By Nof A, Socialist Alternative Coventry
Since the economic crisis of 2008 we are seeing a huge shift in attitudes towards the capitalist system. As the establishment is more exposed in its inability to resolve any of the crises in society, the system’s institutions and traditional political parties are losing support. The cost-of-living crisis, climate change, war, the housing crisis, food poverty, job insecurity and growing inequality all demonstrate the lack of a sustainable future under the system. On that basis, there is a strong anti-system sentiment.
This shows the potential for the growth of a genuine working-class political alternative. However, the current lack of such an alternative can open the door for the growth of the far right and right populist parties.
Such parties speak out against the ‘elite’ (while often being a part of it), inflaming different forms of oppression such as racism, xenophobia, sexism, LGBTQ+phobia, etc. Rather than blaming the system, they seek to distract, divide and blame different sections of the working class for the crisis.
This process is expressed not only in the growth in support for far right parties but also traditional parties adopting more reactionary policies towards immigrants, refugees and trans people, as we see in Britain with Sunak’s ‘culture war’. While Sunak has gained little traction with his approach, it has increased the level of incitement and violence towards trans people and refugees in particular.
European elections and the far right
Recent POLITICO polls show the 2024 European elections could be marked by significant growth of right-wing populists and far right parties. This is an indication of a trend we’re seeing in Europe and elsewhere. In Italy and Finland, the far right was recently elected to lead the government. In France, Germany, Austria, the Flemish region of Belgium, the Spanish state and others it has surged significantly and is receiving wide support.
A part of its success has been its attempt of re-branding and shaking off its fascist roots (for example Le-Pen’s National Rally, the Belgian Vlaams Blok and the Sweden Democrats). Over the last decade, Marine Le Pen has tactically changed policies on issues such as abortion rights and the climate and even expelled the founder of the party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, while maintaining very reactionary policies such as banning wearing the hijab in public. In the last general election, Le Pen focused on the cost-of-living crisis. With the immense level of discontent with Macron and despite her absence from the movement against the pension counterreform, she is leading the polls in popularity.
This doesn’t mean that the far right has become less reactionary. It shows the importance of exposing the dangerous attempt of the far right to disguise itself to build a mass base of support. In Italy, we see reactionary policies alongside populist measures continuing when the far right is in power. Prime Minister Meloni declared a war against same-sex married couples including the removal of gay mothers’ names from their children’s birth certificates, as well as attacks on immigrants and unemployment benefits. At the same time, her government is planning to implement a windfall tax on banks’ profits, allegedly to help those on low incomes.
The increase in popularity of far-right parties also leads to emboldening the more ‘radical’ extreme right which bases itself on tactics of intimidation and physical attacks against immigrants, refugees and LGBTQ+ people. There has been an increase in hate crimes; in the Spanish state alone hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people increased by 76.6% in 2022.
How can we fight back?
Many would put an emphasis on elections and the need to unite around a candidate that runs against these reactionary politicians, voting for the ‘lesser evil’. Yet in Hungary in 2022 such a strategy failed when a coalition of all opposition parties spectacularly failed to dislodge the ultra-reactionary Viktor Orban. While we share the sense of urgency to get rid of the far right, we warn that attempting to beat the far right by voting for establishment politicians, without building a movement on the ground, will not make the danger of the far right disappear and can even strengthen it in the near future.
We say that to fight the far right we need to build a fighting left and socialist alternative. The popularity of Jean-Luc Mélenchon during the French elections shows the potential of left policies winning support. Though not offering a full socialist programme, his manifesto included lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum wage, freezing food and fuel prices, and taxing the rich.
We would also add the need for nationalising the banks and the big corporations, to be fought for – not only during elections. We need to build a united movement around a programme of action that can bring together working class people from all backgrounds. This can expose the lack of real solutions offered by the right wing and their anti-working-class and divisive agenda, showing that it’s the left which is leading the struggle to improve living standards for all working-class people.
It is key for such a movement to lead the fight against racism, sexism, xenophobia, LGBTQ+phobia and all forms of oppression. We should link demands for democratic rights with economic demands. For example, the right to bodily autonomy and demands to increase funding for the NHS. The fight against the far right is an integral part of the fight against capitalism and the material conditions that breed these rotten political parties.
Our starting point should be mobilising against every attempt of the far right to appear in the streets in an organised way. Whether it is protests against refugees or the targeting of Drag Queen Story Time events, the left and the workers’ movement need to show their strength by blocking far right attempts to organise. When the far right is using intimidation and violent tactics, we should pre-empt their threats by organising stewards to defend our protests and mobilising protestors in big numbers. ISA members in Limerick, Ireland, alongside local activists, successfully stopped the far-right from entering Limerick City Library and harassing the workers by organising a counter-protest.
Such mobilisations should also be translated into building fighting campaigns to bring together workers and youth from all backgrounds, anti-racist campaigners, trade unionists, LGBTQ+ rights and feminist activists. This should be used to link different struggles together and build a united working-class movement against the far right, the rotten system that breeds it and all forms of oppression.