The sight of black‑clad and masked Nazis marching openly in Paris recently shocked and horrified people in France and throughout the world. This was not a gathering of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN)—who should properly be called Nazis but usually aren’t. Instead it was a group of fringe groups from the proudly violent parts of fascism.
Participants ended the march chanting, “Europe, youth, revolution”, the slogan of the GUD fascist student group. The day continued with a Nazi “musical evening”. Fascists organised it under a false name at the Espace Simone-Veil, a communal hall named in honour of a Holocaust survivor and icon of the fight for women’s rights.
The march is part of a rising tide of fascist violence. The newspaper Liberation identified 15 attacks perpetrated by far right and fascist activists against left wing protesters and groups in the last two weeks of March. These included assaults on individuals picked off during trade union demonstrations, and raids on student occupations.
In one case fascists in motorcycle helmets and studded gloves broke a student’s jaw and nose. Other assaults involved a knife, an iron bar—and a gun. On Thursday of last week Yannick Morez, the mayor of Saint-Brevin-les-Pins in north west France, announced that he would resign and leave the city.
He faced a series of fascist attacks, including a firebombing of his home, because he defended a reception centre for asylum seekers in the area. As he resigned Morez denounced “a lack of support from the state”. Fascist groups have revived after being dormant for years. As well as GUD these include the antisemitic and royalist Action Francaise and the pro-RN Student Cockade.
The show was so blatant that the state, Le Pen and the unions had to act. Le Pen, who has spent years trying to “detoxify” her brand, condemned the march. She is desperate to draw a line between the RN and those who do Hitler salutes and glory in injuring their opponents.
She also said the cops should have taken action against masked demonstrators—because she wants to use such powers against the left. But for all the efforts to say today’s RN has broken from its fascist legacy, nasty reminders of its continuing entanglement with the street fighters return. Two former GUD members, Axel Loustau and Olivier Duguet, who previously worked closely with Le Pen were on the recent Nazi march.
The state at first said there was nothing they could have done to stop the parade. Then interior minister Gerald Darmanin lurched off to say that in future he would order such gatherings to be banned. Darmanin once wrote for publications close to Action Francaise and may have attended one of its summer camps. He is keen to prepare for a future election where he might face off against Le Pen and wants to strengthen still further the armoury of anti-demo measures.
The unions also had to act and called a demonstration against Action Francaise in Paris last Saturday—although not on the day of its protest. The Nazi march also set off wide discussion in France about fascism. Most activists don’t see Le Pen as a fascist.
And it’s true that if the RN wins the next presidential election it won’t be like Adolf Hitler becoming chancellor of Germany in 1933. Le Pen doesn’t yet have a mass movement on the streets and the ruling class doesn’t yet want to gamble on a regime that would sweep away democracy. But it wouldn’t just be Macron with a twist. President Le Pen would seek to impose even harsher laws against Muslims and migrants.
She would boost the impunity of the police and try to break trade union power. Perhaps most significantly, Le Pen would embolden precisely the sort of street thugs who paraded in Paris and who could try to carry out a fascist programme “from below”. Yet parts of the French left think that pointing to the special danger of Le Pen distracts from the real task of opposing Macron.
A recent article in the radical magazine Frustration said, “Macron’s policy is today more brutal, more authoritarian and just as xenophobic as the far right governments currently in power in Europe. The dictatorship is already here, we already live in a classically far right politics with elements of fascism.”
Macron has trampled on democracy in ramming through his pension attack. He does unleash police violence and attacks workers’ social gains. But seeing him as “actually existing fascism” obscures important facts. If workers lose the battle over pensions it won’t primarily be because of state violence, but because trade union leaders have held back the movement.
Fascists destroy union rights and repress their leaders—Macron relies on union bureaucrats. Fascists eliminate elections and parliament. Macron’s threadbare argument for why he won’t concede to mass protests comes from his election as president and his claim that he works within the constitution.
But there is a relationship between Macron and fascism. In his book Marxists In The Face of Fascism, David Beetham writes that the connection between fascism and the mainstream racist right within a parliamentary system can take two forms.
These are “succession and simultaneous interaction”. The “succession” element is that Macron’s onslaught against migrants and Muslims, relentless removal of rights, and support for the cops’ savagery does not undermine Le Pen. It legitimises her views and lets the fascists say, “Choose the original not the copy”. Far from being a bulwark against Le Pen, Macron clears the way for her.
The “simultaneous interaction” part is that Macron knows the fascists will support his racism and therefore he is bolder in carrying it out. And the fascists try consciously to spread their tentacles into other parts of the right. This has always been part of Le Pen’s strategy. Recently two RN MPs set up a cross-party anti-LGBT+ group “against the worst excesses of wokeism, this ideological enterprise of deconstruction of our civilisation”.
At some point, as Macron’s project falls apart, sections of it could join or further collaborate with the fascists. Beating Le Pen requires both a specific united front against fascism of the sort that anti‑racists organised against a Le Pen banquet in Le Havre on 1 May. And it also requires the acceleration of the class struggle to break workers from the RN.
So far the mass demonstrations and strikes have not seen RN support fall. There are plenty of polls that suggest Le Pen is headed for the presidency—although there is no election scheduled until 2027.
That’s because the resistance, although at a high level, is too limited. Even when 3.5 million marched, many workers weren’t directly involved. A time of crisis sees polarisation where left and right can both grow. The outcome is decided by political intervention and the strength of workers’ struggle.
An opinion poll in March asked people if they thought the protests needed to “harden”. Some 63 percent of those who voted for left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon for president in 2022 said yes. But so did 63 percent who voted Le Pen. Le Pen opposed escalation, militant strikes and blockades.
If there had been an indefinite general strike it would have shown the power of workers and increased the tension with Le Pen. At least a significant portion of workers who have backed the RN would have seen she was in the pocket of the bosses. Such a strike was and is the best way to win over pensions and other issues.
It would have the very welcome effect of weakening racism. And contesting racism is part of the class struggle because oppression erodes the unity needed to beat Macron and the corporations.
As the Autonomie de Classe group, which collaborates with the British SWP, said, “To fight against fascism is to fight the two fronts on which it advances, to fight the reinforcement of the police state, of racism, of militarism, of the domination of capital over our lives. It is to fight Macron without concession.”
The stronger the fight against Macron, the more it can harm Le Pen and elevate class feeling above national myths and racism. Anti-racism is most effective when it is a component, and a central argument, in a mass working class offensive.
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