Henri Alleg is a widely known French journalist who joined the Algerian resistance against French colonialism as a youth in 1941, for which he spent five years in prison. He has traveled widely in the U.S. and is the author of several books.

In an interview with the World he was asked, “How do you account for the Le Pen vote, and where is it all going to end up?”

Alleg rejected the proposition that the outcome of the first round of the French presidential elections was a landslide for the fascists. “The fascists can boast that they got 19 percent of the votes cast. But this is not a landslide – they got 18 percent in the last national election in 1995.” Even more worrisome, he said, is that the turnout was 8 percent less than in 1995, making it the lowest turnout since the end of World War II.

The Communist Party vote fell by about half to 5 percent, an historical low for the Party, leading some media pundits to speak of the Party’s possible disintegration. Alleg said this was not a condemnation of the Party, but “of the policies of the outgoing socialist government headed by Lionel Jospin, in which the Communist Party had four ministers.”

This government, Alleg said, “did more privatization of industry than all previous governments,” including right-wing ones. “So, of course, people felt deceived.”

Alleg said French workers consider the public sector of the economy vital to their living and working conditions.

In the past, Communists and Socialists had fought all efforts to privatize key industries such as transport, telecommunications and energy. But the Jospin government acted to privatize major public entities including Air France, with the agreement of Communists in the cabinet.

“These actions,” Alleg said, “were contrary to what the Socialist government had promised and to the wishes of the people who had voted for it.”

Alleg said many former Communist voters opted for ultra-left candidates who picked up much of the Party’s earlier program of fighting privatization and defending the rights and claims of workers.

Many workers abstained, voted for the ultra-left as offering a positive alternative or voted for Le Pen because of his claim to be the defender of working people and his demagogic appeal to French nationalism.

Alleg said the Communist Party did not criticize the retreats of the Jospin government until three months before the campaign started. “Now,” Alleg said, “we have only one choice – to vote for Chirac. As the young people in the streets are saying, ‘The choice is between a crook or a fascist. So let’s vote for a crook.’ It’s a terrible choice.”

The Communist Party, Socialists, center parties and even some on the right called on voters to block Le Pen and the fascist trend in the May 5 second round of voting.

Alleg said he expected Chirac to win that round. “But,” he said, “this year’s election shows the frailty of democracy in France and the danger of fascist movements gaining strength in Europe.”

Alleg cautioned that reports of widespread anti-Semitism in France are grossly overstated.

“It is not true that there is a great tide of anti-semitism in France. Some people like Le Pen and the fascists want to take advantage of what’s going on in the Middle East and drive a wedge between Jews and Arabs in France.”

Fred Gaboury can be reached at fgab708@aol.com;
Susan Webb can be reached at suewebb@pww.com