The announcement by Greek Prime Minister George Panpandreou to hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the Troika’s latest “bailout” has been met with the predictable fury of Europe’s leaders. Such are their democratic credentials, the very thought of the Greek people having a say on the austerity being inflicted upon them sparked outrage. Under intense pressure, Papandreou balked and called off the proposed referendum.
Everyone needs to keep a close eye on the events unfolding in Greece. What happens there will affect us all. The very existence of the European Union is on the line; if the Euro collapses, the EU is likely to go down with it. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. The ethnic cauldron that makes up much of Europe could very well boil over, the results of which most do not care to think about. The prospect of war in the continent is a very real one. Don’t just take my word for it; German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a stark warning in the Bundestag last month when she said: “No one should think that a further half century of peace and prosperity is assured. If the euro fails, Europe will fail.”
Distracted by X-Factor and other hollow gimmicks, much of the population seem oblivious, and contently so, to the enormous events unfolding around them. Capitalism is now in its biggest crisis since the 1930s, with even the “top” bourgeois economists at a loss as to what to do to next. In all likelihood, capitalism is heading towards a period of prolonged and deep recession. Many are even plausibly predicting another depression. If this materialises, the ramifications on working people will obviously be enormous.
The sense of urgency among Europe’s leaders to save the EU project stems from the continent’s collective memory of fascism. They know the EU is the cement that has maintained peace in most of Europe since 1945. Its collapse will create a political vacuum in many countries, which the far-right will doubtless take advantage of. Across Europe, a tide of extreme nationalism is gaining ground. Muslims have replaced Jews as the targets of “acceptable” racism in today’s society. Fascist-friendly comics, such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express, spout their racist, reactionary vitriol without any real controversy. Their headlines attack Muslims on a daily basis, accusing them of being “terrorists”, “benefit scroungers” and “imposing their values”. Such disinformation in mainstream discourse provides fertile ground for the spread of fascism. This can already be seen across much of Europe. In 2009, the BNP polled 1 million votes in the European Parliament elections. The increasing popularity of the odious English Defence League since then is another case in point. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party has made considerable gains in Holland. Latest opinion polls show that 16.9% of Finns support the True Finns Party. 15.2% of the electorate in Denmark have expressed sympathy with the Danish People’s Party.
Such alarming statistics should come as little surprise. In deep crises, people will naturally look to areas outside the mainstream for solutions. Fascists provide extremely impressionable people with “easy” answers. Many people, unfortunately, find it easier to blame their problems on immigrants and minorities, rather than study the economic, social and political issues which dominate their lives.
One important point to bear in mind is that fascism is good for big business. Do not fall under the illusion that capitalism is compatible with democracy and human rights. Capitalism is there to make profit. What happens to the environment, societies, families and individuals is simply immaterial in the dark race for profit. If fascist states provide profitable outlets for big business, you can rest assured that they will take these opportunities.
Without a viable left alternative, the rise of fascism in many parts of Europe is a distinct possibility. Earlier this week, the Irish Independent reported that a significant number of people in Athens have been brandishing the portraits of some of the country’s top generals. In a nation which got rid of a military junta just 30 years ago, this is an extremely worrying development. Despite the inspirational resistance to austerity shown by the Greek working class over the past number of years, fascism can still creep in through the back door.
Since 2008, the capitalist class have been using the crisis as an opportunity. They have taken advantage of people’s shock and have begun the process of slashing wages, conditions and, of course, jobs. They are attacking all the gains made by the labour movement over the past 60 years. That being the case, this should be seen by socialists also as an opportunity. The time is ripe for the airing of new ideas and alternatives to a system organised for the pursuit of profit, as opposed to social need. To stop fascism before it grows, progressives and socialists need to provide a clear programme detailing what we stand for. We should discuss and debate this thoroughly, as it is the only way to clarify our ideas and strive towards what we hope to achieve.
The opening of opportunities for the building of a better and more humane society come once in a generation. Let’s not miss this one.