Misplaced optimism from the socialists: No room for complacency
One of the upshots of the European elections has been an astounding complacency on the part of many socialist commentators. The overall message is that we should be relaxed about the menacing rise of Fascist and far right parties and concentrate on the real story of major votes for "anti-austerity" parties.
The continuation of that complacency could be suicidal for both the socialist groups and for the working class as a whole. It represents an historical continuity with the sort of "popular front" mentality that aided the rise of fascists to power in the 1930s.
The problem with this approach is that it ignores the relative force and coherence that different sectors represent in an intensifying class struggle and the perspectives and strategy of the capitalist class and the various capitalist states.
From this point of view the "anti-austerity" alliance looks like a fragile construction. The majority of the parties are purely electoral with no interest in mobilising workers. They advocate a "better fairer" way of paying the bankers and a fairer application of austerity. Many have linked to the European Left party, a reformist front in the tradition of Stalinism and to the European Trade Union bureaucracy, collaborators in the imposition of austerity. Where new groups, such as the Spanish Podemos, are committed to direct action on the streets, they organise around a programme of radical democracy rather than socialism.
To make things worse, the small socialist movements, led by the Fourth International, have seen their own strategy of building broad left reformist movements collapse as they are outflanked by the real thing. The French NPA, decades in construction, gained 0.3% of the vote. This failed perspective makes it impossible to present a revolutionary vision to the broader movement without the socialist organizations themselves rethinking their basic orientation.
The far right and Fascist groups present a totally different picture. They want to remove any restraints and institute a reign of terror against the working class and oppressed, making migrants and minorities the scapegoats for the increasing mood of despair engendered by the ongoing crisis.
Unlike the soft left, the Fascists don't stop at making suggestions. They implement them through armed groups who organise intimidation on the streets, perfectly willing to suppress their opponents by any means necessary.
The capitalists don't count the votes and decide to ignore or suppress the fascists. They make use of them. The most extreme example has been the use of Fascist bands to enforce European policy in the Ukraine, something widely ignored by the European left, but there are many examples of collaboration between the far right and the state forces.
However the major effect of the move to the right is that the capitalist state decides to move with the right and increase oppression. So the immediate outcome of the UKIP election victory in Britain is an hysterical attack on Muslim schools - themselves the outcome of government sponsorship of "faith" schools - based on a letter that everyone admits is a forgery. Now the drive is to ensure that schools teach British values; subservience to monarchy, the established church and to the state forces.
In France the reaction was even more extreme, with state attacks to break up refugee camps packed with refugees from the Syrian war zone.
What should the socialists learn from the European elections? It would be a mistake to swing from an anti-austerity popular front to crying wolf about the rise of fascism in a situation where many workers do not see an immediate danger. What we must do is carefully explain what the dangers are.
The classical analysis of fascism, by Leon Trotsky, stress that the danger of fascism is greatest when a workers uprising is defeated yet the workers remain a threat. From that viewpoint the very weakness of the socialist movement should make fascism unnecessary. But things are never so simple. There is no substantial challenge from the workers, yet capital has found no sustainable solution. The capitalists know that the continuing austerity will provoke an explosion and they will strengthen the state and cut away legal restrictions in preparation for the day when the next straw breaks the camel's back.
So a capitalist strategy may not yet include fascism coming to power, but it most certainly includes turning a blind eye to the stormtroopers and using fascist gains to themselves eat away at civil rights, stamp down on the workers with the official state forces and actively promote reactionary ideologies in the schools, homes and workplaces.
The task for socialists is to put forward
a socialist alternative around which workers can organise. That will be
a difficult task, carried out initially by small forces, but the dream
of a political short cut has proved illusory. There really is nothing else