Vox party leader Santiago Abascal in February, 2019 Photo: MiguelOses / Shutterstock.com
The crisis of neoliberal capital has fostered the rise of far-right politics across the globe. In Europe, many “neo”-fascist parties have been gaining significant ground, playing on the sentiments of alienated workers who have been subjected to mass austerity in the wake of the global financial crisis that continues to widen.
From Italy to Hungary to the UK and beyond, parties of the far right have been able to build platforms upon anti-immigrant racism, anti-corruption, anti-feminism and anti-communist affectation.
Fundamental to the dogma of neo-fascism in Europe is ultra-nationalism and imaginary claims to ethno-centric heritages that have laid the basis for racist violence against migrants fleeing inter-imperialist war, economic exploitation and oppressive regimes and environmental catastrophe in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, forcing millions to seek protection in the global North.
In Spain, the fascist virus has reared its ugly head in the form of Vox (Latin for “voice”). Emerging in 2013 as a split from the traditional right-wing Partido Popular (People’s Party), Vox openly advocates against immigrants, Muslims, women’s rights and what they see as “radical” social values associated with multiculturalism. They openly support Israeli fascism and advocate for war against Iran.
It is not a surprise that Vox’s current boss, Santiago Abascal, chose to launch their 2019 campaign in the town of Covadonga — the site of the first victory of Christian Spanish against Muslims who governed the Spanish peninsula for over 780 years — a gesture meant to suggest a new “Reconquista” against so-called invaders from the south. In addition to calls to “Make Spain Great Again” through the mass deportation of Muslims from Europe, Abascal also wants to build a long wall along the borders of Spain’s African enclaves Melilla and Ceuta to stop migrants coming in from Morocco and other parts of (Northern) Africa.
Vox supporters unabashedly evoke the legacy of Franco, the Spanish dictator who ruled for over 40 years, and desire a return to dictatorial rule under the banner of “traditional” Spanish values associated with the patriarchal family.
Capitalist Crisis and the Rise of Vox
On the one hand, Vox is part of an emergent neo-fascism that has been gathering force across Europe, yet it also reinforces far-right internationalism in its intentional refutation of historical memory. A brainchild of Steve Bannon’s “The Movement,” which promotes right-wing political initiatives across the globe, Vox reworked its ideological strategies to appeal to Spanish workers who are frustrated with the reluctance and unwillingness of Spain’s mainstream ruling class to address mass unemployment and imposed austerity.
Riding the wave of “right populism” sanctified by Trump’s victory, Vox has built an image of an “independent” political party that can “drain the swamp” of corruption through a re-focusing on Spain’s internal problems; mainly targeting the so-called influx of “illegals” and cultural liberalism that have clogged the system.
In December of 2018, they won 12 regional seats in the southern region of Andalucía, a traditional stronghold of the “socialists” since the end of Franco’s rule in 1975. Vox also won seats in both regional and local elections that took place in April and May of this year and is creating coalitions with other “conservative” parties to take control of parts of the county.
Neo-fascist parties, such as the Belgian People’s Party, Italy’s League, Alternative for Germany, The Freedom Party of Austria and others have implemented similar platforms while initiating the European Alliance of Peoples and Nations, thus creating a pact to suck the working-class into the void of ultra-nationalism and immigrant scapegoating. Vox is part of this broadening of fascism’s detrimental reach.
While Spain’s center-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) maintains a majority, Vox’s victories have shaken up Spain’s political majority and surprised many on the left who thought Spain and other European countries with a history of fascist rule were immune to the hard turn to the Right. Indeed, much of the “surprise” stems from a reified view of history that disregards how capital often utilizes the tools of fascism to discipline workers through “law and order” in order to revamp and streamline the profit-making machine.
On the one hand, many see Vox’s anti-immigrant, anti-feminist and “euroskeptic” ideology as a rejoinder to “liberal” values that have “diluted” Spain’s traditional patriarchal and Christian society. As Brais Fernández argues in Jacobin, Vox is part of a “reactionary politics” that believes multiculturalism has “colonized the minds of citizens, thus threatening the values underpinning Spain’s cohesion.”
And while it is the case that Vox has taken a strong position against what they understand as the corruption of society via “cultural Marxism” — a catchphrase of the political Right that designates values which run counter to “traditional” Spanish ideals — the ideological reasoning behind why fascism has come back with a vengeance both in Spain and globally must be seen in relation to the expanding predicaments of capitalist globalization, and not some imagined cultural degeneration.
Vox utilizes an overtly anti-communist, anti-LGBT, sexist and racist ideological agenda as a constituent part of its strategy to persuade disenfranchised workers that the problem is the loss of cultural values. And this is my first point about how we should understand the rise of Vox and other neo-fascist movements across the globe. That is, fascism, according to the late Samir Amin, is a “political response” of the capitalist class to the circumstances and obstacles of capitalism in crisis, not just a reactionary push to counteract the so-called hegemony of the cultural left.
Contemporary fascism, like its predecessor, means to prevent workers form seeing the real problem: capitalism! Accordingly, as John Bellamy Foster demonstrates in his book Trump in the Whitehouse: Tragedy and Farce, the neo-fascist Gleichchaltung, or “assimilation”, spreading across the globe intends to reestablish control over political, military and ideological apparatuses to eliminate social heterogeneity and dissent, a synchronization of composite forces so that they realign with the “new” autocratic agenda.
Foster argues that “neo-fascism” shifts towards managing the “advanced capitalist system” and requires “the effective dissolution of the liberal-democratic order and its replacement by the rule of representatives of what is now called the ‘alt-right’”. The ultimate objective of the fascist agenda is to squash working-class solidarity within and across borders to maintain what Arundhati Roy calls the “gush-up” economy that benefits the capitalist elites.
Capitalist bosses thus utilize the fascist toolbox to manage the working-class domestically, to maintain the system of super-exploitation of southern migrant-labor, and to ensure the continued dominance over the upward-flow of wealth. It is no surprise, then, that patterns of anti-immigrant racism, border propaganda and hyper-nationalism have increased in recent years, alongside growing violence against immigrants by white-supremacist terrorists.
Vox and the Proliferation of Global Fascism
What is also clear is that the rise of Vox and other neo-fascist parties is part of the long counter-revolution against movements that seek to challenge the status-quo of capital’s maintenance of wealth disparity. In a country that has seen the highest unemployment of any European nation, the battleground in Spain is the consciousness of the alienated worker who understands that capital has failed, rendering mainstream political parties dysfunctional as well.
It is no surprise that Spain’s Podemos, the leftist coalition which emerged in the wake of the anti-austerity “Indignados” movement in 2011, also appealed to Spanish workers suffering from the onslaught of neoliberal policies that robbed them of their humanity. While in-fighting among leadership has weakened its base, Podemos continues to be the only “leftist” substitute in mainstream Spanish politics.
Similarly, there is another layer of the systemic counter-revolution that is worth mentioning in the context of the rise of neo-fascism in Spain, one that relates to the use of culture as an instrument of mass ignorance. As the recent film The Silence of Others demonstrates, there has been a deliberate and consistent policy of “forgetting” of the crimes committed against communists, anti-Francoist activists and other political dissidents, from the end of the Spanish Civil War to the termination of Franco’s rule in 1975.
The film chronicles how Spain’s transition to “democracy” after Franco’s death was paralleled by a policy of intentional forgetting of the crimes committed by the former regime, leaving those who endured such violence with no recourse for justice. As the film reveals, under what is termed el Pacto de olvido, the history of extermination of leftists, torture, extra-judicial arrests and imprisonment was systematically purged from memory. This is not to mention the anti-communist revisionism of the Civil War that became official record for several decades, perpetuating the pain of those who were subjected to the heavy hand of the fascist state.
The “pact” signifies what Henry Giroux labels the “weaponization of ignorance” as it displaces the need to address the past as an active element in the formation of the political present, thus nourishing far-right resurgence. And while the implementation of policies to shape historical “amnesia” is particularly relevant to Spain, it is consistent with the long counter-revolution that has culminated in what Giroux rightly labels the “trivialization” of the legacies of systemic violence, genocide, racism and sexism that in the end have become political ornamentations of neo-fascist platforming.
Anti-racism and the Struggle against Neo-Fascism
Despite the efforts of Podemos-affiliated politicians like Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid, who has taken steps to address the visual legacy Franco’s dictatorship by changing 52 street names associated with the former regime, the mainstream left in Spain offers little in terms of a revolutionary option for addressing the systemic failures of capitalism.
So, what is the alternative to the reformist vision of something like Podemos? Is the idea of a revolutionary party an outdated, archaic concept? What would the praxis of counter-memory entail, one that sought to undo the ideological legacy of historical amnesia that has plagued Spain and continues to be fortified under the banner of counter-revolution?
Keeping with the valued tradition of Marxist internationalism, building an anti-xenophobic movement that recognizes the humanity of the undocumented “migrant” should be part of the dismantling of institutional racism and economic deprivation, which propels capitalist globalization and thus affects all workers worldwide.
Here the words of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in her book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation are particularly relevant:
in this context, solidarity is not an option; it is crucial to workers’ ability to resist the constant degradation of their living standards…. Solidarity is standing in unity with people even when you have not particularly experienced their oppression. The reality is that if capitalism exists, material and ideological pressures push white workers to be racist and all workers to hold each other in general suspicion. Success or failure is contingent on whether or not working people see themselves as brothers and sisters whose liberation is inextricably bound together.
According to this definition, solidarity entails the identification of systemic racism as central to the process of economic dispossession, wealth extraction and unequal class divisions. Anti-racist solidarity thus needs to move beyond identitarian sites of struggle and towards building a class consciousness that consolidates the experiences of workers across the globe who are subjected to the neo-fascist manipulators who in the end see workers’ bodies as expendable.
If we understand that xenophobic racism is both historical and intentional, based upon a nexus of economic, political and ideological necessity for the domination of the working-class — and not inherent or incidental to humanity — then multiracial solidarity across borders can emerge as a forceful outcome in the process of learning from people experiencing oppression as a building block for unifying against the exploiters.
Ultimately, it is a united working class that frightens the capitalist rulers the most, which is the very reason why xenophobic racism is so fundamental to the maintenance of capital both locally and globally. What is also clear is that the radical imagination needs to be decolonized, considering the very possibility of global war in the wake of a renewed but consistent inter-imperialist rivalry fortified by the fascist turn.
Here the work of the scholar-activist Henry Giroux is crucial to understanding the trajectory of neoliberal barbarism in our own time. As Giroux writes,
Under these accelerated circumstances, neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible movement that connects the worst excesses of capitalism with authoritarian “strongman” ideals—a hatred of reason and truth; a celebration of ultra-nationalism and racial purity; the suppression of freedom and dissent; a culture that promotes lies, spectacles, scapegoating the other, a deteriorating discourse, brutal violence, and, ultimately, the eruption of state violence in heterogeneous forms.
To this extent, resistance itself can take on a “new” form that not only moves beyond counter-hegemonic and cultural re-strategizing, but also as such reveals the potentiality of a universal paradigm directed at exposing, combating and overcoming the effects of neo-fascism — and for building revolutionary solidarity beyond the fictionality of racialized borders and ultra-nationalist cultural paradigms.
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