The Far Right in Europe
Published November 2015 by Resistance Books and the IIRE
Paperback, 334 pages, Price: £12
To order the book, go to http://resistancebooks.org/product/the-far-right-in-europe/
Dave Landau, of the Jewish Socialist Group, reviews The Far Fight in Europe.
First published March 2016 in the Project, http://www.socialistproject.org
Given the demise of the BNP and its splinters, as well as the decline and internecine warfare in the English Defence League and its cousins, we might think that fascism is not a big issue. However, if we look across Europe we find that in some countries, fascists and other far-right formation is riding high, presenting a real and present danger for the working class and the oppressed. France for example. One might even suggest that there is a spectre haunting Europe and it is the spectre of the far-right, not communism (in the sense that Marx meant in the Communist Manifesto). We underestimate the threat at our peril.
So this book is very timely. I would say that it is an essential companion to all socialists in these dangerous times. The book has articles on Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherland and Sweden. I have learnt a lot from reading this book. For example, I knew absolutely nothing about the threat of fascism in Bulgaria for example.
The book’s title “The Far Right in Europe” is carefully chosen because it does not just deal with fascist parties. It deals with other movements to the right of traditional conservatism or ‘Christian democracy’ such as UKIP, the Danish People’s Party, populist movements in the Netherlands, as well as fascist parties pretending to be something else and outright Nazis.
What draws all these formations together is their anti-migrant and Islamaphobic campaigning. Some parties are able to present themselves as liberal by taking up anti-gay and anti-women aspects of some Islamaphobic communities and organisations. This is something which the anti-fascist movement needs to think through a bit more, particularly in the light of the incidents which took place in Cologne and other cities over the New Year for example.
The centrepiece of the book is the long chapter on France entitled “Petain’s children”. It is very detailed following the ups and downs of the Front National over decades, electorally and otherwise. It takes apart the argument that the Front National has somehow ceased to be fascist because of its more ‘moderate’ approach under Marine Le Pen, as opposed to her father, rejecting anti-Semitism and talking about being anti-fascist themselves. This seems to have fooled some on the left who see it as gravitating towards a UKIP type future, but I agree with the comrades of the Anti-fascist Commission who wrote this chapter, that the leopard does not change its spots even though it can camouflage itself easily enough when it wants to.
The weakness of the book is that there is not much detailed analysis of the anti-fascist movements, or different currents within it. Across Europe, and here in Britain, there have been different approaches based on different traditions emphasising different aspects of the struggle at the expense of others. One group emphasising physical confrontation with the fascists, another emphasising the trades unions, or the community, or celebrity. These divisions are often artificial where really the different approaches should complement each other in an overall strategy. And the physical aspects are often reduced to no-platforming this or that march, whereas what is really needed often is community and workers self-defence on an on-going basis in areas where fascists are strong for example. These sorts of debates are not really touched on in the book.
Selfishly, because I live here, I was disappointed that there was no balance sheet on the struggle against the BNP over the last 20 years and in particular the pros and cons and evolution in the approach of Unite Against Fascism on which I could say quite a lot. But the chapter on the UK was correctly centred on UKIP. After all, despite only having one parliamentary seat, did win 14% of the vote which is something we should be very worried about. Phil Hearse’s picture and categorisation of UKIP is useful but again, not a huge amount about how you develop a strategy against this kind of movement except for stressing the need for a united left party, on which I certainly agree. The big disappointment in the book is that it does not talk about Greece. They acknowledge that this is a gap. Having spoken at a Left Platform conference in Athens about anti-fascism in the UK (they asked for this, thought there were lessons they might apply) I would have been very interested. More to the point, in Greece forces of revolution and counter-revolution are up against each other and it would have been very interesting to hear about the latest assessment of Golden Dawn and how Syriza and the new left party combat the influence of the fascists when they are also on the front line in terms of migration.
There is a little problem of sub-editing. I spotted quite a few words missing, or the wrong word etc. I usually miss these so I imagine there were lots more which might irritate pedants but didn’t bother me too much! I would very much recommend this book.
John Whitfield, who tries to be a revolutionary socialist in Essex, reviews The Far Right in Europe
This book is both fascinating and infuriating to read, and for much the same reason, which arises directly from its structure and composition.
The bulk of the book is eight substantial essays on the far right in Europe: Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden (in actual and alphabetical order). I doubt if many readers, and certainly not this reviewer, have sufficient knowledge of all those countries to evaluate the book fully. What to do? The answer should be provided by the first three chapters: a preface by the editor, an introduction by Manuel Kellner, a leading member of an FI affiliate in Germany, and ‘Ten theses on the far right in Europe’ by Michael Löwy, a Fellow of the IIRE. I turned to those pieces for both an overview and for a statement of the unifying, if any, political themes and analyses in the book. If they were right or persuasive about countries I knew something of, and this was also evident in the country chapter concerned, then I would accept the chapters about the remaining countries. But I was disappointed. In the introduction I found, ‘When Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, the bourgeois ruling class chose the alternative of Nazi rule rather than a decisive victory of the working class’. Mention neither of the Third Period of the KPD, nor of the failed revolution of 1918-1923, nor of the internecine warring of conservative, nationalist parties at the end of Weimar democracy, nor of the dictatorship over the old ruling class. In short, a decisive victory of the working class was not on offer: the hatred between the SPD and the KPD saw to that. In the second thesis I found, in a description of the factors common to the openly fascist parties and the bourgeois forces integrated into the political game, a reference to their hatred of non-European immigrants ‘and Roma (the continent’s oldest people)’. But did not Roma and Sinti migrate from India via Egypt, arriving in Europe well after the Basques and the Celts? After coming across those two statements, my wariness shot up. How did I know that the politics and history of the chapter on say, Bulgaria, did not contain errors of both political analysis and fact? I do not.
Not withstanding my caution I read the book with growing interest. The balance between theory and history oscillates somewhat, but can be coped with if thought about slowly. Thesis 4 of Michael Löwy asks why the right in Spain and Portugal has not ?ourished, in contrast to the other countries. My preferred answer would be that the Franco and Caetano dictatorships are matters of recent living memory, one of which ended in a revolution. The people’s confidence is built on such things.
One statement with which I do agree is ‘The left as a whole, with only a few exceptions, has severely underestimated this danger (the con?ation by neo-liberals, of right and left populisms, which legitimises that of the right). It did not see the brown wave coming, and thus did not see the need to take the initiative of an anti-fascist mobilisation.’ (Thesis 7). Yet there is in the UK one of those very few exceptions and is unnamed in the thesis.
There is in the book a seemingly unresolved tension (dialectical contradiction?) between the right’s electoralism and its fascism. Alan Bullock resolved this in his 1952 biography ‘Hitler, a study in tyranny’: completely unscrupulous demagoguery used to move and manipulate the masses, for which manifestos are mere tools, and their content otherwise irrelevant. But Bullock saw it happen. Adolf Schicklgruber himself once said that if the NSDAP’s opponents had understood what they were about, they would have been destroyed before they got started. I found insufficient urgency in what I read.
A book to learn from? Certainly, but perhaps not as the publishers intended! Worth the price? Buy it from Resistance Books, get your library to get a copy, and buy Trotsky on Germany.
The Far Right in Europe
Published November 2015 by Resistance Books, London
Paperback, 334 pages, ISBN: 978-0-902869-52-0, Edited by Fred Leplat
Price £12. To order the books, go to http://resistancebooks.org/product/the-far-right-in-europe/
- Introduction, Manuel Kellner
- Ten theses on the far right in Europe, Michael Löwy
- UKIP and the politics of ultra-Thatcherism, Phil Hearse
- Bulgaria: the rise of Ataka, Martin Marinos and Georgi Medarov
- Right-wing populism and the Danish People’s Party, Tobias Alm
- France: Pétain’s children, NPA Anti-fascist Commission
- The Far Right in Hungary, Adam Fabry
- Italy: a resurgent far-right and fascism, Checchino Antonini
- National-populism in the Netherlands, Alex de Jong
- Swedish fascism – an unbroken tradition, Anders Svensson