June 2014        

The re-emergence of dark forces

In Ireland we are often so wrapped up with our own election dramas that developments abroad may be overlooked and their impact on us missed. The remarkable rise of Sinn Féin, coupled with the equally spectacular plunge of the Labour Party and its leader, has predictably mesmerised the Dublin media. North of the border, where the story from the ballot boxes has offered little change, attention focused on the titillating travails of the recently formed and already collapsing NI21 party.
      Yet while Ireland was bidding farewell to the political careers of Éamon Gilmore and Basil McCrea, elsewhere in Europe people were contemplating the re-emergence of dark forces last seen in similar strength during the 1930s.
      While gaining a foothold in most European countries, parties of the far right have made particular advances in France, Britain, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, and Austria. Possibly the most disturbing aspect of this is that they have also taken support from within working-class communities; and we would be naïve to believe that Ireland is immune to this worrying phenomenon.
      The point is that what is happening throughout Europe is a trend and not a collection of isolated happenings about which we can afford to be indifferent.
      There is, of course, an endless debate about what exactly constitutes an ultra-rightist party and whether there is a difference between the universally reactionary nature of far-right politics and the murderous depravity of fascism. Some may agonise over these distinctions; but in reality that debate echoes the old question of how many hairs a man must lose before he is deemed bald. In reality, all forms of right-wing reaction can blend so effortlessly into each other that there is an existential threat emanating from all of them.
      There is, moreover, a disingenuous attempt under way to confuse the issue, or perhaps even to disguise the nature of the threat. Some apparently sober commentators are now referring to what would amount to a generic band of disenchanted “populists and Eurosceptics.” If we are to believe the Financial Times of 26 May, for example, this includes such diverse parties as the neo-Nazi Austrian People’s Party on the one hand and Greece’s social-democratic Syriza on the other.
      Even more bizarre was a recent meeting of EU leaders, convened ostensibly to reflect on electoral successes of the far right but nevertheless discussing how best to support the Kiev regime, which flaunts a clutch of fascist ministers.
      Whether deliberate or not, this type of obfuscation diverts attention from the subject and lends credence to the equally misleading suggestion that parties such as UKIP in Britain and the Front National in France do not come from the same gene pool. Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen may not be best friends, but that is hardly important. What matters is not whether they share a taxi from the airport but that they represent a similar political strain, which draws sustenance from conditions of economic hardship being experienced by working people and the lower-income middle class.
      European economies, in common with the global economy, have been undergoing a transformation over the past decades, with neo-liberalism delivering an accelerated transfer of wealth from workers into the hands of the elite.
      An inevitable by-product of this process of unrestricted and unregulated free-market capitalism was the financial crash of 2008. In keeping with capitalism’s ability not to waste a crisis, the global elite immediately sought to force working people to pay the price for its behaviour through what is duplicitously referred to as “austerity.” In practice this is a stark package that is crunching down on workers’ pay and employment rights, their wider social wage, and the social-welfare safety net.
      This policy—make no mistake about it—is not merely to make the less well-off pay for a lengthy period of reckless speculation: it is also designed to definitively diminish working-class influence through imposing poverty and debt at both the national and the personal level.
      Nor is austerity planned as a passing phase, to be eventually replaced with a more prosperous era for workers: on the contrary, this model is being promoted as the new order. Here in Ireland the financial elite is speaking of a lengthy phase to embed it as the norm. A former Fine Gael Taoiseach and now president of the International Financial Services Centre, John Bruton, recently told RTE that he expects at least ten more years of austerity budgets. Nor is he a lone voice holding this opinion: his view is that of the wealthy ruling elite around the world.
      Any policy designed to impose this type of continuous hardship requires a rationale, which is provided by a plethora of right-wing apologists. Some peddle a seemingly sophisticated brand of free-market economics that depends, in the final analysis, on mathematical alchemy to create the view that a tiny handful are entitled to an overwhelming portion of the world’s wealth. Other, cruder rightists spin a somewhat different story, directing their spleen at the most vulnerable, the weakest, the ethnically or religiously different, spewing an ugly message that these groups are the cause of economic decline and must be punished, isolated, or expelled.
      The result in either case is to demoralise and fragment working-class opposition to capitalism. In the absence of an effective rebuttal and coherent alternative, the poisonous message of the far right has seduced sections of the working class as disenchantment and despair grow in times of prolonged hardship.
      A major contributory factor to the rise of the right throughout Europe in the past decade and its appeal to some workers is the abject capitulation of social democracy. While working people are growing increasingly desperate in the face of a neo-liberal onslaught, social democrats have sided with business and finance. The British Labour Party and social democrats elsewhere, including Ireland, are not just failing to provide an alternative to “austerity” but were and remain enthusiastic supporters of it.
      The question now is whether Ireland might go tomorrow where Britain and other parts of Europe are going at present. Let us be clear on one thing: the far right is not the result of dysfunctional national characteristics. These reactionaries have instead built upon circumstances and conditions that are shared to a greater or lesser extent in many countries. Unending economic hardship, coupled with social-democratic movements bereft of any principle, supported by trade unions too closely affiliated with those parties, are conditions in which the right thrives. We certainly appear to have all the ingredients, and we also have a few local councillors willing to offer leadership to the right.
      The answer to this danger lies in a strong workers’ movement determined to assert its will. We must, therefore, avoid complacency and must set about organising, because evidence from abroad suggests that we cannot afford not to do so. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the bitch that bore fascism is in heat again.

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