Is France Going National-Socialist?

The first grassroots movement to emerge, La Manif Pour Tous ("A Demonstration for Everybody"), is in fact a quite moderate and mainstream pro-family operation closely related to the Catholic Church. It garnered hundreds of thousands of demonstrators last year against the legalization of same-sex marriage -- the “mariage pour tous” ("Marriage for Everybody"), as the Hollande administration called it. The administration, which currently controls both houses in the French parliament, had the law passed anyway: same-sex marriage was at least a promise it could uphold without budgetary implications. This year, however, La Manif Pour Tous was much more successful: following new mass demonstrations in Paris and Lyons on February 2, the administration withdrew several projects that would have eroded traditional family values even further.

La Manif Pour Tous has been adamant about focusing on family issues only, and not to get involved in broader political issues. Some of its supporters split and launched the much more politicized and right-wing Printemps Français (French Spring), which opposed the Hollande administration’s policies as a whole. Then, over the fall and the first weeks of winter, more protest movements spread over France, both right-wing and left-wing. At times, they looked like Tea Party rallies. In other instances, they sounded like Occupy Wall Street. The Bonnets Rouges (Red Bonnets), a large-scale civil rebellion in Britanny against an absurd écotaxe (“ecological tax”) drawing many farmers into bankruptcy, was particularly effective. The tax has been suspended.

The Jour de Colère rally on January 26 started as an offshoot of Printemps Français, with the ultimate purpose being to federate all grassroots protest groups, including the more left-wing ones. Some major dissenters, including the Red Bonnets, declined to take part. So much so that the organizers decided, in order to reach a significant threshold -- they had in mind something like 100,000 demonstrators -- to welcome everybody else willing to join.

This including Dieudonné’s supporters, who were thus upgraded from fan club or cult status to full-fledged political-group status.

What’s next? If Dieudonné is the movement’s prophet, its caliph is Alain Bonnet, a.k.a. Alain Bonnet de Soral or just Alain Soral, a 55-year-old French-Swiss actor and lumpen-intellectual who started as a communist and switched to the Far Right some ten years ago while still claiming to be a “Marxist.” An erstwhile critic of Dieudonné, Soral eventually befriended him, and was probably the first one to fully realize his political potential. The key factor was that, as African-French, Dieudonné could be seen as one of us both by the white European French and by the non-white, non-European neo-French. Building up on such assets, Soral launched in 2007 a political club promoting an alliance between French and neo-French “anti-Zionists”: Egalité-Réconciliation (Equality and Reconciliation).

Some suspect Dieudonné and Soral to be merely canvassing support for the National Front. Indeed, Dieudonné and Soral were very close for a while to National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, his anti-immigration posture notwithstanding. In 2007, Le Pen welcomed Soral to the party’s Central Committee. In 2008, he agreed to be the godfather of Dieudonné’s third child. However, Jean-Marie’s daughter and heir Marine very quickly distanced herself from both men, either out of principle or strategy or for more personal reasons: a charismatic Soral could easily become a rival.

In 2009, Soral left the National Front, which according to him had been “taken over” by “Atlanto-Zionists” (supporters of the United States and Israel). While Marine Le Pen, who succeded her father in 2011, has been eager to recast the party as patriotic and democratic, somehow in the Gaullist tradition, and does not countenance explicit expressions of racism or anti-Semitism among her supporters, Soral now claims to be a “French-style national-socialist.”

In Comprendre l’Empire (Understanding the Empire), a book he published in 2011 under a title borrowed from Italian radical philosopher Toni Negri, he claims that banks, Wall Street, the bourgeois upper classes, the protestant churches, the United States, and Israel are leagued together to destroy sovereign nations and to consolidate their power through a “world goverment.” Undoubtedly he is attracting, along with Dieudonné, a core of followers. Whether this will materialize into a mass movement or not is still to be seen (there will be local elections in March and European Union elections in May). But the way Dieudonnists hijacked Jour de Colère doesn’t bode well for an already ailing French democracy.

As for the French Jews, they are just reinforced in their pessimism about their future and a growing feeling that emigration should be considered.

Eliette Abécassis, a writer and philosopher, posted the following on her Facebook account after the January 26 demonstration:

Some years ago, I would still wear a necklace with a star of David, and I was not afraid to send my children to a public school.… Some years ago, I could even not imagine that I would hear anti-Jewish slogans in the street…. Some years ago, I believed in humanity.

In other words: time to go.