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MARINE LE PEN’S fascistic Rassemblement National pulled ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal-centrist party earlier this month in polling for the European Parliament elections in May.
Macron’s response? He floated the idea of honouring second world war quisling Marshall Petain as a hero of the first world war, brushing aside the customary cordon sanitaire around the leader of the occupation Vichy regime in the 1940s.
Days apart, the liberal mayor of Warsaw moved to ban an annual far-right demonstration timed to usurp Poland’s independence day falling last Sunday.
The hard right prime minister and the president of Poland stepped in to call their own chauvinist demonstration. Then a court overturned the mayor’s ban.
The result was that the heads of state and government in Poland ended up marching on the same route as neonazis on Armistice Day.
“What we have seen is the mainstreaming of the far right,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, head of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Polish think tank.
“The ruling Law and Justice party had this ambiguous attitude to the march. They were basically trying to make sure that people who actually like this type of extreme right ideology remain faithful to them as voters.”
Two days beforehand, events took place across Germany to commemorate another anniversary: 80 years since Reichspogromnacht, when the Nazi Party unleashed a wave of terror against Jewish people and property. A portent of the Holocaust.
The German paper Tagesspiel reports that a group of Young CDU members — young Tories — from Rheingau-Taunus and Limburg attended a party meeting in Berlin, headed to the pub after and thought that night a good one to drunkenly sing an infamous marching song of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. They were caught on video.
The CDU is the party of German chancellor Angela Merkel. She is standing down as party leader and the CDU conference in three weeks time is likely to elect a more right-wing replacement, ready to move into heading the government when Merkel relinquishes the chancellorship.
Politics in the Spanish state has been seized in recent weeks by the sudden and rapid emergence of a far-right formation, Vox, drawing support from Franquist elements despairing at the decline of their traditional post-dictatorship political home, the People’s Party.
Friends in Ireland were in sombre but determined mood on news that a Trumpist businessman was able to gain 20 per cent of the vote through deploying anti-Traveller racism in the recent presidential election (albeit on a low turnout for the largely ceremonial position).
Those last two examples blow apart all sorts of complacent theories about the rise of the radical or fascist right that have explained them away as regionalist or nationally specific phenomena.
Ireland and Spain, both savagely hit by the economic crisis and EU-enforced austerity, were held up according to those analyses as evidence that western Europe did not face a serious anti-democratic threat.
That was deemed instead to be primarily an issue east of the Danube and Oder-Neisse rivers. (Though it must be noted that Nato-backed Ukraine and its renewed fascist forces never figure in this account.)
In any case, such a view is no longer sustainable. Nor is the simple-minded mantra that what we are seeing is a mere populist spasm against which cleaving to the centre is the answer.
That, however, seems to be the dim-witted lesson drawn by the Clintonite Democrats in the US after midterm elections that did show revulsion at Trump, but hardly a spectacular swing to the alternative conventional big business party.
It is the movement of the traditional centre to the right that is at least as alarming as the growth of radical and fascist right-wing forces. Social democracy is following that shift and slumping, with the singular exception of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Macron was hailed as the anti-Le-Pen. He’s just attempted to rehabilitate a nazi collaborator.
It’s a trite question to ask whether it is the centre that is adapting to the far right or paving the way for it. Both are true — and the process precedes the great crash of 2008. It signals a deep, long-term crisis of the European order, its politics that appeared to hold so stably for decades, and its economic model.
I’m not sure how much this is grasped in a Britain that is gripped by the enormous governmental and political crisis arising from the denouement of the Brexit process — something long anticipated in the pages of this paper.
It’s increasingly understood by many labour and social movement activists in Europe. I was at a hopeful alternative European summit in the Belgian city of Ghent last weekend, organised by the radical cultural initiative Victoria de Luxe.
In one session a group of us from what the mandarins of the European institutions charmingly called “The PIGS” — Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain — found ourselves sitting together.
An issue for discussion was whether transferring all competencies to the European Parliament from the unelected Commission — and abolishing it — was at all feasible as something to argue for and could offer a path to breaking with austerity and racist politics.
There were gentle smiles from the “PIGS” participants. A Portuguese student activist pointed out that in his country a separate fascist formation has yet to enter parliament, “So I’m not too keen on subordinating ordinary people in Portugal to a European Parliament that might have a 40 per cent fascist and hard right component next May.”
And if you wanted an object lesson in how to boost the far right, then look no further than the EU’s confrontation with Italy over its government’s attempt to introduce a modestly reflationary budget breaking the neoliberal rules of the European institutions.
All the instruments of financial torture that were deployed against Greece are being assembled for a battle by Brussels against Rome at least as significant as Britain’s fraught exit from the union.
Of course, Greece had a government led by the left-wing Syriza in 2015, with a national-chauvinist junior coalition partner. Italy has a government of the extreme right Lega and populist Five Star on roughly equal footing.
The EU’s response has been ruthlessly to reject any rules-breaking budget — particularly the populist measures of Five Star — while accommodating the viciously anti-migrant policies of Lega leader Matteo Salvini.
They may eventually find some deal via rounding up more immigrants, but not on breaking the neoliberal model — which even in Germany, according to the latest figures, is leading to a slowdown from already anaemic growth in what was meant to be a recovery.
There is growing awareness of the particular threat posed by the violent fascist and neonazi right. The recent trials of members of the banned National Action party in Britain did not reveal the full extent of its terror activities but did sound an alarm.
At the same time the movements growing across Europe specifically to face this threat are having to deal with the wider political crisis and rise of both state authoritarianism and racism.
It’s not primarily a question of academically categorising these different radicalising right-wing forces. It is above all about apprehending the trajectory, the curve of development.
No-one is coming to our rescue from above. Macron will not block Le Pen. The opposite. Merkel is not an obstacle to the fascists of the AfD. The EU strengthens Salvini — it does not weaken him.
So we must turn to our mass, democratic resources from below — as the movement did in Germany last month when 240,000 people joined the Unteilbar (Indivisible) demonstration against racism and fascism, and for social solidarity.
Striking Ryanair workers addressed that demonstration — joyously observing that as airline workers 11,000 metres in the air they daily do not recognise borders.
They have just won their battle for union and labour rights against one of the most cutthroat employers in Europe.
This is where the hope lies. Irrespective of formal borders, intergovernmental treaties, currencies and blocs of nation-states.
Politically, it lies in the fusion of the strong anti-racist sensibilities of the mass of ordinary people and collective struggle against a failing economic and state order.
It is here too that something worthy of the name radical left needs to be built as a critical component of the popular struggle against reaction.
People march in London today, in Magdeburg, Germany, against the AfD, in Greece to mark the anniversary of the Polytechnic Uprising in 1973 that marked the numbering of the days of the military junta.
Don’t look up for salvation — look across for solidarity and collective social struggle, above all by the working class, in all its diversity.
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