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Just as fascists from Oswald Moseley to Tommy Robinson have never been welcome in East London, there french counterparts have never had it easy in Marseille. Despite this, Marie Le Pen’s Front National (the FN), a more electorally successful version of the British National Party (gaining 17.9% of the overall vote in the 2012 presidential elections), decided to hold their summer conference here this weekend to reiterate the usual themes of anti-immigration, law and order, and euroscepticism.
This event, attracting 4500 people according the party, is best understood in context. Following the struggle over the legal right to gay marriage in France this spring, and the fascist murder of a leftist student Clément Méric in Paris this summer, the antifascist response in France is vibrant and in full-flow. A timingly development in light of the FN’s increasing, though tenuously, popularity.
On Saturday, a variety of groups from across France gathered in Marseille to oppose the conference. Here, as in the UK, there is traditionally a large discrepency between the number of protesters estimated by the police and that estimated by protest organisers. In this case, as usual, it is safe to say that the turnout was closer to the latter’s upper estimate of 10,000 than the former’s lower estimate of 1,200. The march, comprised of activists from organisations such as the Paris-Banlieue Antifa, the Parti Communiste Français, local feminist groups, the CNT, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste and trade unions, left from the old port, intending to wind its way through the city centre to the venue of the FN conference. After 45 minutes, however, the march came up against a thick blue line of heavily armoured CRS riot police, blocking the road leading to the conference centre. As antifas lined up behind large banners, it looked for a moment as though a confrontation might ensue. However, after letting off a few bangers and chanting « Police partout, justice nulle part (Police everywhere, justice nowhere) », the crowd slowly dispersed, some marching back along the way they came, others drifting off to surrounding cafes.
Despite the fact that the march did not reach the FN conference, it was a successful day in terms of the numbers that attended and the variety of organisations that turned out. Here, as in East London last week, it was the actions of the police that tainted this success.1 As such, perhaps fresh international cooperation on protest/counter-police tactics could be developed in order to aide the on-going struggle against fascism.