Dispatch: Le Pen victory could spark Leftist ‘revolution’ in Marseille

Rally-goers in support of the new Leftist alliance carried banners that said 'Popular Front. Let's vote on June 30 and July 7'
Rally-goers in support of the new Leftist alliance carry banners that read 'Popular Front. Let's vote on June 30 and July 7' - BRUNO FERT

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the fiery French far-Left populist, has a habit of peppering his speech with talk of revolution.

The question many in France are now asking is, will the unpredictable and tyrannical ex-Trotskyist call for just that, should Marine Le Pen’s hard-Right National Rally (RN) romp home in snap elections this and next Sunday?

This week, the 72-year-old former MP in the La France Insoumise (LFI) bastion of Marseille stopped short, saying: “If the RN wins these elections, we will enter moral and legal resistance.” In other words, civil disobedience.

But fanning the flames is his speciality.

A year ago when youths rioted and pillaged for nearly a week across France in the wake of a police shooting of a teen outside Paris, Mr Mélenchon asked only that they spared schools, sports halls and libraries from being trashed.

When violence engulfed the French overseas territory of New Caledonia last month, costing the lives of several people, his response was: “The watchdogs order us to call for calm. We call for justice.”

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the figurehead of the New Popular Front, says he is prepared to become the next prime minister
Jean-Luc Melenchon, the figurehead of the New Popular Front, says he is prepared to become the next prime minister - ED JONES/AFP

With the vote fast approaching, Mr Mélenchon has let it be known that he is prepared to become France’s next prime minister, a proposal that even his allies concede is likely to scare away millions of moderate voters.

But polls suggest that his party, along with Socialist, Greens, Communists and other red-banner candidates who formed a tetchy alliance – the New Popular Front – after President Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision to dissolve parliament, will not come first on July 7.

The latest polls see RN on 36 per cent in the first round on Sunday, with the Left trailing on up to 29 per cent and Mr Macron’s centrists way behind at around 20 per cent.

On Thursday, Harris Interactive Toluna, the polling firm, predicted 250 to 305 seats out of the 577 would be for the RN – putting an absolute majority in its grasp.

And French police are preparing for the worst.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said on Thursday: “I think the RN can be dangerous, I think LFI can be dangerous. I think there could be trouble, we can imagine the ultra-Left responding to an election by the National Rally, and we’re preparing for that.”

He said intelligence reports suggested there may be “extremely violent tensions” on election night and any violent protests near voting stations could see ballots struck off if a judge rules voters have come under “pressure”.

This week Mr Macron issued an even more angst-inducing warning that “civil war” was on the cards in case of victory for what he called “either extreme”.

New polling shows that 61 per cent of French people fear violent demonstrations and protests following the snap ballot Mr Macron called in the wake of a humiliating defeat in the European elections.

Asked about the prospect of violence if she won, Ms Le Pen accused the Left of being the instigators and said that there would be no protests should the RN lose.

In her view, it was the far-Left which has “always acted violently”.

“They attack meetings, they spoil social demonstrations and now they’re demonstrating against the result of the elections. What are they going to do tomorrow? Are they going to take over the Capitol?” she added, referring to the storming of the US parliament in 2021 by supporters of Donald Trump.

But there have already been incidents on both sides and the poll on the issue found that the French are equally worried about violence on the hard-Left and hard-Right.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of National Rally, claims far-Right will win absolute majority at the upcoming elections
Marine Le Pen, the leader of National Rally, claims the far-Right will win an absolute majority at the upcoming elections - GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

Last week, Hervé Breuil, a 68-year-old candidate for Ms Le Pen’s party, was assaulted as he canvassed in the Loire.

Witnesses reported that he and some fellow activists were set upon by assailants in masks and wearing black. Mr Breuil suffered a minor stroke during the attack and spent Thursday evening in hospital.

This week, a Green member in the Bordeaux area was head-butted by two masked assailants as he prepared to hand out tracts.

French authorities have long kept tabs on both far-Right and far-Left “Antifa” militants who join the phalanx of black blocs in various protests that often end in violent clashes with police.

There have already been clashes at anti-RN protests in Rennes and Lyon whose Green mayor on Thursday called for “police reinforcements” ahead of Sunday’s first round of elections to protect shops and businesses. The city was the scene of far-Left violence when Ms Le Pen reached the second round of the presidential elections in 2022.

Grégory Doucet, the mayor of Lyon, said he had “observed an increase in activity within radical political groups”.

“Nothing must stand in the way of democracy in our city,” he warned. “The victory of the RN risks unleashing violence in the country.”

‘People will rise up’

Further south in Marseille, Laura Garcia, a Left-wing writer, echoed Mr Doucet’s warning at a rally in support of the New Popular Front, the new Left-wing alliance.

The 31-year-old said: “I think people will rise up and take to the streets. The mobilisation will change its face and it won’t be pretty. It will be violent.” But she said the violence would come from the police.

Banners, including “Defeat Fascism”, “Social Justice” and “End Police Violence” fluttered in the balmy evening breeze.

The gathering, called “mee-ting, mi-teuf”, which translates as “half-rally, half-party” was certainly a festive affair with live music and free-flowing beer.

But the message was deadly serious: the French Left intends to “resist” in case of a Le Pen victory.

Just how far such “resistance” will go was the subject of heated debate.

Thousands showed up an a rally in Marseille in support of the Popular Front
Thousands showed up an a rally in Marseille in support of the Popular Front - BRUNO FERT/BRUNO FERT

Florian Masciani, 30, who works for a business ratings agency, was unsure there would be a radical response.

He said: “I’m a bit cynical. On Monday, I don’t see millions of people taking to the streets.”

But Manuel Bompard, the incumbent MP in Marseille who is leading LFI’s legislative campaign, said there was no way his camp would allow a Le Pen victory to pass quietly.

“It’s not the same thing to say you will respect the verdict of the ballot box and that there should be no protests to express your anger,” he said.

The Left’s NPF alliance has seen France’s Socialists swallow a bitter pill by allying with LFI after Mr Mélenchon’s insults and attacks on the man who led their European campaign, Raphaël Glucksmann.

It has come up with a manifesto to increase the minimum wage, freeze the price of essential goods and energy, abolish the pension age increase to 64 and reduce it back down to 60, and tax rises on income, property, wealth and inheritance. It has denied opponents’ claims that this will cost between €100 billion and €200 billion.

Fear and loathing of ‘the boss’

The coalition has agreed to divvy up constituencies to ensure no Left-wing candidate stands in opposition to another. But splits have already emerged after – in typically ruthless fashion – Mr Mélenchon “purged” five LFI MPs who deigned criticise him.

One of them, Hendrik Davi, an incumbent LFI MP in a Marseille constituency, was to hold a rival rally in the port city on Thursday night backed by other dissidents.

Clementine Autin, a LFI heavyweight, said: “His only fault was that he was right too early and criticised ‘the boss’... criticised our relations with the unions and raised the issue of anti-Semitism. The purge to which he has been subjected is unjustifiably brutal.”

François Hollande, France’s Socialist ex-president who is running for MP in central Corrèze, blasted his Leftist “ally” as a “has-been”.

He told Le Monde: “Jean-Luc Mélenchon, for whom it’s all over, he’s rejected by a large part of public opinion. In 2022, he was the solution. Two years later, he’s the problem.”

“The boss”, Mr Mélenchon was a junior education minister in a Socialist government from 2000 to 2002 before turning to the Eurosceptic hard-Left. He is now seen as a political liability by many in the Left’s alliance.

While he has a committed following, Mr Mélenchon’s tepid support for Ukraine after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 and refusal to condemn the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and downplaying of anti-Semitic incidents, sparked criticism from within his own camp.

'There's a huge battle of egos': Maxime Rossillion, 20 (right) and Jay Sutherland, 23 who were at the rally in Marseille
'There's a huge battle of egos': Maxime Rossillion, 20 (right) and Jay Sutherland, 23, were at the rally in Marseille - BRUNO FERT

At the Marseille rally, Jay Sutherland, 23, a resident originally from outside Glasgow, Scotland and a member of the Marxist-Leninist pole of communist revival in France, predicted that the Left-wing alliance would quickly fall apart after the election.

“It won’t last long because, in all these parties, you have people who absolutely hate each other. They’re putting on a brave face but there’s a huge battle of egos underway.”

Maxime Roussillion, 20, a cinema student, dismissed them all as far too moderate anyway. “The only way we’ll make any headway is by leaving the EU and Nato,” he said. He made no mention of violent action.

A stone’s throw down the road, revellers gathered at the “Manifesten”, a far-Left bar selling T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Policia Bastard” and wall posters with headlines including “Fire” and “Undo the Police”.

Dédé, 35, a musician, said he was more worried about police “brutality” exploding under an RN rule than far-Left violence.

Dédé, 35, a musician, said police "brutality" under an RN rule was more concerning to him
Musician Dédé - BRUNO FERT

He said: “Any protests, like the radical ecologist rallies against ‘mega-basins’ water reservoirs in July, the movements in working-class neighbourhoods…are going to come under increased police repression because they’ll have carte blanche to beat people up under an RN government.

“Will that spur apolitical people to react? I just don’t know what will happen.”

Edwy Plenel, 71, a prominent Leftist editorialist said: 'This is a moment of truth for French democracy'
Edwy Plenel, 71, a prominent Leftist editorialist, said: 'This is a moment of truth for French democracy' - BRUNO FERT

Edwy Plenel, a prominent Left-wing editor and journalist, told The Telegraph: “This is a moment of truth for French democracy.

“France doesn’t have any old history with the far-Right. It was the laboratory of modern anti-Semitism…and created the ideology that opposed human rights.

“As you know, this political family is the one that collaborated with Nazism. Today, we are giving the keys to this country to the heirs of this history in a country that is a permanent member of the Security Council and that is an America of Europe through the constitution of its people.

“We are giving the keys to the enemies of equality, to those who think that we are not equal by birth without distinction of origin, conditions of belief of appearance to those who think that there is a hierarchy of humanities.

“That’s their belief. It’s not a language of expediency. To let them come to power is to take a risk of something being unleashed.”