Firstly, the ethnic card and islamophobia in general has become part of the armoury of conservative politicians of every hue and colour. Sarkozy was elected thanks to a campaign which saw him consciously seeking, and winning, support from the far-right for his programme of privatisations and law and order politics. He was already a popular figure among them thanks to his infamous ‘racaille’ speech during the 2005 banlieue riots, but since the crisis has hit, this card has been played more conscientiously. For instance, in October and November 2009, when protest movements on the issues of the La Poste and SNCF privatisations and education reforms were starting to organise, Sarkozy and Besson (the interior minister) sought to cut across them by first of all scapegoating the ‘sans-papiers’ with the destruction of the Jungle at Calais, and then through their odious ‘national identity’ debate which turned into a muslim-baiting exercise. On top of this, Sarko has come out in support of the Swiss minaret ban and for the banning of the veil, something which has gone down well with the supporters of the far-right but which has also dragged islamophobic politics into the mainstream and legitimised the FN and their fellow travellers. Sarkozy has a heavy responsibility to bear for their rise- people who might have voted for him now have no problem voting for the FN as they’re getting the same policies.
The second key issue is the decline of the far-left vote, which played a certain role in the past in attracting votes from the unemployed away from the far-right. The high point for the far left was the 2005 regional elections, where the combined vote of the LO (Lutte Ouvriere- a trotskyist outfit, which has a cultish reputation) and the LCR (Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire- trotskyists too but quite softer than other trotskyist groups and with a reputation on the left similar to that of the SWP here and in the UK) topped 10%. Since then, the LCR has dissolved and formed what was hoped to be a new workers party, the NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), which despite promising beginnings has since flopped due to lack of a clear programme and serious internal arguments over the future direction and matters of day-to-day importance such as electoral work, which has seen splits and has dragged the party down. At present, there is no viable left alternative, which has played a role in the vote won by the FN in places like the Pas de Calais, which is impoverished due to unemployment and would make a good base for the left if they were better organised in the area.
These are some of the key factors behind the emergence of the FN as a force to be reckoned with in French politics. This debate is relevant to us as well because we’ve seen attempts to set up far-right movements here in recent times, and as the crisis deepens thanks to the continuing cuts and bailouts, the possible foundation of a far-right party is something that should be taken seriously by the left. At the moment, many of the conditions for the emergence of such a far-right movement are in place: swift and sudden economic collapse, high and rising unemployment, strong undercurrents of racism (evidenced in the 2004 Citizenship Referendum), the choking off of emigration (which previously served as a safety valve) by the global nature of the crisis, and fear of dispossession & pauperisation among the middle classes of this country. A strong and united left, which is the best insurance against such a movement, does not presently exist in this country, notwithstanding the gains made by the ULA in the recent election. Unless the left can get its ass in gear and build a new political party capable of providing a clear and strong alternative, going beyond the sloganeering currently offered by the main left parties, then the conditions for the emergence of a far-right movement mentioned above could allow such a movement to crystallise and develop, notwithstanding the fact that it is historically unprecedented in the Southern state.
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