A Tale of Two Elections

In April and May 2024 it was testing time for India and the world was watching us. On 4 June as the BJP juggernaut was stopped at 240, democracy lovers across the world heaved a mild sigh of relief. But just when India seemed to have succeeded in pushing the fascist forces back at least partially, elections to the European Parliament recorded a major surge of the xenophobic far-right in country after country. The AfD in Germany, RN in France and the ruling 'Brothers of Italy' and similar far-right parties across Europe made major gains in the early June European elections. The centrist Emmanuel Macron regime of France took note of this ultra-nationalist far-right surge and ordered snap parliamentary elections on June 30 and July 7. Meanwhile, UK elections were already scheduled on July 4 and the whole world is now busy decoding the tale of two elections.

In the French system, a win is not validated till the winner secures more than 50 percent of the votes in a constituency and hence elections are held in two rounds. The first round of elections held on 30 June placed the fascist RN as the emerging pole winning 38 of the 76 declared seats (the remaining 501 of the 577 seats went for the second round). The Left, fighting unitedly under the banner of the New Popular Front (NFP), finished second and the ruling centrist alliance Ensemble was pushed down to the third position. Showing great alertness, tactical flexibility and political maturity, the NFP arrived at an electoral understanding with Ensemble to avoid any split in the anti-fascist vote in the second round. As many as 130 NFP candidates and 82 Ensemble candidates dropped out to facilitate this anti-fascist electoral consolidation.

The result is before all of us. In a hung parliament, the NFP has emerged as the biggest bloc with 188 seats followed by the centrist Ensemble alliance with 161 seats while the fascist RN got stuck in the third position with 142 seats. This is however only a temporary respite from the threat of an outright fascist takeover in France. For the young RN leadership (party president Jordan Bardella is not yet 30 while the party's presidential nominee Marine Le Pen is also in her fifties), it is merely a case of their victory being deferred. France also does not have much history of durable centre-left coalitions and it remains to be seen how the NFP and Ensemble tackle the hung parliament situation. In contrast to France, the UK elections have predictably brought the Labour Party back to power after a prolonged disastrous reign of Conservative rule that lasted for fourteen years. But a closer look will suggest that like France, neighbouring Britain is also dogged by the challenge of far-right resurgence.

In terms of votes, the Labour Party polled less votes this time than in the last two elections in 2017 and 2019 and yet its tally of seats went past 400 in a house of 650. A major reason is a massive drop in Conservative vote share and almost a matching rise in the vote share of the far-right Reform party. But under the current leadership of Keir Starmer, the Labour Party itself has taken a pronounced rightward turn, not just in economic policy direction but more crucially by competing with the Conservatives in adopting anti-migrant rhetoric and by expressing support for Israel’s war on Gaza and refusing to back the global call for a permanent ceasefire. Leftwing erstwhile Labour voters therefore voted for independent left and pro-Palestine candidates and Green Party candidates in many places. In contrast, the NFP in France upheld the Left agenda in terms of both economic and social policies as well as an internationalist foreign policy, especially in the context of Israel's war on Gaza and Palestine.

The interlude between the two world wars and the second world war saw the ravages of war and the destruction wrought by the venomous violence of fascism created unprecedented trauma and devastation in Europe. Europe and the whole world had to pay an incalculable human cost to end this fascist devastation. The trauma of the holocaust which claimed six million lives and threatened to exterminate Jews as a community made the whole world wake up to the danger of anti-semitism and fascism. But the renewed surge of neo-fascism in Europe shows that the current phase of acute crisis of capitalism, accentuated by the ravages of the Covid pandemic, the war on Ukraine, the climate crisis and escalating cost of living, is once again giving rise to an upswing of fascist politics, this time built on the acute racism, Islamophobia and anti-migrant hate which has been encouraged and promoted by mainstream right wing parties.

In a quirk of history Israel is now invoking anti-semitism as an alibi to suppress the Palestinian quest for freedom and to try to silence the global solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Western military support for Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine as a bulwark for imperialist plunder in the Middle East and beyond, and the West’s clampdown on solidarity with Palestine is legitimized both by the shared ideology of Islamophobia and by an attempt to appropriate the popular revulsion against antisemitism to shield Israel’s ongoing fascist expedition.

It is quite similar to the Modi regime's attempt to use decolonization as a shield to justify its assault on democracy and its constitutional foundation and hurl the accusation of 'Hinduphobia' and treason at every criticism of the regime's fascist agenda and aggression. Just as we in India are resisting this fascist offensive by upholding the Constitution and democracy and the anti-colonialist anti-imperialist legacy of India's freedom movement and advancing the people's quest for an egalitarian socio-economic order, the Left in Europe is also renewing its historic role as the core force against fascism. France, the land which had issued the clarion call of liberty, equality and fraternity way back in 1789 and which had also produced the first glimpse of socialism through the historic Paris Commune of 1871, is once again emerging as a key theatre of anti-fascist resistance with the Left as the leading player.