France Isn’t Fascist (yet)!

By W. Muncer

Introduction

On Sunday evening, June 9, inhabitants of most EU member states learned the results of the European elections: with the exception of a few northern countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, all had been hit by the far-right wave. As the polls had been predicting for several weeks, parties belonging to far-right Euro-groups such as “Identity and Democracy” (ID) and “European Conservatives and Reformists” (ECR)[1]These are groups within the EU Parliament. won the elections handily.

Macron, at a low ebb in the polls and without a majority in the French National Assembly since June 2022, announced he would “address the nation” later that night. This umpteenth defeat for his political family—formerly “centrist,” but today considered “right-wing”—confirmed his need to resort to extreme measures and strike the opposition by surprise. At around 9pm, all French TV channels interrupted their programming to show incoming footage from the Élysée Palace, revealing an unsettled president. After commenting on the election results, which were not favorable to his party and himself, Macron dissolved the parliament.

Neo-Bipartisanship

After participating with other rightist political and media forces for several months in harassment campaign directed at the left-wing La France Insoumise (LFI) party for their (very modest) support of the Palestinian resistance, Macron hoped to be able to secure the backing of a large section of the social-democratic parties (the Socialist Party [PS] as well as the Greens [EELV]) for the legislative elections he triggered by dissolving the National Assembly. Part of this hope was based on the fact that Mélenchon’s “left-populist” La France Insoumise had won almost 22 percent in the 2022 presidential elections, but only 9.9 percent on Sunday, June 9.

However, as in most EU member countries, the European elections are not representative of the real political trends within French society. With a turnout of just under 50 percent (in contrast to 72% in the last French presidential elections), and a majority of voters from higher socio-professional categories, the center to right-wing parties garnered the lion’s share of votes in this election. But by calling for new legislative elections, Macron placed an artificial significance of these results. Similarly, the Socialist Party, with its Zionist and pro-NATO program and discourse, claimed the 15 percent of votes it won as proof of its “leadership” on the left—even though, at the time of the last elections, the PS was on the verge of extinction with its meagre 1.74 percent.

Macron’s gamble was an attempt to reorganize the political landscape with two strong blocs—progressives (he and his allies) versus nationalists/populists (the far-right National Rally [RN], reinforced on the right by Eric Zemmour’s Reconquête party). By systematically demonizing of La France Insoumise and by making the Socialist Party into his party’s subordinate, he sought to prevent the possibility of reconstituting a left-wing alliance. However, to the surprise of the French president and his close supporters, the next day, June 10, the various parties of the reformist left succeeded in unifying under an electoral alliance called the “Nouveau Front Populaire” (New Popular Front, NFP), named after the historic “Front Pop,” created in 1936 to counter the rise of fascism.

As is often the case, President Macron ended up being right by being wrong: everything seemed to indicate that the Macron-LFI-RN tri-partisanship would force a new, two-party system. But, to the dismay of the president and his accomplices, the two-party system that has been emerging since June 10 will very likely not include his “centrist” political bloc.

The Left Is Dead, Long Live the Proletariat!

Since the 2010s, public and media discourse has imposed a new “political dichotomy” to replace the old one, opposing both Left and Right. It seemed necessary to sweep away the past, to abandon the outdated and uncomfortable categories of the Cold War era. According to liberal editorialists, 21st-century politics would consist of a struggle between progressives (pro-NATO, EU) and populist-conservatives (pro-Russia, China)—two new axes around which previously “left” and “right” forces could gravitate.

Since 2022, however, a three-party system had taken hold in the French political landscape dividing the electorate between centrists (Macron’s “La République en Marche”/“Renaissance,” which has become increasingly reactionary over the years), the far right (the National Front, or National Rally since 2018) and the populist left (La France Insoumise). Now, this tri-partisanship is in danger of collapsing in the forthcoming legislative elections.

The cards have been reshuffled in favor of a match between social democracy and the far right. Against this backdrop, many people, having spent almost 7 years under the yoke of Macron-style, right-wing liberalism, are tempted to support the NFP. “The left is back” has become a popular refrain. But what kind of left are we talking about? Is it a coalition of the spineless, if not openly anti-worker type of Left, like the Socialist Party under former President Hollande, or an alliance dominated by the ideas of a new, more “radical” Left, along the lines of Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise?

All of these questions seem to stem from the aforementioned “left-right” dichotomy. As a result, the very framing of the problem remains stuck in abstract thinking based on idealistic categories (“left” ideas, “right” ideas) and are largely uninformed about the real class interests that are at work and defended by different political forces.

In this sense, it’s important to remember that during the previous cycle of parliamentary opposition between “left” and “right” as dominant categories (in France, between the 1980s and 2010), activists from extra-parliamentary revolutionary organizations—some Trotskyist, others Marxist-Leninist or Maoist and even anarchist—pointed out that this opposition was actually an artificial product of the ruling class: an opposition biased against to those who spoke instead of a class contradiction between the proletariat and bourgeoisie.

In the electoral politics arena, the “left,” the “center,” and the “right” have more in common than not. They represent different fractions that make up the bourgeoisie—not three fundamentally different social groups/interests. The “Left” repeatedly referred to is, in reality, a bourgeois left. While this “left” shares its name with the one historically used by the oppressed, it’s current usage renders it a term devoid of meaning. Terms “proletarian,” “anti-imperialist,” or “communist,” however, are much clearer in designating real anti-capitalist forces. And while they are not interchangeable terms, they are different markers of a type of politics that clearly run counter to the interests of the bourgeoisie, the ruling and exploiting class worldwide.

“Whatever you do, don’t vote for the National Rally”[2]Refers to the front page of the newspaper Libération on the eve of the second round of the 2017 presidential election. The headline read in bold, “Whatever you do, vote Macron.”

In 1997, Jacques Chirac, then President of the French Republic, dissolved the National Assembly against a backdrop of divisions within the right-wing majority. In response to the call for new legislative elections, various left-wing parties of the day united under the banner of the “Gauche plurielle” (“Plural Left”), forerunner of the 2022 NUPES coalition and today’s New Popular Front. The left-wing coalition emerged victorious from the 1997 elections and sat in government until 2002, implementing a socially liberal and security-oriented program not far removed from that proposed by the right. Disappointed and demoralized by the tenure of Lionel Jospin, who, as Prime Minister, led the ruling coalition, left-wing voters splintered their support among various small parties during the 2002 presidential elections. A large section of workers were driven to the far-right. The result was an unprecedented situation where Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen faced the incumbent president, Jacques Chirac, in the second round of the elections. The threat of the National Front coming to power caused a wave of panic felt in the upper ranks of French society, which was then transformed into the kind of “anti-fascism” through the vote that we are so familiar with in France: a call to all those who were “committed to the values of the Republic” to vote for whichever candidate happened to stand in opposition to that of the far-right.

Two other presidential elections presented the same call to vote for the lesser of two evils, in 2017 and in 2022. Today, as the RN is far ahead of the other contenders, polling at 32% for the first round of the legislative elections, the habitual fear-mongering is back: “defend the Republic through the ballot box, or we’ll have fascism!”

What is the validity of this moral and political directive? If both Macron and the NFP represent tendencies within the bourgeoisie, is it justified to come to their aid in the face of the threat of fascism, knowing that the bourgeoisie they represent exploits us every day at work, at home, and in public spaces? To answer this question specifically in the case of the NFP/Macron vs. RN, we first must determine whether the latter is actually a fascist formation. And before we can accurately answer that question, we need to look at the phenomenon of fascism in general: where does it come from? What forces drive it? How does it manifest itself?

Dimitrov and the Marxist Theory of Fascism

Fascism, as a social and political class phenomenon, has given rise to a number of different, sometimes contradictory analyses of its origins, its mechanisms of growth and seizure of power, its mode of government, and so on. The Marxist theory of fascism was articulated in a comprehensive manner for the first time by Georgi Dimitrov, General Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Communist International between 1934 and 1943.

In The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle for Working-Class Unity Against Fascism, Dimitrov began by pointing to the main reason for the emergence of fascism in the imperialist era:

Imperialist circles are endeavoring to place the whole burden of the crisis on the backs of the toilers. That is why they need fascism. …They are striving to forestall the growth of the forces of revolution by smashing the revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants…. That is why they need fascism.

In short, the crisis of capitalism that arises at the end of the process of partitioning of the world among the imperialist powers, unable to solve the problem of overproduction without unleashing all-out war, pushes the proletariat towards revolutionary solutions. However, although revolution becomes possible, as Lenin put it, when “the ‘lower classes’ do not want to live in the old way and the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way”[3]V. I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, 1920. the impossibility of maintaining the status quo does not necessarily lead to the outbreak of a socialist revolution. If the proletariat is too weakly organized as an independent political force, or when its party is plagued by revisionism, it is quite possible for the revolutionary energy of the proletariat to be channeled in the opposite direction, and for the ultra-reactionary part of the bourgeoisie to take control of the mass movement and impose a dictatorial regime to safeguard capitalism. This is what we call fascism.

In his analysis, Dimitrov precisely examined what distinguishes fascism proper from the increasingly reactionary measures implemented by classic bourgeois governments prior to the seizure of power by the fascists:

Before the establishment of a fascist dictatorship, bourgeois governments usually pass through a number of preliminary stages and institute a number of reactionary measures, which directly facilitate the accession to power of fascism.

But while Dimitrov did note a continuity between the increasingly reactionary bourgeois democracy and the fascist regime, he also concluded that these are two quite distinct types of bourgeois dictatorship, and that the transition from one to the other therefore represents a qualitative leap:

The accession to power of fascism is not an ordinary succession of one bourgeois government by another, but a substitution for one State form of class domination of the bourgeoisie—bourgeois democracy—of another form—open terrorist dictatorship.

Whatever one thinks of Dimitrov and the strategic imperatives he instigated within the Comintern, his analysis of the fascist phenomenon holds true. As a materialist, Dimitrov examined first and foremost the classes that turn the bourgeois-democratic regime into a terrorist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie: the imperialist bourgeoisie, but also capitalist bureaucrats and the big landowners in semicolonial settings. He paid particular attention to fractions of other classes which, like the petty bourgeoisie or the even the working class, are potentially capable of supporting this transformation, and without whose help fascism has no chance of taking root in society as a mass movement.

From Dimitrov’s analysis, we draw a vital observation for our own investigation: fascism as a political regime is qualitatively different from the classical bourgeois regime. For both the bourgeoisie as well as the proletariat fighting against it, bourgeois democratic and fascist regimes represent completely different methods of domination and opposition to that domination. The Marxist concept of “qualitative” leap or development does not apply exclusively to the transfer of power from one class to another. At the same time, the transition from one mode of production to another, from one class dictatorship to another, is not just any kind of qualitative leap; it is the process of replacing one dominant class by another.

This brings us to the next point: Dimitrov was clear that a temporary alliance with the most progressive and democratic forces of the bourgeoisie was conceivable at a time when society was on the verge of turning into an open, terrorist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (i.e., fascism). Subsequently, communists must aspire to become the most passionate defenders of democratic rights, lost or relinquished, since the development of the workers’ movement is more favorable under a democratic regime. This could be the bourgeois-democratic regime that exists before the advent of fascism, just as a “New Democratic” state led by the Communist Party can emerge after the defeat of a fascist government.

However, before it is an openly terrorist bourgeois regime, fascism is also a political movement fighting for power alongside other bourgeois and proletarian forces. Throughout this period, it exists as a “tendency towards fascism.” But even though under its pressure—and in line with their own class interests—the traditional bourgeois governments increasingly attack the social and democratic rights won during the previous period of social “pacification” (the Ford era for instance), the bourgeois-democratic regime still only takes small, quantitative steps towards the implementation of a truly fascist regime, a bourgeois dictatorship that is qualitatively different. Therefore, as at any other time under such bourgeois-democratic rule in imperialist countries, the proletariat should not ally itself with the bourgeoisie, even with its most “progressive” and “democratic” fractions.

Fascism Versus “Fascism”

Only with a correct understanding of class contradictions, but also of the contradictions between different bourgeois regimes (between the quantitative changes within the bourgeois-democratic system, and its qualitative transmutation into a fascist dictatorship), can we grasp the meaning of the positions historically adopted by communists. Today, we are once again called upon to defend these positions. In the concrete context of France in 2024, these positions urge us to avoid supporting, as small revolutionary organizations outside of the electoral sphere, yet another alliance of the bourgeois “left,” in contrast to what they incited communists to do the 30s of the last century, at a time when their revolutionary parties had a large mass base and could put actual pressure on democratic bourgeois organizations struggling against fascism.

A Marxist perspective recognizes that the situation in France in 1936 was very different from that of today. In the mid-1930s, France was surrounded by proper fascist states, and real attempts at a fascist coup d’état had been thwarted within the country itself. The French Communist Party’s temporary alliance with several forces of the progressive bourgeoisie (the SFIO and the Radical Party) was therefore in line with Marxist analysis and strategy (although the historic Popular Front remains open to criticism in many respects). Conversely, the current context in no way alludes to an imminent fascist takeover, especially since none of the far-right parties in power today in Hungary or Italy (where, unlike Mussolini who she admires, Giorgia Meloni does not aim to abolish liberal democracy in Italy), for example, claim or practice the kind of terrorist regimes that would justify a tactical alliance with “democratic” bourgeois forces.

In the absence of a materialist analysis, today’s far-right movements and parties are often called “fascist,” which is only partly, or abstractly, true—that is, as incipient fascist organizations that may emerge in the future. This misnomer obscures the quantitative evolutions currently underway and what sets them apart from a genuine fascist regime, such as the maintenance of bourgeois democratic rights. This misunderstanding has far-reaching consequences. The appeal of fascist movements stems from their radical opposition to the bourgeois democratic regime, rightfully abhorred by the people. Before the liberal democratic regime is truly in danger from a possible fascist coup d’état, the electoral convergence of proletarian organizations with left-wing bourgeois parties defending their turf will be perceived by large sections of workers as a form of class betrayal. The masses’ infatuation with the anti-system side of fascist parties was described by Dimitrov in 1935:

[Fascism] impresses these masses by the severity of its attacks on bourgeois governments and its irreconcilable attitude towards the old bourgeois parties.

More importantly, calling for the open support of the rather small, powerless proletarian forces existing in the imperialist centers, to the forces of the bourgeoisie within the present parliamentary system—a system inherently unfavorable to the workers’ movement—is actually a policy to disarm the proletariat. And although most of the “proletarian forces” referred to here do not yet form organized masses, we can readily measure the deeply felt sense of betrayal when we talk about the electoral “left” with people from the most exploited strata of the French working class. This is mainly because even though an alliance between revolutionary and bourgeois leftist forces may very well push the latter towards embracing more pro-worker measures, in the end it boils down to what would be revolutionary forces accepting bourgeois democracy and thus calling on the oppressed to support them in upholding the system most workers rightly despise.

This analysis has been confirmed time and again throughout history. In France, the famous “republican dam against the far right” is itself one of the main factors behind the rise of reactionary parties and sentiments, because it places the “left” on the side of the status quo, while many people aspire to radical change. To put it in Dimitrov’s words almost 90 years ago:

Speculating on the profound disillusionment of the masses in bourgeois-democratic governments, fascism hypocritically denounces corruption (for instance, the Barmat and Sklarek affairs in Germany, the Stavisky affair in France, and numerous others). …It is in the interests of the most reactionary circles of the bourgeoisie that fascism intercepts the disappointed masses as they leave the old bourgeois parties.

Yellow Unions and a Blackshirt Bourgeoisie

Returning to French politics, the trade union milieu, even at its most left-wing, is not immune to the kind of non-materialist reasoning outlined above. In a video published online, Sophie Binet, general secretary of the CGT (France’s second-largest trade union, known for being the “radical” wing of the trade union movement) formulated the danger of a possible rise to power of the National Rally according to the same flawed logic that casts Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella’s party as the agent of outright “fascism.” This should come as no surprise. As in most imperialist countries, the French trade union landscape only represents the interests of the dwindling, politically idealist, labor aristocracy.

Contrary to what CGT Secretary Binet and many other figures on the French radical left have claimed, the RN is not fascism. But is acknowledging this fact helping to minimize the danger of the far right? It all depends on whose interests and classes we’re defending when we refuse to describe the RN as fascist. Just as the New Popular Front does not represent an anti-capitalist left that is ready to break away from the bourgeois mode of production, the RN does not wish to put an end to democratic republican institutions—especially as it is these very institutions that are bringing it to power.

The current situation is the reflection of a profound crisis of the institutions of the Fifth Republic set up by De Gaulle in 1958. The underlying crisis of capitalism is protracted and intensifying, leading to an increased polarization in imperialist societies. Revolutionary and counterrevolutionary tendencies have begun to emerge in imperialist countries, but do not yet represent mass communist and/or fascist movements.

The fragmentation of the NATO imperialist bloc in favor of a very limited repartition of the semi-colonies now subject to exploitation by Chinese and Russian capital plunges a sizeable part of the imperialist bourgeoisie into reaction. This is illustrated by the way the media and political establishment have treated anti-French (i.e., anti-French imperialist) movements in West African countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in 2021–2022—countries where France still holds several monopolies. While most forces on the anti-imperialist left celebrated these movements (even with their limits and issues), business and political circles were initially in a state of panic, before gearing up for an all-out counterattack. French multi-billionaire Vincent Bolloré saw his maritime logistics activities in West Africa under threat and decided in May 2022 to sell his subsidiary Bolloré Africa Logistics for 5.7 billion euros. He promptly invested in the acquisition of several French media outlets, including the Journal du Dimanche in 2023, introducing a reactionary and imperialist editorial line. Even more recently, the French state’s deadly repressive action against the Kanak independence movement—that is, in New Caledonia, a French settler-colony in the Pacific Ocean—confirms the colonialist, imperialist, and reactionary nature of the French bourgeoisie.

No Elections, No Unions: Only the People Can Save Ourselves

Parallel, but at a much slower pace to the process of growing reactionary ideas and political practice of the bourgeoisie, but also of part of the petty bourgeoisie and a whole section of the working-class aristocracy, France (among other imperialist countries) is in a stage of reconstituting an anti-imperialist force. At the same time, popular resistance to police violence and welfare cuts is growing, as witnessed by the uprising in the French suburbs in the early 2000s and reignited in 2023. But it bears repeating: these are still only marginal trends, far from the scale and organizational maturity required to imagine any kind of decisive class confrontation, much less revolution. The imperialist system is fractured, but it still stands strong. As long as this remains the case, we cannot count on a rapid development of working-class consciousness; the means to conduct different kinds of “gentle” social pacification (i.e., the bribing of the proletariat through social benefits of all kinds) remain abundant, thanks to the super-exploitation of oppressed peoples all over the world. Yet this should not prevent us, as communists, from intervening in the class struggle taking place at the heart of our capitalist metropolises, in order to build the nuclei of future revolutionary organizations.

In the meantime, the question arises of our personal and organizational support—as militant trade union sections or nascent revolutionary organizations—for “left”-wing parties in elections such as the one upcoming in France, where far-right movements seem poised to emerge victorious. On the one hand, we need to bear in mind that the far-right’s accession to power does not constitute a transition to a fascist regime, as laid out above. On the other hand, we must also recognize that, as Dimitrov put it,

it is a mistake… to underrate the importance, in establishing the fascist dictatorship of the reactionary measures of the bourgeoisie which are at present being increasingly initiated in bourgeois-democratic countries—measures which are designed to destroy the democratic liberties of the toilers, to falsify and curtail the rights of parliament and to intensify the repression of the revolutionary movement.

Today, in the absence of a sizeable revolutionary movement, and given the lack of widespread class consciousness among workers, it would be a mistake to call openly for abstention or even an election boycott, by denouncing the bourgeois left as being identical to the far right. While this difference is quantitative, this difference can be keenly felt by many of the most oppressed and exploited workers, women, migrants, non-white and LGBTQI people. In the absence of sufficiently organized popular self-defense and revolutionary counter-institutions, our pro-abstention position can easily be understood by the masses as a dogmatic rhetoric, out of touch with the current social reality.

It would also be idealistic to believe that a call for the vote to support the bourgeois left would be read as anything but yet another call to support the same “left”-wing parties that have wrecked the lives of so many people in the past. France today presents an exemplary case in this regard, with the NFP coalition counting ex-president Hollande among its ranks. The same President Hollande who championed a myriad of Islamophobic (nationality deprivation, burkini ban, etc.), anti-worker, and pro-business laws (regressive labor law, 80-billion-euro state subsidy to big corporations, etc.).

While we understand the stakes involved in the difference between the status quo (the “left”) and a sharp deterioration (the far right) in the conditions for developing the militant landscape, any unqualified, open support to the (bourgeois) left by our revolutionary organizations amounts to, in the eyes of the masses, support for all the worst aspects of social democracy.

This is a delicate and complicated question, which calls for a nuanced, well-studied, reasoned, and complicated answer and response. The current low level of organization and class consciousness in imperialist countries mirrors the low tide of the revolutionary left. In this context, dogmatic rhetoric and/or extremely short-sighted knee jerk pragmatism mires us more deeply in the morass that history and the left itself has created. This same history shows us that in hindsight, these shortcuts lead us to retreat after retreat. We and the masses we purport to want to organize and actually lead are intelligent enough and outraged enough to begin to understand the problems in society in all of their complexity and begin to formulate a more appropriate response. Let us, then, begin.

References

References
1 These are groups within the EU Parliament.
2 Refers to the front page of the newspaper Libération on the eve of the second round of the 2017 presidential election. The headline read in bold, “Whatever you do, vote Macron.”
3 V. I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, 1920.