France: Le Pen’s party takes the lead in regional elections

Governing ‘Socialist’ Party punished

The massive vote for the far right National Front (FN) in the first round of regional elections in France sees them coming top in nearly half of the regions. The Party’s leader, Marine le Pen got 40% in the huge and poorest of France’s regions – Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie.

The news is shocking but does not come as a complete surprise. It is also, it seems, not particularly due to the mood that exists after the atrocities of the Paris attacks on November 13th. This may account for just a one or two percent higher vote.

Support for the FN has been growing under the leadership of Marine le Pen in 2011. She has taken it onto a more populist tack than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was an outright defender of the heinous policies and crimes of fascism. Over 28% for the FN in this election is more than double the 13.6% in the last parliamentary election in 2012. (Because of the vagaries of the French electoral constituencies, it still has only two representatives in the country’s Assembly.)

The prospect now, after the second round next Sunday, is of the FN taking control in at least two regions – the run-down industrial area of Nord Pas de Calais and in the rich Southern region where the more extreme Marion Marechal-Le Pen heads the FN list. While the FN is patently racist, it declares it is not against immigrants…as long as they are French and respect the French traditions. They have been against the European Union and speak in favour of homes and jobs…for the French.

The FN has been able to make gains against both the ruling PS and the traditional right of Sarkozy’s Party – the UMP, now known as the Republican Party (PR). In spite of a certain rise in the personal popularity of President Hollande, Sunday’s vote indicates a collapse for his party. The PS has withdrawn from the second round in the two most threatened regions. It is proposing a ‘grand coalition’ with the ‘traditional’ right PR to try and block the FN from taking the reins of power in any region. The same proposal will no doubt arise when it comes to the presidential election in 2017, in which it is feared the FN will score another high vote.

The PR has declared opposition to such a deal, fearing further loss of support by any association with the crisis- ridden government of Hollande and Valls. The vote for these two parties might have fallen even further if it was not for the fact that the repressive and nationalistic policies they advocated after the Paris atrocities left the FN little more to say on the issue.

The big vote for the far-right party is partially a protest vote, in the absence of forces on the left with a coherent alternative to the cuts and job losses of the incumbent parties. Abstention amongst those who say they are close to the left was in the region of 47%. The involvement of the ‘Communists’ of the PCF in government decisions means it has not been able to put up a serious opposition on behalf of workers and young people. Marine le Pen has often shown support for the problems of workers, though not necessarily for their struggles, with the FN calling workers at Air France ‘hooligans’.

They have, for nationalistic reasons, backed industries like transport being in the hands of the state. The main danger inherent in the present developments is that the FN can consolidate its support.

Workers’ struggles

The major trade union federation, the CGT, linked with the ‘Communist’ Party of France, was pressed from below not to accept the prolongation of the state of emergency and ban on demonstrations after the horrific killings in Paris. (The PCF deputies had supported the prolongation in the Assembly.) The CGT membership saw it as a one-sided declaration of a truce in the struggle with the bosses and the government who continue with their attacks. The federation leaders felt compelled to call a national day of action for last Wednesday, 2 December, against the sackings at Air France and attacks trade union rights and conditions in the workplaces.

There is considerable anger building up amongst workers and young people on a number of important issues which can explode at any time. There could be outbursts of protest in the schools against the National Front’s successes and in the factories against the arrogance of the bosses. The vote last Sunday and the level of abstentions amongst workers (62%) and young people (62%) is a condemnation of the failure of the parties of the traditional ‘left’ and ‘right’ to offer any solution to the problems which anger them. Abstention amongst those who say they are close to the left was in the region of 47%. Only the older generation, the pensioners, turned out in force – 67%.

The Left Front, consisting of Melenchon’s Parti de Gauche, the PCF, some ecologists and others – has all but collapsed. It has not been able to put up any coherent opposition to the policies of the government at national or local level. Gauche Revolutionnaire (the CWI in France) has consistently argued that the only way to defeat the right and prevent the rise of the FN is with a mass campaign against austerity, job cuts and racism. The NF has stolen the clothes of the left as well as the right and prospered. The workers’ movement must reclaim and revive the ‘traditional’ programme of struggle and socialism in France.

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December 2015