Spectre of the far right in Europe

Claude Moraes surveys the far right threat in Europe post-Brexit and Trump

Much is being said and written about the threat of the far-right in the EU, and the common denominators with the Trump result in the US. Chartist readers will no doubt be aware of the competing arguments about what underpins populist, neo-fascist and far right gains both across Europe and now in the United States. From my perspective chairing the European Parliament’s biggest committee dealing with issues of migration, fundamental rights and values (and where the membership of my committee includes far-right MEPs, including Le Pen and Udo Voigt) there is nothing new about this steady and deliberate rise of fascism in the West.


But undoubtedly we have reached a dramatic tipping point where the levers of power in key countries could more visibly be pulled by racist populists and opportunists and by those whose ideology is clearly neo-fascist, but presented in a more complex way. So the election of Trump, the prospect of Le Pen, close shave with Hofer in Austria, the AfD in Germany – were these the votes of the “left behind” people affected by austerity and globalization, voting against elites or was it a racist reaction against immigration and refugees?  The answer is that all of these issues are coming to bear on what is a serious development in western countries. We have reached a point where the dominant groups in most western democracies feel a sense of threat and electoral advantage can be made of the sense of threat by any strategic or charismatic populist with a far right or populist movement.


If it were simply the vote of the “left behind” and globalisation in Trump’s America, or in the French Presidential elections next year, then the populist Left would also strengthen its arm. But only one component of this dangerous composition are voters, who are reacting to losing out through globalization, the stagnation of their wages, loss of jobs, and the increasing gap between rich and poor in virtually all western democracies particularly since the crash in 2008. In the United States the poorest Americans and the vast majority of ethnic minorities still voted Democrat. Many people who were doing well were strongly attracted to the protectionist, overtly racist and white supremacist message of Trump.


For the Left all over Europe, we are now faced with the complex mix of populists like the Five Star movement in Italy, the reinvented neo-fascist Le Pen in France, the ultra nationalist racism of Orban in Hungary, the neo-nazi FPOe of Norbert Hofer in Austria and multiple populist and far right parties like our own UKIP 


It is shocking when written down and said aloud, but when millions of well educated, well off Americans vote in this way, it is important to understand exactly what people are voting for. The deep seated racism and misogyny in the US elections are very clear but can be confused in an economic analysis which somewhat dilutes their effect.  For the Left all over Europe, we are now faced with the complex mix of populists like the Five Star movement in Italy, the reinvented neo-fascist Le Pen in France, the ultra nationalist racism of Orban in Hungary, the neo-nazi FPOe of Norbert Hofer in Austria and multiple populist and far right parties like our own UKIP. It is important to understand that their appeal is to an anti-immigrant and protectionist sensibility. While there are many moderate members of the Five Star Movement for example, its emerging new young leader is the son of an Italian fascist.


It is important to always remember the far right and national socialist roots of Europe’s and indeed US populist movements.  The Left should be in no doubt about the historical parallels, mainly because the movement of the far right across the EU has been taking place for many years. They have slowly and steadily taken their position in most member states of the EU as either coalition partners of centre right governments, or as with UKIP and the Five Star Movement in Italy, they have helped shift public opinion in a more anti-immigrant, anti-EU populist direction even though they have not achieved a place in government.  If we had stopped and looked at what was happening in Hungary and Austria before even the refugee crisis, we can see this development building on austerity post the 2008 crash and of course rapidly rising as the refugee crisis moved into top gear.  The reality however, in most western countries is that the demographics are changing fundamentally. When Trump told his voters repeatedly “that this was their last chance” to vote for his politics he was sending a message about a United States where in a few years time the working population would be less than 50 per cent white. Blaming the ‘other’ for the problems of austerity now no longer brings a place in coalition government for the Danish Peoples Party in Denmark or Jobbik in Hungary – it can help deliver you the Presidency of the United States.  For the Left the challenge is enormous, but history tells us that there is no time to lose or to lie down in front of far right populism, racism and protectionism.


If we buy in to the racist and protectionist philosophy of right wing populists in a more globalized economy, it is the most vulnerable in society who will be further hit. The Left must take care not to pick up the wrong lessons from the populist right. Immigration, for example, is now a reality as western populations age. This will mean the movement of people will not stop just because freedom of movement to the UK has ended. In time this reality will become clearer and the need for politicians to tell the truth more urgent.


The coming months and years will see a popular and populist take down of so called elites by ‘the most elite’ politicians: hedge fund managers, right wing and fundamentalist politicians and media owners. We will see this in an increasingly monopolised right wing media driving home the message that populism is working. It is entirely possible that as the American economy rises after years of rebuilding, following the post 2008 crash, far from losing the argument, populists and racists may find some temporary vindication. This will be the toughest moment for the Left, as it has been during right-wing protectionist inspired periods in the past. We have to learn from history and ensure that we have the courage to present socialist and social democratic policies, knowing that in time the Left and centre-Left will have to clean up the mess. Until then the West is about to go through a painful period of adjustment. That cannot mean we sit back and watch, we have to fight every day, every election, confident in an anti-austerity and yes, anti-racist platform.


This article appears in the latest issue of Chartist, number 284

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