The Far Right Is On the Rise in France, But So Is Resistance

New post on Substack, 6.18.23

My new piece about the far right in France, published on Susbtack on June 18, 2023.

In France, the far right is doing very well. Not only does it have almost 90 deputies in the National Assembly (out of 577), but it also runs several major town halls. Above all, the Front National, founded in 1972 and renamed Rassemblement National in 2018 (it is the same party), has been gradually trivialized by Marine Le Pen, its former president and now a member of parliament. This trivialization has worked very well. Today, it is embodied in a « good student » strategy at the Assembly: assiduity, committee work, disciplined behavior (and also training of a young generation of extremists). It aims at appearing fit to govern, competent and capable of holding the highest office. In the 2022 presidential election, Marine Le Pen won 41.5% of the vote against Emmanuel Macron, compared with 34% in 2017.

This strategy of trivialization, and the steady progress in the electorate (according to a poll published on June 18, 2023, more than 4 out of 10 French voters have voted at least once for the Rassemblement National, compared with 35% in 2021 and 30% in 2017) are being felt in a complacency, not to say adherence, among a growing number of formerly moderate politicians, journalists, writers and business leaders who will prefer Le Pen to any left-wing union. This new-fashioned Julien Benda’s « betrayal of the intellectuals » is a major trend in France.

But… the extreme right, which is not just made up of its elected representatives, is growing in confidence and developing a feeling of impunity and omnipotence. Demonstrations of force (street protests, insults, vandalism) are multiplying in many parts of the country, scaring the population. In addition to racist slogans, proposals and acts of violence, these include attacks on French planned parenthood centers, wild anti-abortion stickers on self-service bicycles (“Velib’”) in Paris, damage to the windows of feminist bookshops, not to mention physical violence during demonstrations against sexist and sexual violence. For the far right is not simply an opponent of women’s rights: it hates feminism. In Lyon, the historic heartland of the far right, feminist organizations are expressing their fear of these attacks.

If elected, Le Pen will govern with the most extremist branches of the far right

Can Marine Le Pen hold on to her troops? No. And she won’t hold on to them either, and even less, if she becomes President of French Republic. Who can still believe that she would govern with the RN’s « polished » people alone? That her institutionalization would sum up everything? Of course, violent, racist, sexist and homophobic groups would also be in charge. Of course, revengeful and eager militias would sprout up like weeds. Perhaps it is this perspective that will lose her. There are still four years to go before the next presidential election. That is a long time.

And on the other side? Resistance is being more and more organized, first and foremost outside the world of politics. It is in the streets, in books, in associations and collectives that the fight is being prepared. Threats to human freedoms, reproductive rights and equality provide motivation.

« Contemporary anti-fascism is marked by renewed strategic thinking and the creation of numerous collectives”. And if we can speak of the internationalization of the far right, particularly in Europe, there is also an internationalization of its opponents. It is not enough to demonstrate, there is also a need to propose and create an alternative narrative and a project for society based on solidarity, listening and sharing. Not to forget popular education.

Against the far right, plea for a feminist democracy

In this sense, feminism is an indispensable source of inspiration. It is an invaluable aid in rediscovering the democratic spirit, by including the demands of citizen participation in its actions. It thus favors the confrontation of ideas over the logic of domination of virilist powers. Debates can be heated, but after all democracy is all about debate. Feminist democracy also means broader governance, with bipartisan voting whenever it is possible, and public participation. It means crossing approaches, being deliberately intersectional in public policy: integrating environmental objectives across the board into the political agenda, crossing them with the “care”, anti-racist and gender-conscious approaches. We must nevertheless not fall into the misleading opposition between « feminine » and « masculine » power. It is a question of opposing feminist power and virilist power. Especially as a man can very well embody feminist power.

Autocratic and national-populist regimes have a negative approach to “the other”. They have a predatory relationship with everything that is not them: the media, their opponents, their historical partners, institutions and the planet.

Feminist anger is opposed to extreme right-wing violence. This anger stems from the rejection of the established order. But it is also a set of proposals for changing society for the better. Feminism helps us move from « no » to « yes », as Naomi Klein suggested about anti-Trumpism. Against pessimism, hatred and self-centeredness, feminism is creative and imaginative. For there is no question of resignation.