As night fell in France, sighs of relief resonated through the French political class. The “Republican Front”– put together by the center-right and center-left coalitions — had saved the day.
Not more than a few minutes after the results filtered in and after the last fateful prayers were made, pundits both from the left and the right were quick to claim credit for the magical solution that had salvaged French democracy and French republicanism from the totalitarian threat of the FrontNational.A cacophony then ensued, a mix of apologies made by the French political elite, a promise to change fundamentally the way things were done and politics in general, while at the same time offering no clues whatsoever to how that might be done.
One of the crispiest mea culpas of the night came from none other than Emmanuel Valls, the current socialist prime minister of France. In his allocation he said, as he has said at every occasion in the past week, that “there would be a radical change in French politics and especially within the Socialist Party.” The question that must be asked is what change does “change” entail?
Looking at the past decade of French politics, from Chirac to the 2007 election that put Sarkozy in l’Élysée to the Valls government, the difference in policy between the three governments, between “center-right” and “center-left” are almost indistinguishable. The past 15 years of French political life has been dominated by the securitarian psychosis.
Securitarinism is a socio-pyschological defense mechanism that uses the façade of security to hide a deep sectarian withdrawal that has been occurring within the prominently white de-industrialized communities of France. The withdrawal is a direct consequence of the disorientation that successive brutal reforms, carried out by both the political left and the political right, have caused. They have eroded the neuralgic center and the symbolic cartography that French working class communities had of themselves and their immediate environment.
There’s a startling correlation between the topology of the deindustrialization processes and the topology of the growth of the FN vote share. The French northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the prefect example of this distressing pattern. Once a working-class bastion of the French left with traditionally strong workers movements, it was hit hard by the French industrial down-turn and outsourcing. Today, it is the region where the FN has seen its most spectacular implementation.
The sectarian withdrawal that has occurred in many traditional working class communities in France isn’t solely the result of the economic downturn or of economic ultra-liberalism, although they are among the main causes. Another primordial reason is the implosion of traditional left-wing mass organizations and their mutation into agents of the same securitarian tradition, embracing an ultra-liberal and neoconservative unorthodox agenda, a conglomeration of all political stripes into a unified thread of the extreme-center.
The securitarian trend has been embodied by pretty much every single minister of the interior, the equivalent of our Minister of Public Safety, for the past few decades. This securitarian drive has taken control over every aspect of French political life.
In fact both ex-President Sarkozy and the current prime minister Valls, one a nominal socialist and the other nominally an ultra-liberal conservative, both used their passage through the hallways of the French ministry of the interior as launchpads for their ascendant political careers. Valls in many ways emulated the “Sarkozy blueprint” of being an overtly outspoken and outlandish minister of the interior as way to fast track his political stardom.
The state of emergency that has been imposed on France since the attacks of last month is yet another chapter of the securitarian regime. It has completely taken control of the entire French apparatus, an apparatus that was already predisposed to stifle any form of dissidence.
In reaction to the uber-militarization of French society, the fabrication of a perpetual state of war by the French political elites and the deconstruction of all the societal structures at the foundation of the French republican experiment, the right-wing FN appealed to the most sectarian impulses of the most marginalized and impoverished sections of the French population. Where left-wing movements are no more, a frenzied populism, a forced marriage between a rampant xenophobic rhetoric of economical nationalism and anti-liberalism and desultory social Keynesian economical theory, has filled the void.
For the past few decades the French republican experience has been missing in action. Last night after the ecstatic champagne flow, the final ce n’est qu’un aurevoir of a moribund elite, dried out Marianne, the allegory of the values of French Republic could still be heard cringing. The mortal blow that the FN was supposed to have dealt to her bosom didn’t occur; only for her defenders to stab her in the back, while they murmured the words: égalité, liberté,fraternité!
* Featured image: Xavier Bertrand of the center-right Les Republicains speaks after defeating National Front leader Marine Le Pen in northern France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais (source: ibtimes)
In space of a few months the old continent has been rocked by a series of reactionary revolts that have spread like wildfire. Parallel to the rise of neo-fascist elements is an inverse movement: the retreat of the center-left and their embracing of neo-liberal, traditionally center-right policy.
The examples of the debacle of the socialist or social-democratic movement are self-evident, be it the humiliating defeat of the French Socialist Party at the municipal level, the incapacity of the left to govern in Italy, the defeat of the German social-democrats for the fourth time in a row or the Labor Party in Britain which is still dealing with the specter of Labor’s past. The once bright red flame of European socialism is but a pale shadow of its former self, a fading pink.
For every defeat the left has succumbed to in the past months, it appears that the extreme-right has made leeway. There is much emphasis put on the “rise of neo-fascism” in Eastern Europe or on the Front Nationale, but this movement is a general one. We are seeing the comeback of neo-fascism in countries that in a not very distant past fought tooth and nail to establish a political system that would banish the gloom of fascism forever… or at least they thought.
In Portugal, Spain and Greece, the countries that not so long ago emancipated themselves from some of the longest and most brutal dictatorships in Europe, the fascist movements, which were their graves before the economic meltdown of 2008 and the austerity measures of these past years, are now reinvigorated. The success of some of these movements translates into political parties with an unprecedented number of seats in their respective political arena, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn.
But something much more unsettling is happening in Europe. The neo-fascist message is getting generalized and some of the extreme-right’s fundamental ideals and principals now flow freely through the main arteries of the European political system.
In the 2012 French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy lost the first round mainly because the Front Nationale had succeeded in capitalizing on the disenchantment of certain sections of the right-wing which had previously voted for him. Before the second round, Sarkozy made a final campaign pitch to those further to his right to rally to him in this final duel between himself and François Hollande.
It wasn’t so much the fact that he tried to lure the votes of the Front Nationale, it was the way in which he did it that, in many ways, changed the face of French politics forever. During the final stretch of the campaign, Sarkozy made one simple pitch to the nationalistic, xenophobic, neo-fascist electorate of Marine Lepen at every rally and in every speech he made: “Don’t be ashamed of being a fascist, your values are my values and beyond that the values of the French Republic.”
Now let’s put this in the context of France which still toils to make peace with the demons of WWII. In the context of post-WWII France, the Gaullist movement (of which Union for a Popular Movement UMP is an heir) was one of the firewalls against fascism on the right. Traditionally, the center-right movement was furiously opposed to any form of recognition of the values of neo-fascist movements within French society. That was the most important heritage of the French resistance against fascism which was shattered by Nicolas Sarkozy’s brand of la droite décomplexer.
Unfortunately this is not a trend that is cornered or quarantined in France. It’s a dynamic that fits perfectly within pro-austerity and neo-liberal agendas.
The rise of fascist movements is inherently linked to the development of austerity measures in Europe. Thus to focus solely on the fascist movements which are mainstream and not on the fascist rhetoric and policies that are advanced by parties that “supposedly” are in complete opposition to the fascist ideology is to miss the real “breakthrough” of the extreme-right.
The potency of a political ideology is not how many seats political parties that claim such an ideology gain or lose, but how the rhetoric and the ideals of such a movement influence the political discourse in general. And one thing is clear in Europe and to a certain extent in most of the world: the infatuation of neo-liberalism and austerity with fascism is shifting the center of gravity of the political spectrum towards the right on a daily basis.
For those that would shun this thesis, its factuality is manifest on the European political scene. It’s manifest in the coalitions between neo-liberal forces and neo-fascist forces throughout Europe, it’s tangible in the recuperation of ideals of the far-right by the neo-liberal movement, the most important being the corporatist element of neo-liberalism, which favors a complete laissez-faire attitude towards multinationals and the unrestricted flow of capital.
Corporatism is the centerpiece of many center-right political platforms nowadays. It goes without saying that corporatism is the economic policy at the foundation of fascism. Fascism in politics is completed only by corporatism in economics and this is the point of junction between the neo-liberal and neo-fascist movements.
Unfortunately it seems that the socialist movement is fading into a political landscape that has become color blind. The revolutionary force of austerity is pushed further and further by neo-fascist movements which, in a very paradoxical way, find their source of attraction in the rebuttal of austerity measures, but couldn’t survive outside of the framework of austerity. The socialist movement, which was once a force that wanted to revolutionize the very structure of global capitalism, has become a reactionary force which only acts in reaction to the palpitations of the neo-liberal right.
The only hope that still resides within the European political spectrum is the establishment of a viable left wing alternative in the form of a coalition of the parties of the European Left that have rejected austerity and the rhetoric of neo-liberal populism. With the European elections around the corner, it seems like more than ever the traditional political divide between center-right and center-left is irrelevant and that the European parliament after the upcoming elections will be a true reflection of European society in the wake of austerity: polarized to the extreme.
To those that ask how are we to stop the rise of the neo-fascist movements? The answer is clear: the fight against austerity is a fight against fascism.