Growing threat from far right upsurge

Fotball Lads Alliance demonstration, 10 June 2018. (Photo: Steve Eason)

The ‘No Pasaran!’ conference in London on 2 March has been called in response to the growing wave of far-right breakthroughs internationally. PHIL HEARSE investigates.

December’s regional election in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia provided a major shock. The far-right party Vox, considered until then a marginal force, won 11 per cent of the votes which gave them 12 seats in the regional assembly.

This breakthrough is likely to have major repercussions throughout the Spanish state. National elections in April will probably see Vox deputies elected to the Cortes, the Spanish parliament. That election is likely to result in the defeat of the incumbent Socialist Party, and in turn that could result in a governmental coalition including the mainstream right-wing Popular Party, the neoliberal right Ciudadanos and Vox itself.

Thus we could see Vox, a party only founded in 2013, go from complete marginalisation to being part of the government in a matter of five months. Spanish ‘exceptionalism’ – the idea that the legacy of the decades-long Franco fascist dictatorship had inoculated Spain against the far right and fascist virus – has turned out to be an illusion. The Vox breakthrough came on the heels of its December 9,000-strong Madrid rally, which sent its hits on Facebook and Instagram into the millions-strong stratosphere.

Spain is just one more chapter in the sad litany of far-right successes in the wake of the key events of 2016 – the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote in Britain – which we can now see were a major turning point. Trump’s victory in particular has energised the right in Latin America, and encouraged the far right in Brazil to push forward Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in the October presidential elections, on a programme which Foreign Policy magazine described as being that of ‘Goebbels, not Berlusconi’[1].

In Europe the most important gain for the far right in 2018 was in Italy – the victory of the coalition of the ‘populist’ Five Star movement and the hard-right Lega (League) party, on a programme of virulent hostility to the European Union and to immigration[2]. Although the Lega is formally the junior partner in the coalition, its leader Matteo Salvini (deputy prime minister and interior minister) is really calling the shots, and not the Five Star prime minister Giuseppe Conte. Salvini has driven shocking attacks on immigrants and Roma people, which in turn has multiplied physical attacks on them. In the two months following the election of the coalition, there were 12 shootings, two murders and 33 other physical attacks on immigrants.

Victories of the authoritarian, populist, right in Europe have encouraged both fascist trends inside these parties, and the more-or-less openly fascist movements that lurk in their shadow. In June 2018 former Trump advisor Steve Bannon went to speak at the thousands-strong rally of the Brothers of Italy, which is the direct descendant of the fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI). Just hours after Bannon had spoken, Matteo Salvini was given a rapturous reception. The Brothers have no cabinet posts, but their 18 deputies support the government.

In next May’s European elections, it is likely that the Alternative for Germany (AfD) will win MEPs for the first time. The last period has seen increased publicity about an informal grouping in the AfD referred to as ‘The Wing’ (best rendered as ‘The Faction’ in English), which is its real fascist core. The leading personality in this grouping is Björn Höcke, who enjoys major support from the party’s youth organisation, Young Germany.

An open alliance of the AfD and fascist organisations was seen last August, in riots and demonstrations that followed the murder of a 37-year old man in the East German city of Chemnitz. Following then allegation that the murder was committed by two immigrant men, thousands of fascists descended on the town, followed by the AfD, who marched literally arm-in-arm.

As Martin Ecke reported:

‘During the night of August 26, a 35-year-old German was stabbed to death … a network of radical right groups and football hooligans called for a demonstration to show – in their words – ‘who has the say in this city’. Online footage shows them chasing foreigners through the streets while the police were caught surprised and outnumbered.

The next day local anti-refugee networks and other right-wing groups staged a huge rally with the support of the far right AfD. Some 6,000 people attended (many more than the police had expected), among them many so-called ordinary citizens who expressed their anger about the killing and Germany’s asylum policy. Parts of the demonstration went out of control, illegal Hitler salutes went unpunished, journalists were attacked. At another demonstration on September 1 organized by the AfD and other local right-wing groups prominent AfD politicians marched shoulder to shoulder with neo-Nazi activists, highlighting that the demarcation line between the ‘old right’ and the ‘new right’ has now blurred to the point of disappearing.’[3]

Ecke also reported a decline in anti-Nazi taboos among sections of the anti-immigrant German public:

‘…blatant neo-Nazis have rarely experienced so much support from non-organised (‘ordinary’) citizens before. People apparently don’t mind joining a group of Nazi-saluting thugs if they appear to be fighting for a ‘just cause’. The divisive public atmosphere established during the on-going harsh debate about the legitimacy and success of Germany’s recent asylum policy has unfortunately contributed to lowering the moral threshold for such fraternisations.’

Blurring the fault lines between the populist anti-immigrant right and open fascists was also on show during last July’s ‘Free Tommy Robinson’ demonstration in London. UKIP leader Gerrard Batten spoke alongside European neo-fascist leaders, and European fascists from Generation Identitaire, as well as the US Proud Boys, participated in the march. Batten is clearly bent on wooing Robinson, and has appointed him UKIP’s advisor on the grooming gangs issue, as UKIP tracks to the right, trying to recruit former members of the EDL and BNP to its ranks.

Across Europe we see similar phenomena. The racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant propaganda stream emerging from the White House has encouraged the far right everywhere. But within the far right there is a radicalisation towards street violence and more open association with fascist organisations. Often this is enabled by the decline of the Left and the weakening of the workers movement, after 35 years of neoliberalism.

In January there were several attacks during the ‘Yellow Vest’ anti-austerity demonstrations in France by the fascist group that calls itself ‘The Zouaves’, on contingents of the New Anti-Capitalist Party and other leftists. It would have been unimaginable 10, 20 or 30 years ago that a fascist commando would have dared to launch attacks like this. Now the fascists feel the wind in their sails, and feel the Left is weaker. While the major far right organisation in France, the Rassemblement National (formerly Front National), would not at this stage want to be directly associated with physical attacks on the Left, it is them and those who repeat their arguments, who are responsible for the atmosphere in which these attacks can occur. And the RN has its own highly organised paramilitarised stewarding force.

In Britain too there have been several cases of harassment or attack by fascists – who have attempted to appropriate the yellow jacket as their symbol. Victims have included an RMT picket line at Manchester’s Victoria rail station, and Owen Jones and others on the 12 January anti-austerity demonstration.

A lot of ink has been spilled in discussing whether or not the major organisations of the European far right – the RN, the Lega, the AfD and the Austrian Freedom Party – should be called ‘fascist’. Referencing important works from the 1930s[4]is to a significant extent beside the point. All these organisations have a fascist core. They are the modern analogues of classical fascism, playing the same historical role of marginalising the Left and Centre, and installing in power institutionalised racism and nationalism. Of course they are at a different stage of development to Hitler and Mussolini in power; to be the complete analogues of 1930s fascism would require a significant evolution to the right, probably involving a fusion with existing fascist groups.

As the authors of a new book[5]point out, there was never a fascist ‘revolution’ which overthrew the existing bourgeois state. All fascists in government have come to power, initially at any rate, as part of a coalition with right-wing conservatives. They have always attempted to conquer the state from within, as well as mobilising a mass movement[6]. And they have always used the pre-existing repressive apparatuses of the state, in concert with their own militias and storm-troopers.

The modern bourgeois state is massively armed to keep control of the streets. The United States under Trump has uniformly paramilitarised police forces; a fearsome and utterly repressive judicial system; a Supreme Court under the control of the pro-Trump Republican right; a growing barrage of legal restrictions on trade unions and workers’ rights; and a president prepared to use executive orders at every turn. Why then would the ultra-reactionary Trump project need a force of German-style brownshirts or Italian-style ‘squadist’?

Whatever ones’ view of these debates, the growth of the far right, its increasing levels of violence, and the trend towards the radicalisation of far-right projects is undeniable. The point is to block these developments – the focus of the No Pasaran! Conference in London on March 2.


[1] ‘Not Berlusconi’ in this context means not just a populist neoliberalism.

[2]     The new Italian government has good reason to be critical of the EU and other European powers. It is right to say that Italy and Greece have been lumbered with dealing with most immigrants, especially after Germany closed its doors, and that other European countries have taken hardly any. The Italian government is also right to say that the EU is forcing unrealistic fiscal deficit targets that are unnecessarily prolonging austerity.


[4]        Classically, The Struggle against Fascism in Germanyby Leon Trotsky.

[5]       Creeping Fascism, what it is and how to fight it, 2nd edition, by Neil Faulkner, with Samir Dathi, Phil Hearse, and Seema Syeda is published in March by Public Reading Rooms.

[6]         John Bellamy Foster refers to Carl Schmitt’s concept of Gleichschaltung, or ‘bringing into line’ the different instances of the state from within,

European Conference | No Pasaran – Confronting the Rise of the Far-Right
02 March |  9.30 to 5pm, Bloomsbury Central, 235 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8EP #NoPasaran19

Speakers include:Diane Abbott shadow Home SecretaryKen Loach filmmakerChristine Blower former Gen Sec NUTProfessor Tamas Krausz Hungary, Cornelia Hildebrandt GermanyWalter Baier AustriaDanièle Obono MP France InsoumiseLaura Parker MomentumTariq AliMohammed Kozbar MAB , Ann Pettifor Prime EconomicsLowkeyWilf Sullivan TUCSalma YaqoobVerveine Angeli Union Syndicale Solidaires FranceLindsey German Stop the War Coalition.

For details of the programme and registration, click here.

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