By Kumar David –
Steve Bannon, not Trump, true ideologue of American national-populism; Corbyn’s Labour or Bannon’s neo-right?
“Now is the time for government to be active in restructuring the economy; hold corporate board-rooms accountable for their actions; develop a model of economic management to replace the failed dogmas of neo-liberalism. Labour is looking not just to repair the damage done by austerity but to transform our economy with a new dynamic role for the public sector particularly where the private sector has failed. Take the water industry; of nine companies in England six are owned by private equity or foreign sovereign wealth funds. Profits are handed out in dividends to shareholders and executive pay soars, while infrastructure crumbles, they pay nothing in tax but service deteriorates” ~ Jeremy Corbyn: 27 September 2017, Labour Party Conference.
The distancing of Steve Bannon from Donald Trump is a crucial event on the American right. Trump was forced to remove Bannon form the position of White House Chief Strategist under pressure from new no-nonsense Chief of Staff General John Kelly brought into to discipline the brawling White House mob around the President and to appease staid Republican leaders and the liberal media. Bannon (Harvard Business School – MBA 1985; Virginia Tech – Bachelors in Urban Planning 1976) is from a pro-Kennedy, pro-Union, working class family in Virginia. He is no clown, unlike Donald Trump. If you can invest the time, watch his videos on YouTube; you will see a sharp visionary and a dangerous enemy.
Bannon was interviewed after victory over Trump in the Alabama Republican Primary to select the Republican candidate to contest a Senate vacancy. (A primary in the US is a mass voting exercise in which loyalists of a party vote to select the candidate for a forthcoming election). Ray Moore, the more right-wing candidate backed by Bannon, won by 55% against 45% for Luther Strange for whom Trump campaigned. After inflicting a stinging setback on the President in a deep-south state in America’s neo-populist heartland, an exultant Bannon declared:
“This is a populist nationalist conservative revolt. It’s a revolt against the elites in this country. It’s a revolt against the globalists among those elites. It’s a revolt against the progressive agenda that is being jammed down the throat of the American people. Hard-working men and women of the world are tired of the global elites. They’re tired of being told what to do. This is a global revolution. You see it all the way from England, Europe and India. It’s starting in the Middle East, Australia, and yesterday, was Alabama.”
Bannon credits interconnectivity and the Internet as factors driving “a global revolution”.
“That’s why this is a populist nationalist conservative revolt. We’re populist because we’re anti-elite, because the elites of the world are corrupt and incompetent. We’re nationalist because we’re anti-globalist. We don’t believe in this globalist system that takes power away from people at the local level. We’re conservatives because we completely reject the progressive agenda being jammed down the throat of working-class people. The power of the Internet is that it disintermediates the big news organizations. It’s personal; you can’t hide as a phony on the Internet. People, particularly young people are searching for authenticity”.
As the liberal-bourgeois middle caves-in and millions desert post-recession capitalism, a new world order is taking shape. It is only in a few places that some sort of a middle is holding, for example Germany where Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union/ Christian Social Union alliance won with an extraordinarily small vote (32%) while the neo-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) – previously unrepresented in the Bundestag – came the third with 12.6%. AfD even won a simple majority in the province of Saxony. The Social Democrats, Germany’s traditional alternative party, polled only 20%, its lowest since the Second World War. Neo-populism, true to Bannon’s boast, has added an advance in Germany to its surge in France (National Front).
Global capitalism as an economic order, and bourgeois liberalism as an ideology, have been bankrupted and replaced by two forces; a reviving social-democracy and a strident nationalist, anti-elitist populism. Trump is not an authentic representative or an ideologue of the latter; he is a crude and crass opportunist. The intelligent voice of American populism is Steve Bannon. The state form emerging in developing countries is a blend of social-democracy with some kind of state-capitalism, but the options in the West, in the next decade, broadly speaking, will be some form of social-democracy such as Corbynite Labour in the UK, or a “populist national conservatism” such as Bannon’s. Most political thinkers have woken up to this sharp dichotomy and yours faithfully has been plugging it for two years to deaf Lankan ears. A suggestion to a few friends to watch Corbyn’s 27 Sept speech at the Labour Party Conference on YouTube, evoked from one wheezing liberal the response “Corbyn, isn’t he that looney leftist?” and from another, “I have never been so frightened for a long time! Corbyn and McDonnell are nutters.” Phew!
Such wayward fuddy-duddies, unless they prefer neo-right nationalism (admittedly short of classical interwar fascism) have no choice but to educate themselves on the only other option, social-democracy. So I will outline the programme “For the Many not the Few” adopted at the Conference in Brighton by a wildly cheering hall of 12,000. (Labour with 600,000 members is the largest political party in Europe and twice as large as all other parties in Britain combined). Today’s centre ground is not where it was twenty years ago; what was then seen as too far left is now seen as common sense. The centre has shifted and Corbyn has no intention of leading the party into the wilderness of a dead liberal-capitalist “centre”. In Britain the centre is moving into the party.
The Labour Party programme
Corbyn’s message was uncompromising because Labour’s critique of the destructive effects of austerity has been vindicated – that’s why Brexit happened – and the June election was a resounding vote of confidence. Who said the Tories won the election? Well, the hysteria in Britain suggests otherwise! This pleases me, the first columnist to declare long ago: “Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s next Prime Minister”.
The key elements of the message are modern progressive socialism:
* Changing the economy to make it work for the whole country cannot be done separately from changing how the country is run; a new model of economic management will be established.
* Big decisions cannot be left to the elite. People are not marginal and the public not consumers first and citizens a distant second, as liberalism proclaims.
* Plans to invest in National Health and reduce university tuition fees will be implemented.
* Labour is committed to take back common-goods (basic utilities) into public ownership, place them at the service of the community and end rip-off.
* Regional development banks will be formed to invest in an industrial strategy for every region.
* Unstoppable massive changes in employment patterns under the impact of automation must be planned and managed and demands reskilling of millions in the workforce.
* Residency rights of the three million foreign workers in Britain will be guaranteed.
Bannon and Trump
Although both Bannon and Trump are treading cautiously about their rift, the divorce proceedings have got moving and will end in a parting of the ways. It takes only a few minutes to watch the two clips below; they convey with clarity the anti-establishment resolve and thrust of neo-populist ideology.
Liberal ‘intellectuals’ who merely ridicule Trump, granted it’s hard to resist the temptation, need to understand where the revolt is coming from and its possible enlargement. Programmatically, the Democratic Party has nothing to offer the deprived white working class and the alienated hinterland outside metropolitan centres and the East and West coast – typified by New York, New England and California. It cannot stop the carnage of small business and retailers arising from the falsification of the price of money by zero interest rates and quantitative easing. Ordinary folks want jobs, security of livelihood and opportunities for their children. The other ingredient the hordes who surged to the Nazi flag wanted was nationalism and patriotic rhetoric. The liberal bourgeoisie, its intellectual leaders, the liberal media and, except for Bernie Sanders the American Democratic Party, have nothing to offer. They have no programme; they repudiate left-wing ideas as much as the neo-populists do. This is the cardinal difference between bourgeois-liberalism and, for example, the British Labour Party.
Trump, frustrated with the failure of a Republican dominated Congress to get anything done, and under attack by the media and now big business, is shifting his ground. He negotiated a compromise with Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, allowing certain categories of improperly documented minors to prolong their stay in the country. This brought stern warnings from right-wing nationalists like Bannon that if he went any further (full amnesty) the base would revolt, and paradoxically, also infuriated traditional GoP leaders.
Bannon will not yet denounce Trump as a sell-out who has crossed over, betrayed the base which elected him, and aligned himself with the elitist swamp that he promised to drain. Trump is an opportunist dealmaker pure and simple, whose lodestar is only Trump himself. Aware of the threat from a shifting base he is straining to sell his proposed tax-cuts as relief for low income earners while in truth it is pure gravy for the rich and for corporations. The populist base has not yet called his bluff on this and other issues, but the day of reckoning is nearing and divorce is unpreventable.
The thesis of this essay is that the two options described here are the long-term alternatives available at this time in the advanced societies of the West. In the less developed world it will be a blend, in various proportions, of social-democracy and statist/state-capitalist experiences. This Ranil’s UNP is unable to handle and the skulls of MaRa’s JO and Sirisena’s SLFP are too thick to penetrate.