May 13, 2002
The first electoral successes of the National Front date back to the beginning of the 1980s. Before then it never polled more than three% of the vote, even though it had existed under the name of the National Front since 1972.
But in 1983, the National Front obtained 16% of the vote in municipal elections in Dreux and close to 10% in Aulnay-sous-Bois. In June of 1984, this electoral breakthrough on the local level was repeated on the national level in the European elections. The National Front gained 11% of the votes or 2.2 million voters. In the presidential election of 1988, Le Pen got 4.3 million votes and then 4.5 million in 1995. The National Front got similar results in the municipal elections which followed.
It is a serious problem when a fraction of the right wing population, which has always existed in France, slides to the extreme right. But it is an even more serious sign when a fraction of the working class voters turn to the extreme right. Today, this vote is becoming stronger, as is shown by the electoral vote in the more modest and poor neighborhoods.
The first increase in votes for the National Front in 1983 came two years after the Union of the Left became the government. The vote reflects the disillusionment of a fraction of the working and poor classes, which had put their hopes in the left government. Mitterrand, President of the Republic, and the Socialist Party government of Mauroy (which included four Communist Party ministers) decided to freeze wages and to institute huge layoffs in state jobs. This government even renounced its support for the right of immigrants to vote in local elections – which had been the one point distinguishing the views of the left and the right wing parties. Mitterrand played on racist prejudices when he made speeches about the “limits of tolerance” for the immigrant workers arriving in France.
At the same time, layoffs and unemployment grew, but there was no response against them as might have been expected from a government which claimed to be left wing. On the contrary, Mauroy became the chief architect of the steel plan, which threw thousands of steel workers in the Lorraine area out on the street.
Today, to confront the dangers represented by the increased support for Le Pen in the working and poor classes, the only thing the traditional left parties propose is to vote for Chirac.
The influence of the extreme right is linked to the demoralization of a large part of the working class. The organizations which claim to stand on its side and to represent its interests have given in and express the politics of the bosses.
In this situation, there are no quick and easy solutions. Calling on people to vote for a right wing politician, claiming that this is the only way to block the extreme right, means only to dupe the workers.
But workers are not powerless and do not have to resign themselves to put down their arms.
The class struggle will not disappear the day after this election: the bosses won’t disarm themselves.
It will become even more necessary to carry out a struggle, in full consciousness, drawing upon all the experience learned from what we are living though. Above all, we have to clearly understand who is on the side of the exploited, the laboring people, and who is in the camp of their enemies. That is, who one can count on and who one must distrust.
There remain, in the heart of the world of labor tens of thousands of militants. The same is true in working class neighborhoods. There are those who have not let down their guard and who, we can hope, have become more clear – they can be the real means to block the extreme right.