Another party of the far right has just scored a resounding success in a general election in an EU member state. This time it was Finland’s turn.
This means that in the very countries where social democracy built arguably the world’s strongest welfare states – Finland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium – people are now turning to parties to the right of the traditional conservative forces which have always opposed and attempted to undermine this achievement. Why is this, and what should we be doing about it?
First of all, we should stop calling names and start offering some real analysis of what is going on so that we can build a real movement to halt and reverse it. Most people who are voting for these parties are not fascists, and calling them such merely fuels the paranoia which benefits the far right.
Indeed, the parties themselves, with the exception of the Flemish Vlaams Belang, have no historic links with fascism or Nazism and present a very different profile to that of, for example, the chronically unsuccessful and quite laughable British National Party.
Take the True Finns. They are opposed to further immigration and back the usual law-and-order agenda of the far right, but they have also emerged as defenders of the welfare state and of redistributive tax and benefit policies. This puts them, on many issues, to the left of the social democrats. They present, in addition, a much more realistic analysis of the European Union than do the mainstream parties.
This is also true of the country which, as translator for the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP), I know best. The Dutch version of the True Finns is the PVV, the ‘Party for Freedom’. The PVV wants to end immigration from outside Europe, and has called for the Koran to be banned and for a tax to be placed on headscarves. On the other hand, thrown into the frankly weird mix of PVV policies is, as in Finland, a call to defend the welfare state. Moreover, as with the Finns, the PVV presents a sound analysis of the EU, one which does not rely on the xenophobia which characterises much anti-EU rhetoric, not all of it from the right, and especially in Britain.
There are at least three probable major reasons for the appearance, at this critical moment in European history, of such a movement.
Firstly is the fact that social democratic parties no longer make the slightest attempt to defend or promote the interests of the working people who created them. Instead, they have not only allowed conservatives to attack the welfare states which were their greatest achievement, but have joined in the demolition with unbounded enthusiasm.
Secondly, parliamentary democracy has been hollowed out and no longer has any real meaning. This process of undermining almost two hundred years of progress towards greater popular representation has not gone unnoticed on the European ‘street’. The peoples of Europe are, of course, as represented as ever we were, but only in bodies which no longer have any real power.
The open contempt shown by the elite for the votes against the EU Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty, and the current move to bring economic policy entirely into the hands of unelected bodies in Brussels and Frankfurt are not the work of some bogeyman Hitlerites, but of ‘respectable’ politicians of the centre-right and centre-left.
In France, it is beginning to look as if the candidate of the ‘Socialist’ Party in the coming presidential election will be the current head of the IMF. No wonder the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is doing so well in the polls.
This removal of popular influence over real political decisions has been promoted by the announcement – again, by ‘respectable’ mainstream politicians – of debates about national identity, about ‘what it means to be French/Dutch/British/etc’, which are entirely without meaning, simply Weapons of Mass Distraction.
What we need in response to the rise of right-wing populism is a more effective populism of our own, but it must be a populism rooted in a proper analysis of the situation we are in, including of the politics of the far right. It is an analysis which we need to take into the street, demonstrating to people, for example, that in practice these far right parties never, ever challenge the neoliberalism of the elite. The PVV itself is now officially ‘tolerating’ a right-wing Dutch government which has launched a vicious attack on working people and the welfare state while handing economic decision-making to the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
Recently, there was a demonstration in Amsterdam against Geert Wilders, the populist right leader of the PVV. People came from England to it, having previously tried to keep Wilders off their country’s hallowed soil.
The SP was criticised for wanting nothing to do with the event, believing that it was unwise to single out Wilders and that instead we should campaign against the neoliberalism to which, for all his talk of defending the welfare state, the PVV is now compromised. It believes such demonstrations are counterproductive.
Watching a recording of the speech by one of the visitors from London, you could see their point.
‘This demonstration has one slogan’, he said.
I waited for it, though scarcely with baited breath.
It turned out to be ‘Smash Geert Wilders’.
Not even ‘Smash the PVV’.
We were being called upon, in lieu of political analysis or any kind of effective response, to “smash’ an individual who has never called for violence against his opponents.
With friends like this, we scarcely need enemies, whatever they call themselves.