Neo-nazis and extreme right-wingers in Europe have undoubtedly been encouraged by the election results in Germany. Last Saturday in Sollentuna, North Stockholm, 300-400 people marched under Nazi leadership. Ostensibly, they were there to mourn the murder of a 14-year-old ‘patriot’, but in practice it was an attempt to show their strength.
The most important causes of an increase in racism and fascism lie in the increasingly cruel reality of capitalism: unemployment, cuts in public spending and increased uncertainty over the future. The barriers against refugees - which are part of the same neo-liberal European Union policies - give the racists ammunition to point at refugees and immigrants as scapegoats.
The unpopular German government, of Social Democrats and Greens, has been opposed by the massive Monday demonstrations, particularly in eastern Germany. Workers, the unemployed and young people have all shown their anger against the huge social cuts embodied in ‘Agenda 2010’. The trade union tops, linked as they are to Social Democracy, have given no leadership to the protests. Nazis and racists have tried to latch onto the discontent, but have been given short shrift by the demonstrators. As yet, the votes for the neo-nazis are mainly protest votes.
The German government has, at the same time as launching ‘Agenda 2010’, joined those EU governments which are demanding even higher walls against refugees. On 30 September, at a meeting with the ministers responsible from the EU countries, the German minister,Otto Schily, will move a resolution advocating the deportation of asylum-seekers to camps outside the EU’s borders. (Tchad is one country he has mentioned.) This is a proposal Germany previously has opposed. Schily will be seconded by the new EU commissioner for asylum issues, Rocco Buttiglione from Italy. These two also advocate that the right of appeal for refugees should be abolished.
The proposals are connected to the neo-liberal cuts in welfare, but also aim to win over the least conscious layers of the population in an attempt to shore up falling political support. Attention will be diverted to the ‘cost’ of refugees instead of the failure of the politicians and the increased exploitation of the big companies. The German government has also partly attempted to foster discontent against the EU, emphasising "German interests" in the debates over enlargement and the EU budget.
Göran Persson’s Social Democratic government in Sweden acts in a similar way. Before enlargement, Persson warned about "social tourism" from Eastern Europe and was immediately applauded by the racist ‘Sweden Democrats’. After enlargement, however, no cases of "social tourism" have been found in Sweden. In the elections in 2002, the Liberal Party tried to whip up support among the same layers, with its demand for language tests for immigrants.
The number of asylum seekers in Sweden is forecast to reach 23,000 this year - 25 per cent less than in 2003. Continual "cost reductions" are made all the time at the expense of refugees. Refugee authorities are receiving 7.3 billion Swedish Kronor this year but they will get only 5.5 bn in the year 2007. The benefits for people from Iraq have been cut because it is now "safe" to go back! Housing benefit is withdrawn from anyone not following the state directive as to where they should live. Some councils - with the Social Democratic leader of Malmö council, Ilmar Reepalu, at the forefront - are demanding that no more refugees be sent to their cities.
Last year, only 15 per cent of asylum-seekers in Sweden won a permit to stay. At the moment, a big group of Somalis is threatened with expulsion, despite the fact that several of them have both jobs and housing contracts. These inhumane refugee policies have severe consequences. 150 refugee children in Sweden are in a condition known as ‘total apathy’ and only force-feeding keeps them alive. 500 refugee children applied for psychiatric care in Stockholm alone last year. This Summer at least one asylum seeker, a woman from Iran, has committed suicide.
The German example confirms that established parties can not stop nazism and racism. On the contrary, their policies are nourishing these groups. What is needed is a programme of socialist policies. The struggle against ‘Agenda 2010’ in Germany and against cuts in Sweden must be linked to the struggle against racism. We need fighting and democratic trade unions and new workers’ parties which fight against neo-liberalism and capitalism and for socialism.