Given the demise of the BNP and its splinters, as well as the decline and internecine warfare in the English Defence League and its cousins, we might think that fascism is not a big issue. However, if we look across Europe we find that in some countries, fascists and other far-right formation is riding high, presenting a real and present danger for the working class and the oppressed. France for example. One might even suggest that there is a spectre haunting Europe and it is the spectre of the far-right, not communism (in the sense that Marx meant in the Communist Manifesto). We underestimate the threat at our peril.
So this book is very timely. I would say that it is an essential companion to all socialists in these dangerous times. The book has articles on Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherland and Sweden. I have learnt a lot from reading this book. For example, I knew absolutely nothing about the threat of fascism in Bulgaria for example.
The book’s title “The Far Right in Europe” is carefully chosen because it does not just deal with fascist parties. It deals with other movements to the right of traditional conservatism or ‘Christian democracy’ such as UKIP, the Danish People’s Party, populist movements in the Netherlands, as well as fascist parties pretending to be something else and outright Nazis.
What draws all these formations together is there anti-migrant and Islamaphobic campaigning. Some parties are able to present themselves as liberal by taking up anti-gay and anti-women aspects of some Islamaphobic communities and organisations. This is something which the anti-fascist movement needs to think through a bit more, particularly in the light of the incidents which took place in Cologne and other cities over the New Year for example.
The centrepiece of the book is the long chapter on France entitled “Petain’s children”. It is very detailed following the ups and downs of the Front National over decades, electorally and otherwise. It takes apart the argument that the Front National has somehow ceased to be fascist because of its more ‘moderate’ approach under Marine Le Pen, as opposed to her father, rejecting anti-Semitism and talking about being anti-fascist themselves. This seems to have fooled some on the left who see it as gravitating towards a UKIP type future, but I agree with the comrades of the Anti-fascist Commission who wrote this chapter, that the leopard does not change its spots even though it can camouflage itself easily enough when it wants to.
The weakness of the book is that there is not much detailed analysis of the anti-fascist movements, or different currents within it. Across Europe, and here in Britain, there have been different approaches based on different traditions emphasising different aspects of the struggle at the expense of others. One group emphasising physical confrontation with the fascists, another emphasising the trades unions, or the community, or celebrity. These divisions are often artificial where really the different approaches should complement each other in an overall strategy. And the physical aspects are often reduced to no-platforming this or that march, whereas what is really needed often is community and workers self-defence on an on-going basis in areas where fascists are strong for example. These sorts of debates are not really touched on in the book.
Selfishly, because I live here, I was disappointed that there was no balance sheet on the struggle against the BNP over the last 20 years and in particular the pros and cons and evolution in the approach of Unite Against Fascism on which I could say quite a lot. But the chapter on the UK was correctly centred on UKIP. After all, despite only having one parliamentary seat, did win 14% of the vote which is something we should be very worried about. Phil Hearst’s picture and categorisation of UKIP is useful but again, not a huge amount about how you develop a strategy against this kind of movement except for stressing the need for a united left party, on which I certainly agree.
The big disappointment in the book is that it does not talk about Greece. They acknowledge that this is a gap. Having spoken at a Left Platform conference in Athens about anti-fascism in the UK (they asked for this, thought there were lessons they might apply) I would have been very interested. More to the point, in Greece forces of revolution and counter-revolution are up against each other and it would have been very interesting to hear about the latest assessment of Golden Dawn and how Syriza and the new left party combat the influence of the fascists when they are also on the front line in terms of migration.
There is a little problem of sub-editing. I spotted quite a few words missing, or the wrong word etc. I usually miss these so I imagine there were lots more which might irritate pedants but didn’t bother me too much! I would very much recommend this book.
The Far Right in Europe
Edited by Fred Leplat
London: Resistance Books, 2015