Australia has become a popular destination for far-right wannabe demagogues on speaking tours. From openly misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, racist Milo Yiannopolous and Lauren Southern to reactionary nationalists Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon, each comes with their special brand of snake oil. Rightwing politicians and commentators fawn over them, media give them airplay, local fascists come out for them and police use brutal force against the protests. This parade of visitors is an ominous sign of a well-resourced far right attempting to cohere a global following. It makes a favourable environment for fascists.
The re-emergence of open fascist gatherings began in early 2015, when the far-right Reclaim Australia tried to establish a movement. Three-and-a-half years later, Reclaim Australia has gone quiet. However hard-right and fascist groups came out of this incipient movement or have formed since, and they are organising.
Though splintered and weak, these neo-Nazis are active and preparing for an imagined day of glory. Groups like the Lads Society and Antipodean Resistance train for combat. They’ve attacked anti-fascists, disrupted solidarity rallies for refugees and Palestinians and raided local councils supporting First Nations’ demands to dump January 26 as the date for “Australia Day” celebrations. They organise and support each others’ rallies, like True Blue Crew’s Australia Pride March. They even act as security for international visitors, such as Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.
Consistent anti-fascist organising has kept them small and fragmented. But Trump and his global cohorts pump their adrenalin, boost their confidence and give them a voice. And they enjoy police protection.
The visit of neo-Nazi Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, in November is sure to excite the local führers.
A world destabilised. The aim of the über-right and fascists is to win over angry people terrified about the future. They offer scapegoats to blame and the fairy tale of a once white and great nation to “reclaim.” Their purpose is to direct anger away from the real problem, the capitalist system. They act as a smokescreen for a ruling class very nervous about working class rage turning into revolt.
Here’s what people are not supposed to see: The market economy is disintegrating. The cause is its inbuilt contradictions — the most fundamental being, as the Communist Manifesto puts it, “the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production.” Booms crash under the weight of overproduction — too many goods and not enough consumers —, followed by recession and depression. Each debilitating bust leaves capitalism weaker. The 2007 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was the longest and worst since the 1930s Depression, and the system isn’t recovering.
For a generation accustomed to some certainty, the instability is baffling and scary. Older Australians recall a time when most had secure work and a roof over their heads. Government payments, when unemployed or incapacitated, were considered a right. From the early 1970s, healthcare and education were free. Public funding sustained many public and community services, from free, efficient provision of water, electricity, gas and emergency services to programs for mothers and people with special needs. These were won through union-led struggle.
Wealth transfusion. But when profit rates plummet, as they have over decades, capitalists take it all back. Neoliberalism is about siphoning public money into private coffers — government bailouts, privatisation, tax cuts and loopholes, and so forth.
It’s theft, and it started well before Generations Y and Z were born. So their life experiences and expectations are grimly different. According to the Deloitte 2017 Millennial Survey, underemployment is the highest in 40 years. One-third of young people are jobless or underemployed. The Centrelink regime makes survival a daily hell. Eighty percent expect to never own a home. But an investment-driven housing market — which keeps rents high and tenancy insecure — makes renting a perpetual nightmare. The social consequences of these statistics are far-reaching and staggering. BeyondBlue reports, for example, that one in seven young Australians experience a mental health condition and one in fourteen an anxiety disorder.
The older generation is suffering, too. Single women over 55 are the fastest growing group facing homelessness. Discrimination in the labour market, which includes inequality in pay and superannuation entitlements, no retirement savings and ineligibility for the age pension are forcing more women, aged 55 – 65, onto the streets. Despite, Prime Minister Morrison’s assurance that the pension age won’t be raised to 70, it has already gone up to 67. There is absolutely no guarantee that people will be spared a lengthened working life, either in very insecure work or on Newstart.
The struggle to cope with the ever-rising costs of essentials — from food and heating to healthcare and education — crosses generations. And just as workers are losing their livelihoods, so is the middle class (small business). Go through any town or suburb, and empty shops are everywhere.
The result? Oxfam recently revealed that 82% of the world’s wealth created in 2017 went to the richest 1%; the poorest half got nothing. Since 2008, billionaires in Australia have multiplied from 14 to 33 — including 8 just last year! Inequality today is worse than it has ever been.
Hanging onto power. Eighty years ago, German and Italian capitalism was reeling from World War I. Workers in heavy industry were striking and peasants were occupying large estates, forcing major concessions from big business and landowners. Big capital could no longer rely on parliamentary democracy to restore the “peace.” The capitalist class was divided on how to deal with it. Heavy industry (mining, iron and steel) and the bankers backing it were most acutely hit by the revolts. They chose to finance fascist street gangs — Hitler’s Blackshirts and Mussolini’s Brownshirts — to bring the rebellious workers back into line.
This isn’t the situation yet in Australia, the U.S. or Europe. But the working class across these countries is becoming more desperate and angry. So too is the middle class. But, unlike workers, this class in the middle does not have the autonomous power to take on the 1%. It will jump to whichever side looks stronger.
Workers are still restrained by the belief that parliamentary democracy can make the system “fair again” — a delusion fuelled by the trade union movement’s Labor-aligned officialdom. But it’s increasingly fragile, and one day it will burst. The 120,000 fed-up unionists whose march shut down Melbourne last May made this apparent. The organisers tried to orchestrate an electoral cry for Labor, but the voices were half-hearted. Many placards demanded the right to strike. “Union Power!” could be heard throughout the city.
Fascist versus far-right. Far-right ideologues, like Nigel Farage (ex-leader of the UK Independent Party, UKIP), Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson, play on people’s fears, especially those of the middle class. Their xenophobic, racist scapegoating of Muslims and immigrants of colour whips up violent bigotry and legitimises fascist ideas, thus sewing seeds for a fascist movement. But does this make them fascist? No.
In its 2016 political resolution, Standing on the Edge of Something Big, the Freedom Socialist Party characterises fascism as more than a vicious ideology: “Fascism arises when capitalists fear that revolution is on the horizon and they have no alternative but to turn to a jackbooted mass movement, with the [middle class] in the front lines. The purpose of this movement is to spearhead a political counterrevolution, to crush any and all working class activism and organisations and ultimately all democratic institutions.”
Farage, Dutton, Hansen and even their hero Donald Trump are agents of capitalist business as usual: there’s not yet an impending revolution to put down. They’ve ascended through bourgeois parliamentarism, and they serve its role of maintaining a peaceful equilibrium for capitalism — which periodically involves passing repressive laws limiting the right to organise in workplaces and the streets. They are not leading a movement to destroy bourgeois democracy, nor are they proselytising a fake anti-capitalist program, as Hitler’s “National Socialists” did. There’s no sign that a section of the capitalist class has turned to fascism and is backing them. If, faced with revolt, the ruling class decides that the working class must be crushed and democracy torn down, these functionaries might fall into goosestep. But they are not calling for this now.
This clarity is crucial, because we’re in a class war. The working class needs to know what we face now and what we could in the future if we fail to unite. Divisions in the socialist and union movements allowed the real fascists to take power 80 years ago.
PUSH for a united front! Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women have organised with other anti-fascists to stop neo-Nazis every time they’ve emerged in the past thirty years, both in Australia and the United States. Three-and-a-half years ago, we helped found Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) as a united front to halt the far-right and Nazi resurgence. However, CARF was undermined by the undemocratic, sectarian behaviour of Socialist Alternative (SA), which transformed it into a loose, controllable action campaign. FSP, RW and others tried to correct these issues. We left CARF when SA’s opposition to the united front and any serious orientation to broaden beyond the Left and bring in unions became clear.
PUSH! Organising and Educating to Build an Anti-fascist United Front (PUSH!) is a nucleus of groups and individuals working to unify all who are targets of fascists and the far right. This is the only way to defeat the threat we face.
PUSH!’s callout explains: “Our vision is of a united front in which politically divergent groups and individuals cohere around points of agreement and work together respectfully, collaboratively and uncompromisingly in the interest of workers and all the oppressed. A united front is about marching with our own banners and slogans, and striking together.” Democracy, accountability and mutual defence are paramount.
It is reaching out to the organisations of everyone under fascist attack — First Nations, Jews and Muslims, immigrants, refugees and all people of colour, women, LGBTIQ and disabled people, socialists and anarchists. Unions are crucial, because this movement is where workers are organised. They hold the potential for working class power and, for this reason, they are first in fascism’s line of fire.