Analysing The Political Economy

Is The West Standing On the Precipice Of Fascism

By Graham Vanbergen: Many political analysts find not just the perceived threat but the actual rise of fascism in the West to be quite concerning. It is a political ideology that promotes nationalism and more often than not, includes xenophobia and racism. Although fascism is something that has never gone away, we are witnessing more and more of its characteristics, even from mainstream political parties in seats of power across the Western world. And we should not be blind to what is going on in the background in the UK.

The consequences of fascism are devastating, especially given the catastrophic events of the last century. However, it is important to note that not everyone may agree on what constitutes fascism or how significant its rise is in the West. But if you don’t believe that fascism is coming to a country near you, you might want to think again.

In the last two years alone, the media, such as Politico, the BBC, the Guardian, Forbes, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Post, and many more, have written endlessly about the rise of the hard right and the threat of fascism.

Both Giorgia Meloni, the Prime Minister of Italy, a party with strong neo-fascist roots, and Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) in The Netherlands, have overturned the political landscape in the EU. And they are not alone.

In Finland, a far-right nationalist party called The Finns recently joined the coalition government. In Sweden, the firmly anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism Sweden Democrats are the second largest party in parliament and are now propping up the right-wing coalition government there. In Germany, the AfD party has 78 seats in the Bundestag (parliament), the equivalent of the BNP or EDL holding 65 seats in the UK’s House of Commons. Could you ever imagine something like that? The trouble is – I can.

Last summer, the BBC reported – “Look around Europe right now – north, south, east and west – and you see far-right parties of different flavours – nostalgic nationalist, populist nationalist, ultra-conservative with neo-fascist roots and more – enjoying a notable resurgence.” Germany’s Der Spiegel unambiguously reports that the AfD party in Germany has very deep connections to Neo-Nazis.

There is, however, another worrying point of evidence to suggest that the far-right is gaining yet more traction. Economists are now highlighting the issue. Indeed, The Economist has published over twenty articles in the last six months alone on the subject, such as; “The growing peril of national conservatism“. The Financial Times has published just as many, along with Bloomberg. From the political centre (left and right), more and more warnings come – from the London School of Economics to Tax Research UK, which is now highlighting the growing threat of the hard right and fascism.

James Livingston, Professor Emeritus of History at Rutgers University, is an economic historian. In a long piece published in the prestigious Project Syndicate entitled What Was Capitalism, Livingston ominously wrote – “The lesson capital learned in the 1920s would be used to similar worldwide effect in the 1970s and after – including in the aftermath of the post-2008 Great Recession. So we still stand at the edge of the same precipice, staring into the abyss of fascism, and there is as yet no counter-hegemonic narrative in place, unless Occupy Wall Street, Bernie, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter qualify as its components.”

Indeed, most economists agree that the roots of social unrest in Western countries lie in the implosion of the neoliberal model of capitalism demonstrated so destructively in the 2008/09 financial crisis.

In Britain, the scale of (taxpayer) support provided to UK banks fell from an eye-watering peak of £955bn to £512bn by December 2009. The national debt pile – effectively doubled over the following decade. To make matters worse, the Conservative government of the day doubled down on this massive economic failure by imposing a policy of austerity upon the most vulnerable. That catastrophic decision, economically wrong in every way, is now prevalent to wider society, with the evident failure of public services and the crumbling infrastructure that supports it.

Worldwide, taxpayers bailed out the banks to the tune of £2trillion initially, but the actual total was more like £5trillion. This is the equivalent, at the time, of taking almost ten per cent of global GDP and burning it. The social backlash has never really ended.

As daily life turned into a crisis for tens of millions across the Western world, the financial and economic crisis of 2008 morphed into something else. The post-Cold War order started disintegrating, which brought right-wing nationalist parties into positions of power in many parts of Europe. It was in this very Petri dish of financialisation and economic policy failure that led to Donald Trump being ushered into the Whitehouse. And who would have thought on Trump’s inauguration day back in January 2017 we would be where we are right now.

And where are we? Just last week, Liz Truss, the former British prime minister, was addressing a far-right conference in the US, demanding the removal of America’s sitting President whilst railing against a so-called leftwing-run deep state that she imagines ousted her. “Conservatives are now operating in what is a hostile environment, and we essentially need a bigger bazooka in order to be able to deliver,” Truss said.

Truss then went full Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist linked to global far-right nationalist movements, who in 2017 called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state” and called rent-a-thug Tommy Robinson a ‘hero.’ She argued that the left has somehow infiltrated public and private institutions in “the deep state” and sabotaged her efforts to cut taxes and reduce the size of government. Her incompetence and ideology that blinded her and those who voted her in had nothing to do with the collapse of faith by the very free markets that she extolled in the first place. She was ousted by her own party for crashing the economy and has the accolade of the shortest-serving Prime Minister in British history.

It was perhaps cynical of Truss to promote her new book at the same event alongside a biography of Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host who recently conducted a fawning interview with Russia’s barbarous dictator Vladimir Putin. But still, even listening to this diatribe of fantasies – she has an audience – and one that is growing.

In the meantime, America’s former President advocates the idea that Russia can attack whoever it sees fit – it’s not got much to do with America in his eyes.

Meanwhile, back on home soil in the UK, the far right is now the fastest-growing form of extremism, according to the most recent counter-extremism Prevent report. Research shows that supporters and organisations of the far-right may adopt some liberal values to appear more democratic, moderate and less of a threat – but the reality could not be further from the truth.

As Livingstone quite rightly says – we ARE standing on the same precipice as Europe was in the 1920s, and we ARE staring into the abyss of fascism today, and there is, as yet, still no counter-narrative in place. The fault line is the failure of ‘trickle-down’ economics and the eruption of the 2008 financial crisis that continues to accelerate inequality – the very catalyst and facilitator of fascism. Political opportunists like Boris Johnson, Suella Braverman, Lee Anderson, et al. simply understand these fault lines, create common enemies (to blame) and force division within society to get a foot in the door.

A radical change in political and economic policy is needed. The institutions that support democracy and the rights of civil society need to be strengthened, not weakened as they have been. So do the principles of our Democratic system. However, by far, the most important characteristic of British life is that justice and fairness are upheld.

For instance, the lack of justice and fairness is openly demonstrated in the UK in public reaction to the state versus the sub-postmasters in the Post Office scandal. There are many examples of the glue failing to keep society well and truly stuck to these basic principles, such as the unfairness of austerity or NHS waiting lists and the injustice of endless stories of corruption at the heart of government. Modern-day capitalism, brought in by Reagan and Thatcher, has seen corporate profits rise and their tax liabilities fall – in line with falling wages and standards of living, which only causes protests, riots, and extremism. The reaction by the government has been to legislate against protest – the beating heart of democracy itself. It has given extraordinary new powers to the police – an assault on our understanding of democracy.

In March 2022, the Constitution Society, along with members of the House of Lords and former PM John Major, specifically highlighted new and specific threats to British democracy. Words such as ‘elective dictatorship’ and ‘quiet authoritarianism’ litter its report. It should be noted that concerns over our democracy are now so serious that the United Kingdom Constitution Monitoring Group (UKCMG) was formed – a group of constitutional experts from academic and practitioner backgrounds. Its second report makes for very sobering reading.

The Constitution Society report concludes, “Taken as a whole, these and other difficulties comprise a serious source of concern about democracy in the UK. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, they already amount to a substantial and regrettable tendency.”

If we witness at the impending general election the complete destruction of the Tory party, which I suspect we will – the party will likely emerge after yet more infighting as something even harder on the political right. At that point, we will all need to be worried about what is coming next.







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