organised a major political demonstration against the pension reform – which, they claimed, was disrespectful toward the union bureaucracies that had carefully prepared the movement’s defeat.

Today, while the people of Gaza are starving and trapped under a carpet of Israeli bombs, the leaders of the SP, the Greens and the PCF are demanding (together with the right and the far right) that any position on this massacre must begin with what is absolutely essential in their eyes: the solemn characterisation of Hamas as a ‘terrorist organisation’. Mélenchon rightly refused to do so, and was pilloried by his NUPES ‘partners’.

Nupes Image NUPESOlivier Faure of the Socialist Party called a meeting of the leadership of his party to call a "moratorium" on participating in NUPES. For all his stamping of feet, however, the Socialist Party has depended on the NUPES banner to maintain a parliamentary presence / Image: NUPES

“Enough is enough,” choked Olivier Faure (PS), Marine Tondelier (Greens) and Fabien Roussel (PCF): these people of high principles will not compromise with the characterisation of Hamas. The former called a meeting of the PS leadership to vote for a ‘moratorium’ on its participation in the NUPES. The second castigated the “pseudo leader [of the FI] who spends his time provoking everyone with intemperate tweets.” The third had the PCF National Council adopt a resolution describing the NUPES as a “dead end” and calling for a “new type of union” of the left.

The real balance of power

Since 7 October, the NUPES crisis has crossed a new threshold. Does this mean that it will collapse in the short term? It’s only one possible outcome, because the leaders of the PS, the Greens and the PCF don’t just have high principles to defend: they also have bureaucratic interests. They are well aware that if early parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, they would have virtually no chance of retaining their respective parliamentary groups without a formal electoral alliance, at the national level, with the current leadership of the FI.

Remember that in the April 2022 presidential elections, the FI won 22 percent of the vote, the Greens 4.6 percent, the PCF 2.3 percent and the PS 1.7 percent. In other words, without NUPES and its electoral deal in the parliamentary elections, the Greens, PCF and PS would have been crushed – which in our opinion would have been no loss for the working class.

Instead, they all have a parliamentary group, thanks to NUPES. Incidentally, the PCF leadership mocks our intelligence when voting through a resolution declaring that “Nupes, as it was constituted for the legislative elections under the hegemonic will of LFI, has become a dead end.” (Our emphasis.) Without the “hegemony” of the FI that it complains about, the PCF would have had fewer deputies in the National Assembly today, and perhaps none at all.

In our 2023 French Perspectives document published last June, we wrote:

“Given the balance of power within the left, the leaders [of the PS, the Greens and the PCF] have every interest in maintaining the NUPES as a framework for future electoral alliances, while striving to weaken the FI for their own benefit”. We added: “It is doubtful that they will succeed, given their respective political lines. The extreme programmatic moderation of the leaders of the Socialist Party and the Greens cannot arouse much enthusiasm in an electorate that is becoming increasingly politically polarised under the impact of the crisis of capitalism. (…)  As for the leadership of the PCF, it is now firmly in the hands of Fabien Roussel, who until now has not steered his party towards the left but, on the contrary, has inflicted on it scandalous swerves to the right.”

The last five months have confirmed this analysis. On Palestine, as on all other issues, the criticism levelled at the FI leadership by the Socialist Party, the Greens and the Communist Party comes from the right. Admittedly, these criticisms are enthusiastically echoed in the right-wing media outlets of CNews, BFM and LCI, but they gain much less of an echo with the millions of young people and workers who are turning to the left.

In the end, none of this strengthens the electoral potential of the three parties that make up the right wing of the NUPES. This explains why they are in no hurry to formally break away from the alliance: aware of their weakness, they content themselves with a ‘moratorium’, inflammatory tweets and a vague call – without follow-up – for a “new type of union”.

Carried away by the tsunami of bourgeois propaganda unleashed after the Hamas attack on 7 October, they thought they had found the perfect opportunity to discredit Mélenchon for their own benefit. In vain: the fate of the Gazans, who are being massacred by the Israeli army – and not by Hamas, as far as we know – undermines the scope of their hypocritical ‘principles’.

The crisis of France Insoumise

Could the FI leadership itself take the initiative to break away from NUPES? It could. From the point of view of FI’s popularity among the most radicalised elements of youth and workers, it would even be a positive step, as in their eyes this alliance with the right wing of reformism discredits Jean-Luc Mélenchon's movement. This is what we explained back in May 2022: “NUPES is an obstacle to FI’s progress among millions of workers, the unemployed and the poor who, following the betrayals of the ‘old left’, abstain or vote for the National Rally.” Eighteen months later, this remains the case.

Marine Le Pen 2022 Image VOXIn our 2022 French Perspectives document we pointed out that NUPES would form a barrier to millions of workers, and that the far right National Rally led by Le Pen would be the ones to gain. This continues to be proven correct / Image: VOX

In this sense, the formation of NUPES marked a rightward turn by FI. It is true that FI constitutes the left wing of NUPES, but it is this alliance itself that runs counter to the process of political polarisation at work in the country, against the backdrop of the organic crisis of capitalism. As a result, FI is making no more progress than the right wing of NUPES. And so, logically, the crisis of NUPES is coupled with an increasingly clear crisis of FI itself.

As ever, Mélenchon is (officially) playing down the differences being expressed at the top of his organisation. He reduces the criticisms levelled by MPs Raquel Garrido, Alexis Corbière, Clémentine Autain and François Ruffin to “background noise” produced by a group of “perennial malcontents”.

FI activists and supporters should not be content with such a superficial interpretation. Whatever the differences that may exist among these “perennial malcontents”, the fact is that they are emerging as a right wing in FI. The leaders of the PS, the Greens and the PCF therefore have every interest in reaching out to them in the hope of marginalising Mélenchon – and that's exactly what they're doing. In this gang of “perennial malcontents”, François Ruffin is very open about his right-wing orientation, both programmatically and strategically. At the same time, no left-wing opposition is emerging at the top of the FI – nor at its base, which is not consulted and has no formal means of controlling its leaders.

Building the revolutionary alternative!

This is the current dynamic of NUPES and FI. Their orientation is clear: towards the right. Inevitably, this benefits Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which is trying to take advantage of the fact that NUPES is becoming discredited among the most exploited and oppressed sections of the population.

That said, it is too early to bury the reformist left. The internal struggle within FI has only just begun, and it is not certain that the right wing will win the day. Generally speaking, the political radicalisation of millions of workers and young people will objectively continue to favour the left wing of reformism. However, the leaders of the left wing are incapable of breaking with those of the right wing, who are themselves organically linked to the capitalist class. This is the essence of NUPES.

Révolution, the French section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), has nothing to do with sectarian organisations which lump all reformist tendencies together. In his Transitional Programme (1938), Leon Trotsky criticised the “sectarian groupings” that “remain indifferent to the inner struggle within reformist organisations – as if one could win the masses without intervening in their daily strife!” This strife will intensify in the period to come.

Trotsky Image public domainAs Trotsky explained in the Transitional Programme, communists are not indifferent to the struggles inside the reformist organisations. But we must build our forces to be able to intervene in this strife / Image: public domain

However, to intervene decisively in this struggle, revolutionary communists must be sufficiently powerful, numerous and organised. This is what is at stake in the immediate period. That’s why Révolution, like all the sections of the (IMT), is addressing itself directly to the growing number of young people and workers who, under the impact of the crisis, are drawing much more radical conclusions than Mélenchon's ‘left-wing populism’ – i.e. communist conclusions. For the time being, it is among this layer of youth and workers that we’re going to build the forces of revolutionary Marxism.

The enormous success of our ‘Are You A Communist?’ campaign on an international scale, is striking proof of this. And this is only the beginning. In the years to come, our revolutionary, communist International will emerge as a point of reference for millions of radicalised young people and workers. On the basis of the ideas, programme and methods of Marxism, we will eventually be in a position to challenge the reformists for the leadership of the workers’ movement – and, from then on, we will place the overthrow of the capitalist system on the agenda. That is our course. We will not change it. And we call on all those who share this objective to join us.

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