France’s main fascist party faces major internal rows after an electoral setback last month.
Marine Le Pen was re-elected as head of the National Rally (RN) with 98 percent of the vote at its recent party congress.
But in June’s elections RN candidates failed to win control in any of France’s 12 regions. Polls had suggested the party would be victorious in at least one.
Instead, it lost nearly a third of its regional councillors.
“Local elections should be the launch pad for the rocket” that could take Le Pen to the presidential palace, said Romain Lopez, RN mayor of the town of Moissac. “Today we look like eternal seconds.”
Some of Le Pen’s critics put the reverses down to the party’s “detoxification” strategy.
By pretending that it has moved away from its fascist policies, Le Pen hoped to secure backing from more traditional right wing forces and voters.
She tried to conceal the stench of racism and antisemitism that was overt under her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who led the party for four decades.
This caused a brutal falling out between father and daughter and eventually the expulsion of Jean‑Marie Le Pen. Now he is hitting back.
“The policy of adapting, of rapprochement with power, even with the ordinary right, was severely rejected,” he said.
His argument is that the RN has to be an anti-system party and it loses its pull if it seems too mainstream. He called on the party to “regain its virility” or face “extinction.”
Gilbert Collard, an RN member of the European parliament, criticised the strategy of opening up as “a trap”.
This is not an argument based on fundamental political differences. It is a contest over how best to put fascist candidates in office.
Lopez is one of the supporters of Le Pen’s outreach to the rest of the right. But he has his own filthy record.
He reacted to the formation of a parliamentary study on antisemitism by saying, “As if there had not been enough studies on this subject.”
Le Pen is not going away.
“We were right on immigration and on globalisation. Now we have to win in the ballots,” she told the congress.
If Le Pen is elected as president next year she will seek to impose even harsher laws against Muslims and migrants. She will boost the racism and impunity of the police and try to break trade union power.
Perhaps most significantly she would embolden street thugs who operate outside the official state structures to carry out a fascist programme “from below”.
None of this is inevitable. French workers have taken part in powerful strikes during the last five years. There is the Yellow Vest movement, and there have been strong student mobilisations.
Black Lives Matter saw big marches in France and there have been repeated movements over police brutality.
Socialists and anti-racists have to organise to stop Le Pen.
The supporters of president Emmanuel Macron seek to blunt the RN’s appeal by conceding to its racism. This has meant rounds of Islamophobic laws, and more powers for the cops.
The Macron government has closed more than 80 mosques in the last year.
The conservative right Les Republicains have gone further. In a recent parliamentary debate they tried to include a ban on the wearing of religious symbols for those accompanying school trips.
Outrageously they also wanted a ban on “certain traditional dances that undermine Republicanism” near state wedding ceremonies.
This has only made Le Pen’s Islamophobia seem more justified.
The left is divided over how to combat Le Pen. The Labour‑like Socialist Party and the Greens frequently make concessions to Islamophobia. They back up the racist police.
Further left, Jean Luc Melenchon, leader of France Unbowed, has opposed Le Pen strongly but also made his own attacks on Muslim groups and migrants.
So it’s not surprising that much of the far left argues that the only way to tackle Le Pen is also to confront state racism. Of course, socialists have to organise against both fascism and all forms of racism.
But it’s wrong to say there can be no unity in action against the RN unless people adopt opposition to the whole state racism agenda.
There has to be a combative united front on the streets and in workplaces against Le Pen.
In the course of the battles, wider arguments can be won over Islamophobia and immigration.
There have been some promising signs. In June tens of thousands of people marched across France against racism, the far right and the government’s assaults on liberties.
Organisers said 140 demonstrations took place totalling 150,000 protesters.
Some 3,000 trade unionists and socialists from several parties demonstrated at the RN congress in Perpignan.
It’s urgent that this is now built on to become a national movement targeted specifically at the fascists.
Le Pen was one of the leaders of 16 far right and fascist parties that produced a joint statement recently calling for action across Europe.
It denounced the European Union (EU) for supposedly giving in to left wing ideas.
“The cooperation of European nations should be based on tradition, respect for the culture and history of European states and respect for Europe’s Judeo-Christian heritage,” it said.
It also said the EU was involved in “dangerous and invasive social engineering which must provoke legitimate resistance”.
Other signatories included the Vox party in Spain, the fascist Brothers of Italy and the League in Italy, and Poland’s PiS. Hungary’s Fidesz—led by Boris Johnson’s friend Viktor Orban—also signed.
The groups plan a conference in Warsaw for September.
The far right will seek to grow from anger at Covid and the attacks on working people.
That’s another reason for the left to organise so that it directs the rage at those really responsible—the bosses and the politicians who back them.
Opinion polls for the presidential election next year show president Macron and Marine Le Pen neck and neck. They both have about 25-30 percent support.
That’s quite low, but they are still best placed to qualify for the second round of voting.
The next most popular candidate is the conservative Xavier Bertrand on 20 percent.
The Greens—who are particularly pro-capitalist in France—the Socialist Party and Jean-Luc Melenchon—are all on about 7-10 percent.
There are presently three far left candidates declared. But they may not be able to reach the hurdle of winning the signatures of 500 mayors, parliamentarians and senior regional politicians in order to stand.
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