Eu­rope’s far right is on the march – and it won’t go away with­out a fight

The Guardian - G2 - - Shortcuts - Paul Ma­son

My friend was late for Sun­day brunch in Ber­lin so I de­cided to wan­der the streets of Neukölln, Googling sites of his­toric in­ter­est. Af­ter a few min­utes, I wished I hadn’t. Although 40% of its pop­u­la­tion are mi­grants, Neukölln is gen­tri­fy­ing fast: the cob­bled streets are buzzing with up­mar­ket cafes, in­te­rior-de­sign stores and the retro bi­cy­cles of the mid­dle class.

But this is the place where, on 11 Novem­ber 1926, Josef Goebbels be­gan the Nazi takeover of Ber­lin. As a ges­ture of in­tent, he led 300 brown­shirt stormtroop­ers into what was then a strong­hold of the left: “Four se­ri­ously in­jured, four slightly hurt, but we’re on the march,” he recorded in his di­ary.

To­day, Neukölln is Ber­lin’s main venue for Nazi at­tacks – this time anony­mous. Out of 45 recorded cases of racist vi­o­lence in Ber­lin this year, 35 took place in Neukölln. They in­volve ar­son, swastika graf­fiti, bricks through shop win­dows and threat­en­ing notes sent to mi­grant shop­keep­ers. There have been neo-nazis around this district for years, but, ac­cord­ing to the Mo­bile Coun­sel Against Rightwing Ex­trem­ism, an anti-fas­cist mon­i­tor­ing group, the at­tacks have changed – from the torch­ing of the cars of left­wing politi­cians to the tar­get­ing of mi­grants and the NGOS help­ing them.

Amid the mix of ha­lal meat stores and veg­gie cafes, I don’t sense ten­sion: there is strong com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion here, sup­ported by the city’s left-led gov­ern­ment – al­most ev­ery lamp-post has an an­tifa sticker on it and there’s a lib­eral, mul­ti­cul­tural vibe. But what’s hap­pen­ing here drama­tises the dan­gers fac­ing Eu­rope.

In Poland this week­end 60,000 neo-nazis staged a march cel­e­brat­ing the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence day, chant­ing: “Refugees out!” and car­ry­ing ban­ners call­ing for an “Is­lamic holo­caust”. The in­te­rior min­is­ter, Mar­iusz Błaszczak, called the march a “beau­ti­ful sight”; the pro-gov­ern­ment TV news called it “a great march of pa­tri­ots”.

The Ital­ian far-right Forza Nuova, whose leader was also at the Pol­ish march, staged a smaller demo in Rome last week, while in the union­ist ag­i­ta­tion against Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence in Spain, Fran­coist flags and salutes have been re­peat­edly spot­ted.

Af­ter the vic­tory of Em­manuel Macron, and the fail­ure of the far-right PVV to break through in the Nether­lands, Euro­pean cen­trism had been con­grat­u­lat­ing it­self on stem­ming the tide. The mas­sive vote for the far-right FPO in Aus­tria, and its po­ten­tial en­try into a coali­tion gov­ern­ment, cast a dark shadow over the po­lit­i­cal main­stream, and Sat­ur­day’s march in War­saw will do the same.

This is hap­pen­ing when Eu­rope’s econ­omy is grow­ing faster than at any time since the 2008 cri­sis. Poland’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is 5.3%, a record low. In the 1920s, fas­cism was driven by eco­nomic des­per­a­tion. In Poland, it is be­ing driven by a white, Chris­tian su­prem­a­cist ide­ol­ogy. Its core mes­sage is: no more so­cial change.

The as­sump­tion in the po­lit­i­cal main­stream is that if you po­lice the borders demon­stra­tively, ac­knowl­edge peo­ple’s fears about in­te­gra­tion, main­tain eco­nomic growth and throw de­vel­op­ment aid at north Africa, even­tu­ally the ten­sions driv­ing ne­o­fas­cism will go away. But mod­ern fas­cism is no longer a re­sponse to sin­gle events: it is about Is­lam and white iden­tity. It is the head­scarf, the mosque and the Qur’an that the fas­cists march­ing through War­saw care about, not the eco­nomic strain brought about by refugees. Poland has dealt with a grand to­tal of 1,474 asy­lum claims this year, just 18 of them from Syria; the rest mostly from white, Chris­tian Rus­sia and Ukraine.

I will not crit­i­cise those who try to stop fas­cists march­ing: it is a le­git­i­mate tac­tic given the dan­ger. But the 2,000-strong an­tifa mo­bil­i­sa­tion in War­saw sug­gests we are not go­ing to stop them that way this time.

In the places where it was stopped, as in France in 1934, the left and the lib­eral cen­tre achieved tac­ti­cal unity and cre­ated a nar­ra­tive of hope. Cen­treleft and left­wing gov­ern­ments in power de­liv­ered rad­i­cal change; the fas­cist me­dia was coun­ter­acted by a vi­brant lib­eral me­dia; the mas­sive so­cial power of the labour move­ments, the churches and the syn­a­gogues was mo­bilised.

This time around, the forces are dif­fer­ent: labour move­ments are weaker and demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tions stronger; the me­dia is of­ten in the hands of xeno­pho­bic bil­lion­aires, while many state TV sta­tions are paral­ysed by or even com­plicit in the racist nar­ra­tive. Prob­a­bly the big­gest dif­fer­ence is the high level of the­ory and con­scious­ness you find in the on­line groups of the new far right. It is an in­ter­na­tional move­ment, fuelled by dol­lars and airtime both from the pro-trump right and, in some cases, by Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence.

Its break­through mo­ments will not take place through street fights, as in the 30s, but through sym­bio­sis with sec­tions of the main­stream, na­tion­al­ist con­ser­va­tive right. And this is hap­pen­ing: in the Aus­trian coali­tion talks, in Poland, in Hun­gary and, of course, in the US.

The far right across Eu­rope has chal­lenged pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics to a death match. Any­body who thinks this is go­ing away with­out a fight is dis­play­ing an ir­ra­tional ap­petite for po­lit­i­cal risk.

It is the head­scarf and the Qur’an the fas­cists care about, not the econ­omy

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