THE growing strength of far-right politics across Europe demands analysis as well as condemnation. It cannot be wished away.
Veteran Muslim-baiter Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party placed first in last weekend’s Dutch election. This follows success for the fascist-descended Giorgia Meloni in Italy, the strengthening of the AfD in Germany and the real possibility that Marine Le Pen could be the next president of France.
These parties are not classically 1930s-style fascist. They do not seek to overthrow parliamentary democracy even as they probe its weaknesses and subvert its buttresses in state and civil society alike, and they do not promote violence towards the workers’ movement.
But they exploit social grievances which have been accumulating since the 2008 crash if not earlier, and which centrist liberalism has proved incapable of addressing: wage cuts, austerity, job losses, housing shortages and more.
The far right never challenges the doctrines of neoliberalism, with brief and entirely rhetorical exceptions. Instead, it pursues the paradoxical task of renewing the system by draping it in traditional, national-cultural and authoritarian garb, the better to divide working people and head off socialist solutions.
It assigns a key role to anti-migrant rhetoric. It understands that the ruling class does not promote migration out of any love of multiculturalism but with the aim of cheapening the value of labour power in Europe’s economies.
That purpose can in large part be served by other means compatible with the national-populist agenda, including the weakening of trade unionism, the dilution of labour protections in law and other measures to atomise the working class.
Solidarity with asylum-seekers and resistance to racism are key aspects of resisting this agenda.
There is no room for any complacent assumption that Britain will remain resistant to this trend. There are two forms the far-right threat may take.
One is a resurgence of Nigel Farage’s party, now trading as Reform UK. As with Ukip before it, it can make the political weather without securing any significant parliamentary representation.
Its outlook, heavy on culture war tropes and now hyper-articulated by GB News, can tug the “Overton window” of mainstream political framing rightwards.
It can also conjure up a street movement in its support, given an enemy to mobilise against. Suella Braverman’s attempt to launch a common front of the disgruntled against the Palestine solidarity movement, and a supposedly indulgent police force, was a dry run. Its superficially farcical outcome will not discourage attempts at a repetition.
That is where the second form of far-right advance comes in — the likely transformation of the Tory Party into a vehicle of nationalist populism after the next general election. Donald Trump’s seizure of the Republican Party is the template.
After what is likely to be a heavy electoral defeat, the Tory right will thrive off the almost-certain failure of a Keir Starmer government wedded to Treasury orthodoxy to deal with any of the problems driving mass discontent.
An alliance of Farageists, Liz Truss-style free market fanatics, and Braverman’s putative street soldiery would be well placed to build a Trump-style coalition and take over the Tories.
Even Blair faced thunder on the right; recall, with the 2000 fuel duty blockades by angry truckers bringing the country to a standstill and inspiring a Daily Mail-drive to a populist insurrectionary spirit.
A similar confluence of threats and opportunities could open the door to a far-right ascendancy. The key to resisting this is for the left to champion a real alternative to the enduring capitalist malaise and sweep aside the mildewed centrism which only feeds the far right. The fight against the right starts with challenging the bankrupt Starmer leadership of Labour.
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