Great Replacement theory: from the fringes to the mainstream

Issue: 182

Judith Orr

On 26 September 2023, Suella Braverman, at the time the British home secretary, delivered a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank based in the United States. Speaking from the podium in Washington DC, she took aim at migration and multiculturalism:

Uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration, and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism have proven a toxic combination for Europe over the last few decades… We are living with the consequence of that failure today. You can see it play out on the streets of cities all over Europe. From Malmo, to Paris, Brussels, to Leicester. Nor should it blind us from this simple truth—if cultural change is too rapid and too big, then what was already there is diluted. Eventually, it will disappear.1

The speech was not just hideous in terms of its remorseless demonisation of migrants. Its claims also repeated the central themes of “Great Replacement” theory, a racist conspiracy theory once confined to fascist and fringe far-right groups. The theory asserts that “elites”—often explicitly Jewish elites—are engineering mass immigration, and that this poses an existential threat to the West’s majority-white societies. Immigrants are depicted as dangerous invaders who will destroy “Western culture”. The fact that a British government minister could openly endorse such themes is just one example of how Great Replacement ideas are becoming more firmly entrenched in parts of the political mainstream in Britain.

Racist narratives that depict immigrants as a threat are hardly novel. However, the spread of ideas specifically referencing the Great Replacement is new. These ideas have gained a powerful and toxic currency in the hands of far-right and fascist political leaders, including former US president Donald Trump, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Italian premier Giorgia Meloni. In turn, we see them expressed by mainstream conservative politicians, including British prime minister Rishi Sunak and French president Emmanuel Macron.

We should avoid underestimating the impact of the relentless attacks on refugees and migrants and the growing influence of Great Replacement ideas. A 2022 poll by the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago showed that one in three people in the US “believes an effort is underway to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains”.2 Despite these shocking figures, it is important to highlight that the same poll reported that some two-thirds of the US population “feels the country’s diverse population makes the country stronger”.3 Nonetheless, the scale of adherence to this dangerous and racist conspiracy theory is alarming. In 2023, a similar poll by the Policy Institute at King’s College, London found that a third of the British public believe that the Great Replacement theory is definitely or probably true.4

The Great Replacement conspiracy theory has become the dominant narrative about immigration across the global far right. This article will examine the growth of this ideology, starting from its fascist roots, and then go on to explain how it has come from the margins to form a unifying, common ideological thread for the far right. It will also look at the danger posed by the ways in which Great Replacement ideas are increasingly finding expression and legitimacy in mainstream politics and how this process further emboldens the far right. Furthermore, it will investigate interpretations of falling birth rates that evoke the threat of immigrants “out-breeding” the West’s “native” white populations, who are supposedly providing insufficient offspring and thus hastening their own “replacement” by people of different skin colours and cultures. Such “reproductive racism” is invariably linked to Great Replacement ideas.

The roots of Great Replacement ideology

Portrayals of immigrants as a threat to Western societies—and to white supremacy—can be traced back to the 19th century and are embedded in the concepts of racial and cultural superiority invoked to justify slavery. Of course, it is a myth that any nation-state has ever been ethnically pure; migration has been a feature of human societies for thousands of years. However, ethno-nationalism (the idea that there exists an ethnicity that is intrinsically British or any other nationality) has been a useful narrative throughout historical attempts to create and sustain collective identities within the borders of capitalist nation-states.

Today’s Great Replacement ideas were anticipated by the anti-immigration movements, eugenicist ideology and fascism of the 20th century. The earliest anti-immigration movements in Britain emerged at the start of the 20th century with organisations such as the British Brothers League, formed in 1901, which organised anti-Jewish protests in London’s East End under the slogan “England for the English!” The 1905 Aliens Act, the first law limiting immigration to Britain, was an expression of the antisemitism of the time, with Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe as the main target.

Among the most notorious of Britain’s 20th century anti-immigration campaigners was Conservative Party MP Enoch Powell. His racist diatribes culminated in the notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968, in which he denounced the supposed threat posed by immigration: “We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre”.5 The subsequent decade saw a series of laws to restrict immigration by both Tory and Labour Party governments. Often, it was specifically black and Asian immigrants from the remnants of the British Empire that were targeted. This legislation includes the 1968 Commonwealth Immigration Act, which was rushed through in days by a Labour government in order to block Kenyan Asians with British passports from entering the country. Meanwhile, white settlers were exempted from the restrictions. More recently, the current Tory government has had a bloody-minded focus on enacting its appalling plans to deport refugees to Rwanda.

Historically, these ideas have combined with the eugenicism that arose in the first half of the 20th century. Eugenics asserted that white Northern European “races” were biologically determined to be more intelligent and genetically “superior” to all other races. Within these populations poor and working-class people were also classified as biologically inferior. Among the most ardent eugenicists of this period was Madison Grant, an influential US white supremacist who advocated selective breeding and narrowing immigration into the country down to only “Nordic” races in order to maintain “racial hygiene”—that is, the genetic purity of a single race—and thus prevent “race suicide”. Grant counted several US presidents and Hitler among his admirers, and his 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History, was a bestseller. Immigration policies in the US were based on eugenic ideas of superior breeding stock. Sterilisation programmes, which continued into the 1960s, targeted black women and disabled people, who were described as “feeble-minded”. Eugenics became a dominating common sense across the political spectrum. Even social reformers such as Fabian Society founders Sidney and Beatrice Webb, as well as advocates of birth control such as Marie Stopes, promoted eugenicist views. They argued that society would be improved if poor women, disabled people and black people, all deemed inferior, had fewer children. The objective was to improve the genetic “purity” of the population. Racism has always been intertwined with the question of who has the right to procreate.

Hitler’s “Final Solution” in Europe was a culmination of the murderous logic of eugenics and “race science”. The Nazis killed some six million Jews, as well as many others deemed as “inferior”, during the Holocaust. Hitler’s project for the annihilation of Europe’s Jews, Roma, Gypsies, disabled people and other minorities was combined with a programme to breed the “master race”, which saw German women rewarded for having multiple babies and punished if they failed to reproduce. At the same time, the Nazis forcibly sterilised Jews, disabled people, Roma, LGBT+ people and black people as well as anyone else considered to be “polluting” the genetic pool.

Renaud Camus, France’s New Right and Islamophobia

The term “Great Replacement” was coined by French writer Renaud Camus in the 1990s and was the title of his 2011 book, Le Grand Remplacement. Until then, Camus was known as a gay French novelist and winner of several literary prizes. However, with the publication of a series of speeches and then a book, he and his racist diatribes began to play a central role in the ideology of far-right, fascist and Identitarian movements globally. Such groups, with ethno-nationalist views at the centre of their politics, reproduce and amplify Camus’s claims that white Europeans are in the process of being colonised by immigrants and face “genocide by substitution”.6

Camus promoted this set of ideas after he moved to the South of France and started to speak and write about the old villages of the region: “At the windows and doors of these very old streets, there almost exclusively appeared a population never before seen in these parts, which by its dress, demeanour and even language seemed not to belong there but rather to another people, another culture, another history”.7 Camus’s text is full of such descriptions. Were you to be in any doubt as to who these “other” people are, he refers to the supposed audacity of a Muslim woman who both wears a hijab and describes herself as French.

While Camus was promoting his theory, versions of his narrative were being given a platform by fascist politician Marine Le Pen when she was campaigning to become leader of the Front National (“National Front”—now called the Rassemblement National or “National Rally”) in 2010. A speech in Lyon resulted in her being charged, though later acquitted, with inciting religious hatred. She compared some instances of Muslims holding “street prayers”—because they were unable to secure a place to pray—to the Nazi occupation of France: “It is an occupation of swathes of our territory and neighbourhoods… Indeed, there are no tanks and no soldiers, but there is an occupation just the same, and it weighs on the inhabitants”.8 Despite Camus’s attempts to set up his own party and contest elections, he is now a supporter of Le Pen.

Camus made no claim that his theory was original, and he acknowledges the influence of other figures, including Powell. Indeed, Camus recycles sentiments from Powell’s speeches, such as his description of parts of Britain as “undergoing a total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history”.9 Camus also drew on the racist narrative of 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints, which was written by Jean Raspail, another award-winning French author. The book imagines France’s southern coast being invaded by a million Indian immigrants on a thousand ships. These “hordes”, in alliance with Arabs and anarchists, are portrayed as laying waste to France and the rest of Western Europe. This book has become a favourite of far-right and fascist groups internationally and is promoted at their conferences and rallies. They hail it as a realistic prediction of what immigration will bring: white genocide, migratory submersion and, ultimately, the Great Replacement. Le Pen has encouraged her supporters to “read or re-read” it. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former advisor and a key far-right ideologue, frequently quotes and references the book. For instance, speaking about the refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War in 2016, Bannon claimed, “It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.”

However, some proponents of Great Replacement theory are less willing to express their positions so plainly. I have written before in this journal on the role played by the Nouvelle Droite (“New Right”) in post-war France in providing an intellectual foundation for the rebranding of far-right ideology.10 This grouping wanted to enable the right to gain a hearing after the Nazi period and the Holocaust had discredited openly fascist organisations and politics. This included a conscious shift to stressing the primacy of cultural differences as opposed to racial distinctions, which had the aim of winning a larger audience for far-right ideas. Recognising this shift is critical to understanding how the Great Replacement succeeded in being adopted, often in coded ways, beyond the far right today. One attraction of the theory is its adaptability. In the US, migrants from Central and South America can be depicted as the threat; in Europe, however, Muslims are the main target of racist scaremongering. Great Replacement theory is malleable enough to accommodate either as its principal target. The notorious writings of Bat Ye’or, a French-British author whose real name is Gisèle Littman, promoted the term “Eurabia” to convey her conspiracy theory that Muslims are planning to take over Europe. Following Ye’or, journalist Melanie Philips claimed that London was being overrun by Muslims in her 2006 book, Londonistan: How Britain Is Creating a Terror State Within.

Of course, one irony of the far right’s rhetoric of invasion and replacement in Western Europe is that many European nation-states are historically responsible for genuine invasions and “great replacements”. The British were responsible for largely wiping out and replacing indigenous populations in areas of the world such as North America and Australia. Such contradictions are ignored by the far right. In fact, this genocidal history is presented as a lesson to white populations; for instance, in one slogan that refers to the indigenous people of North America: “Indians couldn’t stop immigration. Today, they live on reservations”.11

Deportation and terror: the logic of the conspiracy theory

Where does the spread of such ideas lead? Of course, for some the full logic is to call for mass deportation, violence and even genocide. In January 2024, there was public outrage in Germany when news broke of a secret meeting between the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD; “Alternative for Germany”) party and Austrian neo-Nazi Martin Sellner, a leader of the fascist Identitarian Movement and enthusiastic advocate of Great Replacement theory. At this meeting, which was also attended by members of the Christian Democratic Union (the country’s main centre-right party), Sellner presented a plan for the forced mass deportation of people not born in Germany and those who had failed to properly “assimilate” once the AfD took office. It is important to recognise that ideas never exist purely in a vacuum; there are those waiting for the opportunity to carry them to their practical conclusions.

Alongside Camus’s work, another book that has long served as an inspirational text for the far right and neo-Nazis is The Turner Diaries. Written in 1978 by William Luther Pierce, the head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, the novel tells the story of white supremacists who rise up and overthrow the US government and “elites”. This is followed by the mass extermination of Jews, black people and all political opposition in the US (and, ultimately, the world). US far right studies scholar Kathleen Belew describes The Turner Diaries as “a manual of operations and a cultural lodestar, or centre point, for white power activists”.12 Its vision of Nazi fighters taking up arms against the system has sometimes been fused with Great Replacement ideas by fascist activists and terrorists in the past 20 years. For instance, the neo-Nazis, Klu Klux Klan members and far-right militiamen who marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 during a “Unite the Right” rally carried guns and torches while chanting a telling slogan: “Jews will not replace us! You will not replace us!”

Great Replacement theory has also been cited as a motivation by the fascist murderers responsible for a number of mass shootings. These include: the 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina; the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the 2019 killings at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas; and the 2022 murder of ten African-Americans in Buffalo, New York. The gunman who murdered 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 had published a document online, entitled “The Great Replacement”.13 The manifesto opened with the statement, “It’s the birthrates”, which was repeated three times. When the media refer to the men who carry out these types of fascist atrocities as “lone wolves”, they neglect to acknowledge that these individuals are, by their own admission, shaped by a far-right ideology that has a wider audience and a growing echo in mainstream political discourse.

Mainstreaming replacement theory

A rise in the popularity of conspiracy theories has been associated with the growth of the far right. Such theories can offer simple sounding explanations for a confusing and changing world that leaves people feeling powerless. Some of these ideas can gain credence by articulating anti-capitalist sentiments and tapping into an “us and them” sentiment directed at the rich elites that pursue their own interests at the expense of the majority. The power of such a narrative is that it contains a kernel of truth about life under capitalism. However, as US sociologist Cynthia Miller-Idriss points out in her study of the far right, “Anti-globalisation language functions as a kind of Trojan horse, carrying anti-immigrant, antisemitic and anti-Muslim ideologies into the mainstream and normalising them—along with calls to defend the pure, ordinary, national people against these threats”.14

Of the many conspiracy theories that have been generated in recent years (including the “birther” claims that Barack Obama was born outside the US and was thus ineligible to be president as well as anti-vaccine positions and the strange declarations associated with the QAnon phenomenon), the Great Replacement theory is the most significant. In part, it has gained influence beyond the extreme right because it embeds and recycles long-standing racist ideologies that are already promoted by mainstream conservatives.

Great Replacement theory has become a useful method to deflect blame and provide simplistic explanations and false solutions to the problems created by the capitalist system’s recurrent and deepening crises. Its absorption into mainstream right-wing political narratives across Europe and in the US partly reflects the failure of the political establishment and neoliberal politics to solve these problems. In contrast, the far right has seen its electoral support and political strength grow on the back of promoting this ideology, both nationally and at international conferences such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, where far-right actors and organisations develop their strategies and alliances. These forces are buoyed by the fact that so many mainstream politicians appear to believe the only response is to imitate the far right.

In Britain the Conservative Party government—under its many different prime ministers since 2010—has long promoted anti-immigration ideas and policies, from Theresa May’s “hostile environment” to Sunak’s Rwanda plan. Labour has done nothing to challenge this anti-migrant narrative; instead, it has repeatedly tried to compete with the Tories by presenting itself as tough on immigration. Today, debates about immigration are shaped by the populist right within the Tory party, whose influence is growing—a development that cannot be separated from the rise of far-right populism in the US and Europe. However, this is not a linear, one-way process of Tory politicians simply adopting populist ideas and slogans. Rather, we are seeing a dangerous and accelerating process of cross-fertilisation, and this has far-reaching consequences. When mainstream politicians open the door to racist scapegoating in order to deflect blame for their own failures, they give confidence and legitimacy to the far right. This process only succeeds in dragging the whole political spectrum ever rightwards, including social-democratic parties such as Labour in Britain. When politicians go into a battle over who can be hardest on immigration, the far right always wins.

In Europe Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán is a vocal advocate for Great Replacement ideas: “We are speaking about an exchange of populations to replace the population of Europeans with others.” His presentation of the theory includes an antisemitic “hidden hand” trope, claiming that “there are political forces in Europe who want a replacement of population for ideological or other reasons”.15 Orbán names George Soros, a favourite target of far-right antisemitic attacks, as the source of these replacement policies. A poster produced by Orbán’s Fidesz party was clear about its adherence to Great Replacement ideology: “Soros wants to transplant millions from Africa and the Middle East. Stop Soros!”

Meloni, Italy’s fascist prime minister, also regularly uses the language of the Great Replacement theory and its attendant antisemitism, claiming there is an “invasion of Europe and a project of ethnic substitution willed by big capital and international speculators”. She also argues that Soros is the “financier who supports and funds mass immigration and the plan for ethnic substitution worldwide”.16

Channelling the fascist past: natalism and declining birth rates

In some parts of Europe “natalism”—an ideology that seeks to promote high birth rates—has led to policies echoing those of the Nazis in the 1930s, with government propaganda telling women that they should be breeding to ensure the survival of the nation. In contrast, the reproductive potential of migrants is depicted as a threat, and the children of migrants are described as a burden on society. Orbán puts such reproductive racism at the centre of his fearmongering, arguing that the future of Hungary depends on “Hungarian children, not migrants”. His government offers Hungarian women tax exemptions and interest-free loans for every child they bear. These policies are lifted straight from Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy führer, who advocated “a wealth of children” as part of the Nazi project to ensure Aryan supremacy, offering financial incentives to Germans for reproducing.17

The rhetoric of the far right in other parts of Europe also underlines these worrying historical continuities. Germany’s far-right AfD party has distributed posters linking reproduction and immigration; one showed the torso of a white-skinned pregnant woman with a slogan referring to migrants who have become German citizens: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves. Trust yourself, Germany!” In a similar vein, a post on Instagram by the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ; Freedom Party of Austria) connects the issue of abortion rights to the threat of Muslims outbreeding and replacing white Austrians: “Population transfer through hedonism. What Emily aborts, Aischa gives birth to”.18

In 2017, Poland’s Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS; Law and Justice) party government exhorted Polish women to breed like rabbits in order to reverse falling birth rates, and offered incentives for larger families. White women are repeatedly castigated for not having any or many children, while other women—migrants—are attacked for having too many. The racist agenda underlying the attitudes and policies of parties such as PiS takes us back to core ideas of 20th century eugenicism, which advocated selective breeding to “improve” the genetic stock of populations.

Scaremongering about immigration and demographic changes are core themes of election campaigning across the right wing. Time and again, the far right has been emboldened when their ideas are adopted by mainstream parties and when more centrist political forces lend them legitimacy. So, for example, when the main conservative party in the Netherlands revealed that it would be willing to enter into a coalition with Geert Wilders’s far-right Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV; Party for Freedom) during the November 2023 general election, it resulted in an electoral breakthrough for Wilders party, which won more seats than any other party.19

US Republicans embrace conspiracism

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean the ever-rightward trajectory of Trump, and the Republican Party he dominates, means that far-right ideas have gained in authority. This, of course, points to the dangers of a second Trump presidency. Trump is politically entwined with populist and far-right organisations in Europe, attending their conferences and supporting their political networks. They, in turn, support him. He has now taken his racist rhetoric further than in previous elections, no longer restricting himself to simply referring to migrants’ supposed “cultural differences” as a threat to the US. Instead, Trump now openly uses the language of biological racism and eugenics, central to the Nazi “blood and soil” ideology that underpinned the Holocaust, saying that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country”.20 When he was confronted about the fact that such language echoed the words of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Trump declared that he had never read the book. Yet, he went on to say that Hitler meant it “in a much different way”, and he has taken the opportunity to repeat the phrase many times since.21

Trump has also invoked antisemitic conspiracies about Soros. When asked if he thought Soros was funding a “caravan” of Latin American migrants walking towards the US’s southern border in 2018, he responded “I don’t know who, but I wouldn’t be surprised. A lot of people say yes”.22

Trump likes to “joke” that he will be “dictator’ for “only one day” if he wins this year’s presidential election—such remarks are not accidental and should be taken as an indication that he has no intention of being bound by political conventions in a second term.

Great Replacement narratives in the US are often deployed alongside the claim that the Democratic Party encourages immigration because it sees migrants as potential voters. Twitter owner Elon Musk, for example, has stated, “Joe Biden’s strategy is very simple. First, get as many illegals in the country as possible. Second, legalise them to create a permanent majority—a one-party state. That is why they are encouraging so much illegal immigration. Simple, yet effective”.23 Trump has enabled these ideas to become thoroughly embedded in the Republican Party. Vivek Ramaswamy, a businessman who became a candidate for the Republican presidential ticket until withdrawing in January, stated that the idea of Democrats using migrants to gerrymander elections “is not some grand, right-wing conspiracy theory, but a basic statement of the Democratic Party’s platform”. Similarly, Scott Perry, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, intervened at a congressional hearing about Central American migrants by claiming people think “we’re replacing national-born Americans—native-born Americans—to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation”.24

Britain: the Tories’ rightward shift

In Britain the Tories have been behind Labour in opinion polls since late 2021 and face a catastrophic defeat at the next general election. The party is riven with splits, lurching from one crisis to another. The division in the party—between a populist wing and those who still ascribe to the “one nation conservatism” that depicts the wealthiest as having a paternalistic obligation to the poor—is deepening. The Conservatives are desperate to win voters, but they also face pressure from the latest incarnation of Nigel Farage’s electoral project, the Reform UK party, which is polling at about 7 percent, up from around 3 percent in July 2023. Immigration has become a central issue in this political landscape, and anti-migrant racism is often articulated through Great Replacement narratives. Braverman has raised the spectre of immigrants outbreeding “British” families, complaining that “immigration and high birth rates among foreign-born mothers” mean the government will have to find an extra 213,000 school places.25 Tory MP Miriam Cates has declared that falling birth rates are “the one overarching threat to British conservatism, and indeed the whole of Western society”. Cates’s intervention reflects far-right arguments that the malign influence of feminism has led women to reject their “natural” childbearing role. She also used a long-standing antisemitic term when she blamed “Cultural Marxism” for “systematically destroying our children’s souls”.26

Braverman’s racist speeches have been compared to those of Powell. Indeed, his sentiments were directly reprised in her description of migrants arriving in Britain on small boats as “the invasion on our southern coast” and her ludicrous claim that, “today, the option of moving from a poorer country to a richer one is not just a dream for billions of people—it’s an entirely realistic prospect”.27 However, one important difference between the two figures is that Powell was promptly sacked as a shadow minister for racist rhetoric.28 In contrast, Braverman’s speeches failed to trigger her sacking as a minister; that came later, when she earnt the ire of the police over claims that they were overly lenient towards pro-Palestine marches. Instead, Braverman’s racist diatribes are widely seen as a logical part of her pitch to be the next Tory Party leader—a contest she could well win.

Braverman cannot be dismissed as simply a maverick individual on the fringe. When she was sacked as home secretary in November 2023, the same Home Office policies remained, being enthusiastically pursued by her replacement, James Cleverly. Rather than Sunak distancing himself from her ideas, he has repeated them. Although he began his premiership posing as the sensible technocrat in contrast to Boris Johnson, he has now shown that he is willing to adopt populist rhetoric in pursuit of votes. He also spoke at the far-right political Atreju festival in Rome, organised by Meloni’s fascist Brothers of Italy party, where he claimed that immigrants “will overwhelm our countries”.29 In a straight lift from Great Replacement theory, he stated that some “enemies” were deliberately “driving people to our shores to try to destabilise our society”.30 Tory politicians with nothing to offer other than austerity and attacks on working-class living standards look to the success of populist right-wing politics internationally and hope to ape that appeal. Racist scapegoating is a useful tool because it encourages people to see migrants as responsible for the inability of the system to provide even the most basic amenities. It also has the added potential to undermine working-class solidarity and divide resistance to the elite. It suits the Tories’ purposes to persuade people that the very real problems they face are caused by “outsiders”.

The interrelation between mainstream conservatism and the far right that I have described can also be seen in the language used by politicians internationally. In the US the terms “natural-born Americans” or “legacy Americans” have become euphemisms for whites.31 Similarly, in France there are references to immigrants with French citizenship as the “paper French”, a phrase with antisemitic roots, which was previously used by Marine Le Pen’s father, long-time fascist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. This did not stop Valérie Pécresse, the candidate of the conservative Les Républicains (The Republicans) in the 2022 French presidential election, referencing the “Great Replacement” and declaring there is a “difference” between “paper French” and the “French of the heart”. This was a cynical attempt to win votes from Marine Le Pen.

Amid the race to the right in French politics, Macron submitted an immigration bill in December 2023 that would put into law a form of “national preference” based on precisely the same ethno-nationalism that the far right has long promoted. The beneficiary of such concessions are Le Pen and her party. Indeed, she was able to claim the bill as an “ideological victory”. The Rassemblement National currently has a ten-point lead in the polls for the European elections in June.32

This process of cross-fertilisation between the far right and more traditional centre-ground forces has also been exposed by the debates in France about birth rates, which are framed in the language of replacement ideology. For example, Stéphane Ravier, a Rassemblement National mayor in Marseille and now a senator for the far-right Reconquête party, has claimed, “The historic people of Marseille are being replaced because there is a very high birth rate in the northern neighbourhoods and immigration continues to sweep the city.” Once again, rather than challenge such views, Macron has simply repeated them. In a much-heralded press conference in January 2024, he vowed to ensure “France remains France” and to address falling birth rates in a project of “demographic rearmament”. This reproduces a statement by Jean-Marie Le Pen during the 2007 presidential election: “There is no national recovery without demographic recovery”.33 Macron proposed extra financial and practical support for parents, and this will be welcomed by many who face a rising cost of living. However, when such benefits come as part of a political project that treats women as breeders to fulfil a racist state policy, it signals a complete collapse into the far right’s agenda.

A favourite theme of Tory politicians in Britain is the “failure” of multiculturalism, which is, of course, a thinly coded attack on immigrants and, more particularly, on Muslims, who are portrayed as being unwilling to integrate. Whatever the coded political slogan—“Stop the Boats!”, “Build a Wall!”, “Multiculturalism Has Failed!”—Great Replacement ideas are now shaping debates on immigration internationally.


Mass opposition to the rise of the far right has been growing. In December 2023, demonstrators took to the streets in 60 cities across France in order to protest Marcon’s immigration bill and the racist ideology behind it.34 This year, hundreds of thousands marched in Germany when news broke of the meeting between Sellner and the AfD, and the revelations also led to demonstrations in Austria. In June 2023, 500,000 marched in Poland against the PiS government, which lost the subsequent general election in October. Such mass mobilisations are critical to building opposition to fascists, the far right and the policies they inspire.

There is also an urgent need to take on the far right at an ideological level. As the system’s crises deepen, the ruling class is increasingly desperate to deflect blame wherever they can—scapegoating immigrants, women who fail to have enough children and “gender ideology”. This means we must address the implications of centre-right politicians promoting versions of the Great Replacement theory. Socialists have to counterpose these ideas about replacement with arguments about why we welcome refugees, why we must fight for more resources and how we can use our collective strength to win. We need to show that the capitalist system lies at the heart of inequality and economic insecurity. If we fail to offer such an alternative, it will be easier for fascists and the far right to hijack popular bitterness and anger, turning it into racist scapegoating.

We cannot afford to be complacent; we are, once again, witnessing a resurgence of the far right. History shows that we cannot rely on establishment politicians, who too often believe that accommodating to the far right will undermine it. As we look to the possibility of Trump returning to the White House and the rising strength of the far right across Europe, it is vital to understand the consequences of Great Replacement ideology gaining respectability—all the better to oppose it.

Judith Orr the author of Abortion Wars: The Fight for Reproductive Rights (Policy, 2017) and Marxism and Women’s Liberation (Bookmarks, 2015).


1 American Enterprise Institute, 2023.

2 Snow, 2022.

3 Snow, 2022.

4 Policy Institute, 2023, p2.

5 Smithies and Fiddick, 1969, p37.

6 Ganley, 2019.

7 Camus, 2023, p104.

8 Vinocur, 2015.

9 Smithies and Fiddick, 1969, p36.

10 Orr, 2020.

11 Miller-Idress, 2022, p35.

12 Pineda, 2021.

13 The shooter was also linked to Sellner, and he apparently made a substantial donation to Sellner’s political organisation—see Wilson, 2019.

14 Miller-Idriss, 2022, p50.

15 Ekman, 2022.

16 Broder, 2023, p45.

17 Proctor, 1988.

18 Polls show the FPÖ is on course to win the largest vote of any party in the next national legislative elections in Austria, which are due to take place in autumn 2024. The referenced post can be found at

19 The PVV won nearly a quarter of the vote at the 2023 elections, securing 37 out of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

20 Michael, 2023.

21 Karl, 2023.

22 Miller-Idriss, 2020, p59.

24 Legum, 2022.

25 American Enterprise Institute, 2023.

26 Cates, 2023. The notion of a Cultural Marxist conspiracy to overturn Western values was pioneered by the Nazis, who referred to progressive attitudes towards sex, the family, music and art as “Kulturbolschewismus” (Cultural Bolshevism). In recent decades, the far right has popularised the idea that progressive social reforms that benefit women, LGBT+ people and other oppressed groups are a manifestation of a nefarious plot by Jewish Marxist intellectuals to destroy the fundaments of Western civilisation. For a history of these ideas, see Hanebrink, 2018. In 2019, Braverman was censured by the Board of Deputies of British Jews for deploying the concept, when she claimed, “I’m very aware of that ongoing creep of Cultural Marxism, which has come from Jeremy Corbyn.” See Walker, 2019.

27 Macaskill, 2023.

28 Smithies and Fiddick, 1969.

29 Sky News, 2023.

30 Sky News, 2023.

31 Mockaitis, 2021.

32 Brunet, 2023.

33 France TV Info, 2024.

34 Godard, 2023.


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