SICSA   The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 
ACTA NO. 8 , Jerusalem, SICSA, 1996

Extreme Right Electoral Upsurges in Western Europe:
The 1984-1995 Wave as Compared with the Previous Ones.


Simon Epstein 


Since 1984, the extreme Right has made a prominent reappearance in West European political life. Various countries' electoral results, while definitely not indicative of a devastating landslide, are nevertheless sufficient to worry observers. Taken together, they represent a wave which must be perceived as a whole, over and beyond characteristics specific to each country. Such a wave must be evaluated in terms of its dynamics (is it on the wane, or on the upturn?), and measured in terms of its intensity: what are the implications of the percentage of the votes won by the various parties compared with the results of past European electoral history?

In any attempt to answer these questions, we must first describe the phenomenon, and then go back in time, in order to extract the information necessary to locate the current upsurge on the historical continuum.1


France was in the vanguard in this period. Founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in October 1972, the National Front (Front national --FN) remained a small fringe group in the first eleven years of its life. In September 1983, it startled public opinion by polling 16.7% of the vote in the Dreux local government elections, and attracted attention in other local ballots. In the June 1984 European Parliament elections, it received 11% of the vote, making it a force to be reckoned with in France. The brief introduction of proportional representation in 1986-1988 gave it thirty-five members (9.6% of the poll) in the National Assembly elected in March 1986. Le Pen received 14.4% of the vote in the first round of the April 1988 presidential elections. His party polled 11.7% of the vote in the June 1989 European elections, 13.9% in the March 1992 regional elections, 12.4% in the March 1993 general elections, and 10.5% in the June 1994 European elections. Once a fringe party, the Front national is by now firmly embedded in French political life. For the last eleven years its supporters have constituted between 10% and 15% of the vote. Le Pen polled 15% of the vote at the April 1995 presidential election.

Developments in Germany came later, and have followed a different curve. The Republicans (REP), founded in November 1983 and led by a former member of the Waffen-SS, Franz Schoenhuber, polled 3% of the vote in the October 1986 Bavarian regional elections. Not until 1989 did they win their first significant successes, polling 7.5% in the January West Berlin elections and 7.1% in the June European vote. In December 1990, the REP failed in their bid to get into the Bundestag, polling just 2.1%, and in 1991 their influence seemed to have diminished. But 1992 brought an upturn, with 10.9% of the vote in the Baden-Württemberg elections in April (as against 1% in 1988), and 8.3% in the Berlin elections in May. A wave of racist attacks on immigrants and Jews shook Germany in the summer and fall of 1992. The REP received 8.6% of the vote in the March 1993 Hesse elections, compared with just 0.7% in 1989. The wave had reached its pinnacle. At this stage, foreign commentators were convinced that the REP would be represented in the Bundestag in 1994.2

To its right, Schoenhuber's party faced competition from two openly neo-Nazi groupings. Over the years, the older of the two, the NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands--National Democratic Party of Germany), had put itself on the fringe. But in March 1989 it was surprisingly successful (polling 6.6% of the vote) in Frankfurt am Main. The DVU (Deutsche Volksunion ¾ German People's Union) was founded in 1971 by Gerhard Frey, well-known for his publications and activities denying the Holocaust. In September 1991 it entered the Bremen parliament with 6.2% of the poll. In Schleswig-Holstein it took 6.3% of the vote in April 1992, compared with 0.6% in 1988.

When they ran separately, as in September 1993 in Hamburg, the Republicans and the DVU split their votes (the former getting 4.8%, and the latter 2.8%). This meant that neither managed to get past the 5% threshold, which all political groupings must attain in order to be entitled to parliamentary representation, on both the regional and national level. This was the essence of the acute strategic dilemma facing Schoenhuber throughout this period. By allying himself with the DVU he would be able to prevent the splitting of the extreme-right vote, but it would entail the risk of frightening off some of his militants and his electorate. On the other hand, rejecting the alliance would free him of a compromising partnership, but might make it impossible for him to get over the all-important 5% minimum vote. Eventually, the Republicans went along with the principle of a rapprochement with the DVU. This policy sparked major upheavals in the party.

The slump became marked in 1994. In March, the REP got just 3.7% of the vote in Lower Saxony - more than their 1990 performance (1.7%), but not enough to get into the regional parliament. With 3.9% of the poll in the European elections held on June 12, 1994, they were far below the 7.1% which they had obtained in 1989. At 3.9% their September performance in Bavaria was mediocre. The end of the cycle came in the general elections on September 16, 1994, when they polled just 1.9% of the vote and were thus barred from the Bundestag. In the wake of his blatant failure, Schoenhuber resigned as REP president.3

1994 was just as damaging to the Dutch extreme Right. The 1993 opinion polls had indicated the likelihood of considerable gains by Hans Janmaat's CD (Center Democrats).4 The May 1994 general elections gave him 2.5% of the vote, which was more than the 0.9% of 1989 but less than the 5% or 6% that he was hoping for a few months before the poll. The CD was roundly trounced in the June 1994 European elections, gaining a mere 1% of the votes. The Swedish extreme Right fared no better. Set up at the end of 1990 with an anti-immigration platform, New Democracy won 6.8% of the vote in the September 1991 general elections. In the September 1994 poll, it collapsed to 1.2%, losing any weight it had had in public opinion and all its parliamentary seats. In Norway, the Fremskrittspartiet (Progress Party) made an impressive showing in the September 1989 elections, polling 13% of the vote compared to 3.7% in 1985. But in September 1993 it collapsed to 6.3%, abandoned by more than half of its electorate.5

However, the 1994 downward trend in Germany and Northern Europe did not apply simultaneously to all countries, particularly Belgium. There the Flemish-nationalist Vlaams Blok (Flemish Bloc) was founded by Karel Dillen, whose views are close to those of the Holocaust deniers, and led by Filip Dewinter. Since the mid-1980s, it has been running a xenophobic campaign. In the December 1987 general elections, it received 1.9% of the vote, rising to 4.1% in the June 1989 European polls, and reaching 6.6% of the vote in the November 1991 general elections. It is particularly strong in Antwerp, where it polled over 25% of the vote. The performance of the Francophone Front national is less impressive. In November 1991, it polled 1.1% of the votes, giving it a single seat in the Belgian parliament. In the June 1994 European elections, both parties considerably improved their results: 7.8% for the Vlaams Blok, 2.9% for the Front national. The same year, they scored a disturbing success in the council elections on October 9: the Vlaams Blok polled 13% of the vote in Ghent, and 28% in Antwerp; the Front national and its competitor, the Agir (Act) group, polled close on and sometimes over 10% of the vote in several Walloon towns. The Belgian extreme Right continued its upward climb, till the May 1995 general elections that were marked by a clear reversal of the trend.

Italy provides another example of convergence between regional separatism and xenophobia. Founded in 1984 by Umberto Bossi, the Lombardy League gained its initial successes in Northern Italy, during the May 1990 local elections. In the April 1992 general elections it polled 8.7% of the vote, compared with a mere 0.5% in 1987. It continued to forge ahead in the various local government and provincial polls held in December 1992 and June 1993.

The neo-Fascists of the MSI-DN (Movimento Sociale Italiano/Destra Nazionale --Italian Social Movement/National Right) took off far more slowly, polling just 5.4% of the vote in the April 1992 elections, slightly less than they had received in the previous election (5.9% in 1987). At that stage, the Italian neo-Fascists failed to match the 5% of the vote, that they had traditionally scored in each electoral round since the beginning of the 1950s. In 1992 they were the only European extreme-right party not to have extended their electoral constituency. But in 1993 this state of affairs reversed when their leader, Gianfranco Fini, was defeated in the December Rome municipal elections but received a massive 46.9% of the votes cast. The Duce's granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, was similarly defeated in Naples, but at 44.4% gave almost as impressive a performance as Fini's in the capital. Their two “defeats” at the end of 1993 were a good indication that the neo-Fascists were on the rise.

At the beginning of 1994, events speeded up. The political and moral crisis afflicting Italy attracted votes to Silvio Berlusconi, who as leader of his new movement, Forza Italia, proclaimed his intention of reforming the country and its institutions. The Lombardy League (now the Northern League) and the MSI (now the National Alliance) joined forces with Berlusconi in an Alliance for Freedom, which triumphed in the March 1994 general elections. The Northern League polled 8.4% of the vote, slightly less than in 1992. But the neo-Fascists obtained 13.5% of the votes, much more than they had received in 1992. As a matter of course, they were included in the government set up by Berlusconi after the elections--the first time they held ministerial positions since 1945. This was also the first time that a European country had included extreme right- wing ministers in its government. The cohabitation of the coalition's various components was problematic in several respects, but it seemed to help the neo-Fascists. In the June 1994 European elections, they polled 12.5% of the vote, compared with 5.5% in 1989. The numerous scandals which plagued Berlusconi further reinforced their support in public opinion. With the Northern League's defection, Berlusconi had to present his government's resignation in December 1994. At the time of writing, the Italian crisis lingers on.

The Austrian extreme Right was on the rise until December 1995. Through the impetus imparted by Joerg Haider, who took over the leadership in September 1986, the FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs--Freedom Party of Austria) adopted a radical nationalist and xenophobic line. Its first success came about in the November 1986 general elections, when it polled 9.7% of the vote, compared with 5% in 1983. In October 1987 it achieved 7.3% of the ballot in the Burgenland, and made dramatic progress in Vienna in November. Following its successes in the March 1989 provincial elections, Haider became governor (Landeshauptmann) of Carinthia. In the October 1990 general elections, the FPÖ surprised observers by polling 16.6% of the vote. In March 1991, it gained 21.5% in the Carinthian council elections.

But Haider let his tongue run away with him. His praise of the Third Reich's “employment policy” unleashed a public scandal, which forced him to resign from the Carinthian governorship in June 1991. Despite this affair, his party continued to grow: in the September Styrian regional elections it polled 14.6% of the vote, followed by 17.7% in the Upper Austrian elections and 22% in the Vienna ballot in November 1991. Its candidate received 16.4% of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections in April 1992. The FPÖ launched a campaign to organize a referendum on immigration. Its electorate continued to grow throughout various regional polls in 1993 and 1994, increasing its base in its Carinthian stronghold (33% of the vote in March 1994), as well as in Salzburg and the Tyrol. And then it won a staggering 22.6%% of the poll in the general elections on October 9, 1994, giving it 42 members of parliament, out of 183. It was particularly strong among young people and the working class. Haider has stated that he will be “ready to take over responsibility for Austria in 1998.”6 In the immediate future, he remains in the opposition, confronting the coalition of populists and Social Democrats. The successive departures of its liberal elements have not weakened the FPÖ, but its advance stopped with the general election of December 1995.

Britain presents a special case. Its electoral system (a simple-majority constituency-based system with a single-round ballot) is disastrous for extremist parties. It has made it impossible for the British National Party (BNP), like its predecessors since the 1930s, to win any parliamentary or local representation. It also discourages its potential electors, who hesitate to squander their vote on candidates who have no chance of winning. The BNP--which since the beginning of the 1980s has tended to eclipse the declining National Front ¾ never the less won a surprising victory in the September 1993 council elections. The BNP candidate received 33.9% of the vote, defeating his Labour adversary by seven votes, and was elected to East London's Tower Hamlets Council as representative of the Millward ward.7 The victory was short-lived, as the BNP lost Tower Hamlets in May 1994.8 The BNP leader, John Tyndall, did quite well in a parliamentary by-election in June 1994.

We have seen, then, that the wave actually broke down into separate elements. There is the French model, consisting of a stunning irruption in June 1984, followed by long-term stabilization with a fairly high level of electoral support (10%-15%). Then there is what can be called the German-Scandinavian path: a very marked upsurge at the end of the 1980s, striking successes at the beginning of the 1990s, but then conspicuous setbacks or even pathetic defeats in 1994. Yet another variant comprises the cases of Belgium, Italy and Austria: advances throughout the entire period, spectacular breakthroughs in 1994, and then, stabilization in 1995. And lastly, on the other side of the Channel, the British exception: increasing militancy giving rise to practically no electoral successes.


Some parties emerged from the center Right, and then turned towards the extreme Right. An example of this is the FPÖ. Always represented in the polls, with an average showing of 5% to 6% of the vote, at the end of the 1980s it underwent a mutation which was both qualitative (shifting it from the Right to the extreme Right) and quantitative (lifting it out of the 5%-6% band to 10%-20% or sometimes more of the electorate). Other parties--Le Pen's Front national in existence since 1972, the Vlaams Blok since 1978 --for many years vegetated on the fringes of their countries' political life before eventually making any successful election bid. Lastly, other more recent groupings came into being with the wave. They were established in the mid-or late 1980s, and began their breakthrough immediately.

All these parties have been extremely careful to state their respect for the law, which is, of course, nothing new: similar policies were followed in the 1930s by all Western Fascist parties, as it was by the Nazi Party under the Weimar Republic. They have developed a similar strategy: to force the conservative Right to include them in its coalitions, and, at the same time, if feasible, to lure its voters away. Political sociology analyses show that they address various segments of the public, and that, to an extent which varies from country to country, working-class voters are giving them a significant foothold. They generally have considerable influence among the younger generation. The traditional Right, in most cases, avoids alliances with the extreme Right and tries to keep it in opposition. This principle is generally applicable to national parliaments, but frequently infringes on a local government and regional level.

The extreme Right campaigns primarily against immigration. It demands, often successfully, that measures be adopted against an ongoing flow of immigrants, who, depending on the country in question, come from Central Africa, North Africa, Turkey, or Eastern Europe. It claims to be championing a "national identity." that is under a serious threat as a result of the presence or inflow of undesirable aliens. Apart from jeopardizing the country's ethnic and cultural homogeneity, immigrants are said to be responsible for crime and delinquency. Security-related topics, therefore, dominate the arguments aimed at the middle-class electorate. The working-class electorate, on the other hand, is more amenable to arguments about the threats to the employment market resulting from the presence of the newcomers, who are supposedly responsible for unemployment and economic hardship.9

The “Jewish question” is approached in measured terms, out of concern to appear respectable and for fear of a legal crackdown. The anti-Jewish message, in most instances, is delivered in minute doses. At the rate of one a year, the effect of Le Pen's “little phrases” has been to infuriate his adversaries and stir a commotion among the Jews in France, as when (in September 1987) he said that the massacres of the Jews were a “point of detail” of World War II, or when (in the fall of 1989) he referred to the harmful role of the “Jewish International.”10 Schoenhuber has indulged in diatribes directed at the leaders of the Jewish community; he included German Jewry's central organization as one of the country's “occupying powers” (fall 1989).11 The Vlaams Blok leader, Dewinter, complains about the attacks on him that appear in the Jewish community's press. He accepts that the Jews have the right to live in Antwerp, but makes a point of stating that they are not part of the Flemish people.12

The extreme-right press adopts the requisite precautions applicable in countries with anti-racist legislation, but it still manages to purvey a message that is generally not well-disposed toward the Jews. Holocaust denial, in all its forms, has managed to withstand the judicial barrages with which France and Germany in particular have tried to counter it, and has endowed the renascent extreme Right with new legitimacy. It is, therefore, not surprising that many leaders, each in their own manner, disseminate Holocaust denial propaganda. The numerous militant groups agitating on the extreme-right fringes draw their inspiration directly from Nazi sources, not bothering with the oratorical camouflage and tactical insinuations which the official parties use in abundance. An examination of the individual paths followed by particular militants and leaders shows the closeness and complexity of the links between the parliamentary extreme Right and the fanatical activists in the wings.13

The extreme Right's chances of success depend on the electoral system in a particular country. Proportional representation benefits the Austrians and Belgians. The Germans are hampered by the 5% threshold, which limits their room for maneuver and forced Schoenhuber to draw closer to the DVU, from which he would rather be differentiated. The French suffer from their majority-based electoral system that was reintroduced after the 1986 elections. True, there are two rounds to the voting, and the extreme Right can put up candidates in the first round. But, by force of circumstances, the second round drastically eliminates parties, such as the FN, which lack allies on the national level.14 Presidential elections, which also have a double ballot, have enabled Le Pen to run in the first round but leave him very little likelihood of standing in the second. The British are penalized by the built-in brutality of the “single-round, first-past-the-post constituency system.” Electors are anxious not to waste their vote, wanting to make it “count”: they avoid voting for extremist right-wing candidates. Unlike their French counterparts, the British extreme Rightists do not even have the consolation of a first round, in which they could get their maximum possible vote and put themselves on the electoral map. They are eliminated before they have even competed.15

To sum up, the proportional system favors the extreme Right, while the majority single-round English-style system erects a practically insuperable barrier. Between these two ends of the continuum, the mixed systems (i.e., those that cross a majority-based system with some degree of proportionality) handicap the potential of the extremist movements, but are not hermetically protected against them.16

What brought about the present wave? The argument normally advanced is economic: the crisis at the beginning of the 1990s ostensibly created conditions which favored the political re-emergence of the extreme Right. At first glance, this appears to be a convincing argument, but it fails to hold up when examined more closely. Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front national achieved its first national successes in 1984 and 1986, i.e. during the period of relative economic prosperity that followed the crisis of the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The upward movement of the Vlaams Blok in Belgium and the FPÖ in Austria also predated the 1990 crisis. As for Germany's Republicans, their first breakthroughs came about in January and June 1989, i.e., before the fall of the Berlin Wall (December 1989) and German reunification (October 1990). Hence, their best showings were obtained in the former West Germany, not in erstwhile Communist Germany's Laender, that have been hardest hit by the economic and social crisis that followed reunification.


Another finding shows the need to beware of simplistic correlations. In 1974, after the first oil crisis, Western capitalist economies underwent a far-reaching recession. They suffered another slump in 1979 and 1980, the second oil crisis, that followed the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war. These slumps, particularly the second one, were accompanied by a distinct upswing in racist violence and an increase in militant activity by the neo-Nazi groups.

However, during the various elections held in this period the extreme Right was practically non-existent.17 It was only the British extreme Right, consistent losers, who exhibited increased electoral activity. In the February 1974 general elections, 54 candidates stood for the British National Front, that polled just 0.3% of the overall vote, but 3.2% in those constituencies where it ran. In the October 1994 general elections, the National Front redoubled its efforts and ran 90 candidates: for the entire country, it garnered just 0.4% of the vote.18 The National Front's poor showing in 1974 was symptomatic of the British extreme right-wing's structural electoral weakness. In Germany, the NPD was gradually dying away. In the 1974 French presidential elections, Le Pen received just 0.7% of the vote, and was unable to run in the 1981 elections. In the general elections held the same year, his party received a mere 0.35% of the vote. In 1983, a French author reached the summary conclusion that the extreme Right “no longer exists as a political force.”19

We should highlight this strange paradox of the 1974-1983 period. At that time, according to conventional wisdom, socio-economic circumstances were already favorable to the political rise of extreme-right groupings, just as they would be in the following decade: unemployment, insecurity, and so on. The scene was set, the actors were on the stage, the immigrants were there, the Jews too --yet nothing happened. Everywhere, the European extreme Right remained marginal, failing to make any breakthroughs whatsoever. Do racism and xenophobia, like all social phenomena, go through a process of underground simmering before breaking out on the surface and expressing themselves fully in electoral terms? Did the violence that flourished at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s presage some ideological and organizational crystallization that matured only in the mid- and late 1980s? As it refines its instruments of observation and its ways of thinking, academic research must therefore admit that political superstructures never react mechanically and immediately to variations in economic and social circumstances, and that correlations in this sphere are far more subtle and complex than is commonly accepted. The main question that needs to be examined is that of time-lags and gestation periods.

However, some commentators noted the extreme Right's electoral weakness in 1981 and then denied that there was anything to be taken seriously in the demonstrations of anti-Jewish hostility that proliferated at the end of the 1970s. According to such views, there was nothing worrying about these demonstrations because they were not accompanied by any resurgence of the extreme-right parties. The latter were even, they argued, on their way to political extinction.20 The same commentators found it embarrassing to reassess their evaluations ten years later, when the successes of Le Pen, Haider, Schoenhuber, Fini, and others refuted their prematurely optimistic prognoses.21

In the case of Germany, we have to look back to the mid-1960s in order to come across a significant extreme right-wing upsurge. Set up in 1964, and led first by Fritz Thielen and then Adolf von Thadden, who was more radical than his predecessor, the NPD developed a neo-Nazi propaganda that combined nationalism and anti-Communism. In the September 1965 general elections it polled 2% of the vote. But in November 1966 it won 7.9% in Hesse and 7.4% in Bavaria. It polled 6.9% of the vote in the Rhineland in April 1967, 8.8% in Bremen in October 1967, and 9.8% in Baden-Württemberg in April 1968. At this stage, the NPD already had solid representation in various regional parliaments. Swept along by a seemingly irresistible momentum, it made preparations for entering the Bundestag in the upcoming elections. Was it time to ban it, on the basis of the constitutional provisions which made it possible to crack down on extremist parties likely to jeopardize the system's democratic nature? The Federal government considered doing so, but eventually opted for a liberal and permissive approach.

The NPD polled 4.3% of the vote in the September 1969 general elections. This result was a long way from the hopes encouraged by its 1967 and 1968 successes and, above all, it was below the 5% threshold which would have opened the Bundestag's doors to it. The NPD then entered a downturn: 3.2% in Lower Saxony in June 1970, compared with 7% in 1967; 3.1% in Hesse in November 1970, against 7.9% in 1966; 2.9% in Bavaria in the same month, as opposed to 7.4% in 1966. It was trounced in the 1972 general elections (0.6%) which were held in a prevailing mood of regained economic and social prosperity. It did no better in either the 1976 (0.3%) or the 1980 elections (0.2%), despite the depression which affected Germany, too.22 The NPD has survived to date as a vestige of its former self. In the middle of the 1980s, there was a flare-up in its activities, but it has never managed to repeat its formidable showing in the 1966-1968 period.

In the early 1950s, Germany experienced a similar upheaval with the disturbing rise of the SRP (Sozialistische Reichspartei - Socialist Party of the Reich). Founded in October 1949, this party consisted of former Nazis nostalgically vaunting the positive aspects of the Third Reich. Under the leadership of Ernst Otto Remer, who was actively involved in suppressing the anti-Hitler plot of 20 July 1944, it won an impressive success (11%) in the May 1951 Lower Saxony regional elections, and then polled 7.7% in Bremen in October. The phenomenon worried the occupying powers, alerted international opinion, and led Chancellor Adenauer's government in November 1951 to submit an application to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe to ban the SRP. The SRP was proclaimed unconstitutional in October 1952, but the party had taken the initiative and announced its own disbandment a month earlier. The looming crisis was thus resolved. The fate of the SRP made its direct and indirect successors more cautious in presenting their ideological and political positions.23

Various extreme-right parties continued to run in elections, but without any significant successes until the emergence of the NPD fifteen years later, to be followed by those of the REP and the DVU at the end of the 1980s. Spread over time, the three German flare-ups of 1951-1952, 1966-1968, and 1989-1994 differ basically in the composition of their electorate; the relative weight of the old Nazis (those who had lived under the Hitler regime) naturally declined more and more with increasing distance from 1945. In the case of the SRP, this weight was overwhelming; in the case of the NPD, it was partial; in the case of the REP and the DVU, it was residual.

The French extreme Right made a not inconsiderable showing in the first round of the December 1965 presidential elections (5.19% of the vote going to Jean-Louis Tixier Vignancour, a former political figure in the Vichy regime). This relative success, to which there was no follow-up, was part of the fallout of the Algerian war and the deeply felt anti-Gaullist emotions that united the various components of the French extreme Right for awhile. The Poujadist movement, which was also part of the extreme Right, made an impressive showing (polling nearly 12% of the vote) in the January 1956 general elections. This result can be explained by the structural upheaval taking place in French society, and the threat to the traditional middle classes, particularly small traders, that resulted from the country's rapid modernization. Apart from these two short-lived breakthroughs (1956 and 1965), the extreme Right was absent from the French electoral scene between 1945 and 1984.

Germany and France have thus been shaken by periodic spasms, unlike Italy and Austria. Since 1953, the MSI neo-fascists have obtained results just above or below 5% of the vote. In the 1972 elections they were associated with the monarchists (the joint list winning 8.7% of the poll), but in 1976 and 1979 their results were not as good. The FPÖ started by putting on a major showing (11.7% in 1949 and 10.9% in 1953), then stabilized at 7% of the vote between 1956 and 1962, and subsequently plummeted to around 5% of the poll. The topics it addressed were utterly different from those of the radical party it was to become at the end of the 1980s under Haider's leadership.24 The British extreme Right tried to field candidates on numerous occasions, but they have inevitably been trounced in the polls.25

Since the end of World War II, Europe has thus experienced several “hot periods,” in which the extreme Right has been reactivated fleetingly in various states, primarily Germany and France.26 The 1984-1995 wave, that simultaneously affected all European countries, contrasts strongly with everything that happened between 1945 and 1983. It is certainly far from being disastrous, but by its very magnitude, and by its universality, it overshadows the simmering detected here and there during the 1950s and 1960s.


The anti-Jewish wave at the end of the nineteenth century gave rise to groupings and parties which tried their luck in various electoral contests. In some respects, these formations were the predecessors of contemporary Fascism. It is therefore instructive to review their showings at the polls and the ways in which they developed.

Antisemitic candidates stood without success in the 1890 Paris local elections. A few isolated antisemites were elected in 1893, but it was not until the May 1898 elections--at the height of the Dreyfus Affair --that Edouard Drumont, who had been triumphantly elected in Algiers, became head of an anti-Jewish group in the Chamber of Deputies. At its peak it comprised some twenty members (out of a total of 600). Six of them were elected on the basis of a specifically anti-Jewish program. The others had fought on a general platform but made no secret of their opinions during the campaign. The group lost half of its strength in the 1902 elections. It disappeared from the political scene after 1906.27

Together with Max Regis, who became the mayor of Algiers in November 1898, the Austrian Karl Lueger was one of the rare antisemites of his generation to hold an official position. Elected mayor of Vienna in 1895, he clashed with the imperial government that tried twice to invalidate his appointment but eventually accepted it in 1897. Lueger distinguished himself by the caution with which he applied his antisemitic program in practice. Under his impetus, the Social Christian party became the advocate of a persistent but relatively moderate antisemitism.

The German antisemitic parties' showings in the Reichstag disturbed contemporary observers but they were actually quite low. These parties appeared on the scene in 1887 (0.2% of the vote) and 1890 (0.7%), making marked gains in 1893 (3.4%) and peaking in 1898 (3.7%). They were particularly active in Hesse and Saxony. In 1903 they plummeted to 2.6% of the vote. In 1907 they continued to lose ground (2.2%), but this downward trend was temporarily concealed by a redrawing of constituency boundaries which gave them additional seats. They collapsed to 0.5% of the poll in the 1912 elections. The cycle petered out in Germany just as it had several years earlier in France.28

There is no denying that during this period the influence of antisemitism on the political community extended beyond the strict boundaries of the antisemitic vote. It is also true that the anti-Jewish message was expressed against a background of a freedom of speech which allowed a verbal violence that is not normally found today. Hence comparisons over time require many precautions and adjustments. Nevertheless, French and German antisemites remained in the minority throughout the period, and were systematically excluded from State power. Their showings in 1898 (the peak of their influence in both countries) were very limited.


The most interesting case, of course, is to be found in the 1930s.29 Now seen as the precedents to the Holocaust, these are perceived as doom-laden years. There is a major tendency to telescope a variety of periods into a single one, i.e., to merge the events at the beginning of the 1930s with those at the end of the decade, and then thrust the lot together into the flames of 1942. There is also a major tendency to evaluate European political life as colored by the frightening images of Nazism triumphant in Germany. This double blend, in time and in space, means talking about the 1930s but envisioning the 1940s, referring to Belgium, Holland, or Denmark, but thinking of the Third Reich. By a strange intellectual mechanism that needs to be studied in detail, this view leads to an overestimation of the influence and power of fascist parties in prewar Europe. Its automatic effect is to disqualify in advance any comparison between the extreme Right of the 1930s and that of the 1984-1995 period. The former is terrifying: millions (so it is believed) of helmeted men, marching as they sing towards victory. The latter is easy-going: minority political parties trying somehow, without overmuch success, to elbow their way to a place on the political chessboard. It is claimed that a comparison is being made: but in actual fact, an emotive and literary perception of Fascism is being contrasted with a level-headed and critical analysis of the political realities at the beginning of the 1990s.30

It is psychologically difficult, but technically very simple, to overcome this confusion. All that is needed is to carry out the requisite documentary research and consult the electoral statistics for the period country by country deliberately refraining from extrapolating to the future, resisting the heady lure of fateful dates and confining oneself to the strict discipline of the facts; in other words, comparing figures with figures, and not with images.

Founded by Léon Degrelle in 1931, the Rex Fascist party burst onto the scene in the Belgian general elections of May 1936. It dumbfounded the country's political community and foreign observers alike by winning 11.5% of the vote and obtaining 21 out of 202 parliamentary seats. In April 1937, Degrelle received only 19% of the vote in a Brussels by-election in which he ran against Paul Van Zeeland, who was supported by the Catholics, the Liberals, and the Socialists. In the April 1939 general elections, Rex suffered a major setback, polling just 4.4% of the vote and losing 17 of the 21 deputies it had returned in 1936. The Flemish-nationalist extreme Right was grouped together in the Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond (VNV), set up by Staf de Clercq in October 1933. The VNV switched to anti-Jewish agitation in two stages, 1935 and 1938, but its antisemitism remained more moderate than that professed at the same time by other Flemish groupings.31 In 1936 it polled 7.1% of the vote, a figure that rose to 8.3% in 1939, thereby avoiding the electoral fiasco which overwhelmed the Walloon Fascists at the same time. The VNV had a more solid foundation than the Rexists, being grounded in Flemish separatism.32

Also established in 1931, the National Socialist Party of Anton Mussert performed impressively in the June 1935 Dutch local government elections, but was painfully disappointed by its poor showing (4.2% of the poll) in the May 1937 general elections.33 Its decline became more pronounced in the April 1939 provincial elections.34 In the October 1939 elections, the Swiss extreme Right (the Front national) lost the only deputy on the National Council that it had returned in October 1935. In 1939, it suffered several local government defeats (in Zurich in March and Geneva in May). The Norwegian Fascists in the Nasjonal Samling (National Unity) party, led since 1933 by Vidkun Quisling, won just 2.2% of the vote in October 1933 and 1.8% in October 1936; in neither case did they manage to win a seat. Their Swedish counterparts made their best electoral showing in the 1934 local government elections, with 0.9% of the vote. They lost their three parliamentary seats in September 1936 (0.7% of the poll). In the September 1938 provincial and local elections, they lost all representation.35 The Danish National Socialists were the only ones where the trend was the opposite. In October 1935 they polled 1% of the vote, but managed to enter parliament in the April 1939 elections (3 deputies out of 148, with 1.8% of the vote).

From the beginning of the 1930s onwards, Oswald Mosley was the outstanding figure of British Fascism. The New Party, that he founded in 1931, put up a number of candidates (some of whom managed fairly creditable performances), but failed to return anyone in the 1931 parliamentary elections. In 1932 the British Union of Fascists (BUF) took over from the New Party. Although successful in terms of its ability to mobilize support on a militant level (meetings and rallies), it was hampered by the Public Order Act (December 1936) that considerably limited its freedom to assemble. Mosley failed to make an electoral breakthrough. The reason behind this ineffectiveness lies not in any English or British “national character,” which it is hard to imagine being radically different from that of the Belgians, the Dutch, or the Danes. More mundanely, the reason is the British electoral system which mercilessly eliminates the small extremist parties and robs them of any hope of obtaining parliamentary representation, however miniscule. Mosley did not take part in the November 1935 general elections. He sought consolation in the March 1937 local government elections. None of the six candidates whom he fielded in London's working class East End neighborhoods was elected, although some polled close on or even over 20% of the vote. Encouraged by these results, the BUF ran some fifty candidates in the local government elections on November 1, 1937. They were literally crushed, utterly failing everywhere to reproduce their relative success of March.36 The British Fascists' decline became more pronounced in 1938 and 1939.

The French extreme Right failed to gain any electoral successes in the 1930s. The Action francaise monarchists had an influence on public opinion but had no parliamentary seats. The founding of the PPF (Parti Populaire Francais -- French Popular Party) by ex-Communist Jacques Doriot followed hard on the heels of the April-May 1936 general elections. Doriot himself was re-elected by a slim majority in his Saint-Denis stronghold. It was not at all sure, given the electoral system, that the PPF would have been able to get a significant number of deputies elected. Removed from office as mayor of Saint-Denis in May 1937, Doriot resigned from the town council but failed to be re-elected against his Communist opponent, who enjoyed the support of the entire Left. He gave up his deputy's seat. Thus 1937 was just as bad for Doriot in Saint-Denis as it was for Degrelle in Brussels or Mosley in Great Britain. Various indicators (membership, readership of the party press, etc.) show that the PPF was fading away at the end of 1938 and in 1939.

This brief overview enables us to identify two characteristics of the Fascist wave of the 1930s. The first is that all the parties referred to experienced a breakthrough around the middle of the decade, but on the eve of the war, they were in decline everywhere (with the exception of the Danes, who in 1939 were making very slight headway compared with 1935). Thus the movement was cyclical in nature (boom/bust), and not a victorious upward trend (continuous advance).

The second finding is that the breakthrough in each of those countries peaked at a relatively low level. The fascist parties managed to get themselves talked about on the basis of electoral results that were very rarely more than 10% of the vote and which in most instances were less than 5% of the poll. The British and the French, for different reasons, were kept out of their respective countries' electoral scenes. They managed to maintain some uproar in the streets--far less, however, than is normally thought to have been the case--but they did not show up on the ballots. Measured quantitatively, the west European fascist wave of the 1930s is striking by the very weakness of its electoral performance.37

It can therefore be rightfully compared with the 1984-1995 wave. The Belgian extreme Right in 1994 did not manage to repeat its 1936 performance, but did not seem far off its 1939 showing. The Dutch far Right did better in the 1930s than in the 1990s, but in both cases the orders of magnitude are not fundamentally different. Since 1984, the French extreme Right has enjoyed a stable and permanent presence in the polls (between 10% and 15% of the vote) that it lacked in the 1930s. The British far Right is today encountering the same technical barriers (inherent in the electoral system) that prevented Mosley from getting his candidates elected. With its fleeting 1993 success in Tower Hamlets, the BNP even managed to break the two-party stranglehold and get one of its candidates elected. This was a feat that (while undeniably limited in scope, as well as in time) the BUF of the 1930s, at the height of its influence, had been chronically incapable of achieving. If we limit ourselves to the countries referred to above, we can see that the two electoral waves (that of the mid-1930s and the 1984-1995 one) are overall of a similar scope.

As far as antisemitism is concerned, it was not inherent in the ideology of all western fascist parties. It did take root in them rapidly as they developed, but never to the point of becoming the single-minded theme or even an essential component, of a multidimensional political message that at one and the same time advocated nationalism, anti-Marxism, and rejection of liberalism. These parties derived their inspiration from one of two models--that of Mussolini or that of Hitler--which were initially in competition and distinct from each other. The supporters of German-style Nazism made racism into an integral element of their ideology and propaganda, while the followers of Italian-style Fascism declared themselves opposed to antisemitism, or at least neutral on the “Jewish question.” These distinctions soon became blurred and disappeared almost entirely in 1938, in the wake of the German-Italian rapprochement. But at the beginning of the period they were still very pronounced, explaining the frequency of neutral or philosemitic statements made by the far Right until the mid-1930s.38

At the beginning, the Rexists were not anti-Jewish, but they became increasingly antisemitic after 1934, and above all in 1936 and 1937.39 Mussert was not anti-Jewish until 1935. In 1933, Mosley declared himself to be utterly against racism.40 He changed his attitude in 1934, and went over to an antisemitism that was expressed in alternately moderate and vicious terms, depending on the circumstances.41 The main force in French Fascism, the PPF, was not anti-Jewish until 1938. At that point, particularly during the Munich crisis (September 1938), it switched to an antisemitism that remained restrained, not becoming obsessional and unbridled until after 1941. Thus comparing Doriot's anti-Jewish diatribes with Le Pen's repetitive insinuations makes sense only if it is stated precisely which Doriot is speaking: that of 1942, who called for “implacable measures against the Jews,”42 or that of 1936, 1937, or early 1938, who was still resistant to racism.43

This is the origin of a distortion that is frequently encountered in comparing levels of antisemitism. Some commentators, scarcely aware of the nuances, ignore the process of development, at the end of which antisemitism ultimately triumphed on the extreme Right of the political spectrum. At the same time, these commentators remain hermetically--and strangely--deaf to the “little phrases” let drop by the Le Pens and the Schoenhubers at the end of the 1980s. They also remain blind to the anti-Jewish campaigns, whether camouflaged or overt, that are launched by the newspapers that support them. In this way they underestimate the antisemitism exuded by the current extreme Right to the same extent that they blow up that propagated by the extreme Right of the 1930s.44 Their conclusion is an idyllic one (so much hatred in the 1930s, so little today), but it is based on a misinterpretation of both the past and the present. Above all, it reflects a reluctance--easily understood in human terms but academically unwarranted--to analyze antisemitism in terms of dynamic progression, i.e., to accept that a political party or trend may not be anti-Jewish at its outset, but may perfectly well become so at a later stage in its expansion.


Italy, of course, can only be assessed at the beginning of the 1920s. In the November 1919 general elections, the Fascists were insignificant, and they remained very weak in the November 1920 local government elections. They took part in the May 1921 general elections as a junior partner in the National Block, and returned just 35 deputies out of 535. Hence, after his October 1922 “march on Rome,” when Mussolini managed to be entrusted with running the government, this came about not as a result of his parliamentary weight, but in the wake of his skilful use of political intimidation and terror. As head of a right-wing coalition, he ensured that a new electoral law was passed that assured him of a landslide victory in the April 1924 elections. The murder of Socialist deputy Matteoti (June 1924) triggered a major national crisis that the Fascists showed themselves capable of overcoming and even of turning to their own advantage. From 1925 onward, the dictatorship consolidated its grip. Following the March 1929 plebiscite, run on a single-list basis, it had complete control of the country. Until 1938, Mussolini remained hostile to antisemitism, and even expressed severe criticism of Hitlerian racism. His regime respected the equal rights of Italy's Jews.45 When Gianfranco Fini touches sympathetically upon Jewish matters, he is simply following pre-1938 Mussolini traditions.

The last free elections in prewar Austria were held in November 1930. They gave 6.2% of the vote to the Heimwehren (a nationalist Fascist-style grouping) which had certain anti-Jewish tendencies but was not officially antisemitic.46 The Nazis, the only overtly racist party, received just 3% of the vote. In the regional and local elections of April 1932,47 they made spectacular progress, but the January 1934 civil war and the institution of a patriotic and authoritarian regime (under the leadership of chancellors Dollfuss and then Schuschnigg) ruled out the holding of new general elections up to the Anschluss and the complete Nazification of the country in the spring of 1938. Thus 1930 is the only available base for reference purposes. At that time, the Austrian extreme Right scored far fewer votes (6.2% for the Heimwehren and 3% for the Nazis) than did Haider in October 1994 (22.6%).

The comparisons for Germany must, of course, apply not to the 1930s, but to the 1920s. Under Adolf Hitler's leadership, the NSDAP polled 6.5% of the vote in May 1924, but slumped to 3% in the December elections that same year. It collapsed to 2.6% of the vote in the May 1928 Reichstag elections, leading a number of commentators to predict the upcoming disappearance of a tiny group (Grüppchen), that no longer frightened anyone. The curve of Nazi votes reversed direction in May 1929 in the Saxony regional elections (5% of the poll). Their upsurge was confirmed in the fall, and became more pronounced in the winter: 11.3% in the Thuringian parliamentary elections in December 1929.48 At this stage, the Nazis were at the same level as the Republicans in Baden-Württemberg in April 1992.

And it was here--just as the 1920s turned into the 1930s --that the paths diverged. Bolstered by the burgeoning economic crisis, and deriving maximum benefit from the proportional representation system, Nazi votes began to grow exponentially. In June 1930 the NSDAP cornered 14.4% of the vote in Saxony. It amazed home and foreign opinion by garnering 18.3% of the poll in the general elections on September 14, 1930. An analysis of the results shows that the Nazi votes sprang essentially from the classical Right, as well as from the liberal and moderate right-wing. The typical Nazi voter was mainly a member of the middle classes and the petty bourgeoisie. Hitler, trying to soothe public opinion after the anti-Jewish riots in Berlin that had accompanied the first session of the new Reichstag, made a large number of reassuring statements about the Jews.49 Throughout this period he constantly stated his attachment to constitutional principles and fundamental freedoms.

The wave peaked in 1932. Although unable to prevent the re-election of Marshal Hindenburg, Hitler performed impressively in the presidential elections: 30.1% of the poll in the first ballot in March 1932, 36.7% in the second ballot in April. In the general elections on July 31, 1932 the Nazis received 37.4% of the poll. Since the new Reichstag was unable to come up with a majority government, and Hindenburg steadfastly refused Hitler the chancellery, new general elections were held on November 6, 1932. For the first time in three years, the Nazis lost votes, dropping to 33.1% of the poll. Disappointed by their violence, some of their voters from the center Right and the nationalist Right returned to their original parties. The Nazi crisis gathered momentum in December 1932, to the great relief of international observers who expressed their satisfaction-- somewhat prematurely--at the decline of the brown wave.

Paradoxically, it was their November 1932 electoral setback that ultimately put the Nazis in power. They appeared less threatening in the eyes of Hindenburg's entourage than they had in the spring or summer of 1932. Hence, at the beginning of the year, a compromise was negotiated that placed Hitler at the head of a government in which the Nazis were in the minority (January 30, 1933). The elections on March 5, 1933 took place against the background of massive anti-Communist mobilization following the burning of the Reichstag (February 27, 1933). The Nazis polled 43.9% of the vote, enough to assure them of an absolute parliamentary majority with the support of the nationalist right members. After the Catholic Center went over to them, and in the wake of the terror brought to bear on the Communist deputies, they were able to be voted full power by a two-thirds majority (March 23, 1933). The Nazis then proceeded to establish their total dictatorship within the next two to three months.

It can never be said often enough that the Nazi electoral successes were exceptional in the entire century. They were without precedent and have never been reproduced, whether in the short term or in subsequent decades, in Germany or elsewhere. The Western European fascists of the 1930s and the post-World War II radical Right were to refer nostalgically to them, but never managed to duplicate or even come anywhere near them. No other far-right party has benefitted from such headlong dynamics and recorded such results in free and democratic elections. No other moderate right electorate has ever swung, in such a short span of time and so massively, to the racist extreme Right. The phenomenon has only occurred once (but once is enough) and in a single country (but it was Germany). Fundamentally atypical, the Nazi case was decisive for the fate of Europe generally and of the Jews in particular.50


The Fascist parties of the 1930s, when they embarked on conquering public opinion in the western democracies, were able to take pride in the “achievements” of Mussolini's Italy or in their more recent equivalents in Hitler's Germany. They could draw inspiration from the domestic and foreign successes that these two regimes were constantly publicizing (copycat effect). They also offered their own original solutions to the political and social problems plaguing their contemporaries (novelty effect).

These beneficial effects are no longer applicable in the 1990s. They have given way to a serious handicap made up of the memory of the Nazi defeat and the Nazi horrors. The adversaries of the extreme Right deliberately make massive use of this in their counter-propaganda. Its supporters experience manifest difficulties in dissociating themselves from a legacy which the overwhelming majority of European public opinion still considers today to have been disastrous and criminal. The most astonishing thing in their 1984-1995 electoral showings is, therefore, that they were achieved despite this handicap, that did not exist sixty years earlier.

Another element helped the extreme Right of the 1930s. Whether the Communist International practiced isolationist tactics, as at the beginning of the 1930s, or switched to a strategy of joining forces with liberal and social-democratic forces against Fascism, after 1934 the Communist parties represented a danger of which the extreme Right made massive and unrelenting use in its propaganda. Fear of an external Soviet threat and internal revolutionary danger hung over the political life of the period. Under their influence, the middle classes and the bourgeoisie were forced into fascist radicalism, to an extent that varied from country to country. This anti-communist factor also came into play during the Cold War. It continued to be a relevant factor, albeit in a considerably weakened form, during the decades of East-West detente and peaceful coexistence. But by 1990, as Communist Europe was breaking up, and 1991, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself, it had lost all relevance. Thus in one fell swoop, the fall of communism and the disappearance of the “red peril” deprived the extreme Right of a vital component of its ideological arsenal and a powerful lever of political mobilization.

Another difference between these contexts is that nationalism is no longer what it once was in Western countries. In the 1930s it fed on the still warm memory of the Great War. It split Europe between the conservative powers (the 1918 victors, interested in maintaining the status quo) and the revisionist powers (the vanquished of 1918, anxious to re-establish their previous positions or recover their lost provinces). In contrast, peace has come to today's Western Europe. The reconciliation of France and Germany has put an end to their age-old antagonism. The collision of nations and territorial disputes have given way to the economic and political integration of various countries in a European Community that continues to make steady progress, difficulties and obstacles notwithstanding. The atmosphere is no longer one of stomping boots and fluttering flags, but of reconciliation between peoples and dialogue between states. It no longer favors the extreme Right, which is developing in a far more peaceable context than that which characterized the 1930s.

Socio-economic conditions were also much harsher at the time. The Great Depression of the 1930s, measured by its statistical indices (rate of decrease in industrial production) and its social impact (unemployment level, poverty indices) reached far deeper than the subsequent depressions that affected the Western world after 1974, at the beginning of the 1980s and in the 1990s.

Let us summarize the various points that have been made: the then still attractive ideologies of Fascism and Nazism, not yet stigmatized by World War II; a threatening Bolshevism, terrifying the bourgeoisie and the middle classes; nationalist agitation, from which the Fascist parties obviously benefit; an economic crisis that was infinitely worse then, both objectively and in terms of its social impact. Given all of this, the numerous commentators who compare “contexts” are right to assert that the 1930s were infinitely more propitious to Fascism and the extreme Right than are the final years of the twentieth century. But they are wrong not to take their reasoning to its logical conclusion. The difference in “contexts” should, logically, have generated two electoral waves of differing intensity (one of them a strong one, and the other far weaker), since it was undoubtedly easier for a Fascist party to poll 2%, 3%, 5% or 10% of the vote in Europe in 1936 or 1938 than it was in 1992. However, what we have seen --with the exception of Italy and Germany --is that there were no basic differences between the two electoral waves. The results recorded are of similar intensity.

Hence an explanation must be provided as to why the 1984-1995 upsurge has managed to achieve quantitative results that are similar to those of the 1930s (in most countries), despite the fact that the conditions for its upsurge are far less favorable. It is clear that this question requires more in-depth examination. No comparative analysis between periods can ignore it.51


The 1984-1995 wave has been accompanied by an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence on a level higher than that of the swastika epidemic (1959-1960) and the wave of the end of late 1970s and early 1980s.52 In the early 1990s, therefore, a high level of anti-Jewish incidents coincided with an electoral resurgence of the extreme Right. During the 1974-1983 period, these two indicators of antisemitism (violence and electoral results) were not synchronized, but this time they reacted in unison, detecting the most serious anti-Jewish upheaval that Western Europe had recorded since 1945.53 On the surface nothing trembled, no walls collapsed, even the windows remained intact, but the earth moved in the depths.

The 1984-1995 electoral results were achieved in an atmosphere of almost complete freedom of expression, for the simple reason that democracies do profess democratic principles. Today, like sixty or a hundred years ago, they are loath to suppress the fundamental freedoms that govern public life: freedom of expression and association, the right to vote and stand for election. The occasional measures banning a particular small neo-Nazi group have never been applied to the radical parties with a confirmed electoral base, apart from the SRP in 1952. Anti-racist legislation suppresses the most brutal and conspicuous manifestations of racism and antisemitism; it is, of course, unfit to eliminate their insidious or indirect forms.

The widespread anti-racist demonstrations are undoubtedly very welcome, but have not yet attained the scale of the major anti-Fascist gatherings of the 1930s. It is true that the previous gatherings have been mercilessly wiped out from the collective memory of Jews and non-Jews alike: today's demonstrators might be less enthusiastic were they aware that they are not the first in history to take to the streets in order to repel racism. Eclipsing the past helps to overcome the unpleasant impressions of “deja vu.”

The European extreme Right has abided by its age-old behavioral patterns. The resurgent vitality it has demonstrated from 1984 to 1995 will not save it from the phases of withdrawal, and even evanescence, to which it is condemned periodically, at the mercy of political and economic circumstances and subject to mechanisms which, unfortunately, have not yet been studied with sufficient thoroughness.

The fact that its contours are still unclear will not prevent the 1984-1995 wave from suffering the fate of previous waves, characterized by an upsurge and a boom phase, followed by a downturn and collapse. The hypothesis of a lasting stabilization (enshrining the extreme Right in the electoral landscape, but confining it to eternal opposition) can certainly not be ruled out but seems less plausible than the presumption of periodical decline. We will have to wait another two or three years in order to find out whether the upturn in the world's economic performance, following the 1990-1993 crisis, has exerted a moderating influence in this area.

If the decline is confirmed, and the lull continues, it may be anticipated that a spate of solidly argued articles and speeches will hasten to conclude that the extreme Right has died out, once and for all. Jewish communities would be wrong to lend too willing an ear to such triumphant rhetoric. The distinctive feature of a recurrent socio-political phenomenon is precisely that it never dies. A good number of surprises are always kept in store for us.


1. Unless otherwise indicated, the electoral results referred to in this article are taken from the following sources: Maurice Duverger, Constitutions et documents politiques (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1957); Klaus von Beyme, Parteien in westlichen Demokratien (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1982); Thomas T. Mackie, Richard Rose, The International Almanac of Electoral History (London: Macmillan Press, 1974); John Sallnow, Anna John, An Electoral Atlas of Europe 1968-1981 (London: Butterworth Scientific, 1982); Party Organizations--A Data Handbook on Party Organizations in Western Democracies, 1960-90, edited by Richard S. Katz and Peter Mair (London: Sage, 1992). The main source for recent years, as well as for events in the 1930s, is the indispensable Keesing's Record of World Events, formerly Keesing's Contemporary Archives.

2. See, for example: Noah Kliger, Yediot Aharonot, March 11, 1993 (Hebrew); Luc Rosenzweig, Le Monde, June 12, 1993.

3. Schoenhuber analyzed the causes of his failure in an interview published in Der Spiegel, October 10, 1994.

4. See Antisemitism World Report 1994 (London: Institute of Jewish Affairs), p. 59. See also “The Netherlands, January-December 1993 --An Overview on Antisemitism in the Netherlands,” report presented to the Seminar for Researchers on Antisemitism in Europe, London, December 6-8, 1993, Institute of Jewish Affairs.

5. Denmark is a special case. The Fremskridtspartiet (Progress Party) obtained its initial successes in the 1970s, but subsequently lost its influence in the 1980s. However, in 1988 it polled 9% of the vote, dropping to 6.4% in the December 1990 general elections. It maintained its rating in the September 1994 polls.

6. Newsweek, October 24, 1994.

7. See: Current Situation Briefing, Board of Deputies of British Jews, November 21, 1993; Intelligence Report, Institute of Jewish Affairs, London, No. 7, September 1993. The latter document notes pertinently that the electoral results of the British extreme Right, even after the Tower Hamlets vote, are insignificant compared with the performances of the extreme Right on the Continent. However, the Intelligence Report fails to draw attention to the fact that this difference results solely from Great Britain's electoral system. Any other system would undoubtedly have enabled the BNF to obtain a greater level of electoral influence.

8. See Intelligence Report, Institute of Jewish Affairs, London, No. 10, May 1994; Keesing's, p. 40025.

9. On the REP's voters in Germany: Hans-Joachim Veen, Norbert Lepszy, Peer Mnich, The Republikaner Party in Germany - Right-Wing Menace or Protest Catchall? (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1993). On the extreme Right vote in France: Nonna Mayer, Pascal Perrineau (eds.), Le Front national a decouvert (Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1989).

10. On Le Pen's anti-Jewish “little sentences”: La Republique menacee - Dix ans d'effet Le Pen, Dossier presente et etabli par Edwy Plenel et Alain Rollat (Paris: Le Monde Editions, 1992).

11. Quoted in: European Parliament, Commission of Inquiry into Racism and Xenophobia, Report on Results of Investigations, 1991, p. 24.

12. See the interview with him in Contact J --Le mensuel juif de Belgique, November 1994.

13. On the links between the parliamentary extreme Right and the neo-Nazis see, inter alia, Centre de Recherche d'Information et de Documentation Antiraciste (CRIDA), Rapport 95--Panorama des actes racistes et de l'extremisme de droite en Europe (Paris: CRIDA, 1994). This work contains a good bibliography on the racist movements currently operating. See also: Political Extremism and the Threat to Democracy in Europe - A Survey and Assessment of Parties, Movements and Groups, A study for CERA, European Centre for Research and Action on Racism and Antisemitism (London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, 1994); Antisemitism World Report 1994 (London: Institute of Jewish Affairs). For France: Jean-Yves Camus, Rene Monzat, Les droites nationales et radicales en France (Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1992).

14. There are a few rare exceptions to these rules: Marie-France Stirbois, a Front National candidate, managed to get herself elected in a December 1989 by-election. The party, which polled 12.4% of the vote in the March 1993 general elections, failed to obtain a single seat.

15. The same constraints apply to the racists in the USA, who are also excluded as a result of the American electoral system from the Senate or the House of Representatives. David Duke, known for his hostility to the Jews and his Nazi leanings, obtained a high percentage of the vote in the primaries for the post of Louisiana governor in November 1991. Pat Buchanan, who also holds strong anti-Jewish views, came to public attention during the U.S. presidential race in 1992 and again in 1996.

16. A vast literature discusses the influence of electoral systems on the political life of various democratic countries, and in particular on the ability of the extremist parties, whether right or left wing, to obtain parliamentary representation, e.g., Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences, edited by Bernard Grofman and Arend Lijphard (New York: Agathon Press, 1986). The classical work on the topic is that of Maurice Duverger, L'influence des systemes electoraux sur la vie politique (Paris: Cahiers de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, Armand Colin, 1950).

For an example of underestimation of the crucial role played by the British electoral system, see: Tony Kushner, “Racism and Neo-Nazism in Contemporary Britain” Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 28, No.1, 1994, p.33. Also: Vernon Bogdanor, What is Proportional Representation? --A Guide to the Issues (London, Martin Robertson, 1984), pp. 121-26. Bogdanor fails to realize that adopting a new electoral system would increase the extreme Right's votes, because it would free its supporters from the necessity of voting for a big party. His reasoning follows a static approach which ignores electoral dynamics.

17. For example, see the first elections to the European Parliament in June 1979: the extreme Right polled just 1.3% of the vote in France, was invisible in Germany, and so on.

18. David Butler and Anne Sloman, British Political Facts 1900-1975, 4th ed. (London: Macmillan Press, 1975), p. 186; British Electoral Facts 1885-1975, compiled and edited by F. W. S. Craig, 3rd ed. (London: Macmillan Press, 1976), p. 29.

19. Jean-Christian Petitfils, L'extreme droite en France (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1983) p. 123.

20. Two examples of the argument can be found in: “Antisemitism--A Statement by the American Jewish Congress,” Congress Monthly, March 1981, pp. 6-7; Stephen J. Roth, “Antisemitism in the Western World Today,” Research Report, Institute of Jewish Affairs, June 1981. Roth concludes somewhat hastily that “there seems to be no likelihood of a serious right-extremist revival.”

21. At that point, certain sections of Jewish public opinion argued that the extreme Right was not dangerous because it was not in power. With little notice, the reassuring reasoning had hastily fallen back to a second line of defense.

22. In 1978 the NPD polled 0.4% of the vote in the Hesse parliament (1.0% in 1974); 0.2% in 1979 in the Schleswig-Holstein parliament (0.5% in 1975); 0.7% of the vote in 1979 in the Rhineland-Palatinate regional elections (1.1% in 1975).

23. On the SRP, see, for example: Ludwig Bergstraeser, Geschichte der politischen Parteien in Deutschland (Munich: Isar Verlag, 1952), pp. 293-95. On declaring the SRP to be unconstitutional, under Article 21, par. 2, of the Federal Republic's Basic Law: Keesing's, pp. 12697-12700. In 1956, a similar procedure was applied to the West German Communist Party.

24. The FPÖ was initially called the Verband der Unabhaegigen (League of Independents). Its initial supporters included former Nazis, but it was not a neo-Nazi party. See Keesing's, p. 12908.

25. The indispensable source of documentation for the electoral results of the British extreme Right is Minor Parties at British Parliamentary Elections, compiled and edited by F. W. S. Craig (London: Macmillan Press, 1975). This contains the results of Oswald Mosley's Action Party (p. 1), Colin Jordan's British Movement (p. 7), the British National Party, in its original form (p. 8), and the National Front (pp. 60-64).

26. On the European extreme Right during the period, see, e.g., Dennis Eisenberg, The Re-emergence of Fascism (London: Macgibbon and Kee, 1967); Paul Wilkinson, The New Fascists (London: Grant McIntyre, 1981); Klaus von Beyme, Parteien in westlichen Demokratien (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1982), pp. 175-80; Jean-Marc Theolleyre, Les neo-nazis (Paris: Messidor/Temps actuels, 1982). Several retrospective analyses can be found in Neo-Fascism in Europe, ed. Luciano Cheles, Ronnie Ferguson, Michalina Vaughan (London, New York: Longman, 1991).

27. Stephen Wilson, Ideology and Experience --Antisemitism in France at the Time of the Dreyfus Affair (London, Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1982), pp. 213-29; Zeev Sternhell, La droite revolutionnaire -- Les origines francaises du fascisme 1885-1914 (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1978).

28. Kurt Wawrzinek, Die Entstehung der deutschen Antisemitenparteien (1873-1890) (Berlin: Ebering, Historische Studien--Heft 168, 1927); P. G. J. Pultzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria (New York, London, Sydney: John Wiley & Sons, 1964); Richard S. Levy, The Downfall of the Anti-Semitic Political Parties in Imperial Germany (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1975). On Saxony specifically: James Retallack, “Antisocialism and Electoral Politics in Regional Perspective: The Kingdom of Saxony,” Elections, Mass Politics, and Social Change in Modern Germany, ed. Larry Eugene Jones and James Retallack (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

29. On the various fascist movements in the 1930s, see inter alia: Daniel Guerin, Fascisme et grand capital (Paris: Maspero, 1969); Eugen Weber, Varieties of Fascism (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1964); Revue d'Histoire de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, No. 66, April 1967; F. L. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967); European Fascism, ed. S. J. Woolf (New York: Random House, 1968); Who Were the Fascists--Social Roots of European Fascism, ed. Stein Ugelvik Larsen, Bernt Hagtvet, Jan Petter Mykelbust (Oslo: Univerasitetforlaget, 1980); Wolfgang Wipperman, Europaescher Faschismus im Vergleich 1922-1982 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkampf Verlag, 1983). There are innumerable works dealing with the topic, country by country.

30. By way of illustration of this mechanism, see Anthony Lerman's text quoted in Ruth Gruber, Right-Wing Extremism in Western Europe, American Jewish Committee, 1994, p. 30.

31. Paper given by Efraim Meir at the Research Seminar of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, January 11, 1986.

32. The Rexists and the VVN tried to coordinate their action in October 1936 but the differences between them were too great, leading to a break-up in June 1937.

33. The National Socialists received four seats out of 100 in the Lower House, and 4 out of 50 in the Upper House. Keesing's, p. 2597.

34. The National Socialists did, however, have three members (out of 45) on the Amsterdam city council in June 1939. See American Jewish Yearbook, Review of the Year 5699.

35. On the electoral influence of the Swedish National Socialists: Bernt Hagtvet, “On the Fringe: Swedish Fascism 1920-45” in Who Were the Fascists--Social Roots of European Fascism, pp. 715-42; see also Keesing's, pp. 2265 and 3326.

36. On the Fascists in the March and November 1937 local government elections: Jewish Chronicle, February 26, 1937, March 5, 1937, March 12, 1937, November 28, 1937, November 5, 1937.

37. The Eastern European fascists did not manage to make a breakthrough till the end of the decade. The Romanian extreme Right was active on the streets and at the universities, but achieved extremely poor electoral results in 1931, 1932 and 1933. It was not until December 1937 that the Iron Guard of the fascist Zelea Codreanu and the anti-Jewish parties of Alexander Cuza and Octavian Goga received a total of 25% of the vote in parliamentary elections. The Hungarian Fascists triumphed (25%) in the June 1939 elections. Throughout the decade they were non-existent in electoral terms.

38. See, e.g., Michael Arthur Ledeen, Universal Fascism--The Theory and Practice of the Fascist International 1928-1936 (New York: Howard Fertig, 1972).

39. On the Rexist Party's shift towards antisemitism, see: Emile Hambresin, La lutte contre la haine des races (Bruxelles: Ligue belge contre le racisme et l'antisemitisme, 1937), pp. 17-22. On several occasions Degrelle stated that he was opposed to racism and in favor of a moderate, Catholic-inspired antisemitism. See on Tribune juive, 30 October, 1936 his statement in which he said that he opposed both the race theory and Jewish domination.

40. Jewish Chronicle, May 12, 1933.

41. Mosley's famous speech at the Albert Hall (October 28, 1934) is traditionally considered to mark the breaking point in his attitude to the Jews. See Jewish Chronicle, 2 November, 1934.

42. PPF manifesto reproduced in L'Oeuvre, December 3, 1942.

43. As an example, see L'Emancipation nationale, 11 February and 18 February, 1938 for Doriot's moving speech at the funeral of one of the leaders of his party, Alexandre Abremski, in February 1938. (Abremski was, of course, Jewish).

44. As an example of this tendency to minimize today's antisemitism, see Michael R. Marrus, “Antisemitism and Xenophobia in Historical Perspective,” Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 28, No. 2, 1994, p. 80.

45. On the Italian fascists' electoral strategy in the 1920s, see Jens Petersen, “Wlerverhalten und soziale Basis des Faschismus in Italien zwischen 1919 und 1928,” Faschismus als soziale Bewegung, ed. Wolfgang Schieder (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1976), pp. 199-156. On Italian fascism's attitude toward the Jews, the authoritative reference work is Meir Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978). See also Mussolinis Gespraehe mit Emil Ludwig (Berlin: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1932), pp. 75-77.

46. On the Heimwehren's antisemitism in the 1930 electoral campaign, see Jewish Telegraphic Agency News Bulletin, October and November 1930.

47. The Nazis won 15 seats in the Vienna City Council, compared with 66 by the Social Democrats and 19 by the Christian Socialists, Keesing's, pp. 282, 284.

48. The late 1929 electoral results are listed in: Droste Geschichts- Kalendarium--Chronik deutscher Zeitgeschichte (Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1982).

49. See coverage of his assertions in the New York Times, as well as in the Times (London), October 15, 1930.

50. It should not be forgotten that the 1940 German victories did not provide European Fascists with the opportunities they had anticipated. They were to be victims of the Hitlerist strategy which in the conquered countries, whether allies or vassals, essentially relied on the support of the conservative and reactionary right, and not on the radical extreme Right parties. The latter were given two subsidiary functions: 1) recruiting troops for the war against the Soviet Union, or local militias to put down the Resistance; 2) applying constant pressure to collaborationist governments in order to ensure that they remained docile. Apart from Quisling in Norway, Pavelic in Croatia, and Szalassy, briefly, in Hungary, the Fascist leaders remained excluded from power in their respective countries. This, then, was the paradoxical fate of the Fascist wave of the 1930s. It was incapable of gaining power independently in pre-1939 Europe. Nor would it achieve it, with a few exceptions, in German-dominated Europe.

51. Obviously, political style has evolved. In the 1930s, political life revolved around rallies and marches. Cinema and radio did in part offset the absence of television, but the only possible direct contact between the leader and the masses was at public gatherings. The political parties therefore used a militant mobilization strategy that today looks outdated and even ridiculous in many respects. They were more active on a street level than they are today.

Controlling the streets implies the availability of an organized force to maintain order that often takes the form of a political militia, the size of which varies over time and between countries. Such militias have a threefold role: to protect the party's meetings against any attempts to break them up; to harass the adversary's meetings; to fire supporters with enthusiasm and intimidate opponents by means of quasi-military parades. The Fascist militias of the 1930s are therefore not a characteristic inherent to Fascism. Their existence derived from the conditions governing political life during the period. The fact that at the end of the twentieth century they have disappeared does not mean that the extreme Right has disappeared.

52. See Simon Epstein, Cyclical Patterns in Antisemitism: The Dynamics of Anti-Jewish Violence in Western Countries since the 1950s, The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1993.

53. This question of synchronization between indicators of antisemitism is a particularly complex one. In 1994 we witnessed an electoral rout of the German extreme Right. At the same time, according to the Verfassungsschutz reports, anti-Jewish acts of violence rocketed. The numbers of such acts were twice the 1993 level, which was already high.

Simon Epstein was born in 1947 in Paris, France. Settling in Jerusalem in 1974, he worked as an economist for the Israeli Ministry of Finance. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science at the Sorbonne. Since 1982, his field of research has been antisemitism and racism. Among his publications are Cry of Cassandra: The Resurgence of European Antisemitism (1985) and Les Chemises jaunes: chronique d'une exteme-droite racist in Israel (1990).