Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Unemployment, Far Right Nationalism and War

Paul Mason recently wrote an article about the rise of far-right nationalism in Europe particularly in Italy, Spain, Germany and Poland. Of Polish Nationalism, Mason wrote:

In Poland this weekend 60,000 neo-Nazis staged a march celebrating the country’s Independence Day, chanting: “Refugees out!” and carrying banners calling for an “Islamic holocaust”. The interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, called the march a “beautiful sight”; the pro-government TV news called it “a great march of patriots”. Tommy Robinson, the British far-right campaigner, tweeted that he had “an amazing trip to Poland and was shown great hospitality”, adding: “Poland is fortress Europe” GUARDIAN 13th November 2017).

And he went on to say:

This is happening when Europe’s economy is growing faster than at any time since the 2008 crisis. Poland’s unemployment rate is 5.3%, a record low. In the late 1920s, fascism was driven by economic desperation. In Poland, it is being driven by a white, Christian supremacist ideology that political and social elites seem unwilling to challenge. Its core message is: no more social change.

Mason says that far-right nationalism will not go away without a fight. Socialists say it will not go away until the working class unite around the movement for the establishment of socialism, a movement based on class unity rather than class division. And to understand the rise of far-right nationalism workers have to understand capitalism and the economic and social problems the profit system generates.

Is Mason right that the growing power of the nationalist right is governed by the ideology of identity and not economics? In the 1930s, with high unemployment, anti-Semitism was used by Mosely’s Black Shirts and other Fascist European parties as a convenient scape-goat for the problems facing the workers.

However, there's no paradox about extreme nationalism in a time of very low unemployment. Mason’s analysis of the far-right nationalism is very superficial. The reality for most workers throughout Europe is that especially in the last decade or so, economics not identity politics has been the big issue.

Poland’s unemployment rate may be 5.35% but this low figure hides the fact that many young Polish workers have been forced to leave the country to find work elsewhere in Europe either because of lack of jobs or poor pay. The same is true of workers in Spain and Portugal as well as other areas of Eastern Europe. And former East Germany still has high levels of unemployment, poor housing and poverty despite favourable economic conditions in Germany as a whole. This disaffection, manifested in blaming immigrants, is exploited by the nationalist Right just as it was by Trump in the US and by reactionary Tories and UKIP in the UK.

If you take the United Kingdom, declining levels of pay, partly related to the decline in Trade Union effectiveness, partly to the growth of 'zero- hours' jobs, the gig economy, casualisation of the workforce, plus government agencies driving people into low- paid jobs under threat of withdrawal of 'benefits' - all these have led to a situation where most workers have experienced real declines in the purchasing power of their pay packets. And all too many are homeless and starving on the streets even in affluent cities.

Meanwhile we all read the statistics about huge and growing numbers of millionaires, and billionaires. Workers blame other workers for the situation in which they find themselves not the capitalist system. It is the politics of stupidity.

The sense felt by many workers that their falling standards of living are the result of large numbers of foreign workers has been hyped up by demagogues in the Brexit camp and journalists in THE SUN and the DAILY MAIL. Workers are told that migrant workers take their jobs, force down their rates of pay, take scarce housing and create queues for NHS treatment. Yet long before the recent surge in immigration and refugees, there were long queues for hospital beds and shortages of affordable housing.

And all the time the capitalist class get richer and the working class become more and more divided. How the billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond and Lord Rothermere must be laughing at those workers who blame other workers for their economic predicament but not them and their class.

If critics of Brexit are right and the shambolic Brexit negotiations result in a "bad deal or no deal" and massive job losses, we wonder how bad the consequences of this synthetic pseudo-patriotism will get? "The will of the people" has declared loud and clear we don't want foreign NHS nurses. So EU nurses have decided not to come to the UK - who can blame them?

But no doubt the Brexiteers have an answer for a nursing shortage. Maybe "Daniel Blake" and others like him among the army of unemployed and disabled can be fast-tracked into being graduate nurses or even doctors! Of course, the shortage of key staff in the NHS hospitals is largely due to underfunding, stress and overwork – consequences of government policy, which has seen nurses leave and doctors on strike

Not that socialists support the pro-European faction. Membership of the EU is a concern for the capitalist class, not the working class. The referendum, although unleashing both economic mis-information and a crude and xenophobic nationalism, was just a choice between opposing capitalist interests. And for the working class that was no choice at all.

This divisiveness within the working class is incredibly dangerous: even now, 20 years after the Yugoslav civil wars, The Hague Court is winding up the trial of Radko Mladic, one of the Bosnian Serb leaders for hideous war crimes, e.g. the Sarajevo massacre (NESNIGHT, 15th November 2017) about this. The Yugoslav wars were deliberately triggered by Milosovic with his nationalist rhetoric about Kosovo’s Albanian majority, and later, using Serb nationalism against the equally nationalistic Croats. In Ukraine, a ‘frozen conflict’ persists, where the war between east and west, Ukrainian and Russian, speaking people, has simmered for several years. In Yemen a long-lasting dispute, based on historic clan and religious differences, turned into a civil war, with the ruthless Saudi siege causing a man-made famine and a cholera epidemic. These are just a few examples of how dangerous this divisive nationalism and chauvinism is.

Nationalism, as well as religion, is not only a barrier to socialism but useful for unscrupulous politicians who exploit it to weld together the distinct interests of the working class with the capitalist class, particularly in times of war.

In 2018 a century will have passed since “the war to end all wars” ended – a war in which 16 million died. Of course war under capitalism did not stop. It has continued right down to our own day; conflict over raw minerals and oil, trade routes and spheres of strategic importance. Capitalism causes war; it uses nationalism and religion for propaganda purposes. Mason may complain about far-right nationalism but all capitalist political parties use nationalism in its propaganda, including the Labour Party of whom he is a member. And it is the working class who kill and are killed for another class’s interest.

A short poem by Thomas Hardy, no socialist, in 1924 summed up his view of the World War - and religion:

'Peace upon earth' was said. We sing it, And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.


Even truer now with poison gas being use during the recent Syrian civil war!

What is Mason’s answer to the rise of the Nationalist Right? He pessimistically thinks the ideas and beliefs of the nationalist right cannot be opposed as they were in the 1920s and 1930s –although the fact that Hitler came to power undermines this view. He thinks that “organised labour” is weaker and the media is largely controlled by xenophobic millionaires. What “organised labour” is he talking about? And when has the media not been controlled by “xenophobic millionaires” – we just have to think of Lord Rothermere and the DAILY MAIL support for Hitler and Mussolini.

So, Mason offers no answer except that the Nationalist Right must be resisted. Does he mean resisted by open democratic debate or through violent means? He does not say. Are we going to reason with a worker holding fascist ideas and beliefs or are we going to punch him in street brawls? Socialists believe the former is the only reasonable and sound political course of action to follow while the Left, the SWP, The Socialist Party and, we presume, Paul Mason insist on the latter.

And debate over violence is possible. How to show the idiocy and hollowness of racist ideas recently took place between the journalist Gary Younge and the American White Supremacist, Richard Spencer. Spencer was made to look a fool and was given enough rope by Younge to hang himself (ANGRY, WHITE AND AMERICAN, Channel 4, 9th November 2017).

Given a platform against supporters of the nationalist Right, a socialist armed with facts and a socialist case against capitalism would do even better. Workers are not so drenched through with the ideas and beliefs of racism and nationalism that socialist ideas cannot show that the nationalist right, along with all the parties of capitalism, are not in the interst of workers to support and vote for.

The only answer to divisive nationalism and the rise of fascism is to unite the working class – as a class – against the real enemy of the workers, the capitalist system. That will enable the working-class to become socialists and work together to replace the profit system with Socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: enquiries@socialiststudies.org.uk | www.socialiststudies.org.uk