Clémence Guetté during a major LFI meeting before the first round of the French presidential election, in Paris, March 2022.

The Struggle for Hegemony Is a Struggle for Ideas

Nessim Achouche, Clémence Guetté

****Version française ci-dessous****

Clémence Guetté of Institut La Boétie on the politics and strategy powering La France insoumise

As the European Parliament elections this June draw nearer, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation is conducting a series of interviews with left-wing parties and candidates from across the EU on the election campaign, their political programmes, and the challenges facing left-wing forces domestically and at a European level.

With only a few days to go before election day, the foundation’s Nessim Achouche spoke to Clémence Guetté, a member of the French National Assembly for La France insoumise (LFI) and co-president of the movement’s think tank, Institut La Boétie, about LFI’s electoral strategy and how Institut La Boétie helps to inform that strategy with research and serious debate.

La Boétie has been operating for over a year and has already organized a number of meetings and events in France. What can you tell us about this new think tank and its ties to La France insoumise?

We launched Institut La Boétie at the beginning of 2023, and it marks a new phase in the life of the LFI network. LFI received 22 percent of the vote with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s candidacy in the 2022 presidential election, after having already far surpassed other left-wing factions in 2017. Ultimately, at the legislative elections 2022 we ended up electing a group of 75 MPs to the National Assembly.

These wins are not just electoral fads, however — they’re the result of hard work on a very deep level, particularly regarding our political programme. This programme, l’Avenir en commun (Our Shared Future), has become a veritable benchmark for the people. It’s recognized largely for being serious and detail-oriented, but mostly because it offers an answer to the greatest social and ecological challenges of our time. Its success is not just a coincidence. This result was obtained by, among other things, getting involved in the political programming of universities, experts, researchers, and high-level intellectuals. After the 2022 elections, we absolutely had to find a way to prolong and secure this shared work, this connection, this bridge between the world of revolutionary political activism and that of academic research.

Institut la Boétie embodies this intersection. This is important because we’re engaged in a hegemonic struggle, a struggle that also plays out in terms of ideas, and the institute acts as a tool that can give new insight into both economic and political events. It generates a body of knowledge that can be used in current social battles, as it already has with the campaign against raising the retirement age to 64. It also gives exposure to leading critical thinkers like David Harvey, and allows us to lead strategic debate among the political and social Left, and to use contributions from the social sciences to develop counter-narratives against reactionary attacks. This last task is absolutely indispensable for any group whose ambition is to govern their country.

That’s why Institut la Boétie doesn’t hide its political affiliations or the fact that it belongs to the LFI family. The academics who work there know that they can enjoy complete intellectual autonomy, although they share our political goals. We also break from the model of neoliberal think tanks, which falsely claim to operate outside the political sphere.

Our training school is a clear example of this virtuous circle of shared learning between activist and intellectual worlds. We wanted the LFI activist training school to operate at the heart of La Boétie.[1] It’s also a way for theory and practice to feed each other, so that activists — young activists, in particular — can get exposed to and inspired by the best that current social science research has to offer.

In the 2022 national elections, LFI attained more than 22 percent of the vote with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s candidacy, but you’re expected to receive a far lower result — only about 8 percent — in this year’s European elections. What might explain this difference, and what are the main issues that LFI wants to highlight during this campaign and election?

It’s important to understand that the European elections, at least in France, have one particularity: most people don’t vote. This itself is a kind of “hidden vote”, as the wealthiest, the most protected, and the oldest are the ones who vote the most.

The working-class bloc represented by Jean-Luc Mélenchon in 2022 is composed of workers in situations of precarity, residents of working-class neighbourhoods, and young people. These are the people who abstained the most in previous elections. European election results, therefore, cannot be considered an accurate gauge of the presidential elections, as far as analysing the political landscape in France is concerned.

This year we are approaching the European elections with one key objective: to mobilize those groups who are most alienated from the ballot box. This is a primary concern for the European elections, but also more generally for the future. This is why we have begun with a methodical campaign, composed of door-to-door canvassing and graphic promotional materials, in order to encourage as many people as possible to register to vote. We’ve even gone so far as to step in and take the place of public authorities, since the government has, not surprisingly, failed to organize even one registration campaign.

The campaign is unfolding in a dramatic international context, namely, the genocide in Gaza. We are the only group in France that has never succumbed to the propaganda of Netanyahu’s government, and we have consistently called for a ceasefire. In working-class neighbourhoods, many people are obviously in uproar at what is happening in Gaza, but also at the double standards employed in the mainstream media and French political discourse every day.

We decided to address those least likely to vote in order to get them to use their ballot on 9 June to add to the strength of those who are fighting for sanctions against those committing and supporting the genocide and an embargo on arms exports. So, we’re offering them a concrete political purpose, a direct and practical application for their vote.

We have also organized a youth campaign by touring different university conferences, organising festival-style political events in major university cities, and creating media specifically aimed at this demographic.

Last but not least, one year after the disastrous reform on pension and retirement, we are offering people a way to get revenge on Macron at a time when neoliberal attacks on social security and public services are becoming increasingly common.

The climate crisis and its possible solutions are at the centre of the debates led by La Boétie, particularly through its department for ecological planning, a concept that has grown increasingly popular outside of academic circles and that, in France, is now strongly associated with LFI. How does the institute’s work influence the party’s political programme, specifically on the European level?

The story behind the concept of “ecological planning” is very interesting. It was introduced as a political watchword in public debate around 15 years ago by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and other LFI personalities, such as Martine Billard. At the beginning, the word was seen as a way for the right to demonize the radical Left. But over the years, the concept saw some important intellectual, strategic, and political developments.

It has been a major focus of academics involved in left-wing politics in France, such as Razmig Keucheyan and Cédric Durand. We have been in continuous dialogue, cooperating with these researchers, who, for example, actively contributed to the development of the political programme in 2022. The term “ecological planning” gained so much credibility that Macron himself reappropriated it between the two rounds of elections in 2022. Obviously, his version of the term was completely void of any notion of planning. Nevertheless, it was still an interesting ideological victory that lent credibility to our electoral programme.

The department of ecological planning at Institut La Boétie brings this dialogue between science and politics to life, and keeps it alive by making the complexities of scientific research more accessible in a political context. The goal is to create political content for the ecological planning project that is increasingly clear, realistic, comprehensive, and backed up by scholarship.

To do this, the department has made ecological planning into a topic of intellectual dialogue with today’s most prominent critical thinkers on ecological matters, such as Kohei Saito and Andreas Malm. It also brings engineers, economists, and energy specialists together to formulate theories and implementation plans.

Today, Rassemblement National (RN) is leading the European election polls in France, and the threat of the far right gaining power becomes more urgent every day. How does LFI approaches the fight against the far right, both on the electoral level and in daily life, and what role does your institute play in the fight?

The growth of the far right in France — as in many other European countries, unfortunately — is the consequence of a political offensive carried out over several decades. Faced with this onslaught, the Left has often assumed a defensive position, backed down ideologically, or simply become paralyzed, frozen by the supposed — but often imagined — power of the enemy.

We are wholeheartedly in favour of taking the offensive against the far right. The rise of the far right can be resisted, and La Boétie is part of this ideological struggle. No backing down, no fear. We stand up to the far right on all fronts.

For example, faced with the transphobic moral panic that the far right orchestrates with the complicity of the media, our history department published a statement outlining the history of gender fluidity and transness, from antiquity until today. On immigration, we witnessed the merging of the liberal and far-right blocs during the callous debate on asylum and immigration law. Our departments of ecology and sociology voiced the opposing position on the “immigration problem” in an ambitious article, appropriately titled “France, Thanks to Immigration”.

We are not afraid of stepping into this territory. We do not hide, and we are not ashamed of who we are or what we think. We believe in our ability to build counter-narratives and fight the dominance of the far right on its home turf.

Of course, we need to take the danger — and advancement — of the far right seriously. As an opponent, it is all the more formidable because the bourgeoisie is banking on its victory, establishing — across almost all of Europe — an authoritarian pact that unites neoliberal and racist offensives.

At Institut La Boétie, we’ve made the far right an object of study and analysis in and of itself, creating a cross-disciplinary laboratory dedicated to studying the movement. It is responsible for analysing this far-right wave, the electoral bloc that comprises it, its function in the greater political order, and its methods. We’re aiming to create a shared understanding of this issue, which is without a doubt the most important strategic matter for the Left in the years to come.

To this end, we organized a two-day symposium last autumn that brought together 25 speakers from among the top specialists on this issue, with more than 400 on-site participants and 150,000 online attendees. It was a memorable moment for many activists, and an important chance to gather.

In August, we will publish our first book exclusively focused on this subject, entitled Extrême droite: la résistible ascension (The Far Right: The Resistible Ascent). The book, written by a team of renowned researchers, will analyse the ways in which the far right is growing — electorally, culturally, and in terms of networks of influence. I believe it will make an impact and serve as an important contribution to the strategic thinking of our camp.

There has been much talk of effectively dissolving the left-wing political alliance NUPES, the New Ecological and Social People’s Union, and the potential impact this would have on the rest of the Left in France. What sort of relationships do you think will materialise between the parties on the Left after the European elections? Is an alliance still conceivable, and what would this look like?

The union, initiated by LFI after the presidential elections, was made possible because it aimed to break away from previous efforts. It wasn’t some ill-defined union built around the lowest common denominator: NUPES equipped itself with a shared programme of 650 measures, focusing on subjects that a government should address. It was developed based on LFI’s political programme, l’Avenir en commun, which voters, NGOs, and associations had chosen.

This configuration was made possible because Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s votes in the presidential election far exceeded those of the Ecologists (4 percent), the French Communist Party (2 percent), and the Socialist Party (less than 2 percent).

After the legislative elections, we made several proposals to deepen NUPES, such as creating a common group at the National Assembly, local NUPES assemblies, and a shared electoral list, first for the senatorial and then for the European elections. Incidentally, we proposed that this list should be headed by a chief candidate from the Ecologists, since they had the most MEPs on the way out.

However, we were met with nothing but rejection. The Ecologists hoped to use the European elections to shift the balance of power within NUPES in their favour, in preparation for the next legislative elections. They prioritized their own speculative self-interest over helping to contest the far right for first place, which we would have been in the position to do.

As for the Socialists, as the months went by, we saw that their prevailing strategy was to abandon the ruptural strategy that we had imposed on the entire Left. Firstly, their main spokespersons demonized us after 7 October, in many ways adopting the position of “unconditional support” for Israel and its military operations in Gaza. Next, they chose Raphaël Glucksmann from the liberal centre, who was opposed to NUPES, to head their candidate list. Glucksmann began to question the central points of our shared programme, such as the return to a retirement age of 60, stepping out of the European electricity market, and the rejection of the Lyon-Turin project. Incidentally, all of these initiatives had been largely welcomed by the social-liberal former President François Hollande and his supporters, who had opposed NUPES from the very beginning.

After 9 June, we will continue our popular union strategy. In other words, we will create unity among the people — not just political labels, but people themselves — as well as among social, trade union, and community groups. We will accomplish this with a clear political programme, as unity among the people is impossible with a programme that backtracks on essential issues that affect the lives of so many.

During this campaign, many Ecologists have already joined us. They are getting on board alongside the countless trade unionists, academics, community organizers, and artists who already supported the popular union in 2022. We will continue to be a pole of attraction and rallying point, but we will not be able to create union through confusion or endless concessions. That has never been our way.

LFI is a member of the The Left group in the European Parliament, and is involved in many initiatives, such as Now, the People, while La Boétie has joined the transform! Europe network of think tanks. What are the major themes and issues that LFI aims to develop through its various alliances with left-wing parties and civil society organizations in France and throughout Europe?

Exchanges such as these are indispensable, and we have been doing this for a long time now. Since Jean-Luc Mélenchon left the Socialist Party in 2008 and created the Left Party, and then LFI in 2016, we have been so inspired by our brothers and sisters in Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Greece. We know that this is reciprocal as well.

We have exciting discussions with other foundations who are very interested in what we have been able to develop in terms of ecological planning and political “creolization”. We love to see ideas, political programming topics, and strategic developments circulate throughout Europe. There are many continent-wide challenges: turning the tide of fascism, building widespread popular support for the ecological shift, and establishing independence from the US. In short, we have every reason to talk with each other, and no lack of interest in doing so.


[1] La Boétie Institute’s training school offers an intensive one-year course for a total of 70 activists from every region of France. These participants are selected after a call for applications. The course is organized into two levels, elementary and intermediate, taking place on five weekends over the course of five months. The courses cover four units: three theoretical, focusing on materialism, the age of the people, and contemporary issues and global humanity, and one dedicated to LFI’s activist practices.


Clémence Guetté is a member of the French National Assembly for La France insoumise (LFI) and co-president of the movement’s think tank, Institut La Boétie.

Nessim Achouche is project manager at RLS Brussels. His work focuses on energy, climate and green industrial policy. He is also responsible for the activities related to France.


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