The leadership of the Front National (FN) around Marine Le Pen has tried very hard to ditch the party’s fascist image.
There has been a fight inside the party to enforce this line and to play down elements most associated with its fascist past. But throughout the FN and its leadership is a hardcore of traditional Nazis. The FN has quietly maintained its links with violent extra‑parliamentary groups—and has been involved in violent attacks against the left.
Just days before the election FN activists chased and attacked people who were putting up posters for the Left Front. Weeks earlier one of their candidates in the coming parliamentary elections had wounded in a barman during an assault in a pub.
The tension between the “moderate” image and the fascist core creates a contradiction for the FN. It needs to appeal to a new audience. But it also needs to radicalise new recruits and draw them into the fascist hardcore.
Marine Le Pen’s father is former FN leader Jean‑Marie Le Pen. Just last month he paid homage to the author Robert Brasillach, who collaborated with the Nazis and called for Jews to be killed.
Meanwhile his daughter played the “moderate” card. But the two are not in opposition to each other. They are a double act whose project is to build a fascist movement.
The proportion of votes the FN got is about the same as in 2002. But it got many more votes than previously. And the political context has changed. In 2002 hundreds of thousands took to the streets against the Nazis.
This time the FN has a lot more legitimacy. One reason is that mainstream political discourse has shifted to the right. A consensus has developed around the idea of “national identity”.
The growth of racism and Islamophobia, legitimised by the idea of secularism, has been led by the right. But it has had the support of much of the left. Last year the parliamentary left took control of the Senate. The first law they passed was to ban Muslim women who wear a headscarf from nurseries.
This has had an effect on what we can mobilise. If the kind of racist speeches we hear from Sarkozy’s interior minister Claude Gueant had been made a few years ago, there would have been demonstrations straight away. Now it’s a lot harder—and the Islamophobia that exists even on the radical left has been a real handicap.
Then there’s the question of the specific problem of the FN. Even on the anti-racist left that is willing to combat Islamophobia, there has been a loss of any will to fight fascism.
Many go along with the idea that the FN has changed—that it’s no longer fascist but just another racist party. With this goes another idea—that the FN should no longer be fought on the streets but only through official politics. Only 300 people turned out to protest outside the FN’s pre‑election rally in Paris last Thursday.
Recognising the specifics of the FN will be incredibly important in what comes next. What distinguishes fascism from the conservative right is that it needs to build a popular movement around it.
The FN hopes to use the legitimacy it won in the presidential election to win seats in the coming parliamentary elections. It then aims to use these seats as a tool to build its organisation.
It hopes to put down roots in local areas where it can build an activist base around a set of hard reactionary ideas—racism, nationalism, homophobia and sexism.
After the elections the FN will use the same violent methods we’ve seen before to build a fascist movement. But the contradictions of its project also show the possibilities of challenging it.
The Nazis are trying to moderate their image and win over new voters while radicalising activists into a hardcore of traditional fascists.
A response from the left—especially the radical left—to mobilise anti-fascists can isolate the fascist hardcore and prevent the FN from building a mass fascist movement.
Cedric Piktoroff is an activist with France’s New Anticapitalist Party