Interview. The Italian philosopher, author of ‘Empire’ and others (with Michael Hardt), has lived for 40 years in Paris and observes the debate on the left and about the legislative elections in France.

Toni Negri: Mélenchon understood the process of the movements

“In the legislative elections in France, no one expected that there could be such an increase in the fascist vote for Marine Le Pen’s party,” argues Toni Negri, 89, a philosopher and politician from Paris, where he has lived for 40 years. “The New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (NUPES) has succeeded in changing the old class stratification, in reconstructing a left through a process that arose independently, regardless of the electoral system.”

What are the implications of these impressive gains for the Rassemblement National? 

It is an ugly specter reappearing before our eyes, and it is a consequence of the breaking of the republican pact that used to exclude the fascists from any alliance. This pact held in 2002, when the Socialist Jospin didn’t make it to the runoff and Chirac took the overwhelming majority of votes against the elder Le Pen. In 2022, the pact was used by Macron to secure the votes from the left and get elected president, but it was blown up in Sunday’s legislative elections. About 30% of the runoffs between Le Pen and NUPES saw the fascists win. This is something the Macronists bear responsibility for.

The French electorate appears split into three blocs (four if we include abstentionism). In this framework, from the perspective of the neoliberals, does their hatred for the left justify such a growth in the votes for Le Pen? 

This happens every time a real left reappears, when it represents an impediment to the financial capital politics pursued by Macron. The destruction of any left is the driving force of his project, even at the cost of fueling securitarian and identitarian politics, as he has done over the last five years, which favor the consolidation of a fascist right. This is nothing new; it is a law of history and of the class struggle.

What is the future of Macronism? 

Macron has lost his ability to speak; he can no longer make himself understood by society. Take the retirement age, which he would like to raise to 65. The CFDT [trade union corresponding to the Italian CISL –] seemed to support him. But now it has also declared itself against. Macron has always tried to cut off all union and civil support for social struggles. Five years ago, he managed to bring about the dissolution of the Socialists; today, the consequences can be seen in the fact that any political project of his will be unlikely to find lasting support. There is already talk of dissolving the National Assembly.

Why is it that in France, the Italian scenario – that of a country without a left, something planned as early as the 1990s – hasn’t taken place? 

Because in France the social struggles have never died down – they have been waged continuously and without interruption.

Is NUPES a lasting project, able to take root in the territories, or will it break off into pieces? 

I don’t think that the fact that different groups are being formed in the Assembly (socialists, ecologists, communists and France Insoumise) means that there is a risk of NUPES dissolving. Undoubtedly, it will come under very violent pressure, because financial capital stirs up enormous hatred against the organized multitude. However, there is something new in France today, something that fills a very prominent void in terms of social mediation. I don’t know if it will have a long life, but at the moment it can be said that this is the outcome of the convergence of struggles and movements, and it comes in the form of a dual power that is profoundly challenging the makeup of the Fifth Republic.

How has Jean-Luc Mélenchon capitalized on the broad anti-Macron social front, starting with the yellow vests? 

In 2017, the yellow vest movement developed along the dimension of class, and brought profound innovation to politics. It created a form of open protest composed of single elements uniting within a project. It is an approach that is able to dissolve sectarian identity and create a communal single element. Macron, with his police, brought slaughter against the movement. Then, because of the pandemic, everything stopped. Mélenchon has grasped the meaning of that process; he is envisioning a political form that maintains the richness of differences, and he believes that it is on this basis that the Fifth Republic can be overcome.

Mélenchon has been called a “leftist populist.” What do you think of this characterization? 

It seems to me that this is more an accusation by his opponents, which doesn’t entirely fit with what Mélenchon actually is. More than anything else, the presence of elements of national-level socialism and French-style republicanism in his discourse is undeniable. In any case, I think there has been a change in his political culture and in that of France Insoumise. You can see it in their attitude towards movements and others on the left, or towards political Europe. I think a lot of it was influenced by Brexit. What is certain, though, is that NUPES is not a force to which the anti-fascist republican pact doesn’t apply, as the Macronists have claimed. That was so much garbage coming from them.

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