Material World: March of the far right
In many parts of Europe far-right populist, as well as fascist and neo-Nazi political parties, have increased their support in local, national and European elections recently (though not everywhere, not in Poland for instance).
In many areas hundreds of thousands of workers have voted, not for socialism, as the economic crisis and downturn of international capitalism deepens, but for localism, nationalism and racist policies. What has happened in part of northern England, has likewise been mirrored in northeast France—the British National Party in England and the Front National in France. An extreme example of the trend was the municipal by-election in June and July in Hénin-Beaumont.
Poverty and Corruption
Hénin-Beaumont, just north of Arras and half-way between Lens and Douai in the Pas-de-Calais, is a former mining town with a population of 27,000; and in the words of Jason Burke, “one of the poorest parts of France, a wasteland of red-brick terrace homes, crumbling blocks of public housing, half-deserted industrial estates and vast fields of wheat bisected by six-lane motorways taking holiday-makers elsewhere” (Observer, 5 July).
Although a recent film, “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (“Welcome amongst the Ch’tis”, the popular name for people from this part of France), about a postal worker sent there from the south of the country, which I saw (in western France), popularised the locals, it made no difference to the unemployment, now officially 20 percent, alcoholism (mostly cheap beer), drug abuse and domestic violence; and with the lowest levels of education in the country.
As in many areas of Britain, with the Labour Party, this part of France, including Hénin-Beaumont, was a long-time fiefdom of the reformist Parti Socialiste, which has become thoroughly corrupt, subject to cronyism and patronage. The PS, running the municipal council for almost 60 years, is split into a number of allegedly left and right factions; and the mayor is in jail, charged with corruption, fiddling expenses and local taxes, resulting in cuts in the municipal budget. It can’t get much worse.
Enter the Front National
For the first time in recent years the FN decided to field a candidate, for the municipal authority. The party’s local candidate Steeve Briois hoped—probably expected—to become mayor, reversing a general decline since 2002. Marine Le Pen, the 40-year-old daughter of the FN leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, canvassed the area, popularising the slogan “France for the French” (shades of Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers,” supported by the BNP), and claiming to be the natural inheritors of working-class politics in France. Since 1990 the FN has in fact increased its influence and support within the working class by beating the nationalist drum and playing the anti-Islam card.
Like the BNP, Marine Le Pen and her supporters, have tended to soften (but not abandon) the FN’s anti-immigration language, and tone down its racism and anti-semitism. She promotes a populist, “Strasserite”, image rather than her father’s former neo-Nazi views (see the Socialist Standard, February and March, 1993).
In the first round of the Hénin-Beaumont election the Front National polled just under 40 percent, more than double that of any other candidate. Briois assumed his mayoralty was “in the bag”. Unfortunately for him, however, the left and right formed an alliance, and collectively polled 52 percent in a 62 percent turnout, thus squeezing the FN out.
The Front National did not fare particularly well in this year’s European elections either. It won just 6.3 percent, down from 1,684,792 in 2004 to 1,091,681 this year in a low poll.
It has three seats, down from seven in the last Parliament (just one more than the BNP), occupied by Jean-Marie Le Pen, his daughter, Marine, and Bruno Gollnisch, a friend of Nick Griffin. Jean-Yves Camus, writing in the July number of International Searchlight, observes: “The result leaves the FN weaker than before, but not yet dead. It was notably ahead of the two parties of the alternative left, the New Anti-Capitalist Party and the Left Front”.
The Front National in France, like the British National Party, has nothing to offer the working class, but the same old worn-out reformist policies and slogans that have failed, time and time again. The workers of Hénin-Beaumont, France, Britain and worldwide, will have to look, and act, beyond the petty nationalisms of such parties and politicians.
PETER E. NEWELL