By Kumar David –
Populism (Alt-Right, Alt-Left) and the global struggle for hegemony: Earthquakes stuns US Democrats and Mexico
A tussle for the future of the US Democratic Party (DP) has begun. The surge to populism whose highest point so far was the election of Donald Trump and a more recent event was the return of autocrat Erdogan to the Turkish Presidency on a ticket to breach democracy, reverted to the US last week. It is an event that most of the world will take little note of but will shake up the US Democratic Party and change the complexion of the challenge to Trump’s presidency. It came as a victorious challenge by unknown till the results were known Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (28) who ousted a 10-term incumbent DP Congressman for the right to contest the November House of Representatives (‘lower’ house of Congress) as candidate for New York’s 14-th District. This is a sure bet Democrat seat so she will soon be in Congress.
This piece is about my pet topic of the last two years that is getting under the skin of IQ80 readers and the LSSP leader who want soda-bottle analyses; it’s about sweep of neo-populism, mostly Alt-Right but sometimes Alt-Left. I won’t offer you learned definitions of the distinction but cough up examples which will serve us better. Alt-Right is Victor Oban of Hungary in the extreme corner, Trump’s base which feels betrayed and disillusioned with the “swamp”, and at home the corrupt populist Rajapaksas. The Five-Star part of the Italian ruling populist menagerie, New Zealand’s Labour Party of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Amlo) elected Prime Minister of Mexico on 1 July are Alt-Left. Britain’s Labour Party and the Bernie Sanders movement in the US have substantial programmes and I do not write them off as populists. Modi is something of a taxonomist’s enigma.
US Democratic Party primary
Before getting my teeth into the global sweep of neo-populism and Lanka’s Buddhist-fascist-chauvinist and retired military officer inspired Gota version, I need to say a few words about the AO-C (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) phenomenon. The Democratic Party (DP), as now established, has nothing to offer the 30+% of less privileged American’s who steadfastly support Trump. This DP is a bastion of elitism led by educationally and intellectually privileged East and West Coast snobs who in programme, attitude and lifestyle have nothing to offer the less well-off. In these times of erosion of social structures (immigration, opiate crisis) and rout by foreign economic competition (I desist from my favourite cliché “collapse of capitalism”) this dead-as-a-door-nail DP is getting nowhere. Democrats revel in repeating Kim Jong Un’s description of Trump as a “mentally deranged dotard”, and true as this may be they have made no headway in breaking Trump’s base vote. If at all his rating has risen marginally from 39% to 41% in recent months. Nor do the Democrats have a rural agenda to nullify the Trump swing.
After she won, people and the media were asking “Who is this woman; were in the woodwork did she come from?”She delivered what the media is calling an earthquake. Ocasio-Cortez’s own story begins in the Bronx; as briefly as possible, she is the daughter of working class Puerto Rican parents, studied economics at Boston University, worked as a community organizer and then took a low-paid, long-hours job at a restaurant. During the 2016 primary she was an organizer for Bernie Sanders. Her campaign for nomination was door-to-door in working class areas and among coloureds and blacks. Her programme is much the same as Sanders’ programme. (Democrats and Republicans hold selection-elections called a Primary among their loyalists in the relevant electorate to choose the party’s candidate. Candidates are not chosen by a party committee or party leaders).
Let me make my point and move on. What can beat Trump is not calling him a moron, boor, rake and liar; all true but water on a duck’s back for his faithful and for underprivileged and unemployed white workers, depressed rural communities and now blacks who see no reason to support the establishment DP. The three wealthiest Americans own more than the lowest 50% of America, so unsurprisingly Alexandria proved that it was an issues based campaign that mattered to ordinary Democratic primary voters and may eventually penetrate the lower ranks of the GOP. What issues: Medicare for all, universal job guarantees, housing, funding for education, justice in immigration and reform of a vicious law and order and court system. This is what a US Social Democratic Programme reads like. In the UK, mutatis mutandis, this is the Labour Party’s outlook. The hot-topic now is how far the process in the DP will escalate and ‘beyond-liberal’ candidates gain ground. We will have to wait and see.
The 1 July Mexican election was a referendum on the country’s political elite, economic direction and a questioning of the underlying policies of post-cold war Mexico. Left-populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Amlo) who won the presidency by a large majority at his third attempt, vowed to topple a political establishment he likens to “mafia power”. He promised to divert the money that greases the wheels of political graft to social programs. His opponents say he will plunge the country into debt and economic turmoil, like cynical Lankans who may add that have seen it all before. Right now however football crazed Mexicans are weeping over their World Cup defeat by Brazil on 2 July.
Mexico is the second largest country after Brazil in population and economy in the Americas south of the US. Corruption and crime are major issues; the country had 25,000 homicides last year, the highest number since data tracking commenced two decades ago. Previous presidents got tough on drugs and locked up kingpins but when a second wave of dealers surfaced a few years later the authorities could not respond adequately. Corruption is a huge issue and goes to the very top. The outgoing government hampered prosecution of corrupt politicos; the larger, more numerous and more highly placed the corrupt, the more easily cases get buried – carbon copy of yahapalana.
Amlo has promised to tone down market-friendly economic policies, cut extravagant mega projects, reduce the pay of the President and high officials, introduce scholarships for poor students and start a pension scheme for the elderly and the disabled. He has not spelled out how he will find the money but he is unlikely to backtrack on these pledges making him an Alt-Left populist. He wants to hold a mid-term referendum on his own performance after two years – he must avoid inauspicious 10 Feb! He was Mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005 and quit with high approval ratings. He is a shrewd pragmatist unlike Ranil. The Presidency is an immensely bigger challenge and the world is watching. Morena, Amlo’s electoral front of the Labour Party and the Social Encounter Party of religious conservatives, is different from Ranil’s UNP(F) on both social and economic policy. Moreno won 210 of the 300 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Both Presidency and Chamber were landslides.
The global fate of Alt-Left Populism may be riding on the back of this Mexican maverick and New Zealand’s immensely popular new Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. Arden’s popularity flows from her charm and style and the perception that she is transparent and honest; it has little to do with any economic achievements to date, however that is what will count. Arden is a social democrat and an environmentalist but in the long run it is the ability to discipline and manage the economy while delivering welfare goodies that matters. Left populism is free of racism and hatred and Arden has proved her worth in this respect.
The British Labour Party is more solidly social democratic, as opposed to Alt-Left populist, but dour faced Jeremy Corbyn can pick up a lot in the style and smile from the charming Miss Arden. A Labour victory in the next election is important for Britain but its significance stretches far beyond the British Isles. It will resonate all over Europe and in the Americas and the ensuing effects on political psychology can stem the tide of rising Alt-Right and neo-fascist tendencies in European continent. The most important is Germany; a Labour Party defeat in the UK will grist to the mill of AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) a far-right party which made substantial gains in the 2017 Federal Elections to become the country’s ‘third party’. The fight for Labour in the UK has global ramifications that will affect us all.
It’s not good to sign off on an essay like this one without a brief homily about the deplorable domestic scene. It would not be erroneous to draw a parallel between the global Alt-Right and Mahinda-Gota racial religio-fascist populism and the electoral swing evidenced in February. While a Gota presidency, arguably, is unlikely it is my estimation that pro-Mahinda jackals will do well in Sinhalese electorates in parliamentary elections. To stem this trend we cannot depend one iota on Ranil and his UNP morons; Sirisena is an insidious Gota collaborator; the Dead Left explicit traitors. The Better-Left (JVP, ULF, Bahu’s NSSP etc.) and the remnant rump of liberalism must pull together. Without illusions but out of necessity they must collaborate with the UNP, dissident-SLFPers and with Tamil and Muslim organisations. The challenge calls for flexibility and intelligence, both in short supply.