We Still Don't Know How To Fight Fascism
It's no longer accurate to say the "rise" of the far-right — fascism is already here. After Trump's election, a group of prominent analysts gathered to discuss how the left could fight back. Six years later, their insights are more urgent and insightful than ever.
MADRID — There were very few who'd ventured to predict that he would win. That night, Nov. 8, 2016, we in Europe went to sleep watching the United States, and woke up in the middle of a nightmare. Donald Trump, whom both the Republican and Democratic establishments and opinion makers had dismissed, had become real. He had won.
Far-right leaders scattered around the world began to send congratulations while protests began to take place in North American cities. The pundits couldn't understand why their brilliant analyses had failed.
Six years later, fascism continues to triumph, for the simple reason that people continue to vote for it. In Italy, it won last Sunday with Giorgia Meloni. The Vox party arrived in Spain a long time ago.
But no one can say that we were not warned. In December 2016, with the arrival of Trump to power,weat La Marea organized a debate to collect the responses the left was devising in the face of this wave that threatens the basic principles of a democracy. They were interesting then, but perhaps they are even more relevant now because they were never implemented.
So what next? With the election of Meloni in Italy, we are at a critical juncture to look back and rethink how the left can fight the far-right.
Hard right in an Armani tie
José Chamizo, an Andalusian politician, spoke with his characteristic bluntness: "[What we have] is almost completely obsolete, our demonstrations are obsolete ... Almost all of us are obsolete here.”
Javier Couso, who was then a United Left MEP, pointed out the origins of the rise of the far-right: "When there is no future on the horizon for you and your children, when the industrial and productive structure switches to outsourcing, people are afraid and look for security."
Trump's success was not an isolated victory.
Couso continued, "Someone who speaks clearly, even if he lies, who points out easy culprits, who proposes to recover the scope of national action against these diffuse powers and who has a connection with his people has media appeal."
Trump's success was not the isolated victory of an eccentric, misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic billionaire who empowers misogynists, xenophobes and homophobes. According to our leaders and analysts gathered back in 2016, Trump's victory was the failure of neoliberal policies, of hyper-globalization, of fear of the "other," which has led to a weakening of democracies — and the response from a left is disorganized, disunited, disconnected from the people it claims to represent.
Prominent Spanish politician Pablo Iglesias, who has since retired from politics, explained that “it is very difficult to reduce the extreme right to unity. What Marine Le Pen represents in France is different from the British UKIP or Donald Trump. That said, the fundamental thing is to understand that a collapse of the political systems of the Western world is taking place as a consequence of the financial crisis that we experienced in 2007."
Back in 2016, Chamizo also predicted the rise of fascism: "After analyzing the behavior of some European governments with refugees, only one question remains: Are we so far from fascism? Fascism is going to be a reality in the whole of Europe in less than five years. And it is a complicated fascism because it is much more subtle. It does not have a face as familiar and it’s harder to distinguish when it’s coming.”
This is what the Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago called "Fascism dressed in a Armani tie", which he was already warning about in 1999 in reference to then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen at a political rally in France
Contagion in Europe
In France, the Le Pen saga is no longer a surprise. The rise of the National Front owed much to Islamophobia fueled by terrorist attacks. The then socialist president François Hollande, and his prime minister, Manuel Valls, tried to contain Marine Le Pen through increasingly harsh speech. And yet, in the presidential elections held this 2022, Le Pen, the first of the far-right leaders who congratulated Trump via Twitter in 2016, reached the second round against Macron, which happened in 2002 with her father against Jacques Chirac.
Zaida Cantera pointed out the enemies of the far-right: “The demons of the extreme right are other humans identifiable by their differences — immigrants, Muslims in one case, Jews in another — or any person of religion identified as suppressible: empowered women (those feminazi witches), the LGTBI collective ... all of them, without exception, are the problem."
Analysts also blamed the role played by social democracy and the so-called Third Way, whose fundamental error had been trying to combine a progressive political agenda in the social sphere with a neoliberal agenda in the economic sphere. For the then socialist deputy Eduardo Madina, the biggest problem of social democracy, he said in an interview, was that he did not know how to interpret which were the productive forces to which he should appeal.
You don't live on pedagogy.
This was the analysis of Yolanda Díaz, who is now Second Deputy Prime Minister of Spain: “The problem we have is that social democracy is in crisis. It's dead." She mentioned Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek's book, The Road to Serfdom. "He wrote about the existence of a superior theory that was the economy and that democratic decision-making was going to be expropriated from the citizenry. What was crazy then is real today ... Does the left have a clear project in the face of the crisis of civilization that we are experiencing? I have my doubts."
She added: “We have to do pedagogy, yes, but you don't live on pedagogy. We have to be useful. Fascism in the 1930s — this is harsh to say — turned the hardest-hit neighborhoods into a useful network. It solved their problems, in a real way. We still need to go much further in that direction: in all neighborhoods, the different lefts have to be a present alternative way of life for the people. A real alternative. Create networks of popular solidarity. We are a long way from this."
The left strikes back
Two important challenges emerged. First, to move from the discursive model to taking action, which the extreme right has done. Political scientist Pablo Simón pointed out: “The losers must be compensated with ambitious public policies that shake that abandoned [sectors] of society. If they are the ones who vote for the extreme right, they will consider the left again.
Simón offered some solutions: "Shame the xenophobic vote, forget about data and present human stories of immigration, normalizing diversity on all fronts.”
The second essential challenge was to overcome the historical division and fracture in the left to begin to take action. This is something that, six years later, has not occurred.
Chamizo warned six years ago: “Without unity, we can’t do anything. I am not saying absolute ideological unity, but in some basic points, yes. We are witnessing a permanent fight.”
European Parliament member Marie-Christine Vergiat said: "The left must confront issues, even those that are most difficult, such as migration or the European Union . It must start from what gives it common sense: the rejection of austerity policies, a real and more equitable distribution of wealth, a project with a sense of solidarity, respect for others... We must build a new political project, a new path.”
The socialist Ignacio Urquizu spoke about seeking a higher-quality public debate that would not simplify either the problems or the possible solutions: "In other words, not only do you have to tell the truth to the people, which is that the world has changed, but it also has to be said with powerful arguments... To say that the economic programs of the left are utopian is supreme stupidity. When they are explained with the data in hand, people understand."