ReviewsPete Firmin

Know your enemy to defeat them

ReviewsPete Firmin
Know your enemy to defeat them

MANY ON THE LEFT often describe anyone on the far right as a fascist – Farage, Trump, Johnson, Thatcher among many others. If their policies are racist and they strongly oppose the workers’ movement, they earn the label. Confusing the demagogy of a Farage with the very different threat posed by actual fascists is not helpful in understanding and combating their different characters. Renton makes the point: “When today the left cries ‘fascist’ at people who are at a different point on the political spectrum, we waste an opportunity to challenge them.”

One of the merits of Renton’s latest offering is to spell out the distinction between politicians who use the rhetoric of racism but whose emphasis is on winning power through elections and rely on existing institutions, and those fascists who prioritise street violence and aim to transform state institutions. The distinction between parties which use racist rhetoric to win elections and parliamentary power and those which want to scrap elections altogether as well as physically destroy the labour movement, is important, not least in determining the strategy the left needs to defeat them.

Renton examines this issue using mainly the examples of Britain (and what Brexit has brought to the surface), the US, France and Italy. He also looks, especially in relation to France and Italy, at parties which transform themselves, or attempt to do so, from fascist into right wing parliamentary parties – and how much success they have in dropping their historical baggage.

He also makes an important point that can hold back the growth of fascist organisations. While at present, Islamophobia is more politically palatable than old ‘traditional’ fascism, the situation could quickly change.

“Anti-Muslim racism,” he says, “is an ideology which kicks down, which condemns migrants and the racialised poor of the inner cities.” By contrast, pre-war National Socialism targeted Jewish bankers as well as ghetto Jews, enabling a (phony) plebian rhetoric that helped win mass support. As the far-right struggles to consolidate its success, traditional fascism – with its counter-revolutionary fervour and clear-cut goals – might become more attractive. The shift that brought us Trump certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility of an even more dangerous shift towards fascism in the future.

Renton looks clearly at the internationalism of the far right – the links being built by the likes of Steve Bannon between far right organisations in Europe and the U.S.

A strength of the book is that having looked at the politics of the far right - the “New Authoritarians” of the title - Renton devotes a chapter to “Stopping the Right”. It is worth quoting some of his conclusions:

  • “The left needs to reject neoliberalism or voters will reject them”.

  • “The left needs to learn again how to attack the obscene disparities of wealth between those who own capital and those who don’t. We need to defend at the same time the equality of women, migrants and every other victim of systemic injustice. We need to see both tasks as one process.”

  • Above all, the left needs to provide hope against the message of despair and hatred of both fascism and the far right.


CWU and Hampstead & Kilburn CLP