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Far-right policies don’t become palatable just because mainstream politicians adopt them | Kenan Malik

debtFar-right? Extreme right? Radical right? Or just right? The victories of parties such as Marine Le Pen’s Rally National (RN) (rebranded the National Front) and Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the recent EU elections have sparked a debate about whether the “far-right” label should be dropped. audience Editor Fraser Nelson said many political parties with that name “Now mainstream Not in the same way it was 15 years ago.”

For Nelson, these parties are better classified as “new right”. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, has fascist roots, but she has demonstrated that she is “center-right, not radical”. Nelson argues that it is “nonsense” to “call Meloni’s party ‘post-fascist'” or to suggest that the various “new right” parties all belong to a single “far-right or radical-right bloc”.

It is true that the term “far-right” is overused, and that far-right politicians who come to power do not govern like modern-day Mussolinis but rather as technocrats with reactionary tendencies, but what is missing from this debate is the recognition that the mainstreaming of the far-right should call into question not just the far-right but also the nature of the mainstream.

Organizations that are labeled as “far-right,” as John Bloomfield and David Edgar point out in a polemical new paper, Criticism of the “populist right”There are at least three different strains: first, there are the unashamedly neo-fascist parties like Germany’s NPD or Greece’s Golden Dawn, which may pose a threat on the streets but have little public support.

Then there are the “fascist successor parties”, organisations that evolved from older fascist parties, such as Meloni’s Brothers of Italy or France’s RN, many of which have sought to “detoxify” themselves in search of electoral success. Finally, there are newer parties such as the AfD, founded in 2013 as an anti-EU organisation and described at the time as the “party of professors” and the “bourgeois party of protest” because of the large number of academics who joined, and Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV), founded in the Netherlands in 2006 to oppose immigration and Islam, and which won last year’s general election.

The rapid success of far-right or “New Right” parties does not herald a return to the march of military boots or the fascism of the 1930s. The fascist parties of the interwar period emerged in a time of intense class struggle and violent conflict between capital and labor. Today’s “New Right” has been nurtured by almost the opposite social conditions.

Over the past 40 years, working-class organizations have collapsed, class struggle has faded into obscurity, and large sections of the population have become alienated from the political process. At a time when economic and social developments, from the casualization of jobs to the implementation of austerity measures, are making working-class life more precarious, the Social Democrats have alienated their traditional working-class constituencies and many feel politically powerless.

Meanwhile, class politics has given way to identity politics, with class itself being seen as a cultural and even racial attribute rather than a political or economic category: politicians and journalists now speak a lot about the “white working class” but rarely about the “black working class” or the “Muslim working class”, even though far larger proportions of black and Muslim people are working class.

Instead, commentators like Matthew Goodwin, an academic and now-defensive advocate of right-wing populism, imagine “an informal alliance between white elites, corporations, and minorities.” Against the white working class“, which marginalized working-class minorities and fueled white victimhood. These moves paved the way for the reactionary movement to reframe politics by combining narrow-minded identity politics, rooted in hostility to immigrants and Muslims, with economic and social policies that had once been mainstays of the left: pro-jobs, support for the welfare state, and opposition to austerity.

In reality, “New Right” politicians advocate measures that are deeply opposed to the interests of the working class, from attacks on civil liberties to the restriction of trade union rights. But just as the Social Democrats have abandoned the working class, large sections of the working class have also abandoned the Social Democrats, and many of them have sought refuge in far-right parties.

Mainstream politicians have panicked about this political realignment and have adopted many of the themes of the far right. Measures once advocated only for the political extreme have become policy, from the mass detention and deportation of illegal immigrants to forced overseas processing of immigrants. Far-right tropes, such as “the great replacement” (a conspiracy theory that elites are replacing white Europeans with immigrants) and concerns about declining birth rates among “native” Europeans, are now being repurposed by respected figures on the mainstream right.

“Positions that were once denounced, despised, looked down upon, and despised are becoming positions that are held in common.” Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary“And those who support these positions are welcomed today as equal partners,” he told reporters in 2016. A political icon for many on the “New Right,” that’s even truer now, eight years on.

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When Ursula von der Leyen was elected President of the European Commission in 2019, one of her first acts was to rename the vice-president in charge of migration to “Commissioner for Migration Policy.” Our European lifestyle” I am not a racist,” she said, making clear that immigration is an existential threat to European culture and identity. Le Pen boasted that von der Leyen’s move was “confirmation of our ideological victory.”

Many critics argue that there is nothing “far-right” or “racist” about wanting to restrict immigration or being concerned about Islamic extremism. That’s true, but demonizing immigrants or calling asylum seekers “the wrongdoers” is not. Constituting “invasion”, Blaming Muslims As something incompatible with Western society, London becomes “white minority” Immigrants call the British “Surrender territory Without a shot being fired, Afraid of it Europe is ‘committing suicide’These are far-right themes currently being asserted by mainstream intellectuals and politicians.

If the term “far right” seems redundant to some these days, that’s because what was once a staple of political fringe debate has now become firmly established at the heart of mainstream discourse.

Kenan Malik is a columnist for the Observer.

  • Do you have an opinion on any issue raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of 250 words or less for consideration for publication, please email it to observer.letters@observer.co.uk

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