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Beast of the Month - July 2002
Jean-Marie Le Pen, Ultra-Right French Political Leader
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Sometimes, a Beast is not just a Beast for what it is, but what it justifies. Sometimes (like in the case of Osama bin Laden) a Beast is a mere phantom menace that obscures the truly frightening trends towards the Dark Side. Recently, such a Beast popped on the radar from the streets of France.
On April 21 (the day after Hitler's birthday) the French establishment was stunned by the results in first-round voting for President. In first, with 19.9 percent of the vote, was incumbent Jacques Chirac, the scandal-plagued conservative leader of the Gaullist Party. In third, rather than the expected first or second, was Lionel Jospin of the Socialist Party, with 16.2 percent. The shocker was the silver medalist: with 16.9 percent, the 73-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen of the neo-fascist National Front Party (and The Konformist Beast of the Month.)
Outrage was heard around the world: Le Pen was, simply put, an unacceptable option. The top-cited reason for opposition of Le Pen was the anti-Semitism of his xenophobic, nationalistic ultra-right politics. In 1987 he described the gas chambers as a "detail of history," a statement which he has long since tried to live down and explain away as taken out of context. Perhaps it was, but look at the larger context of Le Pen that is lesser known: as Doug Ireland noted in the magazine In These Times, "Le Pen is the linear descendant of Vichy France's collaborationists with the Nazis... he wrote a forward to the neo-Nazi tract published by Franz Schonhuber, the former SS officer and leader of Germany's fascist Republican Party in the '70s and '80s."
(To explain away his anti-Semitic history, Le Pen shows his supposed unity with Jews by engaging in rabid anti-Arab bashing and vocalizing support for Ariel Sharon's campaign in Palestine. Again, anyone who knows the history of Le Pen shouldn't be surprised: as a paratrooper, he tortured Algerians during the former French colony's war for independence - a bloody war that the Israel-Palestine conflict increasingly resembles. Perhaps it says something about the depths of depravity that the state of Israel has sunk under Sharon that its actions could be used to give support to a thug like Le Pen.)
How could this have happened in France, a place which long has long been a center for liberal toleration? In some ways, it was a fluke: many French were alienated by Jospin's Klintonesque attempt at a "centrist" economic policy during his recent control of the legislature, including massive "privatization" of state enterprises under his reign, and they abandoned the Socialist Party for alternatives. Two Trotskyite candidates, Arlette Laguiller of the Workers' Struggle and Olivier Besancenot of the Revolutionary Communist League, received 5.9 percent and 4.3 percent respectively. Meanwhile, Noel Mamere of the Greens received 5.3 percent, Jean-Pierre Chevenement of the Republican Pole another 5.3 percent, and Robert Hue of the dying dinosaur Communist Party received 3.4 percent. All told, leftist parties received 43 percent of the vote, compared to 31.8 to the conservative block and 19.2 percent for the ultra-right led by Le Pen. And this is excluding the record 30 percent of the electorate who chose not to vote, a high portion of those leftists who felt increasingly alienated by the Jospin Socialists. So it could be argued that the results were more due to a divided house in the left than any newfound sympathies to the right.
Perhaps it could, but the fact remains that, even without the fluke, the times have changed in France. After 911, France has (like much of the Western world) become increasingly frightened of security and mistrustful of outsiders - in particular Arabs. Crime was increasingly the major issue facing candidates, no doubt aided by the mass shooting in Nanterre city council chambers, which left eight dead and 19 wounded. (Konformist korrespondent David McGowan has persuasively argued that the mass shooting was an MK Ultra-esque intelligence operation to turn French voters more reactionary: if so, the operation was a smashing success.) Attacks on both Muslim immigrants and Jewish synagogues have rapidly risen, as usually happens to outsiders when a society increasingly demands scapegoats. In this vacuum of fear and paranoia, Le Pen stepped in and sucked up a powerful chunk of the French population, feeding its worst fears and prejudices.
Of course, Le Pen is hardly alone in whipping anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism, and anti-African immigration in Europe for personal benefit. In France alone, Bruno Megret, a former deputy of Le Pen, received 2.3 percent of the vote for President through his National Republican Movement, and Christine Botti of the Catholic right so-called Independent Centrist received 1.2 percent by milking anti-homosexual sentiments. Here are some of the other examples:
* Italy - Under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has gone perhaps closer to outward fascism than in any European country. His allies include Gianfranco Fini (head of the oldest neo-fascist party in Europe) and the crudely racist Umberto Bossi.
* Austria - Joerg Haider and his Orwellian-named Freedom Party have immense power in the current Austrian government, despite (or perhaps because of) Haider's sound-bite tasty bashing of immigrants and other social scapegoats.
* Netherlands - until his recent assassination that turned him into a martyr, Pim Fortuyn of the Liveable Netherlands was gaining power in Holland with his brand of populist xenophobia. Though he was quick to couch his nativism in progressive values (a homosexual - and, unknown to many, an advocate of pedophila - he was opposed to Arab immigration, he said, because they were a threat to Holland's tolerant society) his party has become a partner in a campaign to turn away from the hedonistic Amsterdam ethic of legalized victimless "crimes."
* Belgium & Denmark - Two countries whose ultra-right parties are similar to Le Pen's: the Belgian Vlaams Blok controls one-third of the electorate, and Denmark's Union People's Party is the nation's third largest. Note that both these countries, like the Netherlands, are historically quite liberal.
The good news, at least according to conventional wisdom, is that Le Pen was crushed in the run-off (in French politics, the top two finishers in the primary go to the final round of voting in a head-to-head battle.) After mass protests against Le Pen were staged across the country (including an estimated 1.5 million on May Day), French voters united under Chirac, and Le Pen was trounced 82 percent to 18 percent on May 5. Then, on June 9, the National Front received only 11.3 percent of the first round legislative vote, with only 37 moving to the second round (as opposed to 15.3 and 134 back in 1997.) All NF candidates were shut out in second-round voting.
The bad news, however, is that the real winner of the French elections has been the leadership of Chirac. As Doug Ireland noted, "Chirac has been named in eight separate investigations of political corruption, and... has been saved from likely indictment and trial only by his presidential immunity." So even beyond analysis of his political ideology, Chirac is a man who deserves not a bit of the political support he and his party has earned. But, thanks to the rabid reaction to Le Pen's Presidential shocker, he has received a stunning reelection, as well as his Gaullist Party receiving a commanding 354 of the 577 seats in the legislature. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party coalition is in disarray: and, for all the faults of the Jospin-led block, it did manage to institute a historically significant 35-hour workweek law while under Chirac.
The battle in politics is not in the center, but in the fringes: whoever shifts the debate farther ultimately becomes the winner. Chirac, using Le Pen as his bogeyman to keep the heat off himself personally, will be given a pass on his own cynical and corrupt reign as President. Meanwhile, France appears ready to succumb to a philosophy of fear.
In any case, we salute Jean-Marie Le Pen as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, dude!!!
The rise of the European right
Barnaby Mason, BBC
April 22, 2002
Lee Harvey Oswald Goes to Nanterre
France Takes a Right Turn
Doug Ireland, In These Times
April 29, 2002
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