The electoral success of far-right parties presents a challenge for the left. Brian Richardson reports from a key anti-fascist conference in Greece that is beginning to coordinate a continent-wide strategy to halt them.
The headline story in this May’s European Parliament elections was the success of the fascist Front National (FN) in France. Marine Le Pen’s party topped the poll with 24.85 percent which translated into 24 seats.
It is now the fourth biggest party in the parliament. That success was subsequently consolidated with the capture of two seats in the French Senate elections in September. The outright fascist Jobbik party took second place in the Hungarian elections with 14.6 percent of the vote, winning three seats.
In Denmark the Danish People’s Party topped the poll with 26.6 percent, gaining four seats, and the Sweden Democrats took 9.6 percent and two seats. Perhaps the most alarming success was that of the Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece. Emboldened by its spectacular success in the 2012 national elections when it captured 18 seats, its members have openly paraded their fascist credentials.
One of its deputies, Ilias Kassidiaris, sparked a row in parliament by claiming that the Holocaust had never happened. The emblem on its flag closely resembles the swastika and it has oganised marches which deliberately targeted immigrant communities.
One of these provocative and violent mobilisations culminated in the murder of the progressive rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013. Currently Golden Dawn’s entire parliamentary group, including leader Nikos Michaloliakos, are behind bars awaiting trial for offences dating back over three decades.
Fifty of its leading members are accused of a series of crimes, including murder and attacks on immigrants, gay people and political opponents. Despite this, the fascists still managed to secure 9.4 percent of the vote and capture three seats in the May elections.
Deeply depressing though these results are, it would be wrong to conclude that the rise of racism is inexorable, or that fascism is set to sweep across the continent. But unquestionably we face an urgent challenge to stop them.
There is a crying need for unity in the fight against racism and fascism. To this end, there was an important conference in October organised by Keerfa, the United Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat in Greece. Over 400 activists gathered in the capital Athens to share experiences and consider how to build an international movement which can drive the fascists and bigots back onto the defensive.
Central to the discussion was a passionate belief that the far-right can be defeated. It was acknowledged, for example, that the 400,000 people who voted for Golden Dawn are not all irretrievable fascists. Instead the majority are ordinary people alienated by the severe and seemingly intractable economic crisis that has blighted their lives.
Our movement has to demonstrate fascism and racist scapegoating offer no solution to this very real deprivation.
Delegates from across Europe including Britain, Catalonia and Denmark, spoke about the specific challenges we face and the efforts we have made to overcome them. Inevitably the majority of participants were from Greece, where the task is especially urgent. In the face of the fascist threat it was heartening to observe the breadth of the movement that has been built.
Keerfa has brought together trade unionists, political organisations, faith groups and representatives from migrant and Roma communities. Friends of Pavlos Fyssas spoke from the platform, as did the mother of Shehzad Luqman, a 27 year old Pakistani immigrant who was murdered by neo-Nazis in January 2013.
Activists stressed the need for a mobilisation on all fronts rather than one that simply relies upon a small core of militant activists who confront the fascists on the streets. There must be a concerted campaign to build in workplaces and local communities. In addition, in the case of Golden Dawn, there is a legal campaign to hold them to account for the crimes their members have committed.
Comrades from France outlined the efforts they have made to counter the FN. A series of large and angry demonstrations were called in the immediate aftermath of the European elections by organisations including the Front de Gauche, the New Anti Capitalist Party and the youth wing of the Socialist Party.
As Socialist Review was going to press, a range of activities including a march were scheduled to take place in the city of Lyon against the Front National’s national congress. This is a major development. Historically France has had a sizeable anti-racist movement with organisations such as SOS Racisme capable of organising huge mobilisations.
Unfortunately, the movement has been hamstrung by an unwillingness to directly confront the FN and label them fascists. It is to be hoped that these recent developments mark a step change in the approach. Keerfa’s conference culminated in a call to repeat the magnificent day of international solidarity we witnessed on 22 March this year, when demonstrations were held in cities across the world to mark UN Anti-Racism Day.
At the centre of those mobilisations were immigrant communities and asylum seekers who are so often excluded and marginalised. Activists committed themselves to bringing this coalition of forces back out onto the streets on 21 March 2015.
Brian Richardson is editor of Say It Loud: Marxism and the Fight Against Racism (Bookmarks Publications)