First published: July 1996
Some years ago the Financial Times ran an exceptionally instructive back page interview with Jean Marie Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right wing French National Front. It was instructive, not because of what it told the reader about Le Pen, but for what it reflected about the thinking of the Financial Times.
The article was entitled ‘Militant bourgeois’. The tone of the interview was precisely expressed by its title. It sought to foster toleration among the FT’s readers of Le Pen as a ‘militant’ representative of a ‘bourgeois’ political force – without, of course, endorsing his more obscurantist, racist and anti-semitic views. The approach was to create the kind of attitude to Le Pen among FT readers, that might have been found among militant car workers in the 1970s to a ‘communist’ shop steward – ‘we don’t agree with a lot of their ideas, but they are useful to have on our side in a fight with the class enemy.’
If the FT piece had been a one-off it would not be worth commenting on. But it was followed by a similar interview with Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the, formerly explicitly fascist, Italian National Alliance. The theme has more recently been taken up by The Economist which has been running what amounts to a public relations campaign on behalf of Fini and Jorg Haidar, leader of Austria’s far right Freedom Party. The following gives the flavour of the coverage: ‘First point: what the far right stands for has changed. Even if far right parties in Austria and Italy do well, they are less frightening than most people recently thought, and far less so than their ancestors in the 1930s. Most would now accept that multi-party systems are the best form of democracy, that power should be won and held by the ballot box and that nobody is above the law… fascism in its old west European clothing is dead. The main parties on the Italian, French and Austrian far right have even junked most of the old state corporatism that characterised the 1930s.
‘A second qualification is that nowhere is there much chance of an extreme right winger winning power untrammelled. Jorg Haidar’s Freedom Party in Austria, or Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance in Italy, could win power only as junior partners in a coalition.
‘The Freedom Party may get a third of the vote. Haidar has praised aspects of Hitler’s rule… and tends to attack racial minorities, homosexuals and foreigners. But he is able, sharp witted and has learned not to rant, especially on TV. Like Mr Fini in Italy, he has junked the old fascist corporatism in favour of the free market…’
The point being made is that, from the point of view of the class which The Economist and Financial Times represent, the emerging far right in Europe should not be dismissed out of hand – that would be ‘sectarian’. It has its uses. It is exceptionally militant. On the basis of racism it can cut into the working class. In a tight corner it is even possible, as in Italy, for the mainstream bourgeois parties to ally with it.
This represents a significant, and symptomatic sign of the times in the new Europe which capital is trying to create through the Maastricht Treaty – one of whose effects is to grind down the traditional petty-bourgeoisie and the unemployed and thereby create a mass political base for the far right. This is facilitated by the way in which European Social Democracy has aided the entire process and thereby created the hopelessness and desperation on which the far right feeds.
The Economist and the Financial Times are saying to the ‘thinking bourgeois’: ‘Look to the future. Don’t dismiss our militant friends on the right out of hand. We may well reach the point when the unions are less docile and more robust measures will be necessary to grind down the resistance of the working class. Then the “militant bourgeois” like Le Pen, Haidar and Fini may prove their usefulness.’
Isn’t that precisely the way in which many of the ‘thinking bourgeois’ of Italy, Germany, Spain, France… and Britain, reasoned in the 1920s and 1930s?