There are a number of factors that must be addressed when answering this question. It is important to firstly define the term ‘political party’ before discussing what is meant by the term ‘far right’. This essay will then discuss the far right parties in France and Italy. The essay will focus on the National Front in France and the National Alliance in Italy. The essay will move on to discuss the organisation and success of each party and will also focus on the main leaders of these parties. The essay will finally discuss the similarities and differences between each party.
The term ‘political party’ is defined by Heywood (2000) as “a group of people that is organised for the purpose of winning government power, by electoral or other means” (pg 218). Heywood argues that political parties are sometimes confused with other organisations such as pressure groups and social movements. He also argues that there are four main characteristics that distinguish political parties from other groups. Firstly, the aim of a party is to exercise government power by winning office. Secondly, he argues that parties are organised bodies, with formal membership. He argues that “this distinguishes them from broader and more diffuse social movements” (pg 218). Thirdly, parties usually adopt a broad focus on issues and address each of the major issues of the government policies. Finally, he claims political parties can be distinguished from other groups because members are united by shared ideologies and political preferences (Heywood 2000).
The term ‘far right’ is a blanket phrase used to describe all parties that incorporate fascist beliefs within their ideologies. ‘Fascism’ is an ideology whose main theme is the notion of a unified national community. These ideas were mainly developed by Benito Mussolini during the 1920s and were boosted by Adolf Hitler during the 1930s. Heywood (2000) argues that fascism “…is defined largely by what it opposes; it is anti-rational, anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-capitalist, anti-bourgeois, anti-communist and so on” (pg 57). Fascism is embodied in a one-party totalitarian state, usually led by a charismatic leader (Jones et al 2001).
Fascism and far right political parties has been a constant feature of politics throughout the world. However, these political parties have been more predominant within Europe. The rise of the far right has affected a number of European countries, however for the purpose of this essay; the focus will be on the rise of the far right in France and Italy.
The major far right party to emerge in France is Le Front Nationale. The party emerged in 1972 and was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen. It emerged during the Mitterrand presidency and was one of a vast number of, somewhat, obscure far right parties. Prior to 1983, Le Front Nationale was unable to attract more than one percent of the national vote. However during the 1984 European parliamentary elections, Le Front Nationale, building on support mustered during the local elections of the previous year, managed to attract almost ten percent of the votes. In the parliamentary elections of 1986 Le Front Nationale again won approximately ten percent of the votes. This is estimated to be about 2.7 million votes (Almond et al 1999).
The political ideas of Le Front Nationale have remained consistent over the years. They have been consistently hostile toward a number of issues. Firstly, Le Front Nationale is hostile towards the dominant political parties. McNeill (1998) argues that Le Front Nationale is an ‘anti-party’ party. Le Pen has been known to frequently accuse the main parties of being corrupt and insists they do not have any practical ideas to Solve France’s main problems. Le Pen and his party are also hostile towards those parties and organisations which have a leftist philosophy. He argues that these organisations, such as the Communists and the Trade Unionists, are a contributory factor in the degeneration of France (McNeill 1998).
Le Front Nationale also show hostility towards immigrants and ethic minorities. They are especially hostile toward those from African descent. Le Pen and his party argue that these individuals are a drain on French resources. He also argues that they cause crime and that they undermine the National identity of France. Le Front Nationale are also against the integration of the European Union and argue that the Brussels based parliament is taking power away from the French People. Le Pen and his party are against homosexuality and Le Pen advocates the isolation of Aids sufferers by placing them in institutions. They are also against women being able to choose their reproductive rights, especially abortion (McNeill 1998).
However, Le Pen and his party do support the closure of French Borders to Non-European migrants. They also support the restriction of the number of asylum seekers allowed to take up residency in France. They actively support the restriction of access to full citizenship to immigrants. They want a repeal of the anti-racist legislation that was introduced in 1972 and 1990. Le Pen argues that this legislation is an infringement of the right to freedom of speech. Finally they support the creation of more power for the police and the reinstatement of capital punishment (McNeill 1998).
Many individuals have attributed the success of Le Front Nationale to its charismatic leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was a former paratroops officer. Many argue that his assertive speeches and interviews have paved the way for the success of his party. Le Pen is famous for reiterating his working class roots and his devotion to France. He has always been forceful in his public appearances, constantly belittling his rivals and, with great skill, deflecting any objections to Le Front Nationale (McNeill 1998).
Another European country that has seen a considerable rise in the fortunes of the far right parties is Italy. Until 1992, Italy was a prime example of a dominant party state, with the Christian Democrats being the leading party in all forty-seven Italian governments from the end of the Second World War till 1992. However, in the early 1990s this system collapsed. Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) was one of the major far right parties to emerge after the collapse of the party system (Hague and Harrop 2001).
The Alleanza Nazionale emerged from the ashes of the former Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement or MSI) and boasts Mussolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra, in their numbers. The MSI was directly linked to the post-war fascist movement. The members of the movement were followers of the ideas of Benito Mussolini and mainly consisted of individuals that were second level leaders of the fascist regime. The MSI emerged in 1994; however the movement was unable to gather major support. The party changed its name to Alleanza Nazionale in 1994 and proceeded to declare themselves ‘post-fascist’ (Anon 2002).
In 1994, the Alleanza Nazionale, headed by Gianfranco Fini, formed an alliance with the newly formed Forza Italiana, headed by Silvio Berlusconi. It was this alliance, after only being formed for two months that won considerable support in the elections. In March 1994 the Alleanza Nazionale managed to obtain 13.5 percent of the votes in the first general election since the collapse of the old party system. The Alleanza Nazionale became part of the new ‘pole of liberties and good government’ coalition, along with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord. The Alleanza Nazionale’s leader, Gianfranco Fini, won over five million of the total votes. The legitimacy of the Alleanza Nazionale was further supported, when in the European elections in the same year, they managed to gain eleven seats in the Strasburg parliament. They obtained 12.5 percent of the vote and helped Fini gain credibility as a leader (Anon 1996).
The policies of the Alleanza Nazionale have shown hostility towards a number of issues. Firstly they demonstrate hostility towards immigrants and refugees. They are also hostile towards those individuals with a leftist philosophy, especially Communists. The Alleanza Nazionale also show distaste towards those of a homosexual persuasion, however, the fact that Italy is a predominantly Catholic nation should be taken into consideration with this policy. The Alleanza Nazionale is also against multiculturalism. They do, however. Support nationalism and recently the Alleanza Nazionale, under the guidance of Berlusconi; have begun to relax their policies on immigration (Anon 2002).
The Alleanza Nazionale in Italy is similar to Le Front Nationale in France in a number of ways. Firstly, both parties emerged in a similar way. The Alleanza Nazionale emerged fairly rapidly as did Le Front Nationale. Secondly, they both share hostilities for similar issues. For example, both parties are hostile towards immigration and would prefer a more nationally minded nation. Both parties also have charismatic leaders, with Jean-Marie Le Pen and Le Front Nationale and Gianfranco Fini in Italy. Finally, both parties have shown success in elections, with Le Pen and his party, at their high point, obtaining ten percent of the national vote. Alleanza Nazionale has also had good support in elections.
Although there are some similarities between both parties, there are also some differences. Firstly, Le Front Nationale is mainly associated with one person, Le Pen, however, Alleanza Nazionale are associated with three key individuals, Fini, Berlusconi and Alessandra Mussolini. Secondly, Alleanza Nazionale arose from another political organisation, Movimento Sociale Italiana. Le Front Nationale emerged from the ideas if Le Pen. Another difference is that Alleanza Nazionale has managed to obtain power, not only within the Italian government, but also within the European parliament, whereas Le Pen and his party are still trying to make an impact on the French government. Alleanza Nazionale has also relaxed some of their policies. Le Pen and his party still hold strong on their key agendas and it could be argued that this is one of the reasons why they have been unsuccessful in their attempts to gain power. Finally, even though Le Front Nationale has been around for slightly longer than Alleanza Nazionale, they have yet to gain a similar support base.
In conclusion, it is possible to see that over the past decade far right parties have begun to rise throughout Europe. Le Front Nationale in France has had a major impact on the French nation. Over recent years they have been able to muster a generous amount of support, even though the ideology of the party is bordering extreme fascism. This could be attributed to the charismatic personality of the party leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The same rise has occurred in Italy with Alleanza Nazionale. While both parties do have some similarities, they also have some major differences.