The major factor of recent months in France is Hollande's loss of the credit he had when elected in 2012.
This is a longer version of the article than in the printed paper. It presents a somewhat different angle on the Dieudonné affair from Yves Coleman's article in Solidarity 309.
Hollande was able to beat Sarkozy not because of his programme and his campaign, but because the masses sought a political way out, and that will to get rid of Sarkozy was boosted by the campaign of the Front de Gauche and [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon, especially following on from the success of the Paris demonstration of 18 March 2012.
Without the dynamic generated by that mobilisation, in 2012 we would have had the same result as with Ségolène Royal in 2007. What happened next depended first of all on the way in which the Front de Gauche and its component parties would respond to Hollande's policy.
Over 18 months in office, Hollande and his government have proved that they are pursuing the same pro-bosses policy as Sarkozy [former right-wing president]. On no social or economic question has this government distinguished itself from its predecessor. On the contrary, what the right did has been endorsed and, worse, continued,
In primary and secondary education, Peillon follows the same path as his UMP predecessor. In higher education, Fiaroso hands over the universities to business groups following the law passed by UMP [right-wing] minister Pécresse.
Last April, a law voted through by the Socialist Party parliamentary majority endorsed the accord between the CFDT [un-militant union confederation] and MEDEF [bosses' organisation] which undermines the Labour Code, especially by giving the bosses more freedom to make redundancies as they wish.
In autumn, the majority round Hollande voted for the extension of the contributions period necessary to get a full pension, thus in effect raising the retirement age to 69 or 70. Right now, labour minister Michel Sapin is setting in train a plan which threatens to destroy the labour-inspector service.
For his 2014 new year's wish, Hollande has proposed a "pact of responsibility", in fact a new stream of hand-outs given to the bosses in the hope that in return they will consent to hire a few more workers. Then there has been the announcement of the putting into question of bosses' contributions for family allowances, which means either the eventual disappearance of those benefits, which are necessities for many worse-off families, or the transfer of the burden of financing them onto the taxes workers pay. In practice, it is a cut in the social wage.
VAT was raised on 1 January. Civil service wages have been frozen since Sarkozy's time, and that continues. Public sector jobs continued to be cut by the truckload. Etc.
And what have the parties of the Front de Gauche (FdG) done since June 2012? They have not created a serious left opposition, capable of organising social mobilisation against the pro-capitalist measures of the government.
The PCF [French Communist Party], in its planning for the municipal elections of March 2014, has chosen to make alliances with the Socialist Party [SP], especially in big cities like Paris and Lyon, and in roughly half the contests, in the hope of more easily getting a few more councillors elected.
The PG [Parti de Gauche, Mélenchon's party], responding in Mélenchon's clumsy and coarse style, has not been an effective counterweight. The tone it has used cannot but repel honest Socialist Party activists.
But the worst was in November 2013, when the main components of the FdG, the PCF and the PG, directly opposed the Breton workers who, facing a crisis in the agricultural and food industries, demanded the banning of redundancies and the nationalisation of enterprises.
Those workers were denounced as "agents of MEDEF", "Breton parochialists", "slaves", and "dimwits", while the CGT-CFDT-FSU-SUD trade union committee in Britanny supported a deal between the state and the region and the social partners which came down to a "social" way of managing the redundancies which accompany the restructurings and shutdowns.
For a month we saw a campaign worthy of the Moscow Trials era, when the defendants were denounced as agents of Hitler and the Mikado. Everything to do with the Red Bonnets [the Breton movement] was classified as right-wing or far right.
The fascist danger in France finds its breeding ground primarily in the social despair which the Government feeds by its policies, and to which the FdG has had neither the will nor the ability to propose a convincing and rousing response.
We can reassure the readers of Solidarity: there are not Front National [FN] hordes attacking local trade union offices today in France. The courts are taking enough repressive action against trade unionists, the bourgeoisie does not yet need storm-troopers, and Hollande refused the draft Bill, proposed by the FdG, to amnesty those convicted on the basis of trade-union or community activities.
The FN (*) is "very well-behaved", and is playing the card of respectability in order to maximise its electoral influence. The politician most guilty of racist speech in recent months has been Manuel Valls, the interior minister, who has pushed a repressive policy against Roma migrants, declaring in a quite racist and essentialist way that they should not stay in France and that expelling them en masse from France was normal. This is the same Valls who claims to lecture Dieudonné on anti-semitism.
If there is a fascist danger in France, it comes from the fact that on the issues where the Government tries to take some progressive social measures, it does it in such a way as to put out the red carpet for far-right movements.
Thus, at the start of 2013, the question of gay marriage allowed the fundamentalist far right, supported by the Catholic hierarchy, to reinvigorate itself by repeatedly mobilising hundreds of thousands of people and creating social pariahs comparable to Jews in anti-semitic mythology. Even the FN seemed "moderate" on this question!
On Sunday 19 January, between 20,000 and 40,000 demonstrated in Paris to demand the extension to France of the steps taken recently by the right-wing government in Spain against abortion rights. This fundamentalist Catholic trend, distinct from the FN, is one of the elements of fascist infection.
The other factor relates to the social and demographic changes in France over the last 50 years, and especially the growth of the immigrant population. Basically, the issue is simple: how to attract and hold in the reactionary camp hundreds of thousands of young people born in France and of immigrant background, who socially form part of the working class but are not yet really integrated into the labour movement, and who face social and racist discrimination.
This is where someone like Dieudonné and his crony Alain Soral come in. The recipe is simple. In place of the old anti-semitism of the Action Française type and the era of the Dreyfus affair [turn of 19th-20th century] or of Vichy [World War Two], to promote a new anti-semitism for the "slum non-whites", one which says that poverty stems not from the workings of the capitalist system but from the secret influence of a Jewish lobby which has great power in business, the banks, the media, the cinema, and politics. Thus, with a discourse combining an appeal to Muslim identity, solidarity with Palestine, social prejudices (against women and lesbians and gays), and a strong dose of anti-semitism, all dressed up in "anti-imperialist" or "anti-Zionist" terms, a social division is created which diverts proletarians from struggle against capitalism.
The subtle twist is to begin by targeting young people of Arab and African origin, and then to extend this new anti-semitism to other sections of the youth or of the working class. This is where the "anti-system" gesture of the "quenelle" comes in. It is simultaneously a parody of the Nazi salute and a threat of anal rape against the "Zionists" and the "supporters of the system"... It is all spiced up with dubious jokes about the Holocaust, and conspiracy theories about 11 September (**).
This game can continue only thanks to the absence of a social mobilisation against the policies of the Government. The main task of revolutionary activists is to work for the revival of social struggles and their generalisation against the Government, in order to put the social question centre stage.
Along with the necessary explanations combatting racist demagogy and this new version of anti-semitism, it is by relaunching the class struggle that we will clear away this stench.
* : To avoid misunderstandings - the FN is a group structured round fascist cadres continuing a legacy from Vichy and the OAS during the Algerian war, but today the FN is going for a "Gramscian" strategy of conquering influence through elections, with a much softer and more regulated discourse than Jean-Marie Le Pen used in the 80s.
** : The procedures and means used by this new form of anti-semitism required longer discussion, as do the mirror-tricks between this anti-semitism and the Zionist (and not "Zionist") movements operating through community institutions like CRIF. On 5 May 2002, the then president of the CRIF announced that he would vote Le Pen "to teach a lesson to the Arabs".