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General elections are being held in two European countries within the next few months. In the Netherlands, the extreme right politician Geert Wilders failed to lead the biggest party – but increased the number of his MPs. In France, the fascist National Front are expected to win the first round of the presidential elections later in April.

In each case, this is a part of the international polarisation in politics. In the US, Donald Trump, a right-wing politician finally won the presidential election.  But things could have been very different if the socialist Bernie Saunders had managed to win the Democratic nomination.

France had five disappointing years of the social democratic president, François Holland, unemployment is at nearly 10% (around 25% for those aged 15-24 years) and France has its own “Black Lives Matter” with police attacks on black people in the suburbs of Paris.

The left is split – despite active support for a popular mass movement against austerity and the security crackdown–known as “Nuit Debout,” or Night Out, and characterized by the occupation of public spaces. There are two left wing candidates, one supported by the Green Party (Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate) and the other (Jean-Luc Mélenchon) supported by the Communist Party. The far left New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) is also running a presidential candidate. So there is no clear alternative to the politics of austerity and neoliberalism.

After the fascist National Front came out ahead in elections to the European parliament two years ago, Marine Le Pen is expected to come top in the first round of voting, but to be defeated by the right wing candidate, Francois Fillon, in the second round.

This is despite the controversy over the employment of Fillon’s wife and other family members as his ‘advisors’ in Parliament. The National Front faces similar allegations over the employment of staff for the European Parliament. Several other right-wing nationalist parties have been able to bend the rules to gain millions of euros from the European Parliament.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders of the Party for Liberty has gained notoriety for his racism against Muslim people especially those from Morocco.  He was prosecuted in December last year, but was still calling Moroccans scum in February and demanding the Koran should be banned.  He has gained confidence from the US war on terror and Donald Trump’s racism against Muslims and hopes to build on his success.

Wilders’ Party for Liberty, established in 2006, claims that Europe is being menaced by “Islamisation”. Bas Heijne, one of the most influential commentators in the Netherlands, is preoccupied by the growing polarisation of public debate which he says is becoming more angry and apocalyptic. Wilders is demanding the ending of immigration, the closing of mosques, exit from the European Union and the return of the former Dutch currency, the guilder in place of the Euro.

Wilders has edited his manifesto onto a single sheet of A4 and “during his carrier has never made a positive proposal”. Like Trump, he claims to be on the margins and against the elite. He also regularly uses Twitter to attack immigration and immigrants and rejects any compromise.

The extreme right-wing in Netherlands failed to win the general elections in the Netherlands and the fascist National Front of France are unlikely to win the presidential elections in France. But these developments are still very worrying for socialists – fascist and right wing parties are now gaining mass support in many European countries.  We have to be clear that fascists are different from other politicians and a need a different reaction from the left.

Fascists plan to destroy all working-class organisations – they strike fear by organising their thugs in street demonstrations and in attacks against immigrant communities.   As a result, socialists and other working-class organisations need to unite and to ensure that there is no platform for fascists. Every time they meet or attempt to hold a demonstration on the streets then we need mass demonstrations to directly confront them and to stop them organising. We say “no platform for fascists”.

This approach has been successful, time and again in Britain. Fascist parties have tried to organise in Britain on a number of occasions. There was the National front in the 1970s and the 1980s. This was defeated by the mass organisation of the Anti-Nazi League. In the early years of the 21st-century the fascist British National Party also began to organise and won a number of local council elections. But the left was united against them in Unite Against Fascism. The same organisation was also able to stop the English Defence League holding demonstrations in many British cities.

Unfortunately, these lessons have not been learnt properly across Europe. As a result, Britain is now one of the few countries in Europe where fascist parties do not have a serious electoral base.

Like in France, and many other European countries, the social democratic Labour Party in the Netherlands is paying a heavy price for its role in implementing austerity. Four years ago it went into coalition with the right-wing Liberals. As a result, it lost most of its 38 seats members of parliament and the Green Left Party became the largest left party.

In many European countries, this defeat for social democratic parties has led to the development of more left-wing parties like SYRIZA in Greece or the leadership of the socio-democratic party being captured by the left wing, as in the case of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in Britain.

But the failure of social democracy, its acceptance of the market, austerity and neoliberalism, has also led some people to into the hands of the fascists – especially as other mainstream parties have accepted the so called ‘war on terror’ and the need for immigration controls.

by Drew Povey