The fascist Front National (FN) achieved its best ever results in a first round of France’s local elections last weekend.
A fascist was elected mayor in the historically left wing north western industrial town of Henin-Beaumont.
FN candidates led the first round in seven medium sized cities such as Perpignan and Avignon in the south, and are set to enter the second round in more than 200.
This is almost twice as many as in 1995, when the FN won three towns.
The FN won 472 first round seats and looked set to gain 300 more of its target of 1,000 local councillors.
The other main gains belonged to the Tory UMP opposition, as the unpopularity of president Francois Hollande hit the ruling Labour-type Socialist Party (PS) hard.
Hollande was elected on promises to tax the rich, create jobs and bring in progressive social reforms—he has delivered on none of them.
Instead France’s economy has continued to sink, and Hollande has brought in cuts to welfare and public services and a “pact of responsibility” to help the bosses. His fall in the polls has been faster than any other elected French leader.
Opposition has ranged from mass demonstrations against an airport near Nantes to a tax revolt in the agricultural areas of Brittany.
But, although there were coordinated strikes last week, unions have largely avoided calling substantial opposition to “their” president.
Instead the right has gone on the offensive with a series of mass protests against gay marriage.
PS candidates did far worse than polls predicted and finished second in key cities—even Paris, though they are expected to recover there in the second round.
And the radical left alliance Front de Gauche, which won nearly four million votes in the 2012 presidential election, was split.
In some areas its biggest component, the Communist Party, fielded joint candidates with Hollande’s Socialists and were dragged down with them. Elsewhere parties in the Front de Gauche allied with the far left, including the New Anticapitalist Party.
The PS called for a “Republican Front” in the second round with the Tories to block the FN—UMP leader Jean-Francois Copé rejected this.
The FN is a fascist party. If it took power it would try to crush all forms of democracy.
But allying with the Tories only increases the acceptability of the racist ideas that the FN feeds on—and the sense that the left has no alternative to offer working class people.
The FN has taken advantage of the racism peddled by mainstream politicians and the lack of consistent anti-fascist opposition.
But it struggled to find enough members to contest all its seats. One list was ruled out for containing 32 suspected fake candidates.
This points to the weakness in the fascists’ attempts to use electoral success to build a Nazi street movement. This weakness could be exploited by anti-fascist protests to expose the FN and block them from organising.
But their latest election breakthrough is a further warning sign of how urgent this is.
The 'voiceless' get a voice in election
Extending the vote to immigrants without French citizenship was yet another of Hollande’s broken promises.
But immigrants and supporters in one area of Paris didn’t let that stop them taking part in the election.
They set up the “List of the Voiceless” in the 18th district, which includes a large North African community.
When they weren’t accepted onto the official ballot, they ran their own “ballot boxes” on high street campaign stalls on election day. They collected more than 700 “votes” supporting their campaign. Organisers called it “a festival of real democracy”.
Around 100 supporters protested after the local election count—normally open to the public—was closed to stop them entering.