It is not just ordinary people who have been shocked by the French election result. Establishment politicians across Europe too have been shaken. These politicians agree the only solution to the danger of Le Pen is to unite behind Tory candidate Jacques Chirac in the election run-off on 5 May. Chirac is almost certain to be elected.
But looking to him as the answer to Le Pen would be a terrible mistake. Neither Chirac’s Tory party, the RPR, nor the rival UDF Tory party, is a barrier to Le Pen and his Nazi National Front. In the election campaign Chirac boosted Le Pen by creating a right wing panic over crime. The mainstream Le Monde paper said, ‘At the same time as Chirac campaigned for himself he helped Le Pen’ by this approach.
The Nazi leader himself openly joked that Chirac was helping with the ‘Le-Pen-isation’ of the campaign. A glance at recent French history destroys the idea that Chirac and the Tories can be trusted to break Le Pen.
Le Pen’s National Front made its first breakthrough in a town called Dreux in 1983. Four National Front members were elected to the town’s council, and a longstanding Nazi thug, Jean-Pierre Stirbois, became deputy mayor. This happened because these Nazis were invited by both the Tory parties, the RPR and UDF, to join their united right election list.
Jacques Chirac, then as now the RPR national leader, openly defended the decision to have the Nazis on the Tory election list in Dreux. In some regional and local elections in the 1990s France’s Tories made electoral deals with the National Front. And in the last presidential election in 1995 Chirac even secretly met with Le Pen himself to discuss possible horse-trading of votes.
It is not just France’s Tories who have this kind of rotten record. In 1995 Britain’s Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith met with Le Pen’s deputy and the key Nazi organiser in France, Bruno Gollnisch. The French Nazi said afterwards, ‘I came to meet members of the Conservative Party sympathetic to our views.’ All historical experience confirms that Tories cannot be looked to as a barrier to fascism.
Nazis have never come to power on their own in Europe, but have always done so with the help and support of mainstream Tory-style parties. Mussolini came to power in Italy in the 1920s with the support of the Italian Liberal Party. Adolf Hitler came to office in 1933 after the main Tory parties in Germany voted for him to become chancellor.
In Spain too the main Conservative parties backed General Franco. But if lining up with Tories is not the way to beat back Nazis, how then do we stop Le Pen? The hundreds of thousands of mainly young people who have taken to the streets since Sunday have shown an instinctive understanding of the answer. In part the streets are vital, because they are central to Le Pen’s project. He wants to turn votes into a mass Nazi force capable of dominating the streets, and of attacking workers’ movements and organisations. That is the ultimate aim of all Nazis.
Le Pen does not yet have anything like this kind of force. Denying him and his supporters the ability to organise, to meet, to march and to rally is vital to stopping him building it. The streets and mass mobilisation are also central in stopping Le Pen for other reasons.
Le Pen feeds off the widespread feeling that all established parties are rotten and corrupt. His claim to have clean hands and stand for the little man is a bit rich given his immense wealth and actual record.
But telling people that the answer is Jacques Chirac, who is up to his neck in scandals shocking even by the standards of establishment politicians, would be disastrous. More than this, though, Le Pen also feeds off the real bitterness and pools of despair in society that establishment parties have created through their policies.
Offering simply more of the Tory policies that Jacques Chirac pushes will not offer any hope or alternative to those who abstained on Sunday or who were conned into voting for Le Pen.
Only mass protest can do that by showing how ordinary people can take matters into their own hands, challenging Le Pen but also pointing to how society itself could be transformed. It would be a catastrophe to allow politics to be dominated by Chirac and Le Pen over the coming fortnight. It would guarantee that politics would shift to the right, and so play into Le Pen’s hands.
Far more people voted to the left and for some kind of opposition to capitalism in France than voted for Le Pen on Sunday. They need to make their full force, numbers and power felt in the coming days if the terrible threat of the National Front is to be crushed.
Walking arm in arm to the ballot box with Tories will not stop Le Pen. Workers and students, young and old, black and white, marching arm in arm on the streets can.
Wildcat strikes are back
Karol Modzelewski, 1937-2019,