The rising threat of 21st-century fascism
Muffy Sunde
volume 36
issue 5
October 2015

January 2014, London — Anti-fascist protesters demonstrate in response to a gathering of supporters of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party. Photo: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire

After a decade of cuts, layoffs and privatization of public wealth, Europeans are in an uproar. Strikes and protest marches fill the news from Scotland to Greece.

In June, an estimated 250,000 people demonstrated in London, outside the Bank of England before marching on Parliament, to demand that cuts to the National Health Service and welfare systems be restored, and fracking ended.

In France, 70 cities saw strikes and rallies in April demanding an end to health cuts and to a freeze on salaries and pensions.

In Frankfurt, Germany, thousands protested the opening of the new European Central Bank headquarters last March because of its role in ruining poorer countries’ economies. In Greece, people demonstrated by the thousands to protest parliamentary approval of a new round of job, pay and pension cuts, and privatizations imposed by bank creditors.

In the U.S., anger over issues like school closures, cutbacks to jobs and pensions, and police violence manifests itself in things like militant Black community protests and occasional labor strikes.

Still, the capitalists seem to be operating from a position of strength. In some ways — their control of the military, police, legal system, etc. — they are. But the austerity they push is actually because their profit system is in deep trouble, riddled with problems and unable to sustain the growth that keeps profits high. They are watching nervously as the anti-austerity upsurges mount, above all because they represent the possibility of revolution.

In response, the ruling classes have the option of turning to fascism, as they did in much of Europe in the 1930s. This is the final weapon in their arsenal to divide and conquer the class that outnumbers them by the billions. To save their obscene profits, they could back a mass movement that has historically grown out of the fears and resentments of the middle class and the susceptibility of some workers to place blame not on the system, but on fellow workers marked out by skin color, or gender, or nationality, or religion.

Maximum bigotry. In the last century and today, fascists have the same agenda, whether they have a mustache and wear suits in parliament, or don swastikas, white sheets and brass knuckles in the streets.

Or they may dress in religious garb. For example, in the U.S., some Christian fundamentalists demand that every aspect of society must be based in biblical law. This provides them with an excuse to ignore democracy, justify slavery, stone queers and so-called adulterers, and kill abortion doctors. Their ideas gave birth to the Moral Majority and Operation Rescue. Their fundamentalist cousins in Islam, like the Taliban and ISIS, share the same hatreds.

Whatever their costume, fascists assail groups based on racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, immigrant-bashing, sexism, anti-communism, hatred of unions, and nationalist appeals to the fatherland.

The seduction of scapegoating. In the U.S., fascists blame U.S. Black citizens and immigrants from Mexico, Central America and the Middle East for stealing jobs from white Americans. Actually, immigrants and Blacks have the highest unemployment rates in the country. It is the super-rich who refuse to spend money for public jobs building schools, housing and infrastructure. A socialist economy would redistribute the wealth into the hands of those who created it in the first place.

Right-wing candidates promise to solve economic problems by building a bigger wall at the U.S./Mexico border, deporting all the immigrants and their families, or denying citizenship to children born to immigrant parents. Hitler’s Nazi regime did exactly that — it denied citizenship and instituted mass deportations of Jews and Romani (Gypsies).

The U.S. carried out its own mass deportation program during the 1930s depression. Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans, many of them union members who organized against conditions in the fields where they worked, were pursued. Up to one million people were rounded up in raids, denied due process, and deported to Mexico. About 60 percent of them were U.S. citizens.

On the increase. It might be surprising that fascist ideas could gain such a foothold given the cataclysm of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. But there are reasons for this, having to do with the failure of historical memory, people’s absolute desperation and raging anger, and the lack of a strong radical alternative solution.

Traditional, reform-oriented progressive or liberal politics have not solved the urgent problems of the day. Neither have the governments of self-described socialists in Europe. And revolutionary left groups, though often taking principled stands against fascism, have not worked together to succeed in building a mass base and make a crucial impact.

Thus, fascist organizations are growing in many parts of Europe, the U.S., and Australia. They are winning votes and gaining in the polls.

In England, the right-wing Tories won an election, but the virulently nationalist United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP), won 11 percent of the vote, making it the third largest party in the country. In France, the National Front (FN), a neo-Nazi party, gained votes because the supposedly socialist government of President Hollande implemented the same ruthless cuts he campaigned against.

In Germany, neo-Nazis rioted and burned down a refugee center in a small town outside Dresden. Thankfully, they were outnumbered by an international group of anti-fascists who faced arrest as the cops protected the Nazis. In England, racists tried to stage a “white man march” in Liverpool but were run off by hundreds of counter-demonstrators. When another group of neo-Nazis tried to mount an “anti-Jewification” protest in a Jewish neighborhood outside of London, police escorted the Nazis to safety from the hundreds of anti-Nazis. Most far-right actions are met with much larger counter-actions. But group terror against immigrants and Muslims continues — beatings in the streets, broken shop windows, burning homes. This thuggery calls for armed self-defense, a tactic used in the U.S. South to keep the KKK from terrorizing the town of Monroe, North Carolina, in the 1950s.

U.S. Nazis accuse immigrants of destroying the “true (white) character of America,” and just last July in South Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan tried to rally around a Confederate flag. They were run off the street.

Confronting the threat. Tens of thousands of Western Europeans marched on Sept. 12 for all immigrants, denouncing Nazi attacks on refugees.

We live in revolutionary and counterrevolutionary times that cultivate fascism. And that won’t change until capitalism is toppled and replaced with a socialist economy. What is required is a united front of all fascism’s many targets, led by socialist parties and workers everywhere mobilizing around the urgent demands of our class.

Open the borders to refugees.

Cancel the debts to robber banks.

Nationalize banks and key industries under workers’ control.

Jobs and education for all!

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Also see: Why ignoring the Ku Klux Klan sends the wrong message

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