'The centre cannot hold.' This is the conclusion of the French presidential election, whose results sent shock-waves around the world.
The fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked Socialist Party prime minister Lionel Jospin out of the second round. Jacques Chirac, the right wing president, scraped just under 20 percent of the vote. His expected win in the second round will hardly be a ringing endorsement, since he will be elected by those bitterly opposed to his policies.
Large numbers of people voted to the extreme right--and to the extreme left. The Trotskyist candidates polled over 10 percent. Their votes, coupled with those of the Communists and the Greens--both to the left of the Socialist Party--come close to 20 percent. A high level of abstention also added to the collapse of the main parties. Le Pen's vote was not much bigger than in 1995.
It would be wrong, therefore, to assume that there has been a huge rise of racism in France. There has been mass disillusionment with Jospin. Here supporters of the Socialist Party have to be honest in explaining Jospin's defeat. So far they have utterly failed to do so. Instead they have blamed the electorate for daring to abstain or vote for the more left wing parties. They can also be expected to make concessions to Le Pen's policies in the form of more rhetoric on crime and immigration. Their supporters in Britain, such as David Blunkett and Peter Mandelson, are making similar noises.
Do none of these people remember the hope and enthusiasm which greeted the election of Blair, Jospin and Schröder in 1997 and 1998? Labour's theme song was 'Things can Only Get Better'. But they didn't and workers across Europe are paying the price. Pensions and welfare are under attack, the choice for many young people is unemployment or 'McJobs', and the effects of global capital are wrecking many communities. Government is totally remote, with world leaders meeting in opulent palaces while protesters outside are beaten and teargassed. The 'democracies' have launched a war against terrorism which has fuelled racism against Muslims, denied civil liberties and created much greater instability.
The French election results point to our future. Fascism grows out of despair and the inability of capitalism to deliver even basic improvements in people's lives. Bank collapses in Argentina, war in the Middle East, South Asia and Colombia, constant pressure on workers to work harder, and the threat of unemployment all echo the 1930s, when Hitler came to power. We are still far from that, but the last decade has been like a film of the 1930s run in slow motion. Events in France have speeded it up.
We are facing a choice where we either radically change the world towards socialism, or we will have barbarism. The far right is more confident across Europe, most notably in Italy. But the right does not represent the majority. Millions struck against Berlusconi last month. Millions have taken to the streets across the world in the past year against capitalism and war. The demonstrations in France against Le Pen have given heart to anti-fascists everywhere.
The left has a huge challenge and an opportunity. Leon Trotsky, writing of the struggle against fascism in Germany in the 1930s, said working people had an instinctive feeling for unity in the face of these threats. We must unite all those who want to fight--against neoliberalism, fascism and war--together in mass campaigns.
We also have to continue the task of building a mass revolutionary socialist party, which can begin to point the way to a new world.