4th Dec 2023


Antifascism and fascism are opposites, whatever elites say

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Troubling roadblocks have emerged that are frustrating efforts to counter the current worrying uptick in support for Europe's far-right.

The latest example was a seemingly innocuous late-night debate in last week's European Parliament plenary on "Combatting the normalisation of far-right and far-left discourses including antisemitism".

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The Renew and European People's Party groups forced the point onto the agenda, reflecting establishment obsession with the false equivalences perpetuated by so-called "horseshoe theory" and Trumpian bothsideism.

Both are weapons used by political elites to assert that the left and far right, rather than being opposites, are closer to each other, like the ends of a horseshoe.

Behind the absurd parallels drawn between movements that could not be more different in terms of policy, history, and objectives, is a distraction agenda, an effort to exploit real-world problems in order to vilify the left.

This false equivalence narrative is an establishment fantasy upheld by elites to varying degrees throughout Europe.

Not only does it misrepresent reality, it also deflects responsibility for the alarming rise of neofascism across the EU. Unfortunately, we've seen it all before.

Historically, the radical left and far right have profoundly different heritages.

The European left traces its roots back to trade unions and movements that sought to challenge entrenched power structures to address social injustice.

From struggles for workers' rights to the fight against fascism, the left has championed women's rights, the marginalised, migrant and queer communities, among other vulnerable groups, alongside the pursuit of economic justice. It is a worldview fundamentally based on equality.

Meanwhile, the European far-right has a history marred by anti-human death cultism and brutality.

Echoes of fascism and Nazism, with their devastating consequences for Europe and the world in the 20th century, still reverberate through the contemporary far-right.

From the microwaved Francoism of Spain's Vox to the Finns Party's overt racism (both, incidentally, in bed with EPP parties in their respective countries), the far-right advances a pro-inequality ideology built on racism, sexism and intolerance.

Elements of this programme are now enjoying unsettling influence among senior figures in EU institutions, with lethal consequences for those seeking safety and dignity in Europe.

The easiest way to debunk horseshoe theory in Brussels is via the voting records of The Left and ID groups in the European Parliament. EU Matrix's data on "affinity between European political groups" shows an inverse correlation between The Left's voting behaviour and other groups as they become more right-wing.

Affinity is highest with S&D and Greens, and lowest with ID and ECR.

Even when behaviour might seem superficially similar, like when the far-right takes "anti-establishment" positions, it typically reflects an ethno-nationalist stance that opposes left-wing values of equality and rights.

Conversely, when the left attacks mainstream policy, it stems from criticism of EU's failure to address injustices and the concerns of working people.

For example, critique of climate policy from the left is based on a view of EU leaders not taking sufficient action to deliver a just transition and tackle climate breakdown. Pervasive climate change denialism on the far-right means they object to EU climate policy from a different standpoint.

Aside from climate, take the recent nominees for Parliament's Sakharov Prize. The Left put forward women's rights activists from the US, Poland, and Ecuador working to defend access to abortion against far-right attacks. The ID's nominee? The world's richest man, Elon Musk.

False narrative

The false narrative used by the powerful to perpetuate the idea that little difference exists between the radical left and the far right provides a convenient distraction for mainstream failure to address popular concerns, especially on the economy.

Instead of earnestly seeking to tackle economic inequality and the erosion of trust in politics — both problems for which liberals, the centre-right and even the centre-left bear a considerable responsibility — they rely on the "extremism" bogeyman and lob the left into the mix in an attempt to sidestep accountability for policies that have destroyed working-class communities throughout Europe.

Millions of livelihoods have been lost in the relentlessly dense neoliberal fog that descended over the EU in the 90s.

Not only does elite distraction strategy hinder the development of effective policies to rectify economic injustice, but it also exacerbates the polarisation and discontent fueling the understandable disaffection with politics threatening European democracies.

The elite's weak equivocal response to fascism has failed us too many times.

Ironically, last week, on the same day big groups tried to tar the left and far right with the same brush, the Strasbourg hemicycle also saw a debate to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pinochet's coup against Allende in Chile.

In the discussion, far-right revisionism reared its ugly head as several MEPs sought to justify the violent horror of military insurrection and the years of repression under Pinochet's regime.

The deathly silence from the mainstream was astonishing — a lamentable free pass for fascism in the Alsatian seat of the European Parliament.

To prevent further erosion of our democratic institutions, neoliberals and the establishment have a choice to make.

The resurgence of fascist movements poses a significant challenge to democracy, equality, minorities and human rights. It is thus incumbent upon us all to reject fraudulent, ahistorical equivalences and confront the threat head-on.

Equating the radical left and the far right ignores their inherent and long-standing opposition. Worse, it risks further normalising violent ideologies that have brought our continent to the darkest depths of human experience.

Author bio

Martin Schirdewan and Manon Aubry are co-Presidents of The Left in the European Parliament.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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