The far-right has made a series of major electoral gains across Europe. Charlie Kimber details the links between their rise and the wholesale distribution of bigotry by the establishment.
A series of election results in Germany, Austria, France and the Czech Republic have seen advances for hard right and sometimes fascist forces. The left has made advances, including the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. But there are stark warnings of the danger from the right.
In Poland fascists headed a demonstration of tens of thousands of people on 11 November. One section of the march had banners with slogans such as “Europe will be white or be deserted”, “White Europe of brotherly nations”, and “Pure blood, sober mind”. In the US the election of Donald Trump and his tirades against migrants, his Islamophobia and his reckless military threats have encouraged Nazi forces to emerge.
Racism is not just an addition to ruling class policy. It is integral to how it works in a period of anaemic growth, stagnant or falling living standards for tens of millions, and a powerful anger in society that is seeking an outlet. Beating back the racists and fascists requires an understanding of the enemy. Fascism is not just right wing nationalism. It is a specific formation which seeks to annihilate all forms of working class organisation and democracy. There are no boundaries to the horrors they would carry out — as the Nazi Holocaust demonstrated.
It is highly dangerous to treat fascists and traditional right wing parliamentary forces as identical. The Tories are vicious and they wreck people’s lives. They defend nuclear weaponry that could destroy the world, and prosecute murderous imperial wars. But they are not going to ban trade unions, abolish parliamentary elections and kill Labour Party leaders. This is what fascism would do.
Leon Trotsky wrote, “A contradiction does exist between democracy and fascism. It is not at all ‘absolute’, or, putting it in the language of Marxism, it doesn’t at all denote the rule of two irreconcilable classes. But it does denote different systems of the domination of one and the same class. These two systems: the one, parliamentary-democratic; the other, fascist, derive their support from different combinations of the oppressed and exploited classes; and they unavoidably come to a sharp clash with each other.”
The great error of the communist and social democratic forces in the 1930s was to fail to unite in action against the Nazis. The German communists followed Stalin’s line that there was no difference between democracy and fascism, and that the Nazis and Labour-type parties were not enemies but “twins”. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s and that means a united front in action against fascism. It also means that they have to be met by mass confrontation in the streets as well as relentless propaganda and campaigns against them in workplaces and communities.
Fascist organisations are not the same as mainstream right wing parties. But there is a danger in failing to recognise the role that mainstream parties play as accomplices of fascist growth.
There is always a connection between the growth of fascist forces and the actions of mainstream right wing and social democratic parties. At a time of crisis the traditional parties attack working class people and peddle scapegoating lies designed to splinter resistance. Corruption and elitism reveal them as divorced from and hostile to the majority of people.
In his book Marxists in the Face of Fascism, David Beetham writes that the connection between fascism and reaction within a parliamentary system can take two forms, “succession and simultaneous interaction”. He adds, “A restriction of democratic rights carried out under a parliamentary regime can prepare the grounds for their subsequent suspension under a dictatorship. Reaction tends to be fuelled, not exhausted, by concessions.”
“A different process of interaction takes place where the presence of a fascist movement enables a parliamentary regime to win support for reactionary measures that would not otherwise be tolerated. Both forms of connection — successive and reciprocal — were exemplified in Germany between 1929 and 1933.”
Adolf Hitler was not elected by a majority of Germans. Robert Paxton writes, “In November 1932, the Nazi vote slipped in further parliamentary elections. The Nazi Party was losing its most precious asset: momentum. The movement might have ended as a footnote to history had it not been saved in the opening days of 1933 by conservative politicians who wanted to pilfer its following and use its political muscle for their own purposes.”
This process of interaction is also true today. The French Front National, whose candidate Marine Le Pen won over 10.5 million votes in the run-off for president in May, was aided by both the mainstream parties.
The FN’s policies were made more credible by the racism against Muslims, migrants and the Roma from the conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Francois Hollande. The austerity programmes from the conservatives and the social democrats enabled Le Pen to pose as the friend of workers.
Recently the FN has seen damaging infighting. But, as if to give it a new boost, mainstream figures are again pandering to its racist lies. Laurent Wauquiez was favourite to become leader of the main right wing party Les Republicains in elections this month. Last month he called on the government to stop giving free basic health care to undocumented migrants and criticised French politicians’ “naivety” over radical Islam. Asked about the fact that these are some of Le Pen’s central themes, Wauquiez said, “So if Marine Le Pen says it’s night-time I should say it’s day-time?”
It is a similar story in Poland. The Law and Justice government in Warsaw has played a role in strengthening the far right ever since it won a parliamentary majority in 2015. It has pushed hatred of foreigners, antisemitism and virulent nationalism. Last year education minister Anna Zalewska implied in a television interview that the Jedwabne massacre of 1941, when far-right nationalist Poles burned alive more than 300 Jews in a barn, was a matter of “opinion.”
The present minister of national defence, Antoni Macierewicz, said in 2001, “Is the hubbub surrounding Jedwabne intended to eclipse the responsibility of Jews for Communism and the Soviet occupation?” A newspaper Macierewicz once published included antisemitic articles and caricatures. Some even bore his signature.
So is it surprising that antisemitic marches and street thuggery grow? Polish interior minister Mariusz Błaszczak praised the recent fascist-led demonstration, saying, “It was a beautiful sight. We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.” Other sections of the Polish government, including the foreign ministry, issued similar statements.
Broadcaster TVP, which reflects the government’s line, called it a “great march of patriots”. Some participants marched under the slogan “We Want God!”, words from an old Polish religious song that US president Trump quoted during a visit to Warsaw earlier this year.
In Austria Sebastian Kurz of the conservative People’s Party was the victor in October’s elections. During the campaign he echoed the anti-immigrant policies and calls for harsher border controls from his far-right Freedom Party (FPO) rivals. In some respects he even went further than them.
As minister for foreign affairs and integration in the last government, he helped introduce a burka ban in Austria, prohibited sales of unofficial versions of the Koran, and has pushed for a full headscarf ban for civil servants, including teachers.
The Financial Times commented, “Kurz’s tactics failed to dent the populist vote. The FPO won about 26 percent — just shy of their record showing of 26.9 percent under the leadership of Jorg Haider in 1999.
It was another sobering example that, when faced with mainstream parties mimicking populists or the real thing, voters often choose the latter. Kurz has been in talks to form a coalition with the FPO and leading fascists are set to take high profile roles, including the minister responsible for the police.
In Germany the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) which has dozens of Nazi MPs in its ranks, was hugely assisted by the mainstream. The “liberal” FDP pro-business party and its leader Christian Lindner demanded that rejected asylum seekers be expelled more quickly, that the borders be sealed off using the “most modern surveillance methods” and that the borders should be closed if large numbers of people were suddenly to seek refuge.
Members of the German socialist group Marx21 said, “The [conservative] CDU ran a classical ‘law and order’ campaign totally blocking out social issues and emphasised its ‘achievements’ in eroding the right to asylum. The [Labour-type] SPD played a particularly ignominious role: At the beginning of August Martin Schulz was the first person who with all his might brought the refugee issue back into the election campaign as a threat scenario. So it’s no wonder that 44 percent of voters said that immigration was the most important political problem in the country — even more than social justice.”
The media helped too. Some front pages of Bild, the biggest selling newspaper, were indistinguishable from AfD election posters. On a more general level, the deep bitterness produced by inequality and hardship aided the racists. Half of German workers earn less in real terms than they did in 2000.
In the Czech Republic the right wing liberal ANO party became the largest party with 30 percent of the vote in October’s elections. It’s run by multimillionaire Andrej Babis, the outgoing finance minister, who pitched himself as an outsider to the political establishment.
He is likely to go into coalition with the Tory ODS — although he faces a corruption probe. But the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy party made it into parliament for the first time with 11 percent of the vote. It has links to the French fascist Front National.
The Hungarian elections in April or May next year are set to see another victory for the hard right government of Viktor Orban, and around 20 percent of the vote going to the fascists of Jobbik.
The racist and fascist surge across Europe will not be halted by clinging to the political centre. Because it is the centre that has produced these morbid symptoms. The settled view that capitalism and the market are the only possible way to run the world, and that this requires austerity for the masses and their sacrifices to revive the profit system, is the inescapable background to the right’s rise. A particular role has been played by the European Union.
As Liz Fekete pointed out in an article in January in Race and Class, “Neoliberalism is not just an economic project. It is also deeply political, an attempt to transform the state from within, merging nation states into interconnecting market states. To date, the EU supranational entity has been central to that process.
“Through subordinating ‘social Europe’ (social protection and equality) to the interests of global corporations and global finance (competition law and market efficiencies), those who drive the European Commission may have created the conditions for the EU’s nemesis — nationalism and, following Brexit, potential dissolution.”
The EU promotes a fake internationalism, which makes profit-making the ultimate law and, while allowing a highly limited form of workers’ freedom of movement internally, erects a pitiless regime of racist restrictions that have drowned thousands of refugees.
The correct response is an anti-capitalist internationalism that bases itself on workers’ common interest against all the wealthy and powerful across the globe. But another is a national identitarianism directed at Muslims and refugees.
In Britain the Tories continue with austerity, racism and Islamophobia. The more desperate they are (and they are already very desperate) the more likely it is they will roll out more foul policies designed to shatter workers’ unity and resistance.
The far right remain, for the moment, small and fragmented. Ukip has nosedived electorally. But the London marches by the Football Lads Alliance demonstrated the potential for a large Islamophobic street movement. And if Theresa May is seen to have “betrayed” over Brexit then the potential will grow.
We need a specific broad united front against fascism. We also need a wider formation that confronts racism against refugees, Muslims and migrants and also takes action against state racism and killings by the police. This is why Stand Up To Racism is so important — and why it has to take on the racism of the mainstream politicians and media.
The Labour Party and trade union leaders have to be pushed to organise real resistance to the Tories now, and this will not only benefit workers and the poor but also help to sideline the racists’ toxic message.
But there also has to be a positive alternative to the right. That means a revolutionary socialist alternative that pulls no punches against all the defenders of capitalism.
Charlie Kimber is editor of Socialist Worker and joint national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party
Andrzej Żebrowski, Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers Democracy) and Zjednoczeni Przeciw Rasizmowi (United Against Racism), Poland
We’ve seen blowback following the so-called Independence March on 11 November. For the first time millions of people have continuously heard that the organisers of that march are fascists. They led it, they supplied the racist slogans and fascist symbolism that dominated the march and they invited fascists from all over Europe to take part and speak.
Since that there have been some important actions against fascists and racists. On 15 November anti-fascists protested outside a pub where Robert Winnicki, a leading Polish fascist, was speaking. The deafening noise interrupted the meeting several times.
On 28 November the Student Anti-fascist Committee was set up in Warsaw University. A student spokesperson for the fascist organisers of the Independence March had stated that he supported racial separatism (apartheid). And a few days earlier fascist leaflets appeared at the university. Straightaway another anti-fascist committee was set up at Gdansk University. The idea is catching on.
In the early hours of Monday 27 November masked racists attacked the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) in Warsaw. They threw stones and lumps of concrete, smashing windows. That evening, the ICC joined United Against Racism in a call for a protest in central Warsaw two days later entitled “STOP racism — NO to Islamophobia”. It was supported by refugee support groups, left wing organisations, LGBT+ groups, student anti-fascists and Greens.
The rush hour demonstration numbered around 150 and attracted the attention of passers-by who stopped to discuss with the protesters. There was very little hostility from the onlookers.
Importantly there was a bigger participation of Muslims in the demonstration than before, which bodes well for future actions. They spoke and prepared hot soup and coffee which they served to the demonstrators and homeless people.
Among the speakers was Lubna Al-Hamdani, a hospital doctor there with her son who goes to kindergarten. She told the crowd, “I want that my son, who was born in Poland, when he grows up will not feel like I sometimes feel when I hear hurtful words about how I look or how I dress.”
The demonstrators unanimously agreed to call for a demonstration in Warsaw on the International day of Anti-Racism on 17 March 2018.
Christine Buchholz, MP for die Linke in Germany
We had a lot of local protests during the election campaign all over the country. They made a difference — there was a clear relation between the results and the particular balance of forces on the streets in the constituencies. The election on 24 September was nevertheless a shock where the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) gained over 90 MPs. The reaction was still there. A month later, two days before the new Bundestag opened, 12,000 people demonstrated in Berlin against racism and the AfD.
There is a demonstration this weekend against the AfD party conference in Hannover. This is their first after the election. The AfD is deeply split, especially on the question of whether they should have Björn Höcke in the leadership. Höcke is the frontman of the Nazi wing of the AfD. In general, the AfD has moved considerably to the right but a substantial part of the AfD still wants to appear as a respectable party. For them, Höcke is a provocation.
There will be thousands demonstrating against the AfD in Hannover. There is a large alliance including trade unions, the left party and many others. But on the other hand, the movement is still split with a minority pushing for more direct, but isolated action.
The protest has to overcome a sort of paralysing media coverage which is trying to play down the racism and the links to fascism the AfD stands for. When they entered parliament all the media channels portrayed the AfD as a normal albeit hot-headed party. One prominent TV correspondent even said, the first plenary session of the new season was a “highlight of democracy”. Therefore I decided last Wednesday to confront them directly for what they are and called them “racist, nationalist and militaristic”. That caused a big fuss since the AfD spokesperson in the parliament got up and was lamenting about being labelled as racist, actually intimidating all those who applauded me. I repeated: “Unlike you I’ve read your program. Regarding what you say about Africa and Islam, I repeat: you’re racist. And I will say this again and again.”
The altercation was on TV. Instantly I got very polarised reactions. I had thousands of comments on Facebook, hundreds of which were racist insults and intimidations. But many others were happy that someone said what has to be said. Hopefully, this will help to fuel the protests against the AfD party conference next weekend in Hannover. In the end, it is the number on the streets that counts. Pressure from without is essential to widen the many rifts that exists inside the AfD.
David Albrich, member of Linkswende jetzt (Left turn now) in Austria
The political situation is completely different, both in national and international terms, to 2000 when tens of thousands protested the then Tory-fascist coalition government. A Labour-type social democratic party won the elections in 1999 and after months of coalition talks with the Tories in which they faced the rising anger of trade unions because of the concessions they made, the fascist Freedom Party (who came second) handed over the chancellorship to the third place party (the Tories).
In 2017 the real winners were the Tories (plus 7.5 percentage points) and the Freedom Party (plus 5.5 percentage points) while Labour stagnated and came second, slightly ahead of the fascists. Moreover, since 2000 there has been a massive normalisation of fascism and racism across the globe, with rising fascist and right wing parties.
With the participation of the Freedom Party in the next government, fascism across Europe will get even more respectability. The fascist MPs stopped wearing the blue cornflower, which was a symbol for the Nazis in Austria from 1933 to 1938 when the swastika was forbidden in the Austro clerical-fascist dictatorship before Hitler.
The anti-fascist movement is getting stronger. Hundreds protested before the election and on the election night, following a protest by revolutionary socialist organisation Linkswende jetzt (Turn left now) on the day of the inauguration of new MPs on the day of the “Reichspogromnacht” on 9 November (which was led by the survivor of the Holocaust Rudolf Gelbard) and a 10,000-strong light chain around the government district on 15 November. Our banner “Don’t let Nazis govern and never march” was at the centre.
Our role in the movement is the reason the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache sued us for saying “F*ck Strache” and showing him the (middle) finger. We are collecting donations for the court trial and continue to attack Strache with the necessary hardness he deserves (donations to: Linkswende jetzt, IBAN: AT13 1400 0030 1098 7309, BIC: BAWAATWW).
The anti-fascist movement outside parliament dominates the streets. Every time the Nazis tried to march, we stopped them by outnumbering them. This is how we beat them: not in parliament, but by bringing together students, working class people, refugees and Muslims, and the 1.1 million people who were not even allowed to vote.
The majority hate the Nazis. A poll said that two thirds of all people who voted for the Green candidate in the presidential elections a year ago (1.6 million people) did so above all to prevent the fascist candidate Norbert Hofer from becoming head of state. Hundreds of thousands have been active in helping refugees since 2015, a quarter of the population according to a survey. These people are not gone — we have to bring them together in the rising movement against the new government.
Greek anti-fascist Petros Constantinou
Leaders of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn (GD) have been on trial for two years. They are under pressure to prove they are members of a normal parliamentary party, but in the last year they have tried to get on the streets again with an agenda aimed at refugees.
Their main targets have been the refugee camps on the islands and the rights of refugee children to go to school. These Islamophobic campaigns have been confronted by the anti-fascist movement and especially the teachers’ unions.
However, the real problem has been the Greek government’s determination to honour its agreement with the EU and Turkey to close down the route through the Balkans that refugees had been taking. This has seen thousands of refugees stuck on the islands, without even a permit to go to Athens.
A campaign by a local mayor in the right wing New Democracy party on one of the islands has created a racist atmosphere, with calls for the refugees to be thrown out. This has seen a response by local anti-fascists, anti-rascists, the anti-capitalist left, and also the national movement against racism, KEERFA, with a demand to cancel the EU-Turkey agreement, open the border, free movement of refugees and right of asylum.
There is also a mobilisation connected to the trial of GD, with demands that its offices be closed down. When the nazi party first entered parliament in November 2011, it had more than 70 offices around the country. Today, as a result of local demonstrations in towns and cities over the past two months, four offices have been shut down.
KEERFA, along with communities of Africans, is now building for a national demonstration on 2 December demanding the end of the agreement between the EU and Libya, and condemning slavery. KEERFA is also organising for the international mobilisation against racism on 17 March.
Meanwhile workers at POSPERT, Greece’s public broadcaster, have been protesting against racism and hate speech by walking out on strike for an hour every time Golden Dawn is allowed a one-hour slot — part of a monthly programme, given to the leader of every parliamentary party.