France: the neo‑fascist danger is real

According to Fred Leplat, in order to maintain his position of power, French President Emmanuel Macron is enacting restrictive immigration laws and demonising the left, which runs the risk of legitimising and strengthening the racist far right Rassemblement National (RN) under the leadership of Marine Le Pen.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron, just like Rishi Sunak in Britain, is pushing laws to restrict migration and withdrawing rights for non-EU foreigners. The racist and xenophobic law adopted by the French Parliament on 19 December will bring in quotas, make it more difficult to obtain work or residency permits, lengthen the time before benefits can be claimed, and impose restrictions on uniting families and obtaining French nationality. The far right and neo-fascist Rassemblement National (RN) initially opposed the draft law but eventually voted for it, claiming an “ideological victory.” Edwige Diaz, a RN member of parliament, justified the support of the RN by saying that “a text that says there’s too much immigration, that there’s a link between immigration and insecurity, and that introduces the concept of national priority, we had to vote for it. It confirms our ideological victories.”

Macron and his then Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne were only able to win the vote with the support of the RN and the right wing Les Républicains (LR) MPs, as 20 MPs from Macron’s own party voted against the law and 17 abstained. The Ecologists and the left wing NUPES group of MPs, which includes France Insoumise and the Communist Party, opposed the draft law. The law will now be submitted to the Constitutional Council to confirm its compliance with the Constitution. Elisabeth Borne and hard-line interior minister Gerald Darmanin have admitted that there may be measures that are in contradiction with the Constitution. This has encouraged the continuing opposition to the law. Demonstrations took place on Sunday 14 January in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and other major towns across France. More demonstrations are planned for Sunday 21 January. The 32 departmental councils with a left majority have stated that they would defy the law and continue to pay benefits and that they are committed to “fight against the principle of “national priority” by defending social assistance which is and must remain universal.”

The crisis has led Macron to replace Borne as Prime Minister with 34-year-old former Socialist Party member Gabriel Attal. He claims to have formed a new government that is “neither right nor left,” but it is definitely on the right, having appointed Rachida Dati, the former Justice Minister under Sarkozy, as the new Culture Minister. Catherine Vautrin, who is patently homophobic, is the new Minister of Labour, Health, and Solidarity, and Aurore Bergé, who has stigmatised single-parent families and made Islamophobic remarks, is the Minister for Equality between Women and Men.

Macron is stealing the clothes of the far right to maintain his position for as long as possible. The obvious danger is that, by doing so, he legitimises the politics of the far right and neo-fascists and actually makes them more electable. A recent opinion poll for the European elections to be held early in June put the RN at 28%, ahead of all other parties, and the whole of the far right and neo-fascists at 37%. The left, which is fragmented as it stretches from Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, France Insoumise, and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), together are at 32.5%. The possibility of Le Pen being elected President in 2025 is real. The proposal by the NPA to France Insoumise for a joint election campaign for the European elections on the basis of a break with neoliberalism, against imperialist war, and for migrants’ rights offers hope for socialism rather than the despair of nationalism and reaction.

Making political concessions to the RN will not stop the march of the far right and the creeping advance of neo-fascism. Macron has already brought the RN into the “republican family” when Marine Le Pen and her RN party were welcomed on the demonstration “For the Republic and against antisemitism” of the 12 November 2023. Even Éric Zenmour and his Reconquête party, which is further to the right of the RN, were at that demonstration. The NPA, France Insoumise, and the Communist Party did not attend. France Insoumise, of which Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a leader, has been demonised for its vigorous opposition to Macron on a whole number of his increasingly right-wing pro-business policies, such as the reform of pension rights, police repression, and especially for its support for Palestinians. France Insoumise is now described as having left the “Republican family,” and there is now an avalanche of accusations that Mélenchon is antisemitic, just like there was against Jeremy Corbyn. The NPA was summoned and is being investigated by the police for “apology of terrorism” for its support for the Palestinians.

The political situation in France, like elsewhere, is dangerous for socialists, the working class, and social movements. The ground for the far right is being prepared by demonising and marginalising those on the left and the trade unions that try to resist. The neo-fascists in France are again confident enough to hold demonstrations, like on Saturday 13 January, when hundreds marched through Paris, chanting racist and nationalist slogans. The institutions of the Fifth Republic, which were brought in by de Gaulle in 1958 and described by Mitterand as those of a “permanent coup d’état,” have so far enabled Macron to maintain a facade of power. He has done so when, without a political majority in Parliament, he pushed laws with the use of executive powers. The political situation demonstrates the urgency of united political and anti-fascist mobilisations to prevent the far-right from coming to power and to offer hope for a government of social and economic justice that breaks with neoliberalism.


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