National Sections of the L5I:

The rise of the right across Europe

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Over the last year far right and fascist parties, like the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, the Front National (FN) in France, the Republikaner Party in Germany and the Lombardy League in Northern Italy, have either grown considerably or achieved significant votes in local and national elections. Dave Beech looks at the factors underpinning these developments and explains what the workers’ movement’s response needs to be.

Last January the French Communist Party called on the population of Clichy-sous-Bois, near Paris, to vote for a candidate other than its own to keep out the Front National (FN).

Quite normal you may think. Yet this candidate himself had recently been expelled from the Communist Party for making vile racist remarks including: “Niggers and Arabs stand like a pack of hyenas in the stairways of the older parts of town”.

The FN still scored 38% in the vote and in an area previously known as the “red belt”!

There are two main factors in the rise of racism across Europe: the disintegration of Stalinism in the east and, paradoxically, the growing economic integration of the west.

When Stalinism collapsed in Eastern Europe bourgeois politicians and journalists were celebrating the fact that the end of Stalinism would mean the flourishing of liberal democracy. But Stalinism’s collapse has unleashed a tide of reactionary nationalism and chauvinism which is increasingly finding organisational form in ultra-right and fascist parties.

This is not because, as many Stalinists claim, the bureaucratic dictatorships were a force for racial harmony and internationalism. They merely suppressed public expression of racism, chauvinism and anti-semitism whilst allowing it to simmer away beneath the surface of public life, and, in the case of some bureaucrats, using it for their own factional purposes.

Now the collapse of the Stalinist economies has injected the crucial element of generalised scarcity and hardship. As long as the working class is unable to find, and fight for, revolutionary answers to the crisis the easy solutions of right wing religious, nationalist and fascist movements will gain a hearing amongst those worst affected by the rigours of capitalist restoration.

The targets of vicious hate campaigns in Eastern Europe have been Jews, Romanies and the migrant workers from third world Stalinist controlled states brought in by the bureaucracy.

“National identity”
In addition, as the various would-be bourgeois classes in East Europe have discovered their “national identity” the numerous national minorities in each country have become targets for vilification and attack.

In Romania the fascist Vatra Romanesca (also known as the Iron Cross), which was involved in the coup attempt in June 1990, now claims 400,000 supporters and has openly called for a “bloody war” against Romanies, Jews and other national minorities. Romanian newspapers like Europa and Romania Mare have started a campaign to restore the image of the fascist leader of Romania during the war, Ion Antonescu. They continually run stories claiming that Jews have “taken over Romania”.

In Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Poland there are variations on this pattern, but in each country far right and fascist groups have been making headway.

The re-emergence of national struggles and rivalries in Eastern Europe has also added impetus to the growth of the far right. The rise of the fascist HoS movement in Croatia is a good example. The failure of the Tudjman government and national guard to successfully prosecute its war against Serbia allowed the military forces of the fascists to stake a claim to being the only efficient defenders of Croatia, bolstered as they were by trainloads of neo-Nazi “soldiers of fortune” from Britain, France and Germany. Though a putative fascist coup in Croatia was stopped when Tudjman jailed its leaders the fascist movement remains strong and could grow if the tide of war turns against Croatia again.

The second factor in the rise of the racist right is the growth of Fortress Europe—the new exclusive immigration and nationality laws promoted by the EC. The FN, the Vlaams Blok and other such rancid outfits have profited most from this.

The EC claims that with the relaxation of internal borders the external borders of the EC with the rest of the world will have to be strengthened. The racist fears of the ruling class were clearly spelt out by Thatcher when she said in an interview with the Daily Mail:

“We joined Europe to have free movement of goods . . . I did not join Europe to have free movement of terrorists, criminals, drugs, plant and animal diseases and rabies, and illegal immigrants . . . How are you going to stop anyone from Bangladesh, from any country, coming for a holiday in Greece, coming right across all borders, no controls, and settling in Britain and we would have no means of finding out?”

Trevi group
The EC proposals centre around the so-called Trevi group of ministers and the Schengen treaty.

The proposals are moving in the direction of preventing the entry of people from Asia and Africa. The aim will be to harmonise policy on visa requirements, restriction of non-EC nationals travelling and working within the EC, and to get a common asylum and refugee policy.

Eight EC countries have already signed the Schengen treaty: Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Benelux countries.

The proposals in the treaty include abolition of internal frontier controls, no checks at airports for flights between Schengen countries, the right of “hot pursuit” by the police, a common policy on visas, common rules on how to deal with asylum requests and the right of EC nationals to travel freely. Inevitably this is based on rigorous external border controls.

There are presently somewhere between 12-15 million non-EC residents in the EC and most of the countries they live in afford them few democratic, political or social rights.

In Germany migrant or guest-workers, as they are called, face a system of institutionalised discrimination. They are barred from a wide range of occupations in the public sector. They can even be refused permission to set up a business or to become self-employed.

Those who are unemployed often end up working in the “informal sector” for fear that they will be deported if they are found to be without a job. They face an extensive system of harassment through the Foreigners Law of 1965 and other measures which gives the state powers including deportation. They face limits on political activity and may not vote or stand for office. Children born to foreign parents in Germany have no right to citizenship.

With the German economy suffering under the strains of the cost of unification, and with the old GDR areas in severe economic crisis, Kohl has quickly played on nationalist sentiments. This in turn has led to a dramatic increase in racist attacks and to an upsurge in overt neo-Nazi activity.

How does the German government respond to this?
It blames the guestworkers and asylum seekers, using the classic argument that the way to deal with racism is to limit immigration.

In the same way, with a recession in process, the Tories have used the immigration issue with the Asylum Bill. As in Germany, racist attacks, already bad, have increased. Kenneth Baker has made a great play of asylum seekers being “economic migrants”.

The last time that argument was used was in the 1930s when Jewish refugees tried to flee Germany due to persecution by the Nazis. Despite all the rhetoric about human rights the bosses are prepared to send back asylum seekers to certain death in their home country.

The organised far right feeds on this racism by the simple tactic of posing as the only ones prepared to speak plainly about the “problem” of immigration and offer a direct and brutal solution: second-class citizenship and repatriation combined with repression and racist attacks to keep non-white communities “in their place”.

In particular the far right feeds off the failure of the left, with its liberal appeals for racial harmony, its gestures towards equal opportunities and anti-racism which are accompanied, in Britain for example, by vicious cuts in local government jobs and services for all workers.

It feeds off national conflicts in Eastern Europe precisely by offering the most radical and direct solutions, and being able to organise a plebeian movement of fighters who show little interest in imperialist-sponsored peace processes and international law.

In this context it is important to understand the difference between fascism and far right conservatism, and their relationship to one another.

Every percentage point FN leader Le Pen scores in the French opinion polls gives respectable right wing figures like Chirac the excuse to publicly pander to racism. But at the same time the vast majority of racist far right politicians remain within the orbit of the “constitutional” parties—usually on their fringes, in organisations like the Tory Party’s Monday Club.

This poses open fascist organisations and their would be führers with a problem.

Fascism is distinct from far right racism and conservatism because it is committed to mobilising masses of middle-class and even politically backward workers to crush the minority communities and the workers’ organisations.

Historically fascism is an option the ruling class turns to only when it has exhausted every other possibility: from parliamentary democracy to presidential and miltiary dictatorship. Thus fascist groups are condemned to a semi-legal existence, organising hard-core racist thugs in morale boosting guerrilla warfare against migrant communities and the left.

The solution to this marginalisation, clearly illustrated by the cases of of the Vlaams Blok, the Republikaner Party and FN, is the creation of “front” parties that are not openly fascist, deny being fascist, and concentrate on whipping up racism though the electoral process.

These become the meeting ground between the right wing fringes of the conservative parties and the hard core fascists.

It is important to realise that whilst these front parties are openly racist, they are not openly fascist. Indeed their hard core fascist leaders have a strategy of avoiding not only fascist regalia and symbolism but also of distancing the party itself from illegal activities, like attacks on workers’ and left wing meetings and on migrant communities.

Thus much of their mass base does not consist of subjective and organised fascists. But by building such a mass base the fascist core seeks to give itself both camouflage and a ready-made periphery for the moment when it decides to make the streets the main focus of its activity.

The struggle against racism and the growth of fascism has to be conducted at many levels. But the key thing is to understand that the capitalist state, in its liberal and even anti-racist guise, is no guarantee against racism and fascism. The police, the courts and parliament are all institutions which sustain and practice racism.

Any public order measures the state may enact to “combat” fascist groups will be used far more systematically against the workers and the left than against the fascists. Anyone who has ever been on an anti-fascist mobilisation in Britain will know that the police are far more concerned to protect the fascists and hammer the reds than they are to act as neutral keepers of public order.

Only workers’ action, where necessary in defiance of the law, can stop racism and halt the rise of fascism.

Against racist and fascist attacks we need to build mass support in the workers’ movement for the right of black communities for self-defence. The workers’ movement should set up its own self-defence groups to protect fellow workers, migrants and to seek out and destroy the fascist gangs.

Wherever the fascists organise we must stop them, building a united front of workers to smash any attempts by them to organise or put out their propaganda. This is the meaning of the slogan “No Platform for Fascists”. Under “peaceful” bourgeois democratic conditions, we are not in favour of denying these democratic rights to bourgeois parties, even far-right groups like the Monday Club. But No Platform is particularly appropriate against the fascist front parties in order to stop them realising their project of building mass fascist movements. We are for No Platforming the FN and its like: the FN’s leadership is fascist, its project is fascist and to stop its realisation it has to be treated like a fascist party.

If the respectable middle class racists who take to the streets behind Le Pen, against the Arabs or against strikes, have to face the risk of ending up in hospital they will not be such a malleable force for the fascists. Likewise the pathetic dregs fascism scoops up from the ranks of working class youth only feel strong when they are dominating the streets and striking physical terror into the black communities.

If the “sub-humans” of the left and the black community can repeatedly inflict casualties and mayhem against fascist marches, paper sales and public meetings then the potential of fascism as a street level force attracting discontented young workers and unemployed will be dissipated.

None of this means we can for a moment cease to wage an ideological war against fascism and racism. But only the anti-capitalist arguments of revolutionary Marxism can do this effectively. Liberalism and social democracy, with their tokenism, their middle class appeals to the good of all humanity cut little ice amongst workers with no jobs and houses.

Stalinists and left Labourites, with their appeals to protect national industry and jobs against foreign competition, have always made poor anti-racists. The case of the French Stalinist mayor of Vitry, who led his “comrades” in the demolition of an immigrant hostel in 1980, proves just how unreliable these political currents are in the struggle against racism.

Our task is to prove to white workers and impoverished middle class people that it is capitalism that is to blame for their plight, not immigrants or ethnic and national minorities.

At the same time we have to mount a concerted fight against every aspect of state racism.

We must fight all immigration controls and laws which enable the state to harass immigrants and black people.

Just as the capitalists use immigrants for cheap labour they will use these laws to stop immigrants organising in the workplace. Bosses are happy to look the other way knowing that workers are illegally working in their factory as long as they accept low wages and poor conditions. But if they dare to combat these sweatshop owners, one phone call can get them all arrested.

We must also fight within the trade union movement against any restriction on membership rights for immigrants. For instance in Austria immigrant members cannot stand for any official positions within the trade unions. Why be in a union if you cannot control its policy? In addition unions must organise special recruitment campaigns amongst black and immigrant workers issuing leaflets and propaganda in the appropriate languages.

The working class has no interest in keeping border restrictions against our fellow workers.

We must fight against any restriction on asylum rights and for no restrictions on the right to travel freely and reside in Europe. We must fight for all who live and work in Europe to have full civil, political and welfare rights.

This variety of struggles is certain to call forth the necessity for united action at different levels, different alliances for different tasks.

The guiding principle in every case should be the construction of the broadest possible alliance of workers and black community organisations for the task in hand. That means unity based on action, not on verbal opposition to this or that measure.

But above all we need a revolutionary workers’ party capable of linking every struggle, every committed militant, in the fight against the source of racism and fascism—capitalism itself.