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Facing the Rise of Fascism: Close Ranks, Build an Alternative


Contretemps, 12 June 2021

Ugo Palheta

In the last few days, two Internet controversies have illustrated the political dynamic currently at work in France: a video published by a fascist Youtuber known as ‘Papacito’, which staged the execution of a voter for La France Insoumise; and a tweet by media philosopher Raphaël Enthoven announcing that he would rather vote for Le Pen than Mélenchon.

In both cases, there was a lot of indignation on the left, but we should not confine ourselves just to emotion; it is important to understand what is at stake, to get organised, to unite forces and draw up prospects for mobilisation. Since the assassination of Samuel Paty, an offensive has been unfolding which aims not only to stigmatise Muslims and accelerate the authoritarian hardening of the state, but also to disqualify the whole of the Left, social movements and critical intellectuals by the infamous accusation of complicity with terrorism. In recent months, we have seen how the pseudo-concept of ‘islamo-gauchisme’, designed to support the (delusional) thesis of such complicity, has spread from its origins on the far right into the media and mainstream politics, right up to government ministers Jean-Michel Blanquer and Frédérique Vidal. This shows how the dominant ideology is today impregnated and even saturated with fascist or quasi-fascist categories of thought. Based on the model of so-called ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ brandished by the far right in the inter-war period, this category functions similarly as a conspiracy theory propagated by the dominant: identification of an enemy (Jews yesterday, Muslims today) to whom a logic of separation and a project of domination is imputed, followed by the search for accomplices.

The ‘Papacito’ video is a sign that, given the authoritarian and racist escalation of recent months, for which the government bears the main responsibility, with its so-called ‘separatism’ and ‘global security’ laws but also because of a number of declarations (notably by the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin); given the trivialisation of the FN/RN [1] and its ‘ideas’ in the media (where more far-right ideologues than you can count are invited every day), the extra-parliamentary far right is spurred on to go ever further simply to hold its place. So we saw the invasion of the regional council of Occitania by the royalist group Action Française, the incitement to take up arms and use them against the ‘enemy’ (Muslims, anti-racists and anti-fascists, left-wing activists, etc.), the exhortation for the army to intervene against the ‘hordes of the banlieue’, the call for a ‘strong man’ (an ‘enlightened tyrant’, says the Youtuber in question) – the list could be extended almost indefinitely. Statements and actions are ever more radical, with the threat of more far-right attacks, but the main novelty is the approval that this type of discourse finds in the (private) mass media: the pseudo-journalists of Valeurs Actuelles are regularly invited on TV shows; Éric Zemmour can calmly and continuously pour out his fascist rhetoric on CNews [2] (and support ‘Papacito’ there in passing); a member of the racist group Génération Identitaire (dissolved in the meantime) is offered a microphone on a prime-time show; and all the while this fine bunch can claim they are disgracefully ‘gagged’.

In the case of Raphaël Enthoven’s tweet, [3] the manoeuvre is not simply aimed at artificially creating controversy in order to attract a bit of media attention. The ‘philosopher’s’ statement is in all likelihood an honest expression of his deep-seated inclinations and should not in any way cause astonishment. Rather, it has the merit of revealing what everyone can sense, namely that if the ruling class, its political staff and its appointed ideologues have to choose in the near future between the far right and a left-wing break with neo-liberalism, they will opt almost unanimously and without a shadow of hesitation for the first option. Indeed, back in 2010 the former minister of national education Luc Ferry already said that he found Marine Le Pen ‘more responsible and less dangerous’ than Olivier Besancenot of the NPA. And how can we say Enthoven and Ferry are wrong from their point of view as conservative ideologues, because if Marine Le Pen came to power she would certainly not threaten the interests of the class to which they belong and whose aspirations, fears and interests they express; on the contrary, she would constitute a bulwark of the social order. As for the intensification of authoritarianism and racism that the arrival in power of the FN/RN would inevitably imply, we can bet that given their positions in recent years, Enthoven, Ferry and others would be little troubled and would readily find reasons for it, if not indeed virtues.

‘Rather Hitler than the Popular Front’ said the French bourgeoisie and its political staff in the 1930s. We are not facing Nazism today and there is no Popular Front on the horizon, but the cynicism of the ruling classes does not seem to have declined, and the trajectory France is following, marked by the destruction of collective solidarity and social conquests (social security, labour law, public services, etc.), the challenge to public liberties and the trivialisation of racism, is already leading the country towards the worst. A counter-offensive is therefore imperative, or else this process of fascisation will deepen: it could start today with the March for Freedoms and Against Far-Right Ideas, [4] which a broad coalition of social movements, trade unions and left parties are mobilising for. But it will have to find a way of addressing the working classes and a political expression that combines unity and radicalism; in other words, forces must unite around a real project to break with neoliberal, authoritarian and racist policies.

This is the precondition for a reborn hope for change, otherwise a majority of the population may well agree with the social mobilisations of the last few years and with most of the main proposals associated with the left (taxing dividends more, increasing salaries, reinvesting heavily in public services, etc.) but consider that these mobilisations cannot win and that these proposals have no chance of being implemented. In short: close ranks, build an alternative.

Translated by David Fernbach

[1] The « Front national » (FN) became the « Rassemblement national » (RN) at its last congress three years ago, without any major changes on programmatic or strategic plans. 

[2] CNews is the 2nd most important TV information channel in France, held by a powerful billionaire Vincent Bolloré, who is using the different media he bought to push the ideological agenda of the far-right à la Fox News. 

[3] Raphaël Enthoven is what we could call a mainstream media philosopher, on the model of Bernard-Henri Lévy, who is perceived as belonging to the centre. 

[4] [This was held on Saturday, 12 June 2021. https://marchedeslibertes.fr]