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The New French Left

Jean-Marie Le Pen's surprise showing brought forth France's closet radicals. Watch out Europe.

12:00 AM, Apr 22, 2002 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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For socialists, it was the equivalent of racism even to raise the crime issue at all. Jospin's minister of finance, Laurent Fabius, complained as the results came in that Le Pen had advanced by "instrumentalizing insecurity." Socialist party secretary Francois Hollande added, "It's an unjust defeat. All this talk of insecurity has had the result of bringing the right to power." Martine Aubry, the mayor of Lille, who was Jospin's Labor minister until two years ago, pouted, "France has done nothing to deserve this." Sure. Nothing except vote for the guy.

Le Pen and Chirac both benefited from a splintering of the left-wing opposition. In addition to the official candidate of Jospin's Communist coalition partners, there were three Trotskyite candidates (Hue of the PC was not pur et dur enough for them), and the four of them shared 14 percent of the vote, giving the hard left its highest tally ever. Fausto Bertinotti, secretary of the Italian leftist party Refondazione, said on Sunday night, "The French election results mark an end to the history of the center-left in Europe."

Bertinotti is correct, but the center-left is going to be replaced with something considerably more activist, and more radical. No sooner had Chirac, Jospin, and Le Pen given their speeches than crowds of people were milling northwards on rue de Lyon, beneath my hotel window. By the time I arrived, the Place was three-quarters full. People were climbing the monuments, lying under cars, chanting, singing. There were tens of thousands of people there, holding signs that read "Tonight I Am Ashamed to Be French" and "Piss on the Flame" (symbol of Le Pen's National Front). One college-age girl even had written on her forehead, "C. LA MERDE." There were hammer-and-sickle flags being waved out of windows, and the gold-and-yellow standards of the League of Communist Revolution.

Repugnant though they may find Le Pen, the hard left has no desperate need to protest him. For one thing, the 74-year-old Le Pen has no chance of winning the second round. Snap polls showed 78 or 80 percent of the French would vote Chirac two weeks from now. For another thing, his ideology has a great deal in common with that of the French hard left: it begins with globalism and ends in an alliance with (and abetting of) anti-Semites. But whereas the old right's anti-Semitism is vestigial and utterly hemmed in by French constitutional practice, this new left's anti-Semitism--which operates through an identification with Islamicist ideology that was spreading like poison even before Zacharias Moussaoui replaced Camembert as France's most famous export--is activist, violent, and chic. (More on the subject of anti-Semitic violence in France will follow in the next issue of The Weekly Standard.)

Le Pen's second-place finish may have one positive consequence, even if he is a singularly inelegant means of arriving at it. Up until now it appeared likely that Jospin and Chirac--two candidates of yesteryear, with lukewarm mandates at best--would stagger into the second round with only 15 percent of the vote. Whoever got elected would likely lose the legislative elections that followed, since the losing candidate would have recourse to the appeal "Do you really want to give the other guy all that power?" The French constitution was not designed for two-party rule, and the "cohabitation" that has been the order of the day for the last five years has been nightmarishly unworkable (particularly in foreign policy, where prime minister Jospin increasingly usurped terrain that has traditionally been presidential). A collapsed center-left and a Chirac who can win the mandate of three-quarters of voters make divided government a less likely outcome, and may help France avoid a predicted constitutional crisis.

Responding to an interviewer who asked him what he thought of Parisian youth marching to protest his fascism, Le Pen replied, "What's fascist is using street protests to dispute the result of a free election." He's right in a way. The psychologist and political analyst Ali Magoudi, who wrote a best-selling book on Le Pen's ideology, thinks the real "shock" of the elections comes when you add Le Pen's vote to that of the non-republican left. "That means at least 30 percent of the population," Magoudi says, "don't recognize themselves in the politics of the country."

The big news of the election is not any drift towards fascism but the emergence of a new hard left organized on the ruins of French Communism.

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.