On Saturday 12 June, in 140 towns across France, demonstrations were held “For our freedoms and against far-right ideas”. In Paris, tens of thousands joined a young and dynamic March. It was the biggest initiative against the far right for several years.
The call to action, initiated by the radical left France Insoumise and signed by 110 organizations, including the CGT and FSU trade union federations and the New Anticapitalist Party, notes that far-right ideas have inspired recent islamophobic and repressive laws under president Macron, and that fascist Marine Le Pen’s party, the Rassemblement National, has worked its way completely into the mainstream. The Communist Party called to join the marches under a separate statement.
Macron has been pushing hard-right ideas, aiming to take space from Le Pen. For example, his Universities’ minister has called for an enquiry into the dangers of “islamo-leftism” in higher education. The concept is ludicrous but the political operation was a success: in polls a majority of French people agreed that an enquiry was necessary. Another leader of Macron’s party recently boasted that 30 per cent fewer immigrants obtain French nationality today, compared with the number when the traditional right wing was in office. Recent laws targetting Muslims and protestors have gone further than any right-wing government for decades. The banning of Muslim civil rights organizations and the abolition of any public body which timidly criticizes islamophobia complete the picture.
The Rassemblement National has convinced many millions that it is just a normal political party. Even among university teaching staff, Le Pen’s sympathizers are no longer too intimidated or embarrassed to keep quiet about it. The party has shifted a few of its policies, and is now less outspokenly opposed to the EU or to gay marriage, but it still puts the blaming of immigrants and the hatred of Muslims at the centre of its discourse. Regularly Marine Le Pen reminds us, indirectly, of her fascist project, as when she recently applauded a cabal of retired army generals threatening that civil war was on its way.
Electorally, Marine Le Pen’s party has had an extremely successful decade, in the context of the collapse in support for the Socialist Party and for the traditional right wing Républicains, both burned by their hated neoliberal austerity in government. Her ten million votes in the second round of the 2017 presidential elections was her high point, and her spokespeople are everywhere in the mass media. She is favourite to come top of the first round in 2022, and thus go through to the second round run-off.
Yet her party has many weak points. In most towns it has very little in the way of party structure. It cannot organize national mass demonstrations- indeed this year it cancelled its first of May rally in Paris which generally drew a few thousand.
The high levels of the class struggle in France, with millions mobilized against the scrapping of labour protections, or against the slashing of retirement pensions, make life difficult for her politics: the class struggles were highly popular, yet she could not support them because of her strong base among small employers. And the Yellow Vest movement, which started in regions where Le Pen’s support is high, tended to move to the Left as the months went by, and concentrate on denouncing the horrific police violence, which Le Pen will never oppose, given her massive popularity among the police.
This weekend’s mobilization is very welcome, and should be the start of a national campaign specifically aimed against the National Rally. This argument is difficult to win on the Left. Many consider that working specifically against Le Pen is to let Macron off the hook, or that Macron is already practically a fascist himself. The leaflet put out by the New Anticapitalist Party for this week was entitled « Against Macron, the Right and the Far Right ». But weakening Le Pen is essential to pull the political debate back leftwards.
Otherwise, the Communist Party and much of the Far Left tend to argue “we should fight poverty wages and capitalism which fuel the fascists, rather than move specifically against the fascists”. This is a serious mistake. Firstly because a determined national movement could reduce the power of the Rassemblement National quite quickly, through propaganda and harassment, as was shown in the late 1990s when mobilizations led to a split and a severe weakening of the then National Front. Solving poverty and capitalism, on the other hand, is not something the Left can do in a few months. In addition, there are large numbers of antiracists who could be mobilized against Le Pen but who are not interested in joining or building anti capitalist organizations. Straightforward slogans such as “Don’t let the fascists meet or organize” are essential.
In 2002, when Jean Marie Le Pen got through to the second round of the presidential elections, millions hit the streets, school students struck, and for weeks there were rallies every day. Tragically, this inspiring tidal wave did not give rise to a permanent, national, broadly based antifascist organization. The result was that the FN continued to build support. From seven million votes in 2002, the party rose to ten million in 2017.
The French media are obsessed with the supposed importance of voting for the hard right against the far right (in this month’s regional elections), and with building a huge smear campaign against the main representative of the radical Left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (a recent article in national daily le Figaro claimed he was similar to Le Pen). But our way forward is through a broad mobilization directly targetting Le Pen’s organization, which can popularize the idea that her intentions are completely opposed to working-class interests, which can demoralize through harassment her shaky party machine, and which can denounce the Nazi core in her movement. The mass protests planned for early July in Perpignan against the National Rally annual conference to be held there will be a much needed next step.
John Mullen is a revolutionary living in the Paris area and a supporter of the France Insoumise. For a more thorough analysis of Marine Le Pen, see this previous article.