A new far right threat is tearing up the campaign for next year’s French presidential election.
Eric Zemmour, a racist and Islamophobe, has overtaken the fascist Marine Le Pen of the National Rally (RN).
A poll published on Wednesday showed Zemmour winning 17 percent, ahead of Le Pen on 15 percent. President Emmanuel Macron remains the front runner on 25 percent, but the combined score of Le Pen and Zemmour easily exceeds him.
If the poll was replicated in next April’s vote, then Zemmour would face off against Macron in the final round.
He puts forward a vile mixture of Islamophobia, racism toward migrants, sexism and homophobia. In many ways, his views are more openly racist than Le Pen’s.
Zemmour has several convictions for racist hate speech and puts forward the “great replacement” theory peddled by fascists. It claims that white Europeans are being replaced by immigrants.
He has described Muslims as “colonisers”, proposed a ban on first names such as Mohammed and called for two million migrants to be returned to their countries of origin.
Speaking to journalists on Monday he said, “I think many French people were waiting for this message. That the country is in danger of dying, subverted by an unprecedented wave of migration, that whole areas of the country have become enclaves of foreign Islamists.”
Last week he said unaccompanied child migrants should be expelled, and that they were all “thieves, murderers, rapists”.
He condemns feminism and what he says is the “devirilisation” of society during the 20th century and adds that the LGBT+ movement is also undermining traditional morality.
It’s not just words. After a recent mass rally in the city of Lille, members of the youth organisation Generation Zemmour carried out several attacks. They included an assault in an LGBT+ bar and against a monk.
Zemmour—who has not yet even said he is running for president—has benefited from massive media attention which has given him limitless opportunities to spread his message. But he is gaining because of the racism that infects mainstream politics, the disarray on the mainstream right, splits in Le Pen’s camp and the left’s failures.
Macron has rammed through more new repressive laws against Muslims and handed the police more powers. All the conservative politicians running for president supported this—and want to go further.
Instead of blunting the far right, it encouraged them.
None of the traditional right parties seems likely to win enough votes to reach the second round of the presidential election.
Le Pen is also on the defensive. She has claimed to “detoxify” the RN in an effort to win over more of the conservative right. But some of her supporters say she has sold out.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father and the party’s founder, now says he will support Zemmour if he is better placed to win. “Marine has abandoned her strongholds and Eric occupies her former terrain,” he told Le Monde newspaper.
“If Eric is the best placed candidate in the nationalist camp, of course I will support him.”
Le Monde reports that Zemmour had lunch in 2020 with Jean-Marie Le Pen and the daughter of Joachim von Ribbentrop—Adolf Hitler's foreign minister—who is encouraging him today.
Zemmour is more acceptable to parts of the mainstream right than Le Pen. He comes from their circles and has the support of several prominent business figures. He worked for a long time on Le Figaro, a sort of French equivalent of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
He has won the support of the 30 percent of voters who backed Marine Le Pen in 2017’s election and 31 percent of those who voted for the conservative Francois Fillon.
Le Pen sometimes poses against corporations in an effort to win workers’ votes. But Zemmour’s economic policies are unequivocally pro-business—lower taxes for companies, a higher pension age for workers and welfare cuts.
The main left challenge comes from Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is on 11 percent in the polls. That’s half the vote he won in 2017.
The Greens are on 7 percent and the Labour-type Socialist Party is on just 6 percent.
Melenchon has called for a “popular union” behind him, but there seems little appetite for that from the other parties. They fear they’ll then be wiped out in later elections.
It’s urgent that anti-racists and socialists organise against the far right and the fascists, against both Le Pen and Zemmour.
But instead of demonstrations and mass propaganda, the left—including most of the far left—are concentrating on electoral manoeuvres.