Europe’s Fault Lines

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Polish President Andrzej Duda

Liz Fekete has done all socialists and anti-racists a service by documenting the extent of right wing mobilisation across Europe. She discusses the rise of the fascist right such as the Front National in France, and the right wing parties that are gaining ground in Austria, Poland, Hungary and the rest of eastern Europe.

Importantly she identifies this push as coming not simply from fascist ideologues but from the actions of mainstream parties as they adopt increasingly right wing positions.

She is clear that the actions of such parties in government, clamping down on immigration for instance, fuels the furnaces of reaction, creating a rightward moving dynamic. Centrally she identifies the neoliberal state as the main actor driving this.

Fekete sees this as the actions of the “market state” in contradistinction to the “social state” of the 1960s and 1970s. This market state relies more on individualism and privatisation and, as society is reorganised to meet the needs of the market, demands that any manifestations of the social or welfare state be swept aside.

It is this atomisation, which can also be seen in the actions of Trump, that she identifies as driving racism. This dynamic also produces the drive to war in the Middle East and the Arab world, which is used to boost images of the Arab or Muslim “enemy” and creates the need for Islamophobia.

Fekete sees globalisation weakening the national state, which has become identified with transnational capital, producing as a reaction the growth of “nativism” or protectionist political tendencies. These offer policies of national preference, such as the end of the free movement of labour, backed by the politics of fear, with images of the invasion of refugees or domination by sharia law, as an answer to those communities devastated by industrial decline.

Austerity plays its part as protections are dismantled by privatisation, zero-hours contracts and unemployment. Stratification then takes place along the lines of “citizens, demi-citizens and non-citizens”, demarcated primarily by “race, class, religion and political beliefs”. Some sectors, those designated as insiders or “worthy”, may become more open to right wing arguments.

This social anomie creates the conditions for more structured state violence as the state lays down its social functions and more and more adopts a policing role in the face of increased discontent.

She also identifies a technological threat as policing increasingly takes up technological and biometric means. The market state is also the surveillance state. This “thickening border” shows that while razor wire is the first tool of the enforcement of borders it is not the last as tracking and surveillance of the whole of society are justified on the basis of finding “illegals”.

The book raises a number of other important points detailing the operation of neoliberalism in policing and border security itself as these functions are privatised and handed to a succession of unaccountable contractors. Asylum becomes a market.

Fekete rightly dismisses the notion that fascism is merely an off-the-shelf ideology that can be chosen by the ruling class from a marketplace of ideas. New right wing, fascist and far-right actors can grow as a result of the coalescence of forces.

She sees the main threat as coming from the state itself, but in so doing blurs the difference between state authoritarianism and fascism. This raises a number of problems that derive from her analysis of the state.

Firstly, she sees there being a fundamental divide between the “social” state of the past and the “market” state of the present. This raises the question of why the state assumed some social functions, and why it is trying to lay them down. Is it not the case that there is a continuity that changes and reacts to different economic circumstances and pressure (or lack of) from the working class and the oppressed?

Secondly, inherent in her idea about coalescence Fekete blurs the distinction between fascist parties and right wing populism; she talks about the Front National and UKIP as if they were the same. This masks the special role of fascism as the ultimate destroyer of working class and social organisation and as the final play of the capitalist class. Fekete gives no sense of how fascism can build as a mass movement, giving a voice to the angry driven mad by capitalism but without threatening capitalism. It leads to confusion as to how fascism and state authoritarianism are to be challenged.

The third question is who is able to resist this move to the right? She does talk about the centrality of resistance and mentions many groups that are performing outstanding work in exposing injustices and facing up to racism. But are “NGO’s, independent search-and-rescue missions and humanitarian volunteers” really able to counter the Robocop state that she describes? There is unfortunately in Fekete’s account no indication of a greater force able to balance and overcome the state.

This book clearly calls for anti-fascism and anti-racism to be at the centre of all our work and as such should be read by all socialists and anti-racists.

Fekete argues that this has to be done at a local and grassroots level. On this we can fully agree. We can discuss our differences as we fight together.