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Julie Waterson

A common enemy

(February 1994)

From Socialist Review 172, February 1994.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Free to hate: the rise of the right in post-Communist Eastern Europe
Paul Hockenos
Routledge £17.99

The rise of the far right across Europe has horrified millions and left them desperate to understand this phenomenon. Hockenos’ book will be warmly welcomed by many such people. It, I predict, will sell well. Which is both good and bad.

Good, because he so vividly describes how the euphoria and hope of the revolts and revolutions of 1989 have turned to bitter despair and disappointment for the inhabitants of Eastern Europe. He exposes the hypocrisy of politicians who will wear any political colouration (from Communist to free marketeering) to achieve their own personal ends of money and power, while leaving a path of destruction behind them.

Hockenos takes us on a journey of hatred. He travels Eastern Europe reporting gangs of racist thugs in every country, racist ideas which seem omnipresent and political ‘thugs’ who are willing to dice with fascism to keep power.

It leaves you with a bitter taste. This is the result of one sidedness, lack of clarity and political confusion which, frankly, left me depressed.

This is where you hit the downside. The bad side of the book is that at the centre is his, mistaken, belief that the ideological glue that binds nation states is stronger than the class divisions which rack them.

So Hockenos says, ‘diminutive progressive left or social democratic parties have been unable to compete against the roar of nationalism’.

Yet he does not understand nationalism, its appeal or its origins. The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War are described as shifts in nationalism, which is seen as natural ... ‘While all the far right movements in Eastern Europe are nationalist, not all nationalism is right wing. The free expression of national identity and culture also has a place – and arguably a constructive one – in modern societies.’

But to examine nationalism outside of the class divisions which spawned it is not only stupid but very dangerous, because it leads you to conclusions which bypass those you are trying to understand.

This is what Hockenos does. His book stinks of the corruption, filth and cynical manoeuvring of politicians. This is its strength. But don’t read it looking for answers. For Hockenos wants people to live in peace and accept ‘citizenship’ and not chauvinism. This would be achieved if the West invested in Eastern Europe and the IMF and the World Bank behaved themselves.

I think it is better achieved by the example of the East German steel workers who struck for parity with their counterparts in the West and in doing so united workers from all ethnic groups behind a common banner and against a common enemy – their rich and corrupt bosses. These workers produced strike leaflets in eight languages and held meetings addressed in all languages.

It is action like this, and that of the airline workers in France or the public sector workers in Italy, that can ultimately defeat the hollow nationalism of the Nazis and their friends in government and give people the real sense of society they so desire – building for real socialism.

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