From the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
If the majority of the world's people are to solve their basic problems of poverty, insecurity and general alienation, and achieve a society of equality, they will have to join together democratically, irrespective of nationality and so-called race, to bring it about.
One of their main tasks must he the elimination of national, ethnic and racial prejudices and hatreds. They will have to recognize their identity of interests.
Such recognition is not—and has never been—easy. Xenophobia, in varying degrees, has always existed within capitalist society. And racism, an ideology or system of beliefs which claims that one so-called race or ethnic group is inherently superior to another, has been a feature of our society for a very long time.
No-one needs reminding of the horrors of Nazism during the 1930s and 1940s, for example.
Unfortunately, however, in recent times, particularly with the onset of economic recession and ever-increasing unemployment. ethnic and national hatreds have once again increased in many countries, often breaking out into bitter and bloody conflicts and civil wars. And in many countries. immigrant workers and. quite often, the children and even grandchildren of immigrants. have become scapegoats for economic ills, and have been erroneously blamed for causing unemployment or taking jobs and housing away from indigenous workers.
The flames of such conflicts and hatreds have, more often than not, been fanned by overtly Fascist and racist groups and parties; but also at times of economic recession and political crises, by mainstream, reformist parties of both left and right.
France is a case in point.
By the beginning of 1969. there were about three million immigrants in France, of whom two million were salaried workers. There were 700,000 Spaniards, 685,000 Italians and 300,000 Portuguese. Over the following ten years or so, most of these workers merged into the general working-class environment. And like the French, the majority are at least nominally Catholic. The situation with regard to the North Africans from Algeria. Morocco and Tunisia, has been, and still is, much different, as most are Moslems.
In the sixties, the governments of France, as in other Western European countries, together with many French employers, encouraged immigration. Indeed, immigrant labour was considered indispensable for the maintenance and development of activity in certain sectors of the economy, which at the time was booming. In April 1967, a report by the Office d'Immigration stated that:
immigration has contributed to getting our economy going and expanding. Jobs which no longer attract French people, or for which there were no applicants, have been taken up by foreigners without any difficulty arising among national workers.
Immigrant workers undertook the hardest, worst-paid, jobs, particularly in the car and building construction industries. As elsewhere, immigrants had to find, or accept, cheap apartments and houses near their places of work, which tended to become ghettoes, which in turn, placed a heavy burden on municipal schooling and some welfare facilities. This was considered acceptable at the time, though many French workers began to move out into the suburbs of the cities.
By 1975 the situation began to change. As in Britain and elsewhere, unemployment began, slowly at first, to increase. And French workers had to accept jobs they had hitherto refused. Often, they complained that immigrants had taken "their" jobs, as though the jobs were theirs by right. They also accused immigrant workers of taking their apartments—most of which were appalling slums, and didn't belong to the workers anyway.
So, by 1975, the French government, realizing that the "good times” of capitalist expansion were, at least for the foreseeable future, over, halted immigration. Shortly after, the government even offered the equivalent of £1,000 to any immigrant who volunteered to return to his or her country of origin. But there were few takers. Unemployment, particularly in Algeria, was (and still is) endemic. Even life in a Paris slum was preferable to an Algerian village or a worse slum in Algiers.
By the late 1970s. however, many immigrants began to be subjected to harassment. and worse. Surprisingly—or, perhaps, not—the first really nasty assault on immigrant workers was not organized by a far-right Fascist group, but by members and officials of the Parti Communiste Français, the French Communist Party. It was on Christmas Eve, 1980.
A hostel for 300 African workers from Mali had just been renovated in the Paris suburb of Vitry. an area with a Communist administration. The Communist mayor led a gang of PC heavies with a bulldozer and proceeded to smash the place up. making it uninhabitable. The doorways were blocked with earth, and the iron railings were torn up by the bulldozer. Gas, electricity and the central heating were cut off. The Communists had no intention of being outdone by the Fascists in pandering to the nationalist and racist prejudices of local French workers. Nor did the mayor intend to lose his job.
Following the upheavals of 1968 in France a number of small far-right groups began to emerge, such as the Nouvelle Droite of Alain de Benoist and later the violent, hardline Nazi Fédération d'Action Nationale Européene (FANE), led by Marc Frederikson which has continued to exist under various names.
In Britain, the National Front was formed in 1967; in France, the Front National (FN) was not formed until 1972. Like the British NF, the French FN began life as an unholy mixture of hard-line Fascists, anti-immigrant racists and far-right conservatives, although unlike some of the pre-war far-right such as I'Action Française, the FN accepts the Republic and is not monarchist. It also attracted the support of many pieds noirs as former colonists from Algeria are known. The FN denies that it is a Fascist party, but it does display many of the trappings, symbols and attitudes of the pre-war Parti Populaire Français of Jacques Doriot. Its undisputed leader is Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Jean-Marie Le Pen was born in a fisherman's cottage in the Brittany village of La Trinité-sur-Mer in 1928. His father was killed in the war, when his boat hit a German mine. As a student in Paris, in the 1950s, Le Pen was already a right-winger, leading gangs of students on demonstrations in the Latin Quarter against “commies” and “lefties”. After his student days, he briefly became a paratrooper, in the Foreign Legion, in Indo-China. Back in France, he became a supporter of Pierre Poujade's right-wing movement and, at 27, was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as one of the movement's most turbulent deputies. He soon quarrelled with Poujade, however, and. tiring of parliament, enlisted in the French Army, and was sent to Algeria, where according to a police report he supervised the electric shock torture of at least one Algerian nationalist prisoner—which he denies (if Lieutenant Jean-Marie Le Pen didn't torture any Algerians, he must have been an exception to the rule!).
On his return to France, Le Pen again became involved in various small right-wing fringe groups, and subsequently lost an eye in a street brawl following a rally. For a number of years, he was regularly seen wearing a black eye patch, looking like a Hollywood pirate. After a while, he started up a small publishing business, but was later prosecuted, and fined, for “glorifying war crimes'' by selling a record album of Nazi songs. Jean-Marie Le Pen did, however, learn one lesson: he tried to keep within the law, and he tended to use innuendo rather than direct racist remarks. He was re-elected to parliament in 1958, as an independent, but lost his seat in 1962.
Soon after the formation of the Front National in 1972, the organization was rent by a number of violent internal feuds, and some of the hardline neo-Nazi elements broke way to form groups like FANE, leaving Le Pen in control. But he. his family, and his party were broke, and living on loans. Then, in 1976, fate was kind to Le Pen. Almost overnight he became a rich man.
On 25 September 1976, Hubert Lambert. a 42-year-old alcoholic and tranquillizer addict, who dreamed of becoming a Minister in a Front National government, died from cirrhosis of the liver. Le Pen eventually inherited a half of his £3 million fortune; and with his wife and his three daughters moved into the late millionaire's luxury villa in Saint Cloud. Le Pen dispensed with his black eye patch, and bought himself a brand new glass eye and some expensive suits. He also dyed his thinning, dark brown but greying, hair blond; and he acquired two black Dobermans.
Life for French, as well as Frances immigrant. workers was less satisfactory. And was to get worse. By 1980, ethnic tensions had increased considerably.
It was not until 1983 that FN electoral support began to take off, when a municipal by-election in Dreux. a town west of Paris where immigrants made up a quarter of the population, gave them four elected councillors with almost 27 percent of the vote. They had campaigned on a purely racist platform. In December Le Pen stood in a parliamentary by-election in the Brittany constituency of Morbihan. Although he received 50 percent of the vote in his home village of Trinité-sur-Mer, his overall vote was only 12 percent. Unlike in Dreux, he was not able to play the anti-immigrant card in Brittany.
In the 1984 elections to the European Parliament, the FN took 11 percent of the national vote and, as seats were allocated under a system of proportional representation, got 10 seats.
In the local, cantonal elections in March 1985, in which half the French electorate was eligible to vote, the Front National vote was only 8.7 percent nationally, although they increased their vote in the south of the country (to as much as 30.4 percent in Nice) and in some of the Paris suburbs. Nevertheless, in the first round the Front received one million votes. During and after the elections, there were a number of attacks on immigrants in both the south of the country, and in the Paris region. And throughout the year, racist and FN slogans could be seen all over Paris and the suburbs. Front slickers, “Votez Le Pen", were everywhere—and can still be seen in many places. Front National membership was almost 70,000. And increasing.
Le Pen now had a solid base for the General Election the following March. In the main, the Front's policies were, even by the usual standards of capitalist and reformist politics, vague yet populist. Except on immigration where, if anything, they had hardened, Front National policies had not changed much since 1978.
As a throwback to Poujadism, the FN called for “la liberté d’entreprendre” and opposition to the technocrats ”de la gauche". As an even farther throwback, to the wartime régime of Vichy, they called for measures to develop the family as the basic cell of French society. Resistance to "Marxism in our schools" was also high on the Front’s agenda. And another slogan during the election was: "Yes to work for young French people means No to immigration!". Always the main Front National slogan has been: "Lutter contre 1‘immigration”.
The Front entered the election with confidence. They considered the newly-introduced proportional representation to be in their favour. In the event, the FN received 2,705,838 votes, just on 10 percent of the votes cast. This gave them 34 members in the National Assembly (plus one sympathizer). And what a weird bunch many of the FN members of the National Assembly were! There was Edouard Dupont, aged 83, who had been an official in the collaborationist Vichy wartime government: there was former Captain Pierre Sergent. aged 60, who had led the OAS secret army in France, and had been condemned to death while on the run, but subsequently amnestied; there was Roland Gaucher, who had been a pro-Nazi youth leader during the German occupation. Another oddity was Pierre Ceyrac who, besides being a member of the Front National, was also a member of the Rev Moon's Unification Church. Ten other members had opposed Algerian independence. Six of them were lawyers, and one was a big landowner. All of them, however, pressed the new government of Jacques Chirac to set up a ministry to oversee the control, and deportation, of two million North African and black immigrants (this, presumably, included the children and even grandchildren of immigrants).
Meanwhile, racist gangs, including known FN members, as well as the police, continued to harass and physically attack immigrants or anyone with a “coloured” skin. At railway stations, and in suburban streets, police presence became ever more pervasive. Foreigners were sometimes held for days on end at police discretion and then secretly expelled from the country.
Peter E. Newell