By Kumar David –
The hundreds of millions strong pack that backed Modi is mainly Hindu ‘nationalist’; Muslims largely did not vote BJP. But the social and economic programme the pack is crying out for is far from “alt-right”. Modi’s post-election ‘acceptance’ speech to the assembled mass was about poverty reduction, farmer’s problems and creating jobs. Hardly an alt-right rant and I do not recall anything about serving the interests of the business or Hindutva communalism was said. You might say he is a cunning hypocrite or it may be wiser to say that mass and subaltern bottom-up pressures have made Modi a real populist. He was re-elected with a majority in excess of his most optimistic expectations. The traditional centre has been hollowed but it would be a great simplification to call what is replacing it as either alt-right or alt-left. Reality is more complex and that is the theme of today’s column.
At the same time the big centre-right and social democratic centre-left blocks suffered big setbacks in the European Parliament elections last week. Though their combined strength is still the largest alliance they will have to seek alliance to secure a majority. Liberals and Greens made across a board right-wing nationalists made sweeping gains in the UK, Italy and France. A second wave of seismic change is sweeping across post-war European politics (the first wave was the annihilation of Stalinist Communist parties in Europe and across the world after the demise of the USSR). The centre is hollowing out and the left and the right are gaining. These are variations on a theme that is sweeping across the world and making irreversible transformations to the global order.
Changes in the global political landscape in recent months have been at the same time both remarkable and as expected. Theresa May has been sent packing and Trump sinks deeper into the hole that he digs for himself. Scot Morrison’s anti-immigration and anti-environmental conservatives have been re-elected in Australia in defiance of every opinion poll on this pair of socially regressive and ecologically primitive agendas. Netanyahu’s come back spells continuing statelessness and years more oppression for the Palestinian people. Aung Sang Suu Ki, once time a heroine has turned monster. She backs if not inspires, crimes against Roghinya’s and it is believed that she more than the military was responsible for holding the Reuters journalists is prison for so long. The world seems to be oddly made and upside down.
There have been a bright spots: re-election Joko Widodo in Indonesia beating back a military-Islamic challenge, defeat of Najib Razak in Malaysia, López Obrador’s victory in Mexico, exemplary Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s PM, and Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists secured a plurality in Spain. It’s unclear what kind of president, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa will turn out to be and in South Africa the 2019 the total poll fell to 65% from 73% in 2014 and incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC’s share fell from 62% to 58% while Mmusi Maimane’s Democratic Alliance raised its share from 17% to 22%. It is good that the ANC was returned to power and that voters at the same time gave it a kick in the butt. Turkey’s Erdogan is a bundle of contradictions – a firm, commendable stand on the murder of a Saudi journalist in the Istanbul Saudi Consulate most likely on the instructions of the Crown Prince, and at the same time shameless subversion of a democratic election verdict by the people of Istanbul in local government elections.
Theresa May is the worst casualty of the moment. Her efforts at hauling the Brexit boulder uphill has, Sisyphus-like, rolled down again and again. Parliament trounced her three times and it is inexplicable why the good lady, hats off to her grit, has not chucked up and gone home. The fatal blow was last month’s local government elections in England and Northern Ireland. May’s Tories lost 25% of their local government seats and Labour lost 5% while the Lib-Dems astoundingly doubled the number they hold. UKIP was pulverised, down from 176 to 31 seats. The message could not be clearer; the Brits are fed up with Brexit haggling, they want a Second Referendum and it’s as clear as daylight that Brekshit will be confined to the loo. I have the habit of making predictions which often turn out to be true so let me stick my neck out and counsel government and business in Sri Lanka to go ahead and plan on the basis that Brexit will not happen – certainly not full scale – and that Theresa May is on her last spindly legs.
At first sight it appears that there is no general pattern or trend. But in this clutter and bramble there is, on one the hand the consolidation of the trend to nationalism that became pronounced as an alternative global ideology following the demise of the Soviet-Block. Disappearance of the Soviet-Stalinist-‘Socialist’ option has left a lacunae that the Chinese-‘Socialist’ model has been unable to fill as a full-spectrum alternative anti-imperialist ideology. The appeal of the Chinese model has been the achievements of the state-led public-private economic fast growth strategy, not as a comprehensive alternative ideology.
Secondly, it is not correct to discuss all nationalism as alt-right proto-fascism or capitalism by other means than bourgeois democracy. It is not as simple as that. The social classes pushing from the bottom are simply petty-bourgeois scum and lumpen hordes that made up the battering ram of fascism in the 1930s. The entirety of the economically lower, say 80% of society are angry and alienated if not in open revolt. The “99% versus the 1%” slogan rings true for the majority even in rich countries like the US, Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. While the centre is hollowing out and people seem to be piling up on the left and the right depending on whether socialist-egalitarian-environmental motives or nationalist-religious-cultural concerns, respectively, socially and class-wise they are much the same sort of people. The common denominator of both is the rejection of established order of society and alienation from traditional, inherited and often liberal social values. This is the underlying commonality of the 99% versus the 1% short-hand.
Trump is not only a nutty narcissist, he is also an idiosyncratic enigma. They used to say that Bush-2 was a moron, this guy is not; he is a cunning and deceitful survivor. His Base, as the 25-30% hard core loyalists are called, is holding firm since the Democrats (bourgeois democratic old style liberals) and the trivial media have nothing to offer the alienated American voter. You will never find a study of wealth and income inequality, the hegemony of finance capital, neo-imperialism, Trump’s hot-and-cold foreign policy and his unqualified support for Israel grinding the Palestinians into the rubble, in the sloppy liberal media. MSNB, CNN are vapid; they ridicule Trump, an easy target since is loathsome, but cannot reach the Trump Base because they do not cognize the issues that alienate ordinary people.
Let me repeat this because it is so overlooked by Sri Lanka’s educated public. Millions of Americans, the white working class in the rust-belt states (home of at one time great American industry), the majority in southern and central parts of the USA, the red-necks (a derogatory name for less educated whites) and indeed the most less well-off people ARE alienated from the ‘system’. The system is those in control of finance, business and the state, Wall Street and the elite. The term swamp or Washington-swamp is short for it. Trump promised to “drain the swamp”. He did nothing of the sort, he is a charlatan but he was and still is to a large extent believed; remember Trump did poll 60 million votes (to Hilary Clinton’s 63 million). Liberal capitalism, the elite and the snobs in the media are incapable of broking this base; they cannot because they are protecting their class interests and do not comprehend the alienation of ordinary people. If you say Trump set America alight, I will add the elite, the liberals and the Democrats (Sanders, AOC et al excepted) fiddled and watched while it burnt.
Though the barbarians are at the gate (of course they are) there is a fifth column of free-market capitalists and effete liberal elites inside the fortress asleep at the wheel. With variations Brexit-May in Britain (Corbinite Labour too is in disarray) and Macron in Paris illustrate a similar malady. Whichever way they turn seems wrong; there seems to be no way out. “Change the system” is glib to say, but change exactly how? Old-formula socialism is not convincing, the Chinese economic model though relevant for the developing world doesn’t fit advanced capitalist economies. Its central pillar, the one-party state, will never take root in America and Europe. Looking further ahead galloping technology is making work and extraction of surplus value irrelevant. Funny thing isn’t it, a Dark Age when a blinding light is shining at the end of the tunnel!
Now we have had another huge setback in Australia against all expectations. Scot Morrison, an evangelical Christian and admirer of Trump triumphed at a time of rising anti-China tension. Disliked and dysfunctional, the Liberal-National alliance held onto power for a third term and added to a growing list of rightward shifts including Brazil, Hungary and Italy. Like Trump, Morrison warned that the Labour Party would leave rural and older voters behind, favour condescending elites and he scare mongered white Australia about hordes of dark-skinned, circumcised and slit-eyed immigrants.
The real scare is climate change and the business-worshiping conservative alliance’s denial syndrome on climate change is a death wish. It is the worst affected by climate change rich country. A million dead fish washed up the Murray-Darling river system in summer, annual rainfall in New South Wales has dropped from 20 to 15 inches, in the far North storms and cyclones strike with increasing frequency and rising ferocity and droughts are getting worse. Most horrible to contemplate, the Great Barrier Reef is dying. The young are angry and were out canvassing for the survival of their future but an ignorant and selfish older generation sold out to coal, pollution and environmental ruination.
I can see only one resolution for this dilemma; this fractured world. A condition in which the 99% and 1% are in mortal combat will have to end. Great changes in distribution of wealth and ruling power will be ended because there is already vast redistribution of political and street power. This is what I have described in this column.