A blast from the past, discovered in my archives, something that I probably wrote for CIS Policy a few years ago. A review of The Radical Right: A World Directory. A Keesing’s Reference Publication, Longman, 1987. 500 pp.
This compilation is a companion volume to such titles as Revolutionary and Dissident Movements of the World and State Economic Agencies of the World. Intellectually it is on a par with the Guinness Book of Records or the Courage Book of Victorian Football League Scores. Its fundamental weakness is revealed by following up the question “What does it mean to be ‘right’ or ‘radical right’ in this book?”
The introduction specifies but does not define three “broad and overlapping strands” of thought which qualify for admission. These are “ultraconservatism”, “anti-communism” and “right-wing extremism”. Also listed are fifteen attitudes or attributes which are supposed to be “commonly but not exclusively” found among the radical right. These range from support for violence as a political tactic, white supremacy and national xenophobia, to admiration for heroism, rejection of class conflict and anti-communism. Economic issues do not rate a mention.
Some of these stances, notably anti-communism and rejection of class conflict, would appear to be fairly respectable and so organisations which espouse them could reasonably wonder why they are listed among fascist or quasi-fascist groups. It is hard to avoid the impression that this is a thoroughly muddle-headed venture, showing yet again the unhelpful nature of the one-dimensional ‘left – right’ map of ideological space.
With this limitation in mind the directory makes interesting reading. There are over 3000 entries in 85 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Upper Volta and North Korea are missing but the USSR is not, with 25 groups, almost all based in the US.
At first sight this catalogue appears to be a depressing reminder of the continued appeal of racism, violence and xenophobic nationalism. However on closer inspection it shows the transitory nature of many organizations devoted to these causes. In Australia the list of 33 defunct organizations is much longer than the list of six active groups, which includes the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties. One of the reasons for the demise of these groups would appear to be the wastage rate of leaders in violent clashes with police and rival factions. We are informed that one Thomas Messenger, leader of a Melbourne neo-nazi group, was killed in a shootout with police in 1985. Numerous similar episodes are reported overseas.
The UK has 53 active organizations, of which the National Front is probably the best known, with 78 defunct organizations and some dozens of “minor groups active in recent years”. France is better served with 69 active groups. Belgium, with a smaller population than Australia, has a hefty 29 active groups. Nicaragua does even better on a per capita basis with 19 groups for 3 million people, though none are based on home soil. Belize with practically no people (163,000) has none, though two groups are listed as defunct. There are some surprises. The US National Agricultural Press Association is on the list and one of the three organisations listed in Uraguay is the British Schools Old Boys Society.
The US appears to be the stronghold of this activity with 170 substantial groups and a similar number of fringe organizations, from the Aaronic Order to a publication called World War Three Battlecry. However this tally is inflated by entries such as the Republican Party, The Public Interest and Reason Foundation. In the UK we find Salisbury Review (edited by Roger Scruton), the Conservative Party and the Libertarian Alliance.
Given the non-fascist inclusions overseas, one would expect to find among the Australian entries the Institute for Public Affairs, the Centre for Independent Studies, and the National Party. [2017 Strangely this review only named The Victorian Council for Civil Liberties and none of the other five active groups noted above]. There is a mention, without any names, of “employer groupings engaged in sophisticated union-busting activities”. This will be news to the employer groupings because the most strenuous efforts to the abuses of union power (not union busting) have been isolated campaigns such as Mudginberri and Dollar Sweets which did not really involve employer groupings at all.
One hopes that if this exercise is repeated the nonsense entries will be eliminated and more of the organizations will be in the “defunct” category.