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Issue #1545      2 May 2012

Culture & Life

The Dangers of Fascism in Europe Today

There will be a runoff in the French presidential election between Hollande, the Socialist party leader whose party has been associated with very centrist policies and Sarkozy, the president of the Centre-Right government which has supported the general “austerity” policies advanced most of all by Germany, the most powerful in terms of industrial and finance capital of the Eurozone nations.

The National Front led by Marine Le Pen.

The Left Front, with the Communist Party of France as its most important component, received around 12 percent of the divided vote (the last count that I saw) and the Left Front’s policies seem already to have encouraged Hollande’s campaign to take a stronger stand against austerity in its campaign.

But there is a significant political danger that has also developed in and through the campaign. The National Front led by the daughter of its founder, Jean Marie Le Pen, received nearly 19 percent of the vote. The National Front until fairly recently was a “traditional” European Neo-fascist party, national chauvinist, anti-Semitic, using violence against socialists and Communists. It is still largely that, but new immigration in recent decades to France, from both Africa and especially from Islamic countries, has given it a much larger market among those sections of the population who bring with them the baggage of traditional racist prejudices and have been threatened by both de-industrialisation and also the demographic shifts that have changed neighbourhoods.

In 2002, Le Pen, riding the wave of this “protest vote” actually ran ahead of the Socialist candidate, only to be overwhelming defeated by the conservative Jacques Chirac in the presidential elections.

And Le Pen, a literal blast from an ugly and criminal past, is what we would call “a piece of work.”

As a teenager from a rightwing Roman Catholic background, he sold the newspaper of the Action Francaise, the organisation whose founder and leader, Charles Maurras, has long been regarded by scholars as one of the founding fathers of European fascism. Maurras, whose involvement began in leading rightist thugs against the supporters of the framed French Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfuss, in the late 1890s and afterwards, developed a fascism rooted in both Catholiciism and a support for monarchy, although his group “pioneered” the street fighting techniques and use of terror against the left that Mussolini and Hitler picked up in their blackshirt and storm troop groups.

At the time, Maurras was also in prison for his fascist activities during the Vichy regime and the Nazi occupation. Le Pen after selling Action Francaise newsparers then became president of a student group, The association of “corporatist” students of the right” (a “corporate” state had been associated with Mussolini’s regime) engaging in street fights with Communists.

Le Pen then joined the French Foreign Legion, showing up in Vietnam after the fall of Dien Dien Phu, and in the colonial war in Algeria where, as he later admitted, he used torture against independence fighters. Le Pen then spent most of the 1960s and 1970s in the sewers of French rightwing politics and personal scandal (one of his ex-wives posed naked for the French edition of Playboy). But just as in the US, with the present day Koch brothers and many others in the past who give money to both the “respectable right” and the ultras, there were French capitalists who backed him.

Le Pen founded the National Front in 1972 and began to run for the presidency beginning in 1974. Although Le Pen got himself into court on a number of occasions for violating both French and German laws by trivialising the fascist mass murder of Jewish people during WW2 known as the Holocaust (he called it an insignificant detail of World War II). He also championed the cause of Vichy World War II collaborators as in effect the true “patriots” of WW2.

But his party in France began to gain votes in the political international reactionary political climate of the 1980s, blaming economic stagnation on immigrants and the left. While the National Front has never been able so far to gain the strength of even the various fascist leagues in 1930s France, against whom the Popular Front was developed, it has hung around in French politics, profiting from the relative decline of the Communist and socialist left, the fears inspired by Islamic terrorist groups, and of course the austerity policies of the present French conservative government in the midst of a far-reaching economic crisis.

Perhaps I have dealt with Le Pen’s wretched history too long and too much. But it really is important to understand where he, his daughter, and their party are coming from.

He is 77 now, cheering on his daughter-successor, who has like other “traditional” neo-fascist parties in Europe, sought to streamline and update the party’s image to appeal to the contemporary racist reactionary mass market.

Its danger should not minimised. In 2002, with nearly 17 percent of the vote he ran second in a very fragmented and divided field. Earlier this week, although Le Pen’s daughter Marine Le Pane ran well behind Hollande the social-democrat, who ran first, and Sarkozy, Marine did slightly better than that, piggy-backing in a grotesquely ironic way on the fear created by the immigrant who murdered Jewish children and Muslim soldiers of the French military.

Some on the left feel that this vote will actually help Hollande win the runoff by putting Sarkozy in a difficult position. I am not so sure, but more importantly, the presence of these organised fascist political forces, their “hanging around” in the midst of an economic crisis, is a formidable danger. In Germany for example anti-Nazi conservative politicians (not those who sought to use Hitler as an insurance policy against the left) by pursuing fiscal conservative policies (austerity policies of trying to balance budgets and contain debt) in the early depression years helped the Nazis become a mass force.

If Sarkozy in France and Romney in the US win, we can expect the former to continue and the latter to launch austerity policies that will worsen conditions and strengthen reaction – although in the US the racist reactionary and clerical forces that support the National Front in France and similar parties in European countries are a powerful force in the Republican party today.

Political Affairs  

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