Ultra-right vs Ultra-left: Examining the Controversy in France’s Political Spectrum

Five days after the ultra-right demonstration in Paris, the controversy continues on social networks. Some politicians are already referring back to back as “ultra-right” and “ultra-left”. What do these two extremes really weigh in France?

With delay and timidity, the demonstration in memory of the nationalist militant Sébastien Deyzieu, who died on May 7, 1994, caused the political sphere to react. Almost a week later, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said to herself “shocked“, the prefect of police of Paris Laurent Nuñez is embarrassedthe minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin has decided to crack downand even RN deputies found this parade of hooded men “disturbing.

However, a little music has imposed itself over the days on social networks. Bodybuilder Nazis as they may be, the members of the May 9 Committee (C9M) and their associates “didn’t break a window, they“, we read on social networks. They also did not burn trash or throw molotov cocktails at police officers who were only there in a small committee anyway.

Authorized with a minimal police device, the modest procession indeed opposes a striking contrast with the massive demonstrations which accompanied the pension reform, but also with the police violence and the degradations with which they were enamelled.

When committed by demonstrators, violence is, according to the Ministry of the Interior, the police headquarters or even the President of the Republic, the act of “factious“, of “black blocks“, belonging to a “ultragauche” sprawling. From there to say that it is more dangerous than the neo-Nazis followers of the ratonnades, there is only one step.

Sainte-Soline, battlefield

The ultra-left is enemy number 1, according to Gérald Darmanin. On several occasions since March, the Minister of the Interior has multiplied his outings to denounce the violence which emanates on the sidelines of the demonstrations since the use of 49-3 to impose the pension reform.

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High point of this verbal escalation, after the clashes that occurred in Sainte-Soline, against the mega-basin project. Gerald Darmanin, in a long interview granted to the Journal du Dimanche April 6, promise never to back down”to the intellectual terrorism of theleftmost“. A few days earlier, he had already qualified some of these opponents of the project “eco-terrorists.

A warrior repertoire shared by the President of the RepublicEmmanuel Macron, who believes that “thousands of people“had been there”to wage war“. Political communication stunt or analysis closer to reality? Is the Republic in danger from those whom the government qualifies “far-left” or “d’ultragauche” ?

As a preliminary, it should be noted that the terms far-left and ultra-left do not designate the same people. For Caroline Guibet Lafaye, director of research in philosophy and sociology at the CNRS, author of l’article “Legitimize, rationalize, explain political violence” published in the review Society and Sociology, the term ultra-left allows “include more people, fringe movements that would not fit into the so-called extreme left on the political spectrum“. A way, therefore, of blurring the lines, of amalgamating without defining.

However, the far left remains clearly identifiable: “the Trotskyists, the Maoists… they are still present today in the political landscape“, details Caroline Guibet Lafaye. Seven of these radical activists were also arrestedin 2020, suspected of preparing a violent action, pushing the anti-terrorist prosecution to seize.

A rather rare media coverage, as indicated by a note from CREOGN, the research center of the Gendarmerie officers’ school, in January 2022: “The French ultra-left focuses its activity on “sabotage” […]. The absence of violence against people, with the exception of the police, allows the movement to benefit from a smaller media footprint, compared to that of jihadism or the ultra-right.

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An analysis shared by Marion Jacquet-Vaillant, doctor of political science, specialist in the far right: “On the far right, violence is exercised more on people, while the far left has a different relationship to violence, which is exercised more on property.“. “The extreme left attacks the symbols of capital or the state. On the far right, insofar as it is a question of protecting France from immigrants, they attack immigrants, abounds Caroline Guibet Lafaye. “That doesn’t mean that the illegal far left has never killed anyone.

Therefore, the qualifiers used by Gérald Darmanin against left-wing activists may seem, in the eyes of some scientists, disproportionate. In particular that of “eco-terrorists“with regard to the ecologists of Sainte-Soline, who”received thousands of tear gas canisters“, notes Caroline Guibet Lafaye. Terrorism, according to the penal code, thus amounts to “seriously disturb public order through intimidation or terror” :

Who felt a sense of terror, apart from the environmental protesters? Did the behavior of the demonstrators have anything to do with behavior aimed at terrorizing the population? Between Sainte-Soline and November 13, there is a notable difference.

Caroline Guibet Lafaye, director of research in philosophy and sociology at the CNRS

Simply, this qualifier of eco-terrorist “allows to disqualify people who want to move the lines“, notes the sociologist. According to her, “the criminalization of social movements“so is a”very common process“.

It is rather the movement located on the other side of the political spectrum that worries within the security services. As early as 2016, Patrick Calvar, the boss of French internal intelligence, warned of the threat from the ultra-right, theduring a hearing before the National Defense and Armed Forces Committee :

We are, we, internal services, in the process of moving resources to interest us in the ultra-right which is only waiting for confrontation […]. It is therefore up to us to anticipate and block all these groups which would like, at one time or another, to trigger inter-community clashes.

Patrick Calvar, Director General of Homeland Security from May 30, 2012 to May 31, 2017

More recently, on April 2, the Majdaât Twitter account leaked numerous discussions of Telegram “loops” bringing together neo-Nazis, identitarians, followers of Eric Zemmour and traditionalist Catholics under the same banner: FR DETER (determined French). On the program of these exchanges: calls for violent and racist actions.

“What is new and a little fascinating is that historically, the extreme right brings together very different groups who were lost in ideological quarrels. Yet in these loops, it is quite striking to see that the common denominator is more important than ideology. It’s a novelty. It looks like a change of frame of reference“, notes Marion Jacquet-Vaillant.

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An investigation has indeed been opened regarding these Telegram loops, which have since been closed, in particular for “apology for terrorism”. But, unlike Sainte-Soline, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin did not use the term “terrorists” to describe its members.

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