The rise of the extreme right in the 20th and 21st century

The rise of the extreme right in the 20th and 21st century

Sandew Hira argues that European exceptionalism and the rise of the far-right are twin prongs from a continuing colonial current.  He argues that activists need to understand the limitation of current political systems and activism in westernised settings if they are to create a better politics.

The argument

In this contribution I argue that the rise of extreme right in Europe and the USA in the 21st century is different from the rise of Nazism in the 20th century. Nazism was part of the climax of colonialism and a driving force towards war, while the extreme right nowadays is part of a declining colonialism and a driving force against war. The strategy of a united front against the extreme right is useless in the 21st century, because the coalition of liberalism and right wing forces of the military industrial complex are the driving force behind nuclear wars that could destroy the planet.

Decolonizing Nazism and the Jewish Holocaust

“What India was for England, the territories of Russia will be for us,” said Adolf Hitler.[1] Hitler did not start World War II to exterminate the Jews. He started a war to colonize Eastern Europe after the model of the British colonization of India. The first act of war was not against Western Europe, but against the East. On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s army invaded Poland as the first step in colonizing Eastern Europe.

Hitler looked up to British colonialism as a model for colonizing Eastern Europe. He said: “It should be possible for us to control this region to the East with two hundred and fifty thousand men plus a cadre of good administrators. Let’s learn from the English, who, with two hundred and fifty thousand men in all, including fifty thousand soldiers, govern four hundred million Indians. This space in Russia must always be dominated by Germans… The Russian space is our India. Like the English, we shall rule this empire with a handful of men.

Hitler’s ideology was rooted in European civilization. It was not an aberration from this civilization. In the narrative of Eurocentric historians, the story of Hitler is the story of the Jewish Holocaust. And indeed, the Jewish Holocaust was an important part of the Nazi ideology and practice. But more important for Hitler was the project of building a new empire modeled after the British Empire which he termed the Third Reich, the Third Empire. The first empire was founded by the German Charles the Great (742-814) who united most of Western Europe in the European Middle Ages. The second empire was led by Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) who created a unified German state as a federation of formerly loosely bound states with a national parliament and universal suffrage for men. The new empire that was to have lasted for a thousand years was to be built by the Nazis using the British Empire as their model. Interestingly enough, in 1940 Churchill also expressed his belief that the British empire would last a thousand years.

Russia would play a crucial role in Hitler’s plan. The Jews were a small prize for Hitler in his war game. The big prize was Eastern Europe. Nazism was a project of colonization. It was not a peculiar form of evil. It was a regular form of evil called colonialism.

Hitler’s idea of colonizing was based on the concept of a superior race that had a natural right to colonize inferior races. The exploitation of the inferior race is necessary in order for the superior race to develop. He writes: “Had it not been possible for them to employ members of the inferior race which they conquered, the Aryans would never have been in a position to take the first steps on the road which led them to a later type of culture; just as, without the help of certain suitable animals which they were able to tame, they would never have come to the invention of mechanical power which has subsequently enabled them to do without these beasts.” He regarded the Slav people from Eastern Europe like the British and ‘the rest of the civilized world’ regarded the colonized people: “When one contemplates this primitive world, one is convinced that nothing will drag it out of its indolence unless one compels the people to work. The Slavs are a mass of born slaves, who feel the need of a master.

Hitler regarded himself as a true Christian who was devoted to defending Christianity. His anti-Semitism was rooted in Christianity. He lamented the division between Protestants and Catholics: “Catholics and Protestants are fighting with one another to their hearts’ content, while the enemy of Aryan humanity and all Christendom is laughing up his sleeve.” He refers to Jesus Christ as his inspiration in the struggle against Jews. According to Hitler the Jew “is of this world only and his mentality is as foreign to the true spirit of Christianity as his character was foreign to the great Founder of this new creed two thousand years ago. And the Founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of His estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God; because then, as always, they used religion as a means of advancing their commercial interests. But at that time Christ was nailed to the Cross for his attitude towards the Jews.

That World War II was not primarily about annihilating the Jews, but about conquering Russia and Eastern Europe is illustrated by the following statistics. The Russians suffered the largest losses (25 million war victims out of a total of 36 million in Europe). Among the six million Jews who perished in the Jewish Holocaust, 91% were not from Germany or Western Europe, but from Eastern Europe. Poland (51%), Ukraine (15%) and Hungary (8%) carried the highest number of victims.

The idea of the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of Jews by the Nazis, came about at the end of 1941. Before 1941, Nazi policy towards the Jews was based on forcing them to emigrate from the Third Reich and not on killing them on an industrial scale. This policy entailed the expropriation of Jewish property, the introduction of laws to ban marriages between Jews and non-Jews and occasionally the organization of violence as in the case of Kristallnacht on 9-10 November 1938 when a pogrom was executed during which windows of Jewish stores, buildings and synagogues were destroyed. “The ‘basic decisions’ and ‘total clarity’ … in implementing the genocide of European Jews—emerged between mid-September and late October 1941,” writes C. Browning. The decision to start the Holocaust was made after Hitler’s army had managed to cut off Leningrad on the northern front and capture Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in September 1941. The prospect of a final victory looked bright. The problem of what to do with the millions of Jews living in Eastern Europe – soon to be part of the Third Reich – was now on the agenda. Migration was not an option, so the idea of annihilation became a reality. Once the decision was taken, it was a matter of technicalities. The technical solution that was ultimately implemented was the gas chamber.

The horrors of the Holocaust lasted for four years. The Third Reich failed where Western colonialism has succeeded. Hitler’s project of colonizing Eastern Europe lasted for five years. The European project to colonize the world has lasted for almost five centuries and is still not over. Hitler failed in setting up an economic system that extracted wealth from Eastern Europe to enrich Nazi Germany. Western Europe succeeded in extracting massive wealth from its colonies. In their hatred for the Jews the Nazis never regarded them as cattle, like the Europeans did with the Africans enslaved in Abya Yala, but as human beings, although inferior human beings. European colonialism regarded the colonized people of Abya Yala and Africa as cattle. Hitler never came up with the idea that every German could buy and sell Jews and register them in their accounts alongside cows and pigs. But that is what the European race of masters (‘Herrenvolk’) did for centuries in Abya Yala. The Nazis introduced discriminatory laws (‘The Nuremberg Laws’) prohibiting the Jews from participating in public life and intermarrying with Germans. The other Europeans introduced ‘slave codes’ in the colony that laid down in law that blacks were not human beings but cattle that was owned by the master race.

The extreme right in the 21st century

The extreme right in the 21st century is very different from Nazism. They have been operating for some decades in Europe and the USA, but only in the 21st century were they able to form or participate in governments.

In 2010 Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance led by Viktor Orbán came to power after winning the elections with 68% of the parliamentary seats. They are still in power.

In 2017 Donald Trump became president of the USA. His presidency lasted until 2021.

In 2022 Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) won the elections and Giorgia Meloni became prime minister.

In 2023 the Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders won national elections and is in the process of forming a government.

In many countries the far right are leading the opposition against the government. In the last presidential elections in 2020 in France Marine le Pen from the National Rally (previously National Front) won 23% van the votes in the first round (Macron got 28%) and 32% in the second round (Macron got 58%).

In the US the extreme right form the majority of the Republican Party.

There is a variety of extreme right parties in Europe. There are often splits in the process of growth. But they are united on the following issues:


They are not against immigration in and of itself. They are not against immigration of white people. They are against immigration of people of colour. Their propaganda against immigration focuses on the protection of European civilization, more specifically white Christian values and norms. Some parties are explicitly religious, others are more secular, but firmly rooted in Western civilization.

The decline of Western economic and political power goes hand in hand with the decline of the cultural power of Western civilization. Nazism gained influence in a period in which Western colonialism was still very much in control of the globe. The extreme right in the 21st century is rising because of the decline of Western civilization and the loss of identity that immigration has caused. Nazism has little to do with the loss of identity.

Anti globalization and anti-war

Like Nazism, the extreme right promotes nationalism. Unlike Nazism, they are against globalization. Nazism saw the colonization of Eastern Europe as the first in establishing a new world order. The Third Reich was to be a global empire, like the British empire.

The extreme right is nationalist, anti-war and anti globalization. The forces who are pushing for war and maintaining colonial rule in the world come not from the extreme right but from liberalism and social democracy. In the UK, Labour Party leader Tony Blair was one of the driving forces in the war against Iraq. The pro-war forces in the USA come from the Democratic Party with the support of many parts of the elites of the Republican Party. They are pushing for war against Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. And the irony is that the extreme right in the USA (and Europe) is pushing back and wants an end to endless wars, not because they love peace, but because they don’t believe they can benefit from these wars. They have accepted the military defeat of the colonial empire and want to focus on building their economies on peaceful terms. Nazism adopted the opposite of this policy.

Donald Trump tried to make peace with Russia and North Korea. He was obstructed by liberals and the right in his own party, who were backed by the military industrial complex. And they used his racism against immigrants and his extreme right language to sabotage his peace deals. Under the pressure of the Zionist lobby and with the support of the liberals and the right in his party he was prepared to go to war with Iran.

Social policy

In terms of social policy some extreme right parties are even more progressive than the traditional left. An example is the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. The political program calls for:

  • Reduction of VAT on groceries from 9% to 0
  • Reducing energy bills (lower tax and VAT)
  • Reducing social rents
  • Increase statutory minimum wage
  • Reduction of fuel taxes
  • Lowering the state pension age to 65 (currently it is 67)
  • 20 percent salary reduction for ministers, MPs and MEPs
  • Reducing contribution to Royal House by 20%

Many left parties are not prepared to go that far in their program.

Policy consequences

What are the policy consequences of this analysis from a decolonial point of view? The most important consequence is the refusal to unite with liberals and so-called progressives against the extreme right. We don’t buy into the scare tactics of liberals who argue that we need to rally against the extreme right and support liberalism. Liberalism is all about supporting colonial wars. That should be the main concern of decolonial activists. Rather than panic about the rise of the extreme right we should stay calm and refuse to support liberals in the name of progressive unity against the extreme right. We must remain steadfast on the policy of ending imperialist wars and imperialist power. It matters to black people and immigrants in the USA that Trump comes up with racist policies. So we should criticize those policies and mobilize to fight these policies. This is perfectly possible while at the same time criticizing and mobilizing the imperialist wars being led by liberals in America and Europe. In Europe we should support leftish parties who are against colonial wars and criticize those ‘progressive’ parties who are supporting these wars. In the USA there are third party candidates, but because of the dominant role of the media in colonizing the mind, they don’t have a significant influence. Because of this, the electorate in the USA is presented with only two choices: the Republican or the Democratic Party. Decolonial activists don’t have to accept that choice. The liberal argument that a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump, because it is a loss of a vote for Biden, is a colonial argument. If Biden is as bad as Trump – Biden is pro war and Trump is pro racism – why should we waste a vote and not use it in a more intelligent way? A vote for anti-war and anti-racist third parties is a vote that gives the message: whoever is in power, they will never follow policies that create a better society. One way or another, they are messing up the social fabric of the USA and of the world.

The struggle for a better world goes far beyond the electoral struggle. It is a struggle that involves active mobilization against war and against racism. We don’t have to abandon one struggle out of fear that the other struggle will become weaker. We can do better than to follow this kind of colonial logic.


[1] All quotes are from my book Decolonizing The Mind, paragraph 8.3 – The role of Nazism and the Jewish Holocaust in Western civilization. Sandew Hira: Decolonizing The Mind. A Guide to Decolonial Theory and Practice. Amrit Publishers. The Hague, 2023.


Sandew Hira is secretary of the DIN Foundation based in The Hague in The Netherlands.  He is a well known activist, author and researcher.  He heads the editorial board for Amrit Publishers, and is the founder of the International Institute for Scientific Research.  You can find many videos of his lectures on Decolonising the Mind and related topics on the IHRC website and IHRC Tv.

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