La Forge
Organ of the Communist Party of the Workers of France
May 2002

The Phenomenon of Le Pen

At 8 p.m. on April 21, the defeated leaders of the electoral left began their campaign to vote for Chirac. They knowingly dramatized the situation as if there was a danger that Le Pen would get to the Elysee Palace [seat of the President of France – translator’s note]. Responsible politicians, associations, journalists, personalities of all sorts rapidly followed in their footsteps. They pretended that what was at stake was the defence of ‘democracy’ against ‘fascism’ Encouraged even by former Resistance fighters [of the anti-fascist resistance in World War II – translator’s note], they drew a parallel with the situation of the 1930s and the coming of Hitler to power in Germany ‘by the electoral path.’ The youth, lacking historic references and political culture, was the special target – but not the only one – of this manipulation of their widely expressed anti-racist and anti-fascist sentiments. Basing ourselves on the texts of the Comintern on fascism and on our own work (the chapter of the political report to the third congress of the PCOF [Communist Party of the Workers of France – translator’s note] dedicated to this problem we propose, in this article, to come back to two fundamental questions: the definition of fascism and the analysis of the phenomenon of Le Pen. 

What is Fascism? 

Historically, this especially barbaric political regime appeared between the two world wars, in a very particular context. On the one hand, the division of the world among the imperialist powers could not really be carried through to the end, since the Russian revolution forced the enemies of yesterday to make a common front against the new Soviet republic. Powers such as Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany and Japan all sought, to different degrees, to reconquer a ‘vital space’ in Europe, Asia, North Africa... German imperialism, in particular, wanted to lift the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty, which among other things led to the occupation of the Ruhr, the vital heart of German industry. On the other hand, the revolutionary contagion that the Bolsheviks hoped for after the October Revolution did not take place, but the progress of the construction of socialism in the USSR continued to crystallize the hope of the proletariat and the peoples of the whole world. In each country, the greatest preoccupation of the bourgeoisie was the liquidation of the workers’ movement in which the communists played a leading role. Until September 1, 1939 (Germany’s declaration of war on France), Great Britain, France and the United States of America consistently developed a policy of active support to Hitler and the rearmament of Nazi Germany. In their dirty calculations they hoped to kill two birds with one stone: to deflect the expansionism of German imperialism to the East and to put an end to the Soviet Union, the centre of the international communist movement and the focal point of the democratic, anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement. The French bourgeoisie for its part had no hesitation in declaring: ‘Rather Hitler than the Popular Front!’ In this historic context, ‘German fascism,’ as G. Dimitrov emphasized, ‘is acting as the spearhead of international counter-revolution, as the chief instigator of imperialist war, as the initiator of a crusade against the Soviet Union…’1

Fascism and Bourgeois Democracy 

For Marxist-Leninists, bourgeois democracy is also a dictatorship, the instrument of the violent domination of the bourgeoisie and the subjection of the whole society to its interests. The bourgeois institutions, even if they are republican, are all the more reactionary since we are in the stage of imperialism, capitalism of the monopolies, characterized among other things by the direct hold on the State apparatus by these latter. This is the economic base of the fascization of the State, a tendency inherent in imperialism, which is accelerated in periods of crisis. The constitution of the Fifth Republic, characterized at its time as a ‘permanent coup d’état,’ marked an important stage in France at the end of the Algerian war of independence. The revival of a new competition for the division of the world following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the aggravation of international tensions after September 11, 2001, have further reinforced this tendency to ever-greater reaction. Militarization of the economy and society, criminalization of popular resistance and social protest, zero tolerance for the excluded and impunity for the leaders, enlisting of the opinion makers (the role of the media, rewriting of school programmes…) the direct take-over of certain ministries by the monopolies or their representatives, are its most characteristic signs. ‘The accession to power of fascism is not an ordinary succession of one bourgeois government by another, but a substitution of one state form of class domination of the bourgeoisie – bourgeois democracy – by another form – open terrorist dictatorship.’ The policy of communists towards fascism follows from this: ‘It would be a serious mistake to ignore this distinction, a mistake which would prevent the revolutionary proletariat from mobilizing the widest strata of the working people of town and country for the struggle against the menace of the seizure of power by the fascists, and from taking advantage of the contradictions which exist in the camp of the bourgeoisie itself.’ (This was the policy of the ‘anti-fascist popular front’ based on the framework of the ‘workers’ united front.’) ‘ But it is a mistake, no less serious and dangerous,’ continued G. Dimitrov, ‘to underrate the importance, in establishing the fascist dictatorship, of the reactionary measures of the bourgeoisie which are at present increasingly developing in bourgeois-democratic countries – measures which suppress the democratic liberties of the working people, falsify and curtail the rights of parliament and intensify the repression of the revolutionary movement.’2

Were we, on the evening of April 21, on the eve of the advent of fascism, in which only a ‘republican burst’ in the second round [of the presidential elections – translator’s note] could save us? Certainly not! A simple calculation shows us that the right by itself had, in the first round, a number of votes well above those of Le Pen and Mégret together. This having been said, it is not only a question of arithmetic: the immense majority of the big bosses, all those who count in the world of business, those who hold the real power, are at the moment behind Chirac and his liberal programme, and not behind the NF [National Front, Le Pen’s party – translator’s note] for the return of the Franc, the departure from the European Union and the breaking of the alliance with the United States. While it was the Krupps, Thyssens and IG Farbens who made Hitler, today, in France, the Sellieres, Messiers, Monods, Mers… are not with Le Pen but with Chirac. The French oligarchy is not now divided on major political questions, as it had been at the time of the collaboration [with Nazi Germany in World War II – translator’s note] or during the Algerian war of independence. This is not to say that there are no divisions within the French bourgeoisie, nor that the present international alliances are permanent and without weaknesses…, but only that we are not yet at the point where these contradictions are so acute that they can only be resolved by ‘the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.’3

The Le Pen Phenomenon in the Process of Fascization 

Like a large number of the leaders of the extreme right, Le Pen took up his first activity during the anti-communist war in Indochina, then during the Algerian war of independence when he became infamous for the practice of torture while Mitterand and Guy Mollet were executing Algerian resistance fighters of the NLF [National Liberation Front – translator’s note] and those, such as Fernand Yveton, who supported them. His first political mentor was the pro-Petain [leader of the collaborationist Vichy government during World War II – translator’s note] lawyer Tixier-Vignancourt. He later linked up with Poujade, who mobilized artisans, small merchants and peasants ruined by capitalist concentration, which led him to his first experience as a deputy in parliament from 1956 to 1962. In 1958, he voted in favour of the reactionary constitution proposed by De Gaulle, without, however, avoiding the contradictions of the opposition between the extreme right nostalgic for the colonial empire and the more realistic right which understood the need to go beyond classic colonialism. After a long barren period (1962-1972), the former political warrior with an eye patch tried to pull the extreme right out of its marginality. At the beginning of the 1970s, inspired by the Italian ISM [Italian Social Movement – translator’s note], which at that time achieved notable successes in all elections, he abandoned the openly fascist sects and the activists of the ‘New Order’ type (dissolved in 1973) and in 1972 he created the ‘National Front.’ Since then he aimed at making it a large party acceptable to the ‘national right.’ Unlike its competitor at that time, the Party of the New Forces (which served now and then as a laboratory of ideas and of affixer of posters for Giscard and Chirac), the NF did not conceive its actions within or around Giscardism: in all the elections from 1973 to 1981, it ran its own candidates, tried to gather together the discontented around the theme of the struggle against France’s moral and political decline. Like a broken record which it has not stopped playing, in 1975 it launched its slogan inspired by Nazism: ‘a million unemployed, a million too many immigrants.’ However, it did not win its first electoral victories until 1983, after the Social-Democrats and the CPF [Communist Party of France – translator’s note] entered the government with the agreement of a section of the French bourgeoisie which chose, not without reason, this lesser evil faced with a popular protest. Its electoral results climbed very quickly, maintaining itself in that period at a very high level: 2,205,000 votes in the European elections of 1984, 2,700,000 in the legislative elections of 1986, 4,375,000 votes in the presidential election of 1988, 4,573,252 in that of 1995, 5,525,032 in the second round of the presidential election of 2002! Its slogan of battle has for a long time been the relative decline of French imperialism compared to German and U.S. imperialism and the nostalgia for a ‘strong France’ in a strong Europe, a rhetoric which does not really distinguish it from the campaigns for ‘a France that wins’ of Mitterand, Chirac, relayed though the elections of Jospin, Pasqua, Chevènement… Its field is the crisis of French society, the loss of landmarks, the fear of tomorrow, the anguish of unemployment, the consequences of social insecurity, which it translates demagogically into a security phobia. Despite a limited membership base, over the years it has developed a relatively large and stable electoral base among the petty-bourgeoisie eroded by the crisis: retirees, little bosses among the artisans and in commerce, in the rural areas, etc. These are its traditional targets that it wants to set against ‘the establishment’: ‘You, the artisans, shopkeepers and contractors persecuted by the tax collectors. You, the civil servants and representatives of the forces of order, ridiculed by a State that you passionately defend. You, the farmers and fishermen on pensions of misery, driven to ruin and extinction….’4 But today he aims at a wider audience: in his declaration of his beliefs in the second round, ‘you the little ones, you the excluded, you the youths, you the victims of the System, you whose voice they refuse to hear… you the men and women workers of all the industries destroyed by the Europe of Maastricht’ they took first place! While at the beginning of the 1980s he made a paean to ultra-liberalism, to his advantage, today he very specifically emphasizes his populist demagogy: ‘Socially I am to the left, economically I am to the right and most of all nationally I am for France,’ he exclaimed on the night of the first round. All this shows that the principal motif of fear was not as strong in the second round, shown by the collapse of the governmental left, whose confirmed base he is trying to enlarge today due to the crisis and the weakness of reformism. 

Both the right and the left bear a heavy responsibility for his growth. The right, which drew cadres from the extreme right (Madelin, Longuet, Devedjian…), has also provided them with cadres, and not in small numbers (Mégret came out of the RPR). The ‘ideological affinities’ evoked at its time by Pasqua are very real. They have taken concrete form more than once by electoral alliances in a double sense (Dreux, the Alps-Rhone regions, Languedoc-Roussillon…) and found a common expression in talk of security. The responsibility of the Socialist Party is just as overwhelming. As a political calculation Mitterand increased his ‘gestures’ in favour of the NF by providing him access to the media, by rehabilitating the generals of the OAS [Secret Army Organization – translator’s note], by providing a certain degree of proportional representation in the legislative elections of 1985, etc. More fundamentally, Social-Democracy and its allies have made the bed of the extreme right since 1981, by sowing disarray, pessimism, doubt about the possibilities of changing society, by apologizing for businesses and profit, by also claiming to be, in a way, socially of the left and economically liberal (with the extraordinary ability of trying to please everyone: bosses and workers, and finally being rejected by all, as was most recently the case with the Aubry law on the reduction of hours of work!). In the first rank of those calling for a vote for Chirac on May 5, the CPF also played a notable role in the growth of the extreme right: spokespersons for the interests of the labour aristocracy which gain material advantages from imperialism, it has for a long time played a principal role in instilling chauvinism in the ranks of the workers and people (‘Produce French Products’ has been its main slogan for many years). Its participation in the government, its putting privatizations into effect, its successive compromises in the name of a realistic and constructive opposition, up to its contribution to the ‘sacred union’ since September 11, 2001… have largely contributed to its loss of political and ideological markers which fed the slogan of the extreme right that ‘they are all the same, they are all rotten.’ It will go down in history as the party which, before passing away, deprived the working class of its voice, consciousness and political initiative, with all the consequences that this had for the whole of society! 

Today the extreme right has a solid base, in France as in all of Europe (what was an exception in France in the 1980s, which had the sad privilege of being the only European State in which the extreme right had such electoral victories, has unfortunately become an epidemic!). A product of the crisis and the anti-worker and anti-popular policies waged by the left and the right for twenty years, Le Pen continues to play his role as a force of ideological and political pressure on all the forces which compete to manage the affairs of French imperialism and plays, in this sense, an important part in the process of fascization. The respective assessments of the first round, drawn by Chirac and the electoral left with the theme of ‘I have heard you’ and ‘we had been not attentive enough’ and the practical measures that followed (for example, the establishment of a super-Ministry of Security) show the weight of the extreme right in political life, which is marked with its label. 

All those who really want to fight the extreme right today, to limit its development and to help it depart from the political scene, without limiting themselves to electoral receptions and to mobilizing between the two rounds in elections, must organize and expand the mobilization against the policies put in place for twenty years, in alternation or in ‘cohabitation’ [with Premier and President of different parties, one left and the other right – translator’s note] with the right which is continuing to deepen and extend its attacks on social rights and democratic freedoms. To reinforce the workers’ initiative and popular unity, open revolutionary perspectives to the social and political crisis… these are the only ways of preventing an even greater number of declassed and bitter people, humiliated by life, from being fooled by populist and fascistic demagogy over the course of the years. 


1. G. Dimitrov, Report to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, delivered August 2, 1935, English edition, Proletarian Publishers, San Francisco, 1975, p. 12.
2. Ibid., p. 13.
3. Ibid., p. 11.
4. J.M. Le Pen, Profession of Faith, second round of the presidential elections, May 5, 2002.

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