By Charlie Kimber
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France needs a fightback to stop fascists

Emmanuel Macron has emerged victorious, but fascist Marine Le Pen is looking stronger than ever
Issue 2802
Marine Le Pen addressed a crowd with French flags flying behind and around her

Marine Le Pen has rallied unprecedented levels of support (Picture: Blandine Le Cain/Wikimedia)

Neoliberal Emmanuel Macron is no block to the advance of ­fascism. He defeated Nazi Marine Le Pen by 58.5 ­percent to 41.5 percent in Sunday’s second round of the French presidential election. But for the third time in 20 years, the National Front—now National Rally—was in the second round of the vote. It had never been so close to winning.

Its vote in the first round of presidential elections has grown from 0.75 percent in 1974 to 23 percent this year. And this time the filthy far right Islamophobe Eric Zemmour also took 7 ­percent and, with another far right candidate, their total vote was over 32 percent.  The primary responsibility for the closeness of Sunday’s vote lies with Macronism, which has ­brutalised working class people for five years.

It has been five years of the crushing of the anti-austerity Yellow Vests, the lacerated tents of migrants, the piling up of repressive laws and rounds of attacks on Muslims. Macron’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin, denounced Le Pen as “soft” on Islam.

It’s no wonder that on Sunday upwards of 16.5 million people—a record number— abstained, put a blank sheet of paper in the ballot box, or spoiled their vote. That’s over a third of registered voters. In a very worrying ­normalisation, the shock of a Nazi knocking on the door of the presidential palace has worn off.

In 2002 when Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen advanced to the run-off, it was such an earthquake that the conservative Jacques Chirac refused to debate with him. Millions demonstrated against Le Pen during a fortnight of pulsating activity—mass demonstrations, strikes and student occupations—between the two rounds of that election. Chirac crushed Le Pen by 82 percent to 18 percent in the vote.

Five years ago there was a ­demonstration of 250,000, as part of the traditional May Day events, when Marine Le Pen advanced to the second round.

Everyone debated ­respectfully with her, and Macron won by a less ­comfortable 66 percent to 34 percent. This time, without the May Day boost, anti-racist activists put just tens of thousands on the streets against Le Pen.

There was only token support from the mainstream left and the trade union leaders. Originally the fascists had a small base largely made up of former military supporters of the colonial war in Algeria.

They grew partly because of disillusionment with the ­traditional rulers’ attacks on ordinary people. But the ­decisive element was the accommodation by all the “moderate” political forces—and large parts of the left—to racism, Islamophobia, anti‑Roma and anti-migrant policies, and authoritarianism.

In 1991, for example, Chirac, then a former prime minister, said he identified with French workers who were tired of the “smell and noise” of immigrants. Soon afterwards, former right wing president Valery Giscard d’Estaing warned of an “invasion” of immigrants and backed “citizenship by blood”— restricted to those born of French parents.

A few months later Socialist Party president Francois Mitterrand said France had reached “the threshold of ­tolerance” on immigration. These politicians peddling racism were a decade behind the Communist Party. In 1981 the Communist mayor of Vitry near Paris led a bulldozer attack that smashed an immigrants’ hostel. When people criticised the Vitry assault, Georges Marchais, the leader of the Communist Party, headed a demonstration of 10,000 to back it.

We’re not being racist, the disgusting party line went, we’re simply defending the interests of the French working class. No wonder the fascists grew. In 2004, with support from the right and the Socialist Party, parliament rammed through a ban on wearing ­headscarves at school. The centre right, centre left and even sections of the far left argued that Muslim practices were a threat to the “Republic”, to secularism and women’s rights.

In the first round of this year’s election, the main parties defended a system whose crisis increased unemployment and uncertainty. At the same time as legitimising fascist policies, they fuelled the despair and disillusionment it feeds on. In his book Marxists In The Face of Fascism, David Beetham writes that the ­connection between fascism and the ­mainstream right within a parliamentary system can take two forms—“succession and simultaneous interaction”.

He adds, “Reaction tends to be fuelled, not exhausted, by concessions. “A different process of ­interaction takes place where the presence of a fascist ­movement enables a parliamentary regime to win support for reactionary measures. Both forms of connection, successive and reciprocal, were exemplified in Germany between 1929 and 1933”—the rise of Adolf Hitler.

The fascists are advancing in other ways. Traditional fascist strategy requires a street army, initially separate to the state forces, to smash the left and to harass and murder scapegoats such as Jews, Muslims and migrants.

Le Pen does not have that at the moment, but there are glimpses of the potential. Far right group Generation Z, who are mostly young ­supporters of Zemmour, have ­carried out attacks on the left, LGBT+ people and anti-racists. Far right supporters ejected a left wing student occupation last week.

The state machine is also infested with fascist ­supporters. A group of retired generals published a declaration last year which threatened an intervention by the army in the face of what they called “the ­disintegration which strikes the fatherland”.

Five more years of Macron increasing the pension age, attacking benefits, ­targeting Muslims and confronting ­working class organisations will give the fascists further opportunities. The warnings are clear.

Opportunities to challenge Le Pen were lost

The failures of the left are the other side of the fascists’ rise. One obvious mistake was not to clearly identify Jean-Marie and then Marine Le Pen as Nazis, rather than simply “just another right wing party”. It would then follow that all working class organisations should unite in action to propagandise and organise against the fascists, break up their meetings and confront them in the streets.

When, in the 1980s and 1990s, anti-racists did mobilise in large numbers, it was seen as merely an auxiliary to the Socialist Party’s campaign. But the equivalent of the Labour Party betrayed its supporters when it ruled in recent decades and has now virtually disappeared. It took just 1.74 percent of the vote two weeks ago.

Its rule for the rich propelled millions of working class people into accepting the fascists’ lies. Now there is a huge responsibility on left wing challenger Jean‑Luc Melenchon who won 22 percent in the first round of the presidential vote, just 420,000 behind Le Pen.

He pulled big numbers of working class people in the big cities behind him, with queues to vote for him in some areas. And 69 percent of Muslims who voted backed him. This force could have been mobilised in mass demonstrations.

Melenchon could have said, whoever wins on Sunday, take to the streets, don’t go to work on Monday, make it a day to signal that you won’t bow down to the fascist or the banker. Instead Melenchon remains utterly fixated on elections. He has called on voters to make him prime minister in the legislative elections in June and is seeking an electoral pacts with the Communists, the Greens and the NPA far left party.

Such manoeuvres won’t be a barrier to the far right. The crucial battleground in the next five years will be in the workplaces and the streets. It will mean building on the Yellow Vest movement, the 2019 strikes against pension attacks, the women’s, environmental and anti-racism movements. Such struggles have to be a basis for the political challenge to all the traditional forces.

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