Can Le Pen's success be repeated in Britain? This is the big question as we go to press, with local elections only days away.
The Nazi British National Party hopes that it can capitalise on despair among working people after five years of a Labour government to win people to its message of hatred.
Warning bells rang last June, when Nazis scored high votes in the old textile towns of north west England, especially Oldham and Burnley. Now they are hoping to capitalise on these votes to win seats on the local councils there and so provide a focus for their racist views.
The threat from Le Pen has forced even New Labour ministers to speak out against the BNP. Tony Blair has come out against Le Pen, and David Blunkett has urged Labour supporters to turn out to defeat the BNP. Even tabloids like the 'Sun' have called on their readers not to vote Nazi. These moves indicate how seriously the ruling classes in Britain and France take the threat of Le Pen, and how worried they are about the rise of fascism.
The attacks on the fascists are to be welcomed, since they help those campaigning against the BNP to find an opening among some Labour supporters who are now considering voting for the fascists and to convince them that such a move would only help create further divisions inside the working class. But events of recent months have shown that the Nazis have to be campaigned against and defeated on the ground.
The BNP's strongest challenge is in Burnley, where it is standing 13 candidates. In Oldham it is standing another five. The Anti Nazi League has established itself as a local force in Oldham through a relentless campaign of exposing their lies which has brought local anti racists together. The anti BNP campaign in Burnley has brought together the trades council, anti racists, Labour councillors, the Socialist Alliance and community campaigners. Thousands of leaflets have been distributed.
Burnley and Oldham are typical of working class areas which have suffered years of neglect and which have gained little from a Labour government. Labour's restrictions on public spending and failure to improve health, education and housing has left many working class people competing over scarce and inadequate resources. Some take the mistaken view that a 'protest' vote for the BNP might get them some attention, while Labour takes its working class supporters for granted. We have to get across that such a vote will only worsen working class conditions. At the same time socialists have to begin to provide an alternative to Labour's record which can provide results over issues such as defending council housing or the NHS. This can help to undercut racism.
It is impossible to judge the effect of the campaigning against the Nazis, although the news from France will help to galvanise all those who oppose the Nazis in the final week of the campaign. It is important to try to stop them gaining a foothold which they can use to try to emulate the French Nazis. But whatever the BNP vote in the north west and elsewhere, its support can be undercut. That means building a mass Anti Nazi League which unites all those trade unionists, the Asian communities, Labour supporters, anti racists and socialists who see the growth of fascism as the serious threat to working class organisation and democracy that it is. The lessons from France show the dangers of fascism--but also the mass response which is possible through demonstrations and protests.