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Peter Dwyer © 2002

 

 
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The fat lady sang, and this was her tune:

Jacques Chirac 19.7%
Jean-Marie Le Pen 17.06%
Lionel Jospin 16.5 %

The centre-right François Bayrou came next with 6.5 per cent, followed by the Trotskyist (LO) Arlette Lauguiller (6.3%); the Green candidate, Noel Mamère (5.5%); the left wing nationalist, Jean-Pierre Chevènement (5.3%); another Trotskyist (LCR), Oliver Besançenot (4.5%); the hunters' candidate, Jean Saint-Josse (4%); and the Communist Party candidate, Robert Hue (3.6%).

Much of what follows takes the form of a running debate I had with a socialist in the US on a lefty international e-mail list. I was firing straight from the hip and stand by all of what I said unedited. I have kept it in this form to give a flavour of the debate and I think it captures well what the liberal-social democratic left was saying immediately after the election. Comrade X's comments are in italics.

By way of introduction...

Just like Corporal Jones from the old UK sitcom Dad's Army, European liberals are running around shouting "Don't panic, don't panic!", whilst proceeding to do just that. "It"s a warning to us all" the press and the liberal soothsayers told us, and just as the press asked "Can it happen here?", the asylum-seekers' best friends Tony Blair and Jean-Marie Le Blunkett assured us that it won't, whilst tightening immigration and asylum laws. This is so the masses are no longer "swamped" (Blunketts words - reminiscent of another speech from 1978 by that other friend of ethnic minorities, Margaret Thatcher), and so that they can finally get their (by implication white) kids a place in school and a doctor's appointment (and with one in three - four million - in the UK living in poverty is it any wonder the doctors are busy?)

Now, before I saw the newspapers on Monday 22 April I sent out a message to the list saying that France was indeed a warning -- but then asked for whom the bells tolled. I continued...

"For many of us, but for different reasons. We need to take a long look at what the French elections represent, coming as they do amidst a massive pan Euro/US rise in mass mobilisations of a broad leftist/progressive nature. The French liberal establishment and, of course, the Socialist Party (invariably and increasingly more New Labour than Old) is in a panic and so it should be. Not only because of Le Pen, whose vote only increased by just over 2 per cent on 1995, but because with abstentions and votes for the Nazi Le Pen and the two far left (both explicitly Trotskyists) and Communist Party candidates and a very pro-Palestinian Green Party all equalled something like 45%+ of the French electorate voting away from establishment and centrist parties. The first round 'winner' got a huge 19.7%!

"Of course the bourgeois press will put it down to an arcane electoral system and thus wish away the fundamental trends across Europe and not just France. This is not a French disease it is a bourgeois electoral disease. Surely this reflects a crisis of bourgeois politics? A trend that has been growing in Western Europe for at least 10 years, high abstention rates, huge popular dissatisfaction with 'politics'. In any major European city the talk will be much the same 'all politicians are the same' the implication being they lie (Chirac is mired in scandal), cheat, are corrupt and a cigarette paper can be put between the differences between them. Read the UK and French press and it looks like I have just described the discussions about the French elections prior to the election result.

"As all commentators in the UK and France have been saying today France is in 'crisis'. This much is true. We live in extreme times in which the fascists and the far-left have seen an increase in support across Europe, although in France it was clearly a bigger increase in support for the far-left, several million voters shifted away from Jospin to the far-left, the Communist Party vote collapsed because of its close association with Jospin. Whilst the UK media portrays Jospin as an unreconstructed socialist (next to Blair he seems so as does our long dead cat-Charlie) this is not borne out by reality. As Prime Minister he has privatised more than any other. Even BBC news today are saying that as Jospin turns more Blairite voters are shifting to the left, a similar picture has been emerging in the UK for at least 5 years, although it is at an ideological level and not an electoral one. Interestingly a Jospin advisor fails to see this and has said the debate between New and Old Labour in France needs to take place, ie Jospin lost because he was too left-wing! Sound familiar?

"Le Pen's vote does not represent a radical rise in the vote of the far-right. It is symptomatic of the French liberal establishment (and to some extent the far-left) that they put this centre news but did not put Le Pens winning of over 1000 local council seats several years ago. In local councils the Le Front National (FN) have been doing much more serious damage to immigrant communities and support facilities as well as attacking social democratic welfarist support for arts and culture facilities, grants for gay groups etc. This has been going on for at least 7 years in France.

"This is a warning for the left. Society seems increasingly polarised, although this should not come as a surprise given the latest phase of capitalist national/global reconstruction (politically-globalisation, economically-neo-liberalism) is increasingly unpopular and grindingly, still biting deeper in to all our lives across the globe. People are looking, certainly in Europe, for radical answers-that doesn't mean they automatically look left. This election result is one manifestation of this and the anti-capitalist movement is another, Le Pen another (and similar far-right successes recently in Italy, Holland, Denmark etc). It was just the same when Berlusconi got elected in 1993, the liberal establishment panics and paints a picture of an increasingly right-wing Europe.

"Of course they look at the world with one eye open, the picture is much more complex than that. As we go to local elections next week in the UK the Nazi BNP is standing something like 63 candidates and no doubt will be inspired by Le Pen (ironically Le Pen came to the UK in the 1970s when the Nazis were growing here-he returned arguing that in France they had to shake off the jackboot image-this is now what BNP leader Nick Griffin is arguing, 'respectable fascism"). Appallingly they will no doubt win some seats and this will be their biggest break through for decades in the UK. But that is barely one side of the picture in the UK today: polarisation of far-left and right is taking place, in a variety of ways, with a huge rump of people in the middle.

"This brings me to a final point for the left. These polarised and uneven times mean we need to intervene more than ever and bring workers, students, anti-capitalist, environmentalists all together-the anti-capitalist movement seems our greatest hope for unity, albeit not easy, in a generation.

"Ironically one difference between France and the UK has been that the left, although mainly the far-left, have always sought to physically mobilise and stop the Nazis, label and expose them as fascists through mass mobilisations, campaigns, petitions etc. It has to be said that in France there has been a complete failure of the French far-left to do this about Le Pen. The French anti-racist organisation SOS racism until very recently refused to call Le Pen "a fascist" as they argued it played into his hands and never counter-mobilised against him, his meetings or demos!"

In response to this our US comrade replied, and in the edited version of the exchange which follows, his comments are italicised, and mine are not.

"British Channel 4 TV just interviewed working class people in the poor north western town of Oldham where the BNP leader took 16% of the vote in the general election last May and the BNP are standing candidates in the forthcoming local elections. Close your eyes, change the dialogue to French and it could have been France last night. All those interviewed said they will vote BNP-reluctantly, none said so enthusiastically. The reasons given for voting BNP were, to paraphrase, the corruption of local and national politicians of all parties, politicians are all talk, they promise but don't deliver, and they need a kick up the arse, unemployment, no community facilities ie people are pissed off with the centre right and centre left. This is not dis-similar to what is being said in France.

"The Labour run Burnley council are trying to close a care centre (so much for "caring" New Labour). If Trotskyists currents are blaming the mainstream politicians (not just the left) then they certainly are not alone. [Comrade X had berated the "Trots" for criticising Jospin]. Who was it that privatised over 1000 establishments in France in the last 5 years? Who is it that has tightened up immigration laws and so legitimating what Le Pen says, who was it that used law and order (for fucks sake-he is supposed to be a socialist!!) as his key election point?? Clue: it wasn't the Trotskyist currrents and he is looking for a new job on May 6th.

"The important thing to explain is not why Jospin did so poorly, or how and why various leftist "sectarian" candidates took votes from him but why Le Pen did so well, why there was an unexpected jump in his support..."

"Of course it is essential to try and explain the rise of Le Pen. But Le Pen's vote 'jumped' a "huge" 2% (!) on the last presidential elections-hardly the greatest electoral break through. The idea that the left 'take votes' is hilarious, What, do they physically steal them a la Bush? This view seems to smack of such a condescending attitude to the several million that voted far-left that I find it appalling. Are we saying that we can guarantee that if other left candidates didn't stand that those voters would vote Jospin? Are we? My bets are on them swelling the huge 30% that couldn't find the will to vote for two parties that are fundamentally the same.

"Taking votes... let's pause on that for a minute. Whatever reasons people voted far left and there will have been different reasons, the fact is we have to assume they rationally chose to do so and that no-one bribed them, no-one intimidated them and no-one forced them. Why should people who didn't vote for Jospin be condemned, are we to allow them no agency, no free will? To then somehow blame these peoples actions on the other candidates is an incredible piece of analysis-it stinks of vulgar Marxist notion of "false consciousness". If such analysis prevails then no Labour Party would ever have been set up in the UK as we would have been splitting the vote from the liberals against the Tories. and no alternative parties should ever be set up again for fear of splitting the vote. The simple fact of the matter is that some are refusing to ask the question why is there a huge polarisation taking place in Europe-oh, I forgot its the Trots' fault.

"In fact it smacks of the laughable comments (and the reporter did almost laugh on C4 TV tonight) of the French socialist MEP who all but said that those who voted left and right were stupid. Again if the electorate don't see or understand just what sterling work our politicians are doing for us, if they then let themselves get duped or if they stupidly dare to protest against us then it is their fault. Funny how the victims of cut backs, jobs slashed, services cut, tighter immigration laws, racism, are the ones who are too blame.

"I hear lots of calls for the far-left to be more open minded and self-reflective, well fuck me if the centre left and centre right don't even dare contemplate that what has been happening in Europe (and to an extent in the US) for many years-is near mass dissatisfaction with mainstream politics-then those who believe in bourgeois democracy have lesser a chance of saving it from itself. Incredibly this is just what Jospin's advisor didn't do on TV this morning. He was arguing for a Blairite New Labour conversion of the French Socialist party, ah ha, so that is it, people voted against Jospin because he was to left-wing!! The millions who didn't vote or voted leftist want more privatisations, more job losses, more cuts in welfare, more power to MNCs...

"Given S11... Think of the themes that Le Pen could play on; Muslim immigrants and crime; Muslims as a threat to French culture and the "real France"..."

"But these are the themes he has always played on, although all media reports from France and the UK say that he in fact toned down his more racist comments unlike in previous election campaigns, instead playing on law and order as did the 'socialist' Jospin and Chirac so I don' see how the S11 factor comes into this equation as an explanation for his unexpected jump, although polls said he would poll 15% before the election.

"Remember the battle not so many years ago over head-scarves and Muslim "girls" in French schools. This is the seamy side of Huntington's "war of cultures," enabling Le Pen to appear as the advocate of the more respectable "culture" to many French voters. I really think that this wave of protest, once risen, will ebb as quickly as it rose. For those who rode the wave, it seemed a relatively painless and cost-free way to express themselves."

"This is utter crap. The whole, and I mean the whole of the French mainstream left and far left (to their eternal shame), also called for the headscarves to be banned!!! That issue hardly allowed Le Pen to stand out now did it? As for ebbing of the protests vote. Of course this election vote does not at all reflect a shift to the right in French politics. In the last national election, as with this one, 60% voted broadly right and 40% broadly left.

"So we have a contribution that is effectively dismissive of the electorate, who refused to see the error of their ways in daring to cast a vote other than for the mainstream parties of left and right and of the costs of the active operation of a fascist party with 1000 council seats (or is that a sign of an ebbing vote and merely a 'cost-free' protest vote?). Elitist, condescending and dismissive; sounds a bit like the complaints about mainstream politicians by those misguided fools in the electorate to me."

   
   
   

 

 
   
         

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