In the aftermath of the racist ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which civil rights activist Heather Heyer was killed, the question as to how the left and society more broadly should address the far-right – currently describing itself as the ‘alt-right’ – has again been raised.
President Trump made a public statement subsequent to the event in which he condemned the violence “on many sides”, provoking widespread outrage at his refusal to specifically denounce the neo-Nazis and KKK members in attendance. This comes at a time of crisis for the Trump administration – Trump’s failure to repeal Obamacare, in spite of the fact that the Republican party hold a majority in Congress, serves as an embarrassing example of his inability to fulfil his election promises.
Less than two weeks after the rally in Charlottesville, two of the most prominent supporters of the alt-right in Trump’s administration were released from their positions: Steve Bannon, the chairman of the Breitbart News Network, and Sebastian Gorka, who has in the past expressed support for the Magyar Gárda – a neo-fascist and anti-Semitic paramilitary in Hungary. There has been speculation as to whether the staff in question were sacked or voluntarily tendered their resignation, but the credibility of Trump’s presidency is in recognisable detriment in either case.
Far-right grows out of capitalist crisis
The recent emboldening of the far-right in the US is reflective of a wider global trend. In France, the right-wing populist National Front leader Marine Le Pen performed well in the Presidential elections, qualifying for the second round of voting. In Greece and Hungary, fascist parties have gained as much as 20% of the vote in national elections. This is in the context of a global capitalist crisis which has seen the wealth gap between ordinary people and the super-rich elite continue to widen. During such times, it is not uncommon for the ruling class to employ divide-and-rule tactics, using nationalist and xenophobic sentiment to undermine the prospect of working class unity.
Whilst only a very small number of individuals subscribe to fascist ideology today, Trump’s repeated attacks on the working class and oppressed sections of society only help to feed backward and bigoted beliefs. Although the alt-right might not yet be a coherent movement, there are certainly consciously fascist elements within it attempting to present themselves as politically respectable. Given the noted increase in hate crime since Trump’s election, it has become clear that far-right forces which seek to harass, intimidate, and commit assaults on innocent people cannot be given free reign to do so.
Mobilise to defeat the far-right
A week after the events in Charlottesville, a march of 40,000 people rallied against an alt-right demonstration in Boston. The latter had been organised two months in advance and yet was only able to gather an attendance of 25, whereas the anti-fascist rally was able to summon tens of thousands to the streets in less than a week. This shows where the balance of power in society lies. The only effective way to defeat the far-right is through the creation of democratic, mass movements.
It is important to recognise and support the right of vulnerable people to physically defend themselves against fascists, and it is necessary to organise against public figures who intend to use their platform to inflict suffering on innocent people. As such, it is absolutely imperative that broad coalitions of socialists, trade unions, and progressive groups be built in order to be able to successfully block the bigots, as well as to ensure the physical safety of those who would be targeted by the violence of the far-right.
It is also vital to understand how the capitalist system in which we live encourages divisive and prejudiced thinking, and as such we must be willing to build a force capable of challenging the system. In times of economic turmoil, racist and ultra-nationalist sentiments can find resonance among desperate layers of the working and middle classes. It is therefore essential to patiently explain that targeting immigrants and other minorities will not solve capitalism’s problems, and that the only way to eradicate poverty and inequality is by uniting all oppressed groups and the working class against our common oppressor. Only by building a mass party made up of these sections can we be effective in tackling and defeating the fascists, the alt-right, and the capitalist class, ensuring a decent standard of living for all, free from persecution, poverty, and injustice.
By Andrew Farley