Learning About the Far-Right, With Help From the Far-Left
Words by Jack Mencel
It starts with a small group of individuals feeling angry and disenfranchised.
They meet in private to discuss their ideas in an echo-chamber, knowing full well that their true beliefs are too extreme for public pronouncement. To spread their message incognito, they plaster their political slogans all over the city, with posters and stickers criticising democracy and calling for revolution.
They go to events where popular causes are being expressed, and through polite and inquisitive conversation, they draw moderates into their fold. ‘Don’t you see that elections are rigged? Democracy is a sham controlled by the elites.’ Exploiting popular grievances, they encourage this anger and point it towards the group they suppose is to blame. When asked, they gently present their extreme ideology as the solution that can solve everything.
Then, when they are confident enough, and have gained enough followers, they mobilise in the streets, waving banners and chanting. It is now that they openly incite the action they want to see: their enemies ‘smashed’ and ‘destroyed’ in a revolution to replace Australia’s democracy. There is no grievance that this revolution won’t fix, if only you let them implement their plan: the abolition of the liberal-democratic system and its replacement with an apparatus based in centralised party control. This party, of course, is their own.
These are the strategies of the far-right; extremists whose illiberal ideas are on the rise. I learnt about their playbook while attending the SRC’s event ‘Understanding the New Far-Right and How To Fight It’. It is difficult to properly summarise the informative speeches given by the event’s three panellists, though I took away a key message from each.
Lecturer Gareth Pritchard spoke about the importance of building a ‘unity’ against fascism and the far-right; an insight he gained during his involvement in the Anti-Nazi League. Pritchard stated that this united stand must comprise of anti-fascists from across the political spectrum: “socialists, trade unionists… [even] actual members of the Liberal Party, it doesn’t matter” (which I found most reassuring).
Associate Professor Tim Legrand spoke of the way the far-right works to erode trust in liberal-democratic institutions to create a void in faith that they can fill. He also spoke about the importance of grievance narratives to the far-right’s recruitment strategy, as by saying that ‘you are not to blame for your problems’, they can encourage that anger be channelled towards an external enemy.
Ana Obradovic, President of the SRC and the Socialist Alternative gave a ‘left-wing analysis of what fascism actually is,’ and argued that the recent growth in support for the far-right and fascism is a product of an ailing capitalist system. She said that ‘The everyday functioning of liberal-capitalism feeds the far-right,’ and as such, ‘the centre is no answer.’ She concluded that ‘Therefore, we can’t get rid of fascism until we get rid of this system.’
As I reflected, I couldn’t help but feel Obradovic’s statements were rather strange within the broader context of the event that she herself had organised. Isn’t an indictment against liberalism and a call to replace it the very thing we were told to expect from the far-right? Also, if Obradovic wants us to ‘get rid of this system,’ what does she want us to replace it with?
To find out, I had a look at the Socialist Alternative’s website, as Obradovic is president of their AU branch. Here is a portion from their Statement of Principles:
Only the revolutionary overthrow of the existing order and the smashing of the capitalist state apparatus can defeat the capitalist class and permanently end its rule. A successful revolution will involve workers taking control of their workplaces, dismantling existing state institutions (parliaments, courts, the armed forces and police) and replacing them with an entirely new state based on genuinely democratic control by the working class.
Well, this certainly sounds extreme, but at least they want democracy? Well actually, this is democracy for the ‘working class’, who in Australia is estimated to be about a quarter of the population. This presumably means that Obradovic would like to see a drastic reduction of suffrage within Australia. After all, Australia’s liberal-democratic system, which already allows all Australians over the age of 18 to vote in free and fair elections, is the very system Obradovic wants replaced.
Even this interpretation is charitable, as it assumes such a revolution would follow through on its promises. Despite commitments to a ‘workers democracy’ being common to nearly all Marxist revolutions, few if any have granted legitimate voting rights to anyone outside the party elite. Every Marxist revolution has resulted in a despotic nightmare, so why does she think her revolution will be any different? Obradovic is clearly intelligent; I struggle to believe she is that naïve.
Simply put, I can’t understand why Obradovic wants us to celebrate the Red Guard’s March on Petrograd in October 1917, but decry the Brownshirt’s March on Rome in October 1922. Both events brought decades-long totalitarian dictatorships that stripped citizens of their rights, freedom and dignity.
Sure, fascism is a ‘Mass movement whose core-base is the middle-class’, while Marxism is a ‘Mass movement whose core-base is the working-class,’ to use Obradovic’s descriptions. However, for a civilian with a gun to their head, it is little consolation to know that power is being held by a member of the ‘working-class’ instead of somebody else.
Right now, the Socialist Alternative’s ‘revolutionary’ pastimes consist of holding meetings, circulating propaganda and larping as Bolsheviks. A glance at their history suggests that thankfully, this will likely remain their pattern of behaviour. However, their approach aligns almost exactly with the far-right tactics listed at the start of this piece. As Pritchard reminded us in his speech, we should never underestimate the potential for hate-filled extremist groups to turn from grievance-rhetoric to physical violence. In the case of the far-left, we should remember that the Khmer Rouge, the Shining Path and even the Chinese Communist Party all started as student discussion groups before going on to commit some of the worst atrocities in history.
Learning about the far-right it becomes obvious that any revolution by them would be horrific. Certainly, we would not tolerate a ‘fascist club’ or any far-right group on campus calling for revolution. Why then do we tolerate a far-left group that does the same?