Tuesday 13 April 2010

The Right Advances Across Europe

As expected the far-right Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom (Movement for a Better Hungary), known simply as Jobbik, took an important stride forward in the parliamentary election held in Hungary at the weekend. With almost seventeen per cent of the vote it will send twenty six deputies to parliament, only two behind the socialists, formerly the party of government.

Although their showing is not quite as strong as some had anticipated – less than two points up from their vote in last summer’s European elections –it’s still remarkable progress for a fringe movement, a measure of both the anger at the mismanagement of the socialists and disquiet over Hungary’s declining economic fortunes. This is a country, moreover, with a deeply ingrained sense of historical grievance and a well-developed tendency to look for scapegoats, and Jobbik is all to ready to supply them, in the shape of Jews or, more particularly, Roma.

The advance of the chauvinist right is not something that should not be viewed in isolation; it’s happening across Europe, as local movements feed on mounting grievances. I would go so far as to suggest that beyond specific national grievances we are seeing a wider reaction against the anti-democratic European Union, a bureaucratic monster that only exists by sublimating and ignoring problems among a hugely diverse range of countries. Europe is merely a name for the Continent; there is no European identity, just as there is no Asian or African identity. There will never be a European identity.

If Jobbik is an expression of the national grievances of Hungary, then the National Front, once again on the advance, is an expression of those of the French. In Italy the electoral success of Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition in the recent regional elections was largely built on the continuing advance of the Northern League. In Austria Barbara Rosenkranz, the far-right mother of ten, whose husband publishes a neo-Nazi newsletter, will contest the presidency with the support of the Kronen Zeitung, the country’s best selling tabloid. In Belgium Vlaams Belang, the extreme-right wing separatist party, enjoys ever increasing support among the Flemings.

In Britain the phenomenon is much more sociologically and politically specific. Here the British National Party, which gained almost a million votes in last summer’s European elections, sending two representatives to Strasbourg, is largely a movement of the traditional working-class, disillusioned by the neglect of the Labour Party, a party whose leader makes canting speeches about defending British jobs while signing up to agreements that ensure those jobs are anything but British.

The temptation is to see all of this as a protest vote, as something that will wax and wane in accordance with the fortunes of more established parties; that it’s a kind of thermometer of discontent, if you will. The pattern is different now; for the far-right has become a permanent feature of the politics of the new Europe. I for one expect to see the resurgence of the extreme right accelerate as the process towards European integration accelerates. This is a project in which ordinary people, the voters of Europe were never involved, or if they were involved it was one that they rejected only to be ignored. If the new fascism is Caliban the European Union is its mother; the European Union is Sycorax.

What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?


  1. Hi,

    I don't agree with your characterisation of the BNP as a movement of the working class. Fascism is primarily a middle class party. Historically the sections of the working that join or vote are usually its least concious or socially disadvantaged. In Germany the betrayal of social democracy and Stalinism played the most important role in the rise of the fascists. The growth of the BNP in Britian is a direct product of the treachery of the Labour Party.

  2. Thanks, Merson. Actually it’s almost impossible to build a single satisfactory model of ‘fascism’ because its characteristics vary so widely. Yes, in the German and Italian examples it was a party of the lower middle class, though the net was almost invariably cast wider. It’s complicated by the fact that in Germany the catholic middle classes remained largely loyal to the old Centre Party.

    It would seem to me, though, that all the evidence suggests that the BNP receives most of its support not just from the working class but the most disadvantaged sections of the working class. Most of the votes the party got in the Euro election came from traditional Labour heartlands. Besides, the party programme itself could easily have been drawn up by Old Labour. I certainly agree that the Labour Party have treated many of their traditional supporters shamefully.

  3. Dear Ana

    Yes I believe the characteristics do vary according to various historical factors in a given country. But fascism as a movement or party is based not on whether someone votes for it at a given time or not. It is based on programme and perspective. The rise of any fascist movement is geared to the fact that the ruling elite becomes so scared of social revolution that it resorts to the fascists to deal with the working class. In Britain there have been few occaisions when the British ruling elite has toyed with developing a fascist party. This not to say they will not, after all the British elite and its monarchy had and has deeop ties with the movement of the fascists in Germany. On one more point the Labour party has been the major bulwark against revolution in this country for a century its demise has revolutionary implications, the current political course may take a left or right one.

    Ps I would like to reprint this correspondence on my blog is that ok.



  4. Hi, Keith

    Yes, of course it’s OK. Sorry for the delay in publishing but I tend to be otherwise engaged at the weekend. :-)

    I’m sure that you will not be surprised to discover that I find that particular explanatory model, a Marxist model, virtually useless when it comes to practical history. I do not believe that the ‘ruling class’ can be identified as a given set of people or a given set of perspectives. We are talking, after all, about people, I’m not sure how you would define them exactly, but let’s, for the sake of convenience, say landed gentry at the one extreme and industrial magnates at the other, who take a multiplicity of views. Yes, I suppose it is possible to argue that this group did turn to the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany in their fear over the possibility of social revolution.

    But the problem immediately arises over why the ‘ruling classes’ reached out for movements of the extreme right in these countries and not in, say, France, where the perceived danger of social revolution was just as acute. Why did fascism fail, moreover, across most of central and eastern Europe before the Second World War? Why did the ruling classes in Germany and Italy not resort the same authoritarian rule that brought Horthy to power in Hungary, Pilsudski to power in Poland and Dollfuss to power in Austria, to mention but three examples. Why, moreover, did the German 'ruling classes' resort to a movement like Nazism, inherently unstable, extreme beyond all reasonable boundaries, and ultimately as collectivist and as big a danger to their position as the Communists?

    I know of no evidence that suggests that the British elite as a whole ever seriously considered supporting a native fascist party. Some toyed with Mosley, but very few; some had a positive view of Hitler, but again very few. And the idea that the ‘ruling class’ would ever turn to the likes of Griffin and his semi-educated thugs I find wholly ludicrous.

    I’m an empiricist, Keith; I don’t like abstract models; I don’t like the one size fits all view of history.

  5. OC, I might come and join you. :-))