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Revolutionary socialist speaks on fighting the fascist threat in France

France’s general election could see fascists dominate parliament. Revolutionary socialist and anti-racist organiser Denis Godard from Paris spoke to Charlie Kimber about the threat and the hope
Issue 2911
Denis Godard France RN fascism

Denis Godard says that only a big movement on the streets can stop the fascist threat

What is the overall feeling, and what would it mean if the fascists won the elections? 

Everywhere now there is a feeling of emergency, and everyone must take a stand whether they are for the fascists or not. Nobody can avoid it. In every street, market, workplace, shop and bus queue, you are for them or against them. To refuse to answer is itself taking a political stand.

It’s intense, it’s urgent. The big vote for the Rassemblement National (RN), the fascist party of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella, at the European elections wasn’t a surprise—unfortunately.

The polls and the experience of past elections made it seem likely that it would get over 30 percent, and that’s what happened. What really galvanised a massive response was when president Emmanuel Macron called a general election and people thought they could be elected to government.

Suddenly it became concrete—we could have a fascist prime minister in a few weeks, the RN could be the largest party and the fascists would be in charge of state functions. If the RN has a majority in parliament it would be critical in terms of a hardening of the state, a free rein for the cops and the border forces.

We have an authoritarian and Islamophobic state now, but it would be much worse for migrants and Muslims.

The real development is that fascist electoral advances give confidence to the thugs on the ground—the forerunners of the fascist street armies. We can see it already.

In Paris and the cities of Lyon and Montpellier, far right and fascist groups have attacked migrants, trans people and trade unionists. These fascist gangs are still small. But they are growing.

Every RN success gives them a boost and moves the fascist threat from the mainstream political field and opens up the potential for the classical fascist aim of having a force physically to attack the workers’ movement and crush democracy. The fascist advance also meant the two biggest private media networks immediately jumped to open their spaces to the far right.

They say openly there must now be more far right commentators and coverage of the RN. That means the programming is saturated with Bardella and the others.

They spew out racist propaganda. And big business is also moving. For now most bosses say they look for “stability” and don’t want “extremes” of left or right. However, several top business figures told the Financial Times newspaper that if it comes to a choice, they prefer the RN to the left.

So they are putting out feelers to the far right, and in return, the RN is sounding more business-friendly. The concrete reality of the fascist advance is a question for every class in society, including those in the boardrooms.

What has been the response on the streets?

We have always said it’s not just a question of the rise of the racists and fascists but of polarisation. On a Saturday two weeks ago 650,000 marched against fascism and for the left wing alliance, the New Popular Front (NPF).

Other marches the next day meant there were 800,000 across the weekend. People want to be active. Meetings to discuss what to do are packed and protests draw in new people.

And they’re not just waiting to be told what to do by those in the traditional leadership. People take their own initiatives. They print some stickers or make a banner or whatever.

Every action now— demonstrations for Palestine, for migrant rights, against sexism, about the environment—they are all about fascism as well. The feeling affects strikes too.

Workers take action over economic issues, but they also know they are opposing the far right because the far right would crack down on strikes and take away workers’ rights.

What about the New Popular Front electoral formation?

The electoral unity is a result of the big pressure from below. As people came onto the streets they insisted that the politicians stop thinking about their personal careers or their political manoeuvres.

People told them to unite because there was such a danger. The main effect of the NPF is to give people hope. It sweeps up huge numbers.

Those who said before that elections were worthless and parties don’t matter are feverishly leafleting for the vote. It’s the hope of anti-fascism and the measures the NPF puts forward which go beyond the usual social democratic “extreme centre”.

Many people will vote for the NPF and we won’t oppose that. But there are real limits. The concentration on the vote strengthens those who previously said there was no fascist danger.

And the leaders of the NPF are debating with the RN as if this was just another political party. This legitimises the fascists as a part of the normal political contest.

Another problem is that the unions and much of the left concentrate all their fire on showing that the fascists are not the friends of workers because they stand for the rich and the corporations.

Of course you have to show that, but it avoids the issues of racism, Islamophobia and defending migrants. If you don’t confront racism you can’t really combat the fascists.

Just saying, for example, that they are not very good on the cost of living crisis doesn’t work—some people will say that all the other parties were terrible on this so let’s give the RN a try. And the fascists will often pretend that they are for measures to help the working class.

And it’s not just that some NPF leaders avoid the issue of racism. They compromise with racism and put forward their own attacks on migrants and Muslims.

So Communist leader Fabien Roussel, part of the NPF, talks about how borders are “sieves” that let too many in and how he wants more police at the borders.

The concentration on the NPF can narrow the demonstrations. If you have to be for the NPF to take to the streets then it restricts the mobilisation.

To really unite people against fascists, you have to say we have some differences. We have some different point of views about the solutions, but we can unite everybody in every neighbourhood and in every workplace. It’s very important to say that we need more mobilisation now, not less.

The Palestine movement has grown— let’s not cut it off. The solidarity movement with those fighting French colonialism in New Caledonia in the South Pacific is big. Let’s not stop it.

We say to people distribute leaflets for the NPF, organise for the vote. But crucially come to the demonstration, come to a meeting locally to know what we can do. If a fascist wants to come on the market to campaign let’s organise. Let’s do it ourselves.

And let’s tell the unions we need strikes—clear strikes against fascism. The union leaders say it’s a minute to midnight. They say they are against the RN.

Good, and they have to do it because perhaps a third of the people who are around the unions vote RN. But it’s a movement of millions with vast resources and social reach. Don’t just message on social media or distribute leaflets. Use the organised power of workers.

What is the way forward?

The situation is far from hopeless. The fascist gangs are growing, but they can’t put tens of thousands on the streets. The left and the unions can put hundreds of thousands on the streets, and could mobilise millions.

In the ballot box the RN is strong, but it’s not in terms of organisation and social power. Even if the RN won the prime minister it wouldn’t mean at this stage the potential for resistance was crushed.

The point is to recognise the danger but not to panic. The NPF leaders say vote for us and all will be well. No, the solution is people organising and taking action— and specifically fighting racism.

One of our main slogans is “C’est maintenant”—“It’s now”. We can’t wait and we won’t wait. The NPF programme puts forward some clear measures for the first 15 days and then the first 100 days.

But any measure about, say, overturning the latest racist laws is postponed into the indefinite future. We know the NPF leaders will never confront racism unless there is the most immense pressure.

Fighting racism is a condition for taking on the fascists effectively.

Otherwise you just repeat the same set of politics that cleared the path for the fascists in the first place. The struggle doesn’t end on 8 July. Even if the NPF wins, the electoral threat won’t disappear and nor will the fascist gangs.

The RN has deep roots. There are about ten million people who vote for the far right not just once as a protest but repeatedly. What we can do now is stop that number growing and begin to eat into the support from the ten million. And we can build a bigger anti-racist movement.

What role can revolutionary socialists play?

When everyone is talking about elections, it’s very easy for revolutionaries to throw overboard their basic principles—struggle matters more than voting, developing class independence along united front activity is always important, workers have immense power if they use it.

You need people with clear ideas who can help mobilise a mass movement but also analyse—and haven’t forgotten all the lessons of the past.

The Popular Front now consciously echoes the Popular Front of the 1930s. What happened in that era? There were some great things—huge strikes, workers’ organisation, occupations of factories, big marches.

But then tell the truth—it ended with the victory of the Nazis and most of France being run by Nazi collaborator Marshal Pétain. You can’t just wish that away or look only at the rosy history told of the 1930s Popular Front.

We need anti-racists—and many more socialists.


A contest with a crucial second round

There will be two rounds of voting on 30 June and 7 July for the parliament. To be elected in the first round, a candidate must obtain at least 50 percent of the votes cast— with a turnout of at least 25 percent of the registered voters.

If no candidate is elected in the first round, any candidate who wins more than 12.5 percent of the registered voters can go forward into the second round.


A united left at the elections

The Left’s New Popular Front alliance has brought together the Labour-type Socialists, Greens, Communists and France Insoumise (France Unbowed)—the party of Jean-Luc Melenchon (below)— around a common programme.

But there are sharp differences among its component parts, particularly around Palestine, the war in Ukraine and migration.

Meet Denis Godard and other French socialists at the Marxism Festival in central London next week. Denis is speaking at the meeting on ‘France: Le Pen, fascism and the popular front’ on Saturday 6 July, at 9.30am and alongside others, at the meeting on ‘After the Euro elections: is fascism on the march?’ later that day at 7pm. See socialistworker.co.uk/marxismfestival/

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