The new tendency to authoritarian rule does not come from nowhere; the reason for its rise is that neoliberal austerity policy, the dismantling of the welfare states, the degradation and precarisation of the working class has not solved any of Europe’s problems.
We ought not to underestimate the political danger emanating from the neo-fascist right worldwide and in Europe. Not only because parties of this type have doubled their vote count in the elections of the last two years and because the right-wing radical AfD is represented in the German Bundestag and beyond in all sixteen of Germany’s federal state parliaments – but because if this trend is confirmed there is a danger of a massive rightward shift in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
I do not believe that the participation of right-wing radical parties in governments, specifically in Central Europe, would be nothing more than an unfortunate political episode that will resolve itself.
Neo-fascist parties like the FPÖ in Austria do not believe in democracy.
Once in government they begin systematically to take precautions against being voted out. They are working at bringing the media, the police, the secret services and the justice system under their control. They are limiting the freedom of the press – and all under the pretext of protecting the good, upstanding people against its enemies: refugees, Islam, Soros, Roma, terrorism, political correctness, feminism – and who knows what else.
Right-wing radical parties are genuine enemies of democracy, which want to conquer and reconfigure the state to govern in a reactionary, authoritarian manner.
This new tendency to authoritarian rule does not come from nowhere; the reason for its rise is that neoliberal austerity policy, the dismantling of the welfare states, the degradation and precarisation of the working class has not solved any of Europe’s problems. Social insecurity is growing. The centrifugal tendencies in the EU, the public debt, and the risks of uncontrolled capital accumulation continue to exist, and there are signs of a new financial crisis and recession.
Not to mention the greatest challenges: the ecological crisis and the social question, which have become global in the twenty-first century.
In terms of the people escaping to Europe from political persecution, sexual violence, or simply hopeless misery, it is said: The most important thing is to remove the causes of flight. We can agree with this provided we add that there is a cause of these causes: namely, the unjust world economic order that exploits people and nature and has existed for centuries, which is called capitalism. He who is silent about capitalism is not saying enough about the causes of flight.
Therefore, seriously: Considering current prospects, how long will it take to overcome capitalism worldwide or until at least a just world economic order is established? Is this the uncertain, vague prospect that we want to present to the desperate people arriving in Europe? What kind of politics is it to offer people an ideological explanation of the world situation instead of practical solidarity?
The ruling class, for its part, is searching for a way out of the dead end into which it has led societies by way of neoliberalism. Its solution is military buildup, war, fortress Europe, nationalism, and authoritarian government. This is the programme of the illiberal democracy represented by the radical right in the European Parliament elections.
Please forgive my frankness, but I see us as being poorly prepared for this fundamental change in the situation. The interrelationship between neoliberalism and neo-fascism is being constantly pointed out, and correctly so. However, the problem lies not in theoretical interpretation but in the practical struggle for a political alternative in Europe, which ties together universal human rights, democracy, and freedom with respect for the rights and dignity of the men and women who have to sell their labour power in industry, services, or the care economy, irrespective of the colour of their skin, their nation, or their religious confession.
This is a political question. In democracy political parties are necessary, not to substitute for social movements but to represent them politically. The relation between institutionalised politics and civil society is thus a key problem of democratic politics.
There needs to be a dialogue between equals, not only between the parties but also between parties and civil society.
In many European countries we are experiencing an upheaval in the party systems. Social democratic parties, which are unable to end their ties to neoliberalism, are sinking into insignificance because they are not recognising the signs of the time; and he who comes too late is punished by life.
We must and can do better.
We have to defend Europe’s peaceful integration against the neo-fascist right. We can only succeed in this if we change the very logic of current integration and instead make it social, ecological, feminist – and above all democratic.
We have to represent the millions of people in Europe who, in their diversity, constitute a new working class; but in defending human rights and international solidarity we cannot forego the broad alliances that are possible today with NGOs, intellectuals, communities of faith, and social movements.
We are now at a turning point at which we cannot allow ourselves to be fragmented or to be content with half truths.
Times of crisis are also always times of new possibilities. If after these two days we manage to better understand this, so that we may seize this opportunity together, then the Bilbao Forum will have succeeded and represent the beginning of a process that needs to be further developed and structurally consolidated.
For an overview and the full text of the Final Declaration, Bilbao European Forum, please click here.