A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of fascism. We caught a glimpse of that spectre in Sweden last weekend and we are likely to see more of it next weekend in Italy.
It is not just that right-wing parties are winning elections. That would be bad enough. What we are seeing now happening in some parts of Western Europe is something new and terrifying. Political parties that have their roots in Nazi or fascist movements have emerged as mass organisations — and as parties of government. This is something that should keep democrats awake at night.
In the Swedish elections a week ago, a party with clear roots a neo-Nazi party, the “Swedish Democrats,” won more than one in five votes. Over 1,300,000 Swedes supported a party which has spent the last three decades in the political wilderness. Now it will be part of the right-wing coalition government. It was a close election, and the vote for the Social Democrats actually grew — but it was not enough. Hundreds of thousands of Swedish voters shifted their allegiance from the traditional parties of the right and centre to a party with neo-Nazi roots.
Meanwhile in Italy, where elections are taking place on 25 September, all polls are indicating that the party known as Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), is expected to win the largest number of votes. Polls show it winning nearly 25%, which is significantly higher than what the Swedish Democrats achieved. And like their colleagues in Sweden, FdI has its roots in fascism. It is a direct continuation of the old Italian Social Movement (MSI), which in turn grew out of Mussolini’s fascist party. Its leader, Giorgia Meloni, may very well turn out to be Italy’s next prime minister — the first fascist leader the country has had since 1943.
FdI’s main rival on the left, the Democratic Party (PD) is several points behind in the polls. The PD has its roots in the once-powerful Italian Communist Party (PCI). But since it was founded in 2007, the PD’s vote has shrunk from 33% to barely 20% today.
The first task for the European Left, and indeed for all democrats, is to try to understand why this is happening.
One could rattle off a list of things that contribute to the rise of these fascist parties including economic crisis, globalisation, climate change, and mass migration.
But a key reason why they are growing is surely that their natural rivals, the social democratic parties, have not offered an appealing alternative in many cases.
Far right movements offer answers to working people who have seen their standards of living collapse and obscene levels of inequality grow. Sometimes, these far right movements are called “populist” — but left parties can also advocate for radical change, as they used to do.
At the moment, there is no fascist movement of any significance in Britain. But before we get all smug about it, remember that the Swedish Democrats and FdI were small, fringe parties just a few years ago.
In some countries, such as France, the mainstream social democratic party (PS) has nearly evaporated — just a few short years after it was in power. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) has also nearly completely disappeared, its vote collapsing from 25% a decade ago to just 5% today.
A Left that is willing to call for radical change at a time of economic crisis is one that might grow. Or maybe not.
But continuing with politics as usual at a time when fascist and neo-Nazi parties are on the cusp of power — that will surely fail.
This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.