January 27, 1889 was the date of decision. The day started out quite nice and sunny for a rough winter in that beautiful, modernized city of Paris. Construction workers had almost completed the stunning Eiffel Tower for the upcoming Worlds Fair in October. Many French people thought there was a confidence in the air. France recently suffered terrible losses to Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, and then there was the Commune Civil War that followed in 1871.
About twenty years earlier, the late dictator, Napoleon III, had commissioned an architect to demolish most of the medieval winding streets that had made Paris so romantic. The city still had its charms though, even with its wide boulevards that could march whole armies to better exterminate recalcitrant revolutionaries. This urban project was the first successful modern gentrification undertaking. Also around this time, French artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals had become world-famous through producing works that displayed the modern trends of Impressionism, Realism and Symbolism.
But there was another rumbling in the air that day. A French general by the name of General Boulanger had become the talk of the nation. This great and honorable man seemed to have fortune on his side. He was ready to retake his beloved France with the movement that supported him to power. This opportune winter moment was the day for his sunny ‘coup d’état.’
That French term meant that this military adventurer and strongman had to seize the day, take over the state, become a new Caesar, dictator – and even a tyrant. General Boulanger won the election to the French Parliament, La Chambre des députés, but he couldn’t bear to sit among the corrupt deputies that most French citizens hated. His ‘political movement’ wanted him to declare himself President, lead the French Army to disband the corrupt Congress and win back territories that the Second German Empire, or Second Reich, had seized during the last war.
The corrupt French press could not resist him, and they transformed the general into a greater than life, ‘Hero of the Nation.’ But there was more to the man than his press persona. The political mobilization that supported him was the real power behind such a figure. A bizarre political cabal had already mobilized angry French citizens, mostly conservative ones, who saw their country turn into something they hated. The French Third Republic was quite corrupt and the ideals of French Revolution seemed to matter little to the ambitious band of politicians in Paris.
A movement coalesced between old Monarchists, (Boulanger even spoke to Napoleon’s exiled family living in Switzerland), devout Catholics, and militarists who wanted to see France avenge its humiliating defeat against Germany, and possibly even – defeat the great British Empire and complete Napoleon’s sacred dream of the ‘L’empire français universel.’
The Boulanger political deployment started off as a propaganda agitation campaign. It next moved into a street mode of action, and then resorted to selective violence against its political enemies. Now they had their symbol personified in a dignified general that showed his public face against the corrupt republic.
The problem with this social movement was that it did not represent the whole of the country. Courageous French intellectuals began to expose the shaded groups behind the Man, and especially the political alliances in the shadows that hated the ideals of the French Revolution, which most of the French population did still support.
With the exposures against him, General Boulanger got scared, lost his honor and courage, and he flaked out with his coup d’état. The scheming plotter in the costume of a French general would eventually kill himself just two years later. This political moment in French History became the Boulanger Affair. It represented the first modern populist-social movement of France. This movement attempted to destroy the country in order to save it.
Populist-fascist social movements are the most powerful hegemonic political blocks in modern democratic countries. They emerge when the entire democratic system begins to rot from the inside. Corruption becomes rampant, the legislature transforms into paid off hacks, and the government turns into another tyrannical regime. Anger increases substantially through the citizenry, and especially among the male population. The term populism signifies a political movement geared for a large section of the people, or the ‘nation.’
Populist-fascist movements grab their power through unifying angry elite institutions with angry social movements, most often religious ones. Religious social movements work wonderfully because they have the best social meeting spaces: churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. Through uniting powerful people with powerful social movements, the populist-fascist social movements transcend into optimum political forces or complete counter-hegemonic blocks against the state – while making alliances with other scheming sections of the state. These contradictions are not apparent among the street level activists.
Once the populist-social alliances increase their organizing into mobilizations, they move powerfully into the political field, through both agitation and violence. They ultimately hope to seize the state in order to murder their enemies. They lost in 1880s in France, but they almost won about a hundred years later in the United States.
America in the mid 1980s and into the 90s was a volatile place. Right-wing intellectuals have often talked about that time in history as a type of ‘restoration’ under President Reagan – but it was anything like that. What really happened was that elements of the Republican Party, implying certain members of the old guard that surrounded Nixon, the disgraced former president, decided to form a powerful political alliance, or a new hegemonic block. This block would emerge as a powerful force in dividing the Democratic party electorate, which allowed that party to control the US Congress for over twenty years.
First, they forged an alliance with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, which had about a quarter of the US population. The Catholic Church was always the strange Christian group looking on the outside compared to the standard Mainline Protestant Churches of America, such as the Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians. But now they had a substantial part of the population, (about one quarter), and with special thanks to President Reagan allowing a Vatican ambassador to D.C. and signing the Immigration Reform Act into law – the first dice was cast.
Later, right-wing activists helped this base achieve even greater mobilization and power. The conservative activists in the Catholic Church set up the Moral Majority Organization using a Baptist political-preacher, (from the South), as a front man, named Jerry Falwell. Catholic conservatives would use this same strategy through mobilizing other single issue front group-crusades, such as fighting against the separation between Church and State, anti-homosexuality, anti-pornography, anti-teenage rebellion, anti-illegal drugs, anti-sex education, exposing Satanism in rock music and popular culture, and most importantly, anti-abortion.
Those particular political mobilizations proceeded into the street agitations. The single issue that could unite them was abortion. Phony anti-abortion evangelists, or disguised Catholic preachers, entered the parachurch world of Evangelicals that met in rented spaces, such as movie theaters, Mainline Protestant churches and even inside Masonic halls! These religious movements represented the Charismatic types that ‘spoke in tongues,’ or unintelligible gibberish, fell on the floor through being ‘slain in the spirit’; while selected parishioners blurted out prophetic statements during the worship, and the church goers danced sexually to Christian musicians playing a type of repetitive soft rock beat with militarized church lyrics, such as ‘Army, marching, warfare, battle, victory, etc.’
These disguised abortion preachers even entered the sacred Protestant spaces of Southern Baptist churches. For the first time in its religious history, the Roman Catholic Church forged a strong political alliance with its most hated rivals – the heretics, under the common single issue of abortion. History has always been so absurd.
The anti-abortion evangelists successfully mobilized these hurting people, or ‘heretics,’ into joining the crusade against abortion in America. In the beginning of the crusade, the main groups against abortion in America were political committees formed through the US Catholic Bishop’s Conference.
Suddenly, a populist-fascist social movement had conceived its nativity on the American political scene. Even former pro-choice Republicans, such as the Reagan successor, President Bush, joined the crusade. All of a sudden, angry activists were attacking, confronting and surrounding women’s health centers across the States, and then in the early 90s, the movement resorted to the common tactics of religious fanatics through murdering doctors and health providers across the country. A homegrown political terrorist net birthed, but America’s political police, the FBI, refused to take down the movement. A certain element of America’s political and intelligence elites had a big stake in the anti-abortion assemblage.
But the six laws of history had to come into play, and the Roman Catholic Church failed to understand the cultural blocks that had formed within the United States up to that time. American women had already achieved substantial power in society through fighting two previous waves of feminist agitation. Many American women had already attained important career and lifestyle choices in their lives, and they were not going to give up their hard-won privileges due to some anti-women, anti-abortion, anti-contraception religious fanatics.
America’s Women organizations countered the movement through fully allying with the Democratic party and mobilizing, not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of citizens to annually march on D.C., something the anti-abortionists could not do. Some political elites in Washington stood aghast. Their sick plans of ‘national salvation and resurgence’ met a strong political counterforce.
The Republican Party countered with their Convention of 1992, which featured speeches of selected religious fanatics and fascists in order to scare the opposition. It did just the opposite. They looked quite bad on TV. The conservative Southern Democrat, Clinton, seized on the scare and placed himself into the political center. He won the presidency and all of a sudden, the federal government changed its tolerant policy with the populist-fascists, while they began to hunt the most extreme terrorists inside of the anti-abortion crusade.
The populist-fascist crusaders attacked President Clinton mercilessly through the press. But the president was also an expert killer like the ones that preceded him. He had the US government exterminate the Branch Davidian religious group in Waco as a warning and a lesson to the defiant holdouts in the Movement. It worked.
Abortion stayed legal in the US, even with a Supreme Court that had a Catholic majority. The Mormons decided to bolt from the anti-abortion alliance and leave it to the Catholic Church and the rattled Evangelicals. And then ‘Mala Fortuna,’ or Bad Fortune, stabbed the Catholic Church in the foot. Media headlines exposed to the public that the Catholic Church had protected pedophile priests and perverts within its ranks. The public exposure of such crimes permanently damaged the reputation of the Catholic Church in American culture. The Roman Catholic Church would never be able to return to its short glory that it possessed during the 80s and 90s.
The mobilization did work in intimidating many doctors from performing abortions. Now, it is difficult to find abortion providers in many parts of the States. But there also exists the abortion pill that does not require surgical procedures.
This anti-abortion movement has kept up the protests, but it could not seize the state in order to complete its extermination of the ‘evil ones.’ It achieved a stalemate. A hundred years earlier in France, it lost.
In Spain however, during the 1930s, it won. The Spanish populist-fascist movement won because it had the backing of foreign intervention: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the secret support of the British and American governments.
For us Anarchists, this modern political story can help us recognize the political environments that encourage these movements, how they mobilize, and how we can ultimately help destroy them.
Populist-fascist social movements lose when a more powerful alliance of institutions and the people reject their plans. They stalemate or tie when they meet equally powerful social-cultural-political mobilizations. They win when they have the outside support of powerful foreign governments.