Many readers will have seen the results from the first round of Presidential elections in France. Predictably, Parti Socialiste candidate François Hollande came out on top with 28% whereas Sarkozy took roughly 27%. What's disturbing about the results, however, is the fact that far-Right Marine Le Pen took nearly 18% of the vote--more than 6.5 million votes--which is a historic high in France. That means roughly a fifth of the electorate is currently buying into racist, proto-fascist politics. Only a few days ago, there was a great deal of excitement around Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon who was polling as high as 19%. The hope was that his strident Left-populist line would undermine the appeal of the far-Right among working-class French voters. But, as it turns out, Mélenchon took no more than 11% of the vote, which is more or less par for the course in French presidential elections.
Evidently, the draw of islamophobia, racism and nationalism proved stronger than the anti-capitalist rhetoric coming out of the Mélenchon campaign. That is something that could change over the course of the next few years. But it is an indication of where consciousness is at right now, and it ain't pretty.
I don't know enough about the facts on the ground to say much about why this happened. I do suspect, however, that the particular form of isalmophobia that exists in France--which manifests itself on the right as well as the left--explains the durability of the hard-Right there. In the coming weeks, others more immersed French politics will no doubt have more elaborate things to say about the results.
One thing is clear, however. The Guardian's (predictably bad) analysis of the victory for Hollande evinces a deep misunderstanding of the balance of forces in Europe. Take the following quotation, for example:
Europe will be watching the final battle closely. A Hollande victory in the second round would be a turning point in European politics, a rare victory for the left in Europe, which has in recent years moved towards the right. It would also leave the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, looking more isolated in her insistence on rigid austerity measures as the way out of the euro crisis.I find this incredible. As is well-known, the Parti Socialiste is a staunchly neoliberal party that is weak and ever-willing to triangulate to accommodate the Right. The mere fact that Hollande is talking tough on austerity--especially in the face of a Left challenge from Mélenchon--proves nothing about what his government would do in office. His election, in itself, would hardly be a victory for the left.
Let us not forget that Papandreou was the president of the Socialist International. Yet this hardly stopped him and his "socialist" party from implementing a brutal regime of austerity which has eviscerated working class living standards. There are plenty of other examples of invertebrate "center Left" forces ramming through austerity: The PSOE in Spain when Zapatero was in power, for instance. There is nothing--aside from predictable rhetorical posturing during the first round--to suggest that Hollande would do anything different. Nor is there anything, for that matter, to suggest that Ed Miliband would do anything different in the UK were Labour to supplant the current coalition government.
The only thing that will make the difference is the level of organization, confidence and militant struggle among working class people in Europe. I thought the Mélenchon phenomenon was interesting because it seemed to suggest that there was a growing interest in Left responses to the crisis. I think there still is, but the frighteningly high tally for Le Pen should be a sober reminder of the pull that racist ideas have at the moment in France.