Sylvian Crépon is one of the leading scholars of the far right in France. As a sociologist at the University of Tours and a member of the observatory on political radicalism at the Jean Jaures Foundation, Crépon has devoted numerous works to France’s conservative National Front party, including Les Faux-Semblants du Front National (Presses de Sciences Po, 2015) and Enquête au Cœur du Nouveau Front National (Nouveau Monde éditions, 2012).
Saturday he spoke with il manifesto about the rise of the French security state and what it means for right-wing politics.
The climate of fear and emergency security seem to play in favor of the National Front. Is Marine Le Pen, president of the party, exploiting the situation?
Although at first she did not want to look like an opportunist, the leader of the FN quickly went back to her main ideological belief, that is to establish a direct link between immigration and insecurity. Moreover, this radical feature is her main political capital. And these issues are all the more favorable for her when the prevailing language of politics is martial.
As for the measures taken by the government, they’re heading in the direction Le Pen always wanted; therefore, all she could do was applaud the decisions while insisting they must go further. From this point of view, the symbolism of unity and national harmony do no harm at all to the National Front, indeed. That said, in recent months, after the great emotion of the moment aroused by terrible events like the attack on Charlie Hebdo, voters have returned to focus on their daily lives.
In this sense, she has studied the ways in which the National Front took root socially in Pas de Calais, starting from the small town of Hénin-Beaumont which became the “laboratory of the new Le Penism.” How did that go?
I think there are at least three factors that must be considered. First the social context. In these regions, the closure of the mines was not accompanied by any real economic conversion. The service sector has taken the place of the extractive industry and is characterized by precarious, part-time employment conditions, with senior management who might be based on the other side of the planet. This has resulted in a workers’ consciousness that’s extremely fragmented. It’s unlike what has happened in the past, when capitalism was embodied by the figure of the owner of the mine, and social struggles generated a class identity that brought people together. Thus, the FN offers solidarity no longer based on common social membership, but rather of “ethnic” membership, and continues to denounce the failures produced by globalization and the politics of the E.U., echoing a growing sentiment among those who feel abandoned.
To this we must add that local governments have often been involved in scandals and cases of corruption that have fueled FN’s populist propaganda.
Finally, the party has set up its own very active militant network in Hénin-Beaumont, openly inspired by what they built during the time of communists. It has worked so well that now the Front wants to do the same across the country. In this context, the choice of Marine Le Pen to make this town their constituency since 2007 has made the difference.
If this is the profile of FN in the former working-class areas of the north, what’s the plan in the south, where the party has a following just as large?
Front leaders are fully aware of the differences that exist between different regions. So, Marine Le Pen adopts a more social tone, a sovereignist line, “neither right nor left,” because she has to make inroads in a popular electorate that was once strongly left. It’s the same for the No. 2 in the party, Florian Philippot, who is a candidate from another district linked to the working world in the east of the country.
In contrast, the line expressed by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the southeast of France is a lot more right-wing, more sensitive to the issue of identity, immigration, which corresponds to the expectations of her electorate, which is also composed, but not entirely, by pied-noir. Hers is a liberal position on the economy and on neoconservative values: For example, she has participated in demonstrations against marriage for all. So there is no real consistency in the party platform. The only strategy is to train cadres, since the party is still trying to build its own ruling class. For the rest, each can adapt to his or her own electoral clientele.
If such divergent positions can coexist in the National Front, can it be said that the transformation announced by Marine Le Pen, with respect to the party that she inherited from her father, really took place?
Yes and no. Yes in regard to certain ideological aspects. When Marine Le Pen defines the Holocaust as “the absolute barbarity,” you cannot say that nothing has changed. On this point she is in stark contrast to her father, even if it took her a long time to do it. In the same way, the Front leader has appropriated some Republican themes, presenting itself as “gay friendly.”
Does this mean the course has really changed? The research I’ve done over the past years indicates otherwise. Of course, there are differences between the father and the daughter. But Le Pen in the presence of some expresses the same ideology of the founder of the FN, and this does not seem to bother her in any way. Also evident is the fundamental program of the party, which has not changed: The cornerstone is still identity, as well as an economic and social plan with the proposal of a “national priority,” while demanding the closure of borders or an exit from the euro. The FN shows that it is still immersed in the same nationalist logic of the past. Similarly, it still promotes jus sanguinis based on a conception of ethnic nationality. In this sense, the party cannot be said to have broken with its far-right path.
Based on the candidates that the FN presented last spring in departmental elections, she has outlined a social profile of the party and its potential voters. Who are they?
In fact, it revealed a certain similarity between the candidates and voters, in the sense that the party tried to invest in figures who could be perceived as close to those who would vote for them. This is a very important element, especially for those in the suburbs or in urban outskirts and a bit ignored, where FN sympathizers say: “These candidates are not technocrats, but people who think and speak like us, who understand our problems.”
From this point of view we can say that the FN has become the party of the workers of the private sector, of the lower middle class who work and are struggling to get to the end of the month, and the underclass. People who have to cope with job insecurity in the private sector, like supermarket cashiers, people forced to accept part-time, precarious work. These are workers who live in an anomic state, unable to build a full working identity and are not able to communicate.