Could Marine Le Pen’s fascist Front National (FN) win the next French presidential election in 2017? The dominant trend on the French left is to see the FN’s gains only through this prism.
Seen this way, the FN had a setback in last weekend’s elections because it didn’t arrive in first place nationally—and therefore wouldn’t win the presidentials. But such an analysis only paralyses us.
These elections represent a step forward for the FN both ideologically and geographically.
Through local campaigns and with the help of its elected representatives, the FN is putting down roots. It’s building an activist machine, developing its positions in the apparatus of the state and increasing its legitimacy.
It has once again won more than 5 million votes, this time in the elections that are supposedly the most difficult for outsider parties. They concern more than 2,000 very localised areas—and until now, the FN had a representative in just one of them.
This time it won four in the first round, and will contest the second round in 1,100 more. It took first place in 43 of the 98 “departments” these localities are grouped in.
When the FN won control of 14 towns in last year’s municipal elections, some hid behind the hope that its representatives would discredit themselves once in office.
But where it won positions last year it has gone further this year, such as in Beziers in the south of France.
Beziers also illustrates how the FN is training its members and its voters into taking harder positions.
A week before the elections, the mayor organised a gathering of those nostalgic for French rule in Algeria. They took a road named to celebrate the end of the French-Algerian war, and renamed it after a general who backed a coup attempt to stop Algerian independence.
The FN stood nearly 4,000 candidates in 93 percent of localities. Never before were so many racist “slip-ups” heard from FN candidates. This didn’t stop their vote increasing.
Worse, a few weeks before the elections, FN members helped farmers in the Tarn “department” organise armed militias to violently blockade an environmental protest camp opposing the construction of a dam. A few days later dockers in the CGT union joined FN members in attacking environmentalists.
The FN has advanced so much in Tarn that it will contest the second round in 18 out of its 23 localities.
The main parties have responded to this in the worst possible way. On the evening of the first round of the elections, centre left prime minister Manuel Valls denounced the FN. But at the same time he said he wanted to listen to its aspirations and its voters—then went on about law and order and “secularism”, which means attacking Muslims.
The campaign had been dominated by debates about banning headscarves in universities, scrapping pork-free school meals for Muslim and Jewish children, and reinforcing the government’s anti-terrorist arsenal. This came just as the government was passing new measures against workers.
Fascism begins to triumph when it takes hold of society. Elections are just one of the tools it uses to do that. So let us be clear. The result of these elections is another step forward for fascism in France.
The day before the elections was the international day of anti-racism on 21 March. More than 10,000 demonstrators in 20 towns and cities around France marched “together against fascism and all forms of racism” demanding “equality or nothing”.
It brought together a wide range of 130 organisations. And this diversity was reflected in the march in Paris. It was noisy, working class and with many people from ethnic minorities.
And while some left parties boycotted it, a high level of participation from others showed that part of the left is beginning to grasp the danger.
That this was the strongest mobilisation against racism in France for years certainly gives an idea of how much ground we have lost. But it’s by building on this base—combined with a return of struggles against attacks on workers—that the present dynamic can be reversed.
There is no more time to waste.