The rise in far-right political forces across the world, whether that be in Britain, America, or Brazil, ultimately owes a great debt of gratitude to the unwillingness of capitalist politicians — whether they be of Conservative or Social Democratic ilk — to prioritise the needs of ordinary people before those of big business. This capitalist problem can be viewed in many ways, but what is abundantly clear is that the mainstream media along with the help of mainstream political parties have all helped to create the social conditions that have allowed far-right radicals to flourish.
Although socialist solutions present the only effective remedy for reversing this toxic state of affairs, this article will however limit itself to drawing upon the ideas presented by some of the blog posts that have been published this year by liberal researchers associated with the recently established Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right. In making this choice, I hope to demonstrate that while liberals fail to offer any meaningful solutions for overcoming the resurgent far-right, they are at least sometimes able to identify some of the underlying reasons for why the far-right are riding a crest to political power across the globe.
Islamophobia is one of the regular staples of far-right scaremongering, and happens to be a form of racism that has been actively encourage by all manner of political elites for many years. For example, in the year 1997 – in a period of history which Professor Aristotle Kallis refers to as “the time of peak-liberal illusions about the capacity of the new world system to guarantee peace and stability, prosperity and justice, inclusivity and diversity” — he writes that the Runnymede Trust published their “landmark report on Islamophobia [which drew] attention to the then growing threat of anti-Muslim prejudice, discrimination, and violence in western societies.”
Twenty years later and nothing much had improved, in fact in many ways things are a whole lot worse. Thus, the Runnymede Trust released a new report on Islamophobia (published in November 2017), which Professor Kallis observed, shows “that increased public awareness and advances in law have not reversed the trend towards intensification, institutionalisation, and normalisation of Islamophobia in contemporary British society.”
Dr Paul Stocker agrees with such conclusions:
“Britain has become a country not just hospitable to radical-right ideas, but one in which they can thrive… In recent weeks, for example, elite politicians such as Boris Johnson, who may well be Theresa May’s successor as prime minister, have been meeting with key figures in the global radical-right movement such as Steve Bannon and publicly disparaging Muslim women wearing face veils.”
“The tabloid media speak in aggressive terms about politicians and elites being “traitors” who are betraying ordinary Britons. The Conservative government has not sought to allay the public’s fears over immigration by arguing for its benefits, but instead made outsized promises about its impending cuts following Brexit. Even editorials in center-right magazines such as The Spectator have argued that “there is not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Conservative Party,” while The Times has published headlines of late such as “Our timid leaders can learn lessons from strongmen.”
“The more politicians, media and writers use their influence to concede ground to the radical right, the more likely their ideas are to be accepted by the public and enter public policy debates. Should that happen, this could have devastating consequences for ethnic minorities, marginalized groups and those seen as “the enemy within.””
On the issue of the media, it is clear that tabloids like The Sun and the Daily Mail have been keen to profit from the racist bile of columnists like Katie Hopkins, a problem that is well-documented by Dr Chris Allen. But so-called prestigious newspapers have also played a critical role in nurturing far-right ideologies of hate and division, as issue that Dr Allen took up in a second blog post:
“In a recent article in the Sunday Times, journalist Andrew Gilligan claimed the [far-right] Generation Identity (GI) movement in Britain was looking to ‘rebrand’ the radical right and thereby ‘normalize’ its extremist ideology and views. While acknowledging this fact, Gilligan’s article gave scant attention to the extremist views GI espouse. Somewhat more bizarrely, Gilligan instead focused upon the backgrounds and fashion of those currently leading Britain’s GI movement. Describing them as ‘hipster fascists.’ the article attracted criticism online and across social media. And rightly so, given how the article trivialized the very real danger and threat posed by GI and the radical right milieu more widely. In fact, the article’s somewhat flippant tone, and emphasis upon fashion seemed to contribute toward exactly what GI was hoping to achieve: stripping away any sense that they posed a very real threat, in preference to making GI and its supporters sound dangerously ‘normal.’”
Dr Allen explains that such articles and representations in the mainstream media are highly problematic, as:
“Far from conveying the message that radical right activists are without doubt extremists, they instead convey a message of acceptability. Likewise, focusing upon such trivial issues as the style, clothes or brands worn position movements and their supporters in contexts that fail to acknowledge them as highly politicized actors. Embracing issues normally attributed to celebrity culture not only trivializes them, but could also result in those who would not normally be attracted to the radical right wanting to know more.”
The embrace of far-right talking points by mainstream politicians, as Dr William Allchorn points out, is exemplified by the Conservative Party’s “nativist shift under Theresa May’s leadership.” Likewise, Dr James Downes draws attention to the way that centre right parties across Europe have now “adopt[ed] hard-line positions on immigration,” warning that…
“…by shifting further right on immigration, centre right parties may have opened up a ‘Pandora’s box’ and brought the ideology of the far-right into the political mainstream. Thus, we argue that a paradox may have taken place in twenty-first century European party politics. This strategy may benefit the centre right in the short-term, but conceivably aid the radical right more in the long-term.”
Sadly, this is not a problem that is unique to centre right parties but is one that plagues centre left parties too — as demonstrated in Britain by the divisive politics of New Labour politicians (past and present). The wide-spread nature of such political cowardice is further thrown into light by the comments of Dr Mette Wiggen who argues that:
“Nativism is the norm in much of Europe, where dual welfarism and welfare chauvinism is policy. Nativist rhetoric and ideology has trickled down from radical right politicians to the mainstream and has become the new normal. The days are gone when the welfare state was supported as a safety net for those who needed it the most, or because everyone would need it in the later stages of life.”
On the issue of British mainstream politicians’ Dr Wiggen therefore concludes:
“The demonization of people who depend upon welfare – especially the poor and immigrants – has become the norm in Britain today. The language used by the media and politicians, previously deployed by anti-welfare campaigners on the radical right, has become all too normalised. Long gone are the times when welfare was seen to be a right needed at certain points in life. With the legitimisation of the radical right across Europe, the criminalisation of people who, on occasion, need welfare payments is now the norm.”
In a separate article Dr Wiggen then reminds his readers of the tragic day in 2011 when “77 people lost their lives at the hands of a Norwegian right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik.” In this massacre most of the victims were young Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, AP) activists but Dr Wiggen maintains that even after this tragic event politics has continued to move “in a negative direction” and he is clear that:
“AP politicians, despite being the target of hatred, need to share responsibility with other political parties. Despite the promises made by the prime minister in 2011, there has never been a collective political strategy to come to terms with the fact that Norwegian society had produced the killer. The ideology he promoted was and is now even more accepted and promoted, especially on social media, by radical-right activists, including ministers of the current [so-called centre right] government.”
Dr Wiggen states:
“Norwegian politicians have not dealt with, or intervened, to undermine the racist ideology that made the terrorist attacks possible. The mainstream political parties are too concerned with winning elections and pandering to a section of the electorate that is influenced by racist propaganda and Islamophobia.
“This may be no different from other European countries where the radical right is gaining power and influence, including Italy, Austria and the even more extreme Hungary and Poland. Hatred and fear are being produced and reproduced online, despite the prime minister saying the government is now prioritizing action against hate speech on social media. Trying to curb hate speech on social media is futile when those in power are using it themselves.”
What is needed to tackle such systemic problems are systemic solutions. As revolutionary socialist April Ashley explains:
“The Socialist Party has successfully campaigned for a strategy of mobilising local communities and trade unions, with effective stewarding to keep people safe in order to counter organisations of the far right. It cannot be left to the police to protect demonstrators. The police have been used to kettle, snatch, beat and intimidate student and anti-racist demonstrators.
“Crucially, we call for the building of an anti-racist workers’ movement that fights for jobs, for council homes, for pay, benefits and decent public services. For example, in the 2017 Barts hospitals strike of cleaners and porters in east London, Socialist Party members played a leading role in uniting migrant workers alongside British workers in a militant trade union action against privateer employer Serco.
“The far right can be defeated by a mass campaign. It is essential that a workers’, anti-racist, anti-austerity movement is built, and that trade unions and Jeremy Corbyn do all they can to lead that.”
Genuine socialists have always sought to unite the working-class in their fight-back against the far-right, and the momentous “Battle of Cable Street” of October 1936 has, as Professor Dan Stone notes, “been annually commemorated as one of the most significant moment in the fight against fascism in Britain.” But, as Professor Stone points out in blog post for the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, we should never forget the successes from the many other street battles that have been organised by working-class communities against fascists. Here he draws attention to the confrontation that took place in September 1933 in Stockton-on-Tees in “what was perhaps the first major organised anti-fascist demonstration in the UK”. Professor Stone therefore correctly concludes that:
“The Battle of Stockton deserves to be commemorated both as a significant event in its own right, as a crucial moment in the history of anti-fascism in Britain, and, vitally, as a reminder of battles perhaps yet to come in these febrile times.”
Tony Aitman, “1936: The Battle of Cable Street: When workers united and fought the fascist threat,” The Socialist, September 28, 2016.