Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 8 April 2022

In the article below, Fareed Zakaria fails to see or neglects to point out two salient facts that form the basis of my own thesis on this subject.

The first is that Wokism and progressivism are essential factors in the overall strategy of the bourgeoisie to divide and so prevent any countervailing coagulation of opposition to its domination of Western society. This is the true central strategic role of what is called “identity politics”.

The second strand of my thesis is that so-called “globalisation” has had the overriding strategic purpose of annihilating the working class industrially and politically in the West; but at the same time, counterproductively for the capitalist bourgeoisie,  globalisation has enriched and empowered autocracies and dictatorships that refuse to play a subordinate role in the global expansion of Western capital - in part also because this expansion has now reached the limits of what these autocracies can extract from their subordinate populations through the dictatorial mobilisation of resources, human and material. 

Right-wing populists are thriving - by Fareed Zakaria 

W hen Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, a wide variety of commentators believed there was at least one silver lining in this catastrophic cloud. Vladimir Putin’s assault on the liberal order, they hoped, would ex- pose and delegitimize the illiberal, populist forces that have been surg- ing for years. One speculated that the war in Ukraine could end the age of populism. Another, the scholar Fran- cis Fukuyama, saw it as an opportu- nity for people to finally reject right- wing nationalism. Alas, six weeks into this conflict, such notions look like wishful thinking.

In Europe, two pivotal elections — in Hungary and France — tell the tale. As recently as a few days ago, it was possible to suggest, as an essay in the Atlantic did, that the Ukraine war was “upending European politics” by highlighting the illiberal and pro- Putin records of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Ex- perts were quoted saying that Orban was “desperately trying to reframe the events” around the war and pre- dicted the French would now see President Emmanuel Macron as “probably the only person . . . who can lead them through this crisis.”

In fact, Orban has just won reelec- tion — and a fourth consecutive term in office — by a handy margin, with his coalition getting about 53 percent of the vote compared to the opposi- tion coalition’s roughly 34 percent. The same day, voters in Serbia reelect- ed a populist, staunchly pro-Putin president by a landslide. In France, where the first round of the presiden- tial election is set for April 10, polling suggests that Macron’s lead has been evaporating and that Le Pen has surged significantly. As a New York Times headline says, “Even Before France Votes, the French Right Is a

Big Winner.” In Europe, at least, right- wing populism continues to thrive.

It’s not that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are popular, but they don’t dominate people’s worldview. The reputations of pro-Russian politi- cians have not suffered from the war as many expected. Frustrated by the Hungarian leader’s cozying up to Pu- tin, Volodymyr Zelensky took a gam- ble and actually denounced Orban, calling him “virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr. Putin.” It didn’t work.

In the United States, one sees simi- lar forces at work, though they are not as strong. In the first weeks of the war, the Republican Party seemed to re- vert to its historic hawkishness on foreign policy. Many of its older guard are vociferously anti-Putin and pro- Ukrainian.

But that would not describe the position of the man who is still the party’s most popular leader, Donald Trump, who has praised Putin since the invasion. Fox News’s highest- rated anchor, Tucker Carlson, who more than two years ago declared that he was on Russia’s side in its battle against Ukraine, has recently taken to repeating Russian propa- ganda about alleged U.S.-sponsored bioweapons labs in Ukraine.

It’s worth noting that there are some mitigating factors. Orban has manipulated Hungary’s democracy in ways that give him structural ad- vantages. In 2010, he moved to give citizenship to 2.4 million ethnic Hun- garians living abroad and portrayed himself as the only defender of their rights, which gained him massive support from these newly minted voters. He has quashed the independ- ent media. The government actively promotes Orban, sending out public- ly funded posters with his image. These kinds of practices have led Freedom House to rate Hungary as the only European Union country that is “partly free.”

Even so, right-wing populism in Hungary and elsewhere is genuinely popular. While Le Pen has taken advantage of rising inflation, casti- gating Macron’s government for price hikes of all kinds, her funda- mental appeal comes from her stri- dent cultural nationalism. Orban, Le Pen and others on the right con- stantly rail against immigrants, mul- ticulturalism, LGBTQ rights and “le wokisme,” a new phrase that has cropped up in France.

At the same time, these leaders have cast aside much of the free- market economics of the old right. Le Pen has denounced many of Ma- cron’s neoliberal reforms and em- braced the old statist policies of the French left such as the 35-hour work- week and early retirement. She has publicly speculated that she might bring in members of the left who agree with her ideas on protection- ism and industrial policy. Orban has long practiced a kind of populist statism that doles out generous state subsidies to groups his party favors.

In the United States, Carlson spends little time on the Ukraine war, focusing his program instead on a daily diet of outrage about woke poli- tics and cancel culture. Leading Re- publicans such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis do the same. If you were to listen to the American right, you would think that the most pressing issues in the world today are school boards that are indoctrinating chil- dren with ideas about gender fluidity.

It’s true that these ideas appeal to only part of the electorate — espe- cially those who are older, more rural and less educated. But by now it should be clear that these voters are numerous enough and passionate enough to win elections — on both sides of the Atlantic.

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