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A Comparison between the Extreme Right in Contemporary France and Britain1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2008


Except for a small number of recent studies existing literature on the contemporary extreme right tends to follow a quite rigid country by country-based approach which fails to develop common theoretical perspectives. The key weakness of these specialised multi-country studies is neglect of a genuine comparative framework which often results in collections of ‘descriptive’ essays. The primary intention of this paper is to move beyond this approach and to offer a study of the extreme right in contemporary France and Britain in comparative context. This study transcends the limitations of country-specific accounts to answer the following research question: why has the contemporary extreme right in France enjoyed much more political success than the contemporary extreme right in Britain? A common conjunctural model of extreme-right political success will be constructed at the outset. This is intended to serve as a theoretical base for framing the comparison and will act as the mechanism through which the primary research question will be addressed.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1997

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2 See, for example, Betz, Hans-Georg, ‘The New Politics of Resentment: Radical Right-wing Populist Parties in Western Europe’, Comparative Politics, Vol. 25, no. 3 (1993), 413–27CrossRefGoogle Scholaridem, Radical Right-wing Populism in Western Europe (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994);Google Scholar and Taggart, Paul, ‘New Populist Parties in Western Europe’, West European Politics, Vol. 18, no. 1 (1995), 3451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 For examples of ‘country-specific’ accounts, see Cheles, Luciano, Ferguson, Ronnie and Vaughan, Michalina, eds, The Far Right in Western and Eastern Europe (Harlow: Longman, 1995);Google ScholarHainsworth, Paul, ed., The Extreme Right in Europe and the USA (London: Pinter, 1992);Google Scholar and Merkl, Peter and Weinberg, Leonard, eds, Encounters with the Contemporary Radical Right (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1993).Google Scholar

4 For an overview of the National Front in the 1980s, see Husbands, Christopher T., ‘Extreme Right-wing Politics in Great Britain: The Recent Marginalisation of the National Front’, West European Politics, Vol. 11, no. 2 (1988), 6579;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Eatwell, Roger, ‘The Esoteric Ideology of the National Front in the 1980s’, in Cronin, Mike, ed., The Failure of British Fascism (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), 99117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 See Hainsworth, Extreme Right, 40–4. At the presidential elections of April 1995, Le Pen polled 15% of the vote which surpassed his previous zenith of 14.4% of the vote at the 1988 presidential elections. For coverage of the presidential and municipal elections of 1995, see Shields, James G., ‘The Challenge of the Front National: Presidential and Municipal Elections in France’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 29, no. 4 (1995), 1930.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 On ideology and its location outside the individual, see Griffin, Roger, The Nature of Fascism (London: Pinter, 1991), 1517.Google Scholar On the concept of political space and its application to the far right in Britain see Martin Durham, ‘The Conservative Party, the British Extreme Right and the Problem of Political Space, 1967–83’ in Cronin, , Failure of British Fascism, 8198Google Scholar, and Nigel Copsey, ‘Contemporary Fascism in the Local Arena: The British National Party and “Rights for Whites’–, in Cronin, , Failure of British Fascism, 118–40.Google Scholar

7 See Hobsbawm, Eric, Age of Extremes (London: Abacus, 1995), 424–32.Google Scholar A useful sociological approach connecting the rise of right-wing radicalism to the advent of post-industrial capitalism is provided by Betz, , Radical Right-wing Populism, 2235Google Scholar.

8 On political alienation and the radical right, see also ibid., 37–67.

9 See Anderson, Malcolm, Conservative Politics in France (London: Allen and Unwin, 1974), 283–4.Google Scholar

10 The point that the FN was intended to be neo-fascist is clear from Ordre Nouveau's literature. See ‘Pour un Ordre Nouveau’, Special Congress Supplement (1973), 11.

11 See Le Monde, 27 Dec. 1972, 7.

12 Jean-Marie Le Pen was a former Poujadist deputy and campaign manager for Jean-Louis Tixier- Vignancourt's presidential bid in 1965. He was not a member of Ordre Nouveau and consequently had a relatively ‘moderate’ image on the French extreme right. This enabled Le Pen to rally various far-right strands when he became president of the FN in 1972. For an overview of Le Pen, see Marcus, Jonathan, The National Front and French Politics (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995), 2735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13 See Camus, Jean-Yves and Monzat, René, Les Droites Nationales et Radicales en France (Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1992).Google Scholar

14 On immigration and the decision-making process in France (and Britain) in the post-war period, see Freeman, Gary P., Immigrant Labor and Radical Conflict in Industrial Societies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979).Google Scholar

15 The Bonnet Law, as the name of the law suggests, was championed by Christian Bonnet, then Minister of the Interior under Giscard. This law provided for the expulsion of foreigners if they had, inter alia, no resident's permit or if the permit was false, if they had entered France illegally and, also, if they constituted ‘a threat to public order’. An additional circular was directed towards foreign students. Bonnet had expressed concern at the alleged militancy of foreign students, their numbers and also ‘false’ students, i.e. those that used and abused the system to stay and work in France. The new measures required among other things that foreign students had to demonstrate that they were of ‘good character’ and had ‘sufficient’ financial resources.

16 See Marcus, , The National Front, 7782.Google Scholar

17 See Hochet, Agnès, ‘L'immigration dans le débat politique français de 1981 à 1988’, Pouvoirs, no. 47, 2330.Google Scholar

18 The ‘threshold of tolerance’ made the ‘scientific’ contention that an inescapable racist backlash against immigrants would occur in a locality if the density of the immigrant community reached a certain level (arbitrarily set at anything between 10% and 30%). This concept had been absorbed by central government by the end of the 1960s and had filtered down to local administration by the mid- 1970s. On the discourse of immigration in France, see Silverman, Maxim, Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism and Citizenship in Modern France (London: Routledge, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

19 See Charlot, Monica, ‘L'emergence du Front National’, Revue française de science politique, Vol. 36, no. 1 (1986), 3045.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

20 Jean-Pierre Stirbois alongside Michel Collinot had formed a new camp in the FN in December 1977 known as the solidaristes. Although this faction was regarded as ‘neo-fascist’, Stirbois and Collinot played an important role in the internal moderation of the FN from 1978. Stirbois became the FN's general secretary and played a key role in the internal development of the FN until his death in 1988. See Fysh, Peter and Wolfreys, Jim, ‘Le Pen, the National Front and the Extreme Right in France’, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 45, no. 3 (1992), 309–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Bell, David, ‘The French National Front’, History of European Ideas, Vol. 181, no.2 (1994), 225–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21 Bruno Mégret is a defector from the conservative right. In 1988 he became responsible for propaganda, communication and the ideological training of party activists. See Birenbaum, Guy, Le Front National en Politique (Paris: Balland, 1992), 74109.Google Scholar

22 The Groupes Nationalistes Révolutionnaires was headed by Francois Duprat. Duprat was a former Ordre Nouveau activist and appears to have been used by Le Pen to recruit neo-fascists from the Parti des Forces Nouvelles. However, in 1978 Duprat was assassinated and this paved the way for the ascendancy of Stirbois and Collinot.

23 See for example, Michalina Vaughan, ‘The Extreme Right in France: Lépenisme or the Politics of Fear’, in Cheles, Ferguson, and Vaughan, , The Far Right, 215–25.Google Scholar Arguably, Vaughan overstates the role of Le Pen in the rise of the FN. Note how she concludes: ‘It could be said of Le Pen … that it is the person rather than the programme in which people put their trust.’

24 See Pascal Perrineau, ‘Le Front national: 1972–1992’, in Winock, Michel, ed., Histoire de l'extrême-droite en France (Paris: Seuil, 1993), 243–98Google Scholar; Todd, Emmanual, The Making of Modem France. Politics, Ideology and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 192203;Google Scholar and Bréchon, Pierre and Mitra, Subrat, ‘The National Front in France: The Emergence of an Extreme Right Protest Movement’, Comparative Politics, Vol. 25, no. 1 (1992), 6382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar On application of the ‘social isolation’ hypothesis to electoral support for the Front National between 1989 and 1994, see Nonna Mayer and Patrick Moreau, ‘Electoral Support for the German Republikaner and the French National Front 1989–1994’, paper presented to the workshop on ‘Racist Parties in Europe’.

25 Heitmeyer, Wilhelm, ‘Hostility and Violence towards Foreigners in Germany’, in Björgo, Tore and Witte, Rob, eds. Racist Violence in Europe (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993), 25.Google Scholar

26 See Hall, Peter, Governing the Economy (Oxford: Polity, 1986), 196.Google Scholar

27 See Betz, , Radical Right-wing Populism, 52–5.Google Scholar

28 On the crisis of national identity in France, see Jenkins, Brian and Copsey, Nigel, ‘Nation, Nationalism and National Identity in France’, in Jenkins, Brian and Sofos, Spyros, eds, Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe (London: Routledge, 1996), esp. 108–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29 Mosley created the Union Movement, which was ‘Europeanist’ in inspiration, following the Second World War. See Anna Poole, ‘Oswald Mosley and the Union Movement: Success or Failure?’, in Cronin, , Failure of British Fascism, 5380.Google Scholar The elements rejecting this approach in favour of extreme British nationalism can be defined as ‘non-Mosleyite’.

30 A. K. Chesterton was a leading figure in the interwar British Union of Fascists. He broke with Mosley in 1938 over Mosley's pro-German policy. In the 1950s he led the League of Empire Loyalists which was more a pressure group than a political party. It engaged in a series of publicity stunts such as infiltrating and disrupting Conservative Party conferences. On Chesterton, see Eatwell, Roger, Fascism: A History (London: Chatto and Windus, 1995), 264–5.Google Scholar

31 In the 1930s, Arnold Leese was leader of the rabidly anti-semitic Imperial Fascist League which had denounced Mosley as a ‘kosher fascist’ (!). In the early 1950s, the Imperial Fascist League was reborn as the National Workers Movement. Following the death of Leese in 1956, Colin Jordan became heir to the Leese tradition of virulent nazism. In the early 1960s, Jordan was joined by John Tyndall and Martin Webster in the National Socialist Movement. Following the break-up of the National Socialist Movement, and an interlude in the Greater Britain Movement, Tyndall and Webster joined the National Front and proceeded to dominate the NF for much of the 1970s. On the formation of the NF, see Thurlow, Richard, Fascism in Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 275–80.Google Scholar

32 See Candour, no. 469, Oct. 1967, 74.

33 See Miles, Robert, ‘The Riots of 1958’, Immigrants and Minorities, vol. 3, no. 3 (1984), 352–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

34 In April 1968, Enoch Powell made a dramatic speech which attacked the number of immigrants coming into Britain and forecast a future of racial violence. This ‘rivers of blood’ speech attracted substantial support and made Powell a figure of national political importance. Powell also played a significant role in opposition to the Ugandan Asians. On Powell and the National Front, see Durham, in Cronin, , Failure of British Fascism, 8498.Google Scholar

35 The Monday Club, an organisation on the ultra-right fringes of the Conservative party, was created in 1961. It had developed a strong anti-immigration position by the early 1970s.

36 On reporting the NF, see Troyna, Barry, ‘The Media and the Electoral Decline of the National Front’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 14, no. 3 (1980), 2530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar On the local press and the NF, see Copsey, Nigel, ‘The Extreme Right in Contemporary France and Britain’, PhD thesis (University of Portsmouth, 1995), 182–93.Google Scholar

37 Messina, Anthony, Race and Party Competition in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 144.Google Scholar

38 Searchlight, , When Hate Comes to Town (London: Searchlight Educational Trust, 1995), 2. 33.Google Scholar

39 See Husbands, Christopher T., Racial Exdusionism and the City (London: Allen and Unwin, 1983).Google Scholar

40 See Harrop, Martin, England, Martin and Husbands, Christopher T., ‘The Bases of National Front Support’, Political Studies, Vol. 28, no. 2 (1980), 271–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

41 See Nationalism Today, no. 23, July/Aug. 1984, 11.

42 Nationalism Today, no. 29, May 1985, 11.

43 Distributism had been a fringe political gathering of the interwar years in Britain grouped around the two leading literary figures of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton (a cousin to A. K. Chesterton). It advocated a rural-orientated ‘peasant state’. Anti-modern, anti-urban, its revolutionary alternative was the resurrection of small rural medieval guilds (such was its abhorrence of the modem, atomistic industrial state). It was also strongly imbued with Catholicism and anti-semitism. On the NF's radical ideology in the 1980s, see Eatwell, in Cronin, , Failure of British Fascism, 99117.Google Scholar

44 The ‘political soldiers’ was a self-designated term used by the National Front. A booklet entitled ‘The Political Soldier’, setting out the beliefs of the ‘political soldier’ faction was written by Derek Holland (one of the NF's leaders). On the ‘political soldiers’, see Searchlight, , From Ballots to Bombs. The Inside Story of the National Front's Political Soldiers (London: Searchlight Publishing, 1989).Google Scholar

45 Cited in Searchlight, no. 242, Aug. 1995, 5. However, following the renaming of the party, one faction did remain loyal to the original NF name.

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