After the French and Dutch Elections: Is there a threat of Fascism in Europe?

After the elections last week in the Netherlands, the attention of the world's media concentrated on the spectacular advance of the so-called Fortuyn's List - the ad hoc right-wing, anti-immigrant formation formed around the recently assassinated Pim Fortuyn.

Coming hard on the heels of the electoral advance of Le Pen in France, many people are asking whether politics in Europe are heading for the right, and even whether there is a risk of fascism.

However, it is necessary to take things in proportion. Yesterday's election in the Netherlands presented no clear winner. The Christian Democrat party took 43 of the parliament's 150 seats, meaning it is now the most powerful in the parliament. The late Pim Fortuyn's political allies, who stood for the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF) party on a variety of issues including - most notably - an end to immigration, took 26 seats.

As in France, the big loser was the Socialist Party. Labour lost 12 seats, giving it just 23, which means that the eight-year coalition led by the Labour leader Wim Kok is at an end. Its liberal VVD and Democrat66 coalition partners also suffered losses.

The Christian Democrat leader, Jan Peter Balkenende, is almost certain to become the next prime minister. However, he must strike deals with the parties that he hopes will back him in government. The VVD Liberals (probable partners) would take his grouping to 66 seats, but that still leaves the LPF - a Christian Democrat, VVD and LPF coalition would give the government 92 seats, a comfortable majority.

Balkenende has said he will not agree to Fortuyn's line on immigration as the price of counting the LPF MPs among his political allies but has not ruled out forming a coalition. Naturally, these "respectable" gentlemen do not rule out the support of anyone who promises to guarantee their comfortable jobs and privileges. And if the LPF joins the ruling coalition, they will certainly demand concessions for their racist line ("Holland is full").

What is the LPF?

The LPF won 26 seats, which means that it has more seats than the Labour Party, and is now the second largest party in the parliament! For a party that did not exist more that three months ago, this is an incredible result. This is attributable in part to the fact that Pim Fortuyn was assassinated on the eve of the election. Once again, we see how the criminal lunacy of individual terrorism served the interests of reaction. Under the circumstances, one might have expected his "party" to have got an even bigger result. However, the assassination in and of itself does not explain everything.

What this result indicates is the astonishing instability that now exists in even the most prosperous and apparently stable capitalist societies at the present time. The main thing that appealed to voters was that he was perceived to be different to other politicians and challenging the Dutch political Establishment. Public opinion is discontented with the status quo, the old faces and policies that have no solution to their problems. There is a deep-seated sense of unease and a desire for a radical change. This can express itself today as a sudden swing to the right, but will be expressed tomorrow in an equally sudden and sharp swing to the left.

Pim Fortuyn was not a fascist, but a rather peculiar racist right-wing demagogue. An openly gay former sociology professor who supported legalised drugs, prostitution, euthanasia and same sex marriages, he also spoke out against bureaucracy, the Netherlands' open borders with the rest of the European Union, and wanted to repeal the first article of the Dutch constitution forbidding discrimination. This revealed the reactionary face behind the "liberal" mask. His opposition to immigration at current levels and attacks on Muslim culture (which he said was "backward") put him on the far right, closer to politicians such as Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The "List" is not a party at all, but a hastily improvised assortment of contradictory elements. It has no cohesive ideology, but merely expresses the confused strivings of the petty bourgeois for miraculous solutions. Since such petty bourgeois movements can only thrive on the basis of constant successes - such as Pim Fortuyn managed to obtain by his skilful demagogy - its chances of survival are not great

"Until now the [LPF] has not been very stable," one of its new MPs, Maxine Verhagen, said. "Opinions change and people leave." These words perfectly characterise the unstable nature of this petty bourgeois formation. If it enters a coalition with the Christian Democrats, the List's chances for survival will be even less. Some analysts have predicted that the coalition will collapse in less than two years and lead to fresh elections. That pleasant little island of prosperity, the Netherlands, has entered into the general instability that is now the main characteristic of politics in all European countries.

Reactionary tendencies

The events in Holland cannot be seen in isolation from the rest of Europe. Let us not forget the victory of Haider in Austria. There are also nascent Bonapartist tendencies within every one of the right-wing bourgeois parties: in the British Conservatives, in Forza Italia, even in the US Republicans. But this is not the dominant tendency at present. The class balance of forces is in no way comparable to the situation before the war, when there was a very large peasantry in Italy and Germany. Now everywhere the working class is in a big majority. This means that an immediate movement in the direction of fascist or Bonapartist reaction in the developed capitalist countries is ruled out - at least for the present.

However, the unprecedented degeneration of the Social Democracy and ex-Stalinist Parties inevitably produces disillusionment amongst the masses and prepares the way for reaction. This is shown by the recent elections in France, where Le Pen defeated the Socialist candidate and got into the final round. This immediately gave rise to a rowdy campaign in the press about the alleged danger of fascism in France. In fact, Le Pen is not a fascist, but a reactionary racist and a pacemaker for fascism. If he had been elected, he would have behaved in the same way as Fini, the leader of the Italian neo-fascist party the National Alliance, which has become just another right-wing bourgeois conservative party. The same would undoubtedly have been the case with Pim Fortuyn, had he lived long enough to be elected.

We must, of course, combat reaction and racism at all times. But it is a serious mistake to sound the alarm bells and start shouting about fascism every time some reactionary demagogue gets an increase in votes. Such behaviour can seriously disorient the working class and actually disarm them when the moment arrives to prepare for a real struggle against reaction.

At this moment in time the real fascist organisations have been reduced everywhere to virulent sects. They may resort to terrorist activities, but this only expresses their impotence. The reason for this is obvious. The ruling class does not need these elements at the present time. The electoral victory of Le Pen in the first round of the French election immediately revealed the real state of affairs. The workers and youth came out onto the streets in all the main cities of France. This must have set the alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power.

No, the bourgeoisie does not need the fascists at this stage. Their provocations can destabilise the situation and provoke a massive reaction on the part of the working class, as happened in Italy in 1960. If they go too far with their provocations, the bourgeois state will take action against them, like a man who uses a stick to control an unruly dog. But that does not mean that there is no danger of serious reaction in the future - quite the contrary.

The continuation of capitalism will inevitably mean one convulsive crisis after another: mass unemployment, homelessness, the ruin of small businesses, etc. In such circumstances, the right-wing parties (not fascists, but "respectable" democratic conservatives) will try to use the racist card to divide the working class and divert the attention of the masses from the real cause of the crisis. In times of boom, the bosses welcome the influx of immigrants as a pool of cheap labour to be exploited. But in times of crisis, they will try to blame the lack of jobs and houses on the presence of immigrants.

The real cause of these problems is the capitalist system itself. The working class of France voted massively for a change in society. They looked to the Socialists and Communists for a solution to their problems. But the leaders of the SP and CP tried to base themselves on capitalism and "the market". As a result, they succeeded in disappointing and demoralising their working class supporters. They therefore prepared the way for reaction.

The last period was very similar to the period of the Left Bloc in Europe in the 1920s. Having betrayed the revolution in France, Germany and other countries, the Social Democracy took power, but, on the basis of capitalism, found themselves impotent to solve the problems of the working class. The temporary boom in the USA (which was very similar to the boom of the 1990s) ended in the great Crash of 1929. Overnight, millions of middle class people were ruined and millions of workers were thrown out of work. In Germany, unemployment reached four million (now, for the first time since the 1930s, German unemployment has reached the same figure).

The policies of the reformist leaders in Germany, Austria and Spain in the 1930s led straight to fascism. In Britain, where capitalism was stronger and they had the empire to lean upon, the ruling class did not need to go so far (though they openly expressed their enthusiasm for Hitler, Mussolini and Franco at the time, as a "bulwark against Communism"). Nevertheless, the policies of the British Labour leaders led to the defeat of the Labour Party and the victory of reaction in the form of the National Government.

At that time, the SP and CP leaders argued that there was a danger of fascism (which was true), and that the way to fight it was through the popular front, or unity with the so-called "democratic" wing of the bourgeoisie (which was false). In every case, the refusal of the Labour leaders to carry out the socialist transformation of society eventually led to the most terrible defeats.

This is an important lesson for the workers of Europe. The most important way to block the movement in the direction of reaction is to fight for a genuine socialist policy. The SP and CP leaders must break with the bourgeoisie and defend the interests of the worker, the peasant, the small shopkeeper - not only in words, but in deeds! Nationalise the banks and big monopolies! Provide the jobs and houses that people need. Give cheap credits to the small shopkeepers and peasants. That is the only way.

The fight against racism and reaction

The only way to fight reaction is by uniting the working class under a real socialist policy. Racism is a deadly poison that undermines the most important weapon of the Labour Movement - class unity. We will fight racism in all its forms and manifestations, open or disguised. However, racism cannot be eliminated by sentimental appeals or the moralistic demagogy of "liberal" bourgeois politicians. It can only be eradicated by eliminating its social roots: that is the lack of jobs, houses, schools and hospitals. On a capitalist basis, this is a completely utopian proposition.

The crisis of capitalism creates the kind of festering conditions in which racist and reactionary ideas can find an echo in sections of the population. Where the labour movement does not offer an alternative, people who do not understand the real reason why there are not enough jobs and houses can be persuaded by reactionary demagogues to look for a scapegoat. As the crisis deepens, sections of the "respectable" middle class can become frenzied and look for a saviour on the extreme right. The elements of this can already be seen, although only in a dim and obscure outline. The events in France and Holland are not the real drama but only a shabby and pathetic dress rehearsal. In the future, things will be far more serious.

For the last 200 years the working class of Europe has consistently fought for democratic rights. In all that time, the bankers, capitalists and landowners have consistently opposed every democratic advance. To the extent that democracy exists today in Britain, France and Holland, it has been because the working class and the labour movement has overcome the resistance of the property-owning classes.

In the long run, there will be splits in all the bourgeois parties, resulting in the formation of openly Bonapartist parties, and a polarisation of society to the right and left, preparing the way for all kinds of right-wing conspiracies like the Gladio conspiracy of the 1970s. But given the strength of the working class and its organisations, this can pave the way for an explosion of the class struggle and even open civil war.

The noisy propaganda about the "risk of fascism" in Europe is entirely false. The bourgeois in Europe burnt their fingers badly with fascism in the past, and are not likely to hand power again to fascist madmen like Hitler and Mussolini. When the times comes when the ruling class in Britain, France or Holland decide that democracy is no longer useful to them, they will use other methods, most likely handing power to the military. The fascist gangs will be used to murder and terrorise the working class, like Patria y Libertad in Chile. That is, they can play the role of auxiliaries of Bonapartist reaction, but they will not be permitted to take power.

But the bourgeoisie will not resort to open reaction until all other possibilities have been exhausted. Long before we reach this stage, the workers will have had many possibilities of taking power in one country after another. Only after a series of serious defeats of the working class would the danger of Bonapartist dictatorship be posed.

We will fight to defend all the basic democratic rights which have been conquered by the working class in struggle over generations. We will defend the freedom of expression, of the press, of assembly. Above all, we will defend the right to strike and demonstrate, and the right to form and belong to a trade union. We oppose all anti-trade union laws and all attempts to ensnare the unions with the state.

However, in the last analysis, we recognise that democracy is only one of the forms by which the bourgeoisie exercises its class rule. Under capitalism, even in the freest bourgeois republics, democracy has only a partial and restricted character, and is more formal than real for ninety-nine percent of society. In a bourgeois democracy, anyone can say more or less what he or she wants, as long as the big banks and monopolies decide what happens. It is only another way of expressing the dictatorship of big business.

While fighting to defend democratic rights, and making use of each and every possibility available to us to defend the cause of the working class and change society, including participation in elections, we understand that the ruling class has never abandoned its power and privileges without a fight.

The ruling class does not support democracy out of sentimentality, but because it is usually the most economical way of ruling society, while deceiving the masses into thinking that they can decide affairs. In the last analysis, when they see that their fundamental interests are threatened, the bourgeois will not hesitate to resort to naked reaction, casting aside the mask of democracy and the rule of law, to reveal its true face.

The movement towards the socialist transformation of society will not take place in a straight line. There will inevitably be ups and downs. Periods of stormy advance will be followed by periods of tiredness, lulls, defeats, even periods of reaction. There will be violent swings to the left and right. But every move towards reaction will only prepare even bigger swings to the left. At the present time there is no danger of fascism or even Bonapartist reaction in any developed capitalist country. But that can change in the period that opens up.

In the end, the choice before society is not "democracy or dictatorship" but the dictatorship of Capital or a regime of workers' democracy.

  • Down with fascism and racism!
  • Fight reaction with class methods!
  • Mobilise the workers' organisations for the struggle against fascism.
  • Full political and social rights for immigrants.
  • Workers of the world unite!

May 20, 2002