Europe: austerity breeds electoral advances by the far right

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Seventy years after millions perished in the war against Hitler, fascism is on the rise, as witnessed by the results of the May election for the European Union Parliament. France’s National Front (FN), a neo-Nazi party, beat all other French parties and gained 20 seats, for a total of 23. It now rivals England’s Independent Party (UKIP), a nationalist, anti-immigrant party that holds 25 seats. And several overtly ultra-rightists won spots in the European Parliament for the first time.

However, in Greece and Spain — two of the poorest countries — the Left made the most progress. Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left in Greece, won the election and garnered eight seats. Spain’s four-month-old Podemos, initiated from Los Indignatos anti-austerity protests, gained five seats, while the Communist Party-led United Left won six. In Ireland only leftist groups increased their seats.

The big losers were the establishment parties, which lost 11 percent of their parliamentary positions overall and suffered a very low voter turn-out. They are the parties held responsible for the 2008 economic meltdown. They are the politicians who collaborated with the International Monetary Fund to impose punishing austerity on Europe’s working class. The result? An angry thumbs down.

These elections show that fascist and near-fascist parties are on the rise and their ideas are gaining voter support. Today, every European country has one or more Nazi organizations with classic platforms that assault immigrants, Roma (Gypsies), Muslims, feminists, Jews, queers, racial and ethnic minorities, communists, and labor unions.

Leftist organizers have their work cut out for them — counteracting Nazis on every front.

Fascism’s “kinder” face. When Marine Le Pen took control of the National Front from her father in 2011, her mission was to make the party more respectable. Previously a refuge for neo-Nazis, FN toned down its rhetoric and adopted some populist positions in France, such as criticizing free trade and opposing the European Union. In fact, it is hostile to abortion and gay marriage, and endorses anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-communism and state repression.

The party’s platform of “national preference” actually means discriminatory policies that slash social and health services to immigrants. FN proclaims the failure of multiculturalism and demands an end to affirmative action. Its nationalist chauvinism thrives on pitting European countries against each other, which threatens the dominant EU banks who fear the dissolution of the European Union and its Euro currency.

FN pretends to draw a line between itself and the blatant Nazis of Germany’s Udo Voigt, Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik. Similarly, England’s UKIP distances itself from FN, refusing to admit them to a parliamentary caucus that gets € 3.8 million annually from the European Union. UKIP says it bans racist, sexist and homophobic statements, but calls for a rise in defense spending, a reduction in immigration, an end to national (unemployment) insurance, cuts to the National Health System, and decreasing taxes on the rich.

The dishonest messages of UKIP and FN gains them legitimacy in the minds of an aggrieved and suffering public. Rarely do the mainstream media expose them as fascists or Nazis. Cécile Alduy’s article in The Nation stated, “Instead of crying wolf and waving the red flag of fascism (to which the National Front cannot be seriously compared)…” On the contrary! The National Front should be compared to fascism. Nazis in suits and those with brass knuckles work arm in arm, emboldening each other, and swinging public discourse rightward.

Fertile ground. Elections are one strategy used by fascists in the process of building a mass movement. Let’s remember that Hitler gathered enough electoral support in the 1920s to make the Nazis one of the largest political parties in Germany and to get him appointed Chancellor in 1933. To confuse workers, they named their party the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It was neither socialist nor pro labor.

Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who carefully studied Hitler’s rise, wrote in 1932 that fascism is “a mass movement growing out of the collapse of capitalism.” Its goal is to crush the working class and its organizations to ensure that workers, not the banks, bear the brunt of economic crises. The only way for the puny corporate ruling class to defeat the massive working class is to build a mass movement — fascism.

Today, conditions for fascism in Europe and beyond are ripening as the global economy unleashes poverty and desperation everywhere. In the U.S., white supremacist militias have tripled since Obama’s election and the Tea Party is gaining electoral notice. Just this July in Murrieta, Calif. flag-waving citizens angrily blocked three buses of undocumented immigrant mothers and children from entering their city. In Europe and Russia, Nazi bullies roam the streets. Armed fascist militias fight on both sides in the Ukraine, and in Syria for Bashar al-Assad.

In Sweden the Feminist Initiative party won its first seat in the European Parliament in May 2014. Their Roma woman candidate campaigned with the slogan, “Out with racists and in with feminists!” But the Swedish Democrats gained two seats — after banning Nazi uniforms at meetings and changing their logo to a blue daisy. In March, following an International Women’s Day rally, Nazi thugs knifed several women as they left the event.

The EU election shows Sweden’s contradictions — a country proud of its treatment of women and minority groups, but facing a huge wage gap that the far-right blames on immigrants — and women.

Left vs. right polarity. The EU Parliament votes highlight glaring polarization between left and right politics and forces in Western Europe. The Left’s message is that working people must not be made to pay for capitalism’s calamity. Podemos calls for banning lay-offs from profitable companies in Spain, a 35-hour work week, redistribution of wages, guaranteed gender equality, and a return to state-controlled healthcare. Syriza calls for raising Greece’s income tax on the rich, cutting military expenditures, nationalizing banks, gender pay equity and certain rights for immigrants.

The prominent rallying cry of the ultra-right is anti-immigrant bigotry. They oppose open borders between economically strong and weak EU countries and enflame hatred against refugees fleeing war and poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. They thrive on breeding fear and bigotry, especially among small business owners and farmers.

Europe’s sharp political divisions clarify that the conflict is between the ever-richer ruling class and the ever-poorer working class. Centrist parties are being abandoned as incompetent and corrupt enablers of austerity. This includes the Stalinists and socialist democrats who claim to be radical. The split between left and right politics will surely advance the class consciousness of workers and offer opportunity for the Left to educate and organize. Where authentic socialists provide an anti-capitalist analysis of economic disasters and expose fascism as capitalism’s “final solution,” workers respond as did Spanish and Greek voters.

Trotsky noted that fascism can only come to power if it defeats the working class. But, he warned that the time to stop fascism is when it is still small. Now is the time for leftists worldwide to educate about fascism, to pose a concrete socialist alternative, and to engage in intensive united front organizing. Aggressive labor and social justice movements, combined in solidarity, are powerful enough to prevent the further growth of fascism.

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