The problem with making historical comparisons is they’re never precise enough to satisfy the pedants and rarely obvious enough to catch the attention of most people. That’s because the majority of us have enough to deal with just coping with the necessities of everyday living. People haven’t time to go around studying political history and most don’t have the inclination to search for comparisons and similarities between modern UK and the worst of European thought.
EBF understands that. We know that to many this article will seem like an over-reaction to current events. But we think it important that we highlight the broad trends of 21st century ideologies even if the exact details differ from the precise events of the past. Modern Europe is very different from that of 80 or 90 years ago. Mass communication is easier and less controlled which accelerates the speed of social change. Deceitful propaganda is more easily spread and ideas, even dangerous ones can take hold of a population like wildfire.
But people are still essentially the same. Their fears are the same, their vulnerability to manipulative ideologues is the same and their tendency to look for scapegoats to blame is the same. Our species hasn’t evolved at all in a few decades. We are as we were and what we were was frightening.
In 1920s Germany economic hardship was rife. People were literally starving to death as food became more and more expensive and wages, even for those lucky enough to be employed at all couldn’t keep up. Many felt hopeless and helpless.
In post 2007 Europe whole countries went bankrupt and others, like UK saw the weakest citizens, those suffering from disabling conditions or those who were unable to find work stripped of their incomes, sanctioned by civil servants or forced to work for nothing to ease the wage burden on large companies like Tesco, Asda and even’ the Biffers’ favourite’ – Gregg’s the baker’s. Many argue that this was little more than state-sponsored slavery designed to increase private, corporate profits at the expense of the public purse as several employers cut jobs, replacing paid employees with unskilled, forced (workfare) labour instead. Many at the bottom rungs of society felt hopeless and helpless.
In Post WW1 Germany a group of veterans calling themselves the Frei Corp (Free Army) began releasing propaganda explaining that Germany’s predicament was all the fault of international Jewry. This wasn’t true but it suited the emotional need of some of the people to scapegoat someone other than themselves.
In post-recession UK groups like Britain First began releasing propaganda blaming Muslims for all the country’s problems. This isn’t true either but it suits the emotional need of some of the people to scapegoat someone other than themselves.
In 1920s Germany Adolf Hitler joined a small group of far right nationalists and quickly rose to prominence within what was one day to become the Nazi party.
In 2010 a relatively minor official in the British National Party (a far right nationalist group) broke away from the party to form his own rival group – Britain First.
In 1920s Germany the government largely ignored the Nazis. They were only one of many far right factions and they seemed too busy fighting amongst themselves to be of any significance.
In 2010 the UK government largely ignored Britain First. They were only one of many far right factions and they seemed too busy fighting amongst themselves to be of any significance.
In 1920s Germany Hitler’s Nazi party made very little impact. The demonstrations they held were violent armed conflicts and so the authorities eventually acted. When Hitler tried to begin an armed revolution and held hostage two government officials he was overwhelmed, tried and imprisoned for sedition.
In modern UK, Britain First incites violence against Muslims and immigrants but Golding et al have learned from history and never personally involve themselves in such crimes.
In 1930s Germany the Frei Corp became the Brown Shirts – the organised street fighters who persecuted Jews – their most infamous incident was ‘The night of broken glass’ or ‘Kristalnacht’ during which Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were attacked in a domestic atrocity ordered by Hitler himself.
In modern UK we have not seen anything on the scale of Kristalnacht yet. We have however seen attacks against Muslim shops, Mosques and businesses, including arson and several Muslim deaths. At least one 81 year old Muslim was beaten to death by Britain First supporters whilst on his way to his local Mosque for morning prayers.
From the 1920s onwards Hitler and his cronies used dehumanising propaganda to isolate and encourage violence against German Jews.
From 2010 onwards Britain First has used dehumanising propaganda to isolate and encourage violence against British Muslims.
The German Nazis relied upon nationalism and a sense of ‘taking back control’ to fuel their hatred.
Britain First relies upon nationalism and a sense of ‘taking back control’ to fuel its hatred.
The internet and the speed with which social media spreads ideas around means that the popular nationalism that took the Nazis 15 years to achieve has taken Britain First with its social media savvy operation a third of that time. What they lack is political clout but there’s time for that and they’re certainly trying hard.
And it’s not just Britain First. There are other, equally disturbing groups at work in the UK. Nationalists organisations echo the same message of hate. Groups like the English Defence League and countless others also rely upon the same propaganda to fuel a nationalism that seems hell bent on taking this country back to a past that only really existed in their imaginations. Respectable political groups like UKIP seem almost to legitimise the nationalist agenda and may well be the key to political influence for all the other nationalist groups.
It’s no coincidence that ‘Vote UKIP’ is a common refrain from the racist nationalists we interact with across social media. Britain First is unlikely to gain any political power but that doesn’t mean they can’t support UKIP. Golding and Fransen have already created something like a Frei Corp in waiting. Their own website describes Britain First as a ‘Street defence organisation’ and their regular calls for civil war against Muslims and their (admittedly laughable as yet) attempts to train their members in combat skills seems to point very clearly in one particular direction. Might they become UKIP’s Brown shirts in time?
If the problem was only UK based that might be less of a concern but similair trends can be seen across Europe. Some countries are further along this dark path and it’s not hard to see where we’re all being driven. This week in Austria a far right party using the slogan ‘Austria First’ (there’s a coincidence) narrowly failed to become the ruling political party in the country’s national election.
In the style of their Austrian predecessor, Adolf Hitler they are now forcing a new election. Hitler’s Nazi party also forced elections until they got the result they wanted. We’d hoped that Austrians would know better, given their country’s part in WW2 but seemingly not. Like Brits and many other European nationals they have short memories. It remains to be seen how prophetic the result of the UK’s recent ‘Brexit’ referendum may be. The result (48% v 52%) is strikingly close to the Austrian result after a campaign that was fought much more along nationalist and racist lines than any other issue. We believe that there is very real cause for concern both here in the UK and abroad.
Holland, a country defeated by the Nazis and subjected to all the horrors of occupation is currently seeing the rise of its own brand of Nationalism. Even Germany, the birthplace of Pegida has a growing number of fascists within its population. Similair stories can be told about many Western nations from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean. The far right hasn’t won yet but it’s making remarkably good headway.
There’s still time to turn this around. Please help us to spread the word and stop the neo-Nazis from dragging us back into the darkness of former decades.
Further relevant reading from EBF