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Editorial: Class struggle – how to beat the radical right, in Britain and France

OVER the next week, class-against-class battle lines will become obvious across the Channel following the first round of the French election.

They should inform the British left during a general election which stands no chance of masking Britain’s widening divides for long.

The Fairness Foundation’s new Canaries report makes the justified assumption that Britain will become more unequal over the next five years, whoever wins the election.

Child poverty will rise. The attainment gap between poor and better-off children will grow, as will the earnings gap between CEOs and actual workers. 

Runnymede Trust chief executive Shabna Begum points to the likely political consequences: “We will see far-right parties capitalise on desperation and despair and become a real electoral threat.”

That has happened already in France. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally expects to soon be in government.

Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call snap elections aimed at repeating a successful electoral approach of the last two decades: force a run-off against the far right, then rely on socialists to reluctantly empower yet another neoliberal administration to block fascism.

Instead, the election is shaping up to see a second round fought directly between the socialist left and the far right, with Macron’s Renaissance vehicle marginalised. 

The Establishment quickly shows its true colours in such contests. Centrist pundits filled newspaper columns during “partygate” asking how someone so demonstrably unfit for office as Boris Johnson could have been allowed into No 10: the same commentators had pulled out all the stops to undermine and vilify the alternative prime minister, Jeremy Corbyn, a few years earlier.

The same dilemma played out in Brazil, where once it became clear the choice was between a far-right climate-denying militarist in Jair Bolsonaro and the socialist Lula, big business plumped for Bolsonaro. In France the Financial Times reports that top French executives are building bridges with Le Pen for fear a Popular Front government would redistribute wealth.

The Establishment’s preference for fascism over socialism is based on unerring class instinct. The radical right does not threaten the capitalist order. The radical left does.

The left’s best hope of defeating the far right lies in making that crystal clear to ordinary people. Jean-Luc Melenchon’s apt remark that National Rally candidate Jordan Bardello would in power be “Macron intensified” correctly identifies the class character of a far-right government, and in whose interests it would govern.

The terminology can be confusing, since the left’s coalition in France takes the name Popular Front — a term traditionally used for an alliance of all democratic forces, including those of the status quo, against fascism. Yet its appeal lies precisely in its exclusion of Macron, its insistence on turning the election into a class confrontation, a strategy called for by the Communist Party in this country in what is termed a united front, a union of working-class forces against the ruling class.

The importance of defeating fascism means the left is often persuaded into parking differences with Establishment parties when opposing it. But the reality is this has not worked, either here or in France. 

Failing to confront the system as it is, for fear of something even worse down the line, has the opposite effect, leaving the radical right free to capitalise on the votes of the millions of people the system fails. 

This is especially the case since the “centre” rarely opposes far-right politics, preferring to appease it: Islamophobic legislation from Macron and hysterical anti-immigrant policy from the Tories have not stolen the far right’s thunder but accelerated its growth.

As the Fairness Foundation predicts, worsening poverty and inequality — rendered inevitable by Labour’s pledge to maintain Tory spending rules — will be fertile ground for an extreme right that polls already suggest has a big audience in Britain. The left will never defeat the latter unless it fights a class war.
 

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