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The rise of the far right- building a trade union response

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Research and reports
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Recommended areas for action

Building solidarity and workers’ power

1. Throughout history trade unions have been at the forefront of the struggle against the far right and its attempts to divide working people using narratives of hate and blame. Drawing on our core values of unity, equality and solidarity, we will strengthen existing links and build new networks, rooted in workplaces. International solidarity between working people has led to concrete wins.

  • It is crucial that as the economic crisis hits our members, we don’t retreat to looking inward only within national borders and that we continue to build strong global relationships and build workers’ power where unions face repression and authoritarian practices. This needs to be the foundation on which we build our work to jointly combat the far right.

2. We must identify strategies to leverage our industrial power and engage employers in tackling the influence of the far right in the workplace:

  • The TUC, Unite, the DGB and IG Metall are developing a programme for working with companies that have sites in the UK and Germany, aimed at developing a model for practical workplace-based action to counter the far right. We will ensure the learning from this pilot is shared widely.

3. Unions recognise that, while the workplace is our starting point, we must connect our struggles to the wider community and build solidarity and develop a collective narrative to counter the far right:

  • Unions need to explore a range of strategies including: supporting online community organising where ideas can be shared; developing industrial campaigns to overcome division and exploitation in workplaces; and producing and sharing content.

4. Unions recognise that the far right targets its hate at specific groups including LGBT+, ethnic and religious minorities, migrants and refugees, women and trade unionists. In order to effectively combat this, we need to be clear as a movement that, in line with our core value of equality, we stand with all workers and oppose all forms of hate without exception:

  • Trade union organisations should actively encourage members to stand in solidarity with all working people against the far right and ensure there are relevant rules on domestic and international affiliations that reject sympathising with far-right groups and any organisations that promote discriminatory narratives.

5. The TUC has recognised that the rise of the far right is an international phenomenon and consequently the urgent need to further strengthen international links and the sharing of learning across international borders, and this should include building networks with the broader anti-racist and anti-fascist movement internationally.

Building a narrative, raising awareness

6. Raising political awareness among workers and communities must be a priority for the union movement in building a compelling narrative to counter the far right. Sustained political education among representatives, activists, members and communities should continue to:

  • address the history of our movement and our fundamental values
  • connect our daily struggles to the structural problems created by neoliberalism, which have systematically undermined institutions that support workers’ rights
  • challenge far-right narratives for example on migration, through constructive and challenging debate
  • link history and theory to the practice of our concrete struggles in workplaces and communities in building a more equal and democratic society.

7. Combatting the far right is a political question that requires a political answer. Just as the far right has grown in the absence of a progressive alternative to neoliberalism, as the case studies show, it has been successfully pushed back where anti-racist and anti-fascist efforts have been closely linked to the struggle against neoliberalism and austerity. In practical terms this has involved building solidarity networks on the ground to connect the disparate social forces engaged in the struggle against racism, the far right and around various material concerns:

  • We must continue to articulate a hopeful political narrative that shows how workers’ lives can be improved in key aspects such as better jobs, pay, public services and housing. Given the pandemic and economic crisis that impact on members’ jobs and lives, it is a key moment for the union movement to outline an inspiring vision for recovery.

Building our evidence base for action

8. There is limited information about the penetration of far-right organisations and narratives in UK workplaces and trade union membership. The programme of research currently being pursued by the DGB offers a methodological template and useful lessons for undertaking a similar exercise in the UK, which can subsequently inform trade union strategies.

9. It was beyond the scope of this report to undertake a comprehensive examination of trade union responses to the far right internationally. However, this is an important piece of work that would be useful in identifying the most effective strategies currently being employed and innovative responses to the constantly evolving threat of the far right.

10. It could be useful to undertake a wider analysis of the growth of the far right internationally and highlight other important case studies, for example in Asia, Africa and other regions.

Tackling the far right online

11. The role of social media and ‘big tech’ companies in amplifying far-right narratives demands closer attention from trade unions, both to understand this phenomenon and to formulate an effective response including lobbying for stronger regulation.

12. We need to build upon work that is mapping the influence of far-right narratives and networks online. By analysing key influencers, recurring narratives, geographic and demographic data, we can identify strategies designed to pull people away from the influence of the right. 

13. The UK lacks the type of progressive media that can match the capacity of the far right. Trade unions should consider their strategy to challenge far-right narratives and corporate power and promote a vision of a different world. 

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Executive summary
The far right is often treated as a fringe issue, dismissed as isolated groups lurking at the margins of politics and society. However, not only has the far right grown in strength but its ideas and influence have been mainstreamed and are now reflected in mainstream political discourse.

Executive summary and recommended areas for action (pdf version)

Narratives of division, exclusion and blame have been normalised and appear all too frequently across society, in political debate, in the media and in our workplaces.

Throughout our history, trade unions have been at the forefront of the struggle against the far right and its attempts to divide working people. However, in order to effectively combat the far-right threat we find ourselves facing today, we need to understand it has mainstreamed its messages, worked across international boundaries and used online spaces to organise, recruit and promote its ideologies. A trade union analysis must also take into account the structural factors that have led to the growth of the far right.

We do not just have our rich history of fighting the far right to draw upon. There are examples of the union movement across the world leading progressive coalitions and effectively combatting the current threat that we face. We need to learn from and build on this work and vitally, just as the far right has gained strength from cooperating across national borders, our response must also be firmly rooted in internationalism and solidarity.

Growth and mainstreaming 

  • The ‘far right’ umbrella today encompasses a variety of parties, movements, networks and communities (online and offline), which have followed different historical trajectories and can differ in policy and agenda. 
  • Although the biological racism of old is still very much with us, especially in the form of white supremacist organisations and networks, increasingly the far right has adopted what is known as ‘nativism’ or ‘ethnic nationalism’. This ideology holds that non-native (or ‘alien’) forces – people, institutions or ideas – pose a fundamental threat to the native population or native culture.
  • The reasons for the far right’s re-emergence are varied. However, one important factor has been the process of ‘mainstreaming’ that has legitimised and normalised far-right parties and ideas. This is not only a result of the far right rebranding itself for electoral purposes but also traditional centrist parties embracing radical right-wing rhetoric and policies for reasons of political expediency. It is through this process that far-right parties have become acceptable government coalition partners or been able to influence government policy on questions such as immigration.

Structural factors driving the re-emergence of the far right 

  • Structural factors are of particular relevance to a trade union understanding of the far right’s re-emergence. Growing economic insecurity, increasing inequality and alienation from ‘politics as usual’ have fuelled widespread disaffection and anti-establishment sentiments. Attacks on trade unions and the absence of a perceived alternative to austerity or effective action to tackle inequality have helped the far right present its solutions as a more plausible-sounding alternative. 

Role of media and online platforms

Sections of the media at different times and to different extents have played an important role in the mainstreaming process by platforming key right-wing personalities, trivialising the threat of the far right, setting the agenda for example through elevating in the public imagination the perceived threat posed by immigration and adopting more reactionary positions on a range of social issues.

  • In parallel to this, there has been a rapid proliferation of online ‘content creators’, networks, groups and subcultures, which operate primarily through alternative websites and social media. These are proving to be increasingly sophisticated, disciplined and effective processes of radicalisation, cultivating a new generation of militants who are carrying far-right ideologies and narratives into the real world.


  • The past few decades have seen the growing internationalisation of the far right, in terms of mobilisation, shared narratives, targets, strategies, organisational networks and financing. Global networking supported by online organising has accelerated the far right’s expansion across borders and generated opportunities and mechanisms for amplifying and growing far-right ideology.
  • Far-right parties have gained ground in parallel with the mobilisation of right-wing extremists on the streets. These parties, among them fascists, are the second- or third-strongest electoral forces in many European countries. Some are in government as minority coalition partners, and others are close to breaking through the attempts of some mainstream political parties to keep the far right out of government.
  • More significantly, the far right has also taken power at a national level in several countries. In the case studies explored in this report (Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Brazil and Colombia), we see a pattern of convergence between neoliberalism, far-right rhetoric and increasing authoritarianism. These examples can be understood as variants of a wider phenomenon that can be observed in different parts of the globe, western Europe included. 
  • The far right may continue to grow and radicalise, especially given the opportunities presented by multiple economic and political crises. But its rise is not a foregone conclusion: trade unions in a number of countries have been instrumental in organising to push back the far right and work with progressive social forces around a transformative political vision; in the UK and around the world, workers are mobilising to counter the far right and build unity. In order to strengthen our efforts we have highlighted recommended areas for action that will build solidarity and workers’ power, develop a clear counter narrative and raise awareness, build our evidence base and tackle the far right online.
The resurgence of far-right parties, movements and narratives is one of the stand-out features of the contemporary political landscape.

Though it has roots in the 1980s, this new wave of right-wing radicalism has been galvanised by the powerful trends shaping the twenty-first century: economic turmoil and financial instability; widening global inequality; the crisis of liberal democracy; imperialism, conflict and international terrorism; mass migration; climate breakdown; rapid technological advancements; and the onset of a global pandemic. As these have deepened and spread, modern forms of right-wing radicalism have found fertile ground on which to operate, not just in Europe and the United States but in Turkey, Brazil, India, the Philippines, Israel and other parts of the globe.

1.1 Defining the ‘far right’

How the far right is to be characterised is a matter of intense debate. This reflects the diversity of organisational forms, ideologies and historical trajectories that can be found within the contemporary right. Rather than thinking about discrete and separate groups, it is perhaps more helpful to think about a continuum. The modern-day far right includes everything from aspects of traditional conservative parties, parties that appear to have journeyed away from their fascist origins for electoral purposes (eg the French Front National, now Rassemblement National), newer parties of the far right (eg Alternative for Germany (AfD), groups modelled on the ideologies and violent methods of 1930s fascism (eg Golden Dawn), and post-9/11 street-oriented movements (eg the English Defence League, Pegida). There is also a wide range of think tanks, civil society organisations, intellectual circles, online forums and networks that work to promote or influence the agendas of various right-wing actors. In addition there is a range of openly fascist and Nazi groupings, often advocating violence.

The far-right umbrella encompasses a range of parties and groups that differ in agenda and policy, as well as the extent to which they support or employ the use of violence. Even the general thrust of Euroscepticism that can be found among the European far right masks varying levels of support for multilateral cooperation and the institutional status quo within the EU.[1] But, for all its limitations, the term ‘far right’ is preferred here because it is the least problematic way of identifying individuals, organisations, political parties, movements and governments that have overarching similarities, as well as distinguishing between different variants.[2]

If there is one thing that defines the contemporary far right, it is the shared emphasis on racial or ethnic and cultural superiority, rooted in the myth of natural inequalities and nostalgia for an imagined past. Although the racism of old is still very much with us, especially among white supremacists, increasingly the far right has come to espouse what is known as ‘nativism’ or ‘ethnic nationalism’. This holds that non-native (or ‘alien’) forces – people, institutions or ideas – pose a fundamental threat to the native population or native culture and to the harmony of the nation-state.[3] The goal of most far-right parties is an ethnocracy – ie a state governed by, and in the exclusive interests of, the majority ethnic group. In practice this results in programmes and narratives designed to strengthen the nation-state by making it more ethnically and culturally homogenous, whether through the assimilation or exclusion of the non-native groups. While the far right has a broad range of positions on socioeconomic issues, these are generally articulated through the same lens of ethnic nationalism.

This shift towards nativism or ethnic nationalism has occurred for two main reasons. The first is that the legacy of the Holocaust and intergenerational battles for civil rights and racial equality have made it toxic for some on the far right to (publicly) express their politics in racial terms. The second is that immigration patterns have at the same time presented right-wing radicals with opportunities to use the tactic of dressing their reactionary politics in primarily ethnic or cultural rhetoric. However, the more the memory of the atrocities of the Second World War fades, the more taboos that are shattered (eg Holocaust denial) and the more confidence the far right gains, the more explicitly and aggressively racist its politics could become.

1.2 The radical right, extreme right and fascism

Within the far right, it is possible to distinguish between the ‘radical right’ and the ‘extreme right’. The main difference between the two concerns their attitude to liberal democracy: the former is prepared to operate within democratic institutions, while opposing aspects of liberal democracy such as the promotion of equality; the latter is explicit about its commitment to the destruction of democracy.[4] Extreme-right parties and groups are generally more recognisable by their open support for the use of violence and emphasis on explicitly racist rhetoric.

The distinction is not so clear when it comes to far-right social movements, where there is a history and continuing trend of interaction between the radical right and extreme right, including fascists. This takes the form of ‘multiple membership and affiliations, joint mobilizations, transnational networks, social media, voicing support for particular election candidates, personal friendships, and so on’.[5] It should also be noted that the radical right has a more ambiguous relationship with democracy than the distinction implies, as can be seen from the visibly authoritarian and anti-democratic path taken by radical-right parties in government. This calls to mind ‘a fundamental lesson from the history of fascism: that democracy can be destroyed from within’.[6]

What, then, do we mean by fascism? Answering this question is not just a matter of semantics, but is about understanding what is at stake in order to develop tactics and strategies for tackling the threat effectively. Fascism is best understood as an ideology and mass movement whose task is counter-revolution: a total reconstruction of the state that purges the nation of its enemies. In other words, fascist ideas might exist in society, within the political spectrum, but will remain marginal as long as they have not acquired mass support. It is once these ideas have gained popular support and are put into practice – not just by a coercive state, but with the quiet acceptance or active complicitly of large sections of the population – that we can begin to speak of fascism.[7]

To summarise, it is most useful to conceive the radical and extreme right as partially overlapping categories on a sliding scale, with traditional conservatism (the so-called ‘mainstream’ right) at one end and fascism at the other.[8] These categories broadly capture the distinctive features of different forms of right-wing radicalism, while recognising their overlap and interplay. They also allow us to trace movement along the scale and understand how the fascist component of the far right can grow out of another less extreme form.

1.3 The ideology and politics of the far right

In western Europe, the ethnic nationalism of the far right has made a prime target of immigrants, especially those from predominantly Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East. Islamophobia was already on the rise by the close of the twentieth century, but gained new momentum in the wake of 9/11 and the bomb attacks in London and Madrid. Parties of the far right “seized on the opportunities generated by an environment of heightened insecurity”, singling out Islam as a global existential threat.[9] In Britain, Islamophobia has grown alongside increasing antagonism towards eastern European migrants following EU enlargement, especially in the context of the 2008 financial crisis. These forms of racism and xenophobia are stacked upon pre-existing prejudices against other black and minority ethnic (BME) groups including Travellers, Roma and anyone deemed to be the ‘other’.

In more recent years, the movement of asylum seekers and refugees – characterised by the right as a ‘refugee crisis’ – has combined with a prolonged economic crisis to exacerbate these tensions, exposing Muslims to more blatant forms of discrimination and attack. In the United States, we have seen the incorporation of Islamophobia into a xenophobic politics “long defined by anti-Mexican racism”.[10] For Islamophobic nationalists, the collective ethnic threat to western civilisation is now represented by the Muslim population at large, including those who may not have a strong connection to religious practices.

Islamophobia’s roots in the history of colonialism help to explain its strength in Europe. This is particularly true in countries such as France, where the legacy of the Algerian War looms large and people with African or Arab names have long been second-class citizens.[11] Today, the idea of a civilisational clash with Islam has helped build the myths of European identity and European values. Even as Euroscepticism has spread, there has been an increased focus on European borders and traditions, with far-right parties emphasising the need to defend ‘native’ Europeans from the threats of globalisation, immigration and ‘Islamisation’.[12] A number of parties, from the Rassemblement National (RN, France) to the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), to the Law and Justice Party (PiS, Poland) and Party for Freedom (PVV, Netherlands), have managed to couple the key demand for national sovereignty with another message: that European culture and values are under threat of extinction. These sentiments have found practical expression in the draconian border, migration and security policies of individual EU member states well as more widely in ‘Fortress Europe’, which continues in the face of an accelerating humanitarian disaster that has cost tens of thousands of lives.[13]

Whereas Islamophobia has become one of the defining features of the far right in western Europe, antisemitism has played a less open role than in the past. In some cases, parties of the non-fascist far right (or ‘radical right’) have even performed dramatic U-turns on past antisemitic positions to advocate strongly for the state of Israel. This shift has been described as “part of a much wider strategy employed by the new radical right to shake off the suspicion of ideological continuity with interwar fascism or postwar neo-fascism”. This strategy of publicly distancing themselves from their fascist predecessors has allowed radical right parties to use more extreme Islamophobic rhetoric for electoral gain.[14]

However, persistent and growing antisemitism sits alongside growing Islamophobia as a pronounced feature of the far right in central and eastern Europe (CEE). While a minority of the population admits to having an unfavourable view of Jews in general,[15] consecutive studies have shown that the strongest agreement with prejudicial statements has often been found in Hungary and Poland. One CNN poll found that about four in ten people in both countries believe that Jews have too much influence in business and finance, while a quarter said that they have too much influence in the media.[16] Another study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) suggests that antisemitic attitudes may be even more pervasive and on the rise across CEE countries, while remaining dangerously high in parts of southern Europe.[17] In Hungary and Poland, the governing regimes of both Fidesz and the PiS have been guilty of promoting antisemitic discourses and distorting the memory of the Holocaust and Soviet communism for radical nationalist ends.[18] Combined with the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories, this has contributed to the “rampant”ise of antisemitism.[19]

Discrimination and violence against the LGBT+ and Roma communities is another prominent feature of far-right activity in southern and eastern Europe. While attitudes towards the Roma are believed to have improved marginally in recent years, especially in northern Europe, anti-Roma sentiments are particularly high in CEE countries, and Italy and France to a lesser extent.[20] In each of these countries, the Roma suffer from disproportionately high levels of poverty, are discriminated against in employment and education, have limited access to services, live in conditions of forced segregation, and have long been subjected to intimidation and violence. This is particularly true for Hungary’s 700,000-strong Roma community, whose experience over the past decade has been one of increasing social and economic exclusion, despite the adoption of EU anti-discrimination laws. State officials and members of various parties – including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – routinely incite hatred against the Roma, scapegoating them as criminals and welfare abusers.

In Latin America, the right-wing resurgence has parallels with dynamics playing out in other parts of the world. At the same time, many of its characteristics are specific to the region’s postcolonial conditions. Above all, the rise of the far right in Latin America can be viewed as an aggressive backlash against the ‘Pink Tide’ effort to decolonise the continent and dismantle economic, racial and gender inequalities.[21] Hence the right-wing agendas that are being pursued in a number of Latin American countries tend to combine neoliberal economic policies with the “exaltation of Christianity, patriarchy, ‘Hispanic’ whiteness and authoritarianism”.[22] This is most apparent in Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro has openly espoused his support for military dictatorship, denial of racial inequalities and rejection of the rights of a range of groups including women, LGBT+, indigenous and Afro-Brazilian people.[23] A similar style of conservative response has been visible across Latin America, to a greater or lesser extent in different countries.

In general terms, the far right today is extremely male dominated and anti-feminist. It is true that women such as Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National) and Alice Weidel (AfD) occupy prominent positions in parties that have broadened their appeal to women. There is also evidence of the gender gap in support for far-right parties closing, as female support for these parties grows, in countries such as Denmark and France.[24] In addition, there are a number of female ‘alt-right’ personalities who promote a particular form of anti-feminism linked to white and male supremacy. Overall, however, men continue to dominate the far right at both leadership and grassroots level. Most far-right parties and groups hold ‘traditional’ sexist views on the role of women in society and on gender issues more broadly. The far right engages in both ‘benevolent’ and ‘hostile’ sexism. ‘Benevolent’ sexism sees women as physically weak but morally pure and believes that mothers and what is described as ‘the traditional family unit’ of a married heterosexual couple with children are fundamental to the nation. ‘Hostile’ sexism views women as morally corrupt but politically powerful, and resents what they view as the threat posed by women’s rights and agency. This type of sexism is mainly encountered online, where young men (some of whom describe themselves as ‘incels’ or ‘involuntarily celibate’) discuss their hatred of women and enact fantasies about inflicting violence on women.

Most far-right groups display a combination of benevolent and hostile sexism. The majority also view feminism negatively. Feminism, like LGBT+ rights, is portrayed as an existential threat to the nation because it undermines the integrity of the ‘traditional family unit’ and the demographic majority of the ‘native’ in-group. It is also considered to be an agenda ‘alien’ to the national culture, imported by foreigners. Far-right groups in western Europe have at times opportunistically feigned concern for women’s and LGBT+ rights in order to win support from those groups and provide cover for their Islamophobia. But outside of this context, anti-feminist and anti-LGBT+ sentiments continue to be widespread across the far right.[25]

1.4 Populism

It is common for journalists and public intellectuals not to talk about the far right, but instead about ‘populism’. This might seem a useful term to use currently, given the obvious differences between contemporary far-right political parties and those of past eras. However, the term has been used so widely and indiscriminately that its usefulness as a description is open to question.

It is important to understand that “populism is above all a style of politics rather than an ideology”:

It is a rhetorical procedure that consists of exalting the people’s ‘natural’ virtues and opposing them to the élite – and society itself to the political establishment – in order to mobilise the masses against ‘the system’.[26]

In recent years the charge of populism has been levied at political leaders such as Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France; Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK; Matteo Salvini and Beppe Grillo in Italy; Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Pablo Iglesias in Spain; Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US; and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Brazil and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Given the huge differences among these figures and the movements they represent, the word ‘populism’ has become “an empty shell, which can be filled by the most disparate political contents”. Used in this way, “[t]he concept of populism erases the distinction between left and right, thus blurring a useful compass to understand politics”.[27]

However, there is little doubt that radical right parties and movements have made effective use of populist strategies to further their agenda. This relative success lies in their ability to combine anti-establishment rhetoric with a culturally homogenous conception of ‘the people’ that excludes marginal groups, especially immigrants but also indigenous populations, the LGBT+ community, women and so on.

The far right’s populist message takes aim at an elite of establishment parties, media, intellectuals, corporate figures and supranational bodies (eg the EU), which are accused of failing to represent the true interests of the people. As well as controlling much of society’s resources, this elite is viewed as having delivered globalisation and multiculturalism to the material and cultural detriment of the nation. Coupled with this is the notion that marginal groups outside of a victimised, ‘hardworking’ majority are favoured by the corrupt elite, be that in terms of welfare provision or the granting of social rights. Conspiracy theories, appeals to purer forms of democracy (eg referenda) and attacks on ‘political correctness’ have all found a place in these strategies in different places. But whatever the combination of tools, the core objective is the restoration of a majority ethnic nation-state.

[1] Vasilopoulou S (2017). “European integration and the radical right: three patterns of opposition”, in Cas Mudde (ed), The Populist Radical Right: a reader. Oxford & New York, pp 127–30.

[2] Halikiopoulou D (2018).“‘Far right’ groups may be diverse – but here’s what they all have in common”. The Conversation, 27 September 2018. Available at:

[3] Mudde C (2019). The Far Right Today. Cambridge, p 33.

[4] Ibid, p 19.

[5] Copsey N (2018). “The radical right and fascism”, in Jens Rydgren (ed), The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right. Oxford, p 180.

[6] Traverso E (2019). The New Faces of Fascism: populism and the far right. London, p 5.

[7] Renton D (2020), “The lessons we need to learn from Europe’s struggle against fascism”, Jacobin, 29 September 2020. Available at:; Renton D (2018). The New Authoritarians: convergence on the right. London, pp 13–14. See also Arthur Rosenberg’s classic essay “Fascism as a mass movement” (1934), Historical Materialism, vol 20, no 1 (2012), p 154.

[8] Renton D (2018), op cit, pp 64–5.

[9] Kallis A (2018). “The radical right and Islamophobia”, in Jens Rydgren (ed), The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right, p 77.

[10]  Denvir D (2020). All-American Nativism: how the bipartisan war on immigrants explains politics as we know it. London, p 166.

[11] Traverso, op cit, pp 75–6.

[12] Zúquete JP (2017). “The European extreme-right and Islam: new directions?”, in Cas Mudde (ed), The Populist Radical Right: a reader. Oxford & New York, p 110.

[13] Akkerman M (2018). Expanding the Fortress: the policies, the profiteers and the people shaped by the EU’s border programme. Amsterdam.

[14] Kallis, op cit, p 77.

[15] Pew Research Center (2019). European Public Opinion Three Decades After the Fall of Communism. Washington, p 85.

[16] Greene RA (2018). “CNN poll reveals depth of anti-Semitism in Europe”. CNN, November 2018. Available at:

[17] ADL Global 100: an index of anti-Semitism,

[18] Fekete L (2019). Europe’s Fault Lines: racism and the rise of the right. London & New York, pp 100–1.

[19] Echikson W (2019). “Viktor Orbán’s anti-Semitism problem”. Politico, 15 May 2019. Available at:; Inotai E and Ciobanu C (2020), “Antisemitism creeps back as Hungary and Poland fail to draw red lines”. Balkan Insight, 11 September 2020. Available at:

[20] Pew Research Center, op cit, p 86.

[21] The Pink Tide refers to the radical wave that brought left-wing parties and social movements to power in several Latin American countries in the 1990s and early 2000s.

[22] Weld K (2020). “Holy War: Latin America’s far right”. Dissent, spring 2020). Available at:

[23] Gomes D (2019). “Brazilian politics and the rise of the far-right”. Black Perspectives, 7 January 2019. Available at:

[24] Scrinzi F (2017). “A ‘new’ National Front? Gender, religion, secularism and the French populist radical right”, in Michaela Köttig, Renate Bitzan and Andrea Petö (eds), Gender and Far Right Politics in Europe. Basingstoke, pp 127–40.

[25] Mudde, op cit, chapter 9.

[26] Traverso, op cit, pp 15–16.

[27] Traverso, op cit, p 17.

Explaining support for the far right
Accounting for the growth in right-wing radicalism over the past three decades, across different regions and continents, is no easy task.

The reasons for the far right’s re-emergence in Europe and elsewhere are varied, multifaceted and do not readily generalise. It is also the case that there are contradictory dynamics at work. While electoral support for far-right parties has trebled from about 5 per cent in the 1990s to more than 15 per cent today, this has often fluctuated in place and time. In recent years we have seen right-wing radicalisation coincide with major setbacks for the far right, the events of 2020 demonstrating how quickly things can move in either or both directions. Political parties have come and gone, while far-right social movements are an even more diverse and volatile phenomenon.

We need to be careful about overstating the causal relationships that have facilitated far-right politics, which can only really be understood in relation to their specific historical, social and material circumstances. In particular, it is important to avoid catch-all explanations such as that of a cultural backlash against globalisation, cosmopolitanism and immigration, which is popular among much of the commentariat. However, there are a few observations worth making that might support a trade union understanding of, and response to, the far right’s re-emergence.

2.1 Mainstreaming and convergence

One thing that has happened in recent decades is that far-right parties have found ways of mobilising electoral support even as voter turnout has declined across Europe. This is partly down to the use of new political styles and methods of communication, the emergence of new anti-establishment formations and the relative success of established far-right parties in moderating their images.[1] The prime example of this is the strategy of dédiabolisation (or detoxification) adopted by the French Front National (FN) under Marine Le Pen. Since becoming leader in 2011, Le Pen has worked to broaden the FN’s electoral base by distancing the party from its fascist origins, rebranding as Rassemblement National and overseeing the expulsion of her father Jean-Marie, the party’s long-time leader. This has also involved a calculated shift from antisemitic rhetoric to a more pronounced anti-immigrant, Islamophobic position, together with a pro-industry and superficially pro-worker agenda.[2] Far-right parties in Italy, Norway, Sweden and Austria have undergone similar rebranding exercises in order to strengthen their electoral appeal.

The last 30 years has seen a convergence of the political centre in its support for a market-driven economic model, including the rightward drift of social democratic parties. Sociocultural issues such as crime, immigration and terrorism – the main focal points of the far right – have been a focus of mainstream politics over the last 20 years, helping to legitimise and normalise the far right. Terms such as ‘the war on terror’, a consistent focus on ‘illegal’ asylum seekers and the introduction of citizen tests in the 2000s a precursor to ‘the hostile environment’ this decade have changed both language and policies.

Where parties of the radical right have not managed to constitute governments themselves, they have been able to influence government formation and policy in a variety of ways. From its establishment in 1995, the Danish People’s Party (DF) has contributed to a rightward shift in the immigration and asylum politics of Denmark, both through cooperation with governments (2001–11 and 2016–19) and by virtue of its influence on public discourse.[3] In other cases, the convergence between centre-right parties and the radical right has been formalised as a coalition government, as in the case of the Lega in Italy, FPÖ in Austria, Ataka in Bulgaria, the Swiss People’s Party and the PVV in the Netherlands. In an increasing number of countries, new and established parties of the radical right have come to be regarded as acceptable coalition partners, a pattern encouraged by the fragmentation of political systems and voting patterns.[4] Incorporation into parliamentary politics and government formations has meant the normalisation of radical right-wing parties, providing even greater scope for breaking taboos and setting new precedents.

Yet this is not the whole story. There are a number of parties that have simultaneously gathered electoral support and radicalised, rather than moderating their politics for electoral gain. The AfD provides just one illustrative example, since it has evolved from a marginal right-wing Eurosceptic party into one with significant electoral support and a powerful neofascist wing.[5] In the case of Le Pen’s party, we can see that it has undergone a partial, managed and largely cosmetic process of detoxification, maintaining close links with individuals and movements that have an affiliation with France’s fascist past.[6] Still others have attempted to redefine themselves as mainstream conservative parties, but at the cost of internal tensions and splits. Jobbik in Hungary, for example, has spawned a breakaway party known as Our Homeland Movement (MHM), which retains all of Jobbik’s original antisemitic, neofascist trappings and has wasted no time in establishing its own paramilitary unit.[7]

Even where parties of the far right make electoral inroads, they can find themselves locked out of government. In Belgium, Sweden, Spain and Germany, for instance, far-right parties have come up against a cordon sanitaire imposed by traditional parties at a national level: in other words, there is an official or verbal agreement not to include these parties in government formation talks. Similarly, for all of Le Pen’s efforts to reimage her party, a decisive electoral breakthrough continues to elude the RN. This raises an important question: what happens when far-right parties fail to obtain political power, even when they play by the rules of the system? The danger is that this could feed “a potent argument from those who wish to promote more ‘militant’, directly fascist strategies”.[8]

2.2 Role of the media

Any discussion of mainstreaming would not be complete without a look at the role of the media. It is commonly suggested that public opinion has shifted dramatically over the past number of decades, and that the mainstreaming of the far right simply reflects the popular demand for tougher positions on matters such as immigration. However, this overstates the degree to which people’s attitudes have hardened on these issues and understates the extent to which “anti-establishment sentiment” has been exploited.[9] It also suggests that ordinary people are solely responsible for driving the mainstreaming process, rather than this process being shaped by elites through the construction of political narratives and the ways in which they choose to manage crises.[10]

Media organisations have contributed to the mainstreaming of far-right ideas and parties in a number of ways. Most obviously, we have seen the growth of powerful corporate media outlets that sympathise with or openly promote radical right-wing agendas. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is Fox News, which has had a significant mobilising effect on Republican voters in the US.[11] But sections of the media have also inflated the significance and impact of the far right in less obvious ways. As part of the drive for ratings, mainstream media outlets have repeatedly platformed prominent far-right politicians such as Trump, Bolsonaro and Nigel Farage, even when these were known to have negligible levels of popular support. As Mudde explains:

To justify the exposure, journalists will often be overly critical, and even combative, arguing that they ‘hold them to account.’ What happens, however, is not just that readers and viewers are exposed to their ideas, but that some will sympathize with the ‘underdog’ far-right politician who is ‘unfairly attacked’ by the ‘arrogant elite.’[12]

An increasing number of studies support this view, noting how the media has contributed to the mainstreaming of the far right in three main ways. Not only have traditional media outlets amplified the far right by offering its proponents a disproportionate level of coverage, but they have helped to normalise their views through “euphemisation and trivialisation” and “agenda-setting”.[13] Euphemisation and trivialisation refers to the way the ‘populist’ label has been used so prolifically and indiscriminately that it has had a trivialising effect on public perceptions of the far right. Agenda-setting relates to the way in which the media has elevated issues such as immigration, crime and benefit fraud in the public imagination, providing the ground on which the far right has been able to mobilise.[14]

There is also substantial evidence that sections of the media have not only conditioned the public to think of certain issues as important, but also influenced what they should think about them. This framing role can be seen most clearly in how the press has reported twenty-first century acts of terrorism, with Muslim perpetrators more likely to be portrayed as having links to Islamic terrorist networks and non-Muslim, white perpetrators more likely to be depicted as ‘lone wolves’ with a mental illness.[15] This pattern of connecting terrorism to Islam has helped to create a climate of fear, simultaneously aiding the objectives of Islamic extremists and pushing people towards radical ethnonational reactions. Research has also found that media coverage of the ‘refugee crisis’ is critical to understanding how policymakers and the public have made sense of these events from 2015 onwards. Specifically, large proportions of the European press have shifted from an empathetic position to one marked by suspicion and hostility, and this has had a hand in feeding negative attitudes towards migration.[16]

Of course, the latest wave of far-right activity cannot be explained without reference to the ascendance of alternative right-wing media outlets, social media and online forums, which play their biggest part in far-right subcultures but have a disproportionate influence on wider political developments. This forms one of the topics of discussion in section 3.

2.3 Structural and systemic factors

When it comes to formulating a trade union analysis and response to the far right, it is important to understand the structural conditions, systemic processes and changes in social relations that underlie its re-emergence. Across western Europe and North America, neoliberal globalisation has meant deindustrialisation, underemployment and precarious work, wage stagnation, rampant inequality and generalised conditions of insecurity for a large and growing section of the population.

Over the past 40 years, there has been an erosion of the key sources of social and economic security – welfare safety nets, public services, other public goods (eg public housing) and notably trade unions’ ability to represent the interests of their members through means such as collective bargaining.

  • Across the OECD, the proportion of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement has declined from almost half (45 per cent) to less than a third (32.4 per cent) between 1985 and 2017.[17]
  • This has had a significant impact on inequality: research by the OECD for the G20 in 2015 found that “widening income inequality as measured by the Gini index has risen significantly in most advanced G20” countries and “The bottom 40% has fallen significantly behind in many countries, particularly since the recent [2008] crisis. For instance, in the United States, between 1979 and 2007, almost one half of the total national income gains were captured by the top 1 per cent”.[18]

This has led to the undermining of the “social solidarities that flourished on such stable foundations”.[19] The destruction of working-class communities and institutions has undermined long-held notions of belonging and collectivism. Meanwhile, experiences of poverty and inequality, social isolation, alienation and the culture of intense competition have caused significant pressures on people’s mental health, generating added resentment, mistrust and vulnerability.[20]

Economic insecurity and precariousness have also spread to once-comfortable middle-class households, which have seen their incomes stagnate, cost of living increase and employment prospects become increasingly uncertain. University graduates are more likely to be saddled with debt, overqualified for the jobs they are doing and unable to access the housing market, while their parents face greater financial risks – both as a result of borrowing to meet day-to-day costs and growing pressures on retirement income security.[21] The financial crisis of 2008 and onslaught of austerity served to exacerbate these trends, compounding the fear, anger and disaffection that had been building over decades.[22]

Neoliberalism has also been characterised by the increasing concentration of power and the ‘hollowing out’ of representative democracy.[23] Key decisions are now taken at a remove from the communities that stand to be most affected, by a class of politicians and technocrats drawn from an increasingly narrow layer of society. There has been a conscious political effort to insulate the market from democratic pressures, both within states and internationally.[24] Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and EU operate on the basis of rules and governance structures that can be resistant to democratic intervention. This loss of political as well as economic power has led to a collapse of public confidence in government, political institutions and traditional parties, giving rise to widespread ‘anti-political’ and anti-establishment sentiments.

In the absence of plausible alternatives to rising inequality, and the lack of a successful strategy to oppose to austerity, the far right has been able to advance its own critiques and solutions. Parties and governments of the far right have challenged neoliberalism only in very specific and limited ways, with few clearly departing from orthodoxy when it comes to ownership and control of the economy. But for some of the main losers of neoliberalism (the unemployed, former manual workers and communities in deindustrialised regions), and those desperate to hold onto what they have (small business owners, the lower middle-class, people in or near retirement), far-right attacks on elite parties and institutions can represent the closest thing to an anti-systemic critique.

In addition, the far right, working hand-in-hand with the centre right, has been successful in promoting the idea that greater social equality for immigrants and other marginalised groups is the cause of people’s deprived economic conditions. Programmes advocating immigration restrictions, restricting welfare benefits to ‘native’ inhabitants and cultural conservatism hold particular appeal because they have the appearance of a collective response, articulated through the lens of the nation-state. In this way, the far right has sought to lay claim to notions of community while offering plausible-sounding solutions to economic and political challenges.

All of these factors – economic insecurity, a rejection of the political establishment, the scapegoating of immigrants and other marginalised groups, an emphasis on national sovereignty and control – were present in the Brexit debate and the 2016 US presidential campaign that brought Trump to power. Trump’s pledge to make America great again “played on the chauvinism” of a core support base and enabled him to pose “as the defender of the popular classes hit hard by deindustrialisation and the economic crisis”.[25] He exploited the opportunity for regular TV appearances to present himself as the insurgent outsider, taking aim at the establishment and making outlandish, often explicitly racist and sexist claims. But another factor was disenchantment with the pace of political change under a Democratic administration, particularly among black and Hispanic Americans who chose not to vote, that played a role in Trump’s election success in 2016.[26]

[1] Rooduijn M (2020), “Immigration attitudes have barely changed – so why is far right on rise?”. Guardian, 2 March 2020. Available at:

[2] Renton (2018), op cit, pp 142–53.

[3] Bosch R and Hansen C G (2019). “The ghost of the Danish People’s Party”. Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Brussels Office, 16 December 2019. Available at:

[4] Chiaramonte A and Emanuele V (2017). “Party system volatility, regeneration and de-institutionalization in Western Europe (1945-2015)”. Party Politics, vol 23, no 3, pp 376–88.

[5] Ovenden K (2019). “The myth of a ‘post-fascist’ present: contradictory trends on the European far and Nazi right”. Kevin Ovenden’s Blog, 10 October 2019. Available at:

[6] Renton (2018), op cit, p 145; Palheta U (2020). “Fascism by another name”. Jacobin, 15 February 2020. Available at:; Wolfreys J (2020). “When ‘anti-populism’ makes the far right mainstream”. Jacobin, 26 January 2020. Available at:

[7] Haines JR (2018). “A new political movement emerges on Hungary’s far right”. Foreign Policy Research Unit, 10 July 2018. Available at:; “New Hungarian far-right party forms paramilitary unit”. TRT World, 21 May 2019. Available at:

[8] Ovenden (2019), op cit.

[9] Geary D, Schofield C and Sutton J (2020). “Toward a global history of white supremacy”. Boston Review, 16 October 2020. Available at:

[10] Winter A and Mondonl A (2018). “Understanding the mainstreaming of the far right”. openDemocracy, 26 August 2018. Available at:

[11] Fishman R and Prat A (2016), “Can Fox News get Trump elected?”. Slate, 17 June 2016. Available at:

[12] Mudde, The Far Right Today, p 92.

[13] Brown K and Mondon A (2020). “Populism, the media, and the mainstreaming of the far right: The Guardian’s coverage of populism as a case study.” Politics (online), 30 September 2020. Available at:

[14] Gavin NT (2018). “Media definitely do matter: Brexit, immigration, climate change and beyond”. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol 20, no 4, pp 827–45.

[15] Powell KA (2018). “Framing Islam/creating fear: an analysis of US media coverage of terrorism from 2011–2016”. Religions, vol 9.

[16] Georgiou M and Zaborowski R (2017). “Media coverage of the ‘refugee crisis’: a cross-European perspective”. Council of Europe Report DG1 03. Available at:; Eberl J-M, Meltzer CE, Heidenreich T, Herrero B, Theorin N, Lind F, Berganza R, Boomgaarden HG, Schemer C and Strömbäck J (2018). “The European media discourse on immigration and its effects: a literature review”. Annals of the International Communication Association, vol 42, no 3, pp 207– 33.

[17] OECD (2019). Negotiating Our Way Up: collective bargaining in a changing world of work. Available at:

[18] OECD (2015). Income Inequality and Labour Income Share in G20 Countries. Available at:…)

[19] Horsley M (2015). The Dark Side of Prosperity: late capitalism’s culture of indebtedness. Aldershot, pp 87–90.

[20] Tweedy R (2017). “A mad world: capitalism and the rise of mental illness”. Red Pepper, 9 August 2017. Available at:

[21] See, for example, OECD (2019). Under Pressure: the squeezed middle class. Available at:

[22] TUC (2018). A Future that Works for Working People. Available at:…

[23] Mair P (2013). Ruling the Void: the hollowing of western democracy. London & New York.

[24] Slobodian Q (2018). Globalists: the end of the empire and the birth of neoliberalism. Cambridge.

[25] Traverso, op cit, p 21.

[26] Urie R (2020). “Who elected Donald Trump?”. CounterPunch, 16 October 2020. Available at:

Far-right media, online networks and subcultures

We have already explored, in section 1, the role of the established media and traditional parties in mainstreaming far-right narratives, movements and parties. Here we focus on two further aspects of the process of right-wing radicalisation. The first is that of radical right-wing media. The second focuses on the online communities that make up the audiences for these brands and carry the ideologies and narratives into the real world. It is by looking closely at these right-wing propaganda operations that the labour movement can understand how, in precise practical terms, to build equivalent operations that match and then surpass the far right’s capacity to shape opinion.

3.1 Right-wing media organisations

Right-wing media organisations can be subdivided into two categories: large, established media institutions on the one hand and relatively smaller digital media organisations on the other. Until recently, right-wing media broadly supported the project of the traditional centre right, while the digital media pushed the agenda of a more radical right.

The story of right-wing media over the past decade or so has been how the radical right has seized the narrative from the centre right. This process is one in which powerful media organisations, chiefly Fox News in the US, have facilitated a radicalisation of the American right by acting as a conveyor belt for bringing ideas and political projects manufactured by radical right-wing digital media into the broader public sphere.

A study published in 2018 looked at approximately four million individual news stories and social media posts from across the US right-wing media universe. The conclusions came as a surprise to many, who would have assumed that the ‘rise’ of insurgent digital media would have meant the ‘fall’ of old media. Instead, old media has been ideologically transformed and given renewed significance by new media.[1] Established right-wing brands, in order to maintain relevance, have increasingly come under the influence of an insurgent digital media, and recognised the need to adopt (and thus massively amplify) more extreme right-wing views. Today, Fox News is more influential among right-wingers in America than ever. A new generation of Fox hosts led by Tucker Carlson promotes the most clearly fascistic stances in the network’s history. This has created a self-reinforcing relationship between bigger and smaller media suppliers, a ‘propaganda feedback loop’, the consequences of which have been plain to see in American politics.[2]

The same kind of propaganda loop has been shown to be part of the radicalisation of right-wing politics in Europe, though we lack the comprehensive quantitative data that we have in the American context. In Austria, which has given Europe one of its most frightening instances of far-right success in recent years, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) provides the best example. An investigation by Vienna’s Der Standard shows how successful the FPÖ’s digital media operation has been at influencing Austrian public opinion: crucially, it does so in quiet partnership with established media like Austria’s biggest newspaper, Kronen Zeitung, making possible a “process for taking over national media”.[3]

In 2016, FPÖ and AfD propagandists compared notes at a ‘Defenders of Europe’ conference organised by the pan-European Identitarian Movement, led by Austrian Martin Sellner.[4] The German-speaking far-right, one of the most powerful in Europe, takes propaganda very seriously. It is how it has built a movement, became powerful enough to turn leading Austrian media into accomplices and gone on to underwrite an integrated right-wing media machine that crosses European borders. The Austrian far-right digital presence is huge, and has inspired similar ecosystems in France and Germany, with the FPÖ explicitly working to spread its model to sister parties in these countries.[5]

We can see that with support from old media, far-right groups and their digital media outlets have made a qualitative leap from the margins to the centre of politics in the US, Austria, Germany and beyond.[6] In the UK, right-wing ideologues like Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, have called for a British Fox News equivalent in order to help supercharge the propaganda feedback loop here.[7] They will soon have their equivalent in Andrew Neil’s GB News, a project that powerfully demonstrates the extent to which right-wing propagandists take cues from each other internationally.[8]

3.2 Independent content creators

Parallel to the right-wing media organisations are independent right-wing content creators. YouTube has been the main platform for the growth of these personal brands, with new ‘anti-censorship’ platforms like BitChute and Parler taking on an increasingly important role. The list of such independent creators is long, but at the top in terms of influence in the English-speaking world are commentators like Stephen Molyneux, Jordan Peterson, ‘Tommy Robinson’, Stephen Crowder and Paul Joseph Watson. Under these sits a deep layer of more niche influencers, some of whom are the leaders of active far-right organisations like Anne-Marie Waters of ‘For Britain’. Independent creators largely operate on social media platforms creating interactive, self-expanding right-wing digital communities, as opposed to creating content for passive consumer audiences.

These creators and the communities that grow up around them are genuine forces for the recruitment of individuals to the far right. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm really does create ‘radicalisation pathways’, also known as ‘rabbit holes’ down which individuals can and do fall.[9] Popular right-wing YouTubers like Stephen Molyneux create videos about depression and loneliness, for example, in order to be discoverable by people looking for help. People search YouTube for videos about these problems, which leads them to Molyneux, who then introduces progressively more extreme ideas as people spend more time with his channel, and also introduces viewers to more explicitly right-wing figures.

Whereas mass right-wing media can impact public discourse and broadly shift the idea of what is politically acceptable in the mainstream, the online pathways that individuals follow create active and dangerous far-right militants, from the Identitarians and the English Defence League to the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division and more. An army of dedicated content creators and their digital footsoldiers are building a movement that largely emerges from these niche online communities.

3.3 Online networks, subcultures and groups

At the most basic level, the community side of the far right online is structured as a network within social media space. While many of these groups have been named and their actions and words analysed, the actual communities that surround and sustain them in the UK and Europe have yet to be comprehensively explored with the same level of digital mapping as elsewhere.[10] Only by having a detailed understanding of how the far right organises online can we design and implement appropriate responses, because it is in these online networks that a militant far right is growing.[11]

Once we can see the networks, we can visualise how the groups and subcultures within them attempt to exert influence, both within their own communities and in the wider world, using online networks as an organising platform. The Identitarian movement provides the most striking European example of the ways in which far-right activists online have shifted political outcomes to the right, working in tandem with more ‘public’ right-wing media and political parties. Led by Austrian Martin Sellner, the Identitarian movement has influence that far exceeds its size. While it is estimated to have only 300 members in Austria, 600 in Germany and a similar number in France, the Identitarians’ media and tech savvy make it one of the most significant far-right groups in Europe. In 2017, it was credited with helping tilt the German federal election in the AfD’s favour, allowing that group to be the first far-right party to enter the German parliament since the Nazi era:

  • …AfD’s massive vote gains reflect the extreme right’s ability to conquer online space and win the information war with sophisticated obfuscation and disruption tactics. By scheduling a time each evening and agreeing on hashtags, they forced the Twitter algorithms to prioritise their posts… In the two-week run-up to the election, not a single day passed when #AfD was not in the top two trending hashtags in Germany.[12]

The Identitarians achieved their success on the basis of close coordination between members of dedicated teams specialising infokrieg – information warfare. Infokrieg groups flourish within far-right communities using platforms like Discord and Telegram to plan and execute their campaigns. This tactic mirrors AfD Bavaria’s Facebook campaigns, which actively targeted people with messages specifically tailored to their grievances.[13] Meanwhile, American neo-Nazi propagandist Andrew Anglin maintains a ‘troll army’ led from the Daily Stormer community. The right takes information warfare seriously.[14]

They do this because evidence is growing that more people now get their news from social media than from traditional sources. Such actors know that these methods do not guarantee political success, but are a necessary step in laying the groundwork for future success. Governments and political groups across the world sponsor online information campaigns led both by bots such as those used by Breitbart to promote Donald Trump or by JJ Rendon’s hackers to boost right-wing parties in Latin America.[15] Research by the Knight Foundation has quantified the influence of human-assisted cyborgs and bots across a number of information campaigns, again mostly in the US context.[16] In Mexico, political bots are a major industry. In each case, the fact of whether accounts are run by bots or humans is less important than the coordinated way in which they spread information in specific directions, towards specific people targeted for influencing.

3.4 Methods of communication and organising

We also need to understand the methods of communication used within right-wing online communities and the channels through which ideas travel. On relatively ‘open’ platforms like Twitter, communications spread outward in all directions: hashtags artificially forced to the top of the trend list will be seen by everyone, making it essential for propagandists. Twitter is different to Facebook, where networks are more closed – we generally see only what our Facebook friends or fellow group members share.[17] This means that attempts to stimulate demand for right-wing ideas on Facebook tend to be led by major parties and political organisations with money to spend on Facebook’s ad platform.

The Boogaloo movement, America’s largest network of extreme right-wing militias, uses paid Facebook ads to recruit.[18] Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Brad Parscale earned his status as global right-wing propagandist-in-chief on the basis of his incredibly effective targeted Facebook campaign. His methodologies have been adopted everywhere by the right, including by the team that ran the Conservative Party’s 2019 election campaign.[19] These campaigns are effective because they also act as information-gathering systems: propagandists run many small campaigns at first, to gather feedback from target audiences about their preferences, and then pour money into the campaigns that work.

Elsewhere on Facebook, major right-wing media outlets like the Daily Wire have effectively gamed Facebook’s system by using a networked approach to media distribution. They have done this by secretly operating a web of apparently unrelated pages that share stories from the central brand, tricking the algorithm into assigning the brand and its posts greater priority. More broadly, far-right propagandists use Facebook groups to organise and as an information battleground. Research into the role of online communities during the pandemic has found that far-right groups in the UK have been linking discussions of immigration, Islam, Judaism, LGBT+ and, in particular, ‘the elite’ to the COVID-19 outbreak, the resulting lockdown and speculation around the existence of a cure. Thousands of the links posted in these communities directed users to websites run by fringe political groups, ‘medical’ groups or groups representing a combination of both.[20]

Meanwhile, specialised platforms like Telegram and Discord as well as more explicitly right-wing social media sites like Parler, Gab and BitChute have also taken an increasingly large role in supporting far-right communities and media. Discord still hosts numerous ‘nationalist’ channels, despite press reports suggesting it has cleaned up its act.[21] 4chan remains an influential incubator for far-right ideas and conspiracy theories such as QAnon.[22] Niche forums like the now-defunct Iron March have given rise to some of the most violent far-right terror groups in existence, such as Atomwaffen Division.[23] Even video game networks have been targeted by far-right groups for recruitment.[24]

Understanding the forms of communication such as ‘meme culture’ is also useful as it helps explain how the far right overcomes some of the barriers to political persuasion faced by all propagandists: politics is serious and can be boring to many working people whose lives are serious enough already. Memes make politics (even right-wing politics) funny, and therefore fun.[25] Without memes, the rise of the contemporary far right would be inconceivable. Meme culture is the substance out of which subcultures are built and their significance in right-wing political communication can be found everywhere. They provide a way of creating in-group identity within distinct far-right subcultures as well as a method of influencing broad political outcomes.

This is a disciplined process: digital activists are provided with sets of carefully crafted memes and told when and where to post them. Contrary to what we expect when we hear the word ‘meme’, they are tools in the hands of conscious political actors, not self-propelling units of culture that spread and multiply organically. This is something few outside the right have ever understood. In recent times, the New Zealand political consultants Topham Guerin made strategic use of a ‘boomer meme industrial complex’ in both the 2019 UK general election and the same year’s Australian federal election.[26]

Meanwhile, research has shown that members of far-right audiences on YouTube relate to content and to content creators in unique ways, with few parallels on the left. The communication methods used by YouTube’s most popular right-wing personalities have been compared to online courses, a learning experience that tells a story and brings people back to their channels over and over again.[27] Contrary to what one might expect, militants on the right are not just looking for short answers to a few simple questions: many see their ideology as comprehensive and coherent. Some of the largest right-wing channels, like that of Dr Jordan Peterson or the influential PraegerU implicitly trade on this theme, creating educational videos in series format or as one-offs.[28] An air of academic authority is meant to surround their ideas and give them legitimacy, which in turn influences mainstream discourse.

The far right today is adopting increasingly sophisticated, disciplined and effective methods of radicalisation, which are heavily concentrated online yet carry significant real-world implications, not least the incitement of violence and terrorism.[29] These methods are not yet fully understood, but what we do know about them offers lessons and warnings for the labour movement in the fight to organise workers and communities and combat radical right-wing narratives.

[1] Benkler Y, Faris R and Roberts H (2018). Network Propaganda: manipulation, disinformation, and radicalization in American politics. Oxford.

[2] Vox (2017). “Why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson”. 21 July 2017. Available at:

[3] Maan N and Schmid F (2016). “’Zur Info’: Das Facebook-Universum des Heinz-Christian Strache”. Der Standard, 4 October 2016. Available at:; Horaczek N (2019). “Propaganda in Europe: the far right media”. Falter (Published by European Press Prize). Available at:

[4] Bartlau C (2016). “Austria's FPÖ cozies up to extreme right”. DW, 28 October 2016. Available at:

[5] Ibid.

[6] Heft A, Mayerhöffer E, Reinhardt S and Knüpfer C (2019). “Beyond Breitbart: comparing right-wing digital news infrastructures in six western democracies”. Policy & Internet, vol 12, no 1, pp 20–45.

[7] Stubley P (2020). “Dominic Cummings’ think tank called for ‘end of BBC in current form’ and creation of Fox News equivalent in UK”. Independent, 22 January 2020. Available at:

[8] Wilson E (2020). “Andrew Neil's GB News will test whether there is appetite for a Fox News-style news channel in the UK”. City AM, 2 October 2020. Available at:

[9] Ribeiro MH, Ottoni R, West E, Almeida VAF and Meira W (2019). Auditing Radicalization Pathways on YouTube. Cornell University, 22 August 2019. Available at:

[10] Guhl J, Ebner J and Rau J (2020). The Online Ecosystem of the German Far-Right. London/Washington/Beirut/Toronto. Available at:

[11] Hope not Hate (2020). A Better Web: regulating to reduce far-right hate. Available at:

[12] Ebner J (2017). “How Germany’s far right took over Twitter – and tilted the election”. Guardian, 26 September 2017. Available at:

[13] Engert M (2017). “Fans von Merkel, FDP oder NachDenkSeiten – so sieht der Wahlkampf der AfD auf Facebook aus“. BuzzFeed News, 22 September 2017. Available at:

[14] O’Brien L (2017). “The making of an American Nazi”. The Atlantic, December 2017. Available at:

[15] Bloomfield S (2019). “This Is not propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev review – quietly frightening”. Guardian, 10 August 2019. Available at:; Worley W (2017). “FBI ‘investigating role of Breitbart and other right-wing websites in spreading fake news with bots’”. Independent, 21 March 2017. Available at:; Robertson J, Riley M and Willis A (2016). “How to hack an election”. Bloomberg, 31 March 2016. Available at:

[16] Hindman M and Barash V (2018). Disinformation, ‘Fake News’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter. Miami. Available at:

[17] Especially since Facebook de-prioritised posts from pages in 2018.

[18] Beckett L (2020), “White supremacists or anti-police libertarians? What we know about the 'boogaloo’”. Guardian, 8 July 2020. Available at:

[19]  Karp P (2019). “Isaac Levido: the Australian political strategist credited with Boris Johnson's victory”. Guardian, 15 December 2019. Available at:

[20] Miller C (2020). “Coronavirus: far-right spreads Covid-19 ‘infodemic’ on Facebook”. BBC News, 4 May 2020. Available at:

[21] Glaser A (2018). “White supremacists still have a safe space online”. Slate, 9 October 2018. Available at:

[22] Tuters M (2020). “The birth of QAnon: on how 4chan invents a conspiracy theory”. OIL, 7 September 2020. Available at:

[23] Ross AR, Bevensee E and ZC, “Transnational white terror: exposing Atomwaffen and the Iron March networks”. bellingcat, 19 December 2019. Available at:

[24] Kamenetz A (2018). “Right-wing hate groups are recruiting video gamers”. NPR, 5 November 2018. Available at:

[25] Hakoköngäs E, Halmesvaara O and Sakki I (2020). “Persuasion through bitter humor: multimodal discourse analysis of rhetoric in internet memes of two far-right groups in Finland”. Social Media & Society, vol 6, no 2.

[26] Fisher C (2019). A Look Inside the Topham Guerin Boomer Meme-industrial Complex. University of Canberra. Available at:

[27] Cea M (2017). “Where is the YouTube left? There, elsewhere and unfocused”. Salon, 13 August 2017. Available at:

[28] Oppenheimer M (2018). “Inside the right-wing YouTube empire that’s quietly turning millennials into conservatives”. Mother Jones, March/April 2018. Available at:

[29] Bjørgo T and Ravndal JA (2019). Extreme-right Violence and Terrorism: concepts, patterns, and responses. ICCT Policy Brief, September 2019. Available at:

The internationalisation of the far-right

That the far right poses a serious, growing threat is acknowledged by all genuine democrats. Whether the right will return to fascism is uncertain. The circumstances of today are very different to those of the interwar years, and the far right is a much more fluid and complex phenomenon. But there are also important parallels and similarities, not least the recurring themes of economic crisis, political instability and reaction. Just as it would be a mistake to regard all forms of right-wing radicalism as fascism, so it would be wrong to view fascism as remote, historically defeated or a constantly shrinking component of the far right. Instead, it is better to recognise that the “processes producing actual fascist, material mechanisms” are being generated now within the far-right family and society at large.[1] What follows is an attempt to identify some of these dynamics, assess the strength of the far right and provide an indication of the overall direction of travel.

4.1 The European parliamentary landscape

The 2019 European election results did not produce the far-right surge that many in the commentariat had feared. Instead they revealed a pattern of uneven growth for the far-right family (see Table 1 below). Among the big winners were Orbán’s Fidesz, which took more than half the vote, and Matteo Salvini, whose Lega party won more than a third of the vote and seats to cement its position as Italy’s biggest political force. Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National also narrowly topped the poll, laying down a marker for the 2022 French presidential election. In Poland, the governing PiS also won big, while there were gains for various new parties of the far right, among them the AfD, the People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) and the Vox party in Spain. The four big losers were the Danish People’s Party, Jobbik, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and Geert Wilders’ PVV, which saw its vote absorbed by the newly established Forum for Democracy (FvD).

The big story in the UK was, of course, the triumph of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, a single-issue vehicle with no political programme, democratic structure or membership.[2] As the name implies, the Brexit Party ran on the promise to deliver a clean and swift exit from the EU, and presented the election as a referendum on the issue. The results showed that the Brexit Party cannibalised and surpassed the 2014 vote of Farage’s former party, the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), winning 30.5 per cent of the vote share and 29 of the UK’s 73 seats. One major consequence of this election was to embolden the hard right within the Tories and pave the way for Boris Johnson’s ascent to the position of party leader, on the promise to leave the EU with or without a deal.

Table 1: Far-right vote share in European Parliament elections: selected countries



2014 vote share

2019 vote share



Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ)





Vlaams Belang









Czech Republic

Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD)





Danish People’s Party (DF)





Conservative People’s Party (EKKRE)





Finns Party (PS)





Rass (RN)





Alternative for Germany (AfD)





Golden Dawn














Brothers of Italy









Party for Freedom (PVV)




Forum for Democracy (FvD)





Law and Justice (PiS)





People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS)










Sweden Democrats





Brexit Party

27.0 (UKIP)



Altogether, the picture to emerge from the European elections was one of a more fragmented and delicately balanced parliamentary system, with the big traditional centre-left and centre-right blocs losing votes and seats in various directions. Parties of the far right are now spread across three different parliamentary groupings: the European People’s Party; the Conservatives and Reformists (of which the Conservative Party remained a member up until Brexit); and the newly established Identity and Democracy grouping headed by Salvini and Le Pen, which has just 10 per cent of all MEPs. This fragmentation means that the far right’s direct influence over lawmaking will remain limited. More significant is the powerful rightward pull they are able to exert on centrist parties.

Yet the European elections represent only a partial indicator of the strength of the far right, in part because they are often the site of protest votes, and in part because voter turnout remains much lower than is normal in a national election, with the working class consistently abstaining in large numbers. At the national level, the far right has experienced mixed electoral fortunes in recent years. In Austria, support for the FPÖ dropped by a third in last September’s parliamentary elections, which had been triggered by a corruption scandal. This resulted in the FPÖ’s return to the opposition benches. The party also succumbed in subsequent state elections for Burgenland, before being routed in the elections for control of the capital Vienna, losing 26 of its 34 seats to become the smallest party in the legislature.

The Danish People’s Party (DF) has experienced an equally dramatic decline since winning a fifth of the popular vote in 2015. As well as losing two-thirds of its votes and three MEPs in the European election, the party lost 21 of its 37 seats in last June’s general election. A big part of the reason for this was that the Social Democrats absorbed much of the DF’s anti-immigration policies and rhetoric to go along with its defence of the welfare state.[3]

One of the headliners of the European far right, the Rassemblement National, has also gone through a challenging period. While President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche lost heavily to the Greens in France’s recent municipal elections, Le Pen’s party did not fare much better. Having taken 1,438 council seats in 463 towns during the 2014 municipal elections, this time around RN came home with a much smaller haul of 840 seats in 258 towns. In mayoral races, Le Pen’s party captured three towns and lost two, while failing to maintain control on a district town hall in Marseille. Polls indicate that Le Pen is on level terms with the faltering Macron, but a poor showing in next year’s regional elections would leave her vulnerable to challenges from disaffected elements within the party.[4]

The once-ascendant AfD in Germany is another party to have suffered recent setbacks. Polling indicates that support for the AfD has fallen from 24 per cent to 18 per cent in eastern Germany in the past year, putting it behind Merkel’s CDU and the radical left Die Linke. During this time the party’s reputation has been marred by scandals and links to racist and antisemitic violence. The rift between its fascist wing and national conservative faction has been played out in public, with the former gaining ground. This exposure is alienating voters in nearly every state with the exception of Saxony, Germany’s southernmost eastern state and AfD’s stronghold, where it is still polling at 26 per cent.[5]

Salvini’s Lega has faced new challenges, but remains in a comparatively strong position. Last year he brought down the ruling coalition in the hope of triggering new elections, but was forced into opposition through an unlikely alliance of the centre-left Democrat Party and the Five Star Movement. Although the right-wing coalition led by Salvini’s party failed to make an expected breakthrough in regional elections earlier this year, it nevertheless consolidated large majorities in its strongholds while coming close in left-wing heartlands such as Tuscany, even overturning a large centre-left majority to win Marche for the far-right Brothers of Italy. The coalition, which also includes Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, now controls 14 out of 20 regions, compared with just three in 2015.[6]

In other parts of Europe, the far right is consolidating or showing signs of growth. Last year saw the Vox party become the third biggest faction in the Spanish parliament, increasing its number of seats from 28 to 52. A recent national opinion poll has suggested that this could rise to 60 seats in the event of a general election.[7] The Sweden Democrats (SD) has quickly moved from the margins to cement its position as the country’s third largest party, winning 17.5 per cent of the vote and 62 seats in the Rikstag. Were the SD to receive upwards of 20 per cent in a future general election, as polls consistently suggest it might do, it would heap the pressure on centrist parties to break the cordon sanitaire and involve it in negotiations. In Finland, meanwhile, the Finns Party (PS) emerged from the 2019 parliamentary elections with a 17.5 per cent share of the vote and 39 seats, making it the largest opposition force. The PS has hardened its position in recent times, and next year’s municipal elections will provide another test of this strategy.[8]

Of the European far-right parties in power, Orbán’s Fidesz and the PiS have enjoyed the greatest electoral success in recent years. As we have seen, Fidesz has managed to monopolise the right to win more than half the Hungarian vote in the European Parliament elections and secure a third consecutive supermajority at a national level. The PiS also matched its European election performance by winning a second term in government, followed by the re-election of its hardline president, Andrzej Duda, in July of this year. In the case of Hungary, however, the government’s claim to legitimacy has been undermined by the steady drift towards authoritarianism, and there are signs of Poland following suit. These are but two (hardline) examples of a trend whereby authoritarian and anti-democratic governing practices have become more visible across the capitalist world.

4.2 Authoritarian neoliberalism and far-right regimes: case studies

Neoliberalism has always relied on authoritarian discourses and practices but the intensification of crises of different kinds and changing patterns of resistance have led to an increasingly authoritarian form of neoliberal governance, characterised by permanent austerity and increased state repression.[9] This authoritarian evolution of neoliberalism has coincided with re-emergence of the far right across the globe. Below we present case studies that explore the interaction between authoritarian neoliberalism and far-right ideologies in different contexts.


4.2.1 Hungary and Poland

Hungary and Poland (pdf version)

Fidesz came to power in 2010 on the back of a popular backlash against austerity and the disastrous outcomes of the ‘transition’ process. In the decade that has passed since that first election, Orbán has presided over the fundamental transformation of Hungarian society. But although he pledged to overturn neoliberalism and austerity, his regime has in fact deepened it in many ways. For example, Orbán’s tax policies have been purposely designed to benefit the most well off. Only a few short months into his first term, Orbán introduced a series of reforms that replaced Hungary’s progressive income tax system with a regressive 16 per cent flat tax rate. The government’s attitude to corporations has also evolved in a more neoliberal direction. While the state has engaged in partial nationalisation and worked to cultivate a national business class – increasingly synonymous with handing public monies and tenders to loyal politicians and oligarchs – this has been accompanied by the introduction of Europe’s most generous corporate welfare systems for multinationals. Since 2017, Hungary has had a flat corporate rate of 9 per cent, the lowest in the EU.[1] It has also emerged as the highest-spending member state on corporate subsidies, the bulk of which is going to German car manufacturers such as Audi, Mercedes and BMW.[2]

Since 1989, and especially since the 2004 EU accession round, German capital has invested heavily in Visegrád countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) because of their geographical proximity, low labour costs (one quarter of German levels), labour market ‘flexibility’ and weak trade unions. Trade union density in Hungary is under 10 per cent, spread across five federations, and Orbán has worked closely with business interests to introduce legislation that promotes flexibilisation while diminishing the rights of workers and trade unions. Institutional guarantees to collective bargaining have been weakened, tripartite labour relations bodies abolished and restrictions have been placed on the right to strike, contributing to a steady decline in industrial action.[3]

As of 2019, Hungary had one of the highest scores in the EU in terms of employment flexibility.[4] This came with the adoption of a controversial ‘slave law’ that allows companies to demand 400 hours of overtime per year, for which payment can be delayed for up to three years. The ‘slave law’ was widely understood to be a response to growing labour shortages caused by the absorption of workers into public works programmes, Orbán’s restrictive immigration policies and high levels of emigration to the West. Significantly, many argue that this spike in emigration has been fuelled by the government’s decision to embrace austerity, with significant cuts to health, education and social welfare resulting in falling living standards for the mass of the population.[5]

The radical retrenchment of Hungary’s social welfare provisions has also signalled a shift towards a punitive ‘workfare state’. ‘Family’, ‘work’, ‘order’, ‘nation’ – the values written into the new Hungarian Constitution – provide the guiding framework for this ‘workfare’ system, where the unemployed are forced to carry out hard labour, often under police supervision. In addition, Hungary’s system is based on the racialisation of poverty, since the Roma are disproportionately impoverished and excluded from the labour market.[6] Similarly, the decision to enshrine the criminalisation of homelessness in the Constitution is targeted mainly at subordinating those on the margins of society – migrants, refugees and the Roma, who constitute a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population. While clear parallels can be drawn between this system and those introduced in other European states, there is little doubt that Orbán’s government is at the forefront of instituting a new carceral order.

Anti-immigration rhetoric and practices

Orbán’s targeting of the Roma population, which includes segregated housing and education, forms part of a broader strategy “to steer popular sentiments of dispossession and disenfranchisement against internal and external ‘enemies’”.[7] In 2015, amid a worsening ‘refugee crisis’, Orbán moved to sharply criticise the EU’s immigration policy and stoke fears about a largely unknown ‘other’, presenting himself as the defender of Christian Europe. He warned that those fleeing the Middle East and Syria were not refugees, but economic migrants and terrorists send by Islamic State to wreak havoc and spread disease. Measures to restrict immigration were presented as necessary to protect the Hungarian “way of life, our culture, our customs and our Christian traditions”. This rhetoric had an enormous impact on public opinion, helping to create a permissive environment for measures targeting refugees. These measures included the erection of a large razor wire fence along its borders with Croatia and Serbia, patrolled by soldiers with the authority to use deadly force; laws to make it easier to reject asylum applications and to criminalise illegal entry; and new powers to push migrants back across the border without the need for arrest or due process.[8]

Even after a dramatic reduction in the number of people seeking entry to Hungary, Orbán kept the issue alive in speeches, in the media and through government-sponsored propaganda. The government launched a ‘Stop Soros’ campaign that combined anti-immigration rhetoric with antisemitic tropes, depicting Soros as conspiring with Brussels to ‘flood’ Europe with refugees. Not only did the government force the closure of the Soros-funded Central European University, but in 2018 a Stop Soros law was introduced, criminalising individuals or organisations that help migrants gain status and imposing a 25 per cent tax on all NGOs that portray immigration in a positive light.[9] This has continued to the present day, with Orbán using the pandemic as an opportunity to further scapegoat migrants and indefinitely suspend the right to asylum.[10]

Radical conservatism and culture wars

In right-wing Hungary and Poland, the ratcheting up of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee politics has been closely linked with a renewal of radical conservatism and escalating culture wars. One mark of Orbán’s success is that he has managed to implant Christian-national ideas in the official state vision for Hungary, a country with historically low levels of religious observance. The Hungarian Constitution, enacted in early 2011, is peppered with references to ‘God’, the ‘Holy Crown of St. Stephen’, the ‘fatherland’ and ‘traditional’ family values, inserting religious rhetoric and practices into all aspects of public life and policy-making.[11] This has brought far-reaching changes in a relatively short space of time: religion has become a foundational aspect of citizenship studies; faith-based organisations now occupy a central role in schools and the provision of care services; and new faith-based universities have been established with generous state funding.[12]

Anti-feminist and anti-LGBT+ framings have also been mainstreamed in public discourse and government policy. Gender studies and feminist studies have been banned in universities, and the government has refused to ratify the 2011 Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women, arguing that it promotes “destructive gender ideologies” and “illegal immigration”.[13] Orbán’s government has increasingly turned to anti-LGBT+ rhetoric in a bid to shore up support. Most recently, the government has banned legal gender recognition for transgender and intersex people, and proposed legislation that would permit only opposite-sex couples to adopt. This is widely seen as part of a strategy to appeal to Orbán’s conservative nationalist base in the midst of a pandemic that has, as of November 2020, left Hungary with the third highest death rate in Europe and facing into a major economic crisis.[14]

Poland has followed a similar path in the short five years that Jarosław Kaczyński’s ultraconservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has been in office, first as a single-party government (2015–19) and since 2019 with the support of junior partners. With the backing of the still-powerful Church, the PiS has sought to align government policy with Catholic teaching and (re)assert the link between Polish national identity and Catholicism. In the area of socio-economic policy, for instance, the government’s expansionary welfare programmes have been oriented to promote ‘family values’.[15] But it is in the sphere of gender politics and social rights that the Polish government has most clearly demonstrated its radical conservatism. A campaign against ‘gender ideology’ was a key aspect of the 2015 election, leading the PiS to make commitments to restrict sexual and reproductive rights. Since then the intensification of state and church-sponsored anti-LGBT+ rhetoric has created a climate in which violent attacks and ‘LGBT-free zones’ are more prevalent, with the EU now asking questions as to whether these zones are violating European laws on minority rights. Meanwhile, in a bid to boost the coalition and mobilise the party rank and file, the PiS has recently deployed the constitutional court to introduce an effective ban on abortion, sparking a new wave of protests across the country.[16]

Culture wars are also being played out on the battlefield of historical memory. For the past decade Orbán’s government has been steadily rewriting the country’s national history to portray Hungary as the victim of Nazi occupation and rehabilitate the antisemitic regime of Miklos Horthy (1919–44), which collaborated with Hitler and participated in the murder of some 500,000 Hungarian Jews. This politicisation of Horthy’s reign is part of an effort to connect with Hungary’s pre-communist past and construct a particular understanding of the Hungarian nation. Statues have been erected in honour of politicians linked to Horthy, laws have been introduced criminalising the insulting or demeaning of national symbols, and the Veritas Research Institute and Archive has been established to promote a revisionist and right-wing version of Hungarian history.[17] Even the school curriculum has been rewritten to reflect a particular right-wing nationalist narrative, leading teachers to protest with slogans such as ‘I will not teach fascism’.[18]

For its part, the PiS has focused principally on the reconstruction and regulation of public memory through the law. The so-called decommunisaton law enacted in 2016 provided for the dismantling of communist-era monuments and the renaming of streets, while the ‘Holocaust law’ of 2018 sought to penalise statements that implied Polish participation or complicity in Nazi crimes. Though it has since been watered down, this “prejudice-mongering” law has had a polarising impact on Polish society, feeding deeply entrenched views of the country’s national history.[19]

Democracy and the rule of law

The authoritarian drift of Hungary and Poland under their respective governments has been most evident where the functioning of democratic institutions and rule of law is concerned. Following his election in 2010, Orbán wasted no time in appointing friends and loyal party apparatchiks to key posts including President of the Republic, the State Audit Office and the Constitutional Court, as well as top positions in cultural and educational institutions. In the first 18 months of its mandate, the Orbán government passed some 363 laws to restructure the state’s major public institutions and cement its position, including substantial reforms to the judicial system, central bank and electoral system. The government also established the National Media and Info-communications Authority, whose five-member council is elected by the Fidesz-dominated parliament, with the power to deny media outlets a licence and impose fines on journalists and media outlets for publishing “improper” articles. In addition, the Orbán regime decided to strengthen the repressive apparatus of the state by establishing a new counter-terrorism force, the TEK, which effectively functions as Orbán’s private army.[20]

It is clear that conditions in Hungary have deteriorated significantly over the past number of years, not just with regard to Orbán’s rhetoric but in different areas relating to democracy, the rule of law and equality. The World Justice Project’s annual Rule of Law Index has established that in Hungary respect for the rule of law was worse overall in 2019 than in 2015, especially when it came to constraints on government powers (ie checks and balances) as well as equal treatment and non-discrimination.[21] Observers from the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) found that Hungary’s 2018 elections “were characterized by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis”, and expressed particular concerns with the level of intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing.[22]

Media ownership has become highly concentrated and fallen under political direction. Not only does the public media have a clear pro-government bias, but it is estimated that 90 per cent of all media is now directly or indirectly controlled by Fidesz. The Media Pluralism Monitor, a risk assessment tool measuring media pluralism in Europe, has deemed Hungary to be ‘high risk’ when it comes to media and the democratic electoral process.[23] Hungary has also steadily dropped down the World Press Freedom Index rankings since Orbán returned to power, from 56th (out of 180) in 2013 to 89th today.[24]

The coronavirus crisis has provided Orbán with the opportunity – and the necessity – to further consolidate his grip on power. Under the cover of the pandemic he has pushed through pet projects, expanded Fidesz’s control of the arts and legislated jail terms for those convicted of ‘spreading falsehoods’ relating to Covid-19. In March, a ‘Coronavirus Law’ was introduced that declared a state of emergency, allowing Orbán to rule by decree. Although the state of emergency has ended, the government has retained a legislative provision that would enable it to rule by decree in future public health emergencies.[25]

Orbán has spent the past few years batting away the criticisms of human rights organisations and EU bodies, which have censured his government several times to little effect. However, tensions between Budapest and Brussels have now intensified following the launch of the European Commission’s inaugural Rule of Law Report, which levies heavy criticisms at the Hungarian government while expressing serious concerns about the erosion of judicial independence in Poland.[26] Crucially, this comes at a time when the European Parliament and European Council are in negotiations to link the distribution of EU funds to respect for the rule of law – something Hungary and Poland have so far managed to resist. How this dispute plays out will not only determine whether the EU budget and coronavirus recovery package secures approval but will also have a major bearing on the future direction of the EU project.

4.2.2 Turkey

Turkey (pdf version)

Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey has been described as “a capitalist nightmare: a triad of neoliberal economics, political despotism, and Islamist conservatism”.[27] In 2002, when the newly formed Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to victory with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, it pledged to take swift action to resolve the country’s deepening financial crisis and the accompanying problems of political instability and corruption that had plagued the Turkish state for years. Yet, the AKP’s economic policies did not differ much from what came before. Continuing with the IMF-backed austerity measures that had been adopted by the preceding coalition, the AKP embarked on a rapid programme of economic liberalisation that included privatisation of state assets, contractionary monetary policy and labour-market flexibilisation. These measures, coupled with Erdoğan’s swift diplomatic overtures to the EU and US, were geared towards attracting foreign capital and integrating Turkey’s export economy into the world market.

In the first 15 years of AKP rule, Turkey experienced an influx of FDI and thousands of foreign companies and entered the OECD’s ‘Privatisation Top 10’ list for its large-scale sale of state assets. Capital flows into the country, along with access to cheap credit, also helped to fuel new patterns of consumption, urbanisation and a huge construction boom. The AKP’s neoliberal transformation of the economy produced a period of high growth, leading commentators to make favourable comparisons between Turkey and the BRICS.[28]

However, this ‘economic miracle’ rested on shaky foundations. To begin with, the model was heavily dependent on rocketing capital inflows to support private speculation, with banks and big firms borrowing heavily in foreign currency to sustain their chase for quick profits. It was also based on a consumer boom fuelled by an explosion of household debt. This helped to mask what was a period of jobless growth, marked by falling wages and rising inequality. Another cushion was provided through the widening of social welfare measures to cover hitherto excluded sections of the working class, complemented by the expansion of social assistance offered by religious charities.[29] These policies were implemented in parallel with a broader process of dispossession, involving the retrenchment of access to land and housing and the commodification of the commons.[30]

In the case of Turkey, as elsewhere across the globe, the country’s economic transformation was based on the creation of a disciplined, low-cost and disposable labour force with limited rights and little recourse to collective trade union action. The persistence of high unemployment generated the economic conditions in which large numbers of people could be forced into low-paid, informal and non-unionised work.[31] Laws enacted in the first decade of the Erdoğan era promoted greater labour flexibility and informal hiring practices (subcontracting, agency work etc) while strengthening the previous government’s restrictions on collective bargaining and the right to strike. As well as outlawing strikes for economic, political, sympathy and solidarity reasons, these laws empowered the state to postpone any strike for 60 days. The impact on workers and trade unions is plain to see: collective bargaining coverage more than halved from 11.9 per cent in 2002 to 5.4 per cent in 2012; trade union density plummeted from 29.4 per cent in 2001 to a low of 6.3 per cent in 2013; and labour’s share of national income fell by 25 per cent in the same period.[32]

By the 2010s, the story of Turkey’s economic success, democratisation and political stability had started to unravel. A fresh economic crisis revealed the underlying fragility and unsustainability of Turkey’s model, not least its dependence on foreign capital inflows. With escalating social unrest came moments of acute political crisis. ‘Dependent financialisation’ and liberalisation of the Turkish economy has nonetheless continued apace, drawing the country further into volatile financial systems and generating a pattern of recurring economic and political turmoil.[33] Faced with these challenges, the AKP has come to rely on increasingly authoritarian, repressive and violent modes of governance. Erdoğan has also sought to define a new form of Turkish conservatism that satisfies the AKP’s base and appeals to enough right-wing nationalists to give him the 50 per cent+ majority needed to win presidential elections and secure key constitutional changes.

Authoritarianism and right-wing nationalism

It is difficult to determine a particular date when Erdoğan’s authoritarianism became evident. But the government’s brutal reaction to the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which began as a small campaign against the destruction of a public park before mushrooming into a nationwide cycle of mass demonstrations involving millions of people, can be seen as a critical turning point. The authorities responded to the protests by deploying the police, which used live ammunition, tear gas, plastic bullets and beatings, resulting in over 3,000 arrests, 8,000 injuries and six deaths in the space of a few months.[34] These events coincided with the increasing repression of labour through harassment, intimidation and the arrest of trade unionists under false accusations of terrorism.[35] As the Gezi Park protests spread, Erdoğan used the opportunity to purge moderating influences from key positions, including the then President Abdullah Gül. Erdoğan replaced Gül as the AKP’s candidate for Turkey’s first direct presidential election in 2014, winning an outright majority with 52 per cent of the vote. This was one sure sign of his ambition to convert Turkey’s government into a presidential system.[36]

This period beginning with the Gezi Park protests was marked by an escalation of violent security policies designed to intimidate and suppress dissenting civil society organisations, opposition political groups and social movements. Following the AKP’s loss of its parliamentary majority in the June 2015 elections, the pressure on opposition forces intensified and the playing field was more explicitly altered in the AKP’s favour. Significantly, the government dissolved its ‘resolution process’ for a negotiated settlement to the Kurdish question and launched a military offensive against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which had declared autonomy in the Kurdish region. These security operations were backed up by a right-wing nationalist discourse, encouraging further attacks by nationalist and state forces on Kurdish politicians and citizens in the lead up to the snap election of November. According to the HDP, between July and November there were 200 attacks on HDP premises, 10,000 people were detained and close to 3,000 of them arrested; 11 cities and 45 towns where the HDP had received a large number of votes were declared as emergency areas; and 322 civilians were killed.[37] Moreover, the criminalisation of independent journalists and media outlets became much more widespread in these months, with Bianet reporting a spike in the censoring of news reports and social media accounts, along with a significant increase in attacks and arrests.[38] This “purposefully created climate of violence and fear” enabled the AKP to regain its parliamentary majority while establishing greater control over the institutions of security and state power.[39]

The AKP picked up some 4.5 million votes at the 2015 November election, including scores of votes from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). A number of wider factors played a role in driving the AKP’s drift towards right-wing nationalism and increasing authoritarianism. First, souring relations with the EU dampened Erdoğan’s appetite for democratic reforms and enabled him to adopt an increasingly nationalist and anti-EU discourse. Second, there was a rapid deterioration of Turkish-Syrian relations against the backdrop of the Syrian uprising and Turkey’s ambitions in the Middle East. As the uprising descended into civil war, the AKP began to instrumentalise Sunni Islamic identity and give support to jihadist groups including al-Qaeda and ISIS. Not only did this directly inflame political Islam in Turkey, but it resulted in a ‘blowback’ effect whereby the conflict crossed the border and became increasingly entangled with the Turkish government’s war on the Kurds.[40] Finally, and relatedly, the arrival of 3.4 million Syrian refugees came at a time when Turkey was already struggling with economic inequality, social unrest, sectarian tension and political instability. Grievances among the populations of the big cities in particular were ripe for politicisation by radical nationalists.[41]

Another major turning point in the consolidation of presidential power came after the alleged military coup of July 2016. Erdoğan told supporters that the failed coup was “a gift from God”, which he exploited to stir up nationalist sentiments and justify a wide-ranging clampdown on opponents. The government quickly declared a three-month state of emergency to grant Erdoğan the power to introduce laws by decree without the approval of parliament. This was renewed seven times before officially ending on 18 July 2018. In total, during the state of emergency the president introduced 32 emergency decrees and made approximately 300 amendments to 150 laws, many of which remain in force to this day.[42]

During the state of emergency, nearly 152,000 public servants including teachers, police and military officials, doctors, judges and prosecutors were dismissed or suspended with little or no right to appeal. The authorities also detained over 150,000 people, including 78,000 under draconian anti-terrorism laws. Among those arrested were at least 87 mayors, nine MPs from the HDP, 300 journalists and 570 lawyers. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International documented reports of widespread beatings, torture and other forms of ill-treatment. In addition, some 166 media outlets and 1,719 NGOs were closed down by executive decree. These attacks on freedom of expression extended to the internet and social media, with over 100,000 websites blocked and Twitter receiving more than 7,000 censorship requests from the courts and state in 2017 alone. Freedom of assembly also deteriorated sharply as the authorities used the state of emergency to issue blanket bans on demonstrations, including a ban on May Day for the fourth consecutive year and the banning of five large-scale strikes.[43]

The formal consolidation of Erdoğan’s power came in the midst of this turbulent period. In April 2017, a referendum was held to replace the parliamentary system of government with one based on presidential rule. The vote was proposed by a coalition of the AKP and MHP parties. In the event, citizens voted by a narrow margin of 51 to 49 per cent to approve a series of far-reaching changes to the constitution. These reforms abolished the office of prime minister and gave new powers to the president, including the right to issue decrees, control the national budget, appoint cabinet ministers and state officials, and appoint senior judges and prosecutors. In the aftermath of the vote, Trump called President Erdoğan to congratulate him.[44] Erdoğan officially became the first head of this new system in June 2018, after installing his new presidency and winning snap elections. Yet, just as the referendum exposed the strength of opposition to Erdoğan, the June general election required a formal coalition of the AKP and MHP to secure an overall parliamentary majority, demonstrating the former’s growing dependence on radical nationalism. At one pre-election rally, Erdoğan even went as far as to make the hand gesture of the Grey Wolves, a neo-fascist organisation that is widely regarded as the MHP’s paramilitary wing.[45]

Continued deterioration

Events since the referendum have showed a continued deterioration of the situation in Turkey, further exposing the limitations of the AKP’s political dominance and ability to rule by consent. In recent years the regime has pursued a political strategy that combines right-wing nationalist rhetoric, anti-Kurdish aggression and a confrontational foreign policy with measures to placate the AKP’s traditional core base of religious conservatives. Efforts to construct a common Turkish identity fused with Islam have involved everything from a renewed state focus on specific events of historical importance to the ideological reorientation of education and popular culture. Erdoğan’s attempt to remake his country’s image using religious symbolism and public spectacles has drawn comparisons with aspects of Narendra Modi’s ethnonationalist project in India.[46] Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy, manifested most violently by its interventions in Syria and Libya, has utilised the framing of ‘injustice’ to present its position. The labelling of rivals as ‘others’ links the government’s foreign policy to its domestic objective of forging an exclusivist national identity.[47]

Refugees, along with the Kurds, have been among the main victims of the AKP’s radical nationalist turn and a concerted media effort to portray them as terrorists and criminals.[48] Resentment towards refugees has been growing steadily in recent years and turned increasingly violent amid deepening economic malaise. The Turkish authorities are believed to have illegally deported large numbers of refugees last October, and a sordid deal signed with the EU back in 2016 is now unravelling as the Turkish government has announced that it will no longer prevent refugees from entering the EU at the Greek border.

While the AKP has helped to mainstream hardline nationalist currents, this has not had the desired effect of consolidating its position or legitimising Erdoğan’s rule. Last year’s municipal elections, held at the height of an economic crisis, resulted in the AKP and MHP losing control of key cities such as Ankara and Istanbul to the opposition.[49] These results were a reflection of growing social discontent generated by the regime’s failures of economic policy as well as the (irretrievable) loss of significant Kurdish support. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it plunged Turkey into a crisis of even greater severity than the last, dashing any hopes that an economic recovery would come to Erdoğan’s aid. The government’s subsequent poor handling of the pandemic has led to falling approval ratings, intensifying social antagonisms and an emboldened opposition. With the AKP increasingly reliant on the MHP to get anything done, the latter has been able to exert greater influence over government policy, even securing the premature release of ‘fascist hitman’ and Mafia boss Alaattin Çakıcı, a former member of the Grey Wolves and MHP supporter who had been given a 16-year sentence for murder.[50]

The repression of criticism and political opposition has continued unabated throughout the pandemic. For instance, the government has expanded an auxiliary police force and granted a new 20,000-strong security agency dubbed the ‘night guard’ the right to use weapons. Under the guise of combatting ‘fake news’, ‘incitement’ or ‘spreading fear and panic’, the authorities detained more than 500 social media users, 12 journalists and several doctors in the first few months alone of the pandemic. Repression against Kurdish political representatives has continued, and there have been military incursions into Kurdish areas along the southern Turkish border. The government has also blocked or cut financing and borrowing for opposition-controlled municipalities in a bid to force them into implementing austerity measures. Government figures and their allies have directly contributed to an escalation of right-wing rhetoric, sparking increased violence against LGBT+ people, Kurds and the Armenian community. This has been accompanied by a spike in violence against women, just as the AKP is considering withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention due to its negative impact on ‘family values’.[51]

As Erdoğan looks toward the next presidential election, due to be held some time before 2023, his country appears to be on a perilous, downward spiral. Even before the pandemic hit, Human Rights Watch (HRW) had pointed to “deepening human rights crisis over the past four years with a dramatic erosion of [Turkey’s] rule of law and democracy framework”.[52] In support of HRW’s assessment, a major study into the political rhetoric and governing practices of ruling parties has established that the AKP, Fidesz and Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have fast become the most autocratic right-wing regimes in the world, with Trump’s Republican Party not far behind.[53] Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes that Turkey is now “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists”, who commonly spend more than a year in jail before trial and often receive long sentences. As with Hungary, Turkey has slid down the World Press Freedom Index over the past few years, from 149th (out of 180) in 2015 to 154th today.[54] Similarly, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has identified Turkey as one of the 10 worst countries for workers, noting that trade unions have been operating “in a climate of fear and under the constant threat of retaliation” since the 2016 coup attempt.[55] The list goes on. Turkey is well on the way to becoming a right-wing dictatorship, but Erdoğan’s rule is far from stable. Herein lies the potential for the regime’s overthrow and/or for its continued radicalisation.

4.2.3 Brazil

Brazil (pdf version)

Bolsonaro and his would-be ‘super-minister’ of the economy Paolo Guedes campaigned on the promise of ultra-liberal economic policies, pledging to shrink the public sector, cut taxes, privatise state assets and flexibilise labour markets. Brazil’s stock market reached a record high in the immediate aftermath of Bolsonaro’s election, even as the international markets were in meltdown. This was a sure sign of confidence among investors that the government would swiftly administer their desired remedy of economic shock therapy.

Bolsonaro picked up where his predecessor Temer left off in attacking trade unions, disbanding the country’s Ministry of Labour within days of taking office. In March 2019, his administration ended automatic deduction of union subs without warning, compromising the financial independence of trade unions.[56] Yet, it has been far from plain sailing in terms of implementing other aspects of his programme. Bolsonaro’s government spent much of 2019 battling to enact reform of the country’s pension system, and this passed only because a cross-party coalition of legislators decided to back it. The government lacks an overall majority in Congress and the parliamentary arithmetic has become even more fragmented following Bolsonaro’s resignation from the Social Liberal Party (PSL) to establish the Alliance for Brazil (APB). The protests in Chile and Lula’s release, both of which emboldened the opposition, also contributed to the government’s prevarication when it came to delivering on the rest of its economic programme.[57] While Guedes was active in the implementation of deregulation measures and privatisation, this did not represent the kind of economic shock therapy that big capital had expected or been promised.[58]

The pandemic has hit Brazil especially hard, in part because of Bolsonaro’s refusal to take the virus seriously and coordinate a major public health response. The president has repeatedly clashed with state governors who have introduced stay-at-home measures, spoken at anti-lockdown rallies and even sacked his health minister for promoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance.[59] As of November 2020, the country has the second-highest number of deaths in the world behind the US, with over 167,000 deaths officially recorded.

Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on workers and trade unions. Health unions, trade union federations and social movements, backed by the Public Services International (PSI) and UNI Global, have lodged a complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging that the president’s actions constitute crimes against humanity. The complaint demands that Bolsonaro be held accountable for acting against the recommendations of health authorities and irresponsibly exposing people to contagion, including the 60 per cent of health workers who do not have access to PPE.[60] In economic terms, more than 10 million workers have been impacted by the arbitrary suspension of contracts and reductions in hours and wages, facilitated by an emergency law that was introduced at the beginning of the pandemic and has been extended until the end of 2020.[61]  Approximately 40 per cent of Brazil’s informal workers have lost their jobs, while overall unemployment has risen to 14.4 per cent (13.8 million people) in the third quarter of 2020, its highest rate since 2012.[62]

There have been signs of the government moving to advance its privatisation agenda during the pandemic. Plans have been announced for the privatisation of key public assets such as the post office, the National Bank for Economic Development (BNDES) and Electrobas, the power utility, and the accelerated privatisation of Petrobas, the state-owned oil company – to name but a few.[63] However, Bolsonaro, Guedes and their backers remain frustrated with the slow pace of progress owing to the political context, something that led to the resignation of Brazil’s privatisation minister in August.[64] In October, Bolsonaro signed a decree authorising the exploration of public-private initiatives in the health system, only to revoke the decree one day later after receiving fierce criticism from opposition politicians and the health sector.[65] The government has also suffered setbacks in its efforts to embed certain aspects of anti-worker and anti-trade union legislation. A presidential decree introduced at the start of the pandemic, known as Provisional Measure 927/2020, gave priority to individual agreements between employers and workers over existing collective agreements. Yet this measure expired in July after Congress could not come to a consensus as to whether it should be extended or replaced.

In addition, with one eye on his approval ratings and the political opposition, Bolsonaro has been forced to display a certain degree of pragmatic populism in his approach to the economic crisis. With many people in crowded low-income neighbourhoods struggling, the government introduced an (albeit insufficient) emergency income supplement of R$600 (about £90) for five months. This income support reached approximately 65 million people, or more than 30 per cent of the population, and has been extended till December 2020 at half of its original value. It remains to be seen whether this will be extended further or, as some have suggested, integrated as a permanent part of public policy. But it goes some way to highlighting the tension between Bolsonaro’s stated commitment to neoliberal reforms and the demands of political expediency.[66]

This tension is likely to become greater as 2021 progresses. Brazil had a deficit target of $17 billion before the pandemic, but it is now headed towards $125 billion. The country’s currency has plummeted in value, foreign investment has fallen and unemployment is set to continue rising – how fast and by how much will largely depend on the level of income supports. Bolsonaro’s rich backers, who fear he will try to sustain higher levels of public spending to shore up his popularity in poorer regions, will instead be demanding that the government presses ahead with austerity and the liberalisation programme promised to them.[67] Economy minister Guedes, the ultraliberal ideologue, has even said that breaking the constitutional cap on public spending could lead to Bolsonaro’s impeachment, triggering another political crisis at the heart of the Brazilian state.[68]

The limits of Bolsonaro’s power​​​​​​​

One of the big differences between Bolsonaro and his counterparts (Erdoğan, Modi, Orbán) is that his ability to dominate the country’s political life is to some degree obstructed by the lack of access to a party machine with deep roots in the state and civil society, and by the way the state institutions are set up. Bolsonaro’s fallout with the PSL has deprived him of access to the party’s considerable financial resources and networks while leaving him heavily reliant on centrist parties to secure the support of Congress for legislation. Another important factor is that the constitution gives considerable power to the legislature, as well as to states and municipalities. One consequence of this is that Bolsonaro has been unable to use the pandemic as a pretext for the granting of exceptional powers. State governors and municipal leaders have also managed to largely hold onto autonomy in dealing with the pandemic, enlisting the support of the Supreme Court and that of the Speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate.[69]

Bolsonaro has found the judiciary to be a particularly hard nut to crack. The Supreme Court has ruled against the President several times in the past few months, most significantly on occasions where he has sought to seize legislative powers.[70] At the height of the pandemic the Court authorised an investigation into allegations that key Bolsonaro supporters were involved in a disinformation and intimidation campaign against public authorities, including members of the judiciary. This was launched in parallel with another investigation into claims by Sergio Moro, former justice minister, that Bolsonaro had pressed him to replace the chief of federal police and tried to interfere in investigations involving his sons and other family members. The Supreme Court dealt a blow to the president when it released a video of Bolsonaro swearing at a cabinet meeting, in which he appears to express frustration at not being able to replace law enforcement officials.[71] A magazine exposé published shortly thereafter revealed that Bolsonaro had discussed with key cabinet allies the possibility of sending troops to shut down the Supreme Court and install substitute justices until “that was in order”.[72]

As Bolsonaro’s relationship with legislators and the courts has deteriorated, he has become increasingly reliant on a core group of military-linked advisers and ministers in his government. He has also sparked controversy by addressing anti-lockdown rallies organised by the far right, where calls are routinely made for a military coup against Congress and the judiciary. Although he has not publicly called for a military takeover, Bolsonaro often speaks favourably about the coup of 1964 and the military dictatorship that followed. He has also encouraged his supporters to arm themselves. Under new relaxed laws, gun ownership doubled in 2019, and Bolsonaro has since revoked decrees facilitating the tracing and identification of weapons and ammunition.[73] This serves the dual purpose of pandering to the law and order concerns of his base and creating an army of diehard supporters willing to mobilise in his defence. It is clear that he wishes to retain the threat of violence and even the possibility of military intervention to protect himself from political and judicial challenges.

Culture wars and human rights

Bolsonaro has pushed Brazil deeper into a culture war that is having significant real-world impacts. As in the US, the country’s president and his allies have directly contributed to the spread of misinformation about the severity of Covid-19, its effects and possible cures, fuelling anti-lockdown sentiments and spread of the virus.[74] Bolsonaro continued to downplay the threat even as the country’s hospitals and morgues were full, and took the fact that he contracted and recovered fairly quickly from Covid-19 as a vindication of his approach. Bolsonaro is personally responsible for spreading a number of other conspiracy theories, for example that satellite images and videos of the Amazon burning were fake. He has talked of a conspiracy between NGOs, foreign governments and indigenous communities to prevent Brazil’s development. The number of fires in the rainforest so far this year is at a decade high, surpassing the number recorded in 2019 when the destruction sparked widespread criticism of the government.[75]

Brazilian lawyers and human rights collectives are requesting that the ICC open an investigation against Bolsonaro for inciting genocide against indigenous people. Since the beginning of his campaign in 2018, Bolsonaro has made clear his intentions to open up indigenous reserves to extractive companies. He has described the constitutional right of indigenous populations to occupy their traditional territories as ‘unjustifiable’, comparing them to animals kept in zoos. The ICC’s prosecutors are now analysing 33 of the president’s statements and decisions before deciding whether or not to request an indictment. Bolsonaro has also dismissed 21 of 27 superintendents at the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), and sought to undermine the agency responsible for protecting the interests and cultures of indigenous tribes. As a result, the number of indigenous leaders murdered by illegal loggers, miners and land grabbers in 2019 climbed to its highest rate in 11 years.[76]

Brazil’s continued descent into violence has had severe implications for workers and trade unions. The ITUC reports that the police have been cracking down heavily on strikes calling for a new direction in economic policy, using tear gas, beating up strike organisers and arresting and detaining many people linked to the trade union movement. Several trade union leaders have been subject to arbitrary arrest and multiple death threats, and a number have been murdered with no action by the authorities to investigate or prosecute the killings. In general, trade unionists are afforded little to no protection by the security services or the state. In light of all this, Brazil has been identified as one of the 10 worst countries for workers.[77]

Racist police violence, meanwhile, endures in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Killings by police in Rio reached a record high of 1,814 in 2019, the highest number since records began in 1998. This accounted for almost a third of the 5,804 people killed by police in Brazil last year, the overwhelming majority of whom were black. The government excluded complaints of police violence from its 2019 human rights report, sparking allegations of a cover-up amid the global outrage over racism and the use of excessive force by police in the US. Police killings spiked once more in the first six months of 2020, even as crime rates dropped dramatically and the Supreme Court banned raids during the pandemic.[78] This has occurred on the watch of a president who campaigned on a strong law and order platform, backs police crackdowns on criminality and has long denied the existence of racial injustice in his country.

Bolsonaro has at times disappointed his evangelical support base with statements and decisions that reflect broader political considerations. In October of this year, he frustrated religious conservative supporters by nominating Kassio Marques, a liberal with a record of flexible rulings, to the Supreme Court. Responding to a backlash over the decision, he sought to allay concerns among conservatives by declaring that “we are going to have a very evangelical minister in the supreme court” next year.[79] But he has brought other parts of the state into line with his socially conservative ideology, for example by appointing evangelical pastor Damares Alves minister for Human Rights, Family and Women. Alves’ ministry has recently introduced a regulation that erects new barriers to abortion access. This follows a national row in which a 10-year-old rape victim looking to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion was hounded by anti-abortion activists, some of whom claimed to be in contact with Alves.[80] Bolsonaro and Alves have frequently voiced their opposition to sexual and reproductive rights, with the former also continuing to publicly express deeply homophobic views. The president described the Supreme Court decision to criminalise homophobia in Brazil, a country that has one of the highest murder rates for LGBT+ individuals, as “completely wrong”.[81]

Just as Trump has drawn on a national history of anti-communist paranoia, so Bolsonaro is reviving the anti-communism of 1930s Brazilian fascism and the military dictatorship. Attacks on communism, ‘gender ideology’ and ‘cultural Marxism’ – an antisemitic trope – were a prominent feature of Bolsonaro’s campaign, and following his election supporters chanted “Death to the communists!”. Since coming to power, Bolsonaro and his allies have displayed an obsession with purging the state of ‘leftist’ values. Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s son, has even proposed drafting a bill to introduce prison sentences for the production, sale or distribution of communist symbols. Anti-communist rhetoric has also played a role in the government’s response to Covid-19, with the foreign minister Ernesto Araújo writing of a ‘globalist’ plot to usher in world communism. This ‘anti-communism without communism’ stokes up fears of an existential threat to the nation, “which in principle licenses almost any level of violence”.[82]

The results of the November 2020 local elections, the first in his mandate, have severely damaged Bolsonaro’s prospects going into 2021. In the context of a worsening economic and public health crisis, candidates backed by the Brazilian president suffered major losses in the states where he received the greatest support during the 2018 election. Overall, centre-right and right-wing parties made the most substantial gains at the expense of Bolsonaro’s coalition, although there were signs of progress and a possible basis for closer cooperation on the left.[83] At the time of writing, Bolsonaro looks vulnerable to political defeat sooner rather than later, particularly as he still has no official party to speak of. However, the harbingers of violent radicalisation and confrontation are also clear to see.

4.2.4 Colombia

Colombia (pdf version)

After more than 50 years of armed conflict, which claimed 220,000 lives and displaced more than seven million people, in 2016 the Colombian government signed a historic peace agreement with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). The agreement is organised around six key points: 1) comprehensive rural reform; 2) political participation; 3) an end to conflict including a ceasefire and a laying down of arms, the social, economic and political reincorporation of former FARC combatants and security guarantees; 4) a solution to the illicit drugs problem; 5) victims – comprehensive system for truth, justice, reparations and non-repetition; and 6) implementation and verification.

The Colombian Peace Agreement has been celebrated for tackling the causes of the conflict, including the widespread inequality and lack of access to land and the absence of space for political participation with the historic violent repression of progressive opposition and organised civil society. The agreement is ground-breaking in that it incorporates provisions to address issues of gender, race, land and sexual orientation. However, support for the peace process among the political and economic elite is divided. Certain parts of the political establishment have seen it as a vehicle for modernisation and development, whereas parts of the landowning class and those linked to some of the worst atrocities have fiercely opposed the agreement. Their opposition is thought to stem from the fact of them having benefited from the conflict, and from concerns that their crimes may be exposed by the truth and justice process.

President Ivan Duque comes from the Democratic Centre Party, a party that led opposition to the Peace Agreement. He was elected in 2018 on a promise to ‘modify’ the peace deal,[84] and under his leadership the government’s progress on fulfilling its commitments has stalled. The Kroc Institute reports that implementation of the agreement has slowed down in the past year, noting that a quarter of its 578 provisions have not begun to be implemented, and that ‘minimal’ progress has been made on another third. They also note that commitments on rural reforms “made little progress in the last year”.[85] In fact, the Duque government’s National Development Plan for rural areas is based largely on the privatisation of land for industrial agriculture and mega-extractive projects. Since Duque’s election, there has been a boom in ‘mercenary mining’ – that is, mining operations by subcontractors working for multinationals. Land grabbing and deforestation has also increased under this government. Duque’s doubling down on this model of development is driving environmental degradation, entrenching inequality and exacerbating militarisation and violence in marginalised rural communities.[86]

The Peace Agreement also linked the reform of the rural sector with the voluntary substitution of illicit crops (such as coca). According to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), crop substitution had been producing positive results, responsible for a low replanting rate of on average 0.2 per cent.[87] But, under pressure from the US, Duque’s government has turned to forced eradication and has talked about reintroducing aerial crop fumigation. The Duque administration has recently cancelled the contract with UNODC to follow up and assess the process, and signalled an escalation of the ‘war on drugs’. In return for this, Trump doubled the budget for Colombia’s war on drugs to $237.5 million.[88]

Another key element of the peace deal was the establishment of a transitional justice system that would seek to provide truth and justice to the greatest possible extent for the country’s victims. In relation to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which forms part of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-Repetition, Duque has objected to the statutory law that governs the JEP, which has served to “undermine the legal security” of those intending to appear before the JEP, even though he was overruled by Congress and the Constitutional Court.[89] He also cut the Truth Commission’s budget for 2020 by 30 per cent.[90] This attack on the transitional justice process looks set to continue into 2021, with the JEP issuing a statement in October expressing its concern at further government cuts to budgets deemed “essential for the care and protection of victims, witnesses and interveners”.[91]

The end of conflict?​​​​​​​

Closely linked to the lack of progress in each of these areas is the persistence of violence against activists, ex-combatants and political representatives, which directly threatens the sustainability of the peace process. The Colombian NGO Indepaz reports that 254 social leaders and human rights defenders (environmentalists, farmers, lawyers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian activists, trade unionists, LGBT+, civic and community leaders) and 56 former FARC combatants undergoing a reincorporation process in line with the Peace Agreement were murdered in the first 11 months of 2020.[92] As of November 2020, around 241 former FARC combatants have been killed since the signing of the agreement. Fourteen trade unionists have been assassinated between 2019 and 2020, with another four murder attempts, one case of enforced disappearance and 198 death threats recorded in the same period. Like Turkey and Brazil, Colombia has been identified as one of the 10 worst countries for workers.[93] UN Special Rapporteur Michael Forst has said that those most at risk of violent attacks and murder are social leaders “promoting the implementation of the Peace Agreement and defending land and environmental rights and the rights of ethnic communities against the interests of criminal groups, illegal armed groups and state and non-state actors, such as national and international corporations and other powerful interest groups”.[94] 

Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have criticised the government for failing to use existing mechanisms to ensure the safety of social leaders.[95] These concerns have been echoed by former FARC leaders, who have not only highlighted the government’s failure to provide adequate protection but also noted that the failure to progress key social provisions of the agreement, designed to address the inequities that gave rise to the conflict in the first place, are contributing to the growth of organised crime and disillusionment with the peace process.[96]

Duque’s administration has also come under criticism due to the actions of the military. Among the incidents that attracted public attention last year was the extrajudicial killing of FARC ex-combatant Dimar Torres in April. The military’s conduct was called into further question in May, when the New York Times revealed that senior army officials had pressured soldiers to increase the number of militants killed or captured, with standards of engagement lowered to help improve performance figures. This raised major fears of a policy reminiscent of the days when soldiers were encouraged to increase combatant casualties in order to gain benefits, which resulted in up to 5,000 civilians being murdered and falsely presented as combatant casualties between 1988 and 2014.[97] The final straw came with the revelation that the bombing of an alleged dissident FARC camp in August had killed at least eight children, with Senator Roy Barreras accusing the government of trying to hide the victims’ identities. With the army’s credibility severely dented, Colombia’s Defence Minister Guillermo Botero was forced to resign, making way for former Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo.[98] 

However, things have gone from bad to worse in the 12 months since Trujillo took over. Not only has public security failed to improve, but his tenure has been defined by scandals and a failed terror campaign to quell anti-government protests. The National Army commander Nicasio Martinez was forced to resign after the Supreme Court discovered that the army had been spying on journalists, legislators and the Court itself. With violence raging in rural parts of the country, Trujillo appears to have concentrated much of his energy on silencing protest. The minister’s reign hit a low point in September of this year when he ordered the militarisation of Bogotá in response to protests against a fatal incident of police brutality. This violent response led to a further 13 deaths and dozens of injuries at the hands of the police. The defence minister initially defied a Supreme Court order to issue a formal apology for the police’s actions, and said that he would challenge a ruling to curb violent repression through reforms of the country’s notorious riot police.[99]

Shifting tides​​​​​​​

Colombia stands out in the region as having had only right-wing governments, and having resisted the Pink Tide with a largely uninterrupted process of neoliberalisation. But there are signs of disparate social forces beginning to coalesce around the vision of a transformative peace that challenges Colombia’s decades-long right-wing hegemony. It is significant that, for the first time in Colombian history, a left-wing candidate – Gustavo Petro – advanced to the second round of the 2018 presidential elections, winning 41.8 per cent of the vote. The legitimacy of Duque’s presidency has since been called into question by the discovery of a multitude of alleged irregularities  in the election campaign, leading the national electoral commission to begin an investigation into the president and his team for alleged financial violations.[100] Results from the regional and municipal elections held in October 2019, the first since the Peace Agreement, also indicate a shift in popular opinion in favour of peace and social progress. The outcome of these elections revealed the overwhelming defeat of Duque’s Democratic Centre Party, which lost several cities to progressive factions within the traditional parties or to candidates from the left.[101]

This shift has also manifested itself in sustained mass protests, which first broke out in November 2019, organised by a coalition of trade unions, indigenous groups, student organisations and LGBT+ activists. The strike was originally planned to resist a number of regressive tax, labour and pension reforms known as the paquetazo or the ‘package’, but eventually mobilised 250,000 people onto the streets around a broader agenda. A lack of support for public education, the failings of a privatised health system, environmental destruction, corruption, police brutality, the prevalence of gender violence, the killing of social leaders and the sabotaging of the peace process – all of these grievances came together under a unified banner.[102]

The peace process has opened up space for more visible anti-neoliberal struggle and encouraged unity among opposition forces. The coronavirus pandemic has sharpened these tendencies and exacerbated Duque’s legitimacy crisis, in large part due to the government’s response. A doubling of unemployment to 20 per cent has left millions of people facing an uncertain future, with young people and women particularly impacted. Public money has been directed towards banks and corporations at the expense of struggling SMEs, which account for almost 80 per cent of total employment in the country. Isolation and social distancing measures have been put in place without proper income supports for the country’s poorest, most precarious workers – some 38 million in total. A recent government decree has left many workers in even more precarious conditions, enabling employers to contract workers on an hourly basis and without ensuring that their income meets the minimum wage. Trade unions have also criticised Duque for attempting to resurrect his package of labour reforms under the cover of the emergency and made counter-proposals. In addition, the pandemic has accelerated the crisis of Colombia’s privatised healthcare system, which denies this basic right to millions and has been on the brink of collapse for more than a decade. As of November 2020, Colombia has passed 32,000 deaths from Covid-19, 70 per cent of which have come from the poorest strata in society.[103]

These conditions have led to a sharp decline in the popularity of Duque and his government. Recent events have left the president with an approval rating of just 38 per cent, a downward trend that is set to continue. In October and November 2020 Colombia was engulfed in fresh demonstrations and strikes organised by a coalition of trade unions, students, LGBT+ groups, human rights organisations and the indigenous movement.[104] An impending economic crisis and the likelihood of austerity linked to the extension of an IMF loan will have the effect of pushing only greater numbers of people towards resistance.

Despite this growing momentum behind Colombia’s pro-peace and anti-neoliberal forces, there remains the challenge of building a coherent and effective political project. This task is made all the more difficult by the anti-democratic practices of the Duque administration and the violence. Transparency International has expressed “deep concern” at the growing concentration of power in Duque’s hands during the pandemic, noting that the state of emergency has made the president a temporary legislator. Local decentralised authorities under the control of the opposition have been weakened in relation to central government, and there have been government actions that affect freedom of expression, citizen participation and access to public information. Added to this, people close to the government have been chosen to head the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of the Ombudsman, reducing the independence that these bodies should possess.[105]

International and Colombian civil society organisations have meanwhile suggested that the judiciary’s independence is at risk due to the government party and president ignoring several court orders. Most significantly, in response to the arrest warrant issued to former president Álvaro Uribe, Duque was among Democratic Centre Party figures to publicly criticise the Supreme Court.[106] Uribe is currently being investigated for alleged witness tampering and fraud, but is also alleged to be linked with murders, massacres, displacements and the activities of right-wing paramilitary groups. He remains a dominant voice in Colombian politics and his arrest has formed a rallying point for far-right forces, which regard him as a hero for taking an aggressive stance towards the FARC and the ELN during his time as president.

4.2.5 A wider phenomenon

It is clear that neoliberalism is not inherently opposed to authoritarian practices or far-right ideologies and these practices are not confined only to countries traditionally thought of as authoritarian. Since the onset of the so-called ‘war on terror’ in 2001, but especially since the 2008 financial crisis, these practices have been reinforced by the mainstreaming of far-right ideas by governments laying claim to the centre ground. [1]

In France, the state’s brutal crackdown on protestors has come under criticism from the UN for “severe rights restrictions” and “excessive use of force”, while Amnesty International has denounced the “unprecedented attacks” on the right to peaceful protest and assembly.[2] President Macron has also introduced policies by decree on 29 occasions, including far-reaching labour and pension reforms that faced widespread trade union opposition.[3] Macron has also continued to drift right on questions of immigration and France’s relationship with its Muslim population. This has most recently been seen with the pledge to crack down on ‘Islamic separatism’ in the wake of two terror attacks as part of a strategy to legally embed authoritarian practices.[4]

Across the EU, there have also been signs of member states converging on more restrictive migration policies. One feature of this has been an acceleration of border externalisation measures, with the EU effectively outsourcing its border and migration policy to Turkey in 2016. Recent events in the Mediterranean and the deaths of hundreds of refugees at sea have drawn attention to the tragic consequences of these policies. The EU’s hastily drafted Pact on Migration and Asylum seeks to resolve the problem of burden sharing for relocating refugees, but its emphasis is on deterrence and the strengthening of external border arrangements.[5]

In the US, the conservative think-tank Freedom House ranks the standard of political rights as 33rd in the world.[6] The past two decades in particular have been marked by the continued expansion of executive powers, mass surveillance, the arbitrary detention and torture of terror suspects and the abuse of state secrecy doctrines to shield torture and eavesdropping from judicial review.[7] Moreover, nearly 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the US, with black Americans and Latinos disproportionately more likely to be arrested, imprisoned or killed by police than whites.[8] The Black Lives Matter movement has once again brought to the fore the systemic racism that has long been an inbuilt feature of US society. Trump’s term in office has been characterised by discriminatory domestic policies and at times extreme rhetoric with serious implications for human rights. Key rights and protections for asylum seekers, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT+ people and women have been rolled back, and Trump has stacked the Supreme Court with a conservative majority that could go on to overturn key decisions such as the legalisation of abortion. Growing denunciations of the anti-racist left, of ‘Antifa’ and the teaching of critical race theory, as well as his defence of police and Trump supporters using violence against Black Lives Matter protestors, has encouraged Trump’s more reactionary support base.

However, November’s presidential election saw women, young people, the working class, city dwellers and ethnic minorities turn out in large numbers to hand Joe Biden a victory over his Republican rival.[9] Trump has been defeated electorally, but he has also activated and transformed the scattered and fragmented American far right into something more coherent and dangerous. It does not appear that Trumpism will be going away in the near future, but whether it evolves into something with a clear strategy and direction remains to be seen.

In the UK, there are features of authoritarian neoliberalism with the extension of state powers, an increase in surveillance and the severity of police responses to protest and dissent, alongside the introduction of more exploitative working conditions, anti-union laws and an even-more punitive and discriminatory welfare system. All of this has taken place in a climate of Islamophobia and the persistence of long-standing structural racism. Racism has been found to be “endemic and pervasive” in the UK, manifesting itself at every level of policing.[10] By 2022, the Conservatives’ “hostile environment” measures will have been in place for a full decade, despite the outrage provoked by the Windrush scandal, and there is every possibility of their extension.[11] Under emergency Covid-19 measures the government has given the police new and expansive powers, introduced 300 pieces of secondary legislation (laws created by ministers without parliamentary votes) and progressed legislation such as the Overseas Operations Bill. Plans to curtail the power of the judiciary have been revealed and there have been numerous reports of cronyism and corruption, disinformation campaigns and political appointments.[12]

There have also been times when Boris Johnson and his allies have emulated aspects of Trump’s culture war: casting aspersions on the impartiality of the BBC; mounting staunch defences of Britain’s imperial history; stigmatising Black Lives Matter protestors; attacking the ‘liberal elite’ and ‘political correctness’; prohibiting the use of resources by anti-capitalist organisations in schools; and criticising the teaching of critical race theory in universities.[13]

The situation in the UK is obviously not directly comparable with that in Hungary or Poland, much less Turkey, Brazil, Colombia, the US, India, the Philippines or Israel for that matter. Each of these countries is characterised by varying degrees of authoritarianism and right-wing rhetoric. But they are all different variants of the same wider phenomenon. Viewed from the vantage point of the discussion above, we can see how a) right-wing authoritarian regimes can arrive by the back door, using legal and semi-legal means; b) these regimes are compatible with the central tenets of neoliberal economic thinking; and c) they can radicalise quickly in moments of crisis or when they find themselves running up against political limitations.


4.3 Assessing the global far right​​​​​​​

The past few decades have seen the growing internationalisation of the far right, in terms of mobilisation, issues and narratives, targets, strategies, organisational networks and financing. This is not an entirely new phenomenon. Scholars have documented early attempts by fascist parties to establish trans-European institutions in the interwar period, for example the International Conference of Fascist Parties (1932) and the Fascist International Congress (1934).[14] Many trade union activists will be aware that fascist regimes, supporters and sympathisers rallied behind Franco during the Spanish Civil War. In the post-WWII period, several attempts were made to revive white supremacist, Nazi and neo-fascist ideas and forms of organisation, including a number of largely ineffective pan-European (Nouvel Ordre Européen, the European Social Movement, Circulo Español de Amigos de Europe) and global (World Union of National Socialists, League for Pan-Nordic Friendship) alliances.[15]

By the 1970s, a new generation of ‘Eurofascist’ formations had begun to emerge, most notably the Front National, which became the driving force behind the development of similar parties across Europe. This coincided and overlapped with the emergence of a racist skinhead subculture, which spread across Europe and into North America to become a social movement and ideology of global significance in the space of a decade.[16]

Globalisation processes have accelerated the far right’s expansion across borders and generated the opportunities, as well as the mechanisms, for greater transnational cross-fertilisation. The process of European integration may challenge the core ideological principles of the far right, but has provided an important institutional arena for cooperation. Since the 1980s, radical and extreme-right parties in the European Parliament have made successive attempts to coordinate among themselves for elections and form an official parliamentary group. The 2014 elections marked a breakthrough for Eurosceptic far-right parties across the EU. Following this, there was an attempt to establish a parliamentary group in the form of the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), which had existed as a pan-European alliance of parties since 2010. This collapsed due to national differences and internal splintering, but has since been resurrected as the Identity and Democracy group in the wake of the 2019 elections.

Outside of these institutionalised forms of cooperation, there is growing evidence of contact between parties and movements of the far right in Europe and beyond. One recent study of the most important far-right organisations in six European countries (Austria, France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain) found that most of the organisations surveyed (71 per cent) have frequent transnational contacts, either with right-wing groups in other countries or at the international level with umbrella federations.[17] These organisations are meeting online and in person at conferences and rallies, exchanging ideas, sharing resources and developing common platforms.

Closer and more regular contact has given rise to periodic and thus far largely unsuccessful attempts to establish a far-right international. For example, Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has spent almost two years trying to organise Europe’s far-right parties under the banner of The Movement, his Brussels-based think-tank. However, enthusiasm for the idea has waned among leaders of the bigger parties in his sights. Spain’s Vox party is among those to have cooled its contacts with – and interest in – The Movement,[18] instead pursuing an initiative that is independent of Bannon and the likes of Salvini’s Lega. In October of this year, Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, launched the Madrid Charter, a declaration of personalities from 15 countries that aims to address “the concern about the advance of communism and the extreme left”. This Madrid Charter marks the beginning of the Madrid Forum, an international initiative to counter the ideological and political threat of Cuba, the São Paulo Forum and the Puebla Group.[19]

One prominent example of the transnationalisation of non-party groups is the French-born Identitarian movement, which promotes the ‘great replacement’ theory that domestic elites are conspiring to replace the white European population with non-white immigrants. The Identitarian movement now has chapters in at least 14 countries and allies in many more, and the reach of Identitarian ideas extends far beyond the groups that share the brand name. Think-tanks, institutes, newspapers, far-right public intellectuals, clothing labels, bars and sports clubs have all drawn inspiration from Identitarianism. The great replacement myth has had a formative impact on American white supremacists and the perpetrators of no fewer than six mass terrorist attacks since 2018, including the Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant.[20]

Identitarianism has evolved alongside a kaleidoscope of transnational groups such as the Atomwaffen (AWD), an influential neo-Nazi terrorist network that promotes violence by affiliated groups, and ‘lone wolves’ across the globe.[21] Groups such as the AWD retain significant organisational power; however, there has been a rapid shift towards a fragmented, post-organisational and ‘leaderless’ paradigm whereby online networks and communities of more loosely affiliated groups and individuals are becoming increasingly important in shaping patterns of far-right activity and violence.[22]

The dynamics of financial globalisation have also facilitated increased flows of ‘dark money’ – that is, the use of non-profits and opaque company structures by rich donors to finance right-wing groups and push radical right-wing ideas into the mainstream. This is not a novel development, but it is one that is having a growing influence on the far right internationally. Researchers at openDemocracy have established that US Christian right groups, some of which are linked to personnel in Trump’s administration, have spent at least $280 million overseas since 2007. Much of this money has gone into campaigns against the rights of women and LGBT+ groups, but more recently they have been using Latin America as a testing ground for spreading misinformation about China’s role in the spread of coronavirus and undermining the WHO. These and other funding networks provide an important forum for meetings and correspondence between far-right political parties and social movements.[23]

There are also more subtle processes of internationalisation taking place, which have contributed to collective experiences and the exchange of tactics and mobilisation patterns. What happens in one country’s election can have ramifications for the political situation elsewhere, just as the outbreak of street protests in one city can inspire similar protests in another. This can overlap with the strategies of far-right organisations, which often send delegations to participate in party conferences and protests in different countries or, in the case of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in eastern Ukraine, recruit volunteers from abroad to gain experience of armed conflict.[24] Finally, as we have seen in section 3, the media and internet has played an increasingly important role in facilitating the rapid diffusion of far-right ideas, frames and strategies across borders. It is largely through these technologies that the fringe ideas and practices of far-right groups and individuals in one small corner of the globe can gain international significance overnight, fuelling dangerous sentiments and real-life actions at a local level.


[1] Ovenden (2019), op cit.

[2] Seymour R (2019). “In what sense is the Brexit Party a party?”. Patreon, 14 May 2019. Available at:

[3] Henley J (2019). “Denmark's centre-left set to win election with anti-immigration shift”. Guardian, 4 June 2019. Available at:

[4] Lichfield J (2020). “The other loser in the French elections’”. Politico, 30 June 2020. Available at:

[5] Brady K (2020). “What's behind Germany's far-right AfD party slump in polls?”. DW, Kate Brady, 10 October 2020. Available at:

[6] Gilbert R (2020). “Italy shows how easily Europe's leftwing strongholds can fall to the right”. Guardian, 22 September 2020. Available at:

[7] “Opinion poll indicates gains for Spain's right”, Majorca Daily Bulletin, 26 October 2020. Available at:

[8] Dine C (2020). “The resistible eise of the Finns party”. Jacobin, 13 February 2020. Available at:

[9] Jessop B (2019). “Authoritarian neoliberalism: periodization and critique”. South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 118, no 2, pp 343–61.

[1] Stubbs P and Lendvai-Bainton N (2019).  ‘Authoritarian Neoliberalism, Radical Conservatism and Social Policy within the European Union’, p 548.

[2] Ede Z (2019). “Tízmilliókkal tömi ki a kormány a multikat minden új munkahely után”. Index, 5 August 2019. Available at:

[3] Szabó I (2017). Hungary: inertia of the old actors, constrained innovation from the new. ETUI. Available at:

[4] Stubbs and Lendvai-Bainton, op cit, p 548.

[5] Pogátsa A and Fabry A (2019). “Viktor Orbán is finally under siege”. Jacobin, 2 February 2019; Stubbs and Lendvai-Bainton, op cit, pp 550–1; Finnsdottir MS (2019). “‘The costs of austerity: labor emigration and the rise of radical right politics in Central and Eastern Europe”. Frontiers in Sociology, vol 4, article 69.

[6] Fekete L (2019). Europe’s Fault Lines: racism and the rise of the right. London & New York, p 99; Fabry A (2018). “Neoliberalism, crisis and authoritarian-ethnicist reaction: the ascendancy of the Orbán regime”. Competition and Change, vol 23, no 2, p 174.

[7] Ibid., p 167.

[8] Livingston L (2020). “Understanding Hungary’s authoritarian response to the pandemic”. Lawfare, 14 April 2020. Available at:;  Gyollai D (2018). Hungary: Country Report: Legal & Policy Framework of Migration Governance. Working Papers – Global Migration: Consequences and Responses, Paper 2018/05 (May 2018), pp 8, 24–9. Available at:

[9] Livingston, op cit.

[10] Monella LM and Palfi R (2020). “Orban uses coronavirus as excuse to suspend asylum rights”. euronews, 3 March 2020. Available at:

[11] Fabry (2018), op cit, p 176.

[12] Stubbs and Lendvai-Bainton, op cit, pp 549–50.

[13] Agence France-Presse (2020). “Hungary's parliament blocks domestic violence treaty”. Guardian, 5 May 2020. Available at:

[14] Szijarto I and Schwartzburg R (2020). “Viktor Orbán is using the coronavirus emergency to crush minorities”. Jacobin, 8 April 2020. Available at:; Batchelor T (2020). “Hungary proposes ban on same-sex adoption as critics accuse Orban of distracting from pandemic”. Independent, 11 November 2020. Available at: 

[15] Konat G (2019). “How Poland’s failed transition fed the nationalist right”. Jacobin, 4 November 2019. Available at:

[16] Wigura K and Kuisz J (2020). “Poland's abortion ban is a cynical attempt to exploit religion by a failing leader”. Guardian, 28 October 2020. Available at:

[17] Fekete, op cit,  p 100; Schwartzburg R and Szijarto I (2019). “The ghosts of a fascist past”. Jacobin, 26 January 2019. Available at:

[18] Dunai M (2020). “Hungarian teachers say new school curriculum pushes nationalist ideology”. Reuters (UK), 4 February 2020. Available at:

[19] Bucholc M and Komornik M (2019). “The Polish ‘Holocaust Law’ revisited: the devastating effects of prejudice-mongering”. Cultures of History Forum, 19 February 2019. Available at:

[20] Fabry (2018), op cit, p 175.

[21] Cited  by Ian Bond and Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska, Democracy and the Rule of Law: failing partnership?. London/Brussels/Berlin, January 2020, p 4. Available at:

[22] OSCE (2018). Hungary: parliamentary elections 2018. ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report, Warsaw, 2018, p 1. Cited by Lili Bayer, “How Orbán broke the EU – and got away with it”. Politico, 24 September 2020. Available at:

[23] Bognar E, Batorfy A and Dragomir M (2018). Monitoring Media Pluralism in Europe: application of the media pluralism monitor 2017 in the European Union, FYROM, Serbia & Turkey. Country Report: Hungary. Florence, 2018. Available at:

[24] Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, Hungary. Available at:

[25] Szijarto and Rosa Schwartzburg (2020), op cit. Gall L (2020). “Ending Hungary’s state of emergency won’t end authoritarianism”. Human Rights Watch, 29 May 2020. Available at:

[26] Didili Z (2020). “European Commission unveils its first-ever EU27 Rule of Law Report”. New Europe, 1 October 2020. Available at:

[27] Gündüz ZY (2015). “The ‘new Turkey’: fetishizing growth with fatal results”. Monthly Review, 1 June 2015. Available at:

[28] Tansel C B (2020). “National neoliberalism in Turkey”. Dissent (summer 2019). Available at:; Gündüz, op cit.

[29] Akcay Ü (2018). Neoliberal Populism in Turkey and its Crisis. Institute for International Political Economy Berlin, Working Paper No. 100/2018, pp 10–12.

[30] Dorlach T (2018). “Retrenchment of social policy by other means: a comparison of agricultural and housing policy in Turkey”. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, vol 21, no 3, pp 270–86; Gündüz, op cit.

[31] Toksöz G (2008). Decent Work Country Report – Turkey. ILO Report, Geneva, 2008. Available at:

[32] Özkiziltan D (2019). “Authoritarian neoliberalism in AKP’s Turkey: an industrial relations perspective”. Industrial Relations Journal, vol 50, no 3 (2019), pp 224–5.

[33] Akcay Ü and Güngen A R (2019). The Making of Turkey’s 2018–2019 Economic Crisis. Institute for International Political Economy Berlin, Working Paper No. 120/2019.

[34] Amnesty International (2013). Gezi Park Protests: brutal denial of the right to peaceful assembly in Turkey. London.

[35] Bamford S (2014). “502 trade unionists in court after protest crackdown”. Stronger Unions, 17 January 2014. Available at:

[36] Kirişci K and Sloat A (2019). The Rise and Fall of Liberal Democracy in Turkey: implications for the West. Foreign Policy at Brookings Policy Brief, February 2019, pp 2–3. Available at:

[37] Toktamis KF and David I (2018). “Repression and resistance: fragments of Kurdish politics in Turkey under the AKP regime”. Turkish Studies, vol 19, no 5, p 663.

[38] Önderoğlu D (2015). “Increasing pressure on press: democracy in question”. Bianet (English), 19 October 2015. Available at:

[39] Yılmaz Z and Turner BS (2019). “Turkey’s deepening authoritarianism and the fall of electoral democracy”. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, vol 65, no 5, pp 694–5.

[40] Hinnebusch R (2015). “Back to enmity: Turkey-Syria relations since the Syrian Uprising”. Orient: Journal of the German Orient Institute, vol 56, no 1, pp 14–22.

[41] Kirişci and Sloat, op cit, p 7.

[42] UNISON (2018). Workers’ and Human Rights in Turkey: a UNISON campaign briefing. November 2018, p 6. Available at:

[43] Ibid; Amnesty International (2017). Amnesty International Report 2016/17: the state of the world’s human rights. London, pp 367–71. Available at:

[44] Renton, D (2018). The New Authoritarians: convergence on the right. London, p 6.

[45] “Erdoğan makes ‘grey wolf’ sign at rally”. Ahval, 10 March 2018. Available at:

[46] Sheran Y (2020). “The end of the secular republic”. The Atlantic, 13 August 2020. Available at:

[47] Zorlu B (2020). “Tensions rising in the Mediterranean: the interplay of domestic and foreign policy and Turkey”. PSA Blog, 7 September 2020. Available at:

[48] “Media in Turkey: 5 thousand 515 instances of hate speech in a year”. Bianet (English), 18 September 2020. Available at:

[49] Ülgen S (2019). “Turkish democracy is the winner in these momentous local elections”. Guardian, 3 April 2019. Available at:

[50] Kayserilioğlu A (2020). “Turkey’s mainstream opposition is squandering the coronavirus crisis”. Jacobin, 24 September 2020. Available at:

[51] Ibid.; Amnesty International (2020). Turkey: Stifling free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic. 16 June 2020. Available at:; Buyuk HF (2020). ‘Istanbul convention’s fate splits Turkish president’s supporters’, Balkan Insight, 10 August 2020. Available at:

[52] Roth K (2020). Human Rights Watch World Report 2020 – Turkey. Available at:

[53] Lührmann A, Medzihorsky J, Hindle G and Lindberg SI (2020). New Global Data on Political Parties: V-Party. V-Dem Institute Briefing Paper No 9, 26 October 2020. Available at:

[54] RSF World Press Freedom Index, Turkey. Available at:

[55] ITUC (2020). 2020 ITUC Global Rights Index: the world’s worst countries for workers. Brussels. Available at:

[56] Moss A (2020). “The edge of democracy”. TUC Blog, 10 February 2020. Available at:

[57] Stott M, Schipani A and Harris B (2019). “Brazil reforms: has Jair Bolsonaro missed his moment?”. Financial Times, 3 December 2019. Available at:

[58] MacDonald SB (2020). “Bolsonaro’s first year: balancing the economy and cultural wars”. Global Americans, 9 January 2020. Available at:

[59] “Brazil’s Bolsonaro joins protest against coronavirus restrictions”. Al Jazeera, 20 April 2020. Available at:

[60] Public Services International (2020). “Global unions denounce Bolsonaro before the ICC for genocide and crimes against humanity”. 27 July 2020. Available at:

[61] Rosely Rocha (2020). “See how the holidays are and the 13th of those who had a suspended work contract”. CUT, 19 October 2020. Available at:

[62] “Unemployment rate rises (14.4%) and is the largest since 2012”. CUT, 30 October 2020. Available at:

[63] Fenae (2020). “Privatizations are advancing and Caixa bankers warn: ‘burning of assets’”. CUT, 20 October 2020. Available at:

[64] Reuters Staff (2020). “Brazil's privatization czar resigns amid economic slowdown”. Reuters, 11 August 2020. Available at:

[65] Petrov A (2020). “Decree leading to private investment in basic health care”. Rio Times, 29 October 2020. Available at:

[66] Pereira A (2020). “A change in Brazil’s national populist government”. OUPblog, 1 November 2020. Available at:

[67] Phillips D (2020). “‘He became a hero’: Bolsonaro sees popularity surge as Covid-19 spreads”. Guardian, 10 October 2020. Available at:

[68] Reuters Staff, op cit.

[69] Peluso Neder Meyer E and Bustamante T (2020). “Authoritarianism without emergency powers: Brazil under COVID-19”. Verfassungsblog, 8 April 2020. Available at:; Singarajah F (2020). “Guest blog: Brazil, Covid-19 and the rule of law”. Bar Council, 22 July 2020. Available at:

[70] Peluso Neder Meyer and Bustamante, op cit.

[71] Stargardter G and Brito R (2020). “In video, Bolsonaro says wanted cops replaced to stop family being ‘screwed’”. Reuters (UK), 22 May 2020. Available at:

[72] Abrantes Martins P (2020). “Supreme crisis: Bolsonaro threatens to attack the Brazilian STF”. Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, 14 August 2020. Available at:

[73] Platt D (2020). “Is Brazil on the verge of a dictatorship?”. openDemocracy, 17 June 2020. Available at:

[74] Ricard J and Medeiros J (2020). “Using misinformation as a political weapon: Covid-19 and Bolsonaro in Brazil”. Harvard Kennedy School Mis/Information Review, 17 April 2020. Available at:

[75] Sakamoto L (2020). “In Brazil, conspiracies are for professionals”. New Internationalist, 9 October 2020. Available at:; “Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest jump in OctoberW. Al Jazeera, 2 November 2020. Available at:

[76] Azevedo GS and Fonseca JB (2020). “How Bolsonaro is undermining human rights protection mechanisms in Brazil”. LSE Blog, 02 April 2020. Available at:

[77] ITUC, op cit, pp 20–1, 25.

[78] Krsticevic V (2020). “Brazil excludes complaints of police violence from its annual human rights report”. Merco Press, 13 June 2020. Available at:; Acebes CM (2020). “Brazil suffers its own scourge of police brutality”. Americas Quarterly, 3 June 2020. Available at:

[79] Brito R (2020). “Brazil's Bolsonaro hopes to appoint evangelical minister to supreme court”. Reuters (UK), 6 October 2020. Available at:

[80] Human Rights Watch (2020). “Brazil: revoke regulation curtailing abortion access”. 21 September 2020. Available at:; Hennigan T (2020). “Bolsonaro embroiled in abortion row over 10-year-old rape victim”. Irish Times, 15 September 2020. Available at:

[81] “Brazilian president says decision to criminalise homophobia ‘completely wrong’”. euronews, 15 June 2019. Available at:

[82] Seymour R (2020). “Why is the nationalist right hallucinating a ‘communist enemy’?@. Guardian, 26 September 2020. Available at:; Bevins V (2020). “Where conspiracy reigns”. The Atlantic, 16 September 2020. Available at:

[83] Mier B (2020). “Brazilian elections: a day of shame for the far right”. Brasil Wire, 16 November 2020. Available at:

[84] Burnyeat G, Engstrom P, Gómez-Suárez A and Pearce J (2020). “Justice after war: innovations and challenges of Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace”. LSE Blog, 3 April 2020.

[85] Alsema A (2020). “US monitors urge Colombia to accelerate slowed down peace process’”. Colombia Reports, 17 June 2020. Available at:

[86] Volckhausen T (2019). “Land grabbing, cattle ranching ravage Colombian Amazon after FARC demobilization”. Mongabay, 30 May 2019. Available at:; King E and Wherry S (2020). “Colombia's environmental crisis accelerates under Duque”. nacla, 20 April 2020. Available at:

[87] UNODC (2020). Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos Ilícitos. Informe No 22 (October 2020). Available at: 

[88] Aguirre M (2020). “Colombia’s President Duque at a crossroads”. Chatham House, 17 March 2020. Available at:

[89] Burnyeat et al., op cit.

[90] Foggin S (2019). “JEP budget for 2020 to reduce by thirty percent”. Latin America Reports, 13 July 2019. Available at:

[91] JEP (2020). “JEP, preocupada por no aprobación de recursos adicionales en presupuesto”. 20 October 2020. Available at:

[93] ITUC (2020), op cit, p 25.

[94] Cited in Aguirre, op cit.

[95] Amnesty International (2020). Why Do They Want to Kill Us? Lack of safe space to defend human rights in Colombia. London, 2020. Available at:

[96] Rueda M (2020). “Colombia Farc: the former rebels who need bodyguards to stay safe”. BBC News, 3 November 2020. Available at:

[97] “El informe de ‘falsos positivos’ que entregó la Fiscalía a la JEP”. Mundo El Heraldo, 27 May 2019. Available at:

[98] Justice for Colombia (2019). “Colombian defence minister resigns over multiple army human rights scandals”. 15 November 2019. Available at:

[99] Castrillón D (2020). “Suprema que ordena medidas para garantizar derecho a protesta pacífica”. CNN Español, 24 September 2020. Available at:

[100] Reuters Staff (2020). “Colombian electoral commission launches probe of Duque campaign”. Reuters, 11 August 2020. Available at:

[101] “Peace, neoliberalism, and political shifts in Colombia”. Dossier no 23. Tricontinental, 3 December 2019.

[102] Peñaranda I and Gómez-Delgado J (2019). “Colombia’s new awakening”. Jacobin, 8 December 2019. Available at:; Franz T and Suárez AG (2019). “Why is Colombia striking for change?”. LSE Blog, 16 December 2019. Available at:

[103] Justice for Colombia (2020). “Coronavirus: what is the impact in Colombia?”. 5 November 2020. Available at:; Zoe PC (2020). “Two years of Duque’s Colombia: deepening neoliberalism, increased violence and a public health crisis” (interview with Milena Ochoa). Peoples Dispatch, 11 August 2020. Available at:

[104] Bamrah G (2020). “Colombian protests culminate in national strike”. PSU Vanguard, 3 November 2020. Available at:;   Campo Palacios D and Dest A (2020). “Empty seats and full streets in the Colombian Minga, nacla, 23 October 2020. Available at:

[105] Transparency International (2020). “Alarm over concentration of power in the presidency in Colombia”, 3 September 2020. Available at:

[106] ABColombia (2020). “Independence of the Colombian judiciary at risk”. 2 November 2020. Available at:

[1] Bruff I (2016). “Authoritarian neoliberalism and the myth of free markets”. Roar, issue 4 (winter 2016). Available at:

[2] UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2019). ”France: UN experts denounce severe rights restrictions on ‘gilets jaunes’ protesters”. 18 February 2019. Available at:; Amnesty International (2020). “France: thousands of protesters wrongly punished under draconian laws in pre and post COVID-19 crackdown”. 28 September 2020. Available at:

[3] Salvi E (2020). “Emmanuel Macron has no mandate for his attack on pensions”. Jacobin, 7 March 2020. Available at:

[4] Hanafi S (2020). “Macron steals right’s thunder on fight against radical Islam”. Bloomberg, 2 November 2020. Available at:

[5] Ní Bhriain N (2020). “Europe’s new pact on migration and asylum: more deadly border politics”. In Historical Thunder and Lightning, 1 October 2020. Available at:

[6] Freedom House (2020). Available at:

[7] Greenwald G (2016). “Trump will have vast powers. He can thank Democrats for them”. Washington Post, 11 November 2016. Available at:

[8] Sawyer W and Wagner P (2020). Mass Incarceration: the whole pie 2020. Prison Policy Initiative report. Available at

[9] Roberts M (2020). “US election: women, the young, the working class, the cities and ethnic minorities get rid of Trump”. Michael Roberts Blog, 8 November 2020. Available at:

[10] Joseph-Salisbury R, Connelly L and Wangari-Jones P (2020). “‘The UK is not innocent’: Black Lives Matter, policing and abolition in the UK”. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (online). Available at:

[11] Merrick R (2020). “Hostile environment to stay until at least 2022, Priti Patel’s ‘improvement plan’ suggests”. Independent, 30 September 2020. Available at:

[12] Casalicchio E (2020). “Boris Johnson goes presidential”. Politico, 5 August 2020. Available at:

[13] Mohdin A (2020). “Legal threat over anti-capitalist guidance for schools in England”. Guardian, 1 October 2020. Available at

[14] Caiani M (2018). “Radical right cross-national links and international cooperation”, in Rydgren (ed), The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right, p 566.

[15] Griffin R (2017). “Interregnum or endgame? The radical right in the ‘post-fascist’ era”, in Cas Mudde (ed), The Populist Radical Right, pp 17–18.

[16] See Pollard J (2016). “Skinhead culture: the ideologies, mythologies, religions and conspiracy theories of racist skinheads”. Patterns of Prejudice, vol 50, no 4–5, pp 398–419.

[17] Caiani M, op cit, pp 567–70.

[18] Maestre A (2019). “The worrying rise of Spain’s far right”. Jacobin, 28 April 2019. Available at:

[19] “Abascal prepara el Foro Madrid para hacer frente ‘al avance del comunismo y la extrema izquierda’”. vozpopuli, 26 October 2020. Available at: The São Paulo Forum is a collective of socialist political parties and other organisations from Latin America and the Caribbean, launched by the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) in 1990. Established in 2019, the Puebla Group is a progressive alliance of over 40 leaders from Latin America and Spain, including former presidents, current and former government ministers and legislators.

[20] Beirich H (2020). Generation Identity: international white nationalist movement spreading on Twitter and YouTube. Available at:; Anti-Defamation League (ADL) (n.d.) Hate Beyond Borders: the internationalization of white supremacy. Available at:

[21] Soufan Center (2020). Special Report: the Atomwaffen Division: the evolution of the white supremacy threat. Available at:

[22] Comerford M (2020). “Confronting the challenge of ‘post-organisational’ extremism”. Observer Research Foundation, 19 August 2020. Available at:

[23] Ramsay A (2019). “Is your prosecco funding the far right?”. openDemocracy, 22 May 2019. Available at:; Brough M, Snip I, Provost C and Ferreira L (2020). “Interactive: explore US Christian right ‘dark money’ spending globally”. openDemocracy, 28 October 2020. Available at:; Cariboni D and CotaI (2020). “US groups linked to COVID conspiracies pour millions of ‘dark money’ into Latin America”. openDemocracy, 29 October 2020. Available at:

[24] Purdue S (2020). “Foreign fighters and the global war for white supremacy”. Fair Observer, 18 February 2020. Available at:

Trade union responses
Here we present just some examples of responses to racism and the far right that have involved, or been led, by trade unions in different countries.

How the far right will evolve in the coming months and years is an open question. Current conditions and the likelihood of recurring, deeper and more intense crises – economic, political and ecological – will continue to provide fertile ground for organising. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an aggressive form of far-right authoritarianism could cohere in a dozen or more countries at once. Equally, there is every chance of a “new form of mass reactionary politics” taking root in the midst of these crises.[1] However, the inexorable rise of the far right is not a foregone conclusion. A lot depends on the response of trade unions, social movements and political parties.

5.1 Continental Europe

As far Europe is concerned, Germany is the country where the trade union movement appears to “have developed the most comprehensive set of actions” to counteract the rise of far-right parties and sympathy among workers for far-right views.[2] These actions have involved:

a) The adoption of a ‘defining limits and open door’ strategy, which means a no-tolerance approach to the expression of racist or far-right views, but at the same time an open door for steering the anger and frustration of discontented workers towards collective action.

b) Unions such as the DGB and its members are setting standards and ideals on democracy and solidarity, for example by enshrining defence of democracy and anti-fascism as a fundamental pillar of the trade union’s activity. Some local union leaders have also begun to apply ‘incompatibility measures’ aimed at excluding members and supporters of far-right parties from membership of the trade union, though there are still discussions on whether or not to implement this policy across the board.

c) DGB and its affiliates, as well as its research arms, have commissioned or undertaken several studies on the far-right attitudes of workers and trade union members in particular. These studies have been crucial in identifying the strength of far-right attitudes among workers as well as establishing the extent to which far-right organisations have a presence in workplaces and the democratic structures of trade unions. The DGB is currently leading a major research project in six European countries (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Poland and Hungary) that aims to provide an updated analysis of far-right organising and narratives in the workplace.

d) Awareness raising and political education interventions also form a key part of trade union strategies in Germany. A number of unions have developed brochures, produced guidebooks and launched education programmes that not only shine a light on the true nature of far-right parties such as the AfD, but are designed to prepare workers for debates on important social and economic issues.

e) German unions have begun implementing action at a company level, particularly in response to far-right movements’ attempts to penetrate works councils by fielding candidates for elections, especially in the automobile sector. These are decentralised initiatives and have not yet been generalised into a fully fledged strategy. But this an exercise still in development, supported by the ongoing research of DGB and other organisations. Other workplace interventions include workplace-based training and education initiatives to strengthen the internal democratic culture of companies. These initiatives ‘open the door’ by promoting a culture of fraternal debate around sensitive issues.

German trade unions also have a long history of leading and taking part in anti-fascist movements. In recent years, trade unions have been centrally involved in local and national mobilisations against the AfD. Two years ago, a demonstration of nearly 250,000 people took place in Germany against the AfD, organised by a coalition that included trade unions, human rights organisations and migrant associations. There have been countless local mobilisations since then, which have connected with strikes and workplace struggles, in addition to campaigns over health and housing. While we need to be careful not to overestimate the impact of these events – the AfD’s difficulties have also arisen from internal tensions – there is little doubt that this constant pressure played a significant role in exposing the fascist tendencies within the party.[3]

Recent events in Greece also show that the far right can be pushed back. At one point Golden Dawn had 18 MPs and was on course to become Greece’s third-largest party. But in 2019  the party has lost all of its seats and virtually all of its electoral support, and its leadership has been found guilty of running a criminal organisation whose crimes included murder, assault and possession of offensive weapons. This setback for the far right was not inevitable: Golden Dawn’s political and legal defeat would not have happened without broad-based anti-fascist action and strategy, solidarity actions and the mass mobilisation of Greece’s main trade union federations over a sustained period.[4] Significantly, the unions were critical in ensuring that the fight against racism and fascism was closely linked to the struggle against austerity, by organising migrant workers industrially and engaging in community-based campaigns for an expansion of welfare, housing and healthcare for refugees.

The Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) is working closely with the DGB and other European trade union partners on a research project focused on far-right organising and narratives in the workplace. The CGIL is also engaged in campaigning activity geared towards counteracting Lega’s efforts to establish a foothold in workplaces and trade unions, most notably through its formal relationship with the General Labour Union (UGL). CGIL is running a widespread campaign to highlight the unfair practices and negative implications of UGL’s actions, for example the signing of a national collective agreement for delivery riders that undermines ongoing negotiations. CGIL also works closely with the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI), which has just signed a protocol with the Ministry of Education to promote the memory of anti-fascist movements in schools.

Trade unions in Hungary have experienced a dramatic decline in membership during the decade that Orbán has been in power. Orbán’s regime has made clear its intention to destroy unions and destroy workers’ rights. One report notes that “there are no direct strategies or actions carried out by trade unions” to counteract support for the far right.[5] But while unions are relatively weak in Hungary, Orbán’s ‘slave law’ created an unprecedented protest movement. At the beginning of 2019, trade unions came onto the streets in protest against the new labour code, demanding that it be withdrawn. They were joined by political parties and civil society organisations, which accused Orbán of eroding democracy and the rule of law. This ushered in ‘a year of resistance’ against the government, promoting closer cooperation between opposition parties that eventually resulted in electoral gains at a municipal level. However, the protests have since given way to an approach favouring dialogue with the government, particularly in the context of the pandemic. It is uncertain how this will play out and whether we will see a concerted challenge to Orbán’s radical nationalist, anti-worker and anti-immigrant agenda.[6]

In Poland, the trade union reaction to the constitutional ban on abortion has highlighted the importance of building solidarity networks and mobilising against regimes that are lurching to the right. The protests organised by Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike) have galvanised public support and gathered huge momentum, bringing tens of thousands of people onto the streets. The Polish trade union movement has a strong Catholic nationalist influence. But while some unions have been supportive of the government, the demonstrations have attracted support from a broad range of social forces including farmers, taxi drivers and sections of the trade union movement, including the miners’ union Sierpień ’80. With the political landscape polarised and evenly balanced, the outcome of the Strajk Kobiet protests will be hugely significant.[7]

5.2 The UK

Trade unions have been one of the mainstays of anti-racist and anti-fascist activity in Britain for decades, reaching all the way back to the battles against Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s. More recently, trade unions led the mobilisation against the National Front in the 1970s and 1980s. This is part of the reason for the weak and fragmented nature of the neo-Nazi right in Britain today. But trade unions have once again been forced to mobilise against the far right as it has re-emerged in different incarnations. In an effort to deny the far right the space in which to organise and propagate its views, trade unions in the UK have initiated or supported a number of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in recent years. This has included widespread support and solidarity activity among trade unions for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Recognising the urgent need to build on what has already been done, the TUC and its affiliates have been working to develop further strategies for countering racism and the far right. For instance, the TUC has been engaging with international partners on the question of how best to organise against far-right forces and narratives in the workplace, with a view to developing a joint programme of work on a cross-border basis. Furthermore, the TUC is in the process of developing new education courses, one of which – Winning Workplace Unity – has already been delivered in four regions.

The Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (TUCG)[8] has recently published an edited collection that draws attention to various aspects of trade union activity geared towards combatting racism and the far right.[9] Among the initiatives highlighted is the FBU’s solidarity and education trips to the refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais, which have involved firefighter members travelling across to the camps with much-needed supplies and bringing back the stories of refugees to their workplaces. The FBU executive has decided to expand this project in order that its message of internationalism and solidarity can be spread more widely among its membership. Also highlighted is the campaigning efforts of the RMT in the struggle against institutional racism and the far right, and its commitment to formulating a trade union response including, in collaboration with the TUC and others, the development of anti-fascist training.

For its part, the NEU has been developing an anti-racist workplace charter that models good practices and behaviours for schools relating to the curriculum, pastoral systems and employment practices. The union has also posted member-created teaching resources about refugees and migrants on the NEU website. NEU activists have meanwhile been working on initiatives to ‘decolonise’ the education curriculum, which is an important development not only because of its longstanding pro-imperialist bias but particularly in the light of the Windrush scandal, Black Lives Matter and the Tories’ attacks on academic freedoms in schools and universities. This decolonising agenda seeks to: connect contemporary racialised disadvantages with wider historical processes of colonialism; make what teachers teach and how they teach it more responsive to the problems of colonial and racialised privilege and discrimination; and overcome the limits and disadvantages embedded in curricula (content) and pedagogies (methods for teaching, assessment and academic support).

Unite the Union has launched a Unity Over Division’ campaign, run by its own staff to allow direct engagement with members. Unite’s work includes a process of building the skills and confidence of activists to challenge far-right narratives in the workplace and community through engaging in difficult conversations – very much in line with the ‘open door’ strategy being pursued by some of the German unions. At the time of writing, Unite has held a series of large workshop-style events with workers across the UK, in addition to more localised one-day training events. The union has briefed all of its 100 tutors across the regions, developing new resources for core shop stewards’ education programmes, and trained another 100 facilitators in Ireland to have difficult conversations in their communities in response to a rise in far-right activities. During the lockdown, Unite has engaged with private companies and local councils to deliver anti-racist education, securing the support of employers for the union’s Unity Over Division charter.

It is important to add that successful political campaigning against racism and the far right has always been liked to industrial campaigns to build class solidarity. Over the past two years alone, there have been several large-scale disputes affecting sectors that are crucial to sustaining our communities and have a high proportion of BME and migrant workers. These are the kinds of action that serve to strengthen the links between the industrial, the political and the community. Furthermore, the pandemic has prompted a reassessment of what constitutes essential work and how it should be valued, financially and societally. The Conservative government’s proposals for new restrictions on migration post-Brexit will leave many of these workers, already low paid and precarious, facing even greater exploitation and abuse.[10] This is why the emphasis placed on organising migrant workers by the TUC and affiliates is so important.

5.3 The US

The defeat of Donald Trump owed a great deal to the organising and mobilising efforts of trade unions and grassroots movements. Starting in 2018, the Trump administration was faced with an upsurge in major strikes, most notably by public schoolteachers and support workers of various kinds. Significantly, the teachers struck and won in ‘red’ (Republican) states with no collective bargaining provisions. The outbreak of the pandemic saw workers responding to the government’s failure to guarantee adequate workplace health and safety protections and income support for frontline workers. Coming on top of the pandemic and subsequent economic impacts,[11] these actions and the conditions that gave rise to them had the cumulative effect of galvanising opposition to Trump. Union members not only voted for Biden but, crucially, mobilised in large numbers to help deliver gains for Biden in key swing states, with the AFL-CIO playing an important role. This mobilisation centred around public health (Medicare For All) and the economy. The multiple overlapping crises in the US present a serious threat to workers’ lives and livelihoods, but have also opened up some possibilities for a political trade union response.

5.4 Latin America

Far-right neoliberal movements and governments in Latin America are among the greatest threats to democracy, human rights and a decent standard of living for the majority. This is why examples of successful resistance contain useful lessons for trade unions in other parts of the world. The huge victory of the MAS candidate Luis Arce in Bolivia’s presidential elections not only heralds a brighter future for the Bolivian people but also demonstrates the possibility and necessity of building a resilient movement from the bottom up. Indigenous, Afro-Bolivians, peasants and large sections of the trade union movement have been actively resisting far-right attacks and state repression since the coup began last year. They were sustained by the fact that the MAS government emerged from the social movements, as opposed to a narrow focus on the rituals of voting every few years, and gave those movements a democratic stake in the project to overturn neoliberalism. Grassroots political education organised by workers’ movements and campesino unions were another foundation stone of the movement that has been built there.

Chile is another example of trade unions placing themselves at the heart of a movement to push back the tide of right-wing reaction and chart a new path for the country. The referendum granted by the government to replace Pinochet’s constitution came after years of campaigning and mass protest action involving trade unions, indigenous groups, the women’s movement and students. Meanwhile, we have already noted that an emerging coalition of social forces, including trade unions, has mobilised in Colombia around a positive and increasingly coherent political vision that aligns peace and democracy with critiques of neoliberal capitalism, bringing issues of poverty, inequality and racial injustice to the forefront. The Brazilian trade union movement, too, has been campaigning consistently against Bolsonaro’s policies in the industrial and political sphere. A general strike against the government’s pension reforms in the summer of 2019 has been followed by a pattern of industrial action against privatisation, public sector cuts, layoffs and Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic. A number of trade union leaders and activists were also elected during Brazil’s municipal elections in November of this year.[12]

The histories and circumstances of these Latin American countries are very different to those faced by trade unions in the UK. But they highlight the necessity of industrial campaigning, extra-parliamentary organising and movement-building, linked to a hopeful political vision.

[1] Renton D (2020), op cit.

[2] European Economic and Social Committee (2019). Trade Union Strategies in the EU to Address Trade Union Members’ and Workers’ Growing Propensity to Vote for Right Wing Populists and Nationalists. Brussels, pp 47–53. Available at:

[3] Ovenden K (2020). “From Golden Dawn to the AfD, the far right is being beaten back by a fighting left”. Counterfire, 20 October 2020. Available at:

[4] Ibid.

[5] European Economic and Social Committee, op cit, p 55.

[6] Szijarto I (2019). “Hungarians can’t be bought with potatoes”. Jacobin, 27 October 2019. Available at:

[7] “Farmers, taxi drivers and miners show support for abortion protests in Poland”. Notes from Poland, 26 October 2020. Available at:

[8] Comprising BFAWU, FBU, NAPO, NEU, NUJ, PCS, POA, RMT, UCU and URTU.

[9] Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (2020). Trade Unions Fighting Racism and the Far-right: building solidarity in workplaces and communities. Available at:

[10] Morris M (2020). Building a Post-Brexit Immigration System for the Economic Recovery. IBPPR briefing, November 2020. Available at:

[11] See Yates MD (2020). “COVID-19, economic depression, and the Black Lives Matter protests: will the triple crisis bring a working-class revolt in the United States?”. Monthly Review, vol 72, no 4, pp. 14–33.

Recommended areas for action

Building solidarity and workers’ power

1. Throughout history trade unions have been at the forefront of the struggle against the far right and its attempts to divide working people using narratives of hate and blame. Drawing on our core values of unity, equality and solidarity, we will strengthen existing links and build new networks, rooted in workplaces. International solidarity between working people has led to concrete wins.

  • It is crucial that as the economic crisis hits our members, we don’t retreat to looking inward only within national borders and that we continue to build strong global relationships and build workers’ power where unions face repression and authoritarian practices. This needs to be the foundation on which we build our work to jointly combat the far right.

2. We must identify strategies to leverage our industrial power and engage employers in tackling the influence of the far right in the workplace:

  • The TUC, Unite, the DGB and IG Metall are developing a programme for working with companies that have sites in the UK and Germany, aimed at developing a model for practical workplace-based action to counter the far right. We will ensure the learning from this pilot is shared widely.

3. Unions recognise that, while the workplace is our starting point, we must connect our struggles to the wider community and build solidarity and develop a collective narrative to counter the far right:

  • Unions need to explore a range of strategies including: supporting online community organising where ideas can be shared; developing industrial campaigns to overcome division and exploitation in workplaces; and producing and sharing content.

4. Unions recognise that the far right targets its hate at specific groups including LGBT+, ethnic and religious minorities, migrants and refugees, women and trade unionists. In order to effectively combat this, we need to be clear as a movement that, in line with our core value of equality, we stand with all workers and oppose all forms of hate without exception:

  • Trade union organisations should actively encourage members to stand in solidarity with all working people against the far right and ensure there are relevant rules on domestic and international affiliations that reject sympathising with far-right groups and any organisations that promote discriminatory narratives.

5. The TUC has recognised that the rise of the far right is an international phenomenon and consequently the urgent need to further strengthen international links and the sharing of learning across international borders, and this should include building networks with the broader anti-racist and anti-fascist movement internationally.

Building a narrative, raising awareness

6. Raising political awareness among workers and communities must be a priority for the union movement in building a compelling narrative to counter the far right. Sustained political education among representatives, activists, members and communities should continue to:

  • address the history of our movement and our fundamental values
  • connect our daily struggles to the structural problems created by neoliberalism, which have systematically undermined institutions that support workers’ rights
  • challenge far-right narratives for example on migration, through constructive and challenging debate
  • link history and theory to the practice of our concrete struggles in workplaces and communities in building a more equal and democratic society.

7. Combatting the far right is a political question that requires a political answer. Just as the far right has grown in the absence of a progressive alternative to neoliberalism, as the case studies show, it has been successfully pushed back where anti-racist and anti-fascist efforts have been closely linked to the struggle against neoliberalism and austerity. In practical terms this has involved building solidarity networks on the ground to connect the disparate social forces engaged in the struggle against racism, the far right and around various material concerns:

  • We must continue to articulate a hopeful political narrative that shows how workers’ lives can be improved in key aspects such as better jobs, pay, public services and housing. Given the pandemic and economic crisis that impact on members’ jobs and lives, it is a key moment for the union movement to outline an inspiring vision for recovery.

Building our evidence base for action

8. There is limited information about the penetration of far-right organisations and narratives in UK workplaces and trade union membership. The programme of research currently being pursued by the DGB offers a methodological template and useful lessons for undertaking a similar exercise in the UK, which can subsequently inform trade union strategies.

9. It was beyond the scope of this report to undertake a comprehensive examination of trade union responses to the far right internationally. However, this is an important piece of work that would be useful in identifying the most effective strategies currently being employed and innovative responses to the constantly evolving threat of the far right.

10. It could be useful to undertake a wider analysis of the growth of the far right internationally and highlight other important case studies, for example in Asia, Africa and other regions.

Tackling the far right online

11. The role of social media and ‘big tech’ companies in amplifying far-right narratives demands closer attention from trade unions, both to understand this phenomenon and to formulate an effective response including lobbying for stronger regulation.

12. We need to build upon work that is mapping the influence of far-right narratives and networks online. By analysing key influencers, recurring narratives, geographic and demographic data, we can identify strategies designed to pull people away from the influence of the right. 

13. The UK lacks the type of progressive media that can match the capacity of the far right. Trade unions should consider their strategy to challenge far-right narratives and corporate power and promote a vision of a different world. 

Conclusion: A resistable threat
The threat of the far right today is potent, not least because of its electoral and extra-parliamentary strength.

Far-right electoral parties have gained ground in parallel with the mobilisation of right-wing extremists on the streets. They are in parliament and have taken power, not just at a local or regional level but at a national level. We have seen how authoritarianism and far-right ideologies are not incompatible with neoliberalism; instead, these regimes sit at the extreme end of a continuum, a continuum that itself is moving in a more authoritarian and radical right-wing direction. The political mainstream has increasingly adopted far-right discourses and practices, while far-right parties, movements and regimes themselves have also shown radicalising tendencies under certain conditions. It is this spread of far-right ideas, discourses and practices that presents such a challenge. Today’s far right is also transnational, which has a catalysing effect on its ability to grow and radicalise. The contemporary far right has also displayed tactical flexibility, ideological pragmatism and a degree of sophistication in its preferred methods of organising and communication. Added to this is the complex ecosystem of transnational far-right media outlets, networks and groups, which have drawn large numbers of people down dangerous ‘rabbit holes’ and inserted far-right narratives into the public discourse.

And yet, the far right does not have the answers to the multiple crises we face. Examples of successful resistance across the globe contain useful lessons for us all. Trade unions, the biggest social movement on the planet, are best placed to meet this challenge head on by articulating and organise around a hopeful vision of the future.

If the left fails to provide rational, progressive solutions to the growing social and economic crises, the right will seize the occasion with irrational and reactionary ‘solutions’ to these crises. 

Daniel Singer
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