It was a shock for The Netherlands.

In the legislative elections of November 2023, the far-right party of Geert Wilders came out on top with a huge advance on the second party. One week earlier, Argentina elected Javier Milei as its new President, a self-declared libertarian ‘anarcho-capitalist’ with clear far-right priorities. It was a shock and it should not have been. After all, Brazil already had Bolsonaro, while the United States had Trump, who might even return. On the other hand, India has Narendra Modi, Turkey has Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Israel has Benjamin Netanyahu, and Russia has Putin. One might discuss to what extent these Presidents or prime Ministers are ‘far right’, but they certainly are populists and not democratic.

In Europe, we have the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, while in France, Marine Le Pen has a real chance of becoming the next President. In Germany, Alternative fuer Deutschland is becoming an important party that cannot be ignored anymore. Whereas, in Finland, the ‘Finns’ are in government, and in Sweden, the government depends on support from the ‘Democrats’. Hungary has its Fidesz with Viktor Orban and Poland its PiS with Kaczynski. Flanders in Belgium will certainly have an important far-right parliamentary group after the elections of June 2024.

The election for the European Parliament in June 2024 might also give rise to a worrying development. To date, far-right parties are divided among two different groups and some members are ‘non-attached’. The only ‘advantage’ Europe has is the plurality of its far-right political parties, according to their nationalism and/or their links with an old fascist past. A worrying element, however, is that several right-wing parties, such as the French LR or the German CSU come very close to far-right positions concerning some issues, like migration or security. At any rate, the far right in the European Parliament will most probably become very important after the elections. According to some surveys, the group ‘Identity and Democracy’ of which the French Rassemblement National and the German Alternative fuer Deutschland are part, might grow from 60 to 87 seats (on a total of 705). The other group, the European Conservatives and Reformists, with the Italian Fratelli d’Italia and the Polish PiS will certainly grow as well.


In some cases, the economic and political message from far right-wing political men and women is not so very different from the policies we are used to. Just think of privatizations, dismantling labour rights, ‘cleaning up’ state bureaucracy, and fighting corruption. According to Vijay Prashad, it is wrong to focus on what these people say, how they say it is much more important. In other words, « for politicians like Milei (or Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and former US President Donald Trump), it is not their policy proposals that are attractive, but their style – the style of the far right. People like Milei promise to take the country’s institutions by the throat and make them cough up solutions. Their boldness sends a frisson through society, a jolt that masquerades as a plan for the future ». (Newsletter 29 November 2023)

As for their social messages, one might wonder if the political men and women with their odious language, wanting to exclude people from society or to reinforce already extreme security measures believe what they stand for. In many cases, there is no doubt that they do, but in some other cases, it often looks as if they just seek popularity, and votes, saying the things they believe people want to hear. It can help for some electoral success, but the question remains if it will help to build cohesive societies. As we have seen in the United States and Brazil, far-right Presidents can also polarise societies making the peaceful co-existence of people much more difficult.

It certainly is a fact that all our societies are changing and that political ideologies are shifting. The best example is of left-wing Sarah Wagenknecht in Germany who is now working to build a ‘left-wing conservative’ political party. People are indeed very often progressive on economic and social issues, but conservative on so-called ‘cultural’ issues, such as gender and/or migration.

This is where the debate on so-called ‘values’ begins and where far-right policies can indeed follow a dangerous societal path. Banning abortion makes life much more difficult for women, but attacks on homosexuals – as is now already happening in several European cities – are far more serious. The same goes for the broad discrimination of migrants in the labour and housing markets or children at school. Together with a clamp down on democracy, this is what risks to make our societies extremely vulnerable.


It is one thing to reflect on the messages and the style of right-wing parties, it is quite another thing to find out why people vote for them. After all, the negative experiences of the more or less recent past are known. The false consciousness argument is not valid, because, in a large majority of cases, people are very rational, they know what they are doing and they have good reasons for it. Their choice may not be the most intelligent one, but you cannot say people are ignorant.

One of the reasons most mentioned is the dismantling of social policies, welfare states and labour rights that happened in the past decades. In brief, austerity policies. These were not the result of right-wing policies, but very often of social-democratic parties playing the neoliberal game. Today, you have to be over 40 to have lived in non-austerity times. People are rightly fed up with them and listen to the soothing messages of the right. And yes, the right has social policies, though they will not be emancipatory and will probably focus on women’s ‘traditional’ roles and certainly ignore class conflicts.

The climate crisis may be another reason. No one can ignore the real risks anymore, but no one offers an easy way out. Parties and movements do create fear and uncertainty and this always leads to a choice for stability and ‘tradition’. ‘Let us keep it as it was, no one has to change’. There is more nostalgia for a past well gone than there is hope for a better future. These negative attitudes never favour progressive forces. Migration is another very important factor. Times are gone when migrants were easily integrated into the labour market, they now compete with nationals and often take jobs at a lower wage and with less or no protection. The same goes for the housing market when owners can easily offer their properties for huge rents. Add to this the sometimes ‘different’ lifestyles, the lack of contact and knowledge about each other, and the seedbed for intolerance and xenophobia is laid. The problem only gets worse when ‘migrants’ live together in ghettos and when jobless youth find no other way to survive than with dealing drugs. These problems are less due to ‘migration’ than to discrimination and exclusion from society, whatever the origin of people.

Yet, the middle classes will see ‘problems’ and vote for the parties who promise to solve them. Think of the ‘Kärcher’ of ex-French President Sarkozy. These middle classes in rich countries are in a process of very slow impoverishment. They still have decent jobs and decent wages, but they know the future of their children is less certain. They know that social mobility is not a spontaneous given anymore. They are afraid of losing the little they have.

It is interesting to see that the many migrant families who did make it and now belong to these lower middle classes have the same reactions - blame newer migrants for their ‘privileges’ and also vote for the right.

Finally, two other important factors have to be mentioned.

First, the far better organisation of far right-wing forces. They have their contacts in higher places and can consult with numerous think tanks and helpful friends. We know how Steve Bannon has been trying to unify the European far right. He did not succeed but did keep good contacts with major parties on the continent. We also know how Milei and before him, Bolsonaro were advised by people from the circles around Paypal boss Peter Thiel and/or the Atlas Foundation. In fact, the right is as divided as the left but succeeds better in overcoming differences.

As for the left, it is lagging. Social-democracy has accepted neoliberal policies and the radical left too often remains sectarian. Moreover, its messages are far too complicated for the man in the street who is seeking simple solutions.

How, then, fight the far right?

No one has all the answers in his or her pocket. I want to mention three elements that might help to develop cohesive policies with emancipatory content.

The first one is social justice. At this moment, almost all European governments have promised to boost their military expenditures and are trying to further reduce their social policies. This is a recipe for further far-right-wing success. Re-investing in public infrastructure, in public services, in a renewed social protection system to care for people, to show them there is nothing to fear, to offer stability and hope for a better future. This is perfectly possible.

The second element has to be seen in the long term. Whatever we may think of neoliberalism, we have all interiorised it. It means we all too often forget the individualisation that this ideology, coupled with new technologies such as smartphones has created. We too often forget we live in societies of people who can show solidarity towards each other, and who can plan actions together. This collective dimension has been neglected and should urgently be put back on the agenda. In many European countries, people vote for the far right without ever having seen a migrant or a foreigner in their village. And if they have, they never talked to them. Bring these people together, let them talk and learn something reciprocally. In the long term, this better understanding of each other can only help. The same goes for the numerous people who are prepared to take action but do not know how to do it. Getting organised is certainly a major element in all resistance to disruptive and destructive policies.

Finally, the left should get its act together. ‘Unity’ is not required, but is it asking too much to have talks and look for common concerns, to stop the useless competition, and to develop a common discourse on some basic policies for people? It is the most difficult task, yet so very necessary. In a recently published book on ‘the subversive 70s Michael Hardt describes how, on many points, social movements of fifty years ago were politically more advanced than the ones of today. Why not go and re-examine their theoretical insights? The success of far-right political forces is part of a broad social process of regression, military expansion, hegemonic competition and grassroots fear and uneasiness. The far right can grow in a world where people are told they are alone and responsible for their own lives, where they have to kick down and hit the people who are even worse off. Never look up, never focus on the wealthy, only on the poorer ones! This is the tragedy of middle-class societies.

To restore confidence in our political and imperfect democratic world and avoid the far-right disaster, a lot of political education will be necessary, as well as economic reforms for sustainability. Again, it is perfectly possible.