Further comments on the FN and the French second round

Submitted by martin on 26 April, 2017 - 3:58 Author: Martin Thomas

Further comments on the FN and the French second round

1. Blank votes

I credited LO's call for a blank vote on the second round in 2002 as a relative success, because there were 5.4% of blank votes on the second round and only 3.4% on the first. In fact, all French presidential elections for a while now have had markedly more blank votes on the second round than on the first.
At the time the comrades of Arguments pour la lutte sociale said that it was good that a sizeable blank vote had been maintained on the second round: I should have read the word "maintained" more carefully.
The fundamental argument against voting Chirac then - that he was going to win anyway, and voting for him could serve no purpose except to give him a little extra credit - stands.
This time, Nathalie Arthaud said she would vote blank, but pointedly did not call on her voters to do likewise.

2. Where left votes go in the second round

In 2002 J-M Le Pen got very few more votes in the second round than in the first. The big majority of all other candidates' voters (including LO's voters) went for Chirac.
This time it is less clear. For example, 12% of Mélenchon's voters say they will vote for Le Pen. Mélenchon himself refuses to say. His sidekick Alexis Corbière signals that he favours voting Macron, but the French media report a significant number of Mélenchon voters inclined to abstain on 7 May.
Macron is bad, but not worse or more repulsive than Chirac, who had been one of the main leaders of the French right for decades (prime minister 1974-6, mayor of Paris 1977-1995, prime minister again 1986-88, president since 1995).
Marine Le Pen's effort to "de-demonise" the FN has had effect, including among left-minded people. That's one of the reasons why I favour saying vote Macron on the second round: to challenge the drift to accept Marine Le Pen as not so bad after all, or to accept fatalistically that she is going to win power sometime soon anyway.

2. "Supporting" and "endorsing"

In my 2002 polemic I derided those who said they were using a cross for Chirac on the ballot paper to defeat Le Pen, but not supporting Chirac. There were some on the left who even said that a big Chirac vote was a dialectical way of undermining Chirac. I derided that equivocation.
I did not say, or at least did not intend to say, that voting for Chirac meant politically endorsing him. In the sense that Lenin, during the Kornilov revolt, insisted with some Bolsheviks that they were not "supporting" Kerensky, as such, i.e. not endorsing him - in that sense, it was true that the LCR, say, voting Chirac did not mean political support.
Only 36.7% of voters said they "approved of" Chirac in an opinion poll done at the same time as the election. His ratings in polls which asked voters if they "had confidence" in him as president went up in May 2002 compared to April, but not dramatically. By July 2002 they were down to a similar level to early 2002, and by early 2005 they were falling towards very low levels.
In the legislative elections which followed soon after the 2002 presidential election, the mainstream right (UMP plus UDF) did better than in 1997 (RPR plus UDF), but that requires no explanation beyond the discredit the SP had brought on itself through the Jospin government (and the fact that many who had voted FN in the presidential election had recoiled in alarm by June).

3. The FN "Blairised"

Marine Le Pen has "Blairised" the FN in the sense of giving it a more mainstream-friendly presentation. She calls it "de-demonisation". It is also true that 45 years of electoralism has given the FN a base which is adapted to electoralism rather than street-fighting. The FN has only 50,000 paid-up members, whereas the Nazi party had 1.5 million members by early 1933, plus 425,000 in the paramilitary SA. At the end of 1921 Mussolini had 300,000 members in the PNF, which was formed out of his paramilitary "fasci".
Reading more books about the FN, however, convinces me that the Blair analogy is very limited.
Marine Le Pen herself has not shifted ideologically. The group around her in the FN leadership - and the FN's regime is autocratic to a degree which would make some Stalinist parties look liberal - are all ideological fascists.
The FN was originally set up in 1972 as an effort to take the far right beyond the stage of small, fractious street-fighting groups, and turn to electoralism.
Jean-Marie Le Pen led that turn. It was not about shifting in substantive politics, but modifying presentation: checking your canvassers to make sure they did not take knuckle-dusters out with them, instructing them (in an official FN handbook) that they should talk about "helping immigrants return home" rather than "throwing the wogs into the sea", etc.
Marine Le Pen has continued the same approach. The big shifts in presentation were mostly initiated by Jean-Marie Le Pen:
# the FN describing itself as "neither left nor right" rather than "far right"
# the FN defining itself as "republican" and "secular", and respecting the heritage of the French Revolution
# the FN presenting itself as for social provision and welfare (for the French, not immigrants) rather than as hardline free-market, and making a specific pitch to workers
# the FN accepting that a large chunk of the North-African-origin population is now French, and in France to stay
# the FN coming out against antisemitism.
J-M Le Pen's notorious statement about the gas chambers being only "a detail" of World War 2 actually came after a sustained attempt by him, which looked like being successful, to build bridges to conservative Jews. He was about to fix up a visit to Israel. He made the statement, breaking his usual rules about careful presentation, late on in a TV interview. And his personal rule seems always not to apologise for anything he's said (even if he wishes he had not said it).
Marine Le Pen is a more deft and flexible politician, but not different in fundamentals.
The French far right is like a layer cake. All the following strands are still live within it.
# the monarchists who abhor the French Revolution of 1789-94, and those phobic about Freemasonry as the cause of that Revolution and evils since then
# the Catholic traditionalists, and the "neo-pagans" who hold that paganism is the real European religion, and Christianity an enfeebling Oriental import
# the antisemites who uphold the heritage of the anti-Dreyfus right
# the Vichy-ists
# the right wing of the De Gaulle movement, which in the late 40s Trotskyists reckoned to be proto-fascist
# the Algerie Francaise generation, the defenders of French colonialism
# the backlash against May 1968 (frequently mentioned in French far right literature as where France went bad)
J-M Le Pen, personally, first came into politics in a monarchist-fascist movement most of which (not all, and not Le Pen himself) had supported the Vichy regime. And he fought in Algeria. But from the early 1970s his attitude to all the old strands of far-right ideology was: we understand what you're about, but accept my leadership, do what you're told, and don't go on in public about "folkloric" causes which may be justified but are now, or at least for now, lost.
Marine Le Pen is the same, except that she has no personal ties to the older layers of far-right thinking. She has been formed exclusively by the backlash against May 1968. Some of her closest allies are ex-members of the GUD, a fascist student group formed in December 1968 specifically in reaction against May 1968.

4. FN voting base

Detailed research shows only about 4% of voters with Muslim names voting for the FN, an increase over 1% previously but still small.
The percentage of manual workers voting for the FN is high, but in some ways misleadingly high. Relatively few manual worker voters have gone from the SP and CP to the FN.
The bigger shifts are of manual workers who used to vote Gaullist - and there were a lot of them - going to the FN; and manual workers who used not to vote at all, now voting FN.
Meanwhile, most CP manual-workers voters have shifted to the SP; some SP voters have shifted to the mainstream right; more of them have shifted to abstaining.
The FN vote is small in most big cities - only 5% in Paris - and stronger in small towns and villages, especially those in economic decline.

5. Trotsky

This is from a tweet by Céline Malaisé, a former leader of the LCR. She has now, with Christian Picquet and others, gone into the PCF, which I think is a very bad move. But she still knows her Trotsky, and quotes him from December 1931.
"There are seven keys in the musical scale. The question which of these keys is 'better': Do, Re or Sol is a senseless question. But the musician must know when to strike and what keys to strike. The abstract question as to who is the lesser evil: Bruening or Hitler – is just as senseless.
"It is necessary to know which of these keys to strike. Is that clear? For the weak-minded let us cite another example. When one of my enemies sets before me small daily portions of poison and the second, on the other hand, is about to shoot straight at me, then I will first knock the revolver out of the hand of my second enemy, for this gives me an opportunity to get rid of my first enemy. But that does not at all mean that the poison is a 'lesser evil' in comparison to the revolver."
Trotsky was referring to the dispute about how to vote in the referendum with which the Nazis tried to bring down the Social-Democrat-led Prussian government.
Trotsky tilts the way he puts it in order to get a hearing from workers trained in Stalinist Third Period thinking. But in another reading of "lesser evil", small daily doses of poison are indeed a lesser evil than being shot dead straight off. That is why you go first against the enemy with the gun.