BOOK REVIEW / Creamy custard at the neo-nasty party: 'The Dark Side of Europe' - Geoffrey Harris: EUP, 12.95

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THE CHANCES are that for the first time since Mussolini was hanged, there will be Fascists in the Italian cabinet - and one is likely to be his glamorous granddaughter. Here in Britain, the Football Association was so worried about the prospect of a friendly match with Germany being used as a propaganda vehicle by neo-Nazis that it told the British team not to play. And the Isle of Dogs in east London is bracing itself for the possibility that the British National Party will add to its one council seat in the coming local polls.

These are things that have happened since Geoffrey Harris's authoritative account of the post-war extreme right went to the printers. But they are part of the growth in neo- Nazi activities that he clearly identifies. Many Europeans, Harris believes, feel that this is a turning point. These next years may witness the articulation of a new fascism in the West, as the flow of immigrants from the former Eastern bloc accelerates and the recession continues to claim jobs. Prevention requires dispassionate debate: we need to know what it is and what it feeds off.

This book answers many of our most urgent questions and is, in fact, by far the best account of the far right and fascism in Europe since the Second World War. Harris is on the staff of the Socialist Group of the European Parliament, so we might expect more polemic. But this is a painstaking book that provides penetrating, and often disturbing, insight without any solutions. The neo-Nazi ideologues would have problems arguing with most of it.

Harris identifies the new fascism as a continental phenomenon: it cannot be understood or tackled by European countries in isolation. Neo- Nazis in France talk to neo- Nazis in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany; they all buy the same records and attend the same concerts; British neo-Nazis are inspired by the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France. And the neo- Nazis recognise that an efficient fascist movement today can only function as a continental movement.

In this context, Harris traces the development of neo-Nazism since 1945. The Allies did not rid Germany of Nazism: the American intelligence services actively helped war criminals to flee. Many of the new generation take their lead from the old school: former Waffen-SS men such as Franz Schonhuber, leader of the ultra-right German Republic Party, actively advertise their background.

The neo-Nazis follow closely in Hitler's footsteps. Most, like Le Pen, argue that the Holocaust never happened, and that Hitler was a great leader; but fascism today, Harris points out, is less about promoting a national culture than about xenophobia. It has grown most where immigration has been greatest. Popular racism was encouraged during the Eighties, as Harris relates, when the mainstream right fell over itself to play the racist card. In the UK, Baroness Thatcher's appeal to xenophobia helped to crush popular support for the National Front; but it made racism respectable politics. According to the playwright David Edgar, Lady Thatcher peddled 'bitter-tasting market economics . . . rendered palatable to the popular taste by great creamy helpings of nationalist custard'.

There are some shocking facts: in 1989, a poll in Berlin showed that 11 per cent of schoolchildren favoured the politics of the far right. But it is in Italy where the greatest changes have taken place: racial incidents were almost unheard of until 1979 when a Somali was burnt alive by three neo-Nazis. And now the neo- Nazis are in the government coalition.

Harris's final point is a simple one: Europe is a multi-

racial continent, and we must not let ourselves be distracted from that reality by the fascist impulse.