The new fascism in Europe

Across Europe, quality of life is dropping, providing fertile ground for the far right

by Stephen Marche

The new fascism

Xinhua/eyevine/Redux

Ahead of the June 17 elections in Greece, Athens was the scene of a gruesome nostalgia trip. The ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party took to holding torchlit parades through the streets. The party rejects the term neo-Nazi, but there’s little doubt about its source of inspiration. Their symbol, the twisting maeander, is highly reminiscent of a swastika; they send teams of threatening young men into the streets wearing black shirts; their leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, specializes in flamboyant, melodramatic fist-shaking speeches, awash in self-pity; and several prominent members have openly approved of Hitler. These are not fringe figures in the Greek political landscape anymore. During the last legislative election, barely a month ago, they managed to take seven per cent of the vote. This time around they earned 6.92 per cent.

They are not unique to Greece. Just as the 1970s gave rise to a slew of European left-wing terrorists in the wake of turbulent social and economic change in the 1960s, so the failure of globalization is inevitably coughing up a new breed of fascism across the Continent.

The Great Recession has clarified underlying trends that were at work before the crash of 2008. The ranks of the European far right no longer come from the underprivileged and marginalized but from the middle class, the group most threatened by the inevitable outcome of globalization: rising inequality. The political centre has failed to acknowledge a simple reality. Integrated markets have not helped ordinary people in Europe. The globalized economy has seen a huge spike in productivity and GDP. In the decade before the crash, the Irish growth rate hovered around five per cent annually and in Spain around four per cent. But the benefits of that expansion have not been shared by all. Stagnant wages combined with inflation led to a decrease of middle-class purchasing power throughout the decade before 2008. That year, a German study showed a marked decrease in the number of workers who fell between 70 to 150 per cent of the median income—from 62 per cent in 2000 to 54 per cent in 2008. The middle class has found only deepening insecurity and a decrease in social mobility. A decline in the European standard of living is almost inevitable at this point. Children will almost certainly lead poorer lives than their parents.

The only parties that speak to the failure of economic integration to improve the lives of ordinary Europeans are ultra-nationalistic. Both sides of the political centre are to blame in the current situation and neither seems to have a workable solution. Socialism from the centre-left created burdensome deficits before the recession; countries competed for the most outrageous entitlement programs despite sky-high debt-to-GDP ratios. (The French may have won with postnatal training in vaginal exercises). As Theodoros Pangalos, the former Socialist deputy prime minister, said, “We ate the money together.” Post-recession, the centre-right’s austerity plan has failed to create investor confidence, and led to a double-dip recession. Their ideology is equally inflexible and ineffective.

The legitimacy of recent neo-fascist movements is what makes them infinitely more terrifying than the leftist terrorists of an earlier era who wreaked havoc in Italy, Germany, France and elsewhere. The nightmare of European fascism has never been entirely extinguished, but for the most part hard-line nationalism has, until recently, been a sociopathic residue of European politics, a self-consciously futile and anarchistic project. The new fascists are organized and sensible, with their eyes firmly set on controlling the machinery of the state rather than destroying it. They are policemen and bankers rather than students and workers. In Germany, political commentators noticed a shift in tone rather than substance—one from stiefelnazis, or “boot Nazis,” to kravattennazis or “tie Nazis.” Many nations in Europe have an expanding hard-right party, which points to a larger phenomenon. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party is consistently a leading party in national elections. France’s Marine Le Pen of National Front received six million votes in the recent election. Hungary’s Jobbik party proudly displays a symbol suspiciously similar to the war-era Arrow Cross and won 17 per cent of the vote in 2010. Even the Scandinavian countries—once beacons for tolerance and openness—are susceptible. Norway’s far right has defended mass-murderer Anders Breivik’s views on Islam.

The underlying reasons for this spasm of hatred are obvious. The unemployment rate in Greece is 22 per cent. In Spain, it’s even higher, at 24 per cent. Youth unemployment tops 22 per cent for the entire European Union. The classic explanation for the rise of fascism in the 1930s was severe economic crisis and poverty. But hard-right parties have been prominent since well before the current economic crisis, although their messages have become much more mainstream since. The current explosion of racism and xenophobia is rooted in a more profound rejection of the open flow of money and people. All the ultra-nationalist parties are against the EU as an idea and in practice. In all of these parties, hatred of Jews is an ancient theme, an old song dragged out for the old-timers; their current preoccupation is hatred for Muslim immigrants and the Roma, vulnerable symbols of human mobility. Jobbik has organized “civic guards” to go on “civil activist strolls” in towns with large Roma populations; such euphemisms should be familiar to any student of European history.

In his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama proposed that the global struggle of competing ideological systems had come to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Whenever dramatic events have followed—Sept. 11, 2001, or the Iraq war or the rise of the Chinese economy—the idea has taken a thrashing. His theory nonetheless has a tendency to bounce back. Many of us want to believe that liberal democracy is the only sensible political ideology, and that the various insanities of the 20th century ultimately resulted in that revelation. Fukuyama assumed democratic systems would be able to work through internal contradictions, and the capacity of voters to throw out their political masters would correct the most egregious economic mismanagement. Twenty years after the book’s publication, Europe finally seems to be about to prove The End of History wrong. In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, Fukuyama questioned his own idea. “Can liberal democracy survive the decline of the middle class?” he wondered. The corrosive effect of the global flow of money around national borders, and around the capacity for any elected government to regulate it, is proving too strong.

Democratic institutions began imploding before any neo-fascists came to real power. The failure of the political class and the threat of unbearable punishment from the bond market has led, in some cases, to the imposition of unelected officials, as with the appointment of Mario Monti in Italy. The technocrats’ solution to the deepening crisis is simple and elegantly self-serving: they need more power. The Economist sees a great opportunity in the crisis for European integrationists: “A consensus is slowly emerging that, whether a Greek exit is to be averted or weathered, there will have to be a greater level of integration in the eurozone, with tighter constraints on the freedom of national governments.” The European Commission and the IMF define lack of accountability. The failure of their policies calling for painful austerity measures in Greece has had no consequences. Who can fire them??This situation presents a question that makes sense to more people than just fascists: what is the value of democracy if it is incapable of determining the economic system of its people?

Financier George Soros, in a recent speech, declared his fear that the European Union is becoming “a German empire with the periphery as the hinterland.” Ultra-nationalism at least provides a kind of resistance to this future. The resistance is grotesque and violent, however. Michaloliakos, in his speech after the May election, shouted, “The new gold dawn of Hellenism is rising. For those who betray this country, the time has come for fear. We are coming!” A time of fear may well be coming. In a televised debate on Greek television, a spokesman for Golden Dawn, Ilias Kasidiaris, stood up in the middle of a typical televised roundtable, threw a glass of water in the face of one female opponent and then began roughly slapping another in the face. The other guests were too stunned to know how to respond.

Even more troubling, Kasidiaris escaped from custody at the television station and only resurfaced last Monday. Several commentators have suggested such a flight would not have been possible without the complicity of Greek police, half of whom reportedly voted for Golden Dawn in the last election. The neo-Nazis have the support of the police as well as a sizable chunk of the electorate. Liberal democracy in Europe may turn out not to be the conclusion of history but instead a very brief chapter. The old madness has returned. What is worse this time is there is good reason behind it.




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The new fascism in Europe

  1. Europe? How about Canada!

  2. In the case of Greece, the fear is that the radicals of both the far left and right are gainig power. Golden Dawn is crazy but what about the far left Syriza(Coalition of the Radical Left) which won 27% of the vote? What about the increase in support for the Greek Communist? These two groups are so radical that they let the nuts of socialist PASOK look sane. Does anyone remember that PASOK was founded by a guy named Paprendou who was blatantly anti-west? The only sane party left is New Democracy. It falls on the center-right of the Greek political spectrum but is ideologically somewhere between the Liberal and Conservative Parties of Canada.

    • Actually, PASOK was founded by Andreas Papandreou (check your spelling), who received a PhD from Harvard and was an economics professor in a variety of North American univiersities, including York University in Toronto. I believe he also worked with the US Army. Also, his first wife was American, so I’m not quite sure how he would be deemed to be “anti-west”. He wished that Greece be free from powerful generals and CIA-backed leaders that controlled the army and influenced the country, so if that makes him “anit-western”, then so must every person who wishes democracy for their country. Just saying…

    • Sir, the party you hastily pronounce as sane, has been in power fro more than a year now. It has repeatedly sacrificed the Greek middle class and pushed to despair lower class, with its blind obedience to the German Bankers behind it all. It has continued the Greek traditional Clientelle system selling out thousands of useless jobs to its supporters in the civil service much as PASOK did. They are co-rulling with the Pasok figures and they never held themn accountable for our disaster. Ship owners, bankers, the Greek super rich evade consistently all taxes and the people are skinned dry. Stiil think the same about them?

  3. nazi=national SOCIALISM

    • Not too bright David ?

      • nazi is literally a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. I am not going to make any comments about your lack of knowledge of this though.

        • Isnt it curious that the Nazis (whom a surprising number of gullible fools here are claiming was a left of center party) actually hated & feared (communist) Russia the most. Really? How can that be? I mean, aren’t they BOTH supposedly on the left, politically? No. THEY ARE NOT. Fascism and Communism are on the opposite ends of the bloody political spectrum!! (Nazis to the extreme right and communists to the extreme left). The hate-filled folks who formed the Nazi party understood propaganda very well (Goebbels, the Nazi minister of Propaganda, especially). They understood how using the word ‘social’ and ‘workers’ in their moniker would have broad appeal (afterall, workers form ‘the masses’ and the Nazis wanted to be elected…it was still a democracy BEFORE they gained power). It’s a no-brainer that naming themselves the National ANTI-SOCIALIST Party would have had zero mass appeal and therefore little support. Hitler and the Nazis were hardline, racist, hating, control-thugs; a person’s rights were trampled under a regime of brutality and totalitarianism. After the Nazis were elected, democracy ended; all opposition was outlawed. And yes, essentially these same things happened in the Soviet Union. Therefore, the lesson for you is simple: parties on the far left and right are the extremists – these are the parties to AVOID. Those parties are where hatred and intolerance finds sanctuary. And dont be fooled by a party name: If hating others is discernably part of a party’s agenda, they’re dangerous. You twits who suggest that the NAZI’s were from the left are about as smart as a bag of hammers. Your ignorance is showing; I implore you to read history and rise above the moron level!

          • A quick google search will show that social programs were a big part of Nazi Germany. It’s typical for a brainwashed American to think that political groups either fall on one side or the other.

          • Hitler was economically centrist, but far right with social and foreign policy. Hope that clears some confusion. Defo not socialist though. Welfare state isn’t necessarily socialist or fascist.

  4. I guess it would be fair to say that hitler had good reason too, in the beginning. But ultimate power corrupts more than cash flow, cash doesnt breed hate as fast as facism can. These people are scared, and will do almost anything to secure a future for their children. Are they actually saying they are coming to get us? That’s what hitler said right up to when he killed himself in a bunker. hate is fear. hate is weakness. You would think learned all about hitler and facism in school, but judging from the state of their country and their emerging idealogies, they must have not learned too much. haha

    • You feel the need to be “fair” to Hitler???

  5. Liked the article except for the usual exasperating twist: fascism being trademarked “far right”. A peak in Google (or a history book) will show Mussolini invented it from the LEFT to crank up socialist reforms. Nasty outcome for sure, but what’s with the wrong labels?

  6. Let’s face facts here people.

    Fascism always has & always will be a CENTERIST movement that takes the worst parts of Irrational Populist Nationalism from both sides

    (which, by definition, is anti-socialist. i don’t care what name the Nazis used to confuse people. Socialism, by definition, is an International Movement. National Socialism just happens to be an oxymoron like Progressive Conservatism. No true socialistic state has ever existed, merely authoritarian state communistic models.)

    & rallied against both the Unions & Marxists/Commies AND against Corporations/Plutoarchs.

    Still using Left/Right paradigms are dreadfully childish & do not get at the actual complexities & uniqueness of every particular issue. The map is not the territory.

  7. Pity you find invalidating people a way to take an opposing point. Lowers it down several pegs.
    Left and Right do exist. One seeks for the state to control everything. The other wants the state to butt out. Fascism purported to be a third way but Mussolini was a socialist first and never stpped calling himself one. As for the other guy… have you driven a VW lately? Volks Wagen? “Car for the masses”? His idea, right?
    What’s happening in Europe is alarming, but brings long shadows from both Right AND Left.
    A magazine like Macleans should know better than to pick sides. It lacks depth. Or balance.
    THAT was my point.

  8. The rise of fascism in Europe and Canada is making it more difficult for refugees to come here. Does this sound familiar? Has anyone read any history lately?

    Maybe it’s time to read Prof.Timothy Snyder’s book, Bloodlands, Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

    And no, there is never a good reason for fascism.

  9. Typical Macleans cliché-filled run of the mill liberal story. Marine Lepen’s party is not fascist, just an old Gaullist party.

  10. “underlying reasons for this spasm of hatred”

    The lowest level of sociological and political analysis is to ascribe your opponents opinions to “hatred” while your own preferred causes and indignations are noble of course. When I see that kind of prose, I stop reading and subscribing.

  11. Number 2 – good name. One can criticize, and academics can re-invent, but the original extreme left – > extreme right goes from anarcy-communism on the extreme left to fascism on the extreme right. You may care to characterize this as “dreadfully childish”, but any who doubt the placement should check “left-right politics” in Wikipedia for the history and the organization. To characterize any extreme ideology on one side or the other as “centrist” is inane.

    That said, it is not the name or definition but the tactics and ideology we need to look at. When those start to look too much like what we are seeing in Canada today, little doubt that many don’t want to use the term fascist.

  12. History does repeat itself

  13. I have to applaud for one of the most badly researched, prejudiced, and populist articles I have had the pleasure to read. Apart from catch phrases and other typical tools of tabloid journalism, the majority of the argumentation here goes back to recent happenings in Greece. Obviously, in a country as badly impacted by the recent recession, people will have a tendency to lean an ear to right and left wing political parties. But do they hold the power right now? No.
    As for much of the rest of the argumentation (as far as I could endure to read, at least), are we trying to attach the claimed return to “facism” of the entirety of Europe (when, btw, has Europe as a whole ever been fascist?) to the influence of small groups that have no political representation and no base in the general society? Because then, I would suggest the entirety of North America (yes, including Canada) take a good look into the mirror before they comment on the rest of the world.
    On a site note, what the author fails to mention is new French president who is to be situatred on the middle-left wing, and a left wing green party whose influence on the country of Germany has been constantly rising over the last two years, up to the point that the province of Baden-Wuertemberg is being ruled by a green premier.
    I’ve grown up in Europe, and have been living in Canada for two years now – the entirety of the political systems in North America (yes, even with a black democratic president south of the border) is far more conservative and right wing than any of those I see in Europe.

  14. Just a matter of time before Fascism is the majority in Canada and USA. Already reached Quebec with the language discrimination laws…

  15. The “far right” is home to the libertarians, minarchists, and anarchists. It is not the home of “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” Statism increases toward the left. The fact that Stalin tried to characterize fascism as “right wing” in the political turf war between fascism and stalinism is irrelevant, as is the work of stubborn revisionists who never cease trying to tie fascism to non-leftists.

  16. ….In a televised debate on Greek television, a spokesman for Golden Dawn,
    Ilias Kasidiaris, stood up in the middle of a typical televised
    roundtable, threw a glass of water in the face of one female opponent
    and then began roughly slapping another in the face… Did the author of the article see the whole video? did he understand what they saying? did he see who attacked first? Did he know that the female opponent never respect her opponent or viewers? does he know that Kasidiaris character is known and that he was set up? And finally does the writer knows how many people from regardless they political believes said that she deserved it? so check first all the sites and tell the entire truth.
    If you check the resend times whenever we have a raise on immigrants numbers( especially illegals) with a raise of unemployment the national parties are winning followers, just like in Austria (Heider) or Germany with the Reunion, and the refugees from the last war in Yugoslavia.

  17. “zionistas are new fascistas”

  18. Lol, here we go yet again, …

  19. If the author thinks there is good reason for the rise of these neo-Nazis then he would also have to agree that there was good reason for the rise of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. He should look at the terms of the Versailles Treaty and France insisting in its terms even during the Great Recession. France, more than any other, was to blame for the rise of Adolf Hitler. let’s not make that mistake again.

  20. Im Westen, da ragt manch Kreuz schlicht und klein, da liegen sie stumm in langen Reihen. Für uns, nur für uns!Und wo im Winde rauschet das Meer, da gaben sie freudig ihr Leben her. Für uns – nur für uns.

  21. In 1933 Germany had over 7 million unemployed. One year later, 3,374,000 people were helped back to work. Perhaps a little bit of fascism is exactly what Europe needs right now.

  22. We have millions of people living on welfare in the UK. We also have congested roads and railways, insufficient electricity generating capacity, lack of drainage and periodic water shortages.

    Why can’t the government get these people off benefits and into work and these urgently needed projects?

    It is costing us a fortune keeping unemployed.

  23. lol ultra nationalists? wtf does that mean? Neo Nazis? They are far from them

  24. Fascism is already ruling europe since a lot of time…
    Fascism is a system where political power melts with corporate power (imf, banks, pharmaceutical cartels, oil industry….)
    It has been hidden for decades, now it is showing again his real face.
    PS it seems like no one has an idea of what communism is….
    socialist state (by name at least like the URSS, that means union of soviet SOCIALIST republics) may have existed, but for sure not COMMUNIST states.
    saying “communist state” is an oxymoron.
    read the communist manifesto please.
    when communism will overcome (and it will) all kinds of state power, and especially all national states will become EXTINT, as their purpose is only to legitimate the power of the bourgeois(fascist) minority on the majority of the working people

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