Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently attended a conference in Budapest, where he praised the race-based immigration policies of the ultranationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Abbott recycled claims that ‘military-age’ migrants were ‘swarming’ into Europe, seeking to overturn the European character of the continent. Orban had opened the conference with a reference to the conspiratorial ‘Great Replacement‘ theory, which holds that liberal cosmopolitan elites are allowing an influx of non-white migrants to overwhelm the white population of Europe.
What is this ‘Great Replacement’ theory, and why is a former Australian Prime Minister supporting such an outlandish characterisation? To answer this question, we need to examine the racist politics of Hungary’s leader – Orban – and also elaborate how a white supremacist vision is gathering adherents in Europe and around the world.
The notion that immigration constitutes an ‘invasion’ threatening to drive the white nations to ‘extinction’ is nothing new in European politics. Orban, however, is the mainstream European leader who has done his best to advocate and normalise this anti-immigration sentiment. The ‘Great Replacement‘ theory dates back to the early part of the twentieth century, when French racist intellectuals, introduced the term ‘Great Replacement’. For instance, French fascist writer Maurice Barres, worried that ‘Western’ and French national identity was under siege from a huge influx of non-white immigration, particularly from France’s African colonies.
In the 1970s, French intellectual Jean Raspail repopularised the notion of a ‘white extinction’ in his racist dystopian novel, The Camp of the Saints. The novel is a paranoid racist fantasy, depicting the destruction of French/Western civilisation by a mass influx of non-white immigration. Raspail’s work was approvingly cited by former Trump campaign manager, Steve Bannon.
In 2012, French racist writer Renaud Camus recycled the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory, claiming that the Jews – the traditional ethnic scapegoat – are organising the importation of non-white migrants for the purpose of colonising Europe and ousting the white race. Camus approved the actions of the white nationalist rioters at Charlottesville in 2017, and justified white supremacist terrorism as an understandable response to the influx of immigration.
Orban has, on numerous occasions, resorted to the ‘Great Replacement’ theory to underscore his government’s anti-immigration policies. Perhaps Tony Abbott does not know about the origins of the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy. That is likely, because Abbott does not know anything. Nick O’Malley, senior writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that if Abbott is unaware of the provenance of the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, then he should be.
The white nationalist killers, such as the Australian-born racist murderer in Christchurch, have cited the ‘Great Replacement’ theory as a direct motivation for their actions. If Abbott had done his homework, he would have discovered that white supremacist killers, such as the El Paso shooter, have portrayed their actions in defensive terms, simply responding to an alleged influx of black and brown people. Not only in the ‘Great Replacement’ theory a rationalisation of white nationalist terrorism, it is also an incitement to racial civil war.
The racially paranoid fear of ‘white genocide’ is not uniquely European. Other colonial powers have constructed their own versions of an immigration-driven path to extinction. Writing in Jacobin magazine, Rosa Schwartzburg examines the racist dystopian novel The Turner Diaries. Authored by American white supremacist William Luther Pierce, the novel depicts a violent racist uprising by white guerrillas against the Jewish-inspired and black-enforced ‘new world order’ in the United States.
The United States has a long and deeply-embedded history of white nationalism. It was The Turner Diaries, with its portrayal of a white ‘Aryan revolution’ and apocalyptic genocide of the non-white races, that updated white supremacy and modernised it. No longer were white supremacists hankering for the days of the slave-owning Confederacy; now there was a vision of a racially-motivated uprising. The Turner Diaries has inspired acts of violence by American extremists, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
There is one ideological influence on Abbott’s thinking which has been omitted from the discussions in the media about his speech at the Budapest conference. The Liberal Party, of which Abbott is a member, takes direct ideological inspiration from the British Conservative party. If there is one politician who casts a long shadow until today, it is the late Enoch Powell. A diehard Tory conservative, he gave a speech in 1968 that has become a seminal work in the ideology of the racist ultraright.
Powell, a backbencher in 1968, lamented the decline of the old colonial British empire. Bemoaning the loss of British power and status, he envisioned a racist fantasy that the streets of Britain would run red with ‘rivers of blood’ should immigration from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and other nonwhite nations continue. His speech, though denounced by mainstream conservative figures and commentators, still received respectful coverage in the British media.
Powell, in line with other Tory figures, derived his support from upper and middle class voters. However, after his speech, there were demonstrations by working class people in his support. While a member of the elite – he was a Cambridge-educated professor of ancient Greek – he portrayed himself as a ‘tribune of the people’. A far right politician, Powell denounced the liberal elites for pushing multiculturalism and immigration on a reluctant (white) working class – a tactic that is familiar today.
Interestingly, Powell not only used ‘whiteness’ as the uniform around which to unite against the immigrant ‘tidal wave’, he was also one of the first political figures to advocate what we would nowadays call neoliberalism. Attacking big government bodies, such as the National Health Service, Powell proposed the privatisation of public assets, a crackdown on trade unions, and a repudiation of the post-World War Two social welfare state.
These ideas were taken up with enthusiasm by Margaret Thatcher upon becoming prime minister in 1979. Thatcher adopted the racial ideas of Powell, warning of ‘cultural groups’ who refuse to assimilate. This goes to show that neoliberal capitalism is not only an economic project, important as that is, but a racial one as well. It is possible and necessary to talk about race and class at the same time. Race and class require specific discussions, but they also operate together to sustain the capitalist system.
It is time to repudiate the politicised hysteria about a mythical ‘immigrant swarm’ and examine the economic power structures Abbott and Orban are doing their utmost to preserve. Concerns about a ‘white working class’ being overwhelmed by an influx of foreigners are being used to disguise the economic and social policies of neoliberal capitalism – measures which immiserate all of us. Ethnic communities have been part of the working class for generations.