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State racism—fuelling the fire of fascism

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Tories and others claim that they can undermine the far right by being more racist. But as Tomáš Tengely-Evans explains, conceding to the fascists’ ideas just boosts them
Issue 2625
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson alongside Sebastian Kurz who heads Austrias Tory/Nazi coalition government
Tory former foreign secretary Boris Johnson alongside Sebastian Kurz who now heads Austria’s Tory/Nazi coalition government (Pic: Flickr/The Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs)

Far right groups are making worrying gains across Europe. Even Tory home secretary Sajid Javid last week observed that “outright racist parties have won significant numbers of seats” in some countries.

“But not here—not in Conservative Britain,” he boasted.

The idea is that the Tories, by pushing racist ideas, can defeat far right forces by winning their supporters away. It is a common argument.

But spouting right wing, racist ideas makes the far right more confident.

So Javid also claimed in his speech last week that Pakistani “culture” is a factor behind child sexual abuse scandals.

Within hours the far right Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) was celebrating, bragging that his speech would help it “grow bigger and stronger”.

The group gloated that the “Tories are trying to appease us” after its racist protests in towns where the authorities have failed victims of sexual abuse.

It is dangerous when mainstream politicians make concessions to the racist arguments of far right groups.

When Tory former foreign secretary Boris Johnson wrote that Muslim women who wear the burqa look like “letter boxes”, it normalised the ideas of the far right within wider society.

Various fascist and racist forces in Britain have seen a resurgence in recent months as they organise around the jailing of Nazi Tommy Robinson.

A deep-seated hatred of Muslims is the glue that holds this new movement together. 

While there are specific factors behind the “Free Tommy” movement, it is part of a bigger pattern across Europe that has seen fascist and racist forces grow. 

Chemnitz—A warning from Germany
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State-sponsored racism against Muslims and migrants has played the key role in actively fuelling their rise. And both forms of scapegoating were significantly ramped up in the wake of the refugee crisis.

Refugees’ direct action and a mass feeling of solidarity forced European leaders to let in some of those fleeing in the summer of 2015.

Germany’s conservative chancellor (prime minister) Angela Merkel opened the border and let in one million people. Then Tory prime minister David Cameron pledged to resettle 20,000 people from Syria.

But our rulers were determined to retake the initiative. And so they continued their racism against refugees.

Cameron denounced refugees as a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean”.

And right wing newspapers gave over thousands of column inches to dehumanising refugees. Katie Hopkins told Sun newspaper readers that “these migrants are like cockroaches”.

This racism reinforced virulent Islamophobia, which politicians had ramped up during the War on Terror in the 2000s.

The fact that many refugees were fleeing from the Middle East helped combine the two forms of racism.

In Britain the far right also tried to capitalise on terror attacks in London and Manchester in 2016.

Groups such as the Football Lads Alliance and DFLA have mobilised thousands of racists onto the streets of London against “extremism”—far right code for Muslims.

And both politicians and the far right play to racist ideas about how Muslim asylum seekers cannot integrate or accept “British values”.

In Germany the grand coalition of Merkel’s conservative CDU and the Labour-type SPD pushed through a new integration law for refugees in 2016. 

CDU interior minister Thomas de Maiziere made clear that “saying ‘Yes’ to our system of values” was a “crucial factor for integration”.

“Orientation courses” to make sure refugees understood “German values” were a key part of the new law.

While the German coalition government was debating the new law, a new racist movement was growing on the streets.

The Pegida organisation mobilised thousands in towns and cities across Germany under the banner of “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”. 

Leading figures of the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party were at the heart of the movement.

Merkel feared the growth of the far right could steal right wing conservative voters away from her government.

But despite official warnings against “extremism” of groups such as Pegida, mainstream politicians were pushing Islamophobic politics that fuelled them.

And, in order to try and stem their rise, they tried to out-racist the racists.

This just made far right arguments appear more credible.

Until the 2017 general election Austria had a “grand coalition” government made up of the Tory OVP and the Labour-type SPO. Sebastian Kurz was a rising star on the right of the OVP and the foreign minister. 

Kurz played a key role in pushing for closing the borders during the refugee crisis and ramping up scapegoating of Muslims and migrants.

By the time of the 2017 general election, Kurz was the leader of the OVP.

Austrian Tory Sebastian Kurz ran on a manifesto that was a carbon copy of the fascist FPO’s immigration policies—and in some instances tried to outflank them from the right. The result was not defeat for the fascists at the polls. They only narrowly missed out to second place. 

He ran on a manifesto that was a carbon copy of the fascist FPO’s immigration policies—and in some instances tried to outflank them from the right. 

The result was not defeat for the fascists at the polls. 

The Tories’ share of the vote went up by 7 percent to 32 percent and they secured their position as the party with the most MPs.

At the same time the fascists’ vote went up from 21 percent to 26 percent—and they only narrowly missed out to second place. 

The FPO didn’t just improve their share of the vote. The fascists went from opposition to joining a Tory-Nazi coalition government and made sure to grab key ministries, including the ministries of the interior and security. 

This didn’t mean that Austria had become a fascist state. 

Fascism is not just a more right wing, nasty, authoritarian version of what we have now. It is a fundamental break with racism that aims to bring about a completely different way of running society.

Fascists try to build a mass movement on the streets that can terrorise minorities and political opponents, and smash workers’ organisation and all democracy.

How were fighting back against Pegida and Islamophobia in Germany
How we’re fighting back against Pegida and Islamophobia in Germany
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They have only ever come to power when the ruling class decides to hand it to them—in times of crisis or revolution.

But that doesn’t mean more mainstream right wingers are safe. Fascists will target anyone who is deemed to pose a threat to their rule.

In Germany in 1933 Hitler and the Nazi party were given power by the “Cabinet of the Barons”. This was a conservative group of land owners, capitalists and generals who had ruled Germany through presidential decree since 1930. 

There had been growing links between right wing conservative groups and the Nazis.

The more mainstream right wingers hoped to use the Nazis to smash the workers’ movement and restore order. 

The level of crisis in Britain today isn’t so severe that the ruling class needs to look to a fascist movement to smash the left and the unions.

Yet this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a danger of fascists growing or getting into government. In Austria the Tory-Nazi coalition has ramped up the racist atmosphere within society and dragged politics further to the right.

Growing Islamophobia has reinforced older forms of racism too.

So the new government tried to shut down 42 mosques and draw up a list of imams to deport. Then an FPO minister in the Lower Austria Region proposed making Jewish people register if they want kosher food.

Similarly in Germany state racism in the wake of the refugee crisis fuelled the rise of the AfD. It saw an electoral breakthrough in November 2017—the first time Nazis have won MPs since the Second World War.

The AfD’s rise shows how state racism and the far right can reinforce one another.

Merkel’s racist scapegoating fuelled the AfD. Then conservative attempts to outflank the AfD helped to harden up the politics of the far right. 

The AfD began as a party largely made up of traditional conservatives and racist populists—but it is becoming a fascist party. Half its 92 MPs are Nazis and its fascist wing has made headway in internal elections.

This is not an isolated pattern. The threat requires anti-fascists to take to the streets whenever the far right try to mobilise.

But it also underpins the need to build a movement against the state-sponsored racism against Muslims, migrants and refugees that fuels the far right.

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