History of far-right movements in France

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The far-right tradition in France finds its origins in the Third Republic with Boulangism and the Dreyfus Affair.

Third Republic (1871-1914)[edit]

Further information: French Third Republic

The Dreyfus Affair was a turning point in the political history of France and in the Third Republic (1871–1940), established after the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and the 1871 Paris Commune. The modern "far right" or radical right, grew out of two separate events of 1889.

The Socialist International was formed at the Paris Conference, which imposed doctrinal orthodoxy on socialists and demanded their allegiance to the international working class rather than their nation. This forced patriotic socialists to choose either their nation or the international workers' movement. Many chose their nation and fell into violent conflict with their former socialist comrades. Those who chose the nation and retained the strategy of violence, then used most often against their former comrades, formed much of the base of the radical right. Many of those people also proved susceptible to the blandishments of anti-Semitism, which has long been a hallmark of the radical right. This would include (socialist) Maurice Barrès, (communardes) Henri Rochefort and Gustave Cluseret, (Blanquists) Charles Bernard and Antoine Jourde, among others.[1][2]

Georges Ernest Boulanger (1837–1891)

The second event of 1889 was the culmination of the "Boulanger Affair" which championed the vague demands of the former Minister of War General Georges Boulanger. Boulanger had attracted the support of many socialists by ordering lenient treatment of strikers when the army was called upon to suppress strikes. He also rattled his saber against Germany which pleased French patriots intent on taking revenge against the German Empire. But his saber-rattling scared the other ministers who dumped Boulanger from the government. When his champions mounted an electoral campaign to have him elected to the Chamber of Deputies, the government reacted by forcing him out of the Army. His backers then elected him to the Chamber again from Paris, where he gained the support of both conservatives, who loathed the Republic, and socialists with their own ideas about how the Republic should be remade. This joining of the left and right against the center formed the foundation upon which the radical right was built in subsequent years. Violent agitation in Paris on the election night in 1889 convinced the government to prosecute Boulanger in order to remove him from the political scene. Instead of facing trumped up charges, Boulanger fled to Belgium. His supporters, "Boulangists" afterward nursed an intense grievance against the Republic and reunited during the Dreyfus Affair to oppose the Republic and "back the army" once again.;;[3][4][5]

The Dreyfus Affair and the foundation of the Action française[edit]

Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus, 1895

However, in 1894, a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was arrested on accusations of treason and of intelligence with the German Empire. The Dreyfus Affair provided one of the political division line of France. Nationalism, which had been before the Dreyfus Affair a left-wing and Republican ideology, turned after that to be a main trait of the right-wing and, moreover, of the far right.[6]

Émile Zola entered the political scene as the first "intellectual" of history, while left and right wings opposed themselves, mainly over the questions of militarism, nationalism, justice and human rights. Until then, nationalism was a Republican, left-wing ideology, related to the French Revolution and the Revolutionary Wars. It was a liberal nationalism, formulated by Ernest Renan's definition of the nation as a "daily plebiscite" and as formed by the subjective "will to live together." Related to "revanchism", the belligerent will to take revenge against Germany and retake control of Alsace-Lorraine, nationalism could then be sometimes opposed to imperialism. In the 1880s, a debate thus opposed those who opposed the "colonial lobby", such as Georges Clemenceau (Radical), who declared that colonialism diverted France from the "blue line of the Vosges" (referring to Alsace-Lorraine), Jean Jaurès (Socialist) and Maurice Barrès (nationalist), against Jules Ferry (moderate republican), Léon Gambetta (republican) and Eugène Etienne, the president of the parliamentary colonial group.

But in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, a new right emerged, and nationalism was reappropriated by the far right who turned it into a form of ethnic nationalism, itself blended with anti-Semitism, xenophobia, anti-Protestantism and anti-Masonry. Charles Maurras (1868–1952), founder of "integralism" (or "integral nationalism"), created the term "Anti-France" to stigmatize "internal foreigners", or the "four confederate states of Protestants, Jews, Freemasons and foreigners" (his actual word for the latter being the far less polite métèques). A few years later, Maurras would join the monarchist Action française, created by Maurice Pujo and Henri Vaugeois in 1898. Maurras, who was an agnostic, spearheaded a monarchist and Catholic revival. He pragmatically conceived of religion as an ideology useful to unify the nation. Most French Catholics were conservatives, a trait that continues today. On the other hand, most Protestants, Jews and atheists belonged to the left-wing. Henceforth, the Republicans' conception was, to the contrary, that only state secularism could pacifically gather the diversity of religious and philosophial tendencies, and avoid any return to the Wars of Religion. Furthermore, Catholic priests were seen as a major, reactionary force by the Republicans, among which anti-clericalism became a common spread. The Ferry laws on public education had been a first step for the Republic in rooting out the clerics' influence; they would be completed by the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State.

The Action française, first founded as a review, was the matrix of a new type of counter-revolutionary right-wing, and continues to exist today. The Action française was quite influent in the 1930s, in particular through its youth organization, the Camelots du Roi, founded in 1908, and which engaged in many street brawls, etc. The Camelots du Roi included such figures as Catholic writer Georges Bernanos or Jean de Barrau, member of the directing committee of the National Federation, and particular secretary of the duc d'Orléans (1869–1926), the son of the Orleanist count of Paris (1838–1894) and hence Orleanist heir to the throne of France. Many members of the OAS terrorist group during the Algerian War (1954–62) were part of the monarchist movement. Jean Ousset, Maurras' personal secretary, created the Cité catholique Catholic fundamentalist organization, which would include OAS members and founded a branch in Argentina in the 1960s.

Apart from the Action française, several far-right leagues were created during the Dreyfus Affair. Mostly anti-Semitic, they also represented a new right-wing tendency, sharing common traits such as anti-parliamentarism, militarism, nationalism, and often engaged in street brawls. Thus, the nationalist poet Paul Déroulède created in 1882 the anti-semitic Ligue des patriotes (Patriot's League), which at first focused on advocating 'revanche' (revenge) for the French defeat during the Franco-Prussian War. Along with Jules Guérin, the journalist Edouard Drumont created the Antisemitic League of France in 1889. Also anti-masonry, the League became at the start of the 20th century the Grand Occident de France, a name chosen in reaction against the masonic lodge of the Grand Orient de France.

Between the wars[edit]

During the interwar period, the Action française (AF) and its youth militia, the Camelots du Roi, were very active, in particular in the Quartier Latin of Paris. Apart from the AF, various far-right leagues were formed and opposed both Cartel des gauches (Left-wings coalition) governments. Pierre Taittinger thus formed the Jeunesses Patriotes in 1924, which imitated Fascism style although it remained a more traditional authoritarian movement. The following year, Georges Valois created Le Faisceau, heavily inspired by Benito Mussolini's Fascism. Finally, in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany, the wealthy perfumer François Coty founded Solidarité française and Marcel Bucard formed the Francisme, which was subsided by Mussolini. Another important league was François de la Rocque's Croix de Feu, which formed the base for the Parti Social Français (PSF), the first mass party of the French right-wing.

Apart from the leagues, a group of Neosocialists (Marcel Déat, Pierre Renaudel, etc.) were excluded in November 1933 from the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO, socialist party) because of their revisionist stances and admiration for fascism. Déat would become one of the most ardent Collaborationists during World War II.

Others important figures of the 1930s include Xavier Vallat, who would become General Commissionner for Jewish Affairs under Vichy, members of the Cagoule terrorist group (Eugène Deloncle, Eugène Schueller, the founder of L'Oréal cosmetic firm, Jacques Corrèze, Joseph Darnand, latter founded of the Service d'ordre légionnaire militia during Vichy, etc.). To obtain arms from fascist Italy, the group assassinated two Italian antifascists, the Rosselli brothers,[7][8] on June 9, 1937, and sabotaged airplanes clandestinely supplied by the French government to the Second Spanish Republic. They also attempted a coup against the Popular Front government, elected in 1936, leading to arrests in 1937, ordered by Interior Minister Marx Dormoy, during which the police seized explosives and military weapons, including anti-tank guns.[9]

6 February 1934[edit]

Main article: Feb 6, 1934 riots

Far right leagues organized these riots that led to the fall of the Second Cartel des gauches. The leagues were dissolved on 18 January 1936 by the Popular Front.


Further information: Vichy France and Révolution nationale

Fourth Republic and the Algerian War[edit]

The Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) was created in Madrid by French military opposed to the independence of Algeria. Many of its members would later join various anti-communist struggles around the world. Some, for example, joined the Cité catholique fundamentalist group and going to Argentina, where they were in contact with the Argentine Armed Forces. Jean Pierre Cherid, former OAS member, took part in the 1976 Montejurra massacre against left-wing Carlists.[10][11] He was then part of the Spanish GAL death squad, and participated in the 1978 assassination of Argala, one of the etarra who had killed Franco's Prime minister, Luis Carrero Blanco, in 1973.

Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour was the far-right candidate at the 1965 presidential election. His campaign was organized by Jean-Marie Le Pen. Charles de Gaulle said of Tixier-Vignancourt: "Tixier-Vignancour, that is Vichy, the Collaboration proud of itself, the Militia, the OAS".

Fifth Republic[edit]

Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the Front National in 1972 and led them until 2011

Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the Front National (FN) party in 1972, along with former Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) member Jacques Bompard, former Collaborationist Roland Gaucher, François Duprat, who introduced the negationist thesis to France,[12] and others nostalgics of Vichy France, Catholic fundamentalists, etc.[13] Le Pen presented himself for the first time in the 1974 presidential election, obtaining 0.74%.[13] The electoral rise of the FN did not start until Jean-Pierre Stirbois's victory, in 1983, in Dreux. The FN became stronger throughout the 1980s, managing to unite most far-right tendencies, passing electoral alliances with the right-wing Rally for the Republic (RPR), while some FN members quit the party to join the RPR or the Union for a French Democracy (UDF). At the 1986 legislative elections, the FN managed to obtain 35 seats, with 10% of the votes.

Meanwhile, other far-right tendencies gathered in Alain de Benoist's Nouvelle Droite think-tank, heading a pro-European line. Some radical members of the "national revolutionary" tendency quit the FN to form other minor parties (Party of New Forces, PFN, and French and European Nationalist Party, PNFE).

The French Third Position's relations with the National Front[edit]

Further information: Third Position

Mark Frederiksen, a French Algeria activist, created in April 1966 a Neo-Nazi group, the FANE (Fédération d'action nationaliste et européenne, Nationalist and European Federation of Action). The FANE boasted at most a hundred activists, including members such as Luc Michel, now leader of the Parti communautaire national-européen (National European Communautary Party), Jacques Bastide, Michel Faci, Michel Caignet and Henri-Robert Petit, a journalist and former Collaborationist who directed under the Vichy regime the newspaper Le Pilori. The FANE maintained international contacts with the British group the League of Saint George.[14]

The FANE rallyed Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in 1974, gathered around François Duprat and Alain Renault's Revolutionary Nationalist Groups (GNR), which represented the nationalist revolutionary tendency of the FN.

But in 1978, Neo-nazi members of the GNR-FANE broke again with the FN, taking with them parts of the FNJ members (youth organization of the FN).[15] On the other hand, GNR activists closer to the Third Position (Jacques Bastide and Patrick Gorre [15]) joined Jean-Gilles Malliarakis to found, on February 11, 1979, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (Mouvement nationaliste révolutionnaire), which became in 1985 Third Way (Troisième Voie).

After this brief passage at the National Front, Mark Fredriksen created the Faisceaux nationalistes européens (FANE) in July 1980. These would eventually merge with the Mouvement national et social ethniste in 1987, and then with the PNFE (French and European Nationalist Party) in January 1994, which also gathered former National Front members.

Dissolved first in September 1980 by Raymond Barre's government, Fredriksen's group was recreated, and dissolved again in 1985 by Laurent Fabius's government. Finally, it was dissolved a third time in 1987 by Jacques Chirac's government, on charges of "violent demonstrations organized by this movement, which has as one of its expressed objective the establishment of a new Nazi regime," the "paramilitary organisation of this association and its incitations to racial discrimination."

Alain de Benoist's Nouvelle Droite and the Club de l'Horloge[edit]

In the 1980s, Alain de Benoist theorized the Nouvelle Droite movement, creating the GRECE in 1968 with the Club de l'Horloge. They advocated an ethno-nationalism stance focused on European culture, which advocated a return of paganism. Members of the GRECE quit the think tank in the 1980s, such as Pierre Vial who joined the FN, or Guillaume Faye who quit the organization along with others members in 1986. Faye participated in 2006 in a conference in the US organized by the American Renaissance white separatist magazine published by the New Century Foundation.

On the other hand, Alain Benoist occasionally contributed to the Mankind Quarterly review, which insists on hereditarianism and associated with the US think tank Pioneer Fund, headed by J. Philippe Rushton, author of Race, Evolution and Behavior (1995), which argues in favour of a biological conception of "race." GRECE, as well as the Pioneer Fund, are actively involved in the race and intelligence debate, postulating that there is an identifiable link between levels of intelligence and distinct ethnic groups.

The Club de l'horloge itself had been founded by Henry de Lesquen, a former member of the conservative Rally for the Republic, which he quit in 1984. Others members of the Club de l'horloge, such as Bruno Mégret, later joined the FN after a short time in the RPR.

Rise of the National Front in the 1980s and Mégret's split[edit]

During the 1980s, the National Front managed to gather, under Jean-Marie Le Pen's leadership, most rival far-right tendencies of France, following a succession of splits and alliances with other, minor parties, during the 1970s.

Party of New Forces[edit]

One of those party, the Party of New Forces (PFN, Parti des forces nouvelles), was an offshoot of the National Front, issued from a 1973 split headed by Alain Robert and François Brigneau who first organized the Comité faire front before merging in the PFN.

The PFN was formed mainly by former members of New Order (Ordre nouveau, 1969–1973), who had refused to merge in the FN at its 1972 creation. New Order, dissolved by Interior Minister Raymond Marcellin in 1973, was itself a successor to Occident (1964–1968) and of the Union Defense Group (GUD, Groupe union défense).

Close to the Third Position and "national-revolutionary" thesis, this tendency maintained links with the FN, despite some tensions. The GUD, in particular, had published the satiric monthly Alternative with the Youth Front (Front de la jeunesse), youth organization of the FN. They also had attempted alliances with other far-right parties in Europe, with New Order organizing the alliance "A Fatherland for Tomorrow" (Une patrie pour demain) with the Spanish Falange, the Italian Social Movement (MSI) and the German National Democratic Party.

This European strategy was continued by the PFN, who launched the Euroright alliance, with the MSI, the Spanish New Force and the Belgian PFN, for the 1979 European elections. Headed by Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, the PFN won 1.3% of the vote. This electoral failure prompted Roland Gaucher and François Brigneau to quit the party and join Le Pen's National Front.

1981 Presidential election[edit]

The French far-right went divided to the 1981 presidential election, with both Pascal Gauchon (PFN) and Le Pen (FN) attempting, without success, to secure from mayors the 500 signatures necessary to present themselves as candidates. François Mitterrand (Socialist Party) won those elections, competing against Jacques Chirac (Rally for the Republic, RPR).

1983 elections and rise[edit]

These succeeding electoral defeats prompted the far-right to unify itself. In 1983, the FN managed to make its first electoral breakthrough, taking control of the town of Dreux. Jean-Pierre Stirbois, obtained 17% of the votes at the first round, for the FN municipal list. At the second round, he merged his list with Chirac's RPR list (headed by Jean Hieaux), enabling the right a victory against the left. Chirac supported the alliance with the far-right, claiming the Socialist Party, allied with the Communist Party in government, had no lessons to give.[16]

This first electoral success was confirmed at the 1984 European elections, the FN obtaining 10% of the votes. Two years later, the FN gained 35 deputies (nearly 10% of the votes) at the 1986 legislative elections, under the appellation of "Rassemblement national." These included the monarchist Georges-Paul Wagner.

Internal disputes continued however to divise the far-right. Following the 1986 elections, which brought Jacques Chirac as Prime Minister, some hardliners inside the FN spin-off to create the French and European Nationalist Party (PNFE, Parti Nationaliste Français et Européen), along with members of Mark Frederiksen's Third Position FANE. Three former members of the PNFE were charged of having profanated, in 1990, a Jewish cemetery in Carpentras.[17]

Mégret's split, Le Pen's 2002 score and subsequent electoral fall[edit]

The most important split, however, was headed by Bruno Mégret in 1999. Taking with him many elected members of the FN and electoral troops, he then created the National Republican Movement (MNR). However, in view of the 2007 legislative elections, he accepted to support Le Pen's candidacy for the presidential election.

During these presidential elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen only made 10.4%, compared to his stunning 16.9% finish in 2002, during which he reached the second round, achieving 17.79% against 82.21% for Jacques Chirac (Rally for the Republic, RPR).

With only 1.85% at the second round of the 2002 legislative elections, the FN failed to gain any seat in the National Assembly. At the 2007 presidential election, Le Pen arrived fourth, with 10,4% of the votes at the first round, behind Nicolas Sarkozy, Ségolène Royal and François Bayrou. Philippe de Villiers, Catholic traditionalist candidate of the Movement for France (especially present in the traditionalist Vendée region), arrived sixth, obtaining 2,23% of the vote.

This electoral downfall of the FN was confirmed at the 2007 legislative elections, the FN obtaining only 0.08% of the votes at the second round, and therefore no seats.

Le Pen's succession[edit]

Marine Le Pen succeeded her father as Front National leader in 2011

These electoral defeats, which contrasted with the high score obtained at the 2002 presidential elections, have caused financial problems to the FN, who was forced to sell its headquarters, the Paquebot, in Saint-Cloud. Le Pen then announced, in 2008, that he would not compete again in presidential elections, leaving the way for the competition for the control of the FN between his daughter, Marine Le Pen, whom he favored, and Bruno Gollnisch.[18] The latter had been condemned in January 2007 for Holocaust denial,[19] while Marine Le Pen attempted to follow a smoother strategy to give the FN a more "respectable" image.

Individuals and groups[edit]


Other minor groups[edit]

Other minor groups that are or have been active in the Fifth Republic include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zeev Sternhell, La Droite Révolutionaire, les origines françaises du fascisme, 1885-1914 (Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 1978)
  2. ^ Robert Lynn Fuller, The Origins of the French Nationalist Movement, 1886-1914 (McFarland, 2012)
  3. ^ Fredric Seager, The Boulanger Affair, The Political Crossroads of France, 1886-1889 (Cornell University Press, 1969)
  4. ^ William Irvine, The Boulanger Affair Reconsidered, Royalism, Boulagism, and the Origins of the Radical Right in France(Oxford University Press, 1989)
  5. ^ Patrick Hutton The Cult of the Revolutionary Tradition: Blanquists in French Politics, 1864-1893 (U. of California Press, 1981)
  6. ^ Winock, Michel (dir.), Histoire de l'extrême droite en France (1993)
  7. ^ Stanislao G. Pugliese Death in Exile: The Assassination of Carlo Rosselli, Journal of Contemporary History, 32 (1997), pp. 305-319
  8. ^ M. Agronsky, Foreign Affairs 17 391 (1938)
  9. ^ Time Magazine Terrible Gravity Monday, November 29, 1937
  11. ^ Rodolfo Almirón, de la Triple A al Montejurra, PDF (Spanish)
  12. ^ Henry Rousso, "Les habits neufs du négationniste," in L'Histoire n°318, March 2007, pp.26-28 (French)
  13. ^ a b Le Pen, son univers impitoyable, Radio France Internationale, September 1, 2006 (French)
  14. ^ R. Hill & A. Bell, The Other Face of Terror- Inside Europe’s Neo-Nazi Network, London: Collins, 1988, pp.186-189
  15. ^ a b Annuaire de l'extrême droite en France (French)
  16. ^ Franz-Olivier Giesbert, La Tragédie du Président, 2006, p 37-38
  17. ^ La profanation de Carpentras a été longuement préméditée, L'Humanité, 7 August 1996 (French)
  18. ^ Succession : Le Pen confie préférer sa fille à Bruno Gollnisch, Nouvel Observateur, 16 September 2008
  19. ^ Bruno Gollnisch condamné pour ses propos sur l'Holocauste, REUTERS cable published by L'Express on January 18, 2007 — URL accessed on January 18, 2007 (French) délit de contestation de l'existence de crime contre l'humanité par paroles


  • Fuller, Robert Lynn. The Origins of the French Nationalist Movement, 1886-1914 (McFarland, 2012)
  • Hutton, Patrick. "Popular Boulangism and the Advent of Mass Politics in France, 1886-90" Journal of Contemporary History (1976) 11#1 pp. 85-106 in JSTOR
  • Irvine, William. The Boulanger Affair Reconsidered, Royalism, Boulangism, and the Origins of the Radical Right in France (Oxford University Press, 1989)
  • Kalman, Samuel, and Sean Kennedy, eds. The French Right Between the Wars: Political and Intellectual Movements From Conservatism to Fascism (Berghahn Books; 2014) 264 pages; scholars examine such topics as veterans and the extreme right, female right-wing militancy, and visions of masculinity in the natalist-familialist movement.
  • Eugen Weber, L'Action Française, Royalism and Reaction in Twentieth-Century France (Stanford University Press, 1962)

In French[edit]

  • Bertrand Joly, Nationalistes et Conservateurs en France, 1885-1902 (Les Indes Savantes, 2008)
  • Winock, Michel (dir.), Histoire de l'extrême droite en France (1993)