At this year’s Labour Conference a row was sparked with accusations from Labour’s right-wing, and their media allies, that debate on Brexit was stifled.
The reality, sketched out by Alex Nunns in a Red Pepper article, was there was a full debate and an indirect vote in the form of the arcane sounding ‘reference back’ which was heavily defeated.
The right-wing groups Progress and Labour First are campaigning for Labour to commit to remaining in the Single Market through membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). After their set back at conference they pledged to take their argument to “…every constituency Labour party in next 12 months”.
An example of this is a resolution to a constituency party:
“This Constituency Labour Party:
Notes the August publication of the Government’s position papers on a range of EU withdrawal matters including future UK-EU customs arrangements;
And believes that these recent papers reveal that the current approach risks job losses, and loss of rights for workers;
Further, notes the Treasury estimate that moving from the “soft” Brexit of the European Economic Area (EEA) (which could see tax revenue fall by £20bn) to the “hard” Brexit of a Canadian-type deal is estimated to cost an additional £16 billion each year, and that if the UK defaults to WTO trade rules, then the annual tax loss may be as high as £45 billion (four times the annual public expenditure on English GPs);
And believes that Labour must urgently campaign against austerity that has harmed our public services;
and therefore calls upon the Labour Party to adopt a policy of remaining in the European Customs Union and Single Market through membership of the EEA”
Reversing the referendum result
The reference to campaigning against austerity is just a superfluous red herring. However, framed as it is the resolution appears to demand reversing the referendum result, of maintaining the status quo. It does not put forward alternative means of accessing the Single Market, for example, by joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
“It is up to the United Kingdom to trigger Article 50. But once triggered, it cannot be unilaterally reversed. Notification is a point of no return. Article 50 does not provide for the unilateral withdrawal of notification.” [My emphasis]
The resolution ignores political realities such as the widely held view that preventing Brexit would be undemocratic and that the majority, 70% according to a recent poll, think that Brexit must be enacted. There is the additional complication that two-thirds of Labour voters voted remain while two-thirds of Labour constituencies voted leave – giving Jeremy Corbyn a difficult hand to play in uniting Labour’s support.
As an aside, on the question of preventing Brexit – an irony is that the behaviour of the Tory ‘Hard Brexiteers’ in making Brexit an expensive train crash may itself put the question of a second referendum on table. But for the Labour Party to lead calls for another referendum, for reasons already outlined it would be tactically foolish at this stage.
The resolution also shares a illusion common to ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’ across the Brexit debate that the negotiations are primarily about trade.
The EU is not just an economic project
The EU is not just an economic project it is also a political project, which marks it out from most other trade blocks.
The Commission’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, reflected this in a press briefing:
“…Unity is the strength of the European Union and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and the interest of the EU27 in the Brexit negotiations. This determination is shared by all governments.”
He went on to make clear that the UK would not get a deal that would make it attractive for other members to leave.
In this respect the interests of trade is subservient to, and flows from the strategic imperative to preserve the cohesiveness of the EU. Unfortunately that is often pushed to the background in the Brexit debate and apparently ignored by the UK in the talks with the EU.
Not all trade the same
The failure to fully appreciate the EU’s strategic interests has led to the widespread belief that the nature of the trade relationship between the UK and EU compels the EU to accede a ‘good trade deal‘ because otherwise, it “…would be an extraordinary act of self-harm”.
The example of the automotive sector is often held up, where the manufacturing is integrated across borders. But not all trade is the same, for services and especially finance the picture is different.
There is a trade deficit in goods but for services, financial services in particular, there’s a surplus. According to a House of Commons Briefing paper (Number 7851, 17 August 2017) ‘Statistics on UK-EU trade’:
“The UK had an overall trade deficit of £71 billion with the EU in 2016. A surplus of £24 billion on trade in services was outweighed by a deficit of £96 billion on trade in goods.”
“Services accounted for 40% (£96.4 Billion) of the UK’s exports to the EU (£241 billion) in 2016. Financial services and other business services are important categories of services exports to the EU.”
The finance industry may not have many fans but objectively speaking it is an important sector of the UK economy, worth nearly £125 billion and employing around 1 million in 2016.
Finance is a sector, unlike the automotive industry, where the UK faces powerful competition from Germany and France and other centres meaning there is a material interest in undermining the competitiveness. There has been hard lobbying for companies to relocate away from London to mainland Europe.
So, even on the narrow issue of trade the widespread assumption that EU would readily come to a ‘good trade deal’ granting the UK’s wishes is not necessarily the case.
Labour manifesto a good working formula
The triggering of Article 50 has launched the EU and the UK into uncharted territory. There is uncertainty in regards to what the EU will do to protect its strategic interests and what individual countries will demand in respect of advancing or protecting their own interests.
In this regard the leadership’s approach, set out in the Labour Party Manifesto, provides a good working formula:
“We will prioritise jobs and living standards, build a close new relationship with the EU, protect workers’ rights and environmental standards”
This gives a set of criteria to judge negotiations against while maintaining the flexibility to react and adapt to circumstances as they unfold.
Motions like the one above should be rejected not just because they are devoid of realism and strategically naive, but as one delegate to conference spelt out to great applause, the real intention is “…to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership”.
There is lot of carping from sections of the media that Labour won’t set out the details of the deal it would negotiate with the EU.
But that, so to speak, is putting the cart before horse – The EU is a geopolitical project as well as an economic one.
The Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier made it very clear that the priority governing EU’s approach to negotiations was the cohesion of the EU27.
In addition, the EU is adamant the UK will not get a deal that would make it attractive for others to consider leaving. As former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski succinctly puts it, “It has to be seen that Britain’s advantage is less than membership”.
So everything in the negotiations, including trade, flows from those geopolitical imperatives.
Which gives Labour two practical problems.
The EU will have red lines but those red lines have not yet fully materialised – It is likely they won’t become clear until negotiations move past the current phase on the EU’s three requirements
Labour is not in position to test by negotiation what and where those red lines are – The Tories are in control, if that’s the correct term for it, of the process
In any situation of volatility or transition there will be a certain formlessness while events are in a state of flux, making it difficult to be precise.
Which means that it may only be possible to sketch out a general position as a starting point – A position that is drawn from principles while events themselves help fill in the details.
That is where Labour is now, its position is a good working formula drawn from its principles that:
“We will prioritise jobs and living standards, build a close new relationship with the EU, protect workers’ rights and environmental standards”.
That principled approach allows a set of criteria to judge negotiations against while maintaining the flexibility to react and adapt to circumstances as they unfold.
France’s Presidential election set for April 23rd could deliver the next major political surprise with the increasing popularity of Front National’s Marine Le Pen.
From the outset most of the political elite were confident that Les Républicains candidate François Fillon would win, only for his campaign to be derailed by revelations of his wife’s ‘fake job’. They are now turning their hopes to the centrist ‘Blairite’ candidate Emmanuel Macron.
The left has begun a resurgence in the Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party) with the election of Benoît Hamon who is compared to Jeremy Corbyn.
Whatever the outcome, the elections will not halt the growing turbulence in French politics.
The driving force behind the growing threat from the Front National is summed up in an interview with the BBC’s Lucy Williamson. Fabien Engelmann a former left union member now Front National mayor of Hayange, a declining manufacturing town, explained that:
“The left betrayed its voters, betrayed the workers, the middle class, the shop owners,” Mr Engelmann told me. “There’s also mass immigration today, and I think that after a while you can’t welcome the poor from across the world. We have to stop this immigration and take care of our own.”
This sense of betrayal is understandable given that during the 2012 election campaign, François Hollande visited Hayange and promised laws preventing blast furnace closures. The promised law was watered down and the furnace closed a year later .
The danger of left voters defecting to the Front National is a real one and was also highlighted in the BBC interview. Patrice Hainy joined the Font National and although he became disillusioned and switched support to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he described the danger of the Front National:
“I was attracted to them because the other parties don’t listen to the people, and I believed the FN was listening to me,” he explained. “It attracts weak members from the left. I was from the left and I was angry with our politicians who are sacrificing French people.”
Failure of Socialist Party rule
Hollande’s Socialist government’s enthusiastic adoption of pro-market policies have had very little impact on the sluggish economic and job growth. The unemployment rate has stuck stubbornly around 10% for the past few years while GDP and employment growth is lagging behind that of the major western economies.
The poorest have been hit particularly hard. Al Jazeera reported in an interview with the Paris director of the food aid charity Les Restos du Coeur that, about 32 percent of those who use the services of [Les] Restos du Coeur are single mothers with children and that those requiring help was growing at around 3% to 4% per year.
The Socialist Party’s leadership became so pro-business that one socialist MP protested that his objective, is not to vote for all the measures that Sarkozy did not manage to pass and which we fought against in opposition..
Damaged Socialist Party swings to the left
The damage done to the socialist base was shown by the turnout in the preliminary rounds of the primaries to choose a presidential candidate. At 2 million this was nearly a million less than the primaries in 2011.
Their failure in government triggered a sharp shift to the left in the party with the election of Benoît Hamon who beat ex-prime minister Manuel Valls.
Hamon’s success was greeted with relief. A typical reaction was summed up by Fayçal Bourich speaking to France 24:
“He’s just what we need,” Fayçal Bouricha from Paris’s troubled northern suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois told FRANCE 24 while attending Hamon’s rally in the capital’s fifth arondissement, where hundreds of supporters had gathered. “He’s young, he has ideas to renew the Socialist Party and he’s in touch with what’s actually happening in society today. He’s in touch with reality. Valls seems to be offering nothing new. I don’t see him changing anything,” he said.”
Harmon has put forward radical policies that have captured attention not just in France but internationally. They include support for a universal basic income of €750 a month, taxing companies that replace employees with robots and stopping the ‘unbridled Uberisation‘ which undermines workers rights.
A positive sign is that while the socialists still look to come only fourth in the elections, they have been rising in the polls since Hamon’s election.
The elites swing behind Macron
It seems the establishment are losing a candidate every week! Their hopes were pinned on Valls of the Socialist Party, who lost out to Harmon. Fillon has been wounded, perhaps terminally, by a fraud scandal. They have now swung behind Macron, who was Economy minister until he resigned in 2016 to form the En Marche! party.
As Economy Minister Macron advanced the interests of business with the ‘loi Macron‘ (Macron Law), which was welcomed by French business organisations as a real step in the right direction in attacking workers rights. His economic programme differs little from that of Hollande’s discredited government.
With Fillion facing accusations of fraud, a repeat of the 2002 elections looks unlikely. In 2002 Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, made the second round and the left vote gave victory to the conservative Chirac on the slogan ‘vote for the crook not the fascist’.
If the run off does involve Fillion and Le Pen, then the Thatcherite programme of assaults on jobs and conditions, including the sacking of 500,000 public sector jobs proposed by Fillion, will provide little incentive to back him as the anti-fascist option and may actually drive some voters to Front National.
The most likely outcome at the moment is a run off between Marine Le Pen and Macron. Although Macron is very much part of the establishment which may be seen as an Achille’s heel, at this stage he looks the clear favourite. However, a low turn out from traditional left voters coupled with a switch of left voters in dying industrial towns such as Hayange mentioned above, may confound expectations and play in Le Pen’s favour.
Backdrop of a changing world
Davos 2017 – Global Economic Outlook
The events in France are not taking place in isolation, they are part of the fall-out that hit the western world after the 2007/08 crash. The working and middle classes have been made to pay for a crisis not of their making.
Against a backdrop of growing global instability, the neo-liberal consensus that underpinned western policies has degenerated into an ossified orthodoxy that now looks obsolete in the face of rapidly changing events. The ground is being prepared for more crises and social upheavals.
This is now being reflected in French politics with the rise of right-wing populism on the one hand and on the other, the leftwards shift of the Socialist Party. It is also manifesting itself in the main capitalist party Les Républicains in splits and acrimony amongst its leadership. Ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppe refused to stand in Fillion’s place because as Reuters reported, …The Republicans were too divided for him [Juppe] to be able to rally them behind him.
Will normal service be resumed?
The current French political landscape illustrates the fragility of the middle ground consensus of the established parties on the left as well as the right.
The elites are hoping that with the election of Macron or Fillion normal service will be resumed. But the turbulent nature of the election is a harbinger that normal service in France will be that of crisis and upheaval.
All the major leave EU organisations during the referendum campaign made promises guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens to continue to reside in the UK. The official Vote Leave campaign was unequivocal in its promise to grant those rights automatically, Leave.EU said it would be “wholly illogical” not to.
After the referendum leave supporting Conservative MPs reneged on these promises and threw those EU nationals onto the table as bargaining chips for a trade deal with the EU, in turn putting at risk UK nationals living in the EU.
However examining the economic risks, the logistical challenges and the human costs, the only realistic option is granting EU citizens automatic rights to stay.
Theresa May attends her first EU summit in Brussels
Vote Leave were emphatic in their commitment to EU citizen rights. A joint statement by Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, and Gisela Stuart on the Vote Leave website promised that:
“…there will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.” [GH: My emphasis].
Leave.EU, an organisation that lost out as the official campaign to Vote Leave, were equally emphatic in their commitment to EU citizens. Responding to the question, “I’m an EU citizen. Will I be deported if we leave the EU?”, they replied:
“Absolutely not! Think of the upheaval and inconvenience caused if the UK and EU nations suggested this idea – any proposal such as this would be wholly illogical and extremely unpopular. Remember there are elections in both France and Germany next year – any politician putting forward such an idea won’t be particularly well received by the electorate!” [GH: My emphasis]
No room for doubt
Leave campaigners took to task anyone who suggested that EU citizens would be at risk from a vote to leave. The government’s position was set out in a white paper:
“…They [UK citizens in the EU] all currently enjoy a range of specific rights to live, to work and access to pensions, health care and public services that are only guaranteed because of EU law. There would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained if the UK left the EU. Should an agreement be reached to maintain these rights, the expectation must be that this would have to be reciprocated for EU citizens in the UK [GH: My emphasis].”
Vote Leave challenged this, its chair Gisela Stuart replied that the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties would guarantee the rights of EU and UK nationals:
“You have got the Vienna convention, which guarantees the rights of existing citizens and existing arrangements.”
“Clearly any EU citizen that is legally here if we come out of the EU would absolutely have the right to remain here. Any other suggestion is just absurd.
It is a scare story, full stop. It just shows how desperate the government and the remain campaign are.”
Leaving no room for doubt, the government’s position was also condemned by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg as, “really grubby politics”.
The deception, then and now
There seems to be no evidence during the referendum campaign of the 128 Tory MPs who voted leave expressing any doubts on unilaterally granting EU citizens automatic rights to stay – or at least publicly…
Liam Fox MP – Vote Leave Campaign Committee
Of particular note is Liam Fox MP, who was a member of the Vote Leave Campaign Committee. He voiced no opposition to his organisation’s commitment to EU Nationals. Neither did he mention reciprocity for UK nationals in the EU as a condition. However, a couple of months after the referendum the Guardian reported that Fox had done a volte-face:
“Fox, who was speaking at a [Conservative conference] fringe event, said the government would “like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the UK, but that depends on reciprocation by other countries”.
He said any other strategy “would be to hand over one of our main cards in the negotiations and doesn’t necessarily make sense at this point”.”
This begs the question, why didn’t prominent leave supporting Tory MPs such as Liam Fox and the “thoroughly researched” John Redwood MP, challenge the Leave view on EU citizen rights during the referendum campaign?
Logistical nightmare, damaging to services and the human cost
“Over the last five years, the Home Office has been processing an average of about 25,000 applications for settlement from EU nationals and their family members. At this rate it would take 140 years to process the cases of 3.5 million EU citizens.”
Many public services depend on EU nationals. For example the NHS depends heavily on staff from the EU, the numbers rose from 33,420 in 2012 to 57,608 in July 2016. This dependency has been exacerbated by George Osborne’s, chancellor at the time, decision to end bursaries for student nurses which this year resulted in a 23% drop in applications to university nursing courses.
Many sectors of the economy are reliant on workers from the EU. A briefing paper for the House of Commons Library examined the dependence of the various sectors on EU nationals, for example in manufacturing it is 10.2%, in construction it is 9.1%, in Professional, scientific and technical the figure is 6.6%. These and other sectors would face severe disruption if they lost this workforce.
Though the numbers are not reliably known, many EU citizens have settled in the UK and have families. There have been a number of cases reported of EU partners of UK citizens being told to return to their country of origin to apply for the right of residency in the UK.
Examples include a Dutch woman with two British children who’d lived in the UK for 24 years was told to leave the country by the Home Office after she applied for citizenship after the EU referendum. A German neuroscientist married to a British woman had a similar experience in another incident.
These examples gives a glimpse of the possible human cost of refusing EU citizens’ rights to stay.
Automatic right to stay – the realistic option
The Tories concern for the rights of UK citizens is nothing more than a disguise for the threat of collective punishment against EU nationals in the horse-trading over a Brexit deal.
The Tories stance puts UK citizens in the EU in a more precarious position. It encourages those of the 27 other EU members with few citizens in the UK to play hard ball with the bargaining chips the Tories have thrown on the table.
Given the logistical challenges, the risks of economic dislocation and the human cost, this leaves granting EU citizens automatic rights to stay as the only realistic option. After all anything else, “would be wholly illogical”.
“It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.”
Used carelessly, as George Orwell complained above, fascism risks being stripped of all meaning and reduced to a mere term of abuse.
We’ve witnessed the rise and proliferation of figures and parties, such as Donald Trump in the US, UKIP in the UK, Front National in France and Austria’s Freedom Party. All have made free use of racial caricatures, anti-immigration and nationalist rhetoric.
All of these are accused of being fascist but which, if any, actually compare with the classic form of the fascism of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Salazar of the 1930s?
Which leads us to ask three questions:
What is fascism?
Are the current right wing movements fascist?
What is fascism’s chances of success?
History does show us that fascism poses a lethal danger to political opponents, racial and religious minorities so these questions are not academic, the answers can be the difference between success or a crushing defeat at the hands of fascism.
What is fascism?
1934 Nuremberg Rally
A frustrated George Orwell also remarked that there were no clear definition of fascism, although unfortunately he made no attempt at it himself:
“But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.”
Winston Churchill, in his article ‘The Ebbing Tide of Socialism‘, wrote the importance of democracy for containing and moderating class warfare:
“The massive common sense of the only long-trained democracy – apart from the United States – has established a spacious and predominant middle zone within which the class adjustments of the nation can be fought out, and from which the extremists at both ends are excluded.”
“…So also have been reduced to impotence and ridicule the Nazi conceptions of Sir Oswald Mosley. He had built his hopes upon the Socialist or Communist menace, and in all probability he would have risen in opposition to it. But at the present time it does not exist. The failure of the red-hot men of the Left has involved a simultaneous failure of the white-hot men of the Right.”
“The historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.”
In essence, albeit from different class viewpoints, Trotsky and Churchill agreed that fascism’s role was as a weapon against revolution, or as Churchill labelled it, the “Socialist or Communist menace”.
The Great Depression dealt Germany a further body blow. With its reliance on foreign capital and exports, workers suffered mass unemployment and the middle classes were pauperised as bank failures wiped out their savings.
Italian fascism found success earlier than their German counterparts. 1920s Italy began with waves of working class militancy involving factory occupations and general strikes. On occasions the state was rendered powerless as sympathetic workers prevented transport of troops who were drafted in as strike breakers.
Mussolini and Hitler
Mussolini’s fascists’ base of support was land owners, small tenant farmers and share croppers threatened by a radical peasantry (braccianti) and fearful of expropriations by a socialist state.
The fascist regimes of Italy and Germany were the first capitalist economies to carry out a major privatisation programme of state assets. This was done as an attempt to win the support of large-scale industrialists.
Both countries were relatively economically backward with still sizeable middle classes made up of civil servants, military and small business owners. In Portugal in the 1960s for instance, they were still 27% of the population.
“For many years the Nazi movement was seen as a political response of the German Mittelstand (lower middle class) of small businessmen, independent artisans, small shopkeepers and the self-employed, to the threats coming from big business and large retail stores, from the trade unions, the SPD and the KPD, and from increased government interference and taxes to pay for Weimar’s burgeoning welfare state. In many respects it was such a response — in its combination of anti-socialist and anti-big business rhetoric, and in its social support. The lower middle class of Germany’s Protestant towns did constitute the hard-core of Nazi support and were over-represented in the membership of the NSDAP.”
“To combat the working class it is not possible for the capitalists to rely only on the old forces of repression embodied in the state machine. In modern conditions no state can last very long which does not, at least in its initial stages, possess a mass basis. A military police dictatorship does not serve the purpose. The capitalists find a way out in fascism which finds its mass support in the middle class on the basis of anti-capitalist demagogy. It is important to understand that fascism represents a mass movement: that of the disillusioned middle class.”
The fascist checklist
From our examination of the conditions that drive the rise of fascism we can derive four preconditions.
Sustained periods of social and revolutionary upheaval that have failed to complete its task of overthrowing capitalism.
A ruined middle class rapidly vacillating between left and right desperate for a way out of their predicament.
The ruling class is weakened and unable to continue to rule in the same way. The traditional tools of maintaining the capitalist system, both intellectual and coercive, have become degraded. Intellectually the political classes, the intelligentsia and the media are discredited. Their political parties, usually conservative or liberal, and their ideological allies in other parties are decimated. The coercive forces, the police, courts, army are unreliable or overwhelmed by the revolutionary tide.
A political force that is able to base itself on and in the ruined middle classes and other backward elements of society.
Are the current right wing movements fascist?
Though there are a myriad of right-wing movements espousing the language of fascism, this doesn’t necessarily make them fascist in the classic sense that we’ve outlined so far. They are indeed extremely unpleasant in their vitriol whether it be anti-Semitic, Islamophobia or any other form of hatred.
The common strands in the programmes of fascist organisations are nationalism, racial or cultural homogeneity, anti trades union, anti big business and pro small business.
The Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, is an example. The Front National is the most mature and sophisticated fascist party in Europe so it’s worth a look at their programme. Their manifesto reveals a text book exercise in appealing to the middle classes in particular, workers and those on fixed incomes with the language of nationalism, anti big business and conservatism. The 2012 manifesto contains many examples including:
Increased purchasing power funded by import taxes, reductions in energy, fuel and rail charges. Pensions are to be raised. The excesses of finance capital are addressed with a commitment to part nationalise them to clean them up. Reducing regulation and prioritising rural small businesses in planning and small businesses in general to enjoy a favourable tax regime. Nationalism and xenophobia is fed with commitments to expelling all illegal immigrants and demonstrating in their support will be outlawed. There’s a call for French jobs for French workers under an expanded list of ‘sovereignty’ jobs. Conservatism is catered for with the introduction of the death penalty, more prisons, tougher sentences. The socially conservative view of the traditional family unit is reinforced along with opposition to equal marriage rights for gay people.
Right-wing populists, despite the noise, are enthusiastic advocates for big business interests. They support tax cuts for the rich, cuts in welfare programmes, privatised health care and education. UKIP in their 2015 election manifesto committed themselves to the Conservatives economic programme of austerity. The disadvantage of this support for big business is that it results in a narrow social base and provides for fluctuating fortunes. This, combined with a backdrop of heightened crisis, could be a motor for pushing these groups towards a platform of fascism.
Have there been any fascist regimes since Hitler?
To take the examples of Pinochet’s Chile and Sisi’s Egypt, superficially they appear the same in their use of repression and anti-working class measures. Sisi’s regime openly encourages xenophobia as a cover for his failures. But did they succeed in the task of obliterating the working class organisations?
Clearly not, although under severe pressure these organisations survived and continued their opposition. Countries like these are in the main poorly developed and corrupt. The indigenous capitalist class, being at the beck and call of more powerful global and regional capitalist powers, are too weak and lack the necessary social forces to deal a decisive blow against organised labour. Instead we see the interventions of the military usually by coup d’état, but as Ted Grant says above “A military police dictatorship does not serve the purpose”. These regimes balance between the classes acting as arbitrators while ultimately defending capitalism.
Can fascism win power?
This question assumes great importance in light of the possibility of Front National doing better than the polls predict for the French Presidential elections in 2017.
Taking the four preconditions developed above and though some elements may be discernible they are in embryonic form and far from maturity. While there is growing polarisation and volatility in the west it is not yet facing a revolutionary challenge or undergoing a process of strength sapping social upheavals as it did in the 1920s and 1930s.
The part played by the ruined middle classes in the success of fascism in the 1930s by providing a mass base of support is a well known and documented phenomena. However, this demographic has been profoundly affected by socio-economic changes since the interwar years. Agricultural populations and employment have declined due to the process of urbanisation leading to a change in the character of the middle classes. There has been a dramatic reduction in the weight of the rural petite bourgeoisie in particular.
There are large numbers of small businesses and small employers in the industrialised world but do these constitute a modern day social base of support for fascism?
Lord Young in his 2015 report on small firms was pleased to report their increased numbers in the UK. But what the report failed to highlight was the number of non-employing businesses. In 2016, of 5.5 million businesses in the UK, 76% were non-employing. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy reported that; “The majority of population growth since 2000 has been due to non-employing businesses, which accounted for 89% of the overall increase.”
Research by John Kitching of Kingston University, “Tracking UK Freelance Workforce Trends 1992-2014”, looked at the trends of freelance/self-employed workers in the UK. He found that the self-employed work force had grown substantially between 1992 and 2014. In a telling analysis he shows how this section of the population has developed as a consequence of industrial and public policy:
“The privatisation programme of the 1980s led to a shift of jobs from the public to the private sector. Reforms in the regulation of public service broadcasting, for instance, generated changes in industrial structure and contractual arrangements, leading to a proliferation of small production and service companies, many of them single-person, freelance operators …Changes in public sector employment practices might also exert an indirect influence on freelancing by encouraging professionals to quit their jobs and take up freelancing …Recent cuts in public expenditure to reduce the national debt have also coincided with the significant expansion of own-account working.”
Many of the non-employing self-employed are integrated into the work forces of larger organisations and as John Kitching observed, there are also those who have been forced into self-employment as a result of government austerity programmes.
Further work is merited in this area, but with similar demographic changes across the advanced economies it is not clear whether there is a sufficient social base for fascism to succeed.
Fascists neutered in power
This raises the possibility of fascist parties coming to power but being neutered in their task by a lack of a mass social base. Of being unable to enact the pro small business part of their programme at the expense of big business and unable to deal a decisive blow against working class organisations. Given this, the fascist party in power would be little more than an ultra-right tool of big business.
Vigilance and clarity
All right-wing populist and fascist parties are primarily and profoundly anti-working class, in particular its representative organisations. However the rise of German fascism was also facilitated in part by the disastrous theory of Social Fascism peddled by the Communist Party, where they claimed social democracy was a variant of fascism. This teaches us the valuable lesson of clarity, of being clear on the nature, the purpose and motivation of fascists and the danger they pose.
The careless use of fascism as a lose term of insult seems harmless enough. But it carries the danger of undermining the understanding of fascism necessary to combat it, and risks repeating the tragedy of 1930s Germany where the working class was divided and crushed by the Nazis.
Modern fascists have put a lot of effort into making themselves look respectable and media friendly, but scratch beneath the surface and look at their programmes and listen to their utterances and there is no doubt they are every bit as vicious as their 1930s predecessors.
Gary Hollands – December 15th 2016
Notes and references
1. It’s worth quoting at length this examination of where the Nazis were less successful in drawing support: “There can be no doubt that the NSDAP recruited across a broad social spectrum. However, its support was not random. We have already noted the over-representation of Protestants, rural areas and small provincial towns, as well as of the Mittelstand, in Nazi support and there was a similar structure to the movement’s working-class constituency. The working class, however, was under-represented in the Nazi ranks when compared to the German population as a whole.
The working-class presence among those who voted for Hitler can be made to correlate positively with the proportion of working classes in the electorate as a whole only when foremen, daily helps, workers in domestic industry and, significantly, agricultural labourers are included in the definition of working class. When rural labourers (who inhabited a world quite different to that of the city dweller and factory employee, often paid in kind or subject to landlord pressure) are removed from the equation, a slight negative correlation arises between Nazi support and working-class presence. And if workers in craft (as distinct from factory) sectors are also removed from the equation, the correlation becomes even more negative. It is negative, too, in the large cities where, the closer we look at the factory working class, the lower the percentage support for the NSDAP becomes.
Furthermore, only 13 per cent of the unemployed — who comprised some 30 per cent of the manual working class in the middle of 1932 and who were over whelmingly concentrated in the big cities and in large-scale manufacture — supported the National Socialists. It therefore is clear that, although large numbers of workers did vote Nazi, these were not in the main from the classic socialist or communist milieux, rooted as these were in the large cities and in employees in the secondary sector of the economy. If the number of workers in this sector plus the unemployed is correlated with electoral support for the NSDAP, the result is clearly even more negative.”⇑
2. From Alpha history a description of the impact of hyperinflation on the middle classes: “There were winners and losers from the 1923 hyperinflation. The worst affected were those of the Mittelstand (middle class) who relied on investments, savings or incomes from pensions or rents. In 1921 a family with 100,000 marks in savings would have been considered wealthy – but within two years it would not be enough for a cup of coffee.”
Eric D. Weitz Weimar described the impact of hyperinflation on workers conditions in ‘Germany: Promise and Tragedy’ page 143, “By spring 1924, the pre-war work shift, twelve hours in the factories and eight and a half hours in the mines, had been re-established. Employers also won greater freedom to fire workers at will and to ignore labour representation in the workplace. The crisis of hyperinflation enabled business to destroy – not totally, but to a significant degree – the social measures it had reluctantly conceded in 1918-19.”⇑
3. John O’Loughlin in his work ‘The Electoral Geography of Weimar Germany‘ also observed: “Until 1928, the NSDAP aimed its platform at blue-collar workers, but it had unexpected success in rural areas. Thereafter, the NSDAP targeted farmers, skilled workers, shopkeepers and civil servants, following a lower-middle class strategy that was bolstered by strong support for private property.”⇑