Refugees don’t cause fascism: liberalism does

October 2nd, 2015

Image result for fascists in europe

Europe needs to fascisise its policies, because if it doesn’t – fascism will grow. This was the message from Frans Timmerman, Vice-President of the European Commission following last week’s fraught negotiations over the so-called refugee crisis. “We have to patrol our borders better”, he told reporters on Thursday. “If we’re not able to tackle this issue, if we’re not able to find sustainable solutions, you will see a surge of the extreme right across the European continent.”

Sustainable solutions are, of course, available, and always have been; namely 1) stop destabilising Africa and the Middle East: which means, precisely, stop arming sectarian insurgencies (Syria, Libya and Somalia), stop sabotaging diplomatic solutions by insisting on one side’s surrender as a precondition to talks (‘Assad must go’) and stop forcing vulnerable economies to adopt regressive neoliberal policies which impoverish small producers (‘structural adjustment programmes’ and ‘free trade areas’); and 2) implement the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and give refuge to all those fleeing persecution and war. If tiny Lebanon – with its population of 4.5 million and a GDP of less than one third of one percent of that of the EU – can take in 1.5million refugees, one would have thought the EU – more populous and wealthier than any country on the planet – could manage a few hundred thousand.

But this is not what Timmerman is talking about. Having failed to reach consensus on taking in even a token fraction of the refugees arriving on Europe’s shores, the talk is now of a more or less formal acceptance of the ‘Hungarian solution’ – razor wire fencessurrounding fortress Europe. “After weeks of condemnation over the border fence,” noted the Daily Telegraph last week, “EU officials now appear to concede that [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban has a point”.

Using the spectre of the far right to justify the wholesale adoption of their policies is nothing new, with elections across Europe increasingly resembling ‘racist auctions’: each party trying to outbid the others in their hostility to migrants, and always on the grounds that, if they do not, the far right will reap the benefits. ‘We will ban their benefits for two years’ announced the Labour party manifesto before this year’s election in the UK, ‘Well we will ban them for FOUR years’ rebuffed the Conservatives – neither divulging that the proportion of migrants actually on benefits is barely 1/20, compared to 2/3 of all British families.

Besides, Timmerman is profoundly wrong. Refugees do not cause the growth of the far-right any more than Jews ‘caused’ Nazism. InThe Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton argues that fascism rests on“popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot and their rightful predominance over inferior people.” More precisely, he describes it as a mass emotional response to national humiliation and decline which blames internal enemies for weakening the nation’s power. This humiliation is usually caused by military defeat and a decline in global status and power, and is accompanied by economic upheaval for previously privileged sections of the ‘masses’, who resent being pushed into the ranks of the proletariat, and seek to restore their previous position.

This was obviously the situation in 1930s Germany and Italy. Italy, although on the winning side of World War One at that war’s conclusion, was denied the fruits of victory it had been promised by its allies – an outcome blamed by the nascent fascist movement on the socialists and communists who had weakened the nation sufficiently to make it ripe for bullying by the other ‘Great Powers’. At the same time, it was suffering from economic crisis and unemployment – especially amongst former soldiers – again blamed on ‘communist disruption’. Germany was in a similar position, forced by its vanquishers to sign a humiliating peace treaty, and was by the 1930s suffering some of the highest levels of unemployment in Europe. Both calamities were blamed on ‘Jewish Bolsheviks’ who had, the Nazis claimed, stabbed the army in the back with their ‘unnecessary’ surrender at Versailles, and then subsequently wrecked the country’s economy with their control of both high finance and the trade unions.

The key in both cases was that fascism tapped into an emotional pride that could not accept that national decline was simply the result of the nation’s relative weakness. There had to be another explanation – an enemy within that had weakened the nation by diluting its inherent strength. National strength could, following this logic, be rejuvenated so long as the internal enemy was extinguished. This is the core of fascism. And very similar objective conditions to those that facilitated the growth of fascism in Germany and Italy in the 1930s are also present across Europe today.

Europe today – having spent five hundred years building up a self-aggrandising mythology of itself as the font of civilization and all that is good in the world – is now in the throes of a multi-pronged crisis, at once political, economic, military and ideological. On the political level, the rise of the BRICS countries, and especially China, is threatening the world’s domination by Europe and the European settler states (the US, Australia and Canada), and this threat is increasingly manifest in every global institution – from the IMF to the World Bank and the UN. On the economic level, global capitalism is still in the throes of the crisis whose latest phase began in 2007-8, with the result that long term mass unemployment is now a permanent and growing feature of every European country at the same time as the welfare safety net for the jobless is being ever more viciously slashed away. And whilst the military defeat of Britain and some of its European allies in Afghanistan and Iraq is hardly the same level of trauma as defeat in world war, it is worth noting that the main fascist street movement in Britain today, the English Defence League, has its roots precisely in the rituals around returning soldiers from Afghanistan.

The result is that the masses of Western Europe – who have, since at least 1945, enjoyed a highly privileged position amongst the global working class – are now seeing their economic privileges evaporating, their nations’ power being challenged across the globe, and their armies being forced into unseemly retreats everywhere they venture.

All of this is the inexorable unfolding of global capitalism – whose development compels the whole world to simultaneously adopt its techniques (resulting in national competition and the rise of new global powers), lower its costs, cut its workforce – and thereby also cut the demand that underpins the whole system. This ultimately is what caused the dislocations both in the 1930s and today.

Not to the fascist, though. For the fascist, national decline must be caused by the presence of the enemy within – a ‘foreign body’ infecting the national purity which, if regained, will again restore the nation to its rightfully privileged global status. A scapegoat is essential to fascist ideology.

But this scapegoat has to be very precisely chosen. It must at once symbolize the new powers deemed to be usurping the chosen people’s rightful place in the global hierarchy, but simultaneously be vulnerable enough to be the target of attacks at home. For Hitler, the Jew met both these criteria, representing the powerful external ‘Soviet threat’ (of ‘Jewish Bolshevism’) whilst being a group easy to persecute on home soil. Likewise, the scapegoat must represent the middle class fear of expropriation from both ‘above’ and ‘below’ – once again, for Hitler, the Jew worked perfectly, symbolizing the threat to small businesses represented by big business and banking and by communism – for, in Nazi mythology, the Jew controlled both.

In today’s Europe, the Muslim plays precisely the role played by the Jew in the 1930s. The Muslim fills the ranks of the despised poor in Europe’s inner cities – always on the verge of rebellion and political radicalism, the ‘Jewish Bolshevik’ of his day – but is also the ‘Arab tycoon’ – buying up London, pricing out ordinary folks, and manipulating oil prices. The Muslim is the internal enemy, weakening the national spirit from within, whilst also representing the rising powers abroad.

This is the fascist worldview. The objective conditions for its acceptance are relative national decline; economic crisis, poverty and unemployment; and military defeat. The subjective conditions are hundreds of years of ideological brainwashing that Europe is the font of civilisation, uniquely innovative and progressive, destined to dominate the world and entitled to permanently privileged living standards. Refugees are not responsible for any of these conditions, Mr Timmerman. But you, and your entire political class, have exacerbated all of them.

This piece was originally published by Counterpunch

 

Libya’s relentless decline represents a continuation of the NATO war

New opinion polls, economic statistics and human rights reports from Libya point to one conclusion: western policy to keep Libya weak and divided is a resounding success.

Line graph. The percentage of Libyans who are thriving dropped from 31% in 2012 to 19% in 2018.

A poll released by Gallup this week demonstrates the increasing desperation facing Libyans even before the latest round of fighting began last month. The poll, based on telephone interviews with over a thousand Libyans conducted over July and August last year, reveals that record numbers of Libyans lacked money for food and shelter over the previous year, and a record low are deemed to be ‘thriving’. 43% said they lacked money for food at some point over the previous year – a number which has been consistently rising since the annual poll began in 2015 – whilst 37% said they had lacked money for shelter, almost double the 22% recorded in 2012. Respondents were then asked to give a rating between nought and ten for both their life today, and their expected life in five years, and were classified as ‘thriving’ if they gave an answer of at least seven and eight respectively. Only 19% did so.

 

A majority of 52% said their local economies were getting worse, quadruple the 2012 figure of 13%. Most damningly, perhaps, over a third of Libyans now say they would like to leave their homeland permanently.

 

The Gallup poll, however, is but the latest in a plethora of reports detailing Libya’s unrelenting decline since 2011. The UN’s Human Development Index, published annually, ranks 169 countries according to measures such as life expectancy, access to education, and healthcare. Under Gaddafi’s rule, Libya stood at an impressive 53 on the scale, in the top third of countries worldwide and officially classified as ‘high human development’, with the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates on the African continent. Since then life expectancy has dropped three years, from 74.5 to 71.6, under pressure of ongoing warfare and the collapse of public services, whilst the country’s overall ranking has dropped 55 places to 108, almost into the bottom third of countries overall.

 

Another indicator of decine comes from the UK Foreign Office’s biannual economic factsheet. The latest, published last month, reveals that Libya has an annual inflation rate of 23.1% – that is, its currency is losing a quarter of its value every year – whilst it ranks 186 out of 189 countries for ‘ease of doing business’, one place ahead of Yemen. Per capita income has fallen every year since 2011, and now stands at $6,692, a little over half its pre-invasion level of $12,250.

 

Amnesty International’s annual report makes even more devastating reading. In 2010, their Libya report did not record any ‘grave’ or ‘serious’ human rights violations, such as torture or extrajudicial killing,  that year. Fast forward to 2018, however, and we read that “torture was widespread in prisons, where thousands were held without charge,” adding that “many detainees had been held since 2011 with no judicial oversight or means to challenge the legality of their detention.” In particular, “migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers were subjected to widespread and systematic serious human rights violations and abuses at the hands of state officials”. The report adds that “Up to 20,000 people were held in detention centres in Libya run by…the Ministry of the Interior of the GNA. They were held in horrific conditions of extreme overcrowding, lacking access to medical care and adequate nutrition, and systematically subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, severe beatings and extortion.” In addition, “armed groups and criminal gangs ran thousands of illicit holding sites throughout the country as part of a lucrative people-smuggling business”, some of whom, it noted, were selling off their detainees in open slave markets. Meanwhile “armed groups and militias abducted and unlawfully detained hundreds of people because of their opinions, origin, perceived political affiliations or perceived wealth,” including “political activists, lawyers, human rights activists and other civilians”. Whereas the 2010 report noted that “freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be severely curtailed”, there was no suggestion that journalists’ lives were at risk. By 2018, however, “Journalists, activists and human rights defenders were particularly vulnerable to harassment, attacks and enforced disappearance by armed groups and militias aligned with various authorities of rival governments.” Overall, “an environment of impunity continued to prevail, leaving perpetrators of serious abuses emboldened and without fear of accountability”.

 

This massive deterioration of all aspects of Libyan society since NATO’s 2011 war – whether in terms of social welfare, economic conditions or basic human rights – has necessitated some serious intellectual contortions by its defenders. According to them, Libya’s collapse has nothing to do with NATO’s destruction of its state apparatus, but rather result from either Gaddafi himself (still causing havoc from beyond the grave) or from subsequent ‘mistakes’. Florence Gaub, for example – who, in a clear nod to her colonial intellectual lineage, calls herself ‘Florence of Arabia’ – argues in her book, The Cauldron, that “NATO’s intervention in Libya was soundly conceived and executed”. The reversal of all development indicators since 2011 is, for Gaub and co, attributable to policies before 2011 and after 2011, but never to the fateful events of 2011 themself; indeed, for such analysts, the intervention set the country up for a success which it foolishly squandered.

 

Yet the link between that intervention and Libya’s current problems is hard to deny: after all, it was precisely NATO’s war that destroyed the state’s security and public service infrastructure, and left power fragmented in the hands of the rival militias now slugging it out. Whilst Gaub and others are right that decisions taken since then – such as the ill-fated move in 2012 to pay militia wages without integrating them into a unified command structure, or the law the same year granting effective immunity from prosecution to militiamen – have helped entrench instability and factional rivalries, the reality is that this is not a divergence from, but rather a continuation of, 2011. When it comes to western policy towards the global South, Clausewitz gets inverted: politics truly is war by other means. And the aim of that war – as was clear in 2011 and has since become ever clearer – was nothing less than the permanent prevention of Libya’s re-emergence as a strong, unified, independent state.

The browning of the left: How fascists colonised anti-imperialism – part one

Alain de Benoist, founding father of politically correct fascism

Historically, fascism has always been associated with imperialism: Hitler’s grand ambition, after all, was Germanlebensraum in a Russia cleansed of Slavs and Jews, whilst Mussolini sought to create a new Roman Empire in North Africa. This is hardly surprising, given that the ultra-imperialist Pan-German League was, according to Nuremberg prosecutor Franz Neumann, the “direct ideological forerunner” of the Nazis, whilst Mussolini’s movement was born of dashed territorial hopes following the first world war. Likewise, today’s British National Party has its roots in the League of Empire Loyalists, a pressure group to resist decolonisation within the Conservative party, whilst most of the fascist formations in France, including the Front National, emerged from the OAS, a group of French military officers committed to maintaining Algeria in the French Empire. In the words of Alexander Reid-Ross*, “Historically speaking, fascism is not a derogation from imperialism, but a deepening of it – perhaps even a force majeure, a consequence of the momentum of centuries of crusades, colonialism, and imperialism through which Europe began to colonise itself”.

 

Yet, the fascism of today increasingly proclaims itself as proudlyanti-imperialist, opposed to the wars and austerity packages of the ‘globalists’, and apparently ready to staunchly defend those nations at the receiving end of empire’s military and economic aggression from Syria and Libya to Russia and Greece. The BNP opposed the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst the Front National maintains close ties to the West’s enemy of choice in Moscow, and neofascist networks are at the forefront of online ‘solidarity’ networks against US intrigue in Syria, Ukraine and Iran. What is going on?

 

In reality, anti-imperialism, just like nationalism, has always had its reactionary as well as its progressive variants. In 1873, Europe and America was plunged into a ‘Great Depression’ which lasted almost a quarter of a century. This triggered a new wave of colonial conquest, including the so-called ‘Scramble for Africa’ – but it also triggered a wave of almost millennial pessimism amongst European thinkers who saw economic decline as a harbinger of the collapse of western society at large. It was this intellectual environment that spawned theorists such as Charles Henry Pearson and Herbert Spencer, who saw imperialism as a force which, far from regenerating Europe, would ultimately destroy it. Not only was the ‘civilising mission’ rendered futile, they argued, by the genetic and cultural backwardness of non-Europeans; but by bringing Europeans into contact with supposedly inferior peoples, imperialism promoted a miscegenation that would fatally undermine the virility of the master race. In other words, these men opposed imperialism precisely because they were racist: the debate over imperialism, on both sides, was being fought strictly within the parameters of white supremacy.

 

John M Hobson, in his monumental survey The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics 1760-2010, notes that “in many racist texts it was assumed that the whites are destined to expand while the lower races will remain within their stationary limits. But in Pearson’s racist imagination it is the white West that is fated to remain within its stationary limits while the yellow races are destined to expand and triumph over the higher whites.” For Pearson, imperialism facilitated this predatory triumph of the inferior races by producing a “prosperity [which] triggered a non-white demographic explosion”.

 

A similar debate amongst racists is taking place today. Today, as then, there is a divide between liberal (‘cultural’) racists of the Fukuyama type – who believe that the innate superiority of western political and economic institutions means western culture is ordained to prevail – and the fearful fascistic racists who believe that demography dooms the west to degeneration and decline. The key difference between then and now is that today’s (’anti-imperialist’) fascists believe that imperialism creates a demographic threat to the white race not through the supposed prosperity it brings, but by so ravaging the non-European nations that its populations are forced to flee – to Europe.

 

Reading some of these writers today brings immediate parallels with the ‘anti-imperialist’ fascists of our own age, who cover their racism with entirely legitimate fulminations against liberal arrogance and hypocrisy. Spencer, for example, highlights the hypocrisy of those who preach kindness and Christian compassion at home, but support extermination of the lower races abroad; whilst Sumner criticises the arrogance of “saying to somebody else, we know what is good for you better than you know yourself and we are going to make you do it” – a clear violation of the liberty the imperialists supposedly uphold. Yet, more than all this, the ultimate crime of imperialism was its transgression of Spencer’s injunction to “keep other races at arm’s length as much as possible”. It was the cultural and biological deterioration of white society brought about by racial mixing that was truly horrifying. In the words of Hobson, “the defensive racists in general sought specifically to ‘defend the West’ by seeking to maximise the distance between the white and nonwhite races so as to maintain white racial vitality and the supremacy of Western civilisation in what amounted to various ‘racial apartheid’ conceptions of world politics”.

 

Such thinking was also at the heart of the politics of the American Anti-Imperialist League, founded in the in opposition to the extremely brutal US war on the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century. J Sakai writes that whilst the atrocities in the Philippines were denounced on humanitarian grounds, “the League was very careful to point out that their support for Philippine independence did not mean that they believed in any equality of colonial peoples with Europeans”. Furthermore, their opposition was explicitly grounded, not in internationalist solidarity, but in petty-bourgeois self-interest – specifically a fear that, by boosting the power and wealth of the monopoly capitalist class, imperialism would weaken their own position in the class struggle. Says Sakai, “they feared that the economic power gained from exploiting these new colonies, plus the permanent armed force needed to hold them, would be used at home to smother the ‘democracy’ of the settler masses”. And, like their racist anti-imperialist counterparts in Europe, the League were terrified of the degenerative effects of integrating the Philippines into the US Empire. As the League’s President Congressman George Boutwell put it, “Does anyone believe, that with safety, we can receive into this union the millions of Asia, who have no bonds of relationship with us…The question before this country shall be this: Should the labouring and producing classes of America be subjected to a direct and never-ending competition with the underpaid and half-clad labourers of Asia?” More troubling still was the thought that colonial subjects might actually become vote-wielding citizens of the mother country. In the words of Camp Clark, Filipinos “no matter whether they are fit to govern themselves…are not fit to govern us”. Furthermore, argued David Starr Jordan, the Filipino immigration that would inevitably follow annexation would lead to social chaos and breakdown – “wherever degenerate, dependent or alien races are within our borders today they are no part of the United States. They constitute a social problem: a menace to peace and welfare”. Why, he asked, are we taking “into our body politic millions of people – ignorant of and hostile to our laws, our language, our religion and the basic principles of our government?” The parallels with the racism of today are obvious: this particular, anti-immigrant, strand of ‘anti-imperialism’ has a long history.

 

But it is worth noting here how utterly impotent, hypocritical and delusional it is. The Anti-Imperialist League were silent on both the Boer War (in which their supporters’ natural sympathies towards the Boer settlers were set against their extensive US investments and employment in the British mining industry) and the vicious European suppression of the Boxer rebellion in China. And, of course, they had to perform some major ideological contortions in order to rationalise their support for the colonisation of the US itself. Leading light Carl Shurz claimed the ‘old’ colonialism (annexing Native American lands in the first place, as well as, later, California, Texas, Florida, Alaska and so on) was justified because these lands were supposedly virtually unpopulated, and therefore the demographic ‘problem’ posed by the annexation of ‘millions of….half-clad labourers of Asia’ did not arise. This not only demonstrates the centrality of racist demographic concerns to the League’s ‘anti-imperialism’, but can even be read as a rationalisation of genocide.

 

This particular type of ‘anti-imperialism’, then, is not opposed to imperialism on principle, but only to certain types of imperialism, depending on whether they are judged to serve or undermine European settler interests. The annexation of Native and Mexican lands is ‘good’ imperialism, providing the settler masses with land without diluting their white culture and stock; whilst the annexation of Filipino territory is ‘bad’ imperialism, because it threatens the settler population with miscegenation, competition, and political-cultural degeneration. In a similar manner, notes Reid-Ross, Mussolini’s fascists “insisted that the conquest of Libya would empower the working class, strengthening the nation in ways socialism could only dream of” (24)

 

Today’s ‘anti-imperialist’ fascists are the same, judging imperialism not by the impact on its beleaguered victims, but according to who is carrying it out, and who is benefiting from it. Today, the ‘bad’ (‘pro-Muslim’/ pro-banking/ ‘Jewish-instigated’) imperialism of Obama is contrasted with the ‘good’ (anti-Muslim, pro-US, coordinated with Russia) imperialism of Trump.

 

This demonstrates that the basis on which imperialism is opposed is crucial. If imperialism is being opposed not on principle, but because, for example, it is somehow ‘in cahoots with Islam’, or because it is detrimental to the needs of the (white) ‘volk’, this opens the door for supporting an imperialism which is aimed against Muslims, or which benefits the volk. And on further inspection, in fact, such a hypothetical imperialism turns out to be precisely the imperialism which actually exists.Muslims, after all, constitute the vast majority of those killed in imperialist wars, (including those killed by US-British-backed Salafist proxies); whilst the European volk do, in fact, benefit from the wars which underpin the west’s global power.

 

This is why a far right ‘anti-imperialist’ like Trump can in power escalate imperialist aggression on every single front – including against his supposed chum Putin – without prompting any major reevaluation by his fascist supporters. After all, he’s always hated Muslims and sought to increase US power: he has just realised that imperialism, far from being a hindrance to this, is, after all, quite a good means of pursuing both. In sum, allowing fascist infiltration of anti-imperialism not only allows fascist notions to develop and gain credibility on the left, but also neutralises anti-imperialism itself.

 

Whilst racist ‘anti-imperialism’ has a long history, however, its modern variant has emerged from a specific configuration of fascism developed by men like Julius Evola, Francis Parker Yockey and Jean-Francois Thiriart in the decades following World War Two.

 

Julius Evola was a leading fascist ideologue in interwar Italy who, says Reid-Ross, “criticised Mussolini’s dictatorship for not being fascist enough” and has been credited as a major influence on Italy’s anti-Semitic Racial Laws of 1938.

 

Evola’s mentor was Rene Guenon, a French convert to Sufism, whose ‘spiritual’ fascism drew on his idiosyncratic readings of Arab, Buddhist and Hindu texts. Guenon blamed Judeo-Christian civilisation for the fall of Europe’s heroic warrior culture, and for Evola, therefore, only the rediscovery of a pagan ‘traditionalism’ could liberate and regenerate a dying Europe. Following World War Two, Evola identified the US as the modern flagbearer of cultural degeneration, and called for direct action against NATO to liberate Europe from its overbearing and crippling influence: a variant of fascism which “would come to paramount influence over the resurgent global fascist movement”, according to Reid-Ross. Here can be seen the seeds of the ‘anti-imperialist’ fascism advocated by those such as Alexander Dugin today.

 

One of Evola’s most important followers was Francis Parker Yockey, a US fascist who was very likely a Nazi agent during the war. Like Guenon and Evola, Yockey saw a (racially-defined) people’s strength as a product of the extent of its adherence to its own ancient traditional culture. And, for Yockey, the west itself no longer adhered to genuine western culture – which, he argued, was actually more honoured in the Soviet Union, whose authoritarianism reflected (pre-Enlightenment) European traditions far more than the liberalism of Europe and North America. Like Evola, he saw the most pernicious threat to genuine western culture as emanating, not from the USSR, but from the US itself. Putting meat on the bones of Evola’s call for resistance to NATO in Europe, he founded the European Liberation Front (ELF) in 1948 with the explicit aim of overthrowing US influence in Europe. Demonstrating fascism’s endless ideological malleability, the ‘anti-US’ formulation developed by Evola and Yockey was both a recognition of and adaptation to the ideological hegemony of the left and the popularity of the Soviet Union in the postwar years, and was a clear attempt to occupy the terrain of the anti-imperialist left. And it was very successful; in the opinion of Reid-Ross, “Yockey’s ideological melding of left and right would set the standard for the remainder of the century”. This is no exaggeration: it was the ELF, after all, who played a key role in building the networks between Russian and European far right groups in the 1990s that are at the heart of the ‘red-brown’ fascist resurgence today.

 

If the 1940s saw the development of a fascism which had switched from an anti-Soviet to an anti-US position, the 1960s would see the emergence of a strand which would apparently reverse fascism’s attitude towards colonialism. Tellingly, this would first emerge precisely out of the most virulently pro-colonial strains of the movement.

 

The OAS was an underground organisation of French military officers violently opposed to the decolonisation of Algeria. Formed during the Algerian of 1954-1962, it’s roots lay in the Cagoule organisation of the 1930s, who practised false-flag terrorism in France, which it blamed on the communists with the aim of herding a fearful people towards accepting fascism. The OAS was formed of its remnants, and is thought to have been responsible for around 2000 deaths during their two years of operation from 1961 to 1962. One young supporter of the OAS was the Belgian Jean-Francois Thiriart, a former communist who had switched sides and helped the Nazis locate Jews and resistance fighters during the war. Thiriart provided safe houses for OAS soldiers on their return from Algeria, and had in 1960 set up his own Belgian equivalent, the Mouvement d’Action Civique, to resist the liberation of the Congo.  “However”, writes Reid-Ross, “as decolonisation spread, Thiriart’s aspiration grew to accentuate the left wing aspects of fascism and to transform the character of mainstream politics” – leading him to begin to call for workers rights and decolonisation. Once again, fascism was demonstrating its ability to adapt even its apparently most central beliefs in order to widen its appeal.

 

In reality, Thiriart’s support for third world decolonisation was superficial, and served primarily as a rhetorical justification for Yockeyan ideas about ‘liberating’ Europe both from ‘Zionist’ and US influence, and from non-European ‘infiltration’. As Reid-Ross writes, “The fascist notion of decolonisation remained distinct from the Third World decolonisation movement…their notion of ‘European liberation’ demanded the expulsion or otherwise liquidation of populations deemed non-European. The strong odor of anti-Semitism and racism continued to emanate from their literature, which emphasised violence against the state, ‘Zionists’, and NATO as a means of achieving the spiritual empire of Europe…Thiriarts’s appeal to the left by violently rejecting NATO and embracing Soviet and even Maoist influence retained only a short term promise of liberation from capital with a long term plan of genocide. This support for decolonisation was, more or less, a disingenuous ruse to cater to possible left wing recruits”.

 

In fact, whilst fascist ‘decolonialism’ clearly was an attempt to wear the clothes of the left, it was also much more than this. Using the language of colonisation to describe US (and ‘Zionist’) influence in Europe was and is about flattering the Europeans by endowing them with a (nonexistent) victimhood. At the same time, it is a transparent attempt to legitimise racism, by drawing an equivalence between third world liberation movements and white nationalism. As such, it is a perfect example of fascism’s appeal to the deep, but repressed, psychological needs of the western petty bourgeoisie. Specifically, fascism appeals to the aspiration of western peoples to maintain or restore their threatened privileges in a way that is in tune with their conscience. This idea of ‘decolonisation’ does this perfectly. Previously, biological theories of racism had served this purpose, provided conscience-salving justification for white privilege; but with the marginalisation of such theories in the postwar era, a new rationalisation became necessary. Fascist rhetoric about US colonisation of Europe not only absolved Europeans of responsibility for their own imperial foreign policies (now all projected onto the US), but simultaneously provided a veneer of ‘leftist’, ‘anti-imperialist’ credibility to attacks on immigrants, who were presented as the advance guard of a ‘colonial invasion’ driven by US-Zionist interests bent on destroying Europe. This was, then, the birth of a ‘politically-correct’ fascism which could present both the whitewashing of European crimes and anti-immigrant hatred as a part of a pseudo-left project to ‘decolonise’ Europe.

 

This precise formulation has huge currency today. The 1930s-era fascist trope of ‘communism as a Wall St plot’ has mutated into a new trope of ‘immigration as a Wall St plot’. Today, whilst the figure of the ‘poor Jew’ (communist) has been replaced by the ‘poor Muslim’ (immigrant), behind both of them lies the rich Jew pulling the strings; in both cases, supposed movements of the poor are seen as nothing more than Jewish plots to destroy Europe from within. Hatred of the poor is thus transformed into an acceptable and even necessary part of the struggle against the rich, much easier to square with petty-bourgeois sensibilities. This can be seen clearly in the obsession of many current neofascists with the supposed role of the Rothschilds and George Soros in ‘flooding Europe with immigrants’. One particularly lurid example is Gearoid O Colmain, a frequent RT commentator who proclaims himself a Marxist-Leninist (but clearly of the ‘National Bolshevik’ variety), who in 2016 penned an 11-part series entitled “Coercive Engineered Migration: Zionism’s war on Europe” published by several supposedly leftist websites such as Dissident Voice. O Colmain’s basic claim is that Zionists are using Muslim immigrants to facilitate white genocide and weaken Europe. In O Colmain’s view, the immigrant – the tool of the Jew – is responsible not only for the weakening, and potentially fatal, dilution of European culture, but for pretty much every crime and failure in the western world. For O Colmain, immigrants are responsible for the west’s wars of aggression, through pressuring western governments to invade their homelands – with Iraqi expats specifically held responsible for the US invasion of Iraq – and they are even to blame for the continuation of capitalism itself, by dividing the working class; reading O Colmain, one would imagine white people were chomping at the bit to enact communist revolution until those pesky Muslims came along. Ultimately the fulminations of O Colmain, and many others like him, represent yet another response to the Euro-Marxist despair at the western working class’s attachment to capitalism. Unable or unwilling to recognise that the western working class – their ‘chosen people’ – are, in fact, beneficiaries of capitalist-imperialism, they are forced to adopt all manner of idealist suppositions to explain their supposed failure to act in their own class interests. But O Colmain is too sophisticated for the ‘false consciousness’ argument. Instead he has another answer for the failure to make revolution in the west – the backward identity of the immigrant has divided the working class. As such, he, following in the footsteps of Yockey and Thiriart, provides a pseudo-left/ progressive veneer to anti-immigrant hostility. By opposing immigration, we are not, as it turns out, defending indefensible privileges or giving vent to base xenophobia – we are valiantly fighting against imperialist intrigue.

 

But perhaps the most important figure in the fascist appropriation of leftist concepts in the service of a more ‘politically-correct’ fascism, is Alain de Benoist. Like Thiriart, Benoist’s political career began as straightforward cheerleading for jingoistic imperialism in books like “Courage is their homeland” and “Rhodesia – land of the faithful lions”. But also like Thiriart, the decolonial upsurge of the 1960s, and the political earthquakes it unleashed in the west, led Benoist to reverse his former support for groups like the OAS and adopt a more leftist, ‘anti-colonial’ rhetoric. Writes Reid-Ross, “Though originally characterised by pro-colonial celebrations of early European warrior societies united by honour and loyalty, Benoist’s ideology transformed through the paradigm-shifting events of 1968 into a syncretic new formulation organised under the banner of the ‘Nouvelle Droite’”. In 1969, he created GRECE – the Research and Study Group for European Civilisation –  and “produced a ‘neo-Gramscian’ analysis of social conditions based on anti-liberalism and anti-Marxism without necessarily condemning socialism”, attempting to “recapture what they saw as the unity between left and right that had prefigured 20th century fascism”. Like Thiriart and Yockey, GRECE sought to “demonstrate how even left wing revolutionaries…could be utilised in order to delegitimise liberal democracy”. The aim was to fight a long term battle of ideas (termed ‘metapolitics’) waged through his think tank.

 

Benoist was in many ways a natural progression of the path forged by Yockey and Thiriart. Whilst Yockey exploited the anti-US and pro-Soviet sympathies of the immediate postwar period, and Thiriart appropriated the decolonial rhetoric of the 1960s, Benoist drew on the concepts of the New Left to fashion an explicitly fascist form of identity politics. His ‘Nouvelle Droite’ movement directly lifted New Left catchphrases about ‘respect for diversity’ and the ‘right to difference’ to advocate a politics of racially-purified ethnic separation. This was essentially a rehashing of the global apartheid theories of the nineteenth century racists, who Benoist explicitly sought to rehabilitate. Theoretically in favour of the equality of races, Benoist advocated what has become known as ‘ethnopluralism’ – the idea that each ethnicity needs to defend its unique ethnic identity by resisting globalisation, inter-racial marriage, and immigration. By presenting such goals as an imperative for all races, Benoist sought to counter claims of white supremacism, and indeed claimed to support “Black Power”, “Yellow Power” and “Red Power” along with White Power. Even his hostility to immigration was presented as good for the immigrant: “The truth is that people must preserve and cultivate their differences…immigration merits condemnation because it strikes a blow at the identity of the host culture as well as the immigrant’s identity”. In line with classical fascism, the virility of a ‘people’ is seen as being dependent on their degree of internal homogeneity, with impurities and dilutions to be resisted or purged.

 

Benoist’s neo-Gramscian strategy of ‘counter-hegemonic’ ‘cultural struggle’ aimed to use the concepts of the left to delegitimise the left whilst simultaneously providing classic fascist tropes with a new acceptability through the use of politically correct terminology. In this way, notes Reid-Ross, Benoist sought to implement Hitler’s injunction to create a people who are “ready” for fascism. His ideological framework has been gold dust for fascists desperate to whitewash their image and legitimise fascist notions of racial purity, and has been seized on by neo-Nazis such as Richard Spencer. For his supporters, anti-fascists are ‘the real racists’, whose support for immigration amounts to a form of ‘white genocide’ facilitated by a ‘colonial invasion’ of Europe. In other words, Benoist effectively lay the groundwork for the white ‘identity politics’ at the heart of modern fascism.

 

In his book, “Mistaken Identity”, Asad Haider defines identity politics as “the neutralisation of movements against racial oppression. It is the ideology that emerged to appropriate the emancipatory legacy in service of the advancement of political and economic elites”. Whilst true of identity politics in general, the white identity politics employed by modern-day fascism pushes this basic truth to the extremes. Trump’s successful harnessing of white identity, for example, has neutralised white workers so successfully that he has been able to enact some of the most extreme anti-working class policies since the Reagan era, resulting in a massive transfer of wealth from the poor (through unprecedented cuts to public housing and welfare programmes) to the rich (in the form of $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts). These tax cuts, CNN reported recently, have been used to finance a surge in share buybacks (to the tune of $178 billion), which will both artificially boost share prices – disguising the underlying sickness in the economy – and result in shareholder payouts that “could top $1 trillion for the first time ever”. In other words, Trump is facilitating the looting of the economy by billionaires before it goes bust, at the expense of the working class; but his attacks on immigrants, China, North Korea and so on allow him to parade as a valiant defender of those being plundered whilst simultaneously ensuring a solid list of scapegoats to be blamed when the impact of these policies really starts to bite. At the same time, Trump is pushing through executive orders to limit the powers of already weak trade unions to resist any of his measures. This is the reality of white ‘identity politics’ – racist tubthumping as a smokescreen for attacks on workers of allhues.

 

This article has, in its analysis of the ideological development of fascist notions of anti-imperialism, drawn attention to two major dangers in allowing fascists to infiltrate our movements: that they provide a smokescreen for the continuation of neoliberal attacks on the working class, whilst neutralising anti-imperialism itself. But there is also a far greater danger: that leftists allying with fascists on ‘anti-imperialism’ end up providing a platform for – and giving a veneer of credibility to – the other ideas of fascism, and specifically for the scapegoating of Jews and immigrants for problems rooted in the current crisis of the modern world system.

 

The various crises in which this system now finds itself – environmental, economic, and military-imperial – have been building for a long time, and the western ruling class have been preparing for them. The goal of western governments is to confine the impact of these crises, as far as possible, exclusively to the peoples of the third world. Liberal imperialism, in its various aspects (neoliberalism, ‘humanitarian intervention’ etc) has been laying the groundwork for this for some time; all that’s left is the legitimisation of the torture and killing of anyone who tries to flee. This is where the fascists come in. Capitalism in crisis has always utilised fascism – whether grudgingly or otherwise is open to debate – and continues to do so today. The question for those of us on the left is the degree to which we are willing to be utilised by the fascists.

 

* Alexander Reid-Ross’s book “Against the Fascist Creep” is one of the best accounts of the development of fascist infiltration of the left. Nevertheless, Reid-Ross himself is utterly hostile to the anti-imperialist struggle. It is indicative of the malaise in which we are in that the left is increasingly divided between an anti-imperialist wing deeply infiltrated by fascists and an anti-fascist wing dominated by those hostile to anti-imperialism. After all, as James Stuart has said, a consistent left movement must oppose both, as “fascism is imperialism at home and imperialism is fascism abroad”.

This article originally appeared in volume 25 number 4 of Counterpunch magazine. It is part one of a two-part series. The next part, in the current edition (volume 25 number 6) of Counterpunch, looks at the networks cultivated by Russian fascist Alexander Dugin. 

21st century fascism

This article originally appeared in Counterpunch magazine

Image result for anti refugee march

It is the contention of this article that we are entering into a new fascist epoch. Movements with outright fascist roots are winning elections and referendums in Britain and the USA, and mainstream electoral parties too are being ‘fascisised’ in the process. Even the left are being fascisised, with the movements against war and neolioberal globalisation increasingly falling under the hegemony of the new fascists. And yet, the term ‘fascism’ has for so long been used as a byword for any kind of brutality or state control to which one takes exception, that many seem not only to have forgotten what it means, but also to be failing to notice it how it is unfolding before their very eyes.

Part of the problem is that fascism has too often been conflated with particular elements of one or other of its historical manifestations, or even with perceived elements that have never, in reality, existed. Many, for example, conflate fascism with military dictatorship. Yet, dictatorships existed for centuries – if not millennia – before fascism, and, as Robert Paxton has noted, “most military dictatorships have acted simply as tyrants, without daring to unleash the popular excitement of fascism”: fascism, unlike most military dictatorships, is a genuine mass movement. Furthermore, fascist movements can still be properly be described as such before they have established any dictatorship. Hitler was a fascist for long before he became a dictator.

Others confuse fascism with ‘totalitarianism’; total state control of all aspects of social life. The very term is a deliberate piece of Cold War propaganda, brought into scholarly use by imperialist strategist Zbigniew Brzenzski in 1956 in order to besmirch communism by drawing a superficial – and, in my view, unsustainable – parallel with fascism. Yet not only is the term an anachronistic piece of propaganda, it, on closer inspection, cannot even be said to apply to fascism at all: fascist governments never gained ‘total control’, but rather, as Paxton has pointed out, “jostled with the state bureaucracy, industrial and agricultural proprietors, churches and other traditional elites for power”.

Even worse, some seem to think that to use the term fascist for anything less than industrial genocide is somehow an insult to the victims of the Nazi holocaust. This definition of fascism, therefore, excludes from its scope not only the entire pre-governing period of the Nazi party, but also the first nine years of Hitler’s premiership: fascism, by this definition, began not with the establishment of Mussolini’s party in 1919, nor with his coming to power in 1922, nor with Hitler’s ascendancy to the German chancellorship in January 1933, but on 20th January 1942, with the advent of the “final solution” at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. This definition is the most dangerous, as it effectively serves to give a free ‘non-fascist’ pass to anything below the level of mass extermination.

Furthermore, whilst fascism is necessarily anti-liberal, it is not strictly ‘anti-democratic’. Dylan Riley has described fascism as ‘authoritarian democracy’, noting “the paradoxical incorporation of democratic themes into the fascist project”. Riley argues that democracy fundamentally boils down to “a claim that a certain type of political institution “represents” the people.” Fascists certainly made this claim, arguing that their institutions represented “the people” more perfectly than those they replaced. Indeed, the use of referendums and plebiscites by both the Italian and German fascist governments demonstrated that they took the claim seriously.

So what is fascism then? Let me offer a definition. Fascism is a mass movement, predominantly rooted in a middle class whose privileges are being undermined by capitalist crisis, and whose ‘national pride’ has been wounded by national decline and military defeat and humiliation. It is based on a promise to restore these privileges and national pride through, on a domestic level, purging ‘impure elements’ within the polity blamed for national weakness, and on an international level, restoring military prowess and ‘great power’ status. It is a ‘pseudo-revolutionary’ movement inasmuch as, whilst it adopts much in the way of imagery and policies from the radical left, it does not threaten fundamental property relations: rather, it redirects popular anger away from the capitalist class and towards vulnerable scapegoats in a way that actually serves the ‘elites’ it claims to oppose. It is sponsored and helped to power by powerful elements of the dominant political and economic classes. It opposes liberalism on the grounds that liberalism is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with those internal and external enemies deemed responsible for weakening the national polity.

Yet, first and foremost, as Mussolini’s magazine The Fascist, put it, fascism is “less a policy than a state of mind”. For communist theoretician Rajani Palme Dutt, “there is no theory of fascism, there is only its practice”. But what is the fascist state of mind, and what is it’s practice? Its’ state of mind is one of hatred towards those deemed responsible for ‘national decline’, however defined, and for the declining privileges of the (racially or nationally defined) ‘in-group’. And its practice is attacking these people. As Mussolini put it, “The democrats of [left-liberal newspaper] Il Mundo want to know our programme. Our programme is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mundo”.

Italy’s fascist movement was founded in Milan on March 23rd 1919. It’s first ‘action’, three weeks later, was to attack the offices of the socialist newspaper Avanti, destroying its printing press, injuring 39 people and killing 4. Said Mussolini, the fascists had “declare[d] war against socialism…because it has opposed nationalism”. This war went into full throttle in 1921, when fascist squadristi went on a countrywide rampage against trade unions, farmers co-operatives and the socialist party, attacking their premises and beating – or killing – their members. These gangs, in an early demonstration of the complicity between fascism and the conservative establishment, were often hired by landowners and businessmen to destroy the wave of land and factory occupations that had gripped Italy in the aftermath of the first world war.

The German Nazis, too, considered the eradication of socialism – and specifically Marxism, “the fiercest enemy of all German and European culture” according to the Nazi professor H. Ludat – to be their principal aim. “I wished to be the destroyer of Marxism” Hitler told the jury in his trial following the failed Munich putsch, “and I will achieve this task”. Nine years later, on the eve of his accession to power, he reiterated this commitment at a meeting of leading German industrialists in Dusseldorf: “Yes,” he told them, “we have taken the unalterable decision to tear Marxism out by its roots”. The Nazis, like the Italian fascists, regularly indulged in the killing of communists, particularly in drive-by shootings, long before controlling the levers of power. Fascism, then, first and foremost, means the crushing of proletarian revolution by any means necessary.

On February 8th of this year, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a 36-year old mother of two who had lived in the US for 22 years, was arrested during her standard bi-annual check-in with immigration officials. She was immediately deported, leaving her two children (both US citizens) stranded. “I don’t think it’s fair that she was taken away from us,” her 14 year old daughter Jacqueline said. “Her only crime was to work here so she could support us”. Of course, working in the US of itself is not a crime; it is only criminal for certain nationalities. Her real crime, committed when she herself was a 14 year old in Mexico, was to have refused to accept the diktat of modern-day feudalism: that those born into high-unemployment, low wage economies ravaged by imperialism must also be condemned to die there. In this sense, the 14 year old Guadalupe was committing a revolutionary act. And it is a revolution which Trump is determined to crush at any cost.

In Reece Jones’ excellent book “Violent borders: refugees and the right to move”, he argues that ‘illegal’ migration constitutes a refusal “to abide by the global border regime… in the same way that Harriet Tubman refused to abide by the system of slavery and fugitive slave laws, Mahatma Gandhi refused to abide by the laws of British colonialism, and Nelson Mandela refused to abide by the South African system of apartheid”. For what are borders, after all? For Jones, they are nothing more than “artificial lines drawn on maps to exclude other people from access to resources and the right to move”.  “One day,” he writes, “denying equal protection based on birthplace may well seem just as anachronistic and wrong as denying civil rights based on skin colour, gender or sexual orientation.” Moreover, it is precisely the system of state borders that creates the wage differentials underpinning the extreme levels of global inequality in the world today, in which, for example, a taxi driver in London is paid around 50 times a taxi driver in Delhi, whilst the average wage in Norway is around 300 times that in the Congo: “Restricting the movement of workers creates artificially low wages. If workers could move, wages would stabilise between the high wage in the US and the low wage elsewhere. This would allow the economy to produce goods based on the real value of work, without a low wage subsidy artificially produced by borders” (Jones, 140). Put another way, the global border regime sustains the split in the global working class, with that section ‘contained’ in the third world forced to subsist on artificially low wages, whilst the section in the western world are able to preserve their monopoly access to high-paid work. This divide has become so pronounced, argues professor Zak Cope, that we can no longer legitimately speak of a ‘proletariat’ amongst the citizenry of the western world at all, but rather a “middle class working class” which is paid well above the value of its labour power (that is, the cost of reproduction of labour power) and “which benefits materially from imperialism and the attendant super-exploitation of oppressed nation workers”.

Yet the proletariat – that section of the working class paid subsistence wages: that is to say, the working class of the global South – are revolting. They are revolting by refusing to accept the global border regime which keeps them in subjection, and they are doing so on an unprecedented scale: the UN estimated that there were 244 million international migrants in 2015, a 41% increase as compared to 2000. Around 350,000 attempt to cross the Mexican border into the US each year, and around one million tried to reach the shores of Europe in 2015. This, then, is a mass proletarian revolutionary movement, driven – like all revolutionary movements – by a realisation that playing by the existing rules will not put food on the table or allow a dignified peaceful future for one’s children. Yet, just like it did the middle classes who flocked to fascism in Italy and Germany, proletarian revolution disgusts the “middle class working class” of the West, who see it as a threat to their privileged monopoly of high waged work. That is why they elected Trump to crush it.

Garcia de Rayos’ arrest came about following an executive order stepping up the deportation of undocumented immigrants in the USA signed by Donald Trump two weeks earlier. This was his third executive order targeting immigrants, the others banning immigration from seven Muslim countries and ordering the construction of a wall between the US and Mexico, along with a further 15,000 border staff to patrol it. “We are living in a new era now,” said Garcia de Rayos’ lawyer, Ray Maldonado, following her arrest: “an era of war on immigrants.”

To be fair, today’s neo-fascists did not start this war. Deportations reached new heights under Obama, who deported a record 2 million undocumented immigrants. The much-hyped ‘wall’ between the US and Mexico effectively already exists, at least in the sense of a hard border, enforced with violence. And it was Britain’s Theresa May, along with her chancellor Philip Hammond, who played the major role in pressuring Italy to terminate its successful search and rescue programme in the Mediterranean in 2014 to ensure that refugees were left to drown as a message to others. Around 10,000 men, women and children have so far been drowned as a result of the policy – which was, significantly, first advocated by the British National Party, Britain’s main overtly fascist party, some years earlier.  In total, Reece Jones estimates that no less than 40,000 people have been killed – shot, drowned or starved in the desert – at the borders of Europe and North America over the past ten years. This already marks the beginnings of a descent into fascism, which can also be viewed as a collapsing of indirect structural violence (in this case the structural violence of poverty wages imposed by the global border regime) into direct,

physical violence (shooting, drowning and starving migrants at the border) under pressure of proletarian revolution. Yet what Obama and the ‘mainstream’ parties did shamefacedly, ‘on-the-quiet’ and to the embarrassment of their supporters, Trump does openly, brazenly and with gusto, to the untrammelled delight of the movement that brought him to power. Again, this is fully in line with classical fascism, which did not, after all, invent the purging of communists, jew-baiting, rule by decree and so on, but rather turned all of this into a mass movement, stepped it up and systematised it –  marking a qualitative difference in what had gone before in so doing.

Once we understand that all citizens of the western world are effectively bourgeois – net beneficiaries of (global) exploitation living, at least in part, off the labour of others – the parallels with fascism become clear. If the working class of the west is, properly speaking, a section of the global middle class, as Cope argues, then for all the ‘workerism’ espoused by Trump and his European bedfellows, their electoral basis is, just like the classical fascists, primarily middle class. Fascism has always had a special appeal to the middle class in periods of capitalist crisis, as it promises redemption from both the threat from ‘below’ – proletarian revolt threatening their privileged class position – and the threat from ‘above’ –  the big capitalist industries and finance capital. Hitler chose the Jew as a very specific symbol designed to represent both of these threats simultaneously – the poor ghetto jew representing the communist threat, and the wealthy jew symbolising the ‘greedy banker’. By the same token, the Jew also represented both the internal enemy, ‘weakening the enemy from within’, as well as the external enemy – the Soviet Union, standing in the way of German lebensraum, and the ‘Jewish-controlled’ capitalist victors of Versailles – responsible for Germany’s decline. For today’s neo-fascists, the Muslim plays the same role. Whilst the poor Muslim immigrant represents the unwanted intrusion of the global proletariat into the white westerner’s monopoly of privileged access to jobs and services, the wealthy Arab sheikh represents the (foreign) capitalist responsible for pushing up house prices and rents etc. Likewise, the internal threat posed by the ‘jihadi terrorist’ is mirrored by the external threat of the rising global South, freeing itself from western domination, and both symbolised by the Muslim other.  The promise to root out this impure ‘other’ internally – whilst reasserting dominance over it abroad – is at the heart of fascism’s appeal.

But also fundamental to fascism is that all of this comes dressed in pseudo-‘left wing’, ‘anti-establishment’ drag. The Nazis were forever railing against what Gregor Strasser called “the degenerate economic system” which would supposedly smashed by the fascists, who would “restore honest payment for honest labour”. Their 25-point programme promised the abolition of unearned income, the “nationalisation of all trusts”, the “breaking of interest slavery”, the “death penalty for usurers” and on and on – but in power, of course, none of this came to fruition. Just like Trump, far from executing the ‘usurers’, be brought them into his government: whilst Hitler made the head of Deutsche bank his economics minister, Trump has now broken the record for the number of former Goldman Sachs officials in Cabinet. For the Nazis, it was only the promises to smash Marxism and round up Jews, in the end, to which they were seriously committed, just as Trump’s anti-immigrant programme is the only major plank of his manifesto that has survived actually taking office. As Slavoj Zizek succinctly put it; “Hitler staged a spectacle of revolution so that the capitalist order could survive”. It is supremely ironic that Zizek now provides ideological cover for the neo-fascists himself, parroting their ‘threat to Europe’ rhetoric on immigration.

For Willie Thompson, fascism is defined as “pseudo-revolutionary populist nationalism”; and a more precise definition of today’s European far-right, Trump and Brexit movements would be hard to find. But the neo-fascist electoral model which has been so successful for these groups – immigrant- baiting, pseudo-workerism, plus a faux ‘anti-establishment’ presentational style – has now been established as THE electoral formula across the entire ‘western’ world, with mainstream parties seeking to maintain their position playing the same game. The fascist epoch is truly underway; history shows us the direction in which it is headed.

 

Just like the war on drugs, the war on people smuggling is designed to fail

 

This piece was first published in May 2016

refugee boat

Operation Sophia has contributed to a 42% increase in fatal drownings by encouraging people smugglers to shift to flimsy rubber dinghies. 

The British-led “war on people smuggling”, escalated last week by David Cameron, appears to be modelled on the failed “war on drugs” – and a new House of Lords report shows it is already producing the same disastrous results.

On 19th April 2015, the sinking of a single refugee boat off the coast of Lampedusa led to the drowning of over 700 people. By the end of the month, an estimated 1300 had drowned in the same way, making it the deadliest month on record in the Mediterranean refugee crisis. The tragedy was the direct result of a successful British-led campaign to end the Italian search-and-rescue operation Mare Nostrum, which had prevented such mass drownings before its closure in October 2014. Those events led to a public outcry and pressure to restart search-and-rescue operations; but resisting such pressure, on 23rd April 2015 the European Council instead adopted a British-drafted resolution vowing to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy [refugee] vessels”. The EU was giving notice that its response to the refugee crisis would no longer be based on humanitarian commitments, but on military force. It was, not coincidentally, a proposal originally made by the British fascist Nick Griffin five years earlier.

I wrote at the time that such a policy suffered all the basic economic flaws of the disastrous three-decades long ‘war on drugs’, and would lead to the same devastating results. Focusing on bombing supply without addressing demand, as any economics student could tell you, will push up prices, whilst concentrating the trade in the hands of the most ruthless and militarized providers. As a consequence, it would make the trade deadlier and more profitable but would not reduce it, as demand would remain unaffected. This has been precisely the outcome of the war on drugs, as the murder toll in Mexico’s Jalisco province – 100,000 in the eight years – grimly demonstrates. And, as a House of Lords report earlier this month shows, the same results are starting to emerge from the EU’s war on migration.

The EU’s ‘Operation Sophia’ entered into its second phase – the capture and destruction of refugee boats – last October. Since then, according to European border agency Frontex, it has destroyed 114 vessels and arrested 69 ‘suspected smugglers’. This is supposed to act as a deterrent to ‘people smugglers’, thereby limiting the opportunities for would-be refugees to flee to Europe. It has not worked. As noted by the House of Lords EU Committee’s report, “The mission does not… in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the central Mediterranean routeThere is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling”. Indeed, numbers crossing the Mediterranean this March – almost 10,000 – were three times higher than March 2015.

That the EU’s military campaign would not deter refugee flows was entirely obvious to the witnesses interviewed by the House of Lords Committee, given that the policy does nothing to address the demand for ‘people smuggling’ services. The opening sentence of the report was a quote from Peter Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute that “migrants in boats are symptoms, not causes, of the problem.” Another witness, Steve Symonds of Amnesty International’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme, agreed: “If you do not have an answer to the situation of those people, we are sceptical about the mere targeting of the smugglers”, adding that the conflicts from which refugees were fleeing were “becoming more protracted and intractable and they are spreading”. Summing up, the Committee wrote: We conclude that a military response can never, in itself, solve the problem of irregular migration. As long as there is need for asylum from refugees and demand from economic migrants, the business of people smuggling will continue to exist and the networks will adapt to changing circumstances.

 

Whilst unable to reduce the numbers crossing the sea, however, Operation Sophia has had an effect on those crossings: it has made them more dangerous. As the Lords report noted, the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe. In addition, Cameron’s plans to return fleeing refugees to war-torn Libya is likely to escalate the death toll even further. On this proposal, made earlier this year, migration expert Professor Brad Blitz commented: “It’s just outrageous. Libya is a country that is divided, which cannot guarantee human rights, which has produced hundreds of thousands of displaced peopleIf the concern is to prevent deaths, as [Cameron] has said, then really he should be promoting safe passage, rather than diverting people so that they have to seek longer and more dangerous routes.”

The Committee also heard evidence that the EU’s militarized approach is changing the business model of refugee transport in other ways. According to Edward Hobart, Migration Envoy for the British Foreign Office, although there was “plenty of activity that [was] in the grey market or illegal or irresponsible”, at the moment there were no “large-scale organised crime groups.” This, however, was likely to change. Said the report: “Mr Hobart did see a likelihood of an ‘increase in criminal activity.’ He explained that a symptom of better control … at the border, will be an increased opportunity for organised crime.’ As EU borders become more challenging to navigate, migrants will be more likely to turn to smugglers to facilitate their illegal crossings”. Criminal gangs, that is, are likely to be boosted, not deterred, by Operation Sophia. And in an ominous hint of what is to come, Lieutenant General Wosolsobe referred to one incident in which armed men had prevented the destruction of a boat. As the non-violent providers are put out of business, this is likely to become increasingly common. Just as the war on drugs has concentrated the trade in the hands of the most violent paramilitary groups, so too the war on refugees will put nonviolent groups out of business whilst ensuring that only the best armed will thrive.

And these groups will find themselves amassing ever greater profits: noted the report, “Mr Symonds was sceptical of the EU’s efforts to barricade its external border. Analysis had shown that stronger policing of the EU’s external borders had effected only ‘the movement of ever larger numbers of people around different routes by different journeys, usually at greater danger and cost to them, so of greater profit to smugglers.’”

In Latin America, this combination of concentrating the trade in the hands of violent gangs and increasing their profits has given drug smuggling groups the financial and military muscle to buy police protection for their activities. In Mexico, for example, where the drug war has been massively stepped up since 2007, “Drug Trafficking Organisations have operated….with near total impunity in the face of compromised security forces” whilst “official corruption is widespread”. The quotes are from official US Embassy cables from 2010.

 

Again, the EU’s military approach is likely to have the same effects on the refugee transport business in Libya, entrenching corruption and providing the most violent paramilitary groups with the financial means to buy themselves police protection. The report noted that “smugglers are part of the fabric of Libyan political and economic life. Mr Patrick Kingsley, Migration Correspondent, Guardian Media Group, explained that smugglers are often ‘connected to militias’, ‘have important roles to play in their local communities’, and ‘provide quite a lot of money to the local community’. The ‘people at the top are going to be protected to some extent, even by people who are major players in Libyan politics.

In sum, then, the House of Lords is clear on the results of ‘Operation Sophia’: it has failed to deter migration, increased the risk of death for refugees, and is militarizing the trade whilst boosting its profits. The likely result will be a growth in the political and economic power of the most violent paramilitaries currently involved in the trade.

So why did David Cameron last week announce an escalation in this disastrous militarization strategy? Speaking at the G7 conference in Japan, he promised to send another warship to join Operation Sophia, this time hoping to extend its mission into Libyan territorial waters.

Does he not have access to the House of Lords’ report? Is he completely ignorant of the devastating consequences of the war on drugs? Does he lack even a schoolboy level understanding of the basic economic laws of supply and demand? The English ruling class, from India to Iraq, have always presented themselves as essentially well-meaning buffoons when it comes to foreign policy; “absent-minded imperialists” who, with the best will in the world, end up bumbling into the destruction of entire regions due to their misguided commitment to the civilizing mission or to ‘faulty intelligence’. Personally, I don’t buy it.

More likely is that Cameron is pursuing this seemingly counter-productive strategy for two reasons: to justify the re-occupation of Libya, and to facilitate the boosting of his chosen death squads of the so-called ‘Libya Dawn’. Indeed, the Times noted last Thursday that British special forces are already fighting alongside Libya Dawn, the paramilitary force at war with the elected government based in Tobruk. MI6 and the CIA learnt in the 1980s that facilitating the mujahadeen’s takeover of the region’s heroin trade was a great way to allow their allies to fund themselves outside of Congressional approval. It looks like Cameron is planning to repeat the trick for the Libyan death squads’ people smuggling business.

This piece was originally published by RT