Social democracy in peril.
The new fascism.
Coming Together at the Seams
The view from Porto Alegre ...
... and direct action in New York.
Not Just Black and White
LOCAL MOTION: Oak Park, Illinois
A Scandal Bigger than Enron.
An Open Letter to George W. Bush
Kenny Boy? Never heard of him.
The military busts the 2003 budget.
Bush stealth-attacks reproductive rights.
Bush hands AIDS policy to the Christian right.
Chechnya remains mired in misery.
Ann Pettifor: Discrediting the Creditors.
BOOKS: Micah Sifry follows the third way.
BOOKS: Randall Kennedy's Nigger.
MUSIC: Something is in the water.
FILM: Let's play Rollerball.
February 19, 2002
Europes Right Turn
specter is haunting Europethe specter of the extreme right. George
W. Bushs long war has dramatically accelerated the brown-shirted emotions
of xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant hysteria all across the Continent.
Undermined by corruption and programatically bankrupt, European social democracy
is on the run, and, where still in power, its political leadership is taking
the blame for the deepening economic crisis. The Rose Europe of
the 90sin which social-democratic governments of the left, or left-center
coalitions, held power nearly everywhere in Western Europeis coming to
The Third Way dear to Germanys Gerhard Schröder (and
Britains Tony Blair) represents the Clintonization of traditional
social democratic politics, and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospins compromises
are pretty weak tea, indeed. But those vying to replace the temporizers of the
watered-down European left are much, much worse. The Franco-German entente has
traditionally dominated Euro-community politics and economics, motoring the
drive toward an increasingly federalized Europe. But this years elections
on either side of the Rhine threaten to shift the balance of power sharply to
rances lurch rightward is driven by the fact that it has a larger North
African population than any other European country. It imported hundreds of
thousands of manual laborers from its former colonies in the postwar growth
years of the 50s and 60s. The second- and third-generation youths
from these traditionally large immigrant families are trapped in an identity
crisis: French-speaking and rarely knowing the language and culture of their
parents origins, they have never been accepted into French society. Penned
in the desolate, stifling, low-income high-rises of the isolated suburban cités
that ring urban France (and victims of unemployment rates as high as 50 percent)
many idle ghetto youths find their only real identity in gangs of petty criminalsand
are seen as the cause of rising crime.
All this helps explain why the French left lost control of 40 cities in last
years municipal elections, in a harbinger of things to come. The Socialist
Partys Jospin is slightly behind or even with conservative incumbent Jacques
Chirac in the polls for Aprils presidential elections. But Jospins
strongest challenge may be from his former minister of the interior, Jean-Pierre
Chevènement, a hard-liner on immigrants. Chevènement, a fervent
nationalist and Eurosceptic, had quit as minister of defense for a previous
Socialist government in 1991 to protest Frances support of the Gulf War.
He then founded his own party, the Citizens Movement (or MDC, its French
acronym), which until his latest resignation had been a part of Jospins
governing coalition. Posing as a guarantor of order, the man the French press
ironically has nicknamed le Chè, in moving sharply
to his right, has stitched together a crazy-quilt coalition of supporters that
includes former Communist ministers, leaders of the Radicals of the Left (a
small, middle-class party which is neither) and Viscount Phillipe DeVilliers,
an ultraright Catholic politician.
Chevènements anti-Americanism and pandering to security hysteria
is attracting more of Chiracs voters than Jospins in the polls,
making him le troisième homme (the third man) in the first round
of the two-stage presidential election process. Hes doing so well that
many perspicacious French political analysts believe that the runoff could well
be between Jospin and le Chè rather than a Jospin-Chirac duel.
Chirac himself has been undermined by a continuing scandal over the organized
bribery that financed all of Frances important political parties (with
the exception of the Greens). But the Socialists, too, have been hit by the
corruption scandals, and ministers from both left and right parties have been
imprisoned on a variety of corruption charges. Although Jospins personal
financial integrity has never been questioned, his credibility has been seriously
undermined by revelations that he first joined the Socialist Party as a mole
for a super-secretive Trotskyite sect known as the Lambertistes (after their
paranoid, reclusive leader Pierre Lambert). For years Jospin denied rumors of
his Trotskyite pastclaiming he had been confused with his brother. But
an accumulation of public testimonies from his ex-Trotskyite colleagues, showing
that Jospins relationship with the ultrasectarian group continued well
into his years as first secretary of the Socialist Party under President Francois
Mitterand, finally forced Jospin to admit the truth. This has given ammunition
to the right, and snide references to Comrade Michel (Jospins
underground code name) dot the discourse of his critics.
Meanwhile, the race-baiting neofascist Jean-Marie Le Pena notorious anti-Semite
whose National Front had been written off when corruption and mismanagement
lost it the three important mayoralties it controlled in last years municipal
electionsis once again getting as much as 13 percent in some presidential
opinion polls. (Le Pen, whose ex-wife has said that at home he always called
Hitler Uncle Adolf, is famous for having declared the Nazi concentration
camp ovens a detail of history.) At the same time, two other members
of Jospins plural left alliance, the Communists (once Frances
largest postwar political party) and the Greens, have both sunk to around 5
percent in opinion surveys. If Jospin is defeated for the presidencyin
a runoff in which Le Pen and Chevènement hold the balance of powerthe
left coalition will have serious trouble hanging on to its majority in the legislative
elections in June.
erhard Schröder is likewise in deep trouble in the forthcoming September
elections. Just weeks after Bush declared war on evil before Congress,
his German Socialist Party (SPD)with its historical roots as the mother
party of European socialismwas swept from power in Hamburg, where it had
ruled for 50 years, as a newly created, anti-immigrant Law and Order Party won
a stunning quarter of the vote (much of it poached from the SPDs traditional
The German economy is almost in free fall. Unemployment, the issue that more
than any other brought Schröder to power, is nearing 10 percent and growing
rapidly. German cities are slashing services and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy
because of a business-friendly change in the tax law (pushed through by Schröder)
that gutted municipal revenues. And a major scandal has erupted over the falsification
and inflation of job-placement figures under Schröders labor minister.
Another scandal making headlines concerns Schröders attempts to
ban the neo-Nazi German National Party (NPD). Attempting to outlaw any political
party in a country with Germanys totalitarian past touches a raw nerve,
and making the NPD illegal would turn the neo-Naziswho have been making
serious inroads in the economically depressed former East Germanyinto
martyrs. Whats more, at least five NPD leaders whose anti-immigrant excesses
were cited as reasons for the ban have been revealed as German intelligence
All this has created extraordinarily fertile ground for the candidate of the
conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Edmund Stoiber, a protégé
of the late Franz Josef Strauss, the authoritarian strongman of Bavarian politics
and notorious coddler of ex-Nazis. A flaming nationalist and Eurosceptic, Stoibers
law-and-order, tough-on-immigrants discourse is highly popular, particularly
in East Germany, where unemployment has hit 17 percent. Bavaria under Stoiber
has become the high-tech capital of Europe, thanks to the windfall subsidies
Stoiber handed out to business, with an unemployment rate of little more than
5 percent, roughly half that of the country as a whole.
Schröders chances of hanging on as chancellor against the man posing
as the author of the Bavarian miracle are further undercut by the
fact that this fall, Germanys parliament will find its number of seats
decreased by almost 10 percent (when a law passed by the previous conservative
government in 1996 goes into effect). According to the influential daily Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung, If this years election results were to come
out the same as in 1998, the SPD and the Greens lead of 21 seats would
probably shrink to eight as a result of the reforms.
But the traditionally pacifist Greens support has plummeted in the polls
since September 11, despite the pro-war sentiments of their leader Joschka Fischer,
Germanys foreign minister. Schröders only hope of survival
likely rests in a future coalition with the PDS, ex-Communists led by Gregor
Gyisi who are surprisingly strong, and not only in the East. The SPD already
has coalition governments with the PDS in several Länder (including
Berlinwhere they supported the election of Mayor Klaus Wovereit, the openly
gay SPD leader). While Schröder has denied hell ever form an alliance
with the PDS, a February poll shows that only 38 percent of Germans believe
hen there is Italy, where Premier Silvio Berlusconielected by his virulently
anti-immigrant and racist campaigngoverns with the support of the post-fascist
National Alliance Party and the xenophobic Northern League of Umberto Bossi.
Berlusconis Forza Italia (Onward Italy!) is unlike any other party in
Western Europe. Italys richest man built it as a business, rather like
Amway, handing out prizes in cash and gifts to those who enrolled the most members
and corralled the most votes, a practice he continues. As a magnate, he owns
45 percent of Italys television, and as head of government he now commands
45 percent more (via the three state-run TV networks).
Italys vice-premier, Gianfranco Fini, the head of the National Alliance,
joined its predecessor, the MSI (or Italian Social Movement, founded by ex-Fascists
in 1946), at the age of 17 because, he claims, leftist demonstrators had blocked
him from going to the movies to see John Waynes The Green Berets.
Yet as recently as 1994, he told La Stampa that Mussolini was the
greatest statesman in history. Now Berlusconi has thumbed his nose at
the European Union by appointing Fini as Italian representative to the European
constitutional convention. Furthermore, Berlusconis minister of immigration
was part of Mussolinis last-ditch Salo Republic, while he chose a former
Fascist youth leader to oversee state television. And his culture ministerformer
TV host of a home-shopping programhas recently denounced contemporary
art as excremental.
Yet the oppositionthe center-left Olive Tree coalitionis in complete
disarray, preoccupied with internal power struggles. Its leader, Francesco Rotelli,
the former mayor of Rome, is, as the Guardian recently put it, wan
and passionless. Piero Fassino, the gangling leader of the PDS (the Democratic
Left Party, ex-Communists) hardly seems to offer a more charismatic alternative.
The cri de coeur of Nobel laureate Dario Fo on the following pages makes clear
the grave threat Berlusconi poses to democracy as, one by one, he puts the institutions
of state (like the judiciary) under his thumb.
Elsewhere, fear and hatred of brown- and black-skinned immigrants has even
infected historically tolerant and social-democratic Scandinavia: Last October,
the Norwegian Labor Party suffered its worst general election result in 90 years,
evicted by a conservative coalition led by Kjell Magne Bondevik, a Lutheran
priest. The next month, Denmarks social democrats were handed their worst
showing in 50 years, losing power to the charismatic young conservative Anders
Fogh Rasmussen, who ran on an anti-immigrant, law-and-order platform. Meanwhile,
the extreme-right Danish Peoples Party racked up enough votes to make
it the third-largest party in the country (though nowhere in Scandinavia has
the immigrant population surpassed 5 percent).
In Spain, the popularity of conservative Premier Jose Maria Aznar has never
been higher in the six years since he defeated the corruption-tainted Socialist
government of Felipe Gonzalez. And in Belgium, the neo-fascist Flemish nationalists
of the Vlams Blok won 10 percent of the vote two years ago in elections that
saw it and other far-right parties gain at the expense of the corruption-plagued
Socialist coalition government there. The xenophobic security hysteria magnified
by the war has also considerably helped the fortunes of Nazi-loving Austrian
demagogue Jörg Haider and his neo-fascist party, the FPO, which in late
January was polling 25 percent, equal to that of its coalition partner in government.
If Edmund Stoiber becomes the new German chancellor next fall, there is a grave
danger that a new Rome-Berlin-Vienna axis of conservative, nationalist, immigrant-baiters
would halt the construction of a federal Europe and roll back the European Unions
sterling commitment to human rights. With the dark cloud of racism hanging over
the Continent, the future of European social democracy looks increasingly bleak.