In space of a few months the old continent has been rocked by a series of reactionary revolts that have spread like wildfire. Parallel to the rise of neo-fascist elements is an inverse movement: the retreat of the center-left and their embracing of neo-liberal, traditionally center-right policy.
The examples of the debacle of the socialist or social-democratic movement are self-evident, be it the humiliating defeat of the French Socialist Party at the municipal level, the incapacity of the left to govern in Italy, the defeat of the German social-democrats for the fourth time in a row or the Labor Party in Britain which is still dealing with the specter of Labor’s past. The once bright red flame of European socialism is but a pale shadow of its former self, a fading pink.
For every defeat the left has succumbed to in the past months, it appears that the extreme-right has made leeway. There is much emphasis put on the “rise of neo-fascism” in Eastern Europe or on the Front Nationale, but this movement is a general one. We are seeing the comeback of neo-fascism in countries that in a not very distant past fought tooth and nail to establish a political system that would banish the gloom of fascism forever… or at least they thought.
In Portugal, Spain and Greece, the countries that not so long ago emancipated themselves from some of the longest and most brutal dictatorships in Europe, the fascist movements, which were their graves before the economic meltdown of 2008 and the austerity measures of these past years, are now reinvigorated. The success of some of these movements translates into political parties with an unprecedented number of seats in their respective political arena, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn.
But something much more unsettling is happening in Europe. The neo-fascist message is getting generalized and some of the extreme-right’s fundamental ideals and principals now flow freely through the main arteries of the European political system.
In the 2012 French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy lost the first round mainly because the Front Nationale had succeeded in capitalizing on the disenchantment of certain sections of the right-wing which had previously voted for him. Before the second round, Sarkozy made a final campaign pitch to those further to his right to rally to him in this final duel between himself and François Hollande.
It wasn’t so much the fact that he tried to lure the votes of the Front Nationale, it was the way in which he did it that, in many ways, changed the face of French politics forever. During the final stretch of the campaign, Sarkozy made one simple pitch to the nationalistic, xenophobic, neo-fascist electorate of Marine Lepen at every rally and in every speech he made: “Don’t be ashamed of being a fascist, your values are my values and beyond that the values of the French Republic.”
Now let’s put this in the context of France which still toils to make peace with the demons of WWII. In the context of post-WWII France, the Gaullist movement (of which Union for a Popular Movement UMP is an heir) was one of the firewalls against fascism on the right. Traditionally, the center-right movement was furiously opposed to any form of recognition of the values of neo-fascist movements within French society. That was the most important heritage of the French resistance against fascism which was shattered by Nicolas Sarkozy’s brand of la droite décomplexer.
Unfortunately this is not a trend that is cornered or quarantined in France. It’s a dynamic that fits perfectly within pro-austerity and neo-liberal agendas.
The rise of fascist movements is inherently linked to the development of austerity measures in Europe. Thus to focus solely on the fascist movements which are mainstream and not on the fascist rhetoric and policies that are advanced by parties that “supposedly” are in complete opposition to the fascist ideology is to miss the real “breakthrough” of the extreme-right.
The potency of a political ideology is not how many seats political parties that claim such an ideology gain or lose, but how the rhetoric and the ideals of such a movement influence the political discourse in general. And one thing is clear in Europe and to a certain extent in most of the world: the infatuation of neo-liberalism and austerity with fascism is shifting the center of gravity of the political spectrum towards the right on a daily basis.
For those that would shun this thesis, its factuality is manifest on the European political scene. It’s manifest in the coalitions between neo-liberal forces and neo-fascist forces throughout Europe, it’s tangible in the recuperation of ideals of the far-right by the neo-liberal movement, the most important being the corporatist element of neo-liberalism, which favors a complete laissez-faire attitude towards multinationals and the unrestricted flow of capital.
Corporatism is the centerpiece of many center-right political platforms nowadays. It goes without saying that corporatism is the economic policy at the foundation of fascism. Fascism in politics is completed only by corporatism in economics and this is the point of junction between the neo-liberal and neo-fascist movements.
Unfortunately it seems that the socialist movement is fading into a political landscape that has become color blind. The revolutionary force of austerity is pushed further and further by neo-fascist movements which, in a very paradoxical way, find their source of attraction in the rebuttal of austerity measures, but couldn’t survive outside of the framework of austerity. The socialist movement, which was once a force that wanted to revolutionize the very structure of global capitalism, has become a reactionary force which only acts in reaction to the palpitations of the neo-liberal right.
The only hope that still resides within the European political spectrum is the establishment of a viable left wing alternative in the form of a coalition of the parties of the European Left that have rejected austerity and the rhetoric of neo-liberal populism. With the European elections around the corner, it seems like more than ever the traditional political divide between center-right and center-left is irrelevant and that the European parliament after the upcoming elections will be a true reflection of European society in the wake of austerity: polarized to the extreme.
To those that ask how are we to stop the rise of the neo-fascist movements? The answer is clear: the fight against austerity is a fight against fascism.
A luta continua.