The Greek Transformation? Fascists in 2012

In The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi argued that fascism and social democracy (e.g. the New Deal) both arose in the 1930s as reactions to the collapse of the free market order. It’s 2012, and we’re four years into another big economic downturn affecting wide swaths of Europe and the US. Peripheral European countries have especially suffered, with Euro fetters replacing the Golden ones of yore.

And, this week, we see that Greece’s neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn,* has gained its largest vote share yet – though still only 6-8% – and will have representation in parliament. I don’t know what happens next, but the political reactions to the contemporary economic crisis are going to be scary. We may see the emergence of new socialist** movements – the Occupy Wall Streets of the world – but also of fascism and other repugnant sorts of rejections of the free market.

* Note that Golden Dawn rejects the characterization of fascist or neo-Nazi. They are, however, right-wing, nationalist, anti-immigrant and totalitarian, as far as I can tell.
** In a broad, not specific sense.



  1. Austen

     /  May 7, 2012

    Let me dispute your main premise. The current downturn is comparable to the Great Depression in that both are financial and global events. The current downturn, however, though bad, does not compare with the Great Depression in terms of unemployment and other economic devastation. The current downturn is much more comparable with the recessions of the early eighties and nineties, which preceded further globalization not right-wing nativism.

    This is not to say your concerns are unfounded. It is my understanding evidence of right-wing fascism was rising before the economic problems, and are not a result of them. But, perhaps, such sentiments will be enflamed going forward. For economic problems certainly appear here to stay.

    • Greek unemployment is currently 20%, give or take. Youth unemployment is 50%.

      In the US, during the depression, unemployment topped out somewhere around 20%, though we did not measure it in a comparable way until the 1940s, so the data are based on various estimates. The UK was similar.

      So, how were the two not comparable? Yes, the US has not experienced depression-levels of unemployment – in part due to fiscal stimulus, and monetary easing (not being on gold or the Euro, respectively). But the peripheral countries in Europe are experiencing unemployment rates similar to what the US and UK experienced in the 1930s, so I think the comparison has at least a bit of truth in it – especially in terms of broad things like potential social unrest from large numbers of out of work individuals, especially youth.

  2. Austen

     /  May 8, 2012

    …And to argue against myself, Spain is at 25 percent unemployment, so yeah, I get your point. Still, it is true that far-right movements had been growing in Europe prior to the downturn (e.g. Le Pen in France), and that this current downturn has not been as harsh for core countries, in terms of economic devastation, as the Great Depression was. There is no New Deal coming out of it, for one. And two, as you point out, core countries, even in Europe, have more flexibility to combat the devastation than they had in the 1930s. That they have instead engaged in “austerity” is their own fault, and was not a necessary response. Finally, the core countries have done a good enough job relegating the main damage to the periphery. If Greece turns fascist we can all handle that in a way we could not were the fascism coming from Germany, like it did in the 1930s. So, all in all, I’m not as convinced as you are that “the political reactions to the contemporary economic crisis are going to be scary.” (Needless to say, I hope I am right.)…

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