The European Far Right is Far Left (on Economics)


Filling in over at Matt Yglesias's Center for American Progress blog, Jamelle Bouie upbraids British historian Andrew Roberts for writing that "Far from being the much-heralded 'crisis of Capitalism' that the left has so long and salivatingly augured, this recession has in fact seen Capitalism's ultimate triumph." Bouie says that a clever chappie like Roberts "can't possibly be surprised by Europe's rightward turn during the recession," pointing to a recent study, previously trumpeted by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, that "found that 'for every percentage point decline in GDP growth over two quarters, support for the far right rises by 0.136 percentage points,' which is a statistically significant effect, though not an electorally significant one (emphasis added)."

I am going to assume the study cited is methodologically sound (the conclusions seem unsurprising, though, from a quick look at the paper, the authors don't seem to identify which parties it considers "far right"), but Bouie's analysis is wrong on almost every count. By conflating the rise in "far right" parties with free market parties—Roberts is talking about a supposed rejection of "prime-the-pump Keynesianism"—Bouie concludes that Europe's recent turn to the right is unsurprising. Roberts' case is a mite overstated (I made a similar argument here), but Bouie, who says the correlation between financial disaster and an insurgent right is "obvious," doesn't seem to understand that the far-right parties of Europe are almost all anti-immigration and pro-welfare state.

There are also, he argues, obvious historical precedents to consider:

That said, you need only look to Europe in the 1930s to see how economic distress distorts the political landscape. Right-wing parties successfully capitalized on widespread insecurity to gain power or influence in Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria and France.

This is bizarre. The Italian fascists came to power in 1922, some years before the depression (and the 1930s!), by advocating a corporatist economy. In Spain, the fascists didn't ultimately seize control until 1939. As historian Stanley Payne points out in The Collapse of the Spanish Republic, by 1934 the Spanish economy was recovering and "although economic circumstances played a role, political rivalry remained the dominant motivation" for the political upheaval of that year, which precipitated the coup in 1936. Indeed, a fascist putsch seemed unlikely, Payne argues, because Spain was not burdened by "any significant demobilized army, any great mass of urban unemployment, any strong Spanish nationalism or militarist programs, or potential popular leaders."

And to what is Bouise referring in France, which saw the 1936 election of Leon Blum's socialist Popular Front, which had Édouard Daladier as a Prime Minister in 1933, and a moderate-right government in the early 1930s? In Austria, a far-right party—the National Socialists—gained power by annexation, using the ethnic pitch of Heim ins Reich and not an appeal to economic concerns.

But back to modern Europe: I invite Bourie to look at the party platforms of extreme right parties like the NPD in Germany, the Danish People's Party in Denmark, and Sverigedemokraterna in Sweden, all of whom display a deep hostility to capitalism. On the website of the NPD, an unreconstructed neo-Nazi party that periodically polls well in the former East Germany, one can buy "anti-capitalist" t-shirts and sweatshirts (and Admiral Doenitz gear!) and can print out generically anti-American handbills. Most of the extreme parties—left and right—agree on economic issues, though differ on who should receive state assistance—i.e., immigrants.

One more thing: Yesterday, I criticized blog posts by Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein for credulously reporting from a newly constructed Chinese village, where everything was free and the state provided gratis birthday cakes (and Beijing's version of eminent domain, which has forced people from their homes to make way for new developments). Yglesias emailed me, pointing out the he had previously blogged on the horrid policy of forced relocations. A fair point, and one I should have included in the post. And to be honest, it was Klein's giddyness and baffling credulity about the "sweet deal" offered by the Chinese government that really irked me.