The world was stunned when in the April 2002 Presidential elections in France, the birthplace of Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité, the fascist demagogue Jean-Marie Le Pen beat the ‘left’ social-democratic candidate, Lionel Jospin, into third place in the first round. In the second and final round, which takes the form of a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes in the first round, the conservative incumbent President, Jacques Chirac, despite being mired in sleaze scandals, won overwhelmingly, supported not only by the whole of the non-fascist right, as one would expect, but also by most of the so-called ‘left’. The second round was turned in effect into a referendum on whether or not fascism was preferable to bourgeois democracy. Not surprisingly bourgeois democracy won hands down.
The support for fascist parties shown in elections in various European countries – including also Denmark, Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands – is causing much gnashing of teeth in ‘left’-wing circles and hysterical fears of imminent fascist takeover. A moment’s sober observation of the facts of the situation, however, would show that there is no imminent danger of fascism. It is far more efficient for the ruling class to rule by persuasion and deception rather than by naked force, to which it will turn only if it is desperate. There is no such desperation at present.
The fact that a fascist is able to garner more votes than a social-democratic candidate, especially in circumstances where the social-democratic vote is split between the main Socialist Party candidate and various Trotskyite groupings that have decided to try their luck without realising that their votes might prevent social-democracy being represented at all in the final round, is not a sign of the imminence of a fascist government. It does, however, express the disgust and disillusionment that is felt by millions of workers towards the various established bourgeois parties.
In France for the last few years, the conservative Chirac has been president, while the social-democrat Jospin has been prime minister of a government that has included the French Communist Party (which is as anti-communist as they come!). Throughout this government, these unsavoury characters have implemented the imperialist agenda to the full, carrying out three times the number of privatisations, for instance, as were carried out by conservative prime minister Juppé, as well as participating with alacrity in the criminal warmongering against Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, and as well as promoting a high-profile policy of harassing asylum seekers. While making everybody’s employment prospects less secure and bringing about deterioration in their working conditions, this government also attacked public spending, again to the detriment of the overwhelming majority of the French electorate. That being so, it is hardly surprising that there was a massive rate of abstention in the election (28.4%), a higher ‘vote’ for non-participation than there was for Jacques Chirac (19.88%), Le Pen (16.86%) or Jospin (16.18%). Why, for instance, would immigrants vote for Jospin when his government was wantonly attacking asylum seekers? Why should former public sector workers vote for him when he was responsible for privatising their industry and ruining their job security?
It is interesting to note that by its participation in the imperialist government of France, the French Communist Party appears to have sounded its own death knell. By being part of the Jospin government, it has tarnished itself – perhaps irretrievably. In the presidential election their candidate, Robert Hue, received a mere 3.4% of the votes, compared to 8.6% they received in 1995. In 1946, when the French Communist Party had not yet turned itself into the tail end of social democracy and still represented the interests of the French working class, it won 28.8% of the votes in the elections of that year. But as the party, under the influence of Khrushchevite revisionism, and indeed outdoing Khrushchevite revisionism in its enthusiasm for co-operation and collaboration with social democracy and imperialism, turned its back on its working class constituency, its popularity waned further and further, until today it finds itself matching its political bankruptcy with electoral and financial bankruptcy: failure to obtain at least 5% of the vote means it will be unable to recoup its election expenditure, and speculation is rife that it will now be forced to sell its headquarters in order to make ends meet.
Various Trotskyite grouplets did relatively well in this presidential election. Arlette Laguiller (Lutte Ouvrière) obtained 5.72% of the vote and Olivier Besancot 4.25%. But these sects too have contributed their tuppence-worth to the relative success of fascist demagogy, for the Trotskyists unfailingly denounce socialism everywhere that it has ever been implemented, repeating avidly every bourgeois slander against socialist countries – in effect telling the working class that there is no realistic alternative to capitalism. Those workers who swallow this analysis can only be left in elections with two choices if they want to avoid voting for parties which have been in government and have let them down. Those two choices are to vote for bourgeois parties, like the fascists, which have not been in government and have not yet let them down; or not to vote at all.
Not many ordinary workers have the time to study political questions in depth to get at the political truth ever hidden behind the smokescreen of bourgeois lies. The truth is that even if under conditions of imperialism workers in imperialist countries have been able to enjoy a relatively high standard of living in the past, nevertheless it has been at the price of great human misery in the oppressed countries, and constant warfare including two devastating world wars. Moreover, such are the workings of capitalism that it always exerts pressure on the poor to become poorer, even in wealthy imperialist countries – and there is constantly the threat of economic collapse, leading to sudden mass unemployment and destitution. The only possible solution to these systemic problems is the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism – not the ‘socialism’ of more for workers under capitalism, but the seizure of all major means of production by the working class to be put to use exclusively for producion of the needs of the working class, instead of being mobilised only for the profit of the super-rich as is the case under capitalism. However, nobody running in the French Presidential election was running on a working class agenda. Nobody was putting forward the real interests of the French working class, moreover nobody has done so in any election for a pretty long time. Instead, Philip Stephens in the Financial Times of 26 April tells us that “the left, or most of it, has at last owned up to the fact that the state could not compete with the market” (i.e., that it has abandoned the perspective of overthrowing capitalism and accepted that ‘communism doesn’t work’). In these circumstances is it really surprising that some 1 in 6 of the electorate falls victim to fascist demagogy? Dominique Moïsi, writing in the Financial Times of 23 April rightly calls the electoral support for fascism in France a “cry of despair of its citizens”. But it is not a cry that will bring any relief to them from the bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie benefits from, and therefore defends to the last, the capitalist system that is bringing so much insecurity and misery to the working class. If it ever hears any cries of despair, it can only respond by saying: don’t blame me, and by offering a scapegoat. By focussing on immigration and crime as the cause of the discontent among the French electorate, the bourgeois media are effectively on behalf of the bourgeoisie saying: don’t blame us. Don’t blame capitalism. Blame foreigners, blame the common criminals. Thus Victor Mallet in the Financial Times of 24 April:
“There is little dispute about the importance of either immigration or crime in recent French history.
“According to the government, about 4 million foreigners live in France and 12 million of the country’s 60 million people have at least one foreign parent or grandparent. In the last 25 years hundreds of thousands of North Africans have migrated to French cities.
“As for crime, statistics show it has risen sharply in the past couple of years…
“Crime in rural and suburban areas has been rising faster than in towns, which helps to explain why Mr Le Pen scored so well in the provinces and less well in Paris …
“In France, there are about 150 ‘no-go’ urban districts and housing estates, often terrorised by North African criminal gangs, where neither police nor the emergency services are prepared to go without heavy reinforcements. Immigration and certain types of crime are thus intimately connected but not necessarily in the simple way French voters tend to believe.”
What this amounts to is to say that the despair of the French electorate, which brings them to vote for fascists, is down to the prevalence of crime, which in turn is disproportionately rife in immigrant communities. In other words, blame the criminals, blame the immigrants. Yet none of the bourgeois media is supporting resort to fascism. All of them, while happily diffusing the fascist message, finds fascism loathsome and urges bourgeois liberal politicians to show the electorate “that they too have a purpose beyond power” (Philip Stephens, op. cit.). The reason is that for the moment the European bourgeoisie has no need of fascism. It has no need to hold down the working class by naked violence, for it is fully successful in the far more cost effective and efficient means of holding them down by deception. Should by some constitutional freak a Le Pen get himself into a position of power, he will no more have the power to carry out those of his policies that do not suit imperialism (such as, for example, exit from the European Union) than did Jospin. For instance, the bourgeoisie of France needs immigrants to provide cheap labour. It is not going for the moment to countenance any threat to that. This does not prevent it, however, from encouraging all parties, and not just the fascists by any means, to use immigrants as scapegoats for all the ills of capitalism at every opportunity, so long as this does not reach such a pitch as to obstruct its exploitation of immigrant labour.
There are many who will argue that to prevent the fascists coming to power we must support non-fascist bourgeois parties, as indeed the ‘left’ in France rallied to the support of sleaze-ridden Chirac in the presidential run-off. Victor Mallet says in the Financial Times of 22 April that ” a victory for the left in June [when France holds parliamentary elections] … is not out of the question if left-wing and centrist voters can be persuaded that Mr Le Pen presents such a severe threat that they should rally around the battered Socialist party.”
However, as we have seen, the policies of supporting bourgeois liberal parties merely tarnishes their supporters with the crimes the latter commit in pursuit of the interests of imperialism. Worse still, it leaves the working class devoid of a voice to press for its urgent demands and interests. What is important for communists at this moment is not to prevent some unsavoury character winning this or that parliamentary seat or official position, much less to support some other unsavoury character in winning that seat or position to keep the first unsavoury character out. What is important for communists is to revive the struggle of the working class to finish off capitalism and itself take power in order to create a socialist society. What is important is to re-establish links among those who are most oppressed in our society, those who are unemployed, those who are employed but whose working conditions have been rendered unbearable by privatisation or underfunding in the public sector, and to spread the understanding that socialism still represents the only solution to their problems. For if the communists do not do their job of fighting for working-class interests and mobilising workers to solve their problems in the only practical way possible – overthrowing capitalism – then it would be the communists themselves who would be leaving the way clear for fascist demagogues to look good in electoral contests.
As the crisis deepens to the point where the bourgeoisie begins to find it difficult to maintain its rule by deception then undoubtedly it will, if it can, unleash fascism on the working class. Although history shows that when this happens most of social democracy is more likely to support fascism than rally to the defence of the working class, nevertheless at that point, to the extent that fascism was exterminating social democrats as well, communists would endeavour to mobilise such social-democrats as they could against fascism, especially among the rank and file. But that is a problem to be faced as and when the bourgeoisie abandons bourgeois democracy in favour of rule by naked violence. At this time, however, a call for unity with social democracy can only be a call for unity with imperialism that social democracy serves so unstintingly, it can only be a dereliction of our communist duty, an abandonment of our constituency to their fate, a betrayal of our class, a sell-out to imperialism.