It would seem as if the EU has manoeuvred itself to a nice position of Catch-22; its paragon of liberal democracy was created to prevent the rise of fascism, yet, paradoxically, democracy allows all to participate, regardless of undesirability. Free-markets at the forefront of the EU’s agenda (see the Lisbon Treaty for the latest incarnation of a ‘competitive’ Europe) paradoxically create an environment of protection in times of economic crisis.
Throughout Europe this week reverberations have been felt, where extreme right wing parties have gained acceptance in Holland, Italy, Austria and Hungry, along with the UK. But this revival is not wholly unsurprising, nor is it incomparable. However, it is something that media, politicians and the majority of society have neglected in countering.
The rise of German and Italian fascism in the 1920-30s occurred on the backdrop of severe economic recession. Germany was heavily indebted to France after the First World War. Coupled with mass unemployment (around 6 million people) and extortionately high inflation (rendering the Deutsche Mark worthless), national economies wanted to ‘protect’ themselves from the fickle international economy. Thus, Hitler’s Germany was born.
With hindsight it was abhorrent but for the average German “Protection At All Costs” was a lifesaver, as unemployment was dramatically reduced and the Deutsche Mark was stabilised. The German economy rose from its relatively backward position to become an industrial powerhouse of Europe and beyond. In short’ fascism saved capitalism both in Germany and abroad.
Although the expansion of the market economy in the 21st century is inherently different from that of the early 20th century the underlying phenomena remains unchanged – a shared ideological current runs throughout: Fascism. Karl Polanyi notably points out that the commodification of land, labour and money has resulted in society becoming an integral part of the economic system; breaking from traditional human cultures people became dependent on the market for ‘daily life’.
Labour during the interwar period was treated as a commodity, and as the market dominated, people sold their labour for a wage – without the protection of the welfare state. As a result, social groups were formed through the emergence of a self-conscious working class. Fascism and Communism were two such groups that were created to protect the worker from the market. It would be the strong build-up of the working class that would encourage protection ultimately leading to destruction. This is the dialectical problem of ‘double-movement’ – protection/destruction.
If one extrapolates the knowledge from the political system at the turn of the 19th century, to the recent results in the MEP elections some correlations can be drawn. Over the last few years has seen the world economy slide into recession to such an extent that the most powerful 20 leaders meet for the first time in the historic and unprecedented G20 meeting.
This event was covered intensely by the world’s media, which continuously reinforced the ‘big bad recession’ on the general public. Everyday jobs were being lost; banks were collapsing; factories (those that were left after Thatcherism) were shutting; unemployment rose to 2.2 million, and; the pound sterling weakened. The media pounced on this story with élan, reporting on the ‘gloom and doom’ and rarely offering any solutions.
Comparatively the situation was not as damaging as the Great Depression, but to the media it was apocalyptic, a phenomenon of which had never been seen before. To a certain extent there is some truth in this, as it has occurred in a period of intense globalisation, but nevertheless the underlying assumption of recession remains constant as a contradiction in capitalism. The eventuality that the market system will collapse before it reorganises itself.
The BNP jumped on this and espoused a short-term fix to a long-term problem, by playing on people’s fears and anxieties that were heightened by the media. They have turned to the protection of the national economy. Stop ‘health tourism’ expel ‘bogus asylum seekers’ protect ‘British jobs from cut-throat foreign companies’. These are all fanatical and misplaced polices that do little to correct the world’s woes.
British jobs are not under threat from foreign companies but are more under threat from home companies relocating to other countries. There is nothing ‘bogus’ about being an asylum seeker. And health tourism is a two-way exchange with many British choosing to seek medical assistant aboard.
The build-up to the MEP elections was somewhat of a hollow affair. Scant mention of it was found the national newspapers, with expensive scandals and the collapse of the Labour party grabbing most headlines. The competitive media need to sell papers after all, why else would the Telegraph release the expenses of MPs in small batches rather than one issue?
Members of the cabinet resigned only days before the election to show their disapproval of the party, and this selfish act has backfired on the party as a whole. Other Labour Party members standing for MEP could not be happy with the lack of unity at such a time. It shows that some MPs are more concerned about their own jobs than the composition of the EU Parliament. But is this is surprising? Sadly, probably not.
Nevertheless, here we are with BNP gaining two seats and joining their fellow fascists in Europe. But now they have a hefty allowance of about €395,000 that they can funnel into research and future political campaigns. No longer can politicians, media and the electorate be complacent and push them to the side. There policies must be analysed, criticised and dammed if one wished to prevent future mistakes from occurring. As fascism is one of the biggest mistakes humanity has made.