Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2002
Apr. 28, 2002
The stunning second-place showing by far-right candidate Jean Marie Le Pen in last week's French elections dropped a bombshell on France's fat-cat political establishment and sent Europe's Left into a state of convulsive hysteria.
Written off as a has-been only months ago, the 72-year old Le Pen and his National Front Party won more votes than Lionel Jospin's Socialists, who have long contested or shared power with France's center right in a cozy system infused with corruption, chicanery, and cynicism. Many of the 17% of French who voted for Le Pen's party clearly did so as a protest against the scandals that have buffeted both President Jacque Chirac's center-right coalition and the united Socialist-Communist left. Le Pen's victory was also due to surging crime, low voter turnout, and numerous minor protest candidates who fragmented the leftwing vote.
France's political establishment and Europe's Left are loudly damning Le Pen as a neo-fascist or neo-nazi, conveniently ignoring the fact that `nazi' is a wartime contraction for the proper name of Hitler's party - the National Socialists. The right fears him, thunders Le Pen, because he represents `the little man' and is determined to expose the deep corruption of France's pampered political elite, notably Chirac's slush funds, freebie trips, and the truckloads of cash delivered to politicians each month for their `confidential' use.
In 1990, I spent two days with Le Pen, mostly in his elegant late 19th century villa outside Paris, during which he gave me some rare insights into his personality and thinking. Sitting on his terrace overlooking, sipping white wine, speaking in peppery French, Le Pen told me about his life.
He was born to penniless fishing family in Brittany; his parents did not even speak French, only the ancient Celtic language, Breton. Le Pen studied law and served as a elite paratrooper in Indochina and Algeria, two dirty, disastrous wars that left many French soldiers filled with an abiding hatred for all politicians, whom, they believed, had betrayed them and their nation.
Le Pen's politics have not changed a whit since we spoke, though they have been modulated for the recent election. Witty, charming, and provocative, Le Pen is a master of one-liners. `Immigration,' his bete noire, `is invasion,' quips Le Pen. `Look at California. The Americans conquered it from Mexico. Now Mexico is getting it back through immigration.'
`Our system of social support encourages the lowest elements of society to breed like rabbits…why should we spend our tax money to pay for unwed black mothers to produce more babies who will grow up into illiterates?'
`Immigration from the Third World brings crime and disease,' warned Le Pen. He blames France's surge in violent crimes squarely on emigrants from North and West Africa. France's colonial past has left it with over 5 million Muslim and black African inhabitants, almost 10% of the population, third class citizens who live in squalid conditions and form a restive, crime-prone underclass.
`Stop immigration totally, stop letting family members in,' says Le Pen, `deport all illegal immigrants.' Such language resonates across Europe, which is being swamped by a flood Third World immigrants and criminal elements. Righwing parties in Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Holland, Austria, and Switzerland are making similar demands.
Le Pen's calls for slashing government and taxes, a crackdown on crime, outlawing abortion to reverse population decline, and investigation of rampant corruption among the political elite find many willing ears in France and across Europe. So too his dramatic call for France to quit the European Union, drop the Euro currency, and reassert its sovereignty. Le Pen calls for a `Europe of nations' in place of a Europe run by a remote, left-dominated super-bureaucracy in Brussels.
But in his more relaxed moments, Le Pen's views become far more extreme. He is an equal-opportunity anti-semite. Le Pen despises both Arabs and Jews. Le Pen told me, `Jews have conspired to rule the world through their power over international finance. They are using their influence over government and media to promote mixture with lesser races and corrupt the purity of Europe's blood,' claimed Le Pen. `The Jews created communism and tried to use it as a means of world domination.' Today, `the Jewish conspiracy' is using race rather than communism to advance its goals.'
France's 600,000 Jews, who are suffering a wave of anti-semitic attacks, call Le Pen a later-day follower of Hitler. In fact, Le Pen more reflects the views of France's Catholic far right of the 1930's and 40's - which led to the Vichy government - that saw communism as a vast Jewish conspiracy aimed against the Church and their class interests.
Runoff elections on 5 May will almost certainly produce a landslide for conservative Jacques Chirac, who is now being reluctantly backed by France's demoralized and shell-shocked Left. However odious Le Pen's political philosophy, he has certainly given a big scare to France's self-serving, imperious politicians. They too long ignored the growing concerns of the voiceless `little people' over crime, immigration, unemployment, and Big Europe. In typically Gallic fashion, French voters have just sent a revolutionary warning message to the distant political elites in Paris, Strasbourg, and Brussels.