My long-awaited article about France on the eve of yesterday's election, published in The American Interest, is in fact eight short articles. My plan was to write each individually, as standalone pieces. But I would have needed another week to do that properly, and I would have had to rustle up seven more editors. So I knit them into one, instead.
- Poudre de Perlimpinpin
- Monkey Eyeballs
- You, Madame, are no Margaret Thatcher
- The Horseshoe
- The Vice
- The Champs-Elysées and the Pattons of Our Basement
- May Day
- The Knife
My predictions were slightly, happily, off: Macron vanquished Le Pen. The pollsters underestimated Macron’s victory by about seven points. As Nate Silver noted on Twitter, this represents a bigger polling error than Brexit, and a much bigger one than Trump.
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Postcards from Paris
The presidential run-off takes place on Sunday, and nearly everyone in France is sick of both candidates. Wednesday’s debate didn’t help: Marine spent two-and-a-half solid hours shrieking like a fishwife addled by menopause. Macron faced the obvious political problem. No matter how unprepared and hysterical she sounded, there’s no way a young, successful, good-looking man can tell a middle-aged woman that she’s crazy and confused and come across to his audience as a gentleman.
Marine simply made no sense. She melted down before millions of French viewers in a miasma of contradictions. She was aiming for a tone of righteous outrage, but she managed instead to spit as she spoke. Macron tried but failed to contain not only his revulsion with her disorganized mind, but with her saliva, which threatened to land on his nice suit. You could see him wrestling against his impulses but settling repeatedly for, “Vous dites des bêtises.” The cartoon thought bubbles seemed to float over his head: If I keep saying the obvious about how dumb she sounds, I’ll sound patronizing, but I can’t just let her keep shrieking like that, can I? He landed on strategies like this: “So we’re going to trade with Italy, who will pay us in euros, and we will pay our workers in Francs. Oo là là.” She replied with a series of smirks and throaty chortles, insinuating that a well-formed formula is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
All Macron had to do to win was avoid appearing to condescend to her, but how could anyone respond without condescension to such nonsense? “The French have a right not to be taken for imbeciles,” he tried. “Either they pay more to retire or they retire later. You can’t do both.” He strove for a tone to express his contempt without sounding contemptuous. “Bad news,” he offered. “Eighty percent of our medications are manufactured abroad. Since you propose tariffs on imports, that will raise prices.”
He was genuinely in a fix: If he said anything economically literate, it would only reinforce her charge that he’s a banker. (Marine constantly grasps the word “banker” in her jaws and shakes it violently, like a modern twist on “capitalist running-dog.”) She accused Macron of “lacking firmness,” and being “indulgent of Islamic terrorism.” Unlike him, she announced, swelling grandly, she would re-establish border controls to fight terrorism. “I have news for you,” Macron replied, either calmly or with a misogynistic fixation on trivia, depending whose side you were on, “Since November 2015, we’ve re-established border controls to fight terrorism.”
He next sent the simultaneous translators into spasms by describing her security proposals as “la poudre de perlimpinpin.” I had to look it up. As the lexicographer Joseph-Philibert Le Roux informs us in his 1750 Dictionnaire comique, satyrique, critique, burlesque, libre et proverbial,
it is also known as oribus powder, and used to mock powders to which charlatans attribute marvellous virtues, as if they were gold, or from which gold could be made. It is used to describe things that have no virtue.
‘Twas le mot juste. (“Snake oil” is the translation I’d use in a hurry.)
Of course, every word out of his mouth did come across as misogynistic and arrogant, but he was trapped. If he refrained from saying, “That’s idiotic” to everything idiotic she said, he’d seem to acquiesce to lunacy, but if he said, “That’s idiotic” over and over, he’d come across as the snotty know-it-all she claims he is. Overall, the impression she gave of idiocy was more powerful than his of snottiness. “In light of the evening,” remarked the military analyst Jean-Dominique Merchet, “Macron is ready calmly to face every lunatic on the planet. Reassuring for the country.” (This pretty much sums it up.)
Macron will win, probably in a landslide as political science textbooks define the term: that is, by at least 15 percentage points. If those who believe we’re in for a Brexit- or Trump-like surprise were drawing the appropriate analogy, we’d see at least one credible poll by now showing her victory within the margin of error. The popular theory that abstention could somehow push her over the edge presumes a level of abstention that’s neither predicted by the polls nor rational for any other reason to presume. French pollsters called the first round dead-to-rights, so their models, clearly, are not fatally methodologically flawed. Polls since the debate have universally shown Macron improving his lead to about 62-38.
So the remaining drama has to do with Macron’s margin of victory. The answer will depend on turnout and the way voters whose candidates lost in the first round reassign their votes. The risk is that Le Pen will do well enough to curse France with the National Front for another five years. Thus “victory” in this election need be redefined as “victory sufficient to demoralize and destroy the National Front, get her and her insane family out of French politics forever, discredit everyone in Europe tempted to emulate her, then salt the earth.” And “defeat” will occur if the Front does well enough to become, as the pundits put it, “normalized”—entrenched in French political life for good.
Only if she’s humiliatingly defeated will France be able to return to the two-round election system around which its constitution is designed. By making it to the second round, the Front confronts French voters with a choice not between two candidates with different, but respectable and defensible, views of France’s future, but with a choice between sanity and the abyss. Like passengers on a long-haul flight, colicky infants on either side, they find themselves trapped with a flight attendant cheerfully offering them the chicken or the plate of raw monkey eyeballs dipped in Ebola. No one can properly debate the future of France, because everyone’s too busy shrieking, “Monkey eyeballs? Ebola? No monkey eyeballs!”
Under more normal circumstances, we wouldn’t worry. Her defeat, like her father’s by Jacques Chirac in 2002, would be decisive enough to get the job done. But these aren’t normal circumstances. The reason she might not be defeated badly enough is twofold: First the Horseshoe—the place where the far-left and far-right merge—and second the Vice, or the squeezing of France from all sides by forces with a keen interest in its destabilization.
You, Madame, Are No Margaret Thatcher
Le Pen is commonly called a “far-right” politician, but the term is misleading, especially to Americans who are not on familiar and intimate terms with her party, its analogues in Europe, or their ideological forebears. She favors elements of a command economy and the end of “the dogma of free competition,” proposing import quotas and tariffs, the re-nationalization of strategic industries and banks, and strong state intervention in agricultural production. Profits will be transferred from large corporations to the state to establish a “special reserve for re-industrialization.” Her party will enlarge welfare spending, raise the retirement age, hand out cash to low-paid workers, and fix prices for gas, electricity and public transportation.
Whereas her father’s National Front embraced liberal economic dogmas (in the classical sense), her views represent a sharp break; her decision to fish for economic inspiration in the waters of France’s traditional left is one reason for her popularity in the former Communist Party strongholds of the north. She proposes to make up for budget shortfalls with some kind of poudre de perlimpinpin, one that to the extent it makes sense at all sounds like a recipe for another massive financial crisis and Europe-wide economic meltdown. The business-friendly French think tank La Fondation Concorde notes the similarities between her proposals and those that led to the “crushing failure” of Argentina in 2001. In this sense, she is a socialist. Thus she is a nationalist and a socialist, or, in other words, a national socialist.
Often, at this point, some well-meaning reader will object that it’s slanderous to call a woman a national socialist because she’s a conservative. This would be true if it were true, but Le Pen is not a conservative—at least not in the sense that Margaret Thatcher was. “Far right” does not mean “very conservative”; it means “national socialist” and is thus simply descriptive, even if normative implications follow from it, as they should.
As I have stressed elsewhere, the National Front is not a normal political party in any way. Ranking members of normal French parties in the 21st century do not say things like this: “I consider that from a technical standpoint it is impossible—and I stress, impossible—to use it [Zyklon B] in mass exterminations.” Thus said Jean-François Jalkh, who was appointed interim party president only weeks ago, and almost as quickly forced to stand down when a journalist at La Croix republished these and related remarks. He’d offered them, apparently totally unprompted, to a doctoral student who kept both the notes and the audio recording of the interview.
The party is rotten with this kind of sentiment. As the election nears, multiple stories like this confirm that Le Pen’s campaign to soften the party’s image has been just that: an effort to soften its image. Consider Frédéric Chatillon and Axel Loustau, for example, “ubiquitous” members of her inner circle; they have been among her closest friends since she was a student. The “de-demonization” of the party didn’t go so far as to boot them (notable, because it did go so far as to boot Marine Le Pen’s own father). As Marine Le Pen’s former advisor, Aymeric Chauprade—who has fallen out with the party for “moral and political” reasons—put it to the New York Times:
They are anti-Semites, nostalgic for the Third Reich, violently anticapitalist, with a hatred for democracy…. People think they’re marginal. But in fact, I discovered, she protects them. She supports them. They are at the heart of everything.
This is borne out in court documents; it has been captured on hidden cameras, and interview after interview substantiates it. They don’t even try all that hard to hide it.
The article in the NYT ran with a photo of the young Chatillon at a rally for the Groupe Union Défense (Or GUD: hence its members are gudards):
Note the Iron Cross: That’s what Nazis use nowadays in Europe, because the Swastika is illegal.
Court affidavits from former gudards affirm that Chatillon himself organized these rallies, notable for all the usual Nazi accoutrements—Sieg Heils, Nazi salutes, the rest. According to an unrelated court affidavit, Chatillon held dinner feasts on Hitler’s birthday to pay homage to “the great man,” and treasured his portrait, which he kissed. In an affidavit delivered to the court on February 3, 2014, former gudard Denis Le Moal describes Chatillon’s “morbid hatred of Jews,” and stresses, “These were not mere youthful errors. He has never renounced his relationship with French and European neo-Nazi circles.”
Like many of Marine’s intimates, Chatillon is on unusually good personal and financial terms with the Assad regime. According to Le Moal, Manaf Tlass presented him with a “magnificent” copy of Mein Kampf, in Arabic; he was particularly proud of it, even if it earned him a swift detention and debriefing by the French security services the moment his flight touched down. Frédéric Haziza, author of One Flew Over the Fascists’ Nest, attest that Chatillon and the former head of the GUD, Philippe Péninque, control the National Front’s finances. “The only debatable point in the use of the term ‘neo-Nazi,’” Le Moal’s affidavit asserts, “is the wrongful qualifier ‘neo.’”
Péninque, described as Marine’s éminence grise, is no improvement. Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, inventor of the quenelle, forms half of the anti-Semitic conspiracy-theory political funambulist act that unites the far-right with black supremacists from the Nation of Islam in a party called Réconciliation Nationale. Dieudonné’s opposite number is Alain Soral, a former rank-and-file communist who became an adviser to Jean-Marie Le Pen. (Make a note: This will come up again when we get to the Horseshoe). The precursor to the Soral-Dieudonné romance, in 2007, was Egalité et Réconciliation, which was founded by Soral and Péninque. Péninque drew up the charter. It describes itself as “left nationalist,” which means socialist nationalist, which means national socialist. One wouldn’t wish to simplify the vastly subtle and sophisticated system of thought represented by these parties, but both have had a vision, an inspiration, about the key to achieving equality and reconciliation in France: It revolves around the idea of a Zionist plot. Yet somehow Marine Le Pen, whose éminence grise is a Jew-hating fruitcake like Péninque, has managed to sell herself to not only to some Americans, but to some American Jews, as a politician they should embrace. (Again, make note: The Vice.)
French journalists have joined gatherings of the Front’s luminaries incognito, with hidden cameras, and filmed them au naturale: “Everybody hates the Arabs. Today we dare not talk about extermination, so we say remigration! Enough already, Stalin’s methods weren’t so bad!” As usual the defense is that they were just joking, but they’re punctuating these jokes with Nazi salutes. Can you imagine how that sounds to a French citizen of Arab origin? Would you truly feel secure they’d never dream of trying to exterminate you?
The UK’s Conservative Party, by contrast, is a normal party. Even the Trump “movement,” as opposed to what has become of the Republican Party, is normal compared to the National Front. If you’re not a conservative, you won’t vote for the Tories, but it’s unthinkable that prominent Tories would carry on this way. This is one (among many) differences between “conservatives” and “the far right.”
Emmanuel Macron avers that he believes the economy works best when it’s given the freedom to do so. He wants to ease regulations on business, reduce public spending, raise defense spending, freeze or abolish the confiscatory housing tax, stay in NATO, and maintain a close relationship with the United States. He was the only candidate—along with the luckless Benoît Hamon—to insist that sanctions against Russia remain in place “until the Minsk accords are respected.”
Le Pen wants to end those sanctions and pull France out of NATO. (And if you think France has problems integrating immigrants now, just wait until Le Pen fulfils her promise to create a new [second] class of citizenship for them, and makes it impossible for employers to hire them.)
Iwas surprised recently to learn from the philosopher Justin Erik Halldór Smith (who also lives in Paris) that, “It is considered the height of naïveté to defend what is often called the ‘horseshoe’ view of political ideology, the idea that at its extremes the left and the right ends of the political spectrum begin to approach one another.” If that’s naïve, count me in, and I welcome Smith to the club of naïfs:
But honestly, how else are we supposed to make sense of the far-left memes revelling in ironic beheadings, ironic Soviet tanks, ironic gulags, as anything other than the mirror image of the alt-right’s Pepe-with-swastika-armband? How else are we to make sense of the situation in which a tweet from Trump himself perfectly sums up what our friends on the antiliberal left are saying?
The question is rhetorical. The answer is that this is the only rational way to make sense of it.
Now consider the French left. The 65-year-old Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France insoumise, or Indomitable France, which includes the Communist Party, is somehow always in everyone’s photos of any given political protest or demonstration; it’s kind of anti-miracle that he’s always in front and center no matter who took the photo or from what angle. His diet, he says, is largely based on quinoa.
Mélenchon has refused clearly to say that his supporters—who are communists, mind —should vote for Macron as opposed to the woman who is, in principle, everything to which a communist is opposed—a National Socialist—and who would certainly line up the communists first to be shot. This is as classic as the horseshoe gets.
Halldór Smith is appalled by the National Front’s success so far, and is tired of being told that Putin’s role in this is overstated:
I’m sitting in France right now, and in my face are reports of the National Front’s increasingly plausible rise to power, and also reports of Russia’s keen interest in helping this happen. … The Putin regime plainly is interested in destabilising Western European electoral politics, and this interest looks remarkably continuous with the destabilisation that has already occurred in the United States.
Putin supports the National Front. The party took a € 9 million loan from a Moscow-based bank in 2014, and Le Pen just visited Russia again. She’s actively seeking new sources of funding, presumably the point of the visit. Le Pen has in turn said she admires Putin and called for lifting the European Union’s economic sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Crimea and Ukraine. The European Union, the U.S. government and the UN hold the March 2014 referendum in Crimea to be illegitimate. Le Pen calls its legitimacy “indisputable.”
This is just what the naked eye can see. We won’t know for some time the full extent of Russia’s support Le Pen, for Chekists don’t play by Marquess of Queensberry rules. Now, as Donald Trump and many on the Left would horseshoe up to interject: We’re no angels. Yes, the U.S. government has interfered in foreign elections, but it used to do this, at least, in the service of U.S. interests. Russia’s interests are not our interests; they’re the opposite. Second, for a host of reasons, we no longer seem any good at it. Russia is.
The ties between Russia’s state security apparatus and the world’s most sophisticated cybercriminals are well-known. Two days after the first round of the French presidential election on April 23, a cybersecurity firm based in Japan reported that Russian hackers had targeted Macron’s campaign in the run-up to the vote. Trend Micro found decoy internet addresses pretending to belong to Macron’s campaign that actually belonged to good old Fancy Bear. His staff has complained of unrelenting and sophisticated phishing attacks throughout the race. (At least they knew, thanks to the Blumenthal fiasco, to be on the alert to it.) Sputnik’s French-language site keeps calling him gay, which few in France really care about, but also keeps calling him a banker. Everyone’s been worried that before the election they’d leak evidence that he’d engaged in banking activities and out him. So absolutely no one was surprised when late last night nine gigabytes of data, purportedly containing hacked internal e-mails from Macron’s campaign, were dumped onto Pastebin, a site used to share documents anonymously.
On Friday at midnight, by law, a blackout on campaigning, polling, and media coverage aimed at swaying the election begins. So the dump was precisely timed to ensure rumors would fly untethered on social media all weekend, even as Macron was unable respond. His campaign confirmed it had indeed been the target of a “massive” hack. The electoral commission has urged French media and citizens “not to relay” the contents of the leaked documents “in order not to alter the sincerity of the vote.” And thus I won’t.
The Champs-Elysées and the Pattons of Our Basements
Now recall that ISIS, too, has a dog in this fight. On April 21, with only two days to go before the first round of the election, a terrorist opened fire on the Champs-Elysées, killing a police officer and wounding three others. The security forces quickly shot him dead.
ISIS claimed credit for the attack unusually quickly. The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi’s unsurpassed reporting on ISIS has earned her many sad honors, among them is that hers is the first Twitter account anyone checks after a suspected ISIS attack. As she wrote,
They claimed this attack in circa 2.5 hours. As far as attacks in West, this may be a record. Only 1 that comes close is Brussels airport. As far as attacks in West, this may be a record. Only 1 that comes close is Brussels airport. Despite popular perception, ISIS does *not* claim everything & they typically take up to 12 hrs.
The timing of the attack obviously wasn’t random, and they claimed it quickly, it seems, to be sure their name would be in the news for as many hours as possible before all campaigning was to cease as per the electoral law. ISIS wants Marine Le Pen to win. They explain patiently and repeatedly that they seek to eliminate what they call the grey zone. They believe Le Pen will make life miserable for ordinary Muslims in France and so prove to those living in the grey zone that they have no future here. This, they believe, will inspire them to join the Caliphate’s (diminishing) ranks and spark civil war on French soil, which they hope to broaden to Europe at large.
Meanwhile, no one yet knows what U.S. foreign policy under Trump really is. But we do know that Steve Bannon adores the Le Pen family. Who knows how much influence Bannon still has over Trump, but he doubtless still has some. So for all anyone can be sure, the U.S. government, or some shard of it, might also be interfering in this election, but not necessarily in a useful way. “Useful” would be helping French authorities defend the integrity of their elections against the Kremlin’s interference. Perhaps some U.S. authorities are doing that, too; we don’t know.
But we do know that that some private American citizens are interfering in this election in the most moronic ways imaginable. Buzzfeed News has surprised me of late by hiring skilled journalists to do old-fashioned gumshoe reporting; in January, as the first round of the French primaries got underway, they published an fascinating article describing a chatroom, to which they were given access, called ‘The Great Liberation of France.’”
And what is this? The effort seems to be based in America, where many young, motivated, useful idiots have been industriously creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users. Who knows how many of these kids are out there—the article didn’t say. But I find it astonishing that any child in the United States could be inspired, in the words of the chatroom’s administrators, “to create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics.” I don’t get it: I had to crack the whip over my students just to get them to remember where France was on a map—hexagon, Aiden, remember the hexagon?—yet somehow a number of American kids that’s greater than zero have chosen to do something like this for fun?
The chatroom’s admins have instructed users to make fake Facebook accounts that are “ideally young, cute girl, gay, Jew, basically anyone who isn’t supposed to be pro-[FN].” Users are then instructed to lock down these dummy accounts so no one can tell they’re fake. Once they have their fake Facebook profiles, they’re told to infiltrate the comment sections of large French Facebook pages and post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon, France’s current frontrunner for the presidency. And they’re doing something similar on Twitter, creating dozens of French-appearing sock puppet accounts. They then collect all of them on lists and organize campaigns to make things trend in French.
Buzzfeed viewed a Google Document that “includes instructions for how users can help teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country.” According to the instructions, “You have to provide reconnaissance for us. WE DON’T KNOW SHIT about your internet segment.” (Or about anything, it seems.)
The user who initially invited BuzzFeed News to The Great Liberation of France wished to remain anonymous and said he believes the Discord group is mostly made up of 4chan users. … The anonymous user said he also suspected that it wasn’t just Americans and French people in the Discord group. “Right now there is this loose sort of alliance between Russian neo-fascists like Alexander Dugin and the international alt-right,” he said. Which appears to be true — there have been several recent 4chan threads where users with American IP addresses are asking to learn about Alexander Dugin, a prominent fascist Russian political scientist.
The existence of a weird chatroom doesn’t prove anything in itself. We can’t tell from this how many of these psychopathic little shits are really out there, or what it means that they’re eager to know more about Alexander Dugin. Even if there were an army of them, I doubt they’ll have much luck “liberating France.” If that were so easy to do, Patton and the Third Army could have saved themselves a lot of trouble. But this story suggests we’ve got a problem. At the least, it says we’re raising a passel of bored, nihilistic teenagers who don’t grasp that it was their own grandparents who saved Europe from fascism and communism and resurrected it from the ashes, and that Le Pen represents the forces their grandparents defeated. We’ve got kids who are dumb enough to think it would be a fun game to try to reverse America’s greatest historic accomplishments — and who are also dumb enough to be enthralled by a ninth-rate, stringy-haired demented Russian neo-pagan who—when he’s not busy babbling on about the holy caste-kingdom of the steppe-people and the planetary conspiracy of land against the sea, earth against water—is actually quite clear about his goals: “An important aspect of the Eurasian worldview is an absolute denial of Western civilization.”
These kids aren’t getting it from nowhere. Where are their elders? Why has Congressman Steve King of Iowa endorsed Marine Le Pen? What was this column doing in the New York Times? “To begin with, nobody seriously doubts Le Pen’s competence, her command of policy, her ability to serve as president without turning the office into a reality-TV thunderdome. … Nor is there much evidence that Le Pen herself draws any personal inspiration from the Vichy right.”
Vocativ used network analysis tools such as NodeXL and Gephi to chart a wave of American social media users who have been using the hashtags #JeVoteMarine, #IVoteMarine, and include such accounts as @TEN_GOP, the “unofficial Twitter of Tennessee Republicans.” The American accounts, they report, “were found to be even more influential than Le Pen’s own official account, @MLP_Officiel, and the official Wikileaks Twitter account @Wikileaks, which has been fervently tweeting in favor of Le Pen.”
Seriously? On a trip to Moscow, last October, Marine told the Russian daily Kommersant, “The economic crisis gives us the opportunity to turn our back on the United States and turn to Russia.” What do these Americans think they’re doing? Our eagerness not only to acquiesce to Le Pen’s project but assist it suggests to me what certain Romans sensed when they saw the vultures take flight.
Less than a week before the final run-off, it felt inevitable that May Day here would be violent, but from which direction it would come from we did not know. You probably saw the photo, which quickly circumnavigated the globe, of a policeman engulfed in flames. The revolting cruelty of the attack was accompanied by tabloid headlines such as this one in the Mirror: “Chaos in Paris as annual May Day march turns into mass riot in protest against Marine Le Pen.”
This was not quite accurate. According to the police, a march organized by some—but not all—of France’s old, established trade unions began at 2:30 p.m., at the Place de la République. Traditionally, all of France’s unions participate in this march, but the fractured French Left could not agree on a common stance ahead of the vote. The veteran unionist Jeanne Bolon, who represents the CFDT, has accused the CGT of cowardice for refusing to endorse Macron. The CGT’s leadership, she says, fears upsetting members tempted by Le Pen. “At the CFDT we also criticize [Macron’s] neo-liberal policies, in a constructive way,” she told France24. “The point is, with Macron we can talk, whereas with Le Pen we won’t ever again.” So the CFDT was forced to surrender the rally at the Place de la République to the CGT. Instead, it held a parallel rally—at the Jaurès metro station.
I don’t know if the significance was intentional; there is almost no site in Paris to hold a rally that would not evoke some aspect of French history seemingly relevant to this election. But the station is named after Jean Jaurès, the legendary antimilitarist, one of the great luminaries of the French Left. Along with Émile Zola, Jaurès was one of Alfred Dreyfus’s most passionate defenders. Jaurès saw clearly the imminent catastrophe of the Great War. He tried desperately to stave it off. Like Rosa Luxemburg, he imagined the key to this was solidarity among French and German workers; he too tried, without issue, to organize general strikes in France and Germany to force both governments to back down and negotiate.
Jaurès, representing the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, was elected for the Tarn in 1906. Six years later, Raymond Poincaré became Prime Minister. Russia, we now know, covertly subsidized Poincaré’s election campaign. These things have happened before, which is why they’re so spooky to see again now. Seeking to obstruct Imperial Germany’s determination to become a world power, Poincaré embarked upon a program to strengthen Franco-Russian ties, which had been severely undermined during the 1908-9 Bosnian crisis.
In July of 1914, Poincaré led a secret mission to St. Petersburg to reinforce the Triple Entente. Jaurès, outraged by Russia’s influence over French foreign policy, condemned the visit as dangerously provocative. Addressing the Chamber of Deputies, he accused Poincaré of being “more Russian than Russia.” He asked, “Are we going to start a world war?”
He did not live to find out. On July 31, Jaurès was murdered by the fanatical nationalist Raoul Villain, who saw in Jaurès an obstacle on the path toward noble war against Germany, one that would erase the disgrace of the 1870 loss to Bismarck’s Prussia and reclaim the Alsace-Lorraine—the recovery of which, it was said, a true Frenchman must not speak, but must never cease to think: “Y penser toujours, n’en parler jamais.” To Villain, Jaurès was a threat to France’s sacred unity.
Jaurès was what these days we’d call a globalist. He did not lack patriotism. He ardently believed the French Republic was worth defending. But he saw internationalism as a key element in its defense. His death destabilized the French government and severed the last links among those opposed to general mobilization in France and Germany. On the day after his death, posters went up throughout France announcing that mobilization. Three days later, the World War began.
The videotaped footage of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand walking, hand in hand, across the battlefields of Verdun, is justly famous. Shot in 1984, it represents the vindication of Jaurès. That argument, at least, every sane person once thought, had been settled. Le Pen did get off one genuinely funny line on Wednesday when she said, “France will be led by a woman, either me or Mrs. Merkel.” But the context was creepy: Macron, she insisted, would allow France to be crushed by Germany and would “lie prostrate” before the powers of Berlin.
In any event, according to the police communiqué, some 30,000 people participated in the CGT-led rally. This is normal for a May Day march in Paris. But neither normal nor traditional were the 800 people who inserted themselves at the head of the march, of whom 150 were masked. This group committed “dégradations,” as the communiqué put it, that at first were “rapidly contained by law enforcement officers.” Then, at the Boulevard Diderot, in the 12tharrondissement, the masked men began throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, injuring three officers, one seriously. The injured officer suffered burns to his face and hands. They broke windows, vandalized a bus station, and damaged a city bike rental depot. The police responded with tear gas.
After this, the procession continued without incident. There was, in other words, no real chaos (by French standards), as the Mirror’s headline intimated, though there surely was a premediated, professional, and brutal assault on the forces of law. Nor is clear, at least not yet, that the violence was “a protest against Marine Le Pen.” The CFDT’s rally was by far the smaller one. There was a consensus at that rally that the Left must absolutely vote for Macron to shut out the far-right. I wasn’t there. I was at the other rally. But France24, for example, reported that attendees of the Jaurès rally were vivid with contempt for those unions and politicians (or to be precise, one politician: Jean-Luc Mélenchon) who’ve failed to take a sufficiently firm stance against the National Front.
I have no idea who perpetrated the attack on the police on May Day. But an impression of “chaos” is exactly what quite some number of evil actors in this story had reason to want, so a thorough investigation is warranted.
When one Léopold Lambert posted this article on Twitter the other day, it deserved the 15 minutes of fame it received: “The Testimony of an Object: Le Pen and the French History of Violence.” Perhaps Lambert’s approach might work where others have failed, because, as he puts it, “the visceral sometimes has to take over the intellectual presentation of arguments.” Hence the knife. “I am writing this text,” he begins,
exactly twenty-two years after the murder of Brahim Bouarram, a young Moroccan drowned by a group of FN sympathizers in the Seine river in Paris. This reminds us also of the massacre of October 17, 1961 when a few hundred Algerian men were thrown into the river by French police under the orders of the infamous Paris Prefect, Maurice Papon.
He’ll convert no one new by telling them that, I fear. Grotesquely, it seems there are even Americans who have by now been convinced that Europe has been overrun by “hordes,” making this sort of thing just unpleasantly necessary.
“Many analyses,” he continues, “can be written about the nationalist and racist ideology developed by [Jean Marie] Le Pen (in its most explicit forms) and [Marine] Le Pen (in slightly more disguised forms).” But he’s noticed that this just bores people. “This is therefore the story of an object.” And he leaves it thus:
As we learn from reading a 2012-text written by journalist Florence Beaugé, it is a knife found by twelve-year-old Mohamed Cherif Moulay on March 3, 1957, in a dark corner of his house in Algiers’ Casbah. The night before, a group of French paratroopers had entered his family house and tortured his 42-year-old dad, Ahmed Moulay, in front of his wife and his six children, with water, electricity and, at least one knife, before killing him. The knife was forgotten by one of the soldiers and later found and hidden by Mohamed Moulay, 12 years old. It is only in 2003 that the knife will exit the Moulays’ house, when the Algiers correspondent to French newspaper Le Monde brings it back to France to be used as an evidence in the trial for defamation that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s attempted against Le Monde. 5 centimeters long and 2.5 centimeters wide, it is the same kind of knife that was used by the Hitler Youth. It was fabricated by German knife makers in the Ruhr according to the investigation made by journalist Sorj Chalandon. The blade bears the name of J.A. Henckels, manufacturer in Solinger.On the sheath, one can read J.M. Le Pen, 1er REP.
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