Britain at the crossroads: why we should take heed of rightwing nationalism’s tightening grip on Germany.
The December 12 general election will determine what sort of country Britain will become over the next generation. The populist right has a vision of the future it wants. This vision is intolerant, exclusionary, and backward-looking, but it is presented as a strong, nationalist alternative to the current liberal status quo, and it is disturbingly compelling.
Down a flight of stairs on a street in South Kensington, West London is the temporary office of a self-styled climate activist by the name of Felix; a native of Berlin, former hospital porter, member of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and organiser of popular informal talks on how eco-fascism can save the planet.
Felix stayed on in London after taking part in the Extinction Rebellion London Protests and his ‘lectures’ about how “greater surges of migration will accompany the rising waters of climate change,” are extremely popular among South Kensington’s well-educated, but disenfranchised, fearful and uncertain young voters.
Felix offers a compelling, empathetic narrative, talking about the need to support those who are displaced by climate-induced migration; the millions of people who have been forcibly displaced by weather-related sudden onset hazards — such as floods, storms, wildfires, extreme temperature — each year since 2008. “The World Bank estimates that Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia alone will generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050,” Felix says, with unerring authority and contagious passion.
He talks about how climate migration has a direct impact on cities — cities like London, which, according to Felix, is increasingly the prime destination for displaced persons and refugees. He reels off statistics about asylum seekers arriving in the European Union; the high numbers fleeing war zones in Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Syria, and the increasing percentage of migrants fleein economic deprivation in Nigeria and Pakistan; and political instability in Somalia.
“We have these individuals coming from all over the world that have some of the most extreme medical care in the world, and they are coming in with diseases such as smallpox and leprosy and TB that are going to infect our people in Europe, and that includes all of you here, in South Kensington.
“They’re pouring into your country,” Felix says. “They are pouring into my country. And the governments of Britain and Germany are doing nothing to stop them. In fact, they have encouraged them, just like they encouraged business, industry and the consumer to damage the planet. The blind leading the blind.”
Behind this swell of climate crisis, extinction and complete environmental breakdown rhetoric is a rising tide of angry right-wing nationalism, and a well-funded network of right-wing civil society organisations campaigning around the world to roll back civil rights advances.
Make no mistake, the far-right has constructed a powerful narrative of victimisation that is fast moving into the mainstream. And if you believe the UK is resistant to rightwing nationalism, you should heed this warning. No country is immune to the far right.
In the space of two months this spring, Nigel Farage rebuilt the fledgling Brexit Party, blitzed the country with a social media campaign, and captured the largest share of the UK’s vote in the European elections. Several other right-wing populist movements; Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary, Matteo Salvini’s Lega in Italy, also captured the most votes in their countries.
The rise of the anti-immigrant far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) — running on an anti-Islam, Euro-skeptic platform — is benefiting from fears of foreigners, picking up protest votes by those who feel left behind by the centrist parties that have long dominated German politics, including Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
October’s regional elections in the eastern state of Thuringia sent shock waves throughout the country when Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union was outvoted by the socialist left-wing party, Die Linke, followed by the AfD, which gained 23% of votes. The majority of voters under age 30 chose the AfD, according to official polling statistics, suggesting a new, younger generation that hasn’t lived through the division of its country is in agreement with the far-right party.
The fact that Thuringia’s AfD party leader, Bjoern Hoecke is currently under investigation by federal intelligence agencies for extremist speech, which has included questioning Germany’s culpability in World War II, has not seemed to detract from his success. He has denied the existence of Nazi speech when questioned about using words associated with the Third-Reich, including “Lebensraum” or “degenerate,” as in a recent interview with German broadcaster ZDF.
Right-wing nationalism is infectious and is going around the world right now like a chronic disease. The far-right has not only declared that “another world is possible”; it is busy building that world, just like Felix in that improvised basement political theatre in South Kensington; the so-called natural preserve of a moderate, pro-remain Conservative-style candidate, but in truth a population of contrasting millionaires and celebrities in South Kensington, Holland Park and Notting Hill with the deprived communities of North Kensington, where residents are still profoundly marked by the Grenfell fire.
The inhabitants of South Kensington, irrespective of race or creed or social standing, are, like many people in the UK, are facing the future with fear and trepidation, as solid certainties crumble apart and the fabric of society becomes ever more fragile. And it is into this underlying unease that pedlars of right-wing nationalism such as Felix are injecting potentially lethal doses of anxiety laced conjecture.
“The old way of doing things — consensus politics, carbon-hungry consumerism, a reluctance to challenge corporate and government authority, or to address the shadow side of mass immigration, are coming into question,” Felix said. “You must know by now you can’t trust your political leaders. They cannot build the new world you deserve.”
Britain at the crossroads.
Not since the early 1980s has the gap between the two major political parties been so wide, the different visions on offer so distinctive.
On one side, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is now a long way right of the political centre, intent on whipping up Britain’s deep social divisions to help him win this election. Cracking down on migration and going hard on “law and order” are top of his agenda, which will also be wrapped in a “parliament vs the people” narrative which attempts to demonise elected representatives for frustrating his attempt to leave the EU. Already he has compared Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to Josef Stalin.
On the other, Corbyn’s Labour Party is committed to reversing years of free-market economics which has laid waste to British society. He will try to steer the conversation away from the divisions created by Brexit by promising massive investment in public services and the regional economy, a “green new deal”, and a commitment to tax and regulate big business, including by clamping down on tax havens and introducing a financial transactions tax.
In the marginal, Labour held South Kensington, it is virtually impossible to see how that voting pattern can continue. Middle-class professionals have leaned Labour since the 1980s. But the anti-Semitism, conspiracy-mongering, and economic chauvinism of Corbyn’s Labour Party seem anathema to such professionals.
So when rightwing internationalists, in disguise as nationalists and climate activists, start talking about climate crisis and extinction and complete environmental breakdown, the irony is overwhelming to the point of rationale paralysis.
Climate change is both the radical right’s Achilles’ heel and window of opportunity. On one hand, rightwing nationalism has no effective response to climate change other than to pretend that it doesn’t exist. On the other, though, this is the first time in human history there is a single issue on which all of humanity can hopefully agree, and if you can get disillusioned and politically disfranchised people to believe that immigrants are to blame for climate change, then it becomes much easier to sell the entire far-right narrative of victimisation into mainstream thinking.
Make no mistake, ‘ecofascism’ is a delivery mechanism for the full white nationalist manifesto.
Following the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas on August 3 this year, which claimed the lives of 22 people, the suspected shooter 21-year-old Patrick Crusius reportedly uploaded a ‘white nationalist manifesto’ to the website 8chan, also called Infinitechan.
Amongst the four-page document, he made reference to how his ideology was partly inspired by a desire to improve the environment and ‘get rid of enough people’ to make the ‘American lifestyle more sustainable.’