The reality behind the rise of the political far right in Europe

By Jim Hayes

The apparent rise of fascist like movements and governments in Europe is grabbing worldwide attention and worry. Something is afoot. The continent is undergoing a transformation that is going to change the course of history.

Sitting at their comfortable desks, political commentators spend far too much time lamenting on what they like to call right-wing populism and the threat it poses to democracy. This includes some of those who consider themselves part of the political left, who have suddenly become ardent defenders of the existing political system. They call this democracy and pillory those they see as a threat to it.

The problem with this is that the body of people wo see the existing political system as democracy is dwindling, and it puts those trying to be its loudest defenders out of touch of what is happening to ordinary people.

Consideration of some examples might help to explain this a little better.

The recent rise of Giorgia Meloni into the prime ministership of Italy and her Brothers of Italy to government did not come out of the blue. Years of government corruption, the major parties discrediting themselves and the political system that they have been operating, have dashed faith in that the system will deliver. Italians want change. Not more of the same.

Giorgia Meloni

Italy’s two-party system, once dominated by the Communist Party in the north and the Christian Democrats in the south unravelled. Their failure, coupled with deteriorating economic conditions for most people, provides the ground for political polarisation. Meloni and her party have been able to take advantage of an opportunity created by the conditions of Italian society and the vacuum created by the abandonment of the traditional parties. They have been able to use this to position themselves as the party against neoliberalism and the dominating elite impoverishing the population.

Something similar is happening in Sweden. This time it’s the Sweden Democrats, a party with a Nazi history, positioning itself as the defender of Sweden’s past achievements and against those who have betrayed the population. Poland, Hungary, and Turkey have similar governments, claiming the same sort of role. In Germany Alternative for Germany has become the largest opposition party.

Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty: An Alternative for Germany election Rally in Cottbus in Germany

In France, the almost collapse of the traditional two-party system gave rise to Emanuel Macron and Marine le Pen, who has also positioned herself as defender of hurting working families and against those in power. There is now a minority government because no coalition can pull together a majority.

In Spain the fascist new party Vox has joined forces with the diminished Popular Party and has a chance of being part of a coalition government in the near future.

Elements of this trend are playing out across the continent. Even in the United Kingdom. The Conservative Party is transforming itself into a version of the same European trend.

Looking on and attacking this movement as a threat to a democracy that few people now accept as a genuine democracy is worse than pointless. Those who don’t understand this and persist, paint themselves into a corner, where they come across as defenders of a rotten set up dominated by the big end of town not operating in the interests of the majority. They become part of the problem.

The answer is to listen to and identify with those who are hurting, offer a real alternative, champion a much better type of democracy, take on those who are really exploiting the rest.  The answer is to do all this and light a lantern that gives hope and a vision around where millions can unite and bring about positive change.

This is happening. Europe is seeing a movement of a different sort, even if it exists at different levels of development and each faces its own challenges.

The alternative movement remains somewhat muted in Italy where various groupings are trying to form alliances but have not yet managed to do so. One should not overlook the fact that the Meloni led government is deeply unpopular. Over a third did not vote for them and a third of the electorate cast no vote because they had faith in none of the candidates. Progress in Sweden has been even more problematic and for similar reasons.

Greece gave rise to Syriza, which remains a formidable force trying to build an alternative. Spain’s Podemos (we can) emerged in 2012. The United Left eventually emerged with Podemos to create Unidas Podemos (united we can), and it became partner in the coalition government with the Workers Socialist Party. There is the Left Block in Portugal.

The logo of Spain’s Unidas Podemos

In France there has been the rising movement around Jean-Luc Antoine Pierre Mélenchon, France Unbowed, which now a large presence in the French parliament and is a force to be reconned with in the union and social movements.

Conditions are complicated by the funnelling of large sums of money towards the fascist tendency by very wealthy individuals and businesses. They are frightened by the prospect of the population turning to the counter tendency and will do anything to stop this.

Echoes of all of this exist across the continent.

The progressive movement in each European nation has its own character but there is a common thread. This is the need to learn from the past to meet the challenge of finding today’s way forward. The challenge is to find the path that builds unity towards a shared ambition, and this requires learning how to listen, having a better understanding of life at ground level, and offering a democratic answer to the inadequate political institutions and those who monopolise power today.

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