Anti-fascist march July 2018. Anti-fascist march July 2018. Source: Janusz Kaliszczak - Flickr / cropped from orriginal / shared under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Internationally, conservative politicians’ flirtation with the far right fuels the growth of fascist politics among their traditional voters, argues John Clarke

A range of factors drove the horrible racist attack on a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley. The fascist Patriotic Alternative set it in motion, but the rising tide of hate that they were able to utilise for their ugly purpose has been ‘made so much easier for them when politicians and the mainstream media constantly punt their racist agendas.’

This connection between the increasing ability of the far right to spread its vile message and the enabling role of mainstream political figures is an issue that extends well beyond Merseyside or even the UK. It is, indeed, a growing international phenomenon that has produced a situation where the dividing line between the reactionary edge of conservative parties and right-wing extremism has become decidedly blurred.

Conservative hatemongers

We can see this sharply in political figures like Deputy Tory Chairman and former Labour councillor, Lee Anderson, who ‘faces mounting questions over his links to alleged Nazi-supporting members of a scooter club’. It is clear from the revelations about Anderson’s unsavoury connections that this isn’t a case of him posing for some incautious photos. He has described members of the Skegby Scooter Club as ‘real salt of the Earth people’ who ‘make me feel proud to be Ashfield born and bred’.

One of the people who stirred such warm feelings in Anderson has been putting out some very disturbing social-media posts. One of these, addressed to Muslims, warns: ‘This is England, my England. If you don’t like me, or my fellow English men and women, leave our shores …  or feel the wrath of the steel in my hand.’

Mainstream politicians who warm to the far right are to be found on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2021, the Peoples’ Party of Canada (PPC), a right-wing offshoot of the Conservative Party, was a growing and dangerous political development. I described it at the time as ‘a gathering place, where those who have broken with mainstream conservatism but whose ideas are still in flux, can have political contact with those on the far right who have completed the journey.’

PPC leader, Maxime Bernier, specialised in promoting anti-immigrant and other right-wing messages that pushed the boundaries of what could be said within respectable political discourse. He repeatedly and without apology posed for photographs with the most repugnant fascist and white supremacist elements. The legitimacy he offered such far-right individuals and organisations was dangerous to the extreme.

At the present time, the fortunes of the PPC have receded, but this is for the unfortunate reason that the larger and more significant Tory Party has a new leader, Pierre Poilievre, whose own hard-right credentials have stolen the thunder of the smaller party. The role of driving mainstream political discourse to the right is now being discharged by the leader of the opposition, and Poilievre has the same nasty habit of seeking out photo-ops with representatives of the far right.

In the US, the Trump presidency set the gold standard when it came to political officeholders working cooperatively with an emerging fascist movement. In 2020, Trump infamously declared, “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by,” suggesting a working relationship with this far-right attack force. Shortly afterwards, members of this organisation were boasting about the flood of new recruits that Trump’s message had brought them.

It became clear a few months later that this cooperative arrangement was very real, when the fascists who played a key role in the storming of the US Capitol, on January 6, acted in response to a call that came from Trump. The links between the then president’s closest functionaries and far-right organisations have become even clearer, as official investigations have continued into his clumsy efforts to cling to office.

Clara Zetkin wrote in 1923: ‘We must realise that Fascism is a movement of the disappointed and of those whose existence is ruined.’ While the main source of recruitment for such a movement is to be found among middle-class people driven to a reactionary rage by the impact on their lives of social and economic crises, it is also true that the despairing conditions of poverty, sub-standard housing and chronic unemployment can be a breeding ground for the far right. This is especially true if working-class movements are relatively weak and unable to pose a powerful alternative.

Writing for Counterfire, Michael Lavalette pointed out that the ‘managed decline’ that has been imposed on Knowsley and the ‘social conditions, and the levels of alienation they breed, create the grounds where the far right can flourish.’ In this context, the legitimacy that mainstream political figures are offering fascist groups is enormously dangerous.

Rightward movement

The present period of instability and uncertainty that is enabling the far right to grow is also having a definite impact on the very much larger political base that supports mainstream conservative parties. Most of those who make up this base, while they are disgruntled and moving to the right, are still far from drawing fascist conclusions. It is in this situation that the far right has developed the tactical adaptability needed to bring around it a periphery of rightward-moving conservatives by pushing ‘hot button’ issues that will resonate with them.

In Canada, last year’s so-called ‘trucker convoy’ was ‘the biggest protest organized by the Canadian far right since the 1930s. It swarmed Ottawa with reactionary exuberance, waving Nazi, Confederate, Gadsden, Red Ensign, and Maple Leaf flags, issuing threats of violence against opponents, and dreaming of recuperating a mythologized lost Canada.

Though the convoy was initiated and led by long-established white supremacists, it drew around it a sizable following of conservative-minded opponents of public-healthcare measures that had been adopted during the pandemic. Though it was a hugely disruptive action that finally had to be dispersed by a massive police operation, Conservative MPs were stubbornly supportive of it.

Four months after the raucous and highly controversial conclusion of the convoy, when its far-right leaders came back to visit Parliament Hill, some 20% of Tory MPs turned out to greet them. Though sections of the media raised objections to this close relationship and revealed the very ugly political connections of the convoy leaders, the Tory MPs were only too aware that their embrace of these fascists would win the full approval of a large portion of their party’s base.

In his book, Fascism and Dictatorship, Nicos Poulantzas traced the growth of fascist movements in Italy and Germany. He suggested that an ascendant fascist movement passes through an initial period during which it ‘can be resisted and avoided’ but, if it isn’t checked, it will reach ‘a point in its growth after which it appears difficult to turn it back’ (p.82). 

Clearly, we are operating in a situation that is very much like that which Poulantzas described. The developing fascist street army is reaching out to a wider periphery that is receptive to its ideas. Mainstream conservative parties and leading politicians are, for their own cynical reasons, helping this process along.

In the face of these dangerous developments, it is vital that we increase our capacity to mobilise against fascist actions and that their efforts to dominate the streets be driven back. It is even more vital, however, that we render their hateful ‘solutions’ irrelevant by building movements of working-class resistance in the face of a societal crisis that can provide the sense of hope and possibility that can defeat the fascist threat.

Before you go

If you liked this article, please consider getting involved. Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation working to build the movements of resistance and socialist ideas. Please join us and help make change happen.

John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

Tagged under: