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France: Regional elections reveal threat from Front National

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Marine Le Pen's Front National, FN, was expected to do well in the regional elections in France in early December but, although it did not win control of a single region, the results still came as a shock. The FN got more than 6 million votes, nearly 28 per cent, as against lower figures for Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicains and the Parti Socialiste of President François Hollande in the first round when they stood against one another. This allowed Le Pen to claim that the FN was now “the first party of France”.

Indeed, the FN was only blocked from power by the agreement of Socialist Party candidates to stand down in the second round where they were not in the lead, allowing a significant revival for former president Sarkozy's right wing party. All this allows the FN to pose as a radical alternative to the corrupt two party establishment, as populists, left as well as right, have been doing all over Europe.

Marine Le Pen's abandonment of the antisemitic remarks of her father has served to present the party as more respectable. The FN's dropping of neoliberalism and its opposition to social cuts help it to appeal to youth, working and lower middle class voters who were often beyond its reach before. Le Pen's admiration for Russia's President Vladimir Putin even recommends the Front to former CP voters and again gives it an air of opposition to “the two party system”. It scored 34 percent amongst 18-24 year olds, 43 per cent amongst the unemployed, workers, 35 per cent amongst self-employed, farmers and agricultural workers and 30 per cent amongst white-collar public sector workers.

The FN is, nevertheless, a thoroughly reactionary populist party which has built itself on racism since the 1970s, with shamelessly demagogic propaganda, blaming unemployment and crime on immigrants and the Muslims.

“We will reconquer Calais (where refugees seeking entry to UK are camped) and the banlieues” (the outer-suburbs with a high density of people of north African immigrant origin) declared the FN leader recently. Marion Marechal Le Pen, granddaughter of the FN's founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has recently stated that Muslims can stay in France but “only on condition that they bend to the customs and the way of life that Greek, Roman and 16 centuries of Christianity fashioned”. In short, they must assimilate to a French national culture that she defines as rooted in Christianity or get out.

The record high vote for FN is due to the alienation and confusion of millions; small farmers, shopkeepers and other layers of the petty bourgeoisie. France's extremely weak recovery from the 2008-09 economic crisis and high structural unemployment, as well as the lack of revolutionary answers from the workers' movement, have also prepared the ground for a large vote for FN from unemployed, impoverished workers and others who fear losing what little they have. The vote for FN is highest in the regions, like in the North and in the North-East, where the traditional industries (mines, steel, textiles) were located. Today, the factories have been closed down, creating large, socially devastated areas. In the Nord-Pas de Calais region, formerly a stronghold of the SP, Le Pen won around 42 percent of the vote and the SP had to withdraw its candidate and urge voters to support Sarkozy.

Of course, Sarkozy and Hollande are both largely responsible for the growth of the FN. Sarkozy has tried for years to attract its voters by using many of its own arguments: “cleansing” the housing blocks of their rebellious youth “with a Kärcher pressure hose”; creating a Ministry for National Identity, passing a law against the burqa and driving Roma out of their camps.

The “Socialist” President, Hollande, has also taken up some FN proposals, such as revoking the French nationality of bi-national terrorists, or restoring border controls. His indefinite state of emergency and increased bombing of Syria have increased the pressure on France¹s 3.5-6 million inhabitants with a Muslim background; the figures are imprecise because the secular French state refuses to count the religious background of its citizens.

His economic policies favour the bosses and the rich and impose new taxes on the workers. Of course, the Islamophobic climate after the Paris terrorist outrages greatly helped the FN, even though, paradoxically, it gained its lowest score in the capital and the region around it.

While the FN could not win control of any region, it still represents a very serious and imminent danger for the French working class. In the coming years, it will continue to foster racism and Islamophobia and seduce more workers into accepting racist solutions to the crisis. With every election, the FN wins more seats and roots itself more and more in the country, training cadres and preparing itself for the next step. Marine Le Pen made this clear with her boast, “By tripling the number of our councillors, we will be the main opposition force in most of the regions of France”.

Although the FN, today, is not a fascist party and does not engage in violent street marches, attacks on muslims, trade unionists and the left, and although no significant section of the ruling class supports it, this should not lead to complacency. Many of its leaders have close links with fascist organisations and “freelance” racist attacks tend to grow where it is strong.

Though the French ruling class does not (yet) need a force, outside of the state, for civil war against the French workers, the prolonged state of emergency contributes to a sense of national crisis and promotes a psychosis that “France is at war”. Should the next economic crisis be a severe one, and the level of class conflict rise as a consequence, the FN, as a whole or in part, could rapidly be transformed into a fascist party, directing its activity against the working class organisations.

The other side of problem is the weak response to the FN's growth this time around.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when the FN last experienced rapid growth, mass organisations sprang up to block its way, like Ras-le-Front. Today, the French workers' movement, the antiracist and the radical left are paralysed and in great disarray. Blocking the growth of the FN requires more than anti-FN mobilisations, however. The left, particularly the revolutionary left, needs to fight to create a mass opposition to unemployment, low wages, insecurity and social cuts. The “Socialist” government has placed itself firmly on the wrong side of the battle line on such issues, allowing Le Pen to present her party as the opposition to a corrupt establishment. The Communist Party, PCF,, the Left Party, PdG, and the union leaderships have all failed to present a radical alternative.

The revolutionary left, like the New Anticapitalist Party, must move urgently to propose an emergency plan of action, including demands for the 32 hour week, a massive programme of job creation in the public sector, subsidised by a tax on the rich, building affordable housing etc. In this struggle, they need to bring in the youth of the banlieues. The integration we need is not national unity, whether on republican secularist or Christian values, but class unity. In this, the struggle against racism, racist laws, racist slanders and islamophobia should play a central role. A mass movement uniting workers, youth and immigrant communities must take up the fight for this programme, against the state repressive machine, the bosses and the FN.