It is not surprising that political discourse becomes extremely divisive in difficult times. In the modern era in the West, the most obvious example of this divisiveness was seen in the 1930s. Throughout Europe in particular the 1930s saw extreme political divisions between left and rightwing responses to growing economic and resultant social problems. In some countries, like England for example, there was little in the way of a significant extremes. Sir Oswald Mosely's Fascist efforts in England never really captured the popular imagination, and though there was a communist party, it was overshadowed by the relatively soft leftist stance of the Labour Party. However, Germany emerged early in the economically troubled times as a country of political extremes, and unfortunately divisions between the centre left and the extreme left resulted in an electoral victory for the NAZIs. In Spain this divisiveness led to a horrific civil war which was, arguably, only won by Franco and his supporters because his opponents continued to fight among themselves.
I would argue that we have begun to see a re-emergence of the same kinds of political divisions that emerged in the 1930s. The roots of these troubles are different than they were in the 1930. Globalization of capital, global warming, and extreme instability in the Middle East are now major factors in the growing unrest, as well as dramatic increases in economic and social inequality in the Western nations.
Extreme political divisions have begun to emerge in the US in recent years. For years the nature of American political troubles has only been expressed by a growing extremism in the rightwing. During the Obama administration this extremism has been demonstrated by the Republican's absolute unwillingness to accept anything supported by the Obama administration, even when those policies have been rooted in formerly Republican policies. We have seen a similar division in Canada as the Harper administration has brought increasingly rightwing and militarist policies into the mainstream, and made the politics of hate, fear, and division central to Canadian politics. Like the extreme right in the 1930s, Republicans in the US and Conservatives in Canada have sought increasingly to govern by decree, reject all cooperation or compromise, and work by stealth wherever necessary. Unlike the fascists of the 30s, the new right is now operating much more clearly on a corporatist model and their efforts, though still centred on increases in state power over the individual citizen, is more about global corporatism than it once was. However, the effect for average people is very much the same; more instability, less power as workers and employees, more inequality, a breakdown of democracy, more racism, and radical increases in economic and social vulnerability.
As bad as things are in North America, I believe that in Europe they are reaching a crisis point. In Countries all over Europe we are seeing disturbing increases in old-fashioned fascist parties with blatantly racist, nationalist, and capitalist agendas. This problem has been part and parcel of the refugee crisis because for some years now there has been growing pressure not to extend a positive and helping hand to people in the Middle-East and North Africa. The extreme rightwing government in Hungry demonstrated this past week just how increasingly hardline many European ideas are becoming. However, the difference between Europe of the 1930s and Europe of today is the EU. Even extreme nationalists in many countries, like Hungry, know that they gain great advantages from the EU and the this keeps the extreme right on a natural leash of sorts. But I suspect that Britain may soon leave the EU and this could cause a cascade effect that could bring the entire Union down. Once the advantages of the Union disappear, look for huge increases in the power of extreme rightwing parties and a swift and dramatic return to more open forms of fascism.
Meanwhile, in Canada we are seeing the results of the new extreme right agenda of conservatism in the effects of the Refugee crisis. For years the Conservative government has been trying to close up the immigration system to all but the wealthiest and most potentially rightwing applicants. They have also attempted to make Canada a nearly impossible goal for many refugees. Their efforts to restrict access to healthcare for as many refugee claimants and even landed immigrants as possible has been shocking to anyone with a conscience, and their near universal failure act upon the Supreme Court ruling on the matter of healthcare for refugees has demonstrated the typical rightwing proclivity for imagining that they are above the law. Anyone who has even vaguely followed the issue knows that the Conservatives have had no intention of letting Canada be a haven for Syrian refugees, and talk of eventually bringing in ten thousand such refugees has been … well, just talk. As a nation we could have easily taken in and absorbed tens of thousands of Syrian refugees by now, which would have been not only an act of humanitarianism but, in the long run a positive thing for our society and our economy.
But Harper's response has not been to cede ground to those who advocate for greater humanitarianism but to double down on his militarist agenda. This agenda has been essentially to continue the Bush doctrine and adventurism in the Middle-East which lead to the problems in the first place. Since the days of T.E. Lawrence, the efforts of the Western nations has been to exacerbate divisions in the Middle-East, to continually destabilize the region just enough to make any idea of Pan-Arabism a hopeless dream and to make certain states dependent on US and Western support. There is not enough space here to articulate how Western adventurism and economic/military policies have led directly to the creation of ISIS and the refugee crisis, but I think the links are fairly clear to anyone how wants to look at the historical record without a partisan or Euro-centric outlook. The response of men like Harper has been predictable - to increase the power of the Western military/industrial complex, to extend Western presence in the Middle-East and North Africa, with the ultimate goal of strengthening not only capitalism but the carbon economy.