The first round of the French municipal election has seen a strong showing for the far-right Front National, with turnout falling to an historic low of 38.72%.
The election is being seen as a blow to President Francois Hollande. His Socialist Party is set to receive 43% nationwide, against 48% for the centre-right UMP opposition.
Exit polls suggest that the FN has received 5-7%, an alarming level of support given that it was represented in fewer than 600 of the 36,000 municipalities in play.
The fascists had their strongest showing in the socialist stronghold of Henin-Beaumont in northern France, where FN candidate Steeve Briois unseated the left incumbent, winning in the first round with 50.26% of the vote.
The town’s constituency gained widespread attention in 2012, when Front de Gauche’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon stood against FN leader Marine Le Pen, in what was seen as a battle over working-class voters in an area hard-hit by deindustrialisation and unemployment.
Briois is the FN’s first mayor in 17 years, and the party is also in contention for mayoral seats in four other towns, and boasts 472 councillors already.
In 15 cities, FN candidates head the list going into the second round on Sunday 30 March. The French Socialist Party’s President in the National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, is calling for tactical voting to keep out the far-right.
Bartolone has not ruled out the idea that Socialist candidates may withdraw in order to let the centre-right UMP win in areas where the latter is stronger, saying: “If this is the solution, it must be done.”
This general approach was echoed by Communist Party politician André Chassaigne who said: “For the second round, the priority is to bar the way to the rise of the right and the National Front.”
The rise of the far-right is alarming but this sort of lesser-evilism is not the answer. It parallels the call from some sections of the left to back Jacques Chirac against Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round of the 2002 presidential election.
We argued at the time that the central task of Marxists in the labour movement was to develop the political independence of the working-class from all factions of the capitalist class, and to encourage it to rely on its own strength and efforts. In doing this, as Trotsky put it: “All methods are good which raise the class-consciousness of the workers, their trust in their own forces, their readiness for self-sacrifice in the struggle”.
The logic of tactical voting is to stand aside or endorse a vote for the right-wing bourgeois politicians of the UMP, who are partly responsible for the social conditions in which the far-right is thriving. This serves to abnegate the left’s own politics and independence, and cuts against the tasks of breaking workers away from fascism.
This is a high price to pay for temporary electoral victories against the far-right, which do nothing to cut the roots of fascism and may have the effect of further boosting the UMP.