From a historical perspective, fascism was a quite useful tool for the survival of capitalism. Despite the widespread mainstream interpretation of the rise of fascism in twentieth-century Europe as a sort of “mass paranoia”, fascism was in fact sponsored by the European bourgeoisie as a weapon to crush down the labour movement. It served to eradicate any possibility of workers’ insurgence by annihilating the labour movement, both politically (eliminating working-class parties) and economically (wiping out any form of independent working-class organizations such as trade unions). It served to contain the costs of labour through violent repression of any attempt by the workers to improve their working conditions.
Present-day capitalism may have found fascism useful again. I mean useful not as much as an alternative for power, as in the twentieth century, but instead as a bogeyman that scares people off into the arms of the “moderate” right wing. The recent economic crisis and the social unrest it sparked all throughout Europe left many traditional bourgeois parties in ruins. Just look at France. The traditional ruling parties, on the right as well as on the left, were practically relegated to insignificance in the recent presidential elections. A considerable part of the voters looked for an alternative in Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who nearly reached the second round with almost 20% of the vote. The French ruling class panicked in the face of Mélenchon’s success, and at first devoted more efforts combatting Mélenchon than Marine Le Pen.
The European ruling classes are aware that their political hegemony is in crisis, manifested by the popular resistance to neoliberalism and the waning support for the traditional ruling parties. European capitalism is now forced to resort to the old tactic of convincing the people that there is no alternative: it is either neoliberalism or barbarism. It’s the already customary stratagem of calling for support of the “lesser evil”. As such, the ruling class needs a bogeyman to scare the populace into their arms again. That’s where the far right enters. To be clear, I’m not underestimating the danger of the far right, but a cold-blooded analysis of the phenomenon is necessary if we ever want to defeat neo-fascism permanently.
The “lesser evil” stratagem was also implemented in the United States last year, although things didn’t go exactly as planned. After sabotaging Bernie Sanders’ candidacy by all possible means, corporate America trusted Trump to be the bogeyman that would scare the working class and poor people off into the arms of the pathetically unpopular Hillary Clinton. Things didn’t work out as expected, but Trump hadn’t even made himself comfortable in the White House when he was already under corporate America’s leash.
In France, the ruling class succeeded in getting Mélenchon out of the way in the first round. Mélenchon’s presence in the second round could mean his election as president, which for the French bourgeoisie would be the equivalent of Red Army troops marching over Paris. But the traditional parties were also defeated. Thus, the only way of assuring a neoliberal victory was to convince those unsatisfied with incumbent president Hollande’s policies that there was no alternative; that it was either Emmanuel Macron and neoliberalism or Le Pen and fascism. If Le Pen indeed succeeded, then all efforts would have to be made to domesticate her, stripping her programme of those elements that directly menace the current order of things. Everything is preferable to having a socialist or a communist as head of state.
Many fell for the “lesser evil” discourse and voted for Macron, claiming that it was a question of defeating fascism; that it’s merely tactical support, and so on. The rationale behind this argument is understandable, but one must consider the costs. Whether we like it or not, votes provide politicians with legitimacy. Macron himself made that abundantly clear when he stated that he will interpret all votes in his favour as votes of support for his programme and not as tactical votes against Le Pen. So, when he attempts to reduce the corporate tax from 33% to 25%, to extend the workday duration, to cut 60 billion euros in public spending including 15 billion euros in public health spending, to reinforce the repressive apparatus of the state by increasing prison capacity by 15000, hiring 10000 police, and raising the defence budget to 2% of the GDP; when he attempts to do all this, he will have some political legitimacy provided by those votes that were merely intended to rout Le Pen. He may be able to downplay popular resistance by saying that his programme was accepted by a clear majority of the people in free elections.
The French people face one more mandate of anti-labour, pro-capital government that may strengthen the National Front even further, in case the radical left does not assert itself as an alternative for government. Despite her fiery rhetoric, Le Pen was a fundamental pawn in keeping neoliberal, pro-EU dominance in place. But the stratagem wasn’t as successful as in the past: in 2002, the runoff vote was contended between President Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s infamous father. Chirac was able to convince the left of the necessity of voting for him against the fascist Le Pen, thus securing 82% of the vote, with a turnout rate of 80%. Macron, on the other hand, secured 65% of the vote, with the lowest turnout rate since 1969 (a third of the registered voters either spoiled vote or abstained). This means that a great deal of people, mostly left-wing voters, refused the “lesser evil” blackmail. Besides, only 16% of Macron’s voters actually declared support for his programme, while 43% voted for him exclusively to defeat Marine Le Pen. Thus, Macron’s political legitimacy is considerably limited, notwithstanding his claims to the contrary.
EU-led neoliberalism was able to secure victory, but the fact remains: bourgeois hegemony has seen better days, and this time not even the fascist bogeyman succeeded in rallying support for the neoliberal programme. Will the radical and socialist left be able to capitalize on this crisis of hegemony? The choice can’t be between neoliberal capitalism and fascist capitalism; the choice can’t be between dying from famine and being shot by a firing squad. The real choice is between civilizational regression and progress. And there will be no veritable civilizational progress while not only neoliberalism, but also capitalism as a whole are swept off the face of the earth and workers all around the world take political power and the management of the economy in their own hands.