There has been an alarming rise of the far right in the last few years. United Against Racism member John Molyneux looks at the root of this threat and how we can resist it.
On a global level, the threat posed by the far right and by outright fascists is now more serious than in any of our lifetimes. The reason why this is happening is clear. Since the economic crash of 2007, and the long depression and austerity that followed it, the mainstream political centre which hegemonised politics in ‘the West’ since the end of the Second World War has been haemorrhaging political support. For roughly sixty years this centre—which ranged from US Republicans like Nixon, Reagan and Bush, as well as British Tories like Thatcher and Major, through Christian Democracy and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, to ‘moderate ‘ Social Democracy and Labourism like Olaf Palme, Willy Brandt , Harold Wilson and Tony Blair—has supplied, in various forms and almost without exception, all of the governments in Western Europe and North America, as well as other parts of the world such as Australia and New Zealand, and in many of these countries gained the overwhelming majority. [The most obvious exception to this was the mass vote obtained by the Communist Parties in places like France and Italy until they declined or fell apart after the collapse of the USSR, but this is deceptive since the actual policy of these CPs was already thoroughly Social Democratic.]
This centre remains just about dominant, but it is holding on by its fingertips, excluding only the special case of Trump. The biggest casualties in this process of decline have, with the exception of the Labour Party post-Corbyn, been the traditional Social Democrats. This because a) in the tears of neo-liberalism running up to the Crash they more and more detached themselves in both policy and style from their original working class base and b) after the Crash they systematically implemented austerity and failed to protect that base from the ravages of the ruling class offensive. The ‘mainstream’ right wing parties also lost support but less so than the social democrats because a substantial part of their electoral base felt their interests were being protected, and were happy for the working class to pay for crisis. As we saw in Ireland this didn’t work for Labour parties.
This has created the political space for new forces to emerge. In some countries—Ireland, Spain, Portugal , Greece (until the Syriza sell out)—it has been mainly forces on the left that have been able to take advantage of this situation. Elsewhere, notably the US and Britain, we have seen polarisation to both the right and left—Trump and Sanders, UKIP and Corbyn— but in many places the weakness or virtual non-existence of the left, has permitted the far right to seize the initiative by presenting itself as the defender of the interests of ‘the common man’ against the alleged Muslim/migrant threat. This has produced alarming developments. Let’s look at some of them.
The Far Right Advance
In Hungary, the general election earlier this year was won by Viktor Orban and the Fidesz Party with 49.8 % of the vote and 133 seats. Orban is one of the main standard bearers for the far right in Europe today, spouting a viciously racist anti-migrant rhetoric combined with very thinly veiled anti-Semitism directed at George Soros (which, by the way, doesn’t stop him being good mates with Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu). Even more disturbing is the fact that in second place was the openly fascist and violent Jobbik Party with 19% and 26 seats. The old Social Democrats came third with 11.9% and 20 seats.
In Austria, the 2017 election was won by the far right Austrian People’s Party led by Sebastian Kurtz with 31.5% and 62 seats. Second were the Social Democrats with 26.8% and 52 seats only just ahead of the fascist Freedom Party with 26% and 51 seats and no left in sight. The People’s Party and the Freedom Party formed a coalition, so in Austria there are fascists in the government.
In Italy there was a general election in March of this year. First came the semi-fascist Lega Nord, led by Matteo Salvini,with 37% and 265 seats (a huge increase of over 130!), followed by the ‘maverick’ populist Five Star movement with 32% and 227 seats. The Five Stars began as a ‘non political’ protest movement, which some people thought to be part of the left, but its anti-immigrant stance has pulled it to the right and now it is in coalition with the hard right Lega.
In Germany there was an election in September 2017. It was won by Merkel and the Christian Democrats (CDU) with 32.9% and 246 seats followed by the Social Democrats (SPD) on 20.5% (153 seats) and the far right AfD , Alternative for Germany , on 12 % (93 seats) in third place—the centre held, just. But the latest opinion poll on 6 August shows the CDU on 30% and AfD neck and neck with the SPD on 17%. For anyone familiar with post-war German history the sight of the once mighty SPD reduced to level pegging with newly formed semi fascists is truly shocking.
In Sweden, a country practically synonymous with liberal Social Democracy, an opinion poll on 1 August shows the far right racist Swedish Democrats as the leading single party with 25.5%, four points ahead of the Social Democrats. In the Dutch election of 2017, where no single party came close to a majority, the far right Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party came in second with 13.1% and in Denmark the far right Danish People’s Party stands at 21.1%.
In Britain the picture is a bit different with Tories and Labour both on 38%, the Lib Dems on 10% and UKIP trailing on 6% but that 6% is a recovery from near annihilation and we have seen the ominous mobilisations around Tommy Robinson in London and Belfast. The 15,000 or so in London was the largest fascist street demo in Britain in living memory.
Assessing the danger
That these developments are extremely serious and concerning is beyond doubt but in order to form an accurate assessment of the situation there are certain distinctions we need to be aware of. The first is the difference between the mainstream parties and the racist populists like Orban and Fidesz or Farage’s UKIP. Whereas all the mainstream parties including the Social Democrats pursue racist policies towards migrants and refugees and exhibit racist attitudes—look at Boris Johnson— they do not make anti-immigrant racism their MAIN electoral pitch; the racist populists do.
The second is the difference between the racist populists and outright fascist or Nazi parties like Golden Dawn or Jobbik. Both are extremely reactionary, racist, nationalist and anti-working class (as well as misogynistic, homophobic etc). Racist populists, however, keep things within the basic parameters of bourgeois democracy—they do not suppress elections or the newspapers and although they attack workers’ rights and trade unions, as Thatcher and Reagan did, they do not attempt to outlaw or completely suppress the trade unions or the labour movement. By contrast, fascism is a revolutionary, ie counter-revolutionary, movement of the right. It makes use of elections and parliament but it also operates outside the framework of parliamentary democracy, in terms of street mobilisations and fighting squads, and aims ultimately to smash it, which also entails destroying the labour movement.
It is because of this that we on the left have to take the growth of fascism, even on a relatively small scale, so seriously. If that growth is allowed to continue it will eventually become a matter of life and death for us all, revolutionaries and reformists alike.
We are not there yet—this is not 1933 with the Nazis about to take power. The economic crisis of the system is chronic but nothing like as catastrophic as it was in the thirties and the ruling class does not fear immediate workers’ revolution as it did then. Consequently the bourgeoisie, in its large majority, is not yet ready to take the risk of the fascist option in order to smash the working class and the left. Moreover the fascists are not yet strong enough to accomplish this task. So far it has generally been the racist populists, like Trump and Orban, rather than the outright fascists who have been the main beneficiaries of the polarisation to the right.
What this means is that we have the time to build a movement to defeat the racists and fascists; it is absolutely not an argument for inaction or waiting to see how things pan out. Although the distinction between racist populism and fascism is important—neither Hungary nor Austria are fascist dictatorships yet—the boundary between them is not fixed. It is perfectly possible for far right racist parties to evolve towards fully fledged fascism. Indeed a process of this kind seems to be occurring within Alternative for Germany at this moment and, to some extent, in UKIP in response to its electoral failures. The tensions this generates can be seen in the fact that some UKIP members were involved in the recent attack on the socialist bookshop, Bookmarks, in London to the apparent disapproval of the UKIP leadership.
Moreover, any substantial growth of far right and fascist movements poses a number of severe threats long before they get anywhere near political power. It poses an immediate physical and social threat to all people of colour, ethnic minorities, religious minorities including Jews, refugees, LGBTQ , the homeless etc—anyone who is oppressed or vulnerable. The fascist mentality is, among other things, the mentality of the bully. Wherever they gain ground, racist and other violence follows. This is happening right now in Italy which has seen several racist murders and numerous racist assaults in the wake of the success of the Lega Nord.
It poses an immediate threat to all on the left and in the trade union movement. The recent attacks in London on Steve Hedley of the RMT and Bookmarks are small instances of what they would like to do on a much larger scale. It poses a threat in terms of the adoption of racist policies at local level—they will get local representation long before they get near government.
And it tends to drag the whole political life and culture of society to the right. The reaction of the ‘centre’ to the rise of the right is predominantly one of appeasement and mimicry. The political establishment says ‘we must listen to people’s concerns’ which means more racist restrictions on immigration, more deportations and more people drowning in the Mediterranean. This is precisely what we have seen recently with the EU strengthening its Fortress Europe policy and its appalling plan for concentration camps in North Africa and the racist various ‘burka bans’ being implemented or mooted. At the same time opportunists within the establishment—Boris Johnson is an obvious example—make their own bids to capture the racist vote. And all this adds more fuel to the racist/fascist fire.
What is to be Done?
The first thing to say is that resistance is imperative both ideologically and on the streets. Racism must be confronted politically and there must be no concession to the idea that ‘immigrants are a problem’ or that ‘we must look after our own first’. We must insist that the resources exist to provide housing, health care and jobs for all; the problem is the priorities of a society based on production for profit.
Wherever the far right attempts racist campaigning in localities, for example in relation to the building of mosques, this should be vigorously opposed as was done by People Before Profit and United Against Racism in Kilkenny. We should not accept the free speech argument. We say ‘No platform for fascism and open racism’. People who believe that Muslims are trying to take over Ireland and replace the indigenous population are not open to rational argument. This is a real struggle, ultimately a life and death struggle, not an academic debate and it is against an enemy who will not for a moment respect our rights.
When the far right seeks to rally, meet publically or march, they should be opposed on the streets as they were recently in Belfast or when Pegida Ireland appeared in Dublin. Our slogan is ‘No Pasaran!’ Saying this raises a host of specific tactical problems which cannot be dealt with here and to which there are no absolute answers but it is possible to outline a general approach. The aim should be to mobilise a mass response, rather than to engage in physical confrontation by small squads or against individuals.
This is best achieved through a united front approach drawing in, as far as possible, the whole left and especially the trade unions. This is not a question of making alliances with the capitalist establishment parties whose support will be conditional on demobilising the struggle from below, but it does mean breaking with the sectarian approach which says I’m not marching with X because of what they did over water charges or with Y because of their position on the border or Z because of their line on Syria. All on the left and in the working class and labour movement whose involvement will broaden the anti-fascist, anti-racist response on the ground should be brought on board.
Resistance on the streets should be combined with cultural resistance. The historical experience, most obviously that of Rock Against Racism in Britain in the 70s but also many other examples, shows how important this can be. Music is especially effective in this regard but other forms of art and culture may also play a role.
The key thing is to create a hostile environment for all manifestations of racist and fascist organisation and to do so, if possible, BEFORE the fascists get a serious foothold. In Ireland, North and South, we have an opportunity—and also a duty—to do this.
The final point is this. To really stop the fascist threat, socialists have to be able to present a serious alternative to the immediate abuses of the system and to capitalism as a whole. If the grievances of ordinary people, the working class and the lower middle class are not articulated by the left they will be exploited by the right to scapegoat minorities, Muslims, refugees. The task of building a socialist alternative should not be counterposed to fighting racism and fascism but should instead complement it.
Anyone wishing to get involved in the anti-racist/anti-fascist struggle should join United Against Racism: http://www.united-against-racism.net and Email: firstname.lastname@example.org