IA EXCLUSIVE: French presidential election: Fascism and how to fight it

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Far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s poster promising to restore the "Old Moral Order" in the town of Sète (Image via Joey Tranchina‏ / @JoeyFotoFr)

Political editor Dr Martin Hirst talks exclusively to Paris-based leftwing analyst John Mullen about how the anti-Fascist movement should approach the second round of the French presidential election.

THE FIRST ROUND of the 2017 French presidential election was held on 23 April 2017. As no candidate won a majority, a run-off election between the top two candidates, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! and Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN), will be held on 7 May 2017.

Macron is a conservative centrist with no real political party behind him and Le Pen is a leading figure in the agressive far right FN.

She stepped down from her party role this week, in an apparent attempt to broaden her appeal to voters, put off by her ties to open Holocaust deniers.

John Mullen is an activist in the Ensemble group, part of the anti-Fascist left in France organising against the FN. Mullen also writes regularly for the broad left magazine Counterfire.

In an Australian exclusive interview this week, John Mullen told me that continuing to build against Le Pen’s politics must be a priority for French militants, no matter who wins the second round of voting


IA: Why has Marine Le Pen just stepped down from the leadership of the Front National?

John Mullen: She needs to widen her appeal massively is she is to win the second round. Freeing herself from the decisions of her party’s committees allows her to be more flexible tactically. So, for example, she is producing “anticapitalist” leaflets aiming explicitly at persuading those who voted Left to vote for her, by claiming to be in favour of tax cuts for the poor and support for French industry.

IAWill it help her win the second round?

JM: Le Pen obtained 7½ million votes in the first round and would need at least 9 million more to win the second round. Around 58% of French people believe the FN to be “a danger to democracy”, so such a turnaround is highly unlikely. As I write, the opinion polls put Macron at 61% and Le Pen at 39%. But it is important to remember that Le Pen’s main aim is to build a fascist party rather than to win this election. This was the reason for her comments last month, presenting a revisionist history of the deporting of French Jews to be massacred by Hitler — it was to reassure the fascist core of her party. In withdrawing temporarily, this week, from the FN presidency, she has left the party in the hands of a well known holocaust revisionist, Jean-François Jalkh.

JM: Among 18-24 year olds, 29% abstained and among 25-34 year olds 28% abstained. Of those who voted, 21% of the first group and 24% of the second voted Le Pen. Mélenchon’s radical Left programme attracted more young people (30% and 24% respectively). These figures represent, nevertheless, a worryingly high fascist vote among the youth, but the campaign has shown that a radical Left programme can draw young people away from Le Pen, where a “more of the same austerity” proposal can not.

IAWhat do you think will happen after the elections?

JM: This is the biggest political shake-up for over 40 years. In June, the (two-round) legislative elections will elect a new national assembly. The Socialist Party, which has at present 289 outgoing deputies in the assembly, got only 6.4% of the vote at the presidentials. Macron, who will probably be president, has no MPs. The Socialist Party is almost certain to disintegrate within weeks as outgoing MPs scramble to join Macron. On the traditional Right, deeply divided over the candidacy of François Filllon (recently revealed to be a thief of public funds), the crisis is also very deep. With the FN so strong, there are likely to be sections of the traditional right who will form alliances with the fascists — something they have avoided over the last 20 years. This can only help the FN and represents, in my view, a grave danger.

But there are plenty of grounds for hope. The 19% support for the Red-Green social transformation programme of Mélenchon are an excellent base on which to rebuild a real mass Left wing organization to fight austerity and racism. And the Left must move forward on building a broadly based, permanent, national, mass campaigning organization against fascism, the lack of which has been the major mistake of the last fifteen years.

You can follow Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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IA: The Left did not do as well as expected. Why?

JM: Putting to one side the two revolutionary candidates who got around one percent each, there were two Left candidates. The official Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon, got 6.4%. Although he was on the Left of his party, the immense discredit of the [François] Hollande Socialist Party (PS) governments over the last five years of austerity seems to have left the PS as a toxic brand. The radical Left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, standing on a programe of social transformation (full employment, rise in the minimum wage, a move to 100% renewable energy and 100% organic farming and so on) did far better than had been expected. Over the last two months his upbeat and inspiring campaign gained him 4% in the polls, and he ended with 19.5%, just 2% less than he would have needed to get through to the second round. This is a historically high level for the radical Left.

IAHow should the Left vote now?

JM: The Left is divided between those who wish to (reluctantly) vote for Macron against Le Pen and those who think that an abstention is a better option. The first argue that Macron is not a fascist and represents the “lesser evil”. The second argue that it is the austerity programmes championed by ultra-capitalist Macron, which have allowed fascism to grow in France over the last 20 years, and that a man who has recently written some of the most vicious anti-working class laws this country has ever seen and who does not even use the word “fascist” to describe Marine Le Pen, can hardly be seen as an effective defence against fascism. The latter think abstention is the right tactic.

The Left must, above all, organise united antifascist demonstrations in the streets and “Don’t vote for fascism” campaigns to explain the real nature of Le Pen’s politics. It would be a mistake to make the divisive question of the vote the centre of our mobilisations. I think abstention is a better tactic, but I would not campaign for abstention, but against Le Pen. The experience of 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen got to the second round and most of the Left called for a vote for the Conservative, Jacques Chirac, showed that such united votes do not decisively brake the building of a fascist party in France.

IAIs it the case that young people are voting for Le Pen?

Flambé fascism. Subscribe to IA.

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