Popular Fronts can defeat reactionaries in Europe

Andrea Venzon & Colombe Cahen-Salvador are the co-founders of Atlas, the global political party uniting people for survival. They previously co-founded Volt Europa, the European federalist political party.

For progressives around the world, recent months have been filled with anger, disbelief and hopelessness. In addition to devastating international wars on Ukraine and Gaza, the threats for global reproductive freedom, and the ongoing climate crisis, the electoral rise of right-wingers globally –evidenced most recently in the European Parliament election– is fueling despair.

Yet, beneath the surface of these alarming results lies a critical, often forgotten truth about any political landscape experiencing an extremist surge: unity among progressive forces can save the day.

The Rise of the Right in Europe

Earlier this month, the European Parliament election saw around 60 million Europeans, 30% of voters, chose a far-right party.

These European elections bore a stark resemblance to the 1930s: the far-right is gaining traction in Europe amidst inflation, geopolitical tensions, and hatred; and no one seems to have a recipe to stop them.

June 2024 is hardly the first time the far right has threatened the European continent since the end of World War II. 2016 was a formative year: following Brexit, many extremist political parties grew in power across Europe. For example,  France, Italy, and Germany saw parties with roots in fascism take hold of the electorate. It didn’t happen suddenly, but divisions, hatred, and mistrust of others settled in amidst the solidification of the era of perma-crises.

Building the Progressive Infrastructure to Change Course

We both witnessed the fast rise of far-right parties and felt it was time to act. We first founded Volt Europa, a progressive, Eurofederalist party that today sits in the EU parliament. Powered by the energies of young people across the continent, the party has recently won more than a million votes, mainly in Germany and the Netherlands, on a platform of pro-European integration vis-a-vis the right wing, nationalist wave that stormed Europe.

However, global problems need global solutions; climate change, warfare, populism, and new disruptive technologies can not—nor should be—solved from a continent representing less than 10% of the global population. We thus decided to build Atlas: a global political movement building electoral power to promote equitable policies and defeat authoritarianism. Since its founding in 2020, Atlas has grown to include over 25,000 people in more than 134 countries and is getting ready to run candidates for office from India to Italy. Through our work, we have proof that uniting beyond borders, differences, religions and backgrounds is clearly possible.

Those recent elections raised the question: why can’t political parties focus on the bigger picture and what might bring them together? The 2024 European elections have been catastrophic. The Parliament is more conservative than ever before, with the European Parliament Party (EPP) — a party that until recently counted amongst its ranks Hungary’s Orban’s party—playing queenmaker, again.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

As the European Parliament elections showed, a key lesson that progressives must accept before running out of time is that we must be diligent about building coalitions with the political power necessary to succeed.

In Italy, the governing party Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), which has roots in fascist ideologies, secured 29% of the vote, its best electoral result yet. The main opposition party, with 24%, could have combined with the Italian Greens or even two small centrist coalitions, to easily surpass this figure together. This fragmented approach among progressive factions has proven to be a critical weakness, allowing the far-right to come out on top and strengthen its governing position. Italian politics is no stranger to this kind of miscalculation: in 1921, amid rising fascist sentiments, the socialist party won the national popular vote but struggled to build a coalition with centrist or other progressive forces to govern. Hence the conservative bloc, of which Mussolini was part, took over, and three years from that moment, Italy became a one-party dictatorship.

France offers a similar narrative. The far-right, represented by Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and Zemmour’s Reconquête, achieved a record-breaking 37% of the vote, their highest ever. Despite this, the three main left-wing parties, if united, would have garnered 30% of the vote. While this would not have outstripped the far-right entirely, it would have represented a formidable opposition and a platform upon which to build.

Contrary to the tragic Italian example, pre-WW2 France provides a good playbook. On the 11th of June 1934, 90 years before the latest European elections, the leaders of the socialist and communist parties met to build a popular front (le Front Populaire). Although it did not last long, the Front Populaire succeeded in keeping at bay violent right-wing factions and uplifted French workers with era-defining protections, such as the right to strike and paid leave. As we write this, a second Front Populaire is being built to keep Le Pen and her allies at bay in the French national elections.

The path to overcoming the rise of the far-right in Europe and beyond lies in our ability to unite.

Germany’s election results also reflect the same pattern. Here, the poorly performing Scholz Socialists, if they had combined forces with other leftist and Green parties, would have emerged as the leading political force, topping the Christian Social Union (CSU)’s 30%.

In this year’s Indian elections, in which almost a billion people voted, the I.N.D.I.A. coalition thwarted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s autocratic ambitions, blocked the highly anticipated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s outright majority, and forced the party to govern through a coalition.

At this critical juncture, the call to action is unequivocal. It is not enough to merely oppose the far-right in rhetoric or through just marginally better solutions. When faced with a potential neo-fascist state, concrete steps must be taken to build electoral coalitions, globally and locally, that can effectively challenge its growing influence. The path to overcoming the rise of the far-right in Europe and beyond lies in our ability to unite. Let us heed the lessons of history and the present, coming together to forge a coalition for progress.

To all who share this vision, Atlas, the radically progressive global political party we are building, is open for exactly this, everywhere across the planet. Reach out, connect, and let’s build the future we all believe in.

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