Fascism has gone beyond creeping… we are in deep trouble

Examining the rise of the far right in Europe, Britain and elsewhere, Susan Pashkoff argues that the fightback necessitates thinking beyond the logic of parliamentary elections and towards an ecosocialist struggle led by the exploited and oppressed

 

Watching the D-Day commemorations this year, I could not prevent a helpless sadness. Thinking of the cost of lives in World War II always leaves my heart heavy. I watch these commemorations to remember and honour all who died to defeat fascism.

This was made more poignant not only because of the numbers of those who fought at D-Day and in the whole war, nor the genocide of Jews and Gypsies and the murders of disabled people by the Nazis, but that despite all the best efforts of so many to destroy fascism, we are seeing its revival today. That all we can do is continue the fight against it and the idea that we will probably lose leaves me on the verge of hopelessness.

My upset was not helped by one of my neighbours proudly informing me that he was planning to vote for the Reform UK Party. This was before I had coffee (and went outside to smoke a cigarette), and my response expressed my despair.

“You are like the French who a week after D-Day commemorations voted to put the people we helped them back into power.” 

He almost burst into tears (he is a very “patriotic” man). He would deny it, but he was choked up. “You, who are born in the US, care. The British don’t care… you are a rare person.”

I said to him, “As long as I live, I will fight those who work to divide and destroy us. Others agree, look at the pandemic where we helped each other survive. Thatcher said there was no society, we proved her wrong; we are not individuals only, we are part of a collective society. Voting for Farage does nothing but divide us. You can vote how you want but understand that you are voting for those who are working to destroy us.”

He has not spoken to me since… 

What always prevents me from falling into hopelessness is my knowledge of history, my remembrance of what the last fight cost humanity and my belief that if we lose this battle, we will not only destroy ourselves but the planet we live on as well. We must not collapse in defeat at the strengthening of the far-right, we are obligated to fight for humanity and our planet.

The Far-Right Strengthens its results in the EU elections

The strengthening of the far-right can be seen clearly in the European EU Parliament elections  held on the 14th of June. While the centre-right (European People’s Parties – Christian Democrats) remains the dominant bloc in the EU Parliament winning in Germany, Greece, and Spain. Despite the EPP holding the largest bloc of seats, if Ursula von der Leyen wants to remain as President of the Executive Body of the EU, she will need support from other blocs in the European Parliament. She has suggested that she will ask the Social Dems and the Liberals.  

However, von der Leyen may need the support of some of the parties from European Conservatives and Reformists, which strengthens the hand of Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni, who is not from the centre-right, but the far-right. One cannot help but wonder, which political extreme is she worried about? Giorgia Meloni is an unreconstructed fascist (which she denies, but what we need only look at her actions). If von der Leyen needs to go to Meloni despite the EPP victory, how does that keep the far-right out of power?  

Belgium at a Glance

In Belgium’s parliamentary elections (held prior to the European Parliamentary election), we see a shift to the right, but happily not an expected landslide for the far-right in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium. However, while not winning in the Flemish portion of Belgium, Vlaams Belang still won 21.8% of the seats in the North as Politico explains:

“The far-right separatist Vlaams Belang party, which had led the polls in recent months, grabbed 21.8 percent of Flemish votes Sunday, gaining 3 percentage points compared to their 2019 result — but it failed to overtake its Flemish conservative rivals New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which remained Belgium’s biggest party with 25.6 percent of Flemish votes.”

While the French-speaking part of Belgium traditionally has been led by the Socialist Party, it placed third, losing to the liberal Reform Movement (32% of the vote), with the centrist Les Engagés coming second. The Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo from the Centre-Right Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats scored 8.7 percent of Flemish votes in the federal vote, a 4.8 percentage point drop compared to 2019 and has resigned; a new government will have to be formed and it probably will come from the centre-right N-VA party (who will not work with Vlaams Belang) and will need the support of other centre-right, centrist and perhaps even the centre-left to form a government.

If we look at Belgium’s voting result in the European Parliamentary Election, we can see how well the ECR and ID aligned parties did; and in general, the right as a whole.

Back to the EU Parliamentary Elections

While the centre held in the European Parliamentary elections, the far-right (which is in both the European Conservative and Reformist Group (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy Group (ID) came in first in France with LePen’s Rassemblement National party winning 31.37 compared to 14.6% for Macro. The Socialist Party managed 13.83% (leading Macron to dissolve the French Parliament and call snap elections for June 30th).

The far-right won in Italy with Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia landing comfortably over the Democratic Party (PD), bolstered by votes shifting from the Lega (another far right party which is also in ID) and the right-wing of Cinque Stelle Movement (M5S), who had already shifted towards Meloni’s politics at the last Italian General Election. The Partido Democratico (PD) did not lose many votes, so what we are seeing is a consolidation of the right. The far-right won in Hungary too, although they are not aligned with any bloc.

In addition, the far-right came in second in Austria (Österreichische Volkspartei) and won 6 seats compared to 5 seats each for the Socialist Party and the Austrian Freedom Party (EPP) – it was less than 1% compared to the Freedom Party and beat the Social Democrats. In Germany, the AfD came in second beating out the Social Democrats (who are currently in power). The far-right picked up a number of seats in other countries as well. In Poland, Donald Tusk’s party won by less than 1% over the far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS).  

The biggest losers in this Parliamentary election were the Liberals European Renewal bloc (in France) and the Greens. The Social Democratic Parties won the second biggest number of seats overall, and they are nominally centre-left; but they did badly in some countries. The Left lost seats in some countries and picked up a few in others, and so remained reasonably constant overall.

The results from the EU Parliamentary Elections:

What can be said is that the far-right (composed of both the CSR and ID groups) combined won 18.7% overall; the Christian Democrats (the centre-right) held, but the Social Democratic Parties are weaker and the overall post-war anti-fascist agreement between the Christian Dems and the Social Dems no longer accurately represents the political divide in Europe. European voters overwhelmingly voted for the right-wing; we are seeing a clear revival. Less than a week after D-Day commemorations, this is sobering.

While the centre-right is celebrating this victory, we need to step back to understand what happened. While some of these votes for the far-right could be (and are) protest votes (which is probably what Macron is banking on in his call for snap elections), that does not explain why protest votes went to the far-right rather than social-democrats or the Left.

What will van der Leyen throw out to fuse a coalition of “centrists”? What will happen to the sustainable energy proposals, the so-called commitment to fighting climate change? Much of the right and centre-right have already abandoned these policies; they are insufficient, but necessary to begin fighting climate change.  

The weakening of the green vote in the European Elections is worrying; what will happen when the green bloc is no use for coalitions? Many in the EPP are far less convinced about green capitalism and reforms. The ECR are openly hostile.

An International Shift to the Right and the Normalisation of the Far-Right

We know that this process is not only happening in Europe and in the EU elections; we can see the normalisation of the ideology and politics of the far-right around the world. This is clear in Britain and the US too. This normalisation enables them to get a toehold in the mainstream, legitimising their politics.

Racist dog-whistles, attacks on the civil rights of marginalised groups, undermining civil rights’ laws concerning voting, freedom of speech, the right to assembly and the right to protest, and attacks on workers’ rights do not require the hard-right to be in political power. While this appeared initially to be a process with a slow, but steady erosion of civil rights and attacks on the organs of the left (trade unions, left-wing parties), this process has picked up speed and impact.

As a general point, we do know that the centre-right views the left as far more dangerous to their interests than the far-right. This fundamentally derives from the left’s opposition to the concentration of wealth, rising inequality in both wealth and income which is essential to protecting private property and the needs of the ruling class. We can cite economic policies concentrating on growth (rather than at least to pretend to curtail the impact of climate change), which fits the agenda of the right and much of the far-right who has bought into a system reliant on social, political and economic inequality.

Van der Leyen’s contended that people voted for the stability of the centre and that will defeat both extreme, implying that power in the EU will require working with the EPP. But the reality is that this is just one election; it is evident that the power of the far-right is rising in Europe and denying it will only lead to more problems.

We do know that the ideology of the far-right has been normalised both by mainstream politicians and the mainstream media. This has often been facilitated by the centre-right adopting the politics of the far-right around immigration (divide and rule is a long-held strategy) to focus blame on the “other” rather than on the impact of their policy failures. Blame the other, blame the EU; let’s pretend that it has nothing to do with our policies.

In Britain, shifting blame on the EU served as cover for a horrific attack against social goods, the impact of austerity on the majority unable to fulfill basic social needs. We saw this in wide attacks on the public sector, privatisation and the crushing of wages and working conditions to make the majority pay for the 2007-8 economic crash while protecting capital.

Not only was the Brexit vote caused by a long-term Tory project to blame the EU; Brexit has in part contributed to the economic stagnation that Britain has been in for a long time. Brexit is fascinating in that the ruling class in the main did not support it; the manner in which it was carried out was guaranteed to lead to a general weakening of the British economy (Left-wing Parties supporting a left-exit from the EU were delusional; not only was the right-wing in power in Britain, the basis upon which people voted for Brexit favoured the arguments of the right).

Arguing that Britain’s sovereignty was undermined by the EU and the EU human rights law (which has been adopted by Britain) is still primarily the line offered by the right-wing of the Tory Party. The influx of many of the far-right into the Tory Party who supported Brexit and the Tory Party’s pandering to the far-right’s culture wars against “wokeism” has shifted the Tory Party to the far-right. Most of the Tory centre-right exited from the party when Boris Johnson came to power.  

We can see a similar process in Britain to has happened in the US, where a mainstream centre-right party has been taken-over by the far-right who are now dependent on it for electoral victories. (This has its roots in Ronnie Raygun’s coalition with Christian fundamentalists in the US.) Trump bringing the far-right into the tent of the Republicans is a perfect example of the process where a mainstream party is subsumed by the far-right.

This normalisation of open racism is one of the mainstays of the right and the far-right. Modern fascist and far-right groups don’t necessarily accept the corporatism of old fascists like Mussolini where the unity of capitalists, workers (industrial, service and agricultural sectors) were all in it together to create strong national states with state economic intervention and a robust public sector to serve the interests of the nation.

Many current groups in the far-right are anti-taxation, anti-public sector, and while they want a strong central government, they advocate neoliberal economic ideology. What is consistent among them is the nationalist perspective (often leading to conflict with the EU as a threat to their national sovereignty), a deep-distrust of foreigners and a belief in the importance of Christianity to Europe, which means attacks on women’s civil rights, and queer-phobia – just look at Poland under the Law and Justice Party.

Open attacks against immigrants, objectification of migrants and refugees forms not only the core of the far-right but is common to politicians of the mainstream on both the centre-right and centre-left. The EU has long had a cap on migration from outside Fortress Europe which normalised these attacks – the fact is that politicians of the right and far-right have blamed migrants and refugees for the economic misery brought about by neoliberalism and the monetarist basis of the Euro.

It is far easier to blame foreigners than the ruling class who determine wages and working conditions. Production for export rather than domestic consumption means that wages can be lowered, but this does not necessarily impact economic growth (for example, Germany’s economy is an export-led growth economy complete with low wages as wage goods come in from other countries in the EU). The weakening of trade unions means the weakening of wages and working conditions protections, which are characteristic of right-wing hegemony and not part of the left.

The Centre-left and the Left

That most Social Democratic Parties adopted neoliberalism means their policies are constrained in any domestic response to economic crises. Privatisation has weakened the public sector and limits spending by governments to ease constraints in an economic crisis; debt and deficit limits (ignored by some states) imposed due to monetarism also constrain the state’s choices; Keynesian responses to economic recession are essentially dead which weakens the Social Democrats (who have abandoned socialism in their policies if not the names of their parties).

Moreover, the left parties are fragmented and divided. Unfortunately, many are completely peripheral to the electoral process. Under this category, I am including the Greens as well as those parties that identify as Left. This includes the old Communist Parties that have not become neoliberals (like the PD in Italy), broad parties of the Left (like Podemos, Red-Green Parties, Die Linke, and Bloco) and Trotskyist political parties.

The left are divided over serious disagreements on immigration, economic policies, being in the EU, international solidarity, and more. There are also tactical differences over fighting oppression (i.e., racism, misogyny, disablism, and queer phobia) or just exploitation without accepting that oppression is a fundamental part of capitalism – it is no accident that colonialism, which relies on racism, is how capitalism was formed.  Some groups on the left do not participate in elections.

Moreover, alliances are rare; according to Le Monde an alliance (in this case a Popular Front) of the largest French left parties (Le France Insoumise, The Communist Party, and the Greens) and centre-left party (the Socialist Party) has been formed to fight the snap general election in France: who will lead the alliance is still under discussion and hopefully others will join against the far-right and centre-right. According to Jacobin, the alliance has developed a programme for change on which they will run and, if elected, will institute opposing the neoliberal agenda and actions of Macron’s government.

Defeating the far-right is essential, but that is not only in a one-off election. Still, elections can have long-lasting implications. Consider that both Hitler and Mussolini were elected, they did not seize power in a coup as in Spain and other countries in Latin America. We need to defeat the far-right on the ground, fighting for solidarity and unity among the oppressed and exploited. We need to defeat their division and hate; they will not disappear on their own.

British General Election

Britain is in the middle of a general election (election day is July 4th). We are literally (despite more than 2 parties) in a choice between lesser evils. On the one hand, we have the Tories who have destroyed Britain in the years they have been in power (first elected in 2010 in coalition with the Lib Dems and then on their own since 2019). This incarnation has ministers that are on the far-right, Rishi Sunak attended the Fratelli d’Italia conference in Italy last year (and he is not the worst case).

Alternatively, we have a Labour Party, which certainly will come into power, but they have long abandoned anything resembling social democracy (they like to use the word “progressive” rather than socialist). Getting rid of the Tories is essential, but it is questionable how much the majority will get from the Labour Party.

The Conservative Party is no longer a mainstream political party; their membership was swollen by the far-right as part of Brexit where UKIP members joined the party. There is no question that they will lose the election; across the whole of Britain people are sick of them. Austerity, privatisation, Brexit, the destruction of the public sector especially the NHS, education, the social welfare state and the stagnant economy will cost them.

Supply-side economics has led to increased wealth concentration while austerity and inflation has broken the incomes of the majority who cannot access services. The Tories have gone with cutting National Insurance taxes from which pensions and services are funded; they have vowed to eliminate National Insurance completely (the state pension is far too low, but it is better than nothing which is what the Tories will leave your children and grandchildren along with no public services).

Already in deep trouble from Labour, the far-right Tories are facing competition from the even further to the right (those outside their party and some members who are happier to vote for people even more appalling than the Tories). We get to witness the return of the fascistic Nigel Farage; he has not only reclaimed control over the UK Reform Party but is once again running to be a member of Parliament (his eighth time). Farage argues that Sunak shamed the country by leaving the D-Day commemorations early; this is odd from Farage who hides behind far right jingoist bluster.

The Reform UK Party talk about how foreigners are responsible for low wages (as opposed to the employers) and the destruction of wage contracts (the Tories legalised zero hour contracts ensuring workers’ precarity). They have also pledged to make businesses pay a tariff whenever they hire someone from outside Britain.

YouGov poll has suggested that the Reform Party has passed the Tories for the first time, coming in at 19% to the Tory 18%, but as pointed out by Paul Whiteley, this result means they are neck-in-neck due to the statistical errors; it would require Reform Party to be on 21% to pass the Tories; it is these tiny facts that somehow never enter the reality for the MSM.  

The question we have is how will the far-right Tories do versus Reform UK? That is what the election will reveal; Farage keeps insisting that Reform is the official opposition to the Labour Party. The Tories are reduced to warning British voters of the dangers of a “socialist” Labour Party and not to give them a super-majority …

The Labour Party will win the General Election; the question is by how much. But this is not a Labour Party leadership who is willing to ensure that the standards of living of the working class will improve. The only way that will happen is if their economic growth plans are successful.  They argue that we need economic growth to fund desperately needed spending.

According to Rachel Reeves (former Bank of England Employee and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer), Labour’s economic policy will be supply-side based, and brought about by investment in an industrial plan (see below). This involves spending on skills development and building new supply chains for essential inputs to resist inflationary shocks. In a speech at the Peterson Institute in Washington DC, she set out her notion of “securonomics.”

“This demands a new approach, one that I call ‘securonomics’. Both the Lib Dems and the Greens have said they will get rid of the two-child maximum benefit cap and the benefit cap by increasing capital-gains tax.

It focuses on the economic security of a nation.

Prioritising economic strength and resilience in the face of our uncertain world. Addressing the challenges of the future, and finding the opportunities within them.

It also focuses on securing the finances of working people.

Good jobs, decent pay, strong public services and an end to relentless increases in the cost of living.

I am here in Washington today because, while the old ‘Washington Consensus’ might have been swept away, a new one is emerging.

At its heart is what Treasury Secretary Yellen has called “modern supply side” economics.

The Biden Administration is rebuilding America’s economic security, strength and resilience.

A more active state, pursuing a modern industrial strategy, is selecting the areas where America must guarantee its ability to produce what America needs whether that’s in digital technology through the CHIPS act, or in clean energy and industry through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Your government is working in partnership with a dynamic open market, where the state does what a government does best.

Making and shaping markets that are essential to America’s resilience and future prosperity.

Meanwhile, the free market does what only it can do – innovating, competing, creating wealth.

This acknowledges the reality of our age, and the economic necessity of resilience.

It is a rejection of the hyper-globalisation of old.

But it is also an invitation to greater partnership between those who share values and interests and between those who want to address the challenges and seize the opportunities of tomorrow, together.”

The leaders of the Labour Party are holding a corporatist position when they argue they are both pro-Business and pro-worker. The Labour Party has also refused to overturn the 2-child maximum benefit and the benefit cap (introduced as part of austerity), which has increased poverty in Britain. Their acceptance that benefits must be tied to work means that the conditionality and sanctions that are an essential part of the Universal Credit benefit system will remain; their shadow secretary of the Department of Works and Pensions, Liz Kendall, has ruled out young people “living on benefits”. They have promised to eliminate zero-hours contracts, but we shall see; that is necessary if the good well paid jobs they envisage will exist.

The Lib Dems have also made pledges around social care (which is in an appalling condition with small amounts of public social support and assistance and family carers having to take up the slack). They recognise the importance of family carers and want personal assistants for disabled people and older people. But no one is advocating an independent living service for disabled people in local communities funded by the state and run locally, which is needed.

The LP has maintained the Tory Party’s linkage between health and social care despite their being different and the obvious danger of social care being ignored given the appalling shape of the NHS. Private agency provision of care paid for by local councils who tax disabled people is not working; benefits are too low, disabled people are paying National Insurance, care charges to local governments (which they must pay for or they won’t get care) as well as local council tax. The system is unsustainable and disabled and infirm people cannot afford to pay the costs for insufficient quantity and quality of social support and assistance (a.k.a. social care).

The Tories are threatening to force disabled people, women with young children below school age and those caring for sick and impaired family members into work. Labour has not said they will reject this. The NHS is in dire shape; not only have new hospitals (promised by Boris Johnson) not been opened, but there are also not enough health professionals to staff the hospitals and local GP surgeries; waiting lists for “elective” surgeries are absurd and accessing healthcare has become harder.

The Labour Party’s shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, has been talking about hiring doctors in the Private sector to cover for insufficient numbers of general practitioners and further usage of the private health sector to assist with the backlogs. What has never been clear is where these doctors will come from? What will happen to the NHS when privatisation increases; if these private doctors are going to be brought in (from wherever) and make more money, will the rest of the GPs remain tied to the NHS?

Labour’s abandonment of their Green spending and investment pledges of £28 billion a year on environmental projects is also worrying; their new pledges in the LP Manifesto of £7.3 billion over the next Parliament (5 years) to be spent on “priority low carbon industries” is a bit less (compared to the Tories who have abandoned Green pledges, yes it is something) despite it being a central plank of their economic growth strategy and industrial policy, but will require private sector investment. This is supposedly based on “Bidenomics” and the Inflation Reduction Act. Labour’s private financing initiatives under Gordon Brown are one of the reasons the NHS is in such bad shape. In their manifesto, Labour pledge the following:

“Steelmaking would take a £2.5bn share; £1.5bn would be allocated to Gigafactories producing electric vehicle batteries; £1.8bn would go to decarbonising ports; £1bn would be set aside for carbon capture and £500m is earmarked for green hydrogen.

For every £1 of public investment, a Labour government would expect to unlock £3 of private investment in these sectors.”

Add to this, while the LP cannot commit anything to eliminating benefit caps and reforming social care, their leadership has no problem spending on the “nuclear deterrent” and providing 2.5% of GDP to the military. That, along with the deselection of left-wing Labour candidates like Faiza Shaheen and Sam Tarry (among others) and the public humiliation of Diane Abbott who they were forced to let run as Labour, was my final straw with the Party. I left. we will need to continue the fight once Labour wins and to do it outside of the Party.

Additional problems that the Labour Party must deal with is their appalling statements on the Israeli attack on Gaza, which angered many people, especially Muslims who have long been members of the Labour Party. Moreover, there has been a purge of left-wing Labour Party candidates. There are independents running from the Left against them in Labour strongholds. We shall see whether this will bear much fruit. The Labour Party ran into problems in the local elections in four places where they lost control of councils.

Faiza Shaheen is running as an independent, as is Jeremy Corbyn and Emma Dent Coad; other Left independents (some former Labour councillors) are running on Gaza, the NHS and addressing poverty in Britain. George Galloway is running on Gaza but holds appalling positions on women, gay and trans people and has adopted an anti-immigrant position. Corbyn should win, probably Galloway too; hopefully the other left independents will give them a bloody nose. Labour has always functioned with a left presence; Neil Kinnock purged the Militant tendency before Blair, Starmer and his supporters are doing the same.

Taxes (of course)… more nonsense from the MSM

One of the strangest things I have been watching on the news during the election period is the insistence of the MSM on right-wing themes. My favourite has become the taxes issue. Yes, Britons are paying high taxes for very little, however, neither Sky News or the BBC distinguish between forms of taxes. So, the Tories have decided to “put money in people’s pockets” by eliminating National Insurance (think of social security) as though £200/yr will do much of anything when so many use food banks. What will happen to their children and grandchildren’s pensions in the future? Ignore that that man behind the curtain…

Labour has pledged not to increase VAT, Income Tax, or National Insurance (taxes that will hit the majority the hardest); but there is no reason they cannot increase capital gains tax (on wealth), corporate tax, or financial transactions tax. They keep saying they need to see the state of the nation’s finances before ruling out increased taxation. But that does not stop the MSM from conflating all forms of taxation; it is as if the right-wing Libertarians have taken over the BBC and Sky News.

Both the Greens and Lib Dems call for increasing capital-gains tax; that is good, we need to hit the wealth of those that have it.

Somehow, the MSM cannot understand the different types of taxes and keep prattling about how Labour needs to increase taxes to cover the costs of their pledges. This may be true, but that does not mean that most people will be paying higher taxes; that is simply a deliberate attempt to pretend that the wealthy are the same as the rest of us. I wish someone would just call them out as apologists for the ruling class!

Some concluding thoughts

The answer is not just a sigh of relief that the far-right did not win in the European Parliament and won’t win in Britain. We need to defeat the far-right and that requires more than defeating them at elections. We should build a grassroots fightback to counter their ideology and destroy the divide and rule used against the majority. We need to be fighting as ecosocialists, ensuring the needs of the majority are the basis for what is produced rather than the needs of the capitalist system.

We cannot afford yet “more capitalist growth”; we must ensure needs, access to sustainable and accessible social housing, healthcare, sustainable and green energy production, free public transport and good nutritious food for all. We need people to get behind a future for all rather than maintaining a system that requires their poverty and massive differentials in wealth.


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Susan Pashkoff is a revolutionary Marxist, Economist, political activist and blogger. She writes on issues around US and British politics and economics, gender and women's oppression, and disability.

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