• About the Radical Right
  • Reactionary Rebellion

  • By Walter Baier | 19 Jan 16 | Posted under: Rightist Movements
  • When, in an unanticipated turn of events, Jörg Haider took over the leadership of the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) in 1986 (at the time the party was part of a coalition government alongside the SPÖ (Socialist Party of Austria)), the party barely won 5 percent of the vote.

    Today, polls are predicting that the FPÖ will win 30 percent of the vote. So far, numerous tactics have been employed in order to counteract the FPÖ’s success:

    • Appeasement; that is to say, ignoring the party and the topics it wishes to promote, avoiding confrontation and incorporating its claims (whether or not in a watered down form) into the election programmes of the mainstream parties.
    • Demonising the party; denouncing the FPÖ as a fascist party and constructing a “wall of political correctness” in line with the motto “zero tolerance for fascists”.
    • Calling for the public to participate in the “Anti-fascist people’s front” and propagating the idea that “Republican Unity” in Austria is the “lesser evil”.

    These strategies have not proven efficient in counteracting the growth of the FPÖ. They are part of the problem rather than the solution; this is partly due to a lack of analysis.



    1. The struggle against right-wing extremism is being played out at the core of society

    For many reasons and in many spheres of society, the question of whether or not it is in fact a fascist party arises. In other words, should we consider a third of Austrian voters to be fascists and potential criminals?

    We have to take into account that we are now talking about fascism from a retrospective angle, which means that we are fully aware of the monstrosity of Nazi crimes and the context of WW2. The contemporary perspective of the 1920s and 1930s was different. Back then, a description of the characteristics of fascism was equal to the image of a party which today we would call right-wing populist. I am mentioning this in order to call attention to the extensive literature existing on this topic (e.g. the works of Artur Rosenberger, Antonio Gramsci, Walter Benjamin and Otto Bauer), which have made a valuable contribution to today’s struggles.

    I am using the concepts of “right-wing extremism” and “right-wing radicalism” as they are described in the relevant German literature, which characterises parties or groups as “right-wing extremist” when their ideology falls outside of that expressed in the Constitution (neo-Nazis such as Jobbik, the Golden Dawn, BNP etc.). These groups overtly see themselves as part of the national-socialist tradition, evoking their symbols, taking violent action and/or inciting violence. On the contrary, parties that have modernised and adapted to the mainstream media and that claim to accept parliamentary democracy are described as “radical right-wing” or “right-wing populist” (e.g. UKIP, FN, DF, Sweden Democrats, PVV, PiS, FPÖ, True Finns and others).

    The political spectrum of these parties is fragmented and some groups or parties are not on good terms. Still, it seems fair to subsume them as one “family of parties”.

     Their characteristics as indicated in (positivist) political science are as follows:

    • Populist political style (“Clean politics against corrupt elites”; “anti-system”)
    • Authoritarian image of society / anti-feminism
    • Ethnic nationalism: xenophobia, racism and anti-Europeanism
    • Social chauvinism (the welfare state should only be extended to native citizens)

    These characteristics apply to all the aforementioned parties in varying combinations. Similarities with their foreign party counterparts are greater than is the case with other national families of parties.

    We should not promote the idea that right-wing radicalism / right-wing populism is harmless with regards to its relationship with neo-Nazism. The interrelationship between the two would make for an interesting topic of research: in Hungary and Poland, radical right-wing majority parties coexist with neo-Nazi parties; in Austria the FPÖ also provides space for neo-Nazi subculture.

    Still, in most cases it is true that the struggle against neo-Nazism is one that is being fought on the margins of the political spectrum. The struggle against right-wing extremism, however, has turned into a fight for majority right at the core of society.


    2. It is not the crisis, but its interpretation, that makes people prone to right-wing radicalism

    Right-wing radicalism is not a “lower class phenomenon”. The widespread perception of educationally alienated people who are left behind by globalisation and modernisation and who therefore rebel against societal changes cannot be empirically confirmed. An affinity for radical right-wing issues and parties can be identified – as can domestic violence – at all levels of society. This obviously also means that it can be identified among the upper classes.

    There are several, equally interlinked, reasons for which radical right-wing issues as well as the widespread propensity to vote for these parties are becoming more mainstream: crisis, precariousness and a middle-class fear of social decline, a general feeling of disappointment in the political system, the crisis of social democracy and the lack of a credible alternative on the Left.

    These factors do not lead to right-wing radicalism in and of themselves. The (right-wing populist) interpretation of the crisis provides the decisive momentum.

    Populists do not simply refer to “the people”. Their anti-systemic rhetoric does not aim to incite social revolution. They essentially aim to stabilise existing socio-economic inequality using the instruments of authoritarianism. Radical right-wing parties may appear rebellious; however, they promote a conservative spirit of rebellion which leaves existing property and power relations untouched. [1]

    It is important to take this into account for two reasons: firstly, by so doing, we can understand why right-wing populist parties are funded by the elites and secondly, it becomes clear that the intellectual world of these populists is defined by reactionary prejudices. They can therefore be located closer to the neoliberal, ideological mainstream than one might think (therefore populism cannot be utilised for the purpose of left-wing hegemony).


    3. The rise of radical right-wing parties is a European phenomenon

    Image 1: Radical right-wing groups in the EP:



    European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR): This group includes, among others, the Conservative Party (UK), Law and Justice (PiS – Poland), the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Danish People’s Party, the True Finns and the New Flemish Alliance.

    Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD): This group largely consists of MPs from UKIP (UK) and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (Italy).

    Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF): This group is home to the Front National (France), FPÖ (Austria), PVV (Netherlands), Lega Nord (Italy) and Vlaams Belang (Belgium).


    For some political scientists, the distribution of radical right-wing parties across several groups is only a sign for the fragmentation and weakness. However, we can also consider this phenomenon as a form of spreading and advancing into different areas of the political spectrum. It should be noted at this point that Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has joined forces with the EFDD and the Hungarian FIDESZ is part of the European People’s Party.


    Image 2: Continuous growth

    Legislative period

    Share of seats of radical right-wing parties


    22,9 %


    15 %


    12,5 %


    11 %


    European subsidy for radical right-wing groups: EUR 20 m (2009 – 2014)

    European subsidy for European radical right-wing parties: EUR 10.2 m (2010 – 2014)


    Image 3: Current election results for radical right-wing parties: National parliaments

    The six best-performing parties (FIDESZ, PiS, FN, FPÖ, Danish People’s Party) are located in very different regions of Europe.

    The development and empowerment of right-wing populist parties should not be understood as a parallel, but as a European development.


    Image 4: European Parliament elections


    Image 5: Map showing the influence of radical right-wing parties


    4. Radical right-wing parties want to re-structure the state

    On 10 December, the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” wrote a report on the situation in Poland seven weeks following the elections in which PiS won an absolute majority. The article’s headline was “Creating a new state: The new government is gradually transforming Poland into a right-wing nationalist state”, and it mentions the introduction of censorship measures, the politically-motivated dismissal of journalists in public service televison and the recomposition of the supreme courts. The situation in Hungary is similar. FIDESZ took advantage of the two-thirds majority it won in 2010 to adopt a new Basic Law, the preamble of which defines Hungary as a cultural nation based on ethnical foundations. This provides a legally binding norm for interpreting the constitution. Similarly, the organisational principle of the FN’s programme is an authoritarian and totalitarian understanding of the state on an ethnical basis. In this case we can once more observe that their rebellion is based on the existing order of property.

    If radical right-wing parties come into power they do not merely strive for a change of government: they come to stay. And it is this that poses the actual threat. In fact, we need to put this perspective at the heart of our strategies.


    5. Hostility towards the EU acts as a common denominator for right-wing populists

    The European Union is neither merely an economic and monetary union, nor is it simply a system of treaties and institutions. It is also a specific arrangement of national relations in Europe. What is true on a national level – that right-wing populism acts as an indicator for the crisis of democracy – is also true on a European level: the spread of nationalism is an indicator for the crisis of national relations caused by neoliberal austerity. We cannot fight nationalism unless we put an end to austerity and organise a Europe-wide battle of unions, social movements and the political parties of the Left against austerity.

    Nationalism is both a distorted surface projection of an economic and social crisis and an expression of deficient democracy. The Left must have answers to both problems, on both a national and European level.

    This leads us to a dialectic issue: we want a Europe in which the Thessaloniki programme can be implemented. Respecting national self-determination does not contradict European integration; on the contrary, it is a criterion for democracy. The goal is to expand sovereignty on all levels – local, national and European – by introducing a reasonable and transparent division of expertise.


    Strategic considerations

    A) Our most important experience: due to mass unemployment and the impoverishment of the middle classes, fascism became a mass movement during the inter-war period. This means that right-wing radicalism cannot be defeated without a Europe-wide struggle against unemployment, the defence, further development and reconstruction of the welfare state, and the introduction of trainee positions and working conditions regulated by law. However, this calls for a sound economic policy, mechanisms to control financial markets, policies for industrial reconstruction and ecological reconstruction.  This is not the place to go into detail, but I would like to mention that the macro-economic instruments of the past century will not suffice when it comes to developing this economic policy, and it cannot solely be supported by the traditional sections of the working class and its organisations.

    B) A socio-economic debate is not enough when liberal democracy is at risk. The danger, however, is two-fold: on one hand, the authoritarian, neoliberal governance which is implemented on a European level and on the other, the threat posed by radical right-wing parties. Civil society, churches, anti-fascist groups and politically liberal citizens are all alarmed. They are our natural allies. Without a doubt, freedom, human rights, solidarity with refugees, LGBTQ rights and democracy are our issues. The alliances spontaneously formed in these contexts are not equal to those from the realm of social economy. We should, however, help to unite them with one another, in line with the principle of the “centre-bottom alliance” called for by Michael Brie.

    C) The crisis of the EU is no less real, as the common position of all radical right-wing parties is to reject the EU. Can, and should, we be part of their game? What kind of a plan B would that be? The dissolution of the EU would only be a desirable option if the big problems confronting societies – globalised financial markets, development, climate change, security – can be solved more efficiently in a Europe with 28, 35 or 50 national currencies, nation states and border regimes, and with the most powerful European states competing for predominance at any cost. However, the nationalist terrain is already taken. Are we really confident enough to compete with the Right on this very issue? It does not seem rational.

    On the  other hand, the EU in its neoliberal form is not a project of the Left. Today, it finds itself at a dead end because of the austerity policies conducted in its name. If the idea of a peaceful European integration should be defended against spreading nationalism, its aim must be redefined. When we talk of the necessity of refounding the EU, we mean that the Treaty of Lisbon and the European Fiscal Pact must be abolished and that the Europe being fought for by the Left must be a democratic and parliamentarian one which respects the democratic rights of member states and the self-determination of nations and ethnic groups.

    D) In conclusion, I would like to mention the mental disturbance reflected in right-wing radicalism. In fact, it is a big misunderstanding that the integration of 1.5 million refugees in an EU with 500 million inhabitants poses a problem. At the end of the day, these 500 million people must integrate themselves into a world which, 20 years from now, will be home to 10 billion people and will be very different from today’s world from a social, economic, ecological point of view as well as in terms of international security.

    The challenge arising from this can be termed a second big de-colonisation – the decolonisation of our culture and mindset.

    A dramatic assimilation process will take place – as well as the redistribution of wealth, power and opportunities. It is understandable that this view, broadcast to people via TV and Internet in their homes, seems frightening, if these people do not understand the underlying social processes.

    This, however, points to the vast field of the cognitive-cultural struggle, the ethical-intellectual reform spoken about by Antonio Gramsci, the lack of which prevents any progress and does prevent a return to the primitiveness promoted by the radical Right – no matter what their exact nuance may be.


    [1] Benjamin, Walter (1963): The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Frankfurt am Main, p. 42. Always a good read: “Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees it salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.”


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