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December 8, 2014
December 8, 2014

Fascism returns to Europe: Thoughts on the features of an international antifascist movement

Author: Dimitris Kousouris Translator: x-pressed
Source: iskra  Category: Antifascism
This article is also available in: eles
Fascism returns to Europe: Thoughts on the features of an international antifascist movement

POSTER OF THE FRENCH COMMUNIST PARTY, 1936
Against this, vote communism

At the end of a long transition period, which began more than a quarter of a century with the fall of the Berlin Wall, we can now discern the features of this historical period, restore the dialectics of duration and acknowledge the relationship between the era, the period, and the juncture. The period that began in 1989-1990 and was presented as the end of History and the irreversible triumph of neoliberal capitalism has now reached its end. Since 2001, or according to others in 2008, we have been in one of those “interstices” between what no longer exists and what has not yet happened [1].

In spite of the deep crisis of capitalism and of the instability of the global system and of local or regional domination structures, the organised labour movement and its, direct or indirect, political representatives are scattered, without direction, unable to influence decisively the balance of power. On the other hand, the forces of counter-revolution [2], under different names and suits, are gaining ground faster and faster. Slowly but steadily, we observed the first participation of neo-fascists in European governments, first in 1994 in Italy, the birthplace of historical fascism, and then in Austria in 2000. In continuation, we saw this development accelerating, especially from the 2008 crisis, with the electoral victory of the National Front in France, the rapid rise of neo-fascist and neo-Nazi organisations in the continent’s new periphery, like in Hungary, Greece, and more recently in the Ukraine with their participation in the provisional government.

It could be argued here, that the hypothesis of a coherent and continuous relationship between the democratically elected first Berlusconi government (with the participation of Fini and Bossi) and the neo-fascists and neo-Nazis of Svoboda and PravySektor contains abstractions and simplifications and, as a such, disregards or ignores the singularities of each case. My initial hypothesis, however, is that, by connecting all these —at first sight— dissimilar movements and forces, we obtain an overall picture of the nature of modern European politics. Until recently, the obsession of many left-wing intellectuals and militants with interwar fascism and the refined classifications of its different forms and variants has been useful for remembering and understanding last century’s tragedies and heroisms. However, this obsession now also functions as a distorting mirror that causes a kind of collective myopia -or even blindness- towards the parallel rise of fascist forces in different parts of the old continent.

Certainly, the National Front was not born under the same conditions, neither was it based on the same traditions, of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece, of Jobbik in Hungary, of the Party of Progress in Norway or even the Austrian Freedom Party [3]. However it is also true that the extreme right variations -“populist”, “xenophobic”, “nationalist” or “neo-fascist”- are simultaneously gaining ground. The responsibility of naming and staying this reactionary turn that is threatening to bury the social and democratic achievements of the labour movement once and for all, has now become a much more urgent task than classifying it according to the typology of historical fascism.

Racism is steadily winning over Europe

I will start with a snapshot. March 1, 2014: A small “Nazi International” gathers in Rome, the Italian Forza Nuova, Golden Dawn, the British National Party and Spanish Democracia Nacional. The main topic of the meeting is solidarity with Ukraine’s nationalist opposition and the neo-fascists of Svoboda [4]. At the same time, a little further south, fortress Europe is growing. Detention centres for migrants, mass killings of refugees and migrants along the borders of the EU, national and supranational monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, attacks on fundamental social and political rights are forming a reality so ubiquitous that manages to escape our attention.

antifa-ispanikos-emfylios
Antifascist poster of the Spanish Civil War: “I am cleaning our country of fascists”

Since, with the fall of the regimes of the “real socialism”, western democracies free from the “red threat”, managed to do away with many social and political achievements that marked the victory of the anti-fascist alliance in WWII. Thus, in the political sphere, different versions of neo-fascism have been gradually integrated into the political system of almost all EU countries [5]. Even if until recently this integration process was accompanied by campaigns of “domestication” of the so-called “right-wing populism”, now, under the weight of the consequences of the capitalist crisis, European leaders did not even hesitate to openly support the Ukrainian neo-Nazis, in order to claim vital space for the European and American capital. This first geopolitical conflict in the territories of the former Soviet Union marks the end of neoliberal capitalist rampant invasion eastward.

Since 2008, the financial crisis has intensified the tendency of the North American and European capitalism to reduce as much as possible both the wage and the non-wage related labour cost, in order to remain competitive against the emerging regional capitalism. The neoliberal model that allowed western capitalism to emerge as a winner out of the 1970s crisis seems no longer able to cope with the pressure of the current crisis. The remains of the labour movement’s democratic and social rights are the last real barriers to the frantic hunt of profit maximisation.

After a first wave of propagation and normalisation of xenophobic stereotypes and rationales, racism is gradually gaining ground in Brussels and Strasbourg, where bureaucrats and EU experts are adopting “high-tech” surveillance mechanisms, the new penitentiary system and anti-immigrant policies. The Islamophobia of the American government and Sarkozy’s or Berlusconi’s anti-Roma racism feed from Putin’s reactionary, nationalist and homophobic turn and they all together mark the hegemony of reactionary ideas. After all, the political tactics of the governing Right, in its various versions, cannot be concealed. According to a recent study by EPP (European People’s Party) think-tanks, the traditional Republican Right is now invited, in light of the emergence of “xenophobic and eurosceptic populism”, to adopt some of the basic demands of the extreme-right in issues such as migration and repression, like Sarkozy did towards the National Front in France. The different versions of the extreme right, be it populist-democratic, neo-fascist or neo-Nazi, are thus acting as levers for the implementation of neoliberal economic policies and for the strengthening of national and supranational monitoring and repression mechanisms. This diversity highlights the complementary, rather than competitive, nature of the European Right’s different components. In this respect, the experience of the Greek 2012 electoral campaign is significant: an openly racist campaign orchestrated by the major media and the two parties in the coalition government (PASOK and ND) that stigmatised HIV-positive women and migrants as “health bombs” paved the way for the neo-Nazis explosive electoral rise.

The ghosts from the age of the extremes return 

Based on the experience of the 20th century, we know that the capitalist domination was consolidated using brutal and overt violence first at the periphery countries. Then, as the contradictions exacerbated, with the help of many small- and large- scale wars and more sophisticated forms of governance, suppression, and destruction, violence reached unprecedented levels of brutality within European metropoles. Today the ghosts of the age of the extremes, of the cultural fracture (Zivilisationsbruch) [6] return. Since September 11, the military interventions in Afghanistan, the second war in Iraq, the food crisis of 2007-2008, the ongoing economic crisis and the wars in Gaza, Syria, and the Ukraine, describe step by step a similar development.

In the light of successive migratory waves caused by the NATO military intervention or its member states, the EU has created Frontex. The military arm of fortress Europe, Frontex is a huge mechanism of bureaucrats, experts, and border guards with a mission to build walls, detention camps, and sea patrols… At the same time, governments and right-wing parties within each country undertake coordinated legitimisation campaigns of these new European Blackshirts, a border police that has already committed more than 20,000 murders in less than a decade [7]. Concurrently, under the pressure of various extreme “populist” right-wing parties, European governments adopt racist measures against the Roma people, the homeless, the migrants, or cover the actions of “armed militias” like those that Berlusconi and Bossi tried to legalise in Italy in 2009, or like the Hungarian Guard of Jobbik, the assault battalions of Golden Dawn and its Cypriot sister organisation ELAM, or the deadliest of them all (see the burning of the Labour Centre in Odessa and a number of other crimes) paramilitary battalions of Pravy Sektor and other fascist gangs of Ukraine.

The EU leadership no longer hesitates to openly support even nazi and fascist forces in order to secure its dominance. As during the crisis of 1930s, the economic and political oligarchies of the Europe opened Pandora’s box with the most reactionary, counter-revolutionary, anti-enlightenment, nationalist, patriarchal traditions, convinced that they will continue to have sufficient means to control them and manipulate them. The disintegration of the public health system, the workplaces of terror, the concentration camps, the tens of millions of unemployed, migrants and refugees, the interception operations of “barbarian invasions” in the Mediterranean or in the streets of European cities, all these show us that the governments´ reaction to social and political struggles is becoming increasingly violent, while the action of the fascist gangs and repression mechanisms are increasingly and directly reaching physical extermination. The 34 dead victims of May 2 in Odessa, the murder of Clement Meric in France last June and Pavlos Fyssas in Greece in September, remind us that our life and our existence are at stake.

So, if we try to understand the past starting from the questions that the present raises, and not vice versa, we can see that twenty years after the end of the Cold War, fascism returns to Europe. There is no longer the need to keep searching for the analogies or differences with the past, avoiding the questions and the urgent challenge  of our time. We should stop wondering whether and the extent to which the evens happening before our eyes correspond to our idea of historical fascism and start acting for the organisation of an international anti-fascist movement, able to stop this violent reactionary turn before it’s too late.

Practival priorities of an international antifascist movement

Instead of conclusion, I will suggest some starting positions regarding the nature and the practical priorities of an international anti-fascist movement, in an effort to contribute to a discussion that needs to start. We are witnessing the liberal parliamentary democracies becoming fascist. The days of the capitalist “pensée unique” (“single thought”) are coming to an end, but the challenge to the “post-political treaty” for European democracies comes from the right end of the political spectrum. If different versions of historical fascism were fuelled by the decline and degeneration of parliamentary regimes, the fascist parties used, wherever they came into power, the legal and institutional path of elections and participation in coalition governments. Moreover, according to a classical Marxist approach, the degree to which urban parliamentary regimes become fascist is calculated based on the extend of lawless spheres within which the oligarchy imposes its dominance on the working majority defying the typical limitations of constitutional guarantees and of individual or social rights [8].

It is an urgent political challenge to prevent political life from turning fascist, which is intrinsic to the neoliberal project for Europe. The lawless zones are multiplying and spreading from Melilla, Ceuta, Lampedusa, Pharmakonisi to Special Economic Zones outside the scope of collective bargaining and European labour law. At the same time, racism, xenophobia, sexism, nationalism, and anti-communism are gaining even greater ground in the continent’s heart, in the most powerful and wealthy countries, as demonstrated by the electoral victory of the National Front in France and the Progress Party in Norway, the strengthening of the German extreme right or the referendum in Switzerland to set quota for migration flows.

Fascism is not a threat of the future. It is attempting today to remove what is left of the labour rights. Therefore, the movement that wants to denounce the contemporary institutional and political manifestations of fascism and to cancel in practice the reactionary transformation of the neoliberal project for Europe, can only achieve it by fighting both against  the EU policies that generate poverty, unemployment, and medieval working conditions and against those institutions that reinforce xenophobia, racism and the abolition of the democratic and social rights gained in the twentieth century.

The battle against fascism necessarily goes through the reconstruction of the organised labour movement. As a product of the crisis or the capitalism’s decadence, modern fascism affects first and foremost the most vulnerable sections of the working class. Just as in the interwar period fascist movements were developed because of the defeat of the Italian proletariat following the Red years (1919-1920) and of the German revolution (1918-1923), fascism in the present crisis of capitalism appears as a product of the defeat of the labour movement after the crisis of 1970s and the all-out attack of neoliberalism. And only the electoral geography of the rise of various right-wing parties makes clear that fascism is gaining ground in the lower classes, exactly where, in the meantime, the organised structures of the labour movement are subsiding and the class identities are decomposing.

The critical variable in the battle against fascism is the actual state of the labour movement. The first and immediate task of the anti-fascist front is the struggle for the reconstruction of the labour movement, the fight for joint and active syndicalism of natives and migrants, employed and unemployed, traditional and post-Fordist strata of the European proletariat, at the workplace, universities and the neighbourhoods. The struggle against fascism is first and foremost a fight for the organisation of the working class. The anti-fascism of the 21st century will either be proletarian or will never be.

The immediate implementation of practices for international coordination and solidarity and the elaboration of a common political project of the active components within the European labour movement are integral components of such a reconstruction process. If fascism is a counter-revolution where the revolution failed or never started and if the ghosts that we thought buried in the past are back and are looming over their European homeland, this is largely due to the fact that the Left are failing (or worse: refuse) to juxtapose a strategic project and an alternative political way out of the brutal, totalitarian mutation of neo-liberal capitalism.

* Dimitris Kousouris is a historian, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz in Germany


[1] Hana Arendt, Between Past and Future, New York, Viking Press, 1961, pp, 19.

[2] For a categorisation of counter-revolution’s different forms, see βλ. Arno Mayer, Dynamics of Counterrevolution in Europe, 1870-1956, An Analytic Framework, Harper & Row, New York, 1971, σελ. 59-121.

[3] See Varieties of Right-Wing Extremism in Europe, Taylor and Francis, Nέα Υόρκη 2013. For the Greek case and its relations between the radical right and the state see also Δ. Χριστόπουλος (επιμ.), Το «βαθύ κράτος» στη σημερινή Ελλάδα και η Ακροδεξιά. Εκκλησία, Δικαιοσύνη, Στρατός, Αστυνομία¸νήσος-Ίδρυμα Ρόζα Λούξεμπουργκ, Αθήνα 2014

[4] See publication in Ιl Manifesto, goo.gl/8TwBZE

[5] See the Hobsbawm’s critique to François Furet: E. Hobsbawm «Histoire et Illusion», Le Débat, issue 89, 1996/2, pp. 129-138.

[6] See D. Diner, Zivilisationsbruch, Denken nach Auschwitz, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988.

[7] See goo.gl/e1gD9H.

[8] F. Neumann, Behemoth. The Structure and Practice of National-Socialism 1933-1944, I. Dee, Chicago 2009, pp. 17-36 and 467-476.

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