You mean to tell me it's not black and white?
by Kyle Zarif
Over the last couple of years, the face of European politics has shifted significantly. In the American press, coverage of this shift has tended to singularly focus on the rise of far-right anti-immigration parties, whose jump in popularity has supposedly been driven by the refugee crisis currently rocking the European Union. The focus on the far right by the American press is not surprising, as today, far-right populist parties enjoy parliamentary representation in Great Britain (UKIP), Sweden (Swedish Democrats), France (Front Nacional), Austria (Freedom Party), Hungary (Jobbik Movement), and The Netherlands (Party for Freedom) among others. In Germany, the far-right is represented by Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party which has made use of Nazi imagery and language in their anti-migrant inspired crusade against the center-right government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. In recent elections, AfD won parliamentary representation in several local governments, including that of the capital, Berlin. The rise of the far-right is undoubtably driven, at least in part, by the refugee crisis, a narrative the American press has pushed in their coverage of European politics. However, the political situation in Europe is far more complex and multi-faceted than this narrative seems to suggest.
Alongside the rise of the far-right, Europe has generally seen renewed support for revolutionary leftist parties as well. In Spain and Germany, revolutionary socialist parties Podemos (We Can) and Die Linke (The Left) are the third largest parties in their respective national legislatures. In the UK, the center-left Labour Party is currently being led by Jeremy Corbyn, a democratic socialist committed to just redistribution of wealth, Palestinian statehood, nuclear disarmament, and other issues generally seen as leftist in nature. In addition, revolutionary socialist parties exist in the majority of European Union countries, and indeed have parliamentary representation in the most of them.
So what are we to make of this embrace of radical politics in Europe? The political status quo no longer suffices, and the reasons for this stem far beyond the refugee crisis, though the crisis itself is a symptom of the true problem. Despite some national variation, the European Union has been more or less embracing global liberal capitalism for the past decade. This has meant, in terms of international policy, that the EU has pushed for the elimination of global trade barriers, and for the liberalization of so-called Third World economies. In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, which hit the Greek, Spanish and Portugese economies particularly hard, the EU continued on the liberal path, pushing crushing austerity policies in those nations, privatizing government services and slashing public spending. In the push to globalize European economies, many sectors of European society have been left embittered and angry at the liberal global status-quo. Liberal economic policy had resulted in an uneven capital development of Europe, with the leaders of rich nations determining the economic policy of the “poor” ones, imposing their own economic order upon citizens who did not elect them. Citizens in the poor and rich EU nations alike began realizing that something was seriously wrong with the political status quo embraced by the EU. Then came the refugee crisis, which only exacerbated already existing political tensions.
On the far-right, criticism of the refugee crisis, when not rooted in overt racism, often takes the form of economic critique. In other words, its the familiar (and shitty) “those scary brown people are gonna steal all our white jobs!” argument that has popped up in probably every Western country without exception. Though the reasons for mass migration can, unsurprisingly, be tied back to globalization and the effects of liberal humanitarian intervention. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek elaborates on this in his book Refugees, Terror and Trouble with the Neighbors, writing, “It was European intervention in Libya that threw the country into chaos. It was the U.S. attack on Iraq that created the conditions for the rise of ISIS. The ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic...was triggered by the discovery of oil...France (linked to Muslims) and China (linked to Christians) are fighting for the control of oil resources through proxies”. In short, economic interests (ie American interest in Iraqi oil etc.) have been a huge driver of economic and political instability in much of the developing world. The deterioration of the political and economic systems of these already fragile nations thus leaves citizens with two options: live a life of poverty and suffering, or become a refugee.
In short, the current rise in political radicalism is not caused by the refugee crisis alone. When viewed holistically, the radicalization of European politics can be interpreted as a rejection of global capitalism, and all its failings. As long as the European center continues to devote itself so religiously to the preservation of a liberal economic order, without reforming the system in any meaningful way, its critics on the left and right will only grow in power.