We have probably all seen the news from France, many of us feeling a surge of joy as the people...
By posting this little write-up of its research, Plan C Manchester is signalling that it is keen to hear from comrades in France and elsewhere facing similar situations—what forms is the anti-homophobia counterpower taking? what struggles lie on the horizon in light of the seemingly effective alliances being forged between single-issue anti-gay-marriage activists and neo-fascists?
11 February 2014. by S.L.
Our view of France is, to say the least, concerning. The prominent ex-communist sociologist Alain Soral, lately turned ‘nationalist socialist’, has called for “generalized insubordination”—and the call seems to have resonated deep into a frustrated conservative, in large part, Catholic mainstream. Multiple news vehicles are constantly bringing tidings of “la Manif’ pour Tous”, a wave of homophobic agitation right across the republic. Far more virulent than what UKIP represents, austerity on the other side of the Channel evokes the opportunistic invention of a struggle against Left “anti-family” policy; and most notably “against gender theory” and “gender ideology” as a whole, all of which now regularly complements and legitimizes more familiar formations of neo-fascist activism, in a context of increasingly normalized anti-immigrant rhetoric and resurgent populist anti-Semitism.
The high profile comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, one time opponent of the Front National and broad ‘hate racism’-style campaigner, lately became infamous for performing the quenelle ritual gesture associated with homophobia and anti-Semitism. Although his Jew-bashing has become more and more explicit, he is still perceived by many of his defensive fans as a benign or non-political maverick. While this functions in part in this way as a diffuser of left-wing energies, it should be noted that ‘Dieudo’ has also teamed up on television with Holocaust deniers like the skinhead leader Serge Ayoub, not to mention lent support for alliances with the fascist ‘French Spring’ platform and royalist group Civitas. While most of the blood-and-soil, one-man-and-one-woman, pro-natality discourse of the aforementioned groups is missing from this Franco-Cameroonian’s comedy, according to him, gay marriage is still being pushed upon an unwilling population while morale is low—by a “Zionist” state, no less. Indeed, in this environment, the mixture of crude ‘anti-racist’ tropes together with anti-Semitism and homophobia is often dizzying.
However, the trend remains clear. While support for the leftish-liberal government is at an all-time low, things have certainly taken an extremist turn in France since 2012. No Russell Brands or Owen Joneses of note here: the unelected political free-lancers whose profiles are sky-rocketing are overwhelmingly rightist (with high prominence for anti-feminist women). For instance, one charismatic spokesperson from the hard-line pro-life Catholic French Spring was on hunger strike until last week to demand Hollande’s impeachment (#JeûneBéatriceBourges); likewise, the caricatural pro-“family” persona ‘Frigide Barjot’ has been upping the ante on her overwhelmingly pink blog, disseminating the somewhat arresting slogan “We want sex, not ‘gender’!” The president of LMPT is now another respectable and essentialist ‘lady’, Ludovine de la Rochère, who has been criticized, like Bourges, not only for not fully publicizing campaign finances (suspected of pro-life Vatican origins) but for not distancing herself from the “useful”, often violent far-right elements that draw attention to the ‘issue’ of gay marriage.
In the face of these strategic, inter-religious reactionary partnerships, the dismayed current interior minister, Manuel Valls, has determined to be on the offensive, summarily condemning the Manif’ Pour Tous movement as a continental analog of the “regressive” American “Tea Party”. The question is, do they object to this, or is it praise? What’s more, doesn’t Valls probably know it? Who does such paper condemnation serve? As No Borders activists in France are quick to point out, lest Valls be mistaken for a progressive, racist “Socialist Party” policies and politics that have pursued the expulsion of Roma communities throughout 2012. In sum, apart from asserting some easily-defeated ‘feminism’, the ostensibly left-wing term in government has done nothing to nurture the material or discursive power of anticapitalist players. As far as we can see, conferences (this one features the author-critic of the ‘Dieudonné Galaxy’) and pro-solidarity counter-mobilisations are being organised, but unfortunately the agenda is being set by phobic ‘patriots’.
As of last week, through the instrumental team-up between conservative and neo-fascist forces in France, the Parti Socialiste, with its modestly liberal-feminist agenda, has been pushed substantively onto the back foot. Its proposed ‘equality’ legislation for schools has now been scrapped (technically: postponed) and it’s a victory for ‘the street’. A canny and religiously-cum-racially targeted homophobia has strategically dressed up as anti-state and anti-capitalism and looks to be buoyed, rather than placated, by this victory. Reports show that parents in predominantly Muslim communities nation-wide were subject to scare tactics via viral text message, urging them to participate in a LMPT ‘parent strike’ by misinforming them variously that their children would be taught masturbation in class or ungendered via brain-washing.
In tandem, more or less grassroots “Days of Rage”, mobilised ostensibly against “unnatural families”—but fueling invective against Jews and immigrants as well—have now more than once attracted at least 100,000 people onto the streets of Paris. These are regularly associated with reportsof mass arrests of youth groups performing the Hitler salute or otherwise attempting to intimidate immigrants or anti-fascists. Onlookers rightly fear, then, that it is only a matter of time before another victim’s life, like nineteen-year-old antifascist Clément Méric’s last June, is claimed by those espousing these bloodthirsty ideologies.
Some sketchy thoughts on this conjuncture. Whereas the right’s alliances are instrumental, ours don’t have to be. And it is a matter of some urgency that the militant defense of (without exception) queer, any-gendered, coloured and non-citizen bodies, as a positive affirmation, become a clearer line of attack in the prole politics that gets us out of this mess. It is no good if leftists are, across the board, conceding ground by denying that a critique of gender was being introduced into the curriculum, for example. The argument we want to be having ought not to begin “Hold on, hold on, that’s not true! Little girls shall of course remain little girls (if they want to)…” and indeed it is necessary, as they also say in France, to dare to be feminist (osez le féminisme). The answer we give to the alarmist claims of the fake “movement for all” (the Family will perish! our children won’t know their own gender! queers are invading!) should properly be, we feel, a bold “hell yes!” and not a reassuring or confused “No, well” that divides us. It is disappointing that the only feminist material that has really hit our radar from contemporary France is the deeply problematic “this is what being a woman feels like” video that’s made it to upworthy, purporting to “flip genders” and portray a “feminist society” in which men get raped on the street. This is not effective counter-propaganda: it in fact displays the same reductivist, determinist, Hobbesian conception of gender as the reactionaries. For a far better, genuinely exciting essay on the Logic of Gender, we’re currently wrapping our head around the latest Endnotes offering. We’re also interested in the anti-bourgeois feminism of Morgane Merteuil and STRASS and get a sense that, what with the schools equality programme defeated, and abortion rights to extend, and patronizing sex worker protection bills also being passed through the French government at the moment, there’s a lot on every French rev feminist’s plate at the minute.
This said, we want to hear from comrades closer to the struggle, in France, about any ideas that are lying around at present with relevance to the question of how to start making more sweeping, non-apologetic inroads into this sorry state of post-crisis politics where you are.