'EARTHQUAKE'-that was how French newspapers reacted to Jean-Marie Le Pen's success in the presidential elections. He came second with more votes than Lionel Jospin, the equivalent of Tony Blair. Le Pen is a Nazi. He described the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews as a mere 'detail of history'.
But France has not suddenly turned fascist. Le Pen has a small core of Nazi supporters. But his vote comes from people who feel crushed, beaten and marginalised by the system. He tried to appeal to the 75 percent who believe the major parties are all alike.
During the election campaign Le Pen hid the harshest aspects of his racism. Instead he falsely claimed to speak for 'the little person, those excluded from society, the unemployed and workers ruined by Euro-globalisation'. He has no solutions to the problems people face except hate, division, and more power for the police and the bosses. France is not an isolated case.
The far right has grown in most parts of Europe. In Austria Jšrg Haider's Freedom Party has six ministers in coalition with the Tory government. In Italy supporters of the fascist dictator Mussolini serve in Berlusconi's government. In the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Norway far right parties have made electoral gains.
But the socialist left is also growing. Around 20 percent of people in France voted for parties to the left of the Socialist Party (11 percent for revolutionaries, 3.5 percent for the Communists and 5 percent for the Greens). That is higher than the vote for Socialist Party prime minister Jospin. In Italy Berlusconi may be prime minister, but three million took to the streets against him last month.
Around 13 million workers took part in a massive general strike against his policies last week. We are witnessing what happened in the 1930s, although at a slightly slower pace. Society is polarising. The majority of people are uninspired by the traditional parties.
In Britain the Nazis of the British National Party (BNP) are not in the same league as Le Pen. But they are still a threat. The BNP is seeking to make a breakthrough in parts of Britain, particularly in Burnley and Oldham, in the local elections next week. There is the same growing disillusion with the system-42 percent of people did not vote in the general election.
A recent poll suggested 75 percent will not vote in next Thursday's local elections, the highest ever figure. Mass united anti-Nazi activity is now desperately needed. We need to follow the example of people who took to the streets of France. Socialists, trade unionists, Labour Party supporters, anti-capitalists, Greens, peace activists and others all need to link arms against the BNP, leafleting, arguing, protesting and persuading.
New Labour government ministers say they are shocked by Le Pen's rise. They should now stop pretending anti-Nazis are the same as Nazis. There should be no more bans on anti-Nazi marches, carnivals and protests. But on its own anti-Nazi activity isn't enough.
We need to offer hope to people rightly bitter and angry at parties bowing down to business and the rich and not standing up for the majority. That is why the left was absolutely right to stand in the French election. Far from helping Le Pen, as some claim, the left won votes away from him by putting forward a fighting alternative.
In Britain it is no good telling people the only chance against the BNP is Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Blunkett. It isn't enough to ask people to grit their teeth and vote for more privatisation and cuts in services to block the Nazis.
That is why it is also vital to build the biggest possible vote for the Socialist Alliance, and offer an alternative to New Labour and the Tories. Socialists have to be active in unions, taking up issues like defending council housing and fighting cuts, raising their voices against war and the power of the multinationals.
We need to challenge the system that produces despair, poverty and suffering, and feeds the far right. By fighting the Nazis together and building a socialist alternative we can make sure the admirers of Le Pen are defeated everywhere.
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