Capitalist crisis and anti-immigrant reaction
Europe has been wracked by increased racism and the growth of the far right due to the inability of governments and the European Union to deal with growing capitalist crisis and the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War Two.
In the last few months, Austria has become a focal point of this growth as the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and its candidate Norbert Hofer in the recent Austrian presidential elections came close to getting elected.
In the first round of the elections in April, the FPÖ received 35.5% of the vote and in the second round of voting on 22 May received 49.6% and lost by only 31,000 votes.
It was therefore appropriate that Sonja Grusch, of the Socialist Left Party (CWI Austria) introduced the commission on fighting racism and the far right in Europe that took place at the July 2016 CWI summer school in Belgium.
Sonja reported on the court order meaning there will be a re-run of the election due to technical mistakes in the electoral process such as, for example, the premature opening of postal ballots or the counting of votes without supervision. It is the first re-run of a national election in a western advanced capitalist country and it is absolutely open who is going to win.
Historically, Austria was one of the first countries to suffer a fascist regime, under Dollfuss, in 1933, and of course, Adolf Hitler was Austrian as well, meaning as Sonja commented: “An Austrian can make a good introduction to this subject!”
However in a number of countries there has been a growth of far right and fascist organisations. From marching in streets in Sweden and with Jobbik in Hungary to Eastern Europe and the Balkans where commemorations for Nazis and World War Two collaborators have been growing and even getting government support.
We have seen the emergence of new types of far right forces, such as Pegida in Germany.
Regular attacks on refugees and mosques have taken place and in opinion polls refuges are blamed for rape and terror. In polls 76% in Hungary, 71% in Poland and 61% in Germany are concerned that refuges will lead to a growth in terrorism.
The dreadful sexual assaults that took place in Cologne on New Year’s Eve have led to racist slanders against North African people, in particular, with the media and far right propaganda that they “are more likely to sexually to assault women.”
But in elections too, the far right and right populist parties are gaining and looking to stabilise themselves while in government. Possibly Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France could reach the second round of the 2017 French elections and are leading polls. Far right politician Geert Wilders’ party is leading in the Dutch polls and the minister for immigration in Norway is a member of the right-wing Progress Party. Ukip have an elected representatives in the British parliament and the Welsh Assembly and in Poland the right-wing PiS party are in power.
Establishment parties across Europe are worried about this rise despite their policies and rhetoric laying the basis for their growth.
The question for socialists and the CWI is how do we fight, struggle and resist? What methods do we use and what demands do we put forward? The main aspect for us is political strategy. Sonja pointed out: “A good doctor looks for the causes of illness and doesn’t just deal with the symptoms.”
We analyse the character of the period and also the state, the crisis in the capitalist system and the crisis in the established parties. There are increasing elements of Bonapartism, like in France, with the use of a state of emergency but we are far away from the parties that were a bridge to fascism in the 1930s. The organisations we are dealing with are of a different character. There are some openly fascist organisations but there are newer types of movement like the Identity groupings which have developed in France, Germany, Austria and elsewhere.
Despite their fascist core they say they ‘are not racist’ and claim races and ethnicities are equal but ‘should stay in their place’. They have enormous amounts of money and are social media savvy and could grow further given the continued refugee crisis.
Sonja also made the point that the ruling class has no interest in fascism coming to power, at the moment. Fascism is a system that benefits capitalism but is very difficult to control and represents a ‘regulation’ of capitalism. Current far right and fascist groups change their colour on the way to power. They demonstrate they will implement austerity and help big business.
For example, the National Front in France have wavered on labour reform and even Jobbik in Hungary, in the hope of getting into government, have dropped anti-Semitism and now support the European Union. We must expose them as often neo-liberal parties.
Alongside this growth there has been a huge movement in support of refugees. In the discussion, Holger from Germany talked about the enormous wave of solidarity witnessed in Germany a few months ago, with one in two adults saying they had either given money or organised help for refugees daily. In Austria people have “self-organised” to provide food, clothing and transport for refugees.
But bluntly saying ‘refugees are welcome’ is not good enough. It does not deal with the issues of austerity, jobs and homes. Why do sections of the working class vote for the far right? Only 12% of Hofer voters in Austria said refugees were the main issue. 71% of working class people who voted for him expect their lives to get worse. It is clear racism can be cut across by working class struggle.
This was echoed by Heather from Britain who described how working class unity and fighting on the NHS and other issues saw off the far right Britain First from the streets of Leicester in the aftermath of Brexit, a campaign in which both the official Leave and Remain campaigns played the race issue. Rene from Germany commented on the social component of support for the far right there, pointing out how they have support from the most downtrodden layers and how they can be won to a socialist programme.
In Northern Ireland, Gerry described how in extreme cases immigrants have had their houses burnt down and suffered other attacks but the Socialist Party (CWI) has been instrumental in fighting back, organising a counter demonstration to a far right protest against refugees which outnumbered them. And standing Labour Alternative candidates during the recent elections laid a strong foundation to fight against racism, sectarianism and capitalism.
The CWI has also been at the forefront of fighting Golden Dawn in Greece, one of the most successful far right organisations in recent years. Marilou from Greece said that Xekinima (CWI Greece) are the only group actively doing anything to combat Golden Dawn and appealing to both the 72% of Greeks who are worried about lower living standards because of refugees and the five million people involved in solidarity work with refugees.
Around the world
Outside of Europe fighting racism and solidarity with refugees has been a major field of our work.
In Hong Kong we have been instrumental in establishing a refugee union which has 2,000 members. Vincent Kolo described our work in setting up an occupation camp that existed for six months which won concessions on food welfare which shook the government.
In South Africa, Trevor from WASP talked about the high levels of racist incidents recently, mainly anti-black attacks but also xenophobia against migrants from other African countries.
Working class unity
Reaching out to workers in Europe and around the world must be done by making a clear link between capitalist crisis and fascism, appealing to them on class lines not by diluting class demands.
Ignoring the social and economic problems re-opens the door to the far right. Sonja quoted the Austrian poet, Erich Fried, who said: “A fascist that is nothing but a fascist is a fascist but an anti-fascist who is nothing but an anti-fascist is not an anti-fascist.” Anti-racism that does not take up social issues will fail. We need to link working class rights with migrant rights in a united struggle.
Trade unions can be a powerful weapon against the far right as shown in Belgium. Pietro from the CWI in Belgium described how migrants and workers united in recent general strikes and workers’ struggles with the workers’ movement involving illegal workers and immigrants exploited by their bosses.
In summing up the commission, Kristopher from Sweden related how working class unity resulted in driving out the far right from Gothenburg after vicious attacks on the CWI, including members hospitalised, and their offices attacked. And a similar fightback against racism, the far right, cutbacks, neoliberalism and the European Union is needed across Europe.