Friday, April 20, 2007

Eurofascism- the growth of the extreme right in Fortress Europe

Eurofascism- the growth of the extreme right in Fortress Europe

By Joe Carolan. Racism and Anti Racism Module. Masters of Equality April 2004.


What the far right deny- The Holocaust murdered:

Six million Jews

Two million Poles

520,000 Roma

473,000 Russian Prisoners of War

100,000 disabled or mentally ill people

Tens of thousands of socialists, communists, gay people,

trade unionists and others

In 1945, the world was shocked by the discovery of Hitler’s “Final Solution” for the Jewish people, the Holocaust of the Concentration Camps of Auschwitz, Dachau, Belsen and Treblinka. The slogan “Never Again!” became a rallying cry, yet nearly sixty years to the day, racist far right parties are increasing their vote and influence throughout Europe, and have actually become coalition partners in the governments of Italy and Austria. The parties of the extreme right have learned how to court respectability, trading in the jackboot for the black suit. However, beneath this polished media friendly exterior lies an assault on the rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and people of colour, a strategy which has increasingly set the agenda for mainstream political parties to respond to. This essay seeks to first examine the rise of these racist far right parties in their national contexts, and how they use fears and myths around race, culture, immigration, Islamophobia and economic crisis to recruit and grow. It will also examine different anti-racist strategies to counter their growth, identifying certain strengths and weaknesses of political approaches in different nations. For, in many ways, the success of the far right is partly attributable to the failure of the left to take a united and determined anti racist and pro immigrant stand- this essay will take a critical look at how social democratic and Labour parties in many European countries have buckled under the pressure from the far right and conceded the need for tighter immigration controls and a Fortress Europe.

The Rise of the Far Right

Between 1945 and the late 1970s, the European far right was confined to the margins of political life, barely registering electoral percentages in the single digits. This began to change with the impact of global recession in the late seventies, which saw millions thrown on the dole queues. When the economies of Europe had been expanding in the sixties, demand for immigrant labour had been insatiable, and major countries such as France, Britain and West Germany encouraged either guest workers from poorer countries or immigrants from their old ex-colonies to help build up the ”motherland”. Now, in times of recession, these immigrants proved a useful scapegoat for problems that were caused by economic crisis. Thus, for a new emergent far right, shortages in jobs and housing were not caused by the system, but by immigration. This period saw the growth of parties such as the Front National in France, and the National Front in Britain.

“The ideas put forward by racism and fascism seem, to at least some of the working class, to offer solutions to the consequences of economic crisis, to bad housing, unemployment and falling living standards. The pressures that lead people towards racism and fascism are real material pressures. To destroy the ideas, we must remove their material base”

C. Sparks, Never Again! The Hows and Whys of Stopping Fascism (London, Bookmarks, 1980), p91

Following the collapse of Stalinism across Europe in the period 1989 to 1992, confusion about the way forward for the left was accompanied by resurgent nationalisms in the East. The disintegration of the Eastern Bloc regimes also had consequences for the sizable Communist Parties in France and Italy, leading to splits and confusion amongst their working class supporters. This disorientation on the left allowed a vacuum to open up and be filled by the hard right

Dave Renton, in his 1999 work “Fascism- Theory and Practice” (Pluto Press, London), traces the origins of the modern breakthrough of the far right back to 1984.

“The decisive turning point came with the European elections in 1984. The French Front National benefited from favourable media coverage, which followed its successful electoral alliance with the conservative right in the local elections…

Jean-Marie Le Pen was already a nationally prominent figure, but the FN’s unprecedented success came as a shock. The party won 11 per cent of the vote with ten members elected as Euro MPs. The FN became respectable and moved into the political mainstream”

Since that time, Le Pen shocked the world when he came second place in France’s Presidential elections in May of 2002, taking over 17.9% of the national vote. In the recent local elections of March 2004, it held a core vote of 13.8%. Le Pen pioneered the way for similar political formations in Belgium, Britain, Austria, Italy and Germany, with both the Allianze Nazionale and the Freedom Party joining coalition governments in Italy and Austria respectively.

Who are the extreme right in Europe?

ITALY: Gianfranco Fini is the leader of Italy’s Allianze Nazionale, a self described “post fascist” party that transformed itself from the unashamedly fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano in 1992. Fifteen months before the June 2001 elections, Fini organised the MSI celebration of the 70th anniversary of Mussolini’s march on Rome, with fascist salutes and marching groups chanting Mussolini’s slogans “Believe, Obey, Fight!” It won over 12% of the vote, its manifesto called for a halt to all immigration and for a defence of Italian culture. Joining with the separatist Northern League and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Forward Italy), it formed its first coalition government in 1994 and again in 2001. Fini’s success was of huge historic significance, as argued by Martin Lee-

“Although short lived, the participation of the MSI had huge implications, not just for Italy but for all of Europe. It broke a long standing anti-fascist taboo and established a precedent for conservative politicians, who had previously shunned alliances with the racist ultra right. A momentous political threshold had been crossed, which made governing coalitions with neo-fascists disguised as right wing populists more acceptable…in the future”. M. Lee, The Beast Reawakens (London: Little, Brown and Company, 1997), p374.

AUSTRIA: Across the Alps another fascist found his way to government.

Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party (FPO) got a massive 27% of Austria’s national vote in October of 1999, in a campaign of naked xenophobia that saw FPO posters promising that “We guarantee to stop the foreigner’s takeover”.

In the election, Haider praised Hitler’s “orderly employment” policy- and claimed that the Concentration camps were mere “punishment” camps for “communists and criminals”. He called an assembly of ex- concentration camp Waffen SS “honourable men”, with his chief cultural advisor Andreas Mulzer claiming that

“The myth of the six million was institutionalised by the greatest show trial in history at Nuremberg”. On election, the government closed many multicultural arts projects and venues, and immigration and asylum procedures were made more difficult. The Freedom Party’s rhetoric constantly equates immigrants and asylum seekers with criminality- when entering government, Haider claimed that there were “far too many illegal immigrants, criminals and drug dealers- none of them have a place here in Austria. This has to be our policy- to eliminate them uncompromisingly” (Haider quotes from C. Bambery, Stopping the Nazi Menace (London: Larkham P+P, 2001), p37.)

FRANCE: “Trois millions chomagers, trois millions immigres”, three million unemployed, three million immigrants, is one of the Front National’s rallying cries, with clear echoes of Hitler’s slogan “Six million unemployed, six million Jews”. Le Pen was prosecuted when in September 1987 he called the Holocaust “a mere detail of history”, and when asked to explain just how he would deport millions of Arabs and Africans living in France, laughed and said “in trains if necessary”. Although yet to participate in national government, the FN has come to power in many local councils, such as in the town of Vitrolles in 1997. It immediately fired 37 youth workers, then physically attacked and closed the town’s multicultural centre. Controversially, it offered a £500 birth bonus for “French” (meaning white) babies, which the first three families refused before the national government declared it illegal. The FN will not house, educate or medically treat immigrants- it calls for state provision for French people only. Recently it has led the campaign against the Hijab which saw huge sections of the French Left confused, giving in to a dangerous Anti-Muslim backlash of Islamophobia. Hassan Mahamdallie provides a detailed history of Le Pen and the FN in his paper Racism, Fascism and the Left (International Socialism Journal 95, London, July 2002).

GERMANY: In Germany, the fragmentation of the German Democratic Republic was followed by a Reunification that saw many of the Eastern state owned industries privatised or shut down. Unemployment soared to the present figure of four million, and many young people in the former East Germany looked to the extreme right in desperation. In August 1993, the world was shocked when Neo Nazi skinheads burned a Turkish hostel, killing four children. Since then, dozens of far right groups have emerged, but nationally the German far right movement is still ideologically divided. The two biggest groups, the NPD or National Democrats and the Republikaner Party, scored 2 million votes in the Euro elections in 1989. However, the subsequent rise in violent street attacks on black and Jewish people was halted by massive street demonstrations, which has put these groups on the defensive since.

BELGIUM: In the Belgian local elections of October 2000, the far right Vlaams Blok (VB) scored over 33% of the vote in Antwerp, becoming the biggest party in Mechelen, and gaining double figures across Flanders. They demand “Independence and an end to immigration. We need immediate repatriation for those who do not integrate with Belgian culture”. Quoted by C. Bambery in Stopping the Nazi Menace, p40.

BRITAIN: In June 2001, the British National Party got 12,000 votes in the Northern English town of Oldham, with its leader Nick Griffin getting elected on the local council with 6552 votes, 16% of the total vote.In nearby Burnley, the BNP gained another council seat with 4151 votes- 11% of the poll. That night, the home of Oldham’s Asian mayor was firebombed, and street fighting Nazis attacked Asian shops and houses. When local people attempted to defend themselves, the media attacked them as “Asian rioters”, with New Labour’s Home Secretary David Blunkett blaming the BNP’s growth on young Asians “refusing to integrate with British culture”. The BNP targets areas of deprivation and poverty with immigrant and asylum seeker populations, with the slogans “Rights for Whites”and “Britain for the British”. It now has 6 councillors in Britain and is currently organising branches in the North of Ireland. Its leader Nick Griffin claims-

“The asylum seeker issue has been great for us. We have had a phenomenal growth in membership. It has been quite fun to watch government ministers and Tories play the race card in far cruder terms than we would ever use. This issue legitimises us” (quoted from Anti Nazi League website at

Ineffective Anti Racist Strategies

Such growth in openly racist parties provides a challenge for the left and the anti racist movement- clearly some strategies are not succeeding if these parties are getting sizable votes and building an electoral base in many deprived communities. Traditionally, it was the European social democratic and labour parties who were the champions of the poor and immigrant workers. However, in most EU countries, these parties have ditched their socialist founding principles, adapting themselves to the market friendly politics of neo-liberalism and Fortress Europe. Working class voters in Austria, France, Britain and Germany feel betrayed by “their” party that seems to care more about the needs of big business than it does the unemployed. Many of these parties respond to the growth of the far right by accepting the “fact” that stricter immigration controls are needed. Nonna Mayer attacks what she calls ‘the political cowardice of mainstream parties’-

“Both left and right wing governments have borrowed from Le Pen’s rhetoric by implementing tougher immigration policies. However, this strategy proved to be counter productive… Neither the expulsion of illegal immigrants via chartered planes, laws restricting entry of foreigners to France nor the reform of the nationality code in 1993 have stopped the Front National’s progression. As Le Pen likes to say- In the long run it will bring more supporters- people prefer the original to the copy”

Nonna Mayer- New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Movements in Established Democracies (New York, 1998)

Currently, Ireland faces a divisive referendum that threatens to change our citizenship laws from ones based on land to ones based on blood. Several years ago, only Aine Ni Chonaill’s extremist Immigration Control Platform advocated this position. However, the ICP has succeeded by setting the agenda for Michael Mc Dowell’s Progressive Democrats. The danger lies that this referendum will now legitimise the politics of race, as have similar strategies of accommodation in continental Europe.

Similarly, most of the large reformist parties on the left accept immigration controls as a “necessity”. Here they buy into the concept of the nation state as being the fundamental political unit that a movement can engage with. In this era of corporate led globalisation, many anti capitalist groups argue that transnationally there is free movement for capital but not for people. Thus, in many countries it is organisations of the radical and revolutionary left who are active in campaigning against ALL immigration controls under the slogan “No Borders, No Frontiers- Immigrants are Welcome Here”.

The French group Sans Papiers (Without papers) is a militant asylum seekers group that fights deportations through Church occupations, and played a leading role in arguing for the “No Borders” position adopted by the European Social Forum in Paris in November 2003. In Ireland this position is now being argued during the Mayday European Presidency and the run up to Mc Dowell’s referendum by groups such as Globalise Resistance, Another Europe is Possible, the Grassroots Network and the Campaign against the Racist Referendum. They argue that immigrants are not a drain but a boost to the economies they come to, and that economic problems such as unemployment or health and housing waiting lists existed long before black or Asian faces were a common sight on our city streets. (See websites for respective positions-, )

Beyond Moralism- anti racism on the streets

There is also a marked failure of national government sponsored campaigns that stress the Universalism of humanity, of the “One race, human race” variety. Liberal anti racists believe that a combination of anti racist education, multicultural events and legal protections will be sufficient to counter the growth of the far right. There is a danger that by JUST focusing on these methods, they leave unchanged and unchallenged the desperate economic inequalities that allow racism and fascism to emerge.

Here there is a marked difference in strategies pursued on “street level” by liberal and radical anti racists. In France, the main anti racist group is SOS Racisme, whose slogan is “Ne touche pas mon ami” (Don’t touch my friend). The group had some success in organising carnivals and was supported generously by the French Socialist Party. However, this party when in government implemented policies that led to huge poverty and joblessness in the city ghettoes. Education and carnivals weren’t enough- the Front National argued that unemployment was caused by immigration and filled the ideological vacuum. Radicals argue that anti racists need to show that unemployment is caused by crisis in economic system- if the Nazis are rats then we need to catch the rats, but also deal with the sewers that produce them.

Liberals and radicals also disagree on whether fascists should have the right to organise meetings, marches and rallies. It must be remembered that historically, Fascists have used democracy to destroy it. In confronting groups such as the BNP or the National Front, there is often a huge debate between “Freedom of speech” liberals and “No Platform for Fascists” radicals. It must be remembered that these groups are not just racist- in their own words, they seek to “control the streets” (Josef Goebbels) and destroy trade unions, the parties of the left, liberals, all independent organisations.

Historically, the greatest failure of the left was in Germany in 1933, where the combined votes and membership for the Social Democrats and the Communists were still larger than Hitler’s Nazi Party. Revolutionaries such as Leon Trotsky; himself a Jew, argued that there should be a united front of the left parties to organise mass strikes, counter marches and physical resistance against Hitler, yet the left remained fatally divided. Hitler, in his Mein Kampf preface, argued that “Only one thing could have stopped our movement- if our adversaries had, from the first day, smashed our nucleus”. Instead it was the left who were smashed by his Stormtroopers.

Today in France, SOS Racisme does not confront Le Pen’s marches, organising rallies and carnivals miles away from where his rallies occur.

The lessons of unity were remembered in Britain, where in Cable Street in London in1936, Mosley’s anti-Semitic British Union of Fascists was beaten off the streets. Jews joined with Gentiles, Communists with the Labour Party, trade unionists with the unemployed against the common enemy. The left won the economic and political arguments about unemployment and poverty and succeeded in curtailing a fascist movement in Britain.

This unity was remembered again in 1977, at the battle of Lewisham, where the then influential National Front had its march cut in two by a United Front of left parties, trade unions, black, Asian and Jewish groups. Calling itself the Anti Nazi League, it argued that the key to defeating the racists and fascists was mass activity-in addition to the street counter demonstrations, “Rock Against Racism” united punks with reggae musicians, crating a militant anti racist culture epitomised by the ska two tone movement against the National Front. It could be argued that the successful ANL campaign in the late 1970s helped to develop the vibrant multicultural society Britain is today. (see “History” section at the Anti Nazi League website).


It is difficult in an article of some three thousand words to do this topic justice.

An anti racist movement for the 21st century is desperately needed, especially in the face of the growth of the far right. This movement needs to organise mass activities such as carnivals and demonstrations, but it must also take up the political and economic arguments around which the far right are mobilising. Myths about asylum seekers, racist media and Holocaust Denial must also be continuously challenged.

Most importantly, the lessons and warnings from history must be remembered and relearned- fascism is a danger to us all, not just to its scapegoats-

First they came for the Jews-

I did not speak out because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the Communists-

I did not speak out because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the trade unionists-

I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist

Last they came for me- and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Paster Niemoller, victim of Nazis


Colin Sparks, Never Again! The Hows and Whys of Stopping Fascism (London, Bookmarks, 1980)

Nonna Mayer- New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Movements in Established Democracies (New York, 1998)

Chris Bambery, Stopping the Nazi Menace (London: Larkham P+P, 2001)

Dave Renton, Fascism- Theory and Practice (Pluto Press, London, 1999)

Martin Lee, The Beast Reawakens (London: Little, Brown and Company, 1997)

Hassan Mahamdallie et al, Racism, Fascism and the Left

(International Socialism Journal 95, London, July 2002)

Anti Nazi League website at

Another Europe website at