The success of the fascist Front National party leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential elections should sound a warning note across Europe.
In Britain and across Europe, a variety of fascist and far right racist organisations are casting admiring eyes at Le Pen’s record 17.9% of the poll – and they gain confidence from it.
Le Pen’s 17.9% vote was higher than the FN’s previous best score of 16.9% in the 2002 elections, when Jean-Marie Le Pen – Marine’s father – was the candidate.
This means nearly one in five French voters cast their ballot for a fascist party.
The real numbers of people voting show the scale of the fascists’ rise even more starkly. In 2002, the FN won 4.8 million votes. This year, Marine Le Pen has pushed that figure up by a third, to 6.4 million.
In the département (administrative district) of Gard, in the south of France, the FN came first with 25.5%. It polled slightly higher in a handful of other areas without coming first.
Marine Le Pen has endeavoured to present a slicker public image than her father, the previous leader and founder of the FN, who notoriously described the Holocaust as a ‘mere detail’ of history.
But behind the smoother veneer and attempts to play down its more overtly fascist past, Marine’s FN remains the same fascist organisation.
The FN aims to stir up racism against Muslims and immigrants, and has quietly kept up links with violent street fighting groups.
Antifascists in France report that FN activists chased and attacked people who were putting up posters for a left wing candidate, just days before the first round of the election.
Le Pen senior hasn’t gone away either – he is now the FN’s honorary president and spoke at a 1 May rally with his daughter.
The FN’s electoral surge has come against a backdrop of austerity. The party has sought to turn bitterness against increasing poverty and cuts into racist scapegoating of Muslims, Roma people and immigrants, blaming them for the crisis.
But the fascist party has also been hugely helped by the racist climate encouraged by mainstream politicians such as Nicolas Sarkozy, the outgoing right wing president who remains in contention for the second round of the elections.
Sarkozy’s anti-Muslim racism – expressed in measures such as the law banning the face veil, his attacks on multiculturalism and, most brutally, the forcible smashing up Roma camps by police – has given Le Pen’s fascists legitimacy and encouragement.
Le Pen has snubbed Sarkozy’s overtures and declared she will abstain in the second round of the elections, when Sarkozy and Socialist party candidate Francois Hollande will go head to head – she is focusing now on the French parliamentary elections in June, where the FN hopes to take seats.
Vote on 3 May
The FN fascists’ surge makes it all the more important to make sure that antifascists in Britain use their votes and encourage others to vote to ensure fascist candidates standing in the local elections – for the British National Party, the English Democrats and the National Front – get nowhere on Thursday 3 May.
Although the remnants of the British National Party have nothing like the strength of the French FN, the opportunity to drive them out of their clutch of remaining council seats must not be missed.
It is especially important to get the antifascist vote out in London, where the BNP could still take a seat on the Greater London Assembly if they get 5% of the vote. Every ballot cast for another party helps push the fascists’ percentage down below the danger line.
But other fascists are also looking to Le Pen for inspiration. The racist street thugs of the English Defence League are set to give a public launch to their electoral allies, the British Freedom Party, at the EDL demo in Luton on Saturday 5 May.
BFP, EDL and Luton
The BFP was set up by former leading BNP members and wants to use Luton to set itself up as the electoral successor to the failing BNP. Its tie up with the EDL gives the combined outfit the traditional two-pronged attack of Hitler and Mussolini’s fascists: a street fighting wing, and an electoral wing.
UAF is urging all antiracists and antifascists to join the national demo against the EDL in Luton on Saturday – we need to push the fascists back both at the ballot box and on the streets.