With right-wing politicians like Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán not slow to blame ‘foreigners’ for the coronavirus crisis, the looming world downturn could provide new opportunities for the far right to develop. PETER TAAFFE reviews a recent book that charts the growing threat.
The Far Right Today
By Cas Mudde
Published by Polity Press, 2019, £14-99
The continuing murderous activity in Europe and further afield, largely by small right-wing groups and even individuals – ‘lone wolves’ – has drawn increased attention of writers and commentators about the far right, how they are confronted, and what are the perspectives for these organisations. Cas Mudde’s small book is packed with vital, necessary information on the far right today in general and the different types of organisations to be found in their camp. The writer provides not just an explanation of the different far right organisations but a glossary of these organisations. Moreover he correctly insists on accurate terminology in describing their political physiognomy as well as the differences between them.
He writes that while issues of terminology might sound like a purely academic matter, they are crucial to politics. For instance, in countries like Germany “extreme right” groups can be banned while “radical right” groups cannot. He claims that the extreme right are “anti-system”, defined as “hostile to liberal democracy”. The radical right, on the other hand, “accepts the essence of democracy but opposes fundamental elements of liberal democracy, most notably minority rights, rule of law, and separation of powers… While the extreme right is revolutionary, the radical right is more reformist”. The author misses out one small word – ‘counter’ – in the designation of these organisations as ‘revolutionary’. They are counter-revolutionary both in terms of programme and actions, and if they were ever to come to power, they would act as tools of the capitalist ruling class.
There is absolutely nothing revolutionary in the myriad far-right organisations or their programmes that he dissects and explains well. They all remain in the final analysis wedded to the status quo, ie capitalism. They are hirelings of big capital kept in reserve to unleash against the labour movement and working class if the latter’s activities threaten their rule.
Narendra Modi and the BJP
Mudde links his analysis to the “fourth wave” of the far right – emerging electorally and politically through three crises at the beginning of the twenty-first century: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and beyond; the great recession of 2008; and the “refugee crisis” of 2015. Many of the right-wing parties advance a nativist, authoritarian, and populist discourse, which includes the Eurosceptic parties like UKIP in Britain. They are in opposition to ‘do-gooders’ and advocates of political correctness. However, increasingly, traditional right-wing parties, particularly those in power, have legitimised the far right: “From Austrian Chancellor Sebastien Kurz to his [at the time] British counterpart Theresa May, politicians are no longer just paying lip service to populist radical right policies, they are actually introducing stricter policies on immigration, integration, and terrorists themselves”. In effect the fourth wave, according to Mudde has “normalised” the far right which is being reinforced by the major far-right figures currently governing three of the five biggest ‘democratic’ countries in the world: Donald Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil and, perhaps the most dangerous demagogue of all, Narendra Modi in India.
Modi leads the biggest party in the world – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – of over a hundred million members and which includes the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, the ‘National Volunteer Organisation’). Modi has been a member of the RSS since he was eleven years old! From this organisation came the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi in 1947. It has been involved in some of the most vicious and brutal attacks against Muslims anywhere in the world. These have led to widespread communal clashes. The BJP’s increased murderous activities have also been evident recently in the attempt to change the constitution and exclude minorities from citizenship, particularly Muslims who have lived peacefully in many areas of India for generations. They are now being hounded and fear correctly that there is a plot by the BJP and its ‘goondas’ to drive them completely out of India. Legislation in the national parliament is designed to allow entry to non-Muslims from surrounding countries bordering on India itself, such as Buddhists, but banning Muslims who are to be driven out of India, if Modi gets his way!
Yet Muslims have been in India for generations even before independence in 1947 and are founders of the Indian state. Now there is a routine rounding up and killing of Muslims and those who sympathise with them. Moreover these thugs attacked some on the left, including members of the CWI. Their brutal attacks must be answered by a united mass resistance of the working class and the poor, who hold the key to the situation. It cannot be forgotten that at the same time as a terrorist wave has been visited on the heads of Muslims and their sympathisers, there has been also the magnificent all-India general strike against the disastrous social and economic policies and attacks of the Modi government on the conditions of the working masses. The aim must be to mobilise all workers both to defend the economic conditions of the working class and improve them by linking this to the struggle to defend minorities.
A systematic sharp criticism and campaign should be launched against Modi’s economic policies, which seek to undermine and attack living standards. It was not an accident that at the same time as the recent pogroms took place through Modi’s bloodletting and wave of looting and murder, the all-India labour movement organised a colossal general strike. The message of this display of working-class power has been somewhat crowded out by the communal outrages of the Modi government and his party, the BJP. However the example of this general strike, one of the biggest if not the biggest in the world in the recent period, remains a template for mobilising the potential power of the working class and poor masses.
The experience of fascism
Mudde explains that the emergence of the far right since the onset of the “fourth wave” beginning in 2000 has led to the “mainstreaming” of far right parties, by “traditional conservatives” but also sometimes even so-called left parties which have considered sharing power with them or at least borrowing parts of the far right’s programme. The overall effect was to legitimise and “mainstream” far-right ideas and parties so that these parties, which were gaining an average of almost 5% of the votes at the beginning of the twenty-first century, have been running at 7.5% from 2010 onwards.
Populist radical right parties broke through in countries that had previously resisted them including Germany and Sweden, where they had remained relatively marginal, and in Hungary and the Netherlands. Sometimes populist radical right parties are “the biggest party in their country in nationwide elections and polls”. In fact, several parties are, or have been at one time, the biggest party. Fidesz in Hungary is the largest. La Lega (‘The League’, formerly the Northern League) in Italy and the Freedom Party in Austria have both been in government. Their influence is not restricted to Europe alone, as we see in the USA, Brazil and India.
Most of these parties cannot entertain the hope of immediately taking power – as the main or dominating party – in a government. The conditions whereby the far right and particularly fascist parties will be able to take power and to establish governments are not present today, and are unlikely any time in the immediate future. Hitler, and Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain and the regime of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, were products of a deep-growing economic crisis on the one hand and the failure and incapacity of the leaders of the workers’ organisations to bar the road to fascism on the other. The leaders of the mass socialist and communist parties refused to mobilise through united fronts the colossal potential power of the working class.
Moreover, it is not just Marxists who learn from history. So do the more farsighted representatives of capitalism. The experience of Hitler wielding his petty bourgeois fascist club, which was used to attack the working class and its organisations, also effectively led to the political expropriation of bourgeois politicians by the fascist state. Of course the fascist state, which rapidly evolved into a ‘normal’ capitalist dictatorship, ultimately defended capitalism – but demanded a heavy price from the bourgeois, both in economic terms and also in undermining their position through the defeat in war. In the case of Germany, the second world war led to the country’s dismemberment and the establishment of the East German Stalinist regime, with reunification posed only when that regime collapsed in 1989 along with, and as a consequence of, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.
This is not to argue that the capitalists will not resort to the most drastic measures of encouraging the far right when faced with a challenge to their rule and system by using even small fascist bands. But if they were looking for a ‘strong man’ to seek to bring the masses to heel, it is more likely to be like Pinochet in Chile in 1973, drawn from the upper echelons of the armed forces, a traditional right-wing army officer, who would be more under their sway and control than political ‘upstarts’ like a Hitler or Mussolini. We characterised the Pinochet government at the time as a military dictatorship using some of the methods of fascism. The outright fascist gangs, like ‘Patria y Libertad’, played an auxiliary role of murdering and torturing the victims of Pinochet’s bloody reign.
How long could such a government last? Hitler and to some extent Mussolini used the mobilised petty bourgeois club to break mass resistance, to atomise the ability of working people and their allies to fight back. The regime which followed the catastrophe of Hitler and the Nazis coming to power however evolved more into a right-wing reactionary bourgeois government, particularly after the purge of the SA Stormtroopers in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives. Its previous mass base as a consequence began to ebb away. The fear of the masses of the government and its organs was based upon the consciousness of the defeat, rather than the actuality of the strength of the reactionary government in power, and particularly its repressive apparatus.
Antisemitism and Islamophobia
In dealing with the ideology of the far right Mudde points out: “Although the far-right movement is highly diverse even within the two major subgroups, extreme right and radical right, there are many ideological features and political issues that are shared”. They are unrestrained and unapologetic defenders of the inequities of capitalism. The same applies to democracy: “Unsurprisingly, fascism rejects democracy. Hitler stated that ‘democracy is the foul and filthy avenue to communism’ while Mussolini rejected it as ‘electoralism’,” Mudde writes. Fascism offered a ‘third way’ that claimed to go beyond liberalism and socialism: “This is reflected in its economic doctrine of corporatism, in which society is organised in corporate groups, such as those of agriculture and the military, which are meant to work together, in an organic manner, to the benefit of the state ideology… Fascism also believes in action over words as well as war over peace”. The ultimate goal of the populist radical right is an “ethnocracy”, “generously” granting a choice to immigrants to integrate – “become ‘native’” – or face expulsion from the country.
Mudde also explains that “within nativism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia play particularly important roles”. As we know the Jews were used by the Nazis in particular as the scapegoat for all the ills of German society and antisemitism was the key prejudice of the far right in the early twentieth century, and “remains central to many extreme-right groups today”. But as the author points out, “many populist radical right groups and parties, particularly in Western Europe, are not antisemitic and some have even become philosemetic (pro-Jewish) seeing Israel as the ideal ethnocracy and Jews as natural allies in the struggle against Islam”.
It is Islamophobia which has become the defining prejudice of the far right, with the latter basing themselves on a crude right-wing political interpretation of Islam, with Muslims pictured as hostile to ‘democracy’ and to all non-Muslims. However this has not always been the case; Islam can be profoundly influenced by the class radicalisation of society. The developments within Iran during its revolution in the late 1970s led at one stage to a form of radical Islam that proposed the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy. We have seen something similar develop in the Catholic Church in Latin America with a phase of ‘liberation theology’ – which played an important role in the radicalisation of Latin America at one stage.
Now radical liberal theology has taken a backseat with the emergence of murderous right-wing regimes, like Modi in India and Bolsonaro in Brazil, that are ultimately doing the bidding of the capitalists. All non-Hindus are dismissed by the BJP as ‘aliens’. The BJP’s president Amit Shah claims that Bangladeshi immigrants in India are ‘infiltrators’ and ‘termites’. Bolsonaro, who sits uneasily in power in Brazil for the time being, has called the poor, hungry Venezuelan immigrants into Brazil as the ‘scum of the earth’. He has a morbid fear of any mass movements in Brazil which have the potential to overthrow his regime. In India, the music of the future is shown by the nature of the attacks already; for instance on the local Congress party in the state of Karnataka. Modi criticised the state government in 2018 for “interfering with the Lokayukta, an anti-corruption ombudsman organisation”, linking this to the absence of security in the state: “In Karnataka there is no law, there is no order”.
Similarly in Brazil during the 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro declared in one interview: “If a police officer kills ten, fifteen, or twenty alleged criminals with ten or thirty bullets each, he needs to get a medal and not be prosecuted”. This seeks to legitimise, coming as it does from the head of the Brazilian state, state-organised assassinations, no different to the murder squads that we saw in Central America and elsewhere previously. If pursued on any large scale, it is bound to evoke a counter-movement from the left, which could be in danger of developing into a form of individual terrorism and not organised mass resistance through a workers’ defence force, for instance if the attacks are on a large enough scale.
The danger – but then, what to do?
Cas Mudde has managed to squeeze into 180 pages a virtual dictionary of every known – and hitherto also many unknown – far right, radical right, right-wing populist organisations that most people have probably never heard of. It is a vital book therefore as a reference to go and get the information in order to prepare and, if necessary, act. The author points out that as recently as 2012, “I concluded that the populist radical right was a ‘relatively minor nuisance’ to liberal democracy in Western Europe and the main challenge (still) came from the political mainstream”. Most of the terrorist incidents, such as the attacks in Hanau in Germany in February, have been the bloody work of ‘lone wolves’. He also concedes, however, that “I foresaw neither the extent of the political mainstreaming of the populist radical right nor the transformation of some of this ‘political mainstream’ into full-fledged populist radical parties”.
It is in the warnings that he gives that this book is important as a starting point on how to check and defeat the right on an international scale. The strategy and tactics will differ from one country to another but a general approach which starts with the mobilisation of the working class and its organisations is the way to proceed. Mudde however does not stress sufficiently how the rise of the far right is itself linked to economic and political failure by the traditional parties, particularly social democratic and left workers’ parties. His solution is to be found in the strengthening of “liberal democracy”. How precisely this is to be effected is left hanging in mid-air. Moreover he considers the “cultural” programme and demands of the far right as the main lever for them to gain a foothold and then grow and that therefore it is necessary to counter them in this field. This is effectively a form of identity politics which can only be countered through a class approach by the labour movement.
The emergence of the far right on the scale that it has developed would not have been possible without the failure of the workers’ organisations and their mass parties in government. They have been shown to be deficient, firstly in effectively fighting for an alternative workers’ government or, when they are in power, ending austerity through significant economic concessions to the working class, particularly its poorer sections. These could be paid for by the democratic nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy. Look at the price that has been paid by social democracy – in Europe alone – with a drastic loss of support and power, and diminished votes, in a whole series of countries from Spain in the south to Germany and Sweden in the north.
The author gives a very graphic picture of the far right’s development and degeneration in society in Eastern Europe. The Orbán regime in Hungary is distinguished by the lack of real democracy, to say the least, at all levels. He and his party Fidesz was considerably helped by the post-Stalinist economic collapse, chaos and corruption of the previous regime.
There has been, however, resistance – and significant resistance at that – to the rise of the far right with mass antiracist demonstrations, like in Berlin in 2018 attracting almost a quarter of a million people, and the anti-Trump, but more implicitly anti-far right women’s marches across the US, which mobilised between three and five million people in 2017.
Nevertheless he still seems to discount other measures, favouring instead the “strengthening of liberal democracy” as an answer to the rise of the far right. Precisely how this will be done remains a mystery because he correctly says: “Limiting free speech or the right to demonstrate not only infringes on the democratic rights of far-right activists, it undermines these rights in general, and thereby the liberal democratic regime” which he wants to maintain. “This is not even to speak of the tendency for repressive measures aimed at one group to be later applied to other groups, including some that are neither radical nor right”.
The solution? “First we should be better at explaining why liberal democracy is the best political system we currently have and how it protects all its discontents”. Marxists dispute this. ‘Democracy’, particularly capitalist democracy to give it its right name, is a system which allows you, the ordinary citizen, to act and to speak so long as those who control the levers of power, the capitalist monopolists, decide. History attests to the fact that the state – particularly in periods of extreme class polarisation, when the capitalists envisage that they are in danger from an aroused labour movement – will resort to extra-parliamentary manoeuvres, which means leaning on the right and the far right in particular as attack dogs of capitalism against the working class.
Marxists are not pacifists. History has shown that the working class instinctively fights any party or regime which seeks to take away the right to vote, but also the right to strike, the right to express your views in print and the media, including social media. The way to cement this programme is to educate the working class, particularly the youth, in intransigent opposition to the far right and a determination to defeat them in all spheres in which they operate by first acquainting them with the real character of these organisations today.
This book of Cas Mudde, in the detail and descriptions it contains, is extremely useful but his solutions do not do the job in preparing young people and the working class for action against the immediate danger posed by far-right groups. There is no imminent danger from a mass fascist movement taking power in any one of the advanced capitalist countries today. However both in Italy with Mussolini and Hitler in Germany it took a series of defeats and the consequent strengthening of the far right for the conditions to be prepared for them to come to power. ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. As limited as the far right is today in its possible effects it would be criminal not to prepare the labour movement to politically undermine and, where necessary, take the appropriate action to defeat them.
Ultimately it will take the working class and poor masses first on a continental scale and then throughout the world to defeat capitalism and establishing a democratic socialist society as a means of banishing the spectre of the far right and all their ills from ever again coming to power!