By Martin Smith and Tash Shifrin | 23 April 2016
Europe is witnessing a dangerous revival of fascist and racist populist parties and organisations. Here is our country by country guide and essay analysing the scale of the threat. Our guide was originally published in three parts – we have combined them here.
We have focused on the countries where fascist and racist parties have made significant electoral and/or organisational breakthroughs. There are small fascist groups operating in several other countries, but with very small numbers and little impact. We intend to look separately at the situation in Russia at a later date and have not included it here.
We start with a country by country guide and continues with an analysis piece, including working definitions of fascism and far right racist populism, and we will look at the conditions that are enabling these parties to flourish. We hope this series will be of use to antifascists and antiracists across Europe.
We would like to encourage readers to send us comments, reports and analysis of fascist and racist parties that are active your country or region. You are welcome to post your thoughts in the comments section, or if you would rather get in touch with us offline, you can email us via our Contact page. We very much hope you will support this project.
Our survey begins with a table of election results. This shows the spread of both fascist and far right racist populist parties across Europe and the electoral strength they have. In countries such as Hungary and Poland, we see a combination of a large far right party with a fascist party as well.
But it is important to note that this gives an indication only of the electoral strength of fascism and the far right. In our country by country guide and our full analysis to follow, we will also be looking at the strength of the paramilitary groups and street movements that make up the other wing of the European fascist and far right scene.
The table is intended to give an at a glance view of election results. But the figures should be treated with a degree of caution. Results cannot be directly compared between countries because of variations in the electoral systems in use – this applies even to the elections for MEP seats in the European Parliament held in 2014.
The timing of national elections, with countries going to the polls in different years, also makes direct comparisons problematic. We have used the most recent parliamentary election results in each country – but this means that in some countries the scale of the problem can be hidden. In France, for example, our figures come from the legislative elections of 2012, which marked only the start of the fascist Front National’s sharp rise. Its real strength now is much greater.
You can read all our election coverage here.
Table of election results to national and European parliaments
You can click on a country name to go straight to our guide to fascism and the far right in that country or scroll down to read our full guide.
Far right party
|Patriotic Front *||19||7.3||0||3.05|
|Dawn – National Coalition||14||6.88||0||3.12|
|Danish Peoples Party||37||21.1||4||26.6|
|Ligue du Sud (FN splinter)||1|
|Fratelli d’Italia – Alleanza Nazionale||9||1.95||0||3.66||Lega Nord||18||4.08||5||6.2|
|Ruch Narodowy (RN) **||10||n/a||0||1.39||PiS||235||37.58||19||31.78|
|Korwin (formerly KNP)||0||4.7||4||7.15|
|Slovak National Party (SNS)||15||8.6|
|Kotleba –People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS)||14||8|
|Sweden Democrats (SD)||49||12.9||2||9.7|
|Pravy Sektor (Right Sector)||1||1.8||n/a||n/a|
|* The European result is for the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, now part of the Patriotic Front.|
** The RN’s candidates did not stand under their own banner, but sneaked in on the electoral lists of Kukiz’15. This means there is no official national figure for the RN’s voting strength.
Country by country
The Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) is a far right racist populist party that is seeing increasing electoral success. Its candidate Norbert Hofer leads the race for the Austrian presidency after taking 36.7% in the first round of voting on 24 April. [Update: 23 May 2016 – read more on Norbert Hofer and the presidential election]
The FPÖ was formed in 1956 as the successor of the Verband der Unabhängigen, a group of so-called “de-Nazified” fascists and liberal republicans. Its first two leaders, Anton Reinthaller and Friedrich Peter, were both former members of the Waffen SS. However in the 1960s and 1970s the FPÖ became a centre right party promoting free market policies. Its first political breakthrough came in 1983 when it entered into a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ). It remains a party with a mixed membership that includes some fascist elements.
The FPÖ’s turn to far right populism took place under the leadership of Jörg Haider, who became party leader in 1986. Under his leadership the party began to adopt racist policies attacking asylum seekers and migrants. Haider became notorious for speaking out in defence of the SS and praising Hitler’s “full employment” policies.
In 1999, the FPÖ won 26.9% of the vote in national elections, its best ever result, and entered into a coalition government with the centre right ÖVP. Following a series of poor election results the FPÖ split in 2005. Haider and the parliamentary section of the party left, forming the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), but Haider was killed three years later in a car crash.
The leadership of FPÖ passed to Haider’s long-term disciple, Heinz-Christian Strache, in 2005. Under Strache the FPÖ has regained much of its electoral strength. It opposes European integration, it is rabidly opposed to Turkey entering the EU and attempts to portray itself as an anti-establishment party. Strache is also an anti-Semite: he was widely condemned in 2012 after he posted a caricature on his Facebook page of a banker with a hooked nose, wearing Star of David cufflinks.
The core electoral support for the FPÖ comes from its racist agenda. It spearheads campaigns against migrants and asylum seekers. The FPÖ has also targeted the country’s Muslim population, stirring up alarm against the so-called “Islamisation” of Austria. In the run up to the European elections in 2014, Andreas Moelzer, a leading FPO candidate, declared that the EU was in danger of becoming a “conglomerate of negroes”.
Presidential candidate Hofer is an advisor to Strache and has urged the party even further to the right. He is a member of a deeply reactionary pan-German nationalist student fraternity, an irredentist who wants Italy’s South Tyrol to be incorporated into Austria, and a man who has been photographed wearing the blue cornflower symbol adopted by Austria’s Nazis when they were banned in the 1930s.
In the 2015 Euro Elections the FPÖ polled a fifth of all votes. In October last year, the FPÖ came second with 30.7% in the Vienna state elections and it now stands in first place at around 30% in national opinion polls.
The Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest, VB) is a fascist party, with a racist and Flemish nationalist platform. The party was formerly called Vlaams Blok and its supporters were Hitler worshippers with very close ties to Belgium’s wartime Nazi collaborators.
One of Vlaams Blok’s leading members was Philip Dewinter (now a leading member of Vlaams Belang), who is happy to cite leading Belgian Nazis and collaborators as close friends. In 1998 he visited a cemetery and laid flowers at the graves of 38 Flemish SS members who fought for the Nazis. According to historian Christophe Diercxsens, Dewinter was also the guest speaker for a gathering of the former SS collaborators of Sint-Maartensfonds in 2001. Dewinter opened his speech with the words, “My Honour is loyalty” – the official motto of the German SS-soldiers during WW2.
Vlaams Blok was forced to disband after Roeland Raes, the Vlaams Blok vice-president, gave an interview on Dutch TV in 2001 in which he questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust and the authenticity of Anne Frank’s diary. Vlaams Blok was taken to court in 2004 and found guilty of racism and discrimination. It was forced to disband, with Vlaams Belang launched in its place.
Vlaams Belang has three MPs and one MEP. While they have publicly distanced themselves from the former Vlaams Blok, they continue to promote the same issues. The party has built its electoral base on campaigning for Flemish independence, is a fierce opponent of immigration and is Islamophobic to its core.
Vlaams Belang is affiliated to the Europe of Nations and Freedom political group in the European Parliament, alongside the French Front National.
Fascist parties hold one in eight of the seats in the Bulgarian parliament, following the general election of October 2014.
Two main fascist parties are vying for influence in the electoral field and on the streets. The Ataka (Attack) party’s vote fell from 7.3% in 2013 to 4.52% in 2014. But a newly created rival fascist coalition, the Patriotic Front (PF), gained another 7.3%, up on the performance of its two main constituent groups in the previous year’s polls when neither passed the 4% threshold to enter parliament.
The PF won 19 seats in parliament and Ataka another 11 – a total of 30 in the 240 seat assembly.
Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU, battered by heavy IMF-imposed austerity measures since the late 1990s, and racked with continuing political crisis – general elections are held frequently as governments fall in turn.
But as in many countries of the former Eastern Bloc, the legacy of Stalinism means it is hard for the genuine left to build. Instead, Ataka and the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) – now a key constituent part of the PF – played a substantial role in anti-government protests.
Bulgaria’s fascists particularly target Roma people, who make up around 10% of the population and already suffer severe discrimination in housing, health, education and employment.
In 2011, anti-Roma pogroms broke out in towns and villages across Bulgaria, after a young ethnic Bulgarian was killed by a minibus driven by a Roma man. Huge armed gangs stormed into Roma areas destroying homes and attacking residents indiscriminately. The wave of violence – the worst since World War II – was orchestrated by the fascists.
The fascists also target Bulgaria’s Turkish and Muslim population, while the VMRO is an irredentist party that seeks a “Greater Bulgaria”, chomping up Macedonia and parts of Serbia, Romania and Greece. Bulgaria’s fascists have close ties with Hungarian nazis Jobbik.
Dawn – National Coalition (Úsvit – Národní Koalice) is a far right populist anti-immigration party that uses anti-Roma and anti-immigrant racism. It took 6.88%, winning 14 seats (out of a total of 200) in the 2013 general elections, although its vote halved at the European elections, when it failed to take a seat.
But although it has no fascist heritage, Dawn is moving in a dangerous direction.
The party was founded by Japanese-Czech businessman Tomio Okamura as the Dawn of Direct Democracy, with a platform based on “direct democracy” as an anti-corruption measure. Despite his mixed Czech-Japanese heritage, Okamura is a racist who has proposed that Roma people be expelled to India.
Immediately after the 2013 elections, the MPs rebelled and booted out Okamura, who founded a new party, Freedom and Direct Democracy (Svoboda a přímá demokracie, SPD). This has organised its own demonstrations against refugees.
The Dawn MPs were not opposed to Okamura’s racism, but their election raised their sights: instead of banging on the direct democracy drum, they seek to build a larger party, modelled on the French Front National.
The Czech outfit is clearly studying the approach of other fascist and far right parties: at the 2014 European elections they produced an anti-immigration poster based on the sheep motif used by the populist Swiss People’s Party and by the nazis of Germany’s NPD and the Czech Republic’s now-defunct National Party (Národní strana) which was shut down by the Czech supreme court in 2011.
And like racist and fascist electoral parties in other parts of Europe, it is building links with a street movement, and with nazi and racist skinhead and football hooligan groups.
In February this year, Dawn joined forces with the Block Against Islam (Bloku proti Islámu, BPI) racist street movement to stage a racist demonstration “against the Islamisation of Europe” in Prague, with numbers put at around 3,000 by observers.
Representatives of the German Pegida movement and Czech nazi groups were also present. The demo ended in a violent attack by masked nazi thugs on a leftwing social centre providing language courses in Czech, Romani and English.
The far right racist populist Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DK) topped the poll in the European elections in 2014, winning 26.6% of the vote. It came second in parliamentary elections the following year, with 37 out of 179 seats.
The DK is a nationalist party that has built its electoral base through racism, especially targeting immigrants and Muslims. It was founded in 1995 as a split from the similarly anti-immigrant Progress Party. Its founder Pia Kjærsgaard has described a multiethnic Denmark as a “national disaster”.
The party has declared an aim of ending all immigration from non-Western or Muslim majority countries. Its strong position in parliament means it has been able to exert influence over Denmark’s centre-right minority government, resulting in measures such as the notorious new law allowing authorities to seize money and valuables from refugees.
The Finns party (Perussuomalaiset, PS), formerly known as the True Finns, is a far right racist populist party with a nasty leaning towards ethno-nationalism. It was founded in 1995 following the demise of its predecessor, the Finnish Rural Party.
Last year it won 17.65% of the vote in Finland’s general election. Although this was a slight drop from its 2011 vote of 19.1%, the Finns took second place, with 38 MPs out of a total of 200, and joined Finland’s coalition government.
The Finns party promotes anti-immigrant racism and decries multiculturalism. It also opposes the teaching of Swedish (an official language in Finland, alongside Finnish) in schools. Instead, it wants children to be taught “healthy national pride” and supports cultural activities that “promote Finnish identity”.
Among those elected as MPs for the Finns were four who were also leading members of Suomen Sisu, a fascist organisation that has been described as “Nazi-spirited” in Finland’s press.
In 2013, one of these, James Hirvisaari, was expelled from the Finns after photographing a friend performing a Nazi salute outside parliament. Another, Jussi Halla-aho, has been convicted for inciting racial hatred. Suomen Sisu’s leader Olli Immonen, also a Finns MP, posted photos on Facebook showing him with members of the openly nazi Finnish Resistance Movement.
A 2011 opinion poll for the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper found that a majority of the Finns party’s supporters agreed with the statement: “People of certain races are unsuited for life in a modern society.”
The Front National (National Front, FN) is Europe’s most electorally successful fascist party. It took a record 6.8 million votes (27.1%) in the second round of elections to France’s regional government’s in December last year. It topped the poll in the first round as France’s most popular political party.
The parliamentary election results shown in our table mark only the start of the FN’s dramatic rise under leader Marine Le Pen, daughter of its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.
In those elections, back in 2012, the FN took 13.6% of the vote, gaining its first two MPs since the 1980s, with a third MP’s seat won by splinter group Ligue du Sud. By the 2014 European Parliament elections, the FN’s vote had already rocked to 24.86%.
The party also controls 14 local mairies (town halls), which it is using as test beds for the future. In Béziers, in the south of France, for example, mayor Robert Méynard is setting up a uniformed militia of former soldiers and police to patrol the streets. He has also ruled against any new kebab shops and instituted a curfew on young people.
The FN has maintained a continuing base in its heartland areas since the 1980s, but has now expanded its reach massively.
Le Pen is set to make a serious challenge for the French presidency in 2017 – and the threat is very real. The FN mobilises its vote through racist, Islamophobic, anti-Roma and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The FN’s meteoric rise follows Le Pen’s careful strategy of “de-demonisation” – a clean-up aimed at hiding the party’s fascist roots and politics under a bright, shiny “respectable” veneer, which has largely succeeded. Le Pen junior has finally expelled her more outspoken father, whose repeated Holocaust denial and crude quips were not welcome in public. But Marine Le Pen has never actually denounced her father’s politics – only their expression. She has also shifted the party from open expressions of anti-Semitism to the more publicly “acceptable” Islamophobia.
The clean-up strategy was in fact pioneered by Jean-Marie Le Pen whose “Eurofascist” project aimed to present potentially electable fascists in suits, keeping the bootboys and the swastikas out of sight. Marine has further refined the approach to create a glitzy, modern-looking party.
French fascism has long provided a theoretical and tactical framework that has inspired and influenced fascists across Europe. Today, every FN advance gives a boost to fascist and far right parties everywhere.
The FN has deep fascist roots. It was founded in 1972 by Le Pen, himself a veteran of the Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS) a brutal paramilitary far right organisation opposed to Algerian independence from France. It brought together existing fascist organisations such as Ordre Nouveau (New Order) – pictured at a conference with its White Power celtic cross symbols – Occident and the Groupe Union Défense (GUD).
Its founding political bureau included ON leader Alain Robert, Waffen SS veteran Pierre Bousquet, and François Brigneau, a former member of the Milice – the militia formed by the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazis in WW2.
Today, the FN largely hides the continuing links between its slick electoral operation and the small hardcore nazi street-fighting groups.
But its connections and overlap with the openly ethno-racist Identitaires activist movement are becoming more explicit as Génération Identitaires cadres move into the FN controlled town halls and seek FN party membership.
In a shock result at the 2014 European elections, Germany elected an MEP from hardcore nazi party the National Democratic Party of Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, NPD).
The NPD – whose leader is happy to pose in front of images of Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess – took just 1% of the vote, gaining the seat because Germany does not have a minimum threshold for winning European seats.
But the main electoral force on the far right is the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) – which won seven MEPs in 2014 and now has a presence in half of Germany’s 16 powerful state governments, although it has yet to win any seats in the federal parliament. It is the second largest party in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt.
The AfD – like Germany’s other racist and fascist groups – has sought to feed on the “refugee crisis”, ramping up its scapegoating efforts.
This racist populist far right party has been moving in the direction of fascism. It has been caught up in a factional battle, which has been won by the most rightwing and extreme racist elements.
Under new leader Frauke Petry the AfD is focusing ever more explicitly on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim racism, and making overtures to the Pegida anti-Muslim street movement, described as “natural allies” by AfD deputy leader Alexander Gauland. Petry has declared that police should be able to shoot people crossing the German border “if necessary”.
Founder and former leader Bernd Lucke and his allies quit the party, claiming it had been infiltrated by racist, nationalist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic extremists.
In February the AfD announced an alliance with Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) – a move that prompted the European Conservatives and Reformists group to seek to expel the two MEPs who remain part of the AfD following its split.
Meanwhile, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) is a real threat on the streets. Pegida is a foul racist soup, in which NPD and other nazis mingle with fascist football hooligan gangs and softer racists. It is able to mobilise thousands on the streets, especially in the former East Germany, hitting a high of 25,000 in Dresden in January 2015. Pegida attracts large numbers of ordinary people to its demonstrations – it is bigger, with a far wider reach, than the English Defence League in Britain ever was. After a dip in numbers last year, Pegida has shown signs of reviving, targeting the increasing numbers of refugees and migrants.
The combined advance of far right parties both in the electoral arena and on the streets, with organised fascists tying to pull both wings further to the right, is very alarming. The successes of Pegida, for example, has given hardcore nazis greater confidence to organise on their own – with around 3,000 demonstrating in Berlin in March.
Golden Dawn (Chrysí Avgí) is a nazi party. It has both an electoral and a paramilitary wing. It wants to see Greece run as a dictatorship, uses Nazi imagery and is openly ethno-nationalist and racist. Golden Dawn was founded in 1983 as an anti-Semitic, pro-dictatorship organisation.
It only emerged as a dangerous political force as a result of the 2008 economic crisis, which has left 4.7 million people unemployed. Golden Dawn has tried to portray itself as a friend of “ordinary” Greeks by distributing food to poor communities (as long as they are ethnic Greeks). At the same time it blames migrants for Greece’s economic problems. Golden Dawn’s Youth Front has distributed fliers in Athens schools and organised a Rock Against Communism concert series .
The party has a track record of violence and terror. A Golden Dawn member stabbed to death leftwing antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013.
Support for Golden Dawn is becoming entrenched in sections of the Greek police force, giving the party’s thugs a level of protection and immunity. A report published by Amnesty International noted:
Our investigation shows that the Golden Dawn debacle is only the tip of the iceberg. Entrenched racism, excessive use of force and deep-rooted impunity are a blight on the Greek police. Successive Greek governments have so far failed to acknowledge, let alone tackle, these human rights violations by police and on-going impunity.
A huge popular backlash against the Pavlos Fyssas murder forced the Greek government to act. In September 2013, party leaders and MPs were arrested and jailed en masse in the wake of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, and prosecutors charged the party with being a criminal organisation. Ten police officers were found to have direct or indirect links with criminal activities attributed to Golden Dawn members.
But despite the legal onslaught, electoral support for the nazi party did not fall. In the 2014 Euro-elections over half a million Greeks voted for GD, giving it three seats in the European parliament and in 2015 it won 7% of the vote in the parliamentary elections gaining 18 seats.
What we have at stake today is Europe, the European way of life, the survival or disappearance of European values and nations, or their transformation beyond recognition … We would like Europe to be preserved for the Europeans. But there is something we would not just like but we want because it only depends on us: we want to preserve a Hungarian Hungary.
— Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister and leader of Fidesz
If you want to understand how a far right racist populist party governs a country, you need look no further than Hungary and the government of Fidesz (Magyar Polgári Szövetség, Hungarian Civic Alliance). A party that began life as a liberal anti-communist party has under Viktor Orbán’s leadership become a vile right-wing, racist populist party today.
To its right of Fidesz is the nazi party Jobbik, pushing it ever further.
Fidesz is attempting to reintroduce the death penalty, which is outlawed in the EU. Orbán is using Europe’s refugee crisis to ratchet up anti-immigration sentiments. The Fidesz manifesto equates migrants with terrorists, says immigrants are taking Hungarians’ jobs, recommends internment camps for illegal immigrants and states they should be forced to work.
Like Jobbik – see below – Fidesz has persecuted Hungary’s Roma. Fidesz has encouraged segregated schools and has turned a blind eye to authorities building walls around Roma communities. In a measure aimed mainly at the Roma minority, it has passed a law allowing government officers the right to inspect people’s homes for “cleanliness” in order for them to receive unemployment payments.
Fidesz also celebrates Hungary’s fascist past. Fidesz officials have attended ceremonies of the erection of Miklós Horthy statues. Horthy was far-right leader of Hungary between 1920 and 1944 and played a part in the deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.
Today Fidesz is becoming increasingly anti-democratic and authoritarian. It has near total control of the democratic structures of Hungary, with its 117 MPs (plus 16 more from the allied KDNP) and 11 MEPs. It has changed the constitution and electoral system, further cementing its position.
Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary, Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom), was formed in 2003 by a small group of nationalistic and religious university students. Until mass protests against Hungary’s Socialist Party government in 2006 it was a tiny, insignificant movement.
Following the upheavals Jobbik built a grassroots electoral movement and a paramilitary group, the Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard). These black shirted thugs carried out violent mass parades aimed at intimidating Roma communities and oppositionists.
There are three main themes to Jobbik’s politics:
1. The “Third Way” – patriotic nationalism combined with an eco-social national economy.
2. Anti-Roma racism and anti-Semitism.
3. Opposition to crime – which it racialises, blaming Roma and other minorities for the increase in crime. Jobbik reintroduced the term “gypsy crime” into the political discourse.
Jobbik’s electoral breakthrough came in the 2009 European parliamentary elections, when it gained 427,773 votes (14.7%) and three MEPs. Today it has 24 MPs and three MEPs and controls 14 town halls.
It is one of Europe’s largest fascist parties, a beacon of influence for fascist parties across Central and Eastern Europe – with which it is actively making links. It also has small groups in the UK and US.
Jobbik, now the third largest party in Hungary, is pushing Fidesz to adopt ever more aggressively right wing and racist policies.
Italy is seeing a revival of fascism amid a major shake-up on the far right. The Lega Nord (Northern League), originally a racist far-right party set up on a platform of separatism for Italy’s northern regions, is now seeking to become a national organisation – and it is joining forces with the openly fascist activist group Casa Pound Italia.
This is not the first resurgence of fascism in Italy, where it was never thoroughly wiped out after World War Two and where it has had a stronger continuing presence than anywhere else in Europe – and a history of participation in and links with the state.
While a strand of fascism has remained entrenched in Italy since Benito Mussolini founded the movement, its formations have changed repeatedly. “Today Italian fascism, alongside French fascism, plays an important role in developing fascist ideology that groups across Europe draw on.
Casa Pound is named after the American poet and dedicated fascist Ezra Pound. Its leader Simone di Stefano says Mussolini’s reign is “our point of reference”.
Under its new leader, Matteo Salvini, the Lega staged a joint demonstration with its new allies in Rome last year. Around 25,000 marchers came together under the banners of the Lega, Casa Pound and a third group, Fratelli di Italia-Alleanza Nazionale (the Brothers of Italy-National Alliance, FdI-NA), whose roots lie in the Movimento Sociale Italiano, the fascist organisation formed in 1946 by Mussolini’s supporters.
The FdI-AN retains the MSI’s old tricolour flame symbol – the device also used in France by Marine Le Pen’s fascist Front National.
The Lega has long been a viciously racist organisation, targeting immigrants and Italy’s Roma minority in particular.
Now it is picking up electoral support, with opinion polls showing it at around 15%. This is far higher than its highest ever election votes – 10.1% in the 1996 general election and 10.2% in the 2009 European election.
In its northern heartlands, the Lega’s support is much higher and its successes include the re-election of Luca Zaia as governor of the Veneto region with more than 50% of the vote. The Lega has now launched an Italy-wide organisation, Noi Con Salvini (“Us with Salvini”) while Casa Pound has a new front organisation, Sovranità.
The Lega’s tie-up with Casa Pound gives the combined alliance a presence in the streets too. Fascists have also been at the heart of violent attacks on refugees, while leftwingers and trade unionists have also reported physical attacks by fascist gangs.
Smaller fascist organisations such as Forza Nuova (New Force), founded by Roberto Fiore, a proud open fascist and sometime mentor to the BNP’s former leader Nick Griffin.
The Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) is a far right racist populist party whose leader, Geert Wilders, is a poster boy for the European Islamophobic far right. Its political programme can be boiled down into four elements: anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism, opposition to the EU, and right wing social policies.
It has 15 MPs and four MEPs. The PVV was central to forming the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) grouping in the European Parliament alongside Marine Le Pen’s Front National – an association with fascist parties that marked a clear step to the right for the PVV, which had previously steered clear of such links.
The strength of the PVV’s Islamophobic and anti-immigrant message can be gauged by looking at its key election manifesto pledges.
1. Recording ethnicity for all Dutch citizens.
2. Prohibition of Islamic and kosher slaughter (although Wilders has stated that opposition to kosher slaughter was not part of his party’s agenda and that support for the ban had been withdrawn)
3. Deportation of criminals who are foreign nationals back to their country of origin
4. Restrictions on immigrant labour from new EU member states and Muslim-majority countries.
5. Shutting down of all Islamic schools
6. Binding “assimilation contracts” for immigrants.
7. Taxes on the hijab (headscarf worn by some Muslim women) and a prohibition against selling copies of the Qur’an.
8. Ban on headscarves in public life.
Wilders’ racism has become ever more naked and explicit, as with his notorious call for “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands.
The racist populist far right Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) is now part of the Norwegian government, as a junior partner to the Conservative Party, following the general election of 2013. It uses anti-immigration and anti-Muslim racism to gain votes.
The FrP’s vote actually dropped from its 2009 high of 22.9% to 16.3% in 2013 – two years after nazi terrorist Andres Behring Breivik murdered 77 people. Breivik had for some years been a member of FrP, although he had left seven years before his massacre – massive popular revulsion at his actions and his rabid Islamophobia appears to have hit the FrP’s vote.
But the party’s rise to power has had a profound effect: in December 2015, the coalition government appointed Norway’s first ever immigration minister and handed the post to the FrP. It is introducing harsh new laws against refugees.
The party was founded in 1973 as Anders Lange’s Party for a Strong Reduction in Taxes, Duties and Public Intervention (ALP). Lange had begun his political career in the 1920s when he joined Norway’s pre-war Fatherland League a mass movement that developed towards fascism. He was leader of its youth wing from 1935-6, before leaving in 1938.
The ALP was centred on Lange, a populist and staunch opponent of the left, and it flopped at the 1977 elections. He was replaced as leader by Carl Ivar Hagen in 1978 and the organisation was renamed the Progress Party. Hagen, who led the party until 2006, was an early adopter of virulent Islamophobia.
The party’s electoral rise began at the 1989 election when it took 13% of the vote and won 22 MPs. After a dip in 1993, the party recovered, taking another big step forward in 1997. Current leader Siv Jensen, Hagen’s protégé, follows in his footsteps with lurid rhetoric warning of the “Islamisation” of Norway.
The October 2015 general election in Poland saw a lurch to the right as the far right, nationalist and anti-immigration Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) party swept to power, taking 235 of the 460 seats in parliament.
The PiS, fronted by prime minister Beata Szydlo but run by leader Jaroslaw Kaczinski, is seeking to model itself on Hungary’s authoritarian Fidesz – and the new government has lost no time in following its example. New laws to control the public media and judiciary have been rammed through.
Now the government wants to ban abortion. Poland is also threatening to strip historian Jan Tomasz Gross of a national honour – he is best known for a book that describes a 1941 massacre of up to 1,600 Jewish people by Polish villagers.
PiS’s general election vote of 37.58% was an increase on its 31.78% in the European elections, when it gained 19 MEPs. In the Euro polls, the Congress of the New Right (KNP), led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke, gained four MEPs, but by the general election the party had split. A new “Korwin” party failed to take seats.
Poland’s hardcore fascist parties – the National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR) and the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska, MW) have also shown their strength – but on the streets. We witnessed a 40,000-strong Independence Day march – under the slogan “Poland for the Poles, Poles for Poland” – led by the two groups in November.
In previous years, the fascists had successfully hijacked the official Independence commemorations – this time they were strong enough to call their own march, and to dominate the day’s headlines.
An electoral alliance of the two fascist groups, the National Movement (Ruch Narodowy, RN) scored a 1.39% derisory vote in the Euro elections.
RN did not stand in its own name in the general election. But five leading RN members, and five more candidates officially supported by RN, were elected as MPs. They sneaked in under the banner of Kukiz’15, which has a total of 42 MPs.
Kukiz’15 was set up by former rock star Pavel Kukiz, who won a shock 20.8% in the May 2015 presidential elections, with a platform centred on electoral reform. Kukiz presents himself as an anti-establishment populist – the type who describes refugees as “culturally foreign.” Kukiz appears to have traded places for RN on his party lists for the resources and campaigners on the ground that the fascists can provide.
This means that against the backdrop of a Fidesz-style regime, the fascists now have a legitimising parliamentary presence to go with their paramilitary, streetfighting organisations.
The Slovakian parliamentary elections in March 2016 saw nazi and ultra nationalist racist parties take a fifth of the seats in the Slovakian parliament.
A month later one of these, the Slovak National Party (Slovenská Národná Strana, SNS) joined the country’s government as part of a bizarre four-party coalition that also includes the centre-left SMER party, a new centre right party, Network, and Hungarian minority party Most Hid.
In the recent elections, the SNS gained 8.6% of the vote, winning 15 MPs. It describes itself as a nationalist party that defends Christian values. But this extreme nationalist party has strong connections with fascism. It stirs up hatred towards Roma and ethnic Hungarians.
The best policy for dealing with the Roma is “a long whip in a small yard”.
–– former SNS leader Jan Slota
Current SNS leader Andrej Danko has tried to tone down the party’s statements in public, but former leader Ján Slota was more open about his party’s views.
Slovakia’s substantial Hungarian minority were “the cancer of the Slovak nation”, who should be “removed”, while Roma people should be “eliminated” or “destroyed”, he has declared. Slota has also praised Nazi war-time leader of Czechoslovakia, Jozef Tiso as “one of the greatest sons of the Slovak nation”.
The fascist People’s Party Our Slovakia – Kotleba (Ľudová strana – Naše Slovenská – Kotleba, L’SNS) won another 8% of the vote, gaining 14 MPs in Slovakia’s 150-seat national assembly.
Hardcore nazi Marian Kotleba set up the L’SNS in 2010 after its predecessor; the Slovak Togetherness-National Party was banned by the state in 2008 for its violent and racist activities.
The party declares that it builds on the legacy of Tiso, the leader of the Nazi Slovak State (1939 – 1945).
Kotleba has built his party using anti-Roma, anti-immigration and anti-corruption rhetoric. Party speakers have described the Roma as a social “parasites” and “extremists” that “steal, rape and murder”.
The L’SNS also has ties with the Slovak Brotherhood, a paramilitary group that has attacked Roma communities and has links with many of Europe’s most virulent Nazi groups.
In 2013 Kotleba ran for the post of governor of the Banská Bystrica region taking 20% of the first-round vote and entering the second round run-off. He won second round with 55% of the vote.
Kotleba is now using the governorship to build a political base for himself and the L’SNS. Winning the election also entitled Kotleba to a state subsidy of 5m euros. He is attempting to use the money to set up a militia to “police” the Roma community.
At the beginning of 2016, a YouGov opinion poll showed the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) as the country’s most popular party. This fascist party already has 49 MPs, after taking 12.9% of the vote in the 2014 parliamentary elections, and two MEPs.
The SD was formed in the late 1980s. Its political roots lie with Swedish fascism and white supremacy movements. Leading party member Gustaf Ekström was a Waffen-SS veteran and had been a member of the national socialist party Svensk Socialistisk Samling (formerly the Nationalsocialistiska Arbetarpartiet – the National Socialist Workers Party) in the 1940s.
One former SD chairperson, Anders Klarström, was active in Nordiska rikspartiet (“Nordic Reich Party”), which had links with American National Association for the Advancement of White People (founded by David Duke) and publications like the Nazi Nation Europa and Nouvelle École, a newspaper that advocates racial biology.
Like the Front National in France and the British National Party the SD under leader Jimmie Åkesson claims that it has “pulled up its roots in white-supremacist and neo-Nazi activism”. The SD – a virulently Islamophobic party that also opposes multiculturalism and immigration – is keen to hide its fascism under a more respectable cloak.
But antifascists and journalists have exposed the secretive links it still has with open nazis and fascists including the ‘Swedish Resistance Movement’ (SRM), which has been involved in violent attacks on migrants.
Although it is rarely talked about fascism has long been part of the political landscape in Sweden. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad was a member of the pro-fascist New Swedish Movement and was friends with its leader Per Engdahl, a supporter of Adolf Hitler. Queen Silvia of Sweden’s father, a German, was a member of Hitler’s Nazi Party and made a fortune from a factory seized from Jewish owners.
In the parliamentary elections in 2015, the Swiss People’s Party (German: Schweizerische Volkspartei, French: Union Démocratique du Centre, SVP) won 29.4% of the vote gaining 65 seats.
The SVP was founded in 1971, through a merger of the Party of Farmers, Traders and Independents (BGB) and the Democratic Party. It represented the interests of farmers and small business people. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the SVP vote hovered at around 11%.
This changed when the SVP transformed itself into a far right racist populist party during the 1990s and 2000s. It shifted its political focus towards anti- immigration, Islamophobia and opposing moves for Switzerland to join the EU.
The SVP led the campaign to stop the building of minarets in 2009 – there are only four in the country. This measure was passed by a national referendum with 57.5% of the vote. A Swiss court found SVP leader Martin Baltisser and his deputy Silvia Bär guilty of publishing racist election posters in 2015.
Election results do not begin to explain the huge strength of fascist organisations in Ukraine or their deep implantation in the state.
It is also a serious error to overlook the presence and role of fascists in the Russia-aligned separatist movements in the east of the country. The two sides in this conflict have been sponsored by the rival imperialisms of the US (with its EU junior partner) and Russia. Both sides have fascists on the ground.
The last Ukraine general election in October 2014 returned just six MPs from the fascist Svoboda (Freedom) party, with another one from the Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), an alliance of nazi paramilitary groups.
But the rise of Ukraine’s fascists began to be apparent at the previous election in 2012. Then Svoboda gained 37 MPs in the 450-seat parliament.
To make these electoral gains Svoboda, like many European fascist parties, had cleaned up its image, changing its name from the Social-Nationalist Party, ditching its nazi Wolfsangel logo for a three-fingered emblem – and distancing itself at least formally from its paramilitary wing, the Patriots of Ukraine.
But it was in the “Euromaidan” protests against former president Yanukovych that the fascists made their real breakthrough in November 2013.
The vast majority of the “Euromaidan” protestors were not fascists. But Svoboda, and the paramilitary nazi groups including the UNA-UNSO that came together as Pravy Sektor, had a very noticeable presence and quickly won a leadership role as the protests became more militant.
Ukraine is an oligarchy, with a small number of people controlling most of its economy and many of its MPs. Its “mainstream” political parties are largely shell organisations thrown together as election vehicles for one or another oligarch or their preferred front-person. By contrast, Svoboda and the Pravy Sektor groups had real, organised, active memberships and cadres.
These forces were able to take the initiative, setting up a paramilitary defence force, storming government buildings and police stations as Yanukovych faltered and his fellow-Oligarch backers withdrew their support.
The pro-Russian separatist groups that emerged as Ukraine slid into civil war also included fascists – from groups built on Russian nationalism, virulent anti-Semitism and homophobia.
When elections were held in Kiev-controlled Ukraine in October 2014, voters turned away from the fascists – leaving just seven MPs from Svoboda and Pravy Sektor together.
But while these fascist parties are no longer in government, the fluid nature of Ukraine’s shell parties means individual fascists have moved into the “mainstream” parties and been able to retain positions of power.
An example of this is Andriy Parubiy, one of the original leaders of the Social-National Party of Ukraine, who led the Samooborona (“Self-Defence”) militia in the Maidan and later became head of Ukraine’s national security council. He is now chair of the Ukrainian parliament. Other politicians such as Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko have links with fascist organisations.
And the fascist-dominated Samooborona fighting forces have now been introduced as battalions into the Ukrainian armed forces, including the notorious Azov battalion, with its open displays of nazi insignia.
They are formally under the control of the state but to an extent retain their own political cohesion and organisation.
Ukrainian fascism’s recent experience of gaining leadership roles and respect in conflict with the state, of entry into government and of creating full military structures tied into state forces is unprecedented in post-WWII Europe.
It offers a grim warning for the rest of Europe of the potential for fascist organisations to offer the ruling class a cohesive force that can intervene in situations of economic or political crisis.
In Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – a racist populist party – is the main threat on the far right today, and a serious one – it is now the third party of British politics although it has just one MP. Last year’s parliamentary elections showed the scale of the racist party’s support.
Britain’s first past the post electoral system makes it hard for smaller parties to break into parliament, but UKIP came first in the 2014 European elections, where the voting system is more favourable, with 27.49% of the vote and 24 MEPs.
UKIP began life in 1991 as a single-issue party opposed to the EU. Most of its leading members were former members of the Conservative Party and wanted UKIP to act as an external pressure group on the Tories.
This changed when Nigel Farage was elected UKIP leader in 2006. Influenced by the success of far right parties elsewhere in Europe, Farage and his supporters began to turn UKIP into a classic right wing racist populist party. Anti-immigrant racism became its key appeal.
Its rise began in parliamentary byelections in 2011 and 2012, when it scored significant votes.
UKIP’s big surge came in 2013 when it made its first major push in local elections, gaining 147 councillors, up from just eight. Its success at the 2014 European elections has cemented its position, despite a slight fall in its support in that year’s local elections. At the time of writing, we are again in local election week – this post will be updated when the results of voting on 5 May are known.
UKIP is not as extreme as some of its European counterparts on the far right, but it has become a pole of attraction for racists and homophobic bigots. Over the past few years, it has also pulled the mainstream parties – the Conservatives and Labour under former leader Ed Milliband – further to the right.
The fascist British National Party (BNP) – which in 2009 had built up its electoral fortunes to gain two MEPs, a member of the Greater London Authority and more than 60 councillors – has imploded into ruin.
Years of systematic campaigning by anti-fascists reduced the fascist party to just one local councillor and had driven it to terminally bitter infighting and splits by 2010. The splinter groups that remain are tiny and marginal.
Antifascists in Britain have also faced the threat of the English Defence League (EDL), a street movement of anti-Muslim racist thugs with fascists and Islamophobic “Counterjihad” ideologues in its leadership that started in 2009. Former BNP activists drained into its ranks.
At its height, the EDL was able to mobilise up to 5,000 in demonstrations that regularly deteriorated into violence. The EDL began to develop in an increasingly fascist direction, turning on socialists, trade unionists, student demonstrators and Occupy protestors as well as Muslims – its main target.
But counter-demonstrations by antifascists and local people in towns and cities across the country, culminating in two huge mobilisations in east London in 2011 and 2012, broke the back of the EDL as an organisation, leaving a few, tiny splinter groups.
Although Britain’s fascist organisations have been broken up and marginalised, the scale of the racist populist UKIP’s rise over the past few years means a poisonous climate of racism remains.
Essay: Analysing fascism and the far right in Europe
Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.
–– Bertolt Brecht
We are witnessing a dramatic and frightening rise of fascist and racist populist parties across most of Europe. We haven’t seen anything on this scale since the 1930s.
This rise is expressed in large electoral votes and, in some countries, by the growth of paramilitary and street movements.
While Norbert Hofer and his FPÖ has risen in Austria, in France, the fascist Front National leads the polls in the run-up to the presidential election of 2017.
Hungary’s government is controlled by the increasingly authoritarian far right racist Fidesz party, with fascist Jobbik – strong electorally and with a huge paramilitary force – pushing it further rightwards.
In a slew of eastern European countries, fascist paramilitary organisations are recruiting in numbers. The situation across the continent presents a grave danger.
At the start of this article, you will see our table, showing the latest results gained by fascist and far right parties in national and European Parliament elections, plus our country by country guide looking at the strength of far right and fascist movements both electorally and in the streets.
Our survey focused on the countries where fascist and racist parties have made significant electoral and/or organisational breakthroughs. There are little fascist groups operating in several other countries, but with very small numbers and little impact.
We should remember, however, that just because fascism has not taken root in a country does not mean that it is harmless. Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous attacks in Norway – where the racist populist Freedom Party is strong but fascist organisations are tiny and marginal – show the terrorist violence that fascism can instil in its supporters, and the terrible price its victims pay.
We intend to look separately at the situation in Russia at a later date and have not included it here.
In this analysis we look at why fascism and the far right are on the rise, offer definitions of fascist and far right racist populist parties, and examine the sometimes volatile state of flux on the far right as organisations are formed and transformed.
Why are fascism and the far right on the rise?
Across Europe we are witnessing a polarisation of politics, to the left and to the right, in response to the economic crisis and austerity government, which have created deep wells of anger and poverty.
The main centre right and centre left parties are experiencing a general electoral decline, as millions of people feel increasingly disconnected from and unrepresented by the political establishment. In many countries the social base of the reformist centre left parties has been significantly eroded alongside a weakening of trade unions – millions of workers have seen their living standards driven down without much of a fight. The far right has often made gains in areas of industrial decline.
In Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal the polarisation is mainly to the left, although the presence of the fascist Golden Dawn in Greece remains a threat. But in most countries, the far right’s showing is much stronger than that of the radical left.
In Eastern and Central Europe, the collapse of Stalinism and the failure of the free market economy have left many people impoverished and disillusioned. In these countries, working class organisation is often weak and genuine leftwing organisations are tiny with little impact. This leaves the way open to the politics of racist scapegoating, and “alternative” political ideals: the classic fascist rhetoric of the “third way” – neither capitalism or communism – is filling the vacuum.
Both fascist parties and far right racist populists use racism to build, scapegoating and blaming minorities for the crisis, poverty and unemployment.
The racist and fascist parties are able to tap into an increasing level of racism in society across Europe. That racism is not fixed – it is constantly evolving and takes many different forms.
Today its main targets in western Europe are Muslims, migrants and Roma people. Here, a general revulsion at the Nazi Holocaust means that public political expressions of anti-Semitism remain taboo, although there is a more general revival of anti-Semitism.
The struggles of black people in the post-war decades and in some countries antiracist campaigning mean political parties have been forced to steer clear of open racism based on skin colour, although discrimination against black people in employment, education and especially at the hands of the police remains rife.
But Muslims, migrants and, especially in France and Italy, Roma people are seen as fair game. No one can miss the continual barrage of lurid horror stories about Muslims or refugees coming from the newspapers.
In Eastern Europe, anti-Semitism and anti-Roma racism are stronger.
But it should be noted that widespread Islamophobia in the west has opened the door and encouraged increased racism directed against other groups too. Islamophobia has stoked a revival of “older” forms of racism – anti-Semitism, with which it shares many traits, and racism directed at black people.
Mainstream political parties – on the centre right and, shamefully, much of the centre left – have encouraged and promoted this racism, alongside continual media hype. It has been used to justify war as well as to deflect attention away from the economic crisis.
The mainstream parties and media are also exploiting the refugee crisis. Refugees are being vilified as a “burden” on society or “a security threat” and even more draconian immigration laws are being introduced.
This poisonous climate has “legitimised” racist parties, allowing them to break out from the political margins. The fascists’ ideology is centred on racism and nationalism, while the far right populist parties use racism quite nakedly to win votes.
In turn, the gains of fascists and the far right have prompted increased racism from the mainstream parties – rather than take a principled position against hatred and division, they instead compromise with the far right, competing for the same racist territory with ever more extreme rhetoric and policies.
We should note that the far right is not only concerned with race and nationalism. The most successful racist parties have all built political agendas around a wide range of local and national issues. Most are also strongly “Eurosceptic” – anti-EU – protectionist and “pro-family”.
Many draw members or support from a ragbag of reactionary organisations and traditions, such as monarchist, militarist or “traditionalist” groups.
Homophobia is a feature of many fascist and far right parties, especially in Eastern Europe, leading both to vicious rhetoric and violent attacks on LGBT people and organisations.
Success in European, national and regional elections has provided fascist and racist populist parties with a massive financial boost from national states and the EU as well as an ever higher profile.
Finally, fascist and far right parties are able to grow when they are not systematically opposed. Despite the efforts of dedicated antifascists, in many countries fascist and far right organisations have not faced the sort of mass-based campaign that can drive them back.
Defining fascist and far right racist populist parties
In our election results table and country by country guide, we divided the parties into two categories: fascist and far right racist populist. We feel that defining and labelling these parties – and distinguishing between them is very important.
Most public discussion uses terms like “fascist”, “far right” or “extreme right” in a vague way that confuses and often hides the specific nature and organisational form of a party. Indeed the mainstream media generally uses a blanket “far right” or “extreme right” for all these parties.
Such loose terminology has helped Marine Le Pen in France to successfully evade the label fascist. Her strategy of “de-demonisation”, of concealing the Front National’s real politics, has succeeded because of this reluctance by others to call fascism by its name.
It is important to note that we should never base our assessment of fascist or far right parties on what they call themselves. Lying about and covering up their politics and real aims is a key part of the “Eurofascist” strategy used by Le Pen and others, which we discuss below.
It is also unhelpful to bandy the word “fascist” around as a term of abuse. This weakens the impact of the word and helps to hide the true threat posed by actual fascism.
Disgracefully, the fascist and far right parties are often not even termed “racist” in the media – this is especially the case where the form of racism the parties use is Islamophobia, anti-immigrant racism or anti-Roma racism.
We have defined fascism and far right racist populism more tightly here – to make it crystal clear the types of political parties we have to combat. Understanding the nature of the threat helps to determine the strategies and tactics antifascists and antiracists use to counter it.
Four main forms of organisation
The rising far right in Europe is taking four general forms.
1. Classical fascism
3. Right wing racist populist parties
4. Paramilitary organisations and street movements
We will look at each of these in detail below. But it’s important to recognise that these descriptions are not set in stone. By their very nature, these type of parties reinvent themselves and adopt new political strategies and ideologies.
And the far right in Europe is in a state of flux, with new organisations being formed, developing and changing, and making alliances all the time. They learn from and draw inspiration and tactics from each other as they try to make the breakthrough.
Fidesz in Hungary began life as a pro-market centre right party and is now a far right and authoritarian racist populist party. The English Defence League in the UK started life as an anti-Muslim racist street movement, led by fascists and so-called “Counterjihadist” ideologues, and quickly began to develop in the direction of a “classic” fascist movement, attacking trade unionists and the left as well as Muslims.
Antiracists and antifascists should not ignore the links and cross pollination of ideas between the fascists and the far right. Today both fascist parties and far right racist populists parties work closely with “counterjihadist” organisations and US Neoconservative and Christian fundamentalist organisations.
We are also seeing alliances that cross the boundary of fascism. Le Pen’s fascist FN now leads a European Parliament political group that also includes the fascist Sweden Democrats, the far right PVV from the Netherlands and the FPO from Austria.
For the FN, the alliance gives it the respectable cover of links with non-fascist parties, a step towards the mainstream. For the PVV, this alliance marked a watershed: previously the populist party had shied away from open links with any fascist organisation.
Some of the organisations we have listed as far right racist populists include fascist individuals or currents inside them. The FPO has a mixed membership that includes some fascist elements alongside traditional conservatives.
And we see some of the far right groups move in a fascist direction. This is true of Italy’s Lega Nord, which has linked up with the fascist street fighting and activist organisation Casa Pound. In Germany, faction fighting inside the far right AfD has strengthened a tendency towards fascism, and brought a greater willingness to associate openly with the Pegida racist street movement – itself a poisonous mix, in which hardcore fascists circulate freely.
Let’s now look at the four currents in turn.
Benito Mussolini’s fascists and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party established what historians call “classical fascism”.
We would describe parties like Hungary’s Jobbik, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Slovakian L’SNS, and Bulgaria’s Ataka as classical fascist parties. These parties and others like them build along traditional fascist lines, creating both electoral and street movements, and openly use fascist and Nazi insignia.
Fascism was officially born in Milan on 23 March 1919. Mussolini’s fascists were the pioneers, taking power in Italy in 1922. Eleven years later a racist and more violent fascist party took power in Germany – Hitler’s Nazis. There are differences between Nazism and Italian fascism, but it is important to outline a number of features that defined both movements.
Their political programmes were a mixture of ultra-nationalism, rhetoric directed both against capitalism and communism, a desire for dictatorship, and violence aimed at the left and the trade union movement.
Both Mussolini’s fascists and Hitler’s Nazis arose during a period of profound economic, social and political crisis. They were mass parties whose political base was in the petit bourgeoisie – small shopkeepers, self-employed business people, and other “middling” groups positioned between the main forces of the capitalists on the one hand and the organised working class on the other. As their influence grew they drew in sections of the working class, especially unemployed people.
Mussolini’s fascists and the Nazis both adopted a “twin track” strategy – they used both parliamentary, electoral operations and streetfighting movements as they sought to take power.
Both parties eventually gained power, gifted to them by the traditional establishment after they had proved their strength and usefulness. Their mass streetfighting organisations provided some sections of capitalism’s ruling class with a potential solution to the crisis they found themselves in.
In their rhetoric, the fascists and Nazis claimed a “third way” political position – neither capitalist nor communist. But once in power, they smashed working class and democratic, civil society organisations in the interests of capital.
Racism and nationalism have been the main mobilising ideologies for fascist movements. It is true that Mussolini’s party did not use racism as a tool to gain power – he introduced his race laws in 1938.
But racism has been the keystone for fascists everywhere since Hitler took power in Germany in 1933. They all use racism to build support – and they use the ideology of racial superiority to unify their cadres.
Fascism also uses social activism and cultural activities to help build a mass base – we can see this with moves by Jobbik in Hungary to build flood defences, or in the tendency of many fascist organisations to seek supporters among football hooligan crews or in niche music scenes.
In the 1930s, fascism offered the capitalist establishment a force that could be turned against the power of the organised working class. But today we can see in countries like Ukraine, where working class organisation is very weak, that fascists can present themselves to the ruling class as a coherent force in conditions of political crisis too.
After the Second World War the memory of the Holocaust and the other horrific crimes of Hitler’s Nazi regime saw fascism pushed to the fringes of the political landscape.
Apart from in Italy, where there has been an unbroken fascist current with deep links to sections of the state, fascism remained largely in the margins until the 1970s.
It was generally regarded as an unacceptable fringe movement of violent boot boys – although in some countries it was able to make advances at times of economic decline and rising unemployment, as with the National Front in Britain in the 1970s until it broke up under pressure from the mass Anti Nazi League.
But in the 1970s and 1980s, French fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen began to repackage fascism to make it more palatable to the electorate.
While retaining its core ideological beliefs, Le Pen’s Front National consciously removed its Nazi imagery, forced its street gangs into the background and refrained from crude references to biological racism, instead focusing on nationality, “identity” and “insecurity” – more coded racist references.
Only on occasion did the mask slip, most famously when Le Pen said the “Holocaust was a mere detail of history”.
The FN’s Eurofascism strategy was a success – the party was able to make electoral gains in the 1980s, building a base in parts of the south of France that it maintains today. Other fascist parties moved to adopt the Eurofascist strategy, including the British National Party, the Sweden Democrats and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang.
Today the FN has refined its Eurofascist strategy further under Jean Marie Le Pen’s daughter Marine, whose “de-demonisation” strategy aimed at escaping the label fascist. The FN is now Europe’s most successful Eurofascist party. It stands at the head of the opinion polls as France moves towards its 2017 presidential election, came first in the European elections, has 24 MEPs and two MPs and won 6.8 million votes in regional elections in 2015.
Eurofascist parties claim that they have dropped their fascist politics. But this is a facade – as former BNP leader Nick Griffin admitted in an edition of the party’s theoretical journal.
Instead of presenting the party as a revolutionary alternative to the system, we must present them [the electorate] with an image of moderate reasonableness… Of course we must teach the truth to the hardcore. But when it comes to influencing the public, forget about racial differences, genetics, Zionism, historical revisionism and so on.
In other words, don’t talk in public about your real aims and ideals. It is worth noting that Marine Le Pen, who kicked her father out of the party after repeated incidents of Holocaust denial, was concerned because these affected the party’s image. She does not denounce the politics that lie behind the public gaffes.
Eurofascists may have publicly ditched their boots and knuckledusters and replaced them with suits and ties, but they still retain a street-fighting wing.
Sometimes this can be a section of the party – Jean Marie Le Pen’s “body guards”, the BNP’s Combat 18 security team. At other times the Eurofascist parties maintain links with separate fascist squads or street movements at one step removed from the party. Marine Le Pen’s FN has documented links with hardcore nazis who still provide “security” and has increasingly close relations with the Identitaires street movement, for example. The Sweden Democrats claim that they have left their nazi paramiltary wing behind – but connections between SD members and nazi fighting groups are repeatedly exposed.
It is important not to put too much emphasis on differences between the “classical fascists” and the “Eurofascists”. These are differences of tactics not politics, and the Eurofascist parties still have many members and senior cadres from their more openly nazi days.
We have used the term “fascist” in our country by country guide to differentiate all the fascist organisations – classical and Eurofascist – from the rest of the far right. It is essential to expose these organisations as specifically fascist, to make the nature of their threat clear.
Far right racist populist parties
Europe is also witnessing the growth of what we have described as far right racist populist parties. This covers a wide range of political formations, with racist parties that crave the mainstream, like Britain’s UKIP and the PVV in the Netherlands, at one end of the spectrum and the racist and authoritarian Hungarian party Fidesz at the other.
These are not fascist organisations, although they are very definitely on the far right. They are committed to working within the parliamentary system and democratic institutions, and do not seek to smash them. They may contain fascists in their ranks, but the political project these parties are engaged in is changing the system from within.
These far right parties are racist, but they are not ideologically wedded to “White Power” or racial superiority in the way the fascist organisations are. The fascists use this ideology to unite and solidify their cadre – essential for organisations that seek to smash the democratic system.
Instead, the far right parties have adopted a populist racism. They use it to gain popular support and win votes. Racist populist parties would rather leave the mass of the population demobilised and passive, while fascists want to build an active mass movements which it uses to smash democratic, socialist organisations and intimidate minorities.
The history of these parties is also important. We have identified Eurofascist parties such as the FN in France clearly as fascist and not merely far right – they may try to hide their politics and their roots, but they were founded as fascist organisations and remain so.
The far right racist populist parties do not have fascist origins. Instead they are often breakaways from mainstream conservative, centre right or Christian Democratic organisations.
The far right racist populists vary in their attitude to fascist organisations. Austria’s FPO and the Netherlands’ PVV are now allied with fascist parties in the European parliament.
Britain’s UKIP, however, runs scared of any association with fascism, and tries to ban former members of fascist groups from joining. UKIP’s caution is the result of consistent antifascist campaigning that has destroyed both the British National Party and the English Defence League – the fascist label is toxic in Britain, and UKIP fears contamination.
But the fact that the far right populist parties use racism to mobilise voters can create a climate for fascist parties to flourish.
Paramilitary organisation and street movements
Classical fascism, Eurofascism and far right racist populism all use the electoral arena – although the fascist tradition follows an open or hidden twin track strategy, with both electoral and paramilitary or street fighting wings.
But a variety of sizeable stand-alone paramilitary fascist organisations, streetfighting groups and racist street movements are also making their presence felt in many parts of Europe.
Paramilitarism in the broadest sense encompasses a range of forms, from individual armed terrorists like Anders Behring Breivik, streetfighting gangs, “honour guards” and “security” organisations through to substantial paramilitary forces.
We are also seeing the rise of looser “street movements” that can pull in previously unorganised demonstrators to create a show of force and intimidate minority groups.
In Eastern Europe especially, a number of paramilitary organisations and streetfighting groups are operating, often with uniforms – traditional military or “fightwear”, organised drilling and parades and sometimes military training. Examples include the National Radical Camp and All-Polish Youth in Poland and the paramilitary organisations grouped together as Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) in Ukraine . Such groups often openly use fascist or nazi symbols and insignia.
Poland’s paramilitary organisations are reportedly experiencing a surge of recruitment, with numbers totalling around 10,000. In Ukraine, the strength of organised paramilitary groups enabled them to play a key role during the “Euromaidan” protests that brought down former president Yanukovych – and they have now been incorporated as organised battalions into Ukraine’s state armed forces.
Italy’s Casa Pound is another example of a streetfighting, combat organisation, which also engages in social activism and is openly and proudly fascist.
Less obviously military street movements include the Identitaires in France and elsewhere, Germany’s racist Pegida and its spin-offs and the now largely broken up English Defence League.
Such street movements often provide a poisonous meeting point, bringing racist “protestors” and organised fascists together and allowing the fascists to recruit and build.
Pegida, for example, is able to pull thousands of ordinary people onto the streets under its Islamophobic and anti-immigrant banner, but also includes hardcore nazi groups and violent racist and fascist football hooligan firms.
These volatile and unstable organisations can move easily from general racism towards fascism, as we saw with the EDL.
Paramilitary and streetfighting organisations are obviously dangerous in themselves, meting out brutal and sometimes murderous violence towards ethnic minorities and LGBT people.
But we are also seeing an increasing trend for these groups to seek to create or link up with electoral organisations, creating the basis for classical fascist parties.
We can see this with Casa Pound’s tie-up with the Lega Nord, or with the Polish paramilitary organisations that joined together to form Ruch Narodowy as an electoral vehicle. Increasing links between Pegida and the racist electoral AfD party, which is itself shifting rightwards, is another worrying development.
We have attempted here and in our country by country guide to provide a snapshot picture and an analysis of major fascist and far right racist populist parties across Europe as they stand today. But these organisations are in continual flux and development, drawing from each other’s successes as they seek to make gains.
Today’s nasty racist street movement can morph into a fascist organisations and – if the political and economic conditions are right – racist populist parties can also move towards fascism.
We believe the situation in Europe todays shows a growth and development of these organisations that is without parallel since the 1930s. And after the experience of fascism in power in Europe and the Holocaust, we know just how dangerous that can be. The need to stop history repeating itself could not be more important.
This means that fascist and racist organisations need to be opposed on all levels – political, ideological and organisational. None of them is yet unstoppable. In much of Europe, there is a desperate need for large-scale, broad-based campaigns against the fascist and far right racist parties, both electorally and on the streets.
The threat is real and the task is urgent.