The ongoing crisis of capitalism is bringing forth some extremely worrying trends. One of them is the rise of what can only be described as fascism – a nationalist, authoritarian, anti-intellectual and anti-pluralist ideology.
A good example of this trend is Hungary where the current right-wing government has been implementing some radical changes in the political system, taking advantage of their two-thirds majority in the parliament, as described by Éva S. Balogh here. Essentially, what they’re trying to create is a single-party led system with tight government control over the judiciary and the media. Fidesz, the ruling party, has been stepping up its nationalist rhetoric in recent years in an obvious attempt to curb the rising popularity of the extreme right Jobbik party, which in turn has been linked with violent actions against gypsies and homosexuals, amongst other things.
The situation in Hungary shows what can happen when the political elite totally loses its touch with the people. In Hungary this gaping chasm was revealed in a particularly dramatic way when an audio tape surfaced in 2006 where the incumbent socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted to lying to the public in order to win the last election and to doing “nothing” in his four years in office. But this is not just a Hungarian problem, the same thing is happening all over Europe. The ridiculous attempts by the European leaders to “solve” the debt crisis with austerity and more debt have made this rift between the elite and the people obvious to everyone. Such a situation is ripe for the populists to come in with their easy solutions that the public can at least understand.
On the other side of the pond, Chris Hedges has been talking about the Christian right as the “American fascists.” Hedges argues that the popularity of these cults arises from a general sense of despair, alienation and being left out that is caused by the economic and social deterioration of living communities. It’s the people who have lost their sense of purpose in life that are most vulnerable to cults promising immediate personal salvation and, more importantly, a sense of belonging that the living communities are no longer able to offer. This is also very much true for fascist ideology, as fascism is itself essentially a cult.
It’s easy to draw parallels between the current crisis and the era of the Great Depression at the turn of the 1930s when fascism triumphed in Europe last time. Of course, in an era of global capitalism and a highly integrated Europe, the kind of nationalisation of the economy that the fascist states of the 1930s implemented is not going to be feasible. And that’s why any nationalist rhetoric is today inherently false. As we’ve seen, any government is only going to be allowed to rule as long as it bows down to the will of international capital. Indeed, the Hungarian government has already had to back down on planned economic reforms because of opposition from the EU. Uniting the nation under a “strong leader” is clearly a hopeless task under the circumstances where every political leader is made look weak by the forces of capital.
What this rise of nationalist rhetoric has been able to achieve, however, is a legitimisation of the kind of racist and xenophobic thought that used to be relegated to the fringes. It’s very difficult to fight this tendency by the usual means of suppression or tolerance propaganda since the hatred is so deeply rooted in that very real sense of despair Hedges is talking about. That’s why any real changes in the thinking of the general public can only happen through a transformation of the social relations within the society. If we want to promote humanist and egalitarian values, we need to rebuild our communities upon those values, thus neutering the destructive forces of both nationalism and consumer culture. Only then can we begin to alleviate the sense of despair that is holding our society in its grip. Naturally, this must be done from the ground-up and on a voluntary basis or it’s not going to work. That, I think, is our most important task for the coming decades. If we fail in this task, then I’m afraid our future is going to be shaped by forces hell-bent on destroying civilisation as we know it.