Europe today is undergoing severe political polarisation as it lurches from one crisis to the next. With it we are seeing the return of far-right politics that should have been consigned to the last century. This is manifesting itself in various ways: at elections, through street mobilisations, channelled through popular internet propaganda and with a rise in hate crime. The deep rooted economic and social crisis that has gripped Europe since the financial crash in 2008, in combination with whipping up anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment has provided an opening for the radical right. And now, they have a tried and tested pan-European model which they are consciously implementing.

The indicators are familiar for anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history. Indeed, many have referenced the 1930s, making parallels with the social and political context then and now. But while there are some similarities, it is too simplistic a comparison. Moreover, we need to understand the new methods being adopted by fascist movements today if we are to defeat them. It is also vital to contextualise their development alongside the emergence of progressive alternatives to an ailing political and economic system. A council of despair is rarely a good instigator of new ideas and political action, and those things are going to be needed in abundance in the years to come.

This is especially true as we assess the development of far-right movements in Europe in the last few years. In the French Presidential elections, the National Front who ran an Islamophobic campaign, which also contained overt anti-Semitism, was beaten by Emanuel Macron. But the real story was that the National Front won the votes of 11 million people, showing the degree to which a fascist party in the European core can build mass support. A chilling piece of graffiti spotted in Paris the day after the election read: "Macron 2017, Le Pen 2021."

Next, we can go to the centre of the European project – Germany. In the last elections, the Alternative For Germany (AfD) made the first breakthrough for a far-right party in half a century, returning as the third largest party. The party itself is described by many as an organisation of the 'populist right.' The AfD has only been around for four years, and has rapidly accelerated its racist propaganda, focussing on the targeting of Muslims. It has an organised ideologically fascist wing. The Austrian Freedom Party has a longer history, but utilised the same programme electorally. With its 50,000 members they came third in the recent election returning 51 seats.

Success in elections can change the parameters of debate and help root the ideas of the far-right into mainstream discourse. A few weeks ago, Poland saw a huge demonstration of hard right nationalism of around 60,000 people in which people held banners such as "White Europe now", "Pray for an Islamic Holocaust" and "Clean Blood." Poland's Foreign Ministry said the Independence Day march in Warsaw was largely an 'expression of patriotic values'. This only goes to show the depth to which far-right politics is developing stable roots in the country. It is a stark warning.

These developments run alongside a huge internet operation, which popularises their core ideas and also acts as a mechanism for developing their political theory. Now it is less about racial characteristics, and more about a ‘culture war’ - the battle for the soul of Europe. 'Generation Identity,' for example, is a new youth organisation set up to oppose what is called the 'great replacement' - in other words immigration - in a defence of 'ethnoctural identity'. They want to see mass repatriation and to define 21st century Europe on the basis of racial purity. This is the new, creeping fascism in Europe. And it is delivered through stylish websites, able to relate to alienated youth who see only economic decline and who have no power in the political process.

So they have a model. It starts very specifically with using anti-Muslim rhetoric as a gateway to a wider ecosystem of fascist ideology. Immigration is held up as a touchstone for declining living standards, and this comes alongside promises of control in the vein of authoritarian national sovereignty. Anti-semitism lies in the wake of all of this. Because who is it behind the scenes, the far-right asks, pulling the strings intellectually and financially? It is the 'cultural Marxists’, fascist shorthand for Jews, and - of course – the all-powerful George Soros. Those unseen forces working for ‘globalism’ reflect a conspiracy theory of politics and power that we have seen before.

What you have then is a pan European infrastructure - electoral, online, and street based - popularising in a very simple but powerful programme which brings together a culture war against Muslims, immigrant scapegoating, authoritarianism and anti-Semitic conspiracy. That is the anatomy of the far-right today.

We need to understand this process in order to combat it. The battle for Europe will not be won on the basis of ethnicity. It will be won on the basis of those forces which are determined to replace both the far-right and the failure of neoliberal capitalism which has fostered division, resentment and social decay. Polarisation is not a one way street to the far-right. Perhaps this is why the most important element in defeating the new far right in Europe is not to fall into despair about a repeat of the 1930s, but to recognise the differences in the situation today, and to press forward with a bold vision for a new Europe - one fit for the 21st century, that leaves the crimes of the last one firmly where they belong: in the dustbin of history.

Jonathon Shafi is an anti-racist activist and writer on Scottish and international politics. He founded New Foreign Policy, a think tank covering issues such as Islamaphobia, immigration and civil liberties. He was a key note speaker at the STUC St Andrews Day Rally yesterday.