Since the election of Marine Le Pen to the head of the Front National the party has moved from one tactical victory to another. As the baton passed from the previous generation the coalition of “tendances” that forms the party has also changed. This is key to their current and future success, as well as a lesson to all White Nationalists who seek reform through political institutions.
The Old Base
The base of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s support was the non-Jewish deportees of Algeria and the veterans who fought to keep the colony. They felt betrayed by De Gaulle who had “heard their concerns and understood them” before pulling out. (Jean-Marie Le Pen left his seat in the Assemblée National to serve with distinction in the elite paratrooper corps, where he lost an eye.) Another base of support is among the Traditional Catholics whose politics are often anti-Republican and anti-Enlightenment. The most controversial were the Vichyists, who were often rabidly anti-communist and did not trust a government whose right wing treated them more harshly than the communist trade union was ever treated. The least ideological of the supporters were the mom-and-pop business owners who were attracted to the “Poujadiste” economic model which favored them.
The decision faced by the party when Jean-Marie Le Pen stepped down was between Bruno Gollnisch and Marine. Gollnisch’s supporters had a table set up outside the portico of St. Nicolas de Chardonnet, Paris HQ for the schismatic Traditionalists of the Society of Saint Pius X. Marine was a divorcée who was “very pious as a child” but who no longer practiced. Gollnisch promised to hold firm on the social issues that the religious right lost long ago. He also had the distinction of being sued for Holocaust denial. At the May 1st rally that preceded the vote, the old men who annually march with their Algerian service medals on their chests and their wives on their arms were clearly not the future of the party. Only Gollnisch made an appearance among the party faithful in front of the Opera Garnier before the march to the statue of Jean d’Arc began. He was treated like a rock star by the young, well-dressed Catholics, clearly the activist base of the party.
A Party or a Church?
Marine Le Pen won the support of 2/3 of the party and Gollnisch the rest. One very upset Traditionalist Catholic told the television cameras “she wants to run the party in a way that will get as many votes as possible.” For her, this is clearly not the way to run a political party. Like many other Traditionalists, she wants her church to be run like a political party and she wants her political party to be run like a church.
Many had speculated that the Jean-Marie Le Pen loved being the “Devil of the Republic” more than he like being a viable candidate. Every time that he came close to a mainstream breakthrough he would make naive statements in the media that would feed the fears of the FN as a return to Vichy. The fear that Jean-Marie Le Pen saw his real calling as being a media personality than a successful party leader supporting down-ticket candidates provoked the departure of his top political operatives to create the MNR, two years after the breakthrough Presidential race of 2001.
The First Test – Regional Elections of 2009
Marine Le Pen has made media appearances since her teens in support of her father and later in support of her own candidacy, but she never had this problem. She is the Iron Lady of France bravely facing down the gangs of media and political hacks on television discussion shows (think of how Nick Griffin would have acted in a dream performance on Question Time and multiply that by twice a week).
There are only a handful of times where she has expressed true joy in front of the cameras. The second round vote of the Regional elections was one of those times. The big news of the night was the pitiful performance of the UMP (the Center-Right Union for a Popular Movement) which won only 1 of 26 regions. But Marine was looking behind the numbers.
One must understand that French elections are held in 2 rounds. The first round is a multi-party Royal Rumble where half a dozen Trotskyite fractions and the “Hunting Fishing Nature Traditions Party” have a theoretical shot at leading. The second round places the top 2 performers in a death match. Sometimes it’s UMP vs. the PS (the Socialist Party), the UMP vs. the Front National, or the Front National vs. the Socialist Party. In cases of the Front National vs. the Socialist Party, the UMP has consistently backed the Socialists, reinforcing Marine Le Pen’s discourse about the false sense of choice between the two main parties. Had Sarkozy and the UMP made a coalition with the FN, just as the PS routinely makes coalitions with the Communists, the UMP would still control 1 in 3 regions, instead of just 1.
What made Marine Le Pen so happy was that for the first time, the FN gained votes in the FN vs. UMP matchups from Socialist voters who understand that the UMP’s true goal is union-busting through diversity, and the FN has become at least the second choice for the working class, native French.
Now with the wind at her back, Marine Le Pen began the road to the Élysée Palace. She saved her most vicious attacks for the unpopular President Sarkozy. Nearly 4 years into a global economic crisis, his old slogan “work more to gain more” or his promise to represent “the French who work” rang hollow. While France had weathered the crisis better than all its neighbors, with the exception of Germany, the electorate was thinking ahead to future austerity and future unemployment.
The FN made easy work of blaming the Euro and the EU as the Sovereign Debt Crisis continued to crescendo. This helps the FN overcome the “one-issue party” stigma in the press.
It did not matter that the press was united in its opposition to the FN. Marine continued to battle until Election Day where she attained an all-time high for the FN, 17.9% (Sarkozy got 27% and Hollande 28%) and the smallest gap with the UMP. Also, the age breakdown showed that 19% of under 30 voters backed the FN. Gone were the days when the FN was a party for old, angry men and the entire youth of France would mobilize in the streets for a Center-Right wet blanket like Chirac.
Ni Droite, Ni Gauche, Front National!
By a stroke of luck, May 1 fell in between the 1st and 2nd round of voting. The crowd was so large that the parade was reversed, from the statue of Jean d’Arc on rue de Rivoli to the Opera. On the way there the chant that rang the loudest was “Neither Right, Nor Left, Front National.”
On the steps of the Opera, Jean-Marie Le Pen gave his annual history lesson, then Marine gave her marching orders. A play on words in French that does not translate directly, “Vote Blanc Dimanche et pour la vague Blue Marine en Juin.” That is to say, vote an empty (white) ballot now and vote for the Navy blue wave in June (the Legislative elections).
One of the peculiarities of the French system is that one may drop an empty envelope into the ballot box as a way of saying, “both you guys suck.” Since the participation rate is so high, there is always about 1% or so of these.
Another record! 5.8%, that is over 2 million voters, the highest percentage and raw number ever in the 5th Republic voted “Blanc.” Most of these voted FN in the 1st round. 50% of Marine’s voters abstained or voted “Blanc.” About 17% of her voters supported Hollande in the 2nd round. Holland won by 1.25%.
(By contrast the perennial Centrist Party candidate, François Bayrou endorsed Hollande, but his electorate voted overwhelmingly for Sarkozy. This was clearly a career-preserving move. The PS did not return the favor last Sunday when they defeated him in his legislative seat.)
The UMP, Between Jews
Nicolas Sarkozy stepped down from the limelight. This grandson of a Hungarian Jew whose guiding principles were not that far from the late rapper Eazy-E (“Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money”) said “adieu” to France. Later he gave his final orders to the party: hold fast in fighting against the FN. He left the party in the not so able hands of Jean-François Cope, the grandson of a Romanian Jew and an active Freemason.
The head of the UMP’s legislative group is François Fillon, a devout Catholic and father of 6. It seems he was the workhorse of the last five years, spending late nights slaving away, while Sarkozy was drinking champagne and banging models. It is easy to imagine Fillon as the next party leader if Cope is seen as ineffective. It is also easy to see him having less of a problem building electoral alliances with the FN than Sarkozy and Cope.
Returning to the Assemblée Nationale
The elections for the French Parliament were held in the month following the presidential election. The Front National only sat in the Parliament of the 5th Republic under Mitterrand. Mitterrand had briefly changed from district to proportional seating as a tactic to slow down a fractured right from returning to power. Since then the FN only achieved a handful of Mayoral elections in the south.
In the June election progress was definitely made. It certainly cannot be characterized as a wave, but it has elements of promise and of old problems. Two seats were won by the FN and one by the Mayor of Orange (pop. 30,000) who left the party in the schism mentioned above.
First the problematic, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the beautiful blonde 22-year-old niece of Marine became the youngest member of Parliament in the history of the 5th Republic. One can imagine she will not be making a huge splash for some time. While the FN ran many candidates without the last name of Le Pen, it is hard to shake the feeling that this is a family enterprise. Like Marine, she grew up in the manor that doubles as party headquarters. Anyone named Le Pen in France has to have thick skin, but it is easy to believe that the experience of being a total pariah surrounded by hundreds of legislators and thousands of staffers hoping for your failure would overwhelm any 22-year-old. That being said, I wish her luck.
The promising sign is the election of Gilbert Collard, known widely as Maître Collard (an honorific for lawyers). A former Socialist and member of MRAP (an anti-racist NGO), he has since moved to hold the position that France must remain French. He has decades of experience in the media spotlight and it is hard to list many equals when it comes to televised roundtable debates (a favorite format in France). If the FN is to ever arrive in power it will not be thanks to voters from FN voting families. To bring these voters into the fold it is necessary to have a voice like Maître Collard who has no connection to Vichy or Algérie française and no knee jerk stranger-danger. He came to the FN in the same way that so many Socialist and Gaullist and youth voters came and will come to the party.
From Protest to Preference
For decades the press would treat a rise in the FN vote as a protest or a gauge of anger. Now that the FN runs city halls and sits in Parliament, a vote for the FN carries the implicit understanding that this party might win. How they will govern is less of an unknown element than in the past.
The ability of the FN to maintain message control while increasing the number of voices will be the next big challenge. Continuing to convince voters on the right to continue to risk Socialist control in order to convince the UMP leadership that it can’t win without them, will be an even greater challenge. The oligarchs may change their “right wing” PR man, and the insecurity and immigration rhetoric may seem credible again.
However, I remain hopeful. So far, Marine Le Pen has pursued the mass party strategy with discipline. The fact that none of the old guard nationalists made it into Parliament means that message control should be maintained. The FN is no longer a party defined by its historical baggage, but a party defined by the future it promises.
As an aside, Copenhagen has avoided the problems of Oslo and Stockholm. Vienna is an Austrian city, whereas Munich and Berlin often don’t feel German. The difference is that Nationalist Parties are essential partners in Right wing governments in Denmark and Austria. But in other countries the nationalists are ignored in the halls of power. France has a constitution and a multi-party structure that is conducive to nationalists entering into power sharing with the “liberal right” (capitalists) or with socialists (if we may dream big).
Within this decade Marine Le Pen may lead the FN into being the necessary component of any ruling Parliamentary coalition. And after 5 years of the Socialists imposing austerity on behalf of the dream of a United Europe, the shouts of “Marine Presidente” will be louder than ever.