Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘General Boulanger

Trump, Fascism and Democratic Socialism.

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Trump’s New Residence? 

There is debate on the left, across the world, on Donald Trump’s national populism and its relation to fascism. Many are now talking of David Renton’s study on the way in which different factions on the right have converged. (The New Authoritarians: Convergence on the Right. 2019).

One theme of the last twelve months has been the convergence of people and groups emanating from a conservative or a fascist starting point which, despite their different origins, have been working together since Brexit.

Convergence on the right

Nick Cohen writes in the Observer today,

If Trump looks like a fascist and acts like a fascist, then maybe he is one

I can see three objections to calling a large section of the Republican party pre-fascist. The first can be dismissed with a flick of the fingers as it comes from a self-interested right that has to pretend it is not in the grip of a deep sickness – and not only in the United States. The second is the old soothing “it can’t happen here” exceptionalism of the Anglo-Saxon west, which has yet to learn that the US and UK are exceptional in the 21st century for all the wrong reasons. The third sounds intelligent but is the dumbest of all. You should not call Trump or any other leader a pre- or neo-fascist or any kind of fascist until he has gone the whole hog and transformed his society into a totalitarian war machine.

Perhaps we can learn something about how to react from the history of other “pre-fascist’ movements.

For the specialist in the history of French fascism, Zeev Sternhell, the European far-right was born out of a will to break with “l’ordre libérale” in the late 19th century. One of the first stirrings was “Boulangism”  1885-1889 (named after General Boulanger). Boulanger was seen by many French people  as the man destined to avenge France’s defeat in the Franco-German War. This movement was,, Sternhell argued, a synthesis between nationalism and certain forms of ultra-republican socialism (Blanquisme).  anti-liberalism, nationalism (Bonapartists), with an anti-Semitic overtow, (La droite révolutionnaire, 1885–1914. Les origines françaises du fascisme.1978).

A kind of Make France Great Again movement, Boulangism was an electoral event, a coalition of candidates around a figure who would carry the “will of the people” to power against corrupt elites. They were seen to be behind Revanche (Revenge on Germany), Révision (Revision of the Constitution), and, for at least one section of their supporters, Restauration (the return to monarchy). Despite the success of Boulangist candidates never came near to winning a majority in the French election of 1889, 72 deputies against 366 for the Republican side .

Efforts to pin Boulangist ideas down in one ‘populist’ nationalist direction, nostalgia for Bonaparte’s First Empire, run up against the fact that Boulanger had not just the votes but the financial backing of wealthy Monarchists (exposed by a former supporter in  Les Coulisses du boulangisme).

Despite this, some on the left, like Paul Lafarge, considered that the demands of the ‘people’ against the “les gros bourgeois” and their impatience with republican ‘réformisme’  could be turned  in a socialist direction. An important section of the left opposed Boulanger, accusing him of Césarisme, the wish to override democratic procedures.  For Jean Jaurès popular support for Boulanger was not just socialist aspirations gone astray, it was not socialist in any sense.

After initial electoral appearance, with support from working class districts, Boulanger himself took the stage and  was urged to take power by a coup d’état.

In January 1889 Boulanger was returned as deputy for Paris by an overwhelming majority. When the election results were announced, wildly shouting masses of his supporters urged him to take over the government immediately. Boulanger declined and spent the evening with his mistress instead. His failure to seize control at the crucial moment was a severe blow to his following.

A new government under Pierre Tirard, with Ernest Constans as minister of the interior, decided to prosecute Boulanger, and within two months the Chamber was requested to waive the General’s parliamentary immunity. To his friends’ astonishment, Boulanger fled from Paris on April 1, going first to Brussels and then to London. He was tried in absentia for treason by the Senate as high court and condemned on Aug. 14, 1889, to deportation. In the elections of 1889 and 1890 his supporters received setbacks, and public enthusiasm for his cause dwindled away. In 1891 Boulanger committed suicide in Brussels at the cemetery of Ixelles, over the grave of his mistress.

Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Frederick Engels set out some reflections that stand up well today,

Although the Boulangist movement appeared to be ephemeral in retrospect, Frederick Engels paid close attention to it. Engels saw the threat of a Boulanger dictatorship, warning socialists in France:

 

The finest thing of it all is that three months after these two congresses Boulanger will be in all probability dictator of France, do away with parliamentarism, expurgate the judges under pretext of corruption, have a gouvernement à poigne and a chambre pour rire (trans. mock chamber), and crush Marxists, Blanquists and Possibilists all together. And then, ma belle France—tu l’as voulu! (trans. my beautiful France – that’s what you wanted!)

Engels recognized the danger of a Boulangist dictatorship as spelling the end not only to the socialist movement in France, but the Third Republic itself. For him, the question was not just how to analyse Boulangism, but how to fight it.

Engels, Boulanger and the Fight Against Fascism

That could stand for the position democratic socialists should take towards Trump’s supporters and their assault on the Capitol.

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Written by Andrew Coates

January 17, 2021 at 12:33 pm