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How can the far right advance be halted?

This article is over 20 years, 1 months old
THE DUTCH general election saw the latest frightening advance for the far right in Europe. The party of Pim Fortuyn came second. The Labour Party, which had led a coalition government for eight years, got its worst result since 1945. That came after the Nazi Jean-Marie Le Pen beat the leader of France's equivalent of the Labour Party, Lionel Jospin, in the first round of the presidential election there.
Issue 1801

THE DUTCH general election saw the latest frightening advance for the far right in Europe. The party of Pim Fortuyn came second. The Labour Party, which had led a coalition government for eight years, got its worst result since 1945. That came after the Nazi Jean-Marie Le Pen beat the leader of France’s equivalent of the Labour Party, Lionel Jospin, in the first round of the presidential election there.

The far right has ministers in the Austrian and Italian governments. It has made electoral gains in Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and Belgium. In Britain the Nazi BNP got three councillors in Burnley and hopes to build elsewhere. The Nazis and far right will not fade away. They will rise further unless they are stopped.

They have grown out of despair with governing parties across Europe. Four years ago Labour-type parties were in government in 13 of the 15 European Union countries. They were elected on a wave of opposition to Tory politicians. All those governments pursued ‘neo-liberal’ policies-privatisation and welfare cuts. That has created deep wells of bitterness and a collapse in support for mainstream parties.

The response of Labour leaders in Britain and Europe is to argue for more of the right wing policies that created the disillusionment. And it is to follow Labour ministers David Blunkett and Peter Hain, who think using the language of the racists is the way to undercut racism.

Those same leaders also arrogantly blame socialists who offer an alternative to the mainstream parties and to the Nazis for the collapse in Labour support. Such twisted logic explains nothing.

It cannot explain, for example, why the far right secured a bigger share of the vote in Holland (where the far left is small) than in France (where revolutionaries got 10 percent of the vote).

The truth is the exact opposite of what is being argued by Labour Party leaders and their trade union allies such as TUC general secretary John Monks. Unless socialists organise opposition and build an alternative to New Labour then the Tories and the Nazis will gain.

Lessons from 1960s and 1990s

WE HAVE been here before. Harold Wilson’s Labour government was re-elected in 1966 with an increased majority. Over the next four years it held down wages and presided over rising unemployment.

It also capitulated to Enoch Powell’s racist campaign against immigrants. Powell made his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in April 1968. Within weeks home secretary James Callaghan rushed anti-immigration laws through parliament. The result was not to neutralise the right. Labour lost the 1970 general election to the Tories, with the Nazi National Front achieving significant votes in some areas. There was no electoral challenge from the left.

Labour was returned to office in 1974 after a wave of workers’ struggle broke the back of the Tories. The Labour government then presided over the first decline in workers’ living standards in Britain for four decades.

Labour chancellor Denis Healey imposed the sharpest cuts in government spending since the 1930s. Union leaders used their influence to prevent union opposition to the government and undermine workers who did strike. They argued that strikes and socialist opposition to the Labour government would strengthen the Tories.

But the lack of any major left response allowed the Tories to tap demoralisation among working people. Labour lost a string of by-elections. In April 1977 the Tories overturned a 20,000 Labour majority in the mining constituency of Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. The Labour government again caved in to racism. A Tory and press scare about a few hundred Asians from Malawi coming to Britain saw the government introduce more anti-immigration measures.

That fuelled support for the Nazi National Front, which in 1977 got 119,000 votes in elections to the Greater London Council. The revolutionary left was able to organise effective opposition to the Nazis. The Anti Nazi League united hundreds of thousands of people to expose the Nazi nature of the National Front and hurl it backwards.

But the far left was not strong enough to offer a serious alternative to Labour or organise successful resistance to its policies. The Tories gained from the bitterness with Labour, and Thatcher won the 1979 election.

The challenges we face today

TODAY WE again face disillusionment with a Labour government and serious attempts by the Nazis to gain from it. Bitterness in society is deeper today after a quarter of a century of welfare cuts and free market policies.

Telling people to put up with more of the same by rallying behind Blair’s Labour Party is a disastrous recipe. It will lead to further gains by the Nazis and the right. The experience of the 1960s and 1970s shows two things need to happen if that is to be avoided.

There needs to be a mass movement against the Nazi BNP. Such a movement can reach out to Labour supporters and the vast majority of people who are sickened by the Nazis. An important part of doing that is pushing Labour and trade union leaders to match their words against the BNP with action.

The TUC’s John Monks is telling every union conference ‘not to be complacent’ about the threat of the far right. Good.

But the TUC has yet to organise a demonstration in Burnley against the BNP. It did organise a 40,000-strong demonstration in east London in March 1994 (under the Tories) after the BNP got a councillor elected there. It must be forced to do likewise today.

If it does not, all that is left is Monk’s call to fall in behind New Labour as it concedes to attacks on asylum seekers and Muslims. Far from doing that, we need what was lacking in the 1970s-mass resistance and a socialist alternative to Labour.

There has been an enthusiastic response by teachers and council workers in London to official strike calls. But mainstream union leaders are hesitating over calling widespread action for fear of embarrassing the government.

They have not called a united demonstration against privatisation, despite speeches in favour of one. Socialists need to deepen and organise the mood to fight over pay, privatisation and every other issue, increasing the pressure for action. That is tied to fighting for socialist politics and an alternative to New Labour.

The movement in France against Le Pen, and the opposition to Tory president Jacques Chirac, was strengthened by the far left gaining three million votes. The Socialist Alliance took significant steps in building an alternative to New Labour in the council elections in England. It argued against pandering to racism.

Core sections of the working class movement and many hundreds of thousands of others are crying out for answers from the left. Organising that feeling, from the workplace to the ballot box, and uniting in action with those still looking to some change from Labour are the key to ensuring it is the left and not the Nazis who grow.

The centre cannot hold

IN BRITAIN the Labour Party lost 2.8 million votes at last year’s election. It was returned with a big majority only because the Tories lost one million votes. The turnout was the lowest since 1918. Disaffection with mainstream parties was clear in the first round of the French presidential election too.

The combined vote of the Tory candidates was four million less than in 1995. Lionel Jospin, leader of France’s equivalent of the Labour Party, lost 2.5 million votes compared to 1995.

Le Pen more or less got the same vote as in 1995, while some 2.7 million people who voted in 1995 abstained in the first round this year. The far left was able to get a significant number of disillusioned voters out and increased its vote by 1.3 million.

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