The following opinion piece appeared in a recent issue of the French daily newspaper, L’Humanité

In many European countries – the Netherlands, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, and France, among others – the far right is gaining ground in the polls. Whether fueled by reactionary obsessions or generated by a technocratic era laboring under the yoke of the markets, populism is thriving thanks to the crisis. In order to defeat it, politics must empower the people once more.

The question of how to block the far right’s rise in Europe can no longer be solved by the traditional methods of the anti-fascist struggle. Indeed, since the beginning of the present century, parties and movements of this type that do well in the polls no longer spring from the fascist tradition, which is now merely a token residue on the political scene. On the contrary, it has turned into a para-terrorist mode of action (like the German Nazionalsozialistiche Hintergrund for example) whose eradication must be left to the police.

The sole exception to this rule is Hungary’s Jobbik and its Magyar Garda militia – although these look back nostalgically to Regent Horty’s reactionary dictatorship, rather than to the fascism of the Arrowed Crosses proper.

We have even moved beyond the era of the “post-fascism” embodied by Gianfranco Fini in the years that followed the setting up of the National Alliance. That party eventually became a mainstream conservative party and has curbed public liberties far less than have Berlusconi’s neo-liberal policies.

Far-right populism today follows two distinct models: On the one hand, there are xenophobic parties like Geert Wilders’ in the Netherlands, or the UDC in Switzerland, or in Scandinavia, with the possible addition of Italy’s Northern League. These are movements that mobilize supporters in the name of national identity, mainly among sectors of the population that are the hardest hit, both economically and symbolically, by neo-liberal globalization and the structural modification of the European population.

The challenge to the Left is threefold:

  • First, the Left must tackle the question of identity by proposing a national narrative based on the values of integration. That also implies doing away with the cultural relativism that characterizes Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism.
  • Second, the Left must bridge the enormous gap between the people and the ruling elite. It will necessitate a complete and drastic overhauling of the exercise of power (through participative management, legal curbs on the merging of public and private interests, and a maximum number of terms for councillors and deputies).
  • Third, since those parties glorify the merits of the State as protector and redistributor, a determined break with the intellectual tyranny of neo-liberalism, supposed to be the only way out of the crisis, a break which in reality calls for an alternative model to the financial economy, and one that can no longer accommodate the myth of infinite growth.

In addition to this, it is absolutely necessary to understand that in Western Europe, far-right populism has succeeded in hijacking the Left’s ideological package on social issues.

Pim Fortuyn’s stroke of genius consisted in building a postmodern movement that de-constructed multiculturalism in the name of Islam’s alleged (and radical Islam’s real) intolerance of individual liberties. These involve the freedom of conscience; secularism, equality between men and women, LGBT rights, the right to have no religion, and lastly, the right to security from terrorism and violence directed against certain minorities, in particular the Jews.

Oskar Freysinger indeed started his speech at the convention against Islamization, organized on December 10, 2010 by the so-called Bloc identitaire (identity Block) and Riposte laïque (Secular riposte), with praise of the “country of Voltaire.” All those who attended the event noted the presence among the public of many secular militants whose Islamophobic conversion was partly made possible by the acceptance, by certain Leftist movements, of “cultural difference.”

To conclude, it is also possible that the very notion of the far-right no longer reflects the real dangers that threaten democracy in Europe. Of course it is necessary to fight against it, but we are witnessing the emergence of an ominous danger, namely the ‘illiberal’ democracy on the model of the prototype imposed by Fidesz and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

In other words, this means a democracy that retains the forms of multi-party and electoral democracy, and of the market economy, but which in fact grows authoritarian. It means one that makes a changeover of political power more difficult, keeps a tight grip on the media as well as on artistic creation, and promotes a fundamentally organic and ethnic conception of society and the nation.

Instead of the traditional far right, we may be in for another form of government that is a democracy in name only, where ‘governance’ is exercised by unelected technocrats, whose main achievement is to promote an idea. That idea is that public affairs are a science modeled on the laws that govern the functioning of the neo-liberal economy, whose dogma must go unchallenged.

In which case, democracy keeps politics and ideologies out, leaving behind a disenchanted world. It’s an ideal situation that can make the fortune of a far right that dangles dreams, or even utopia, before despairing citizens.

Jean-Yves Camus is associate researcher with IRIS (the institute for international and strategic relations)