In part 2 of our discussion with Walden Bello about his new book, “Counterrevolution,” we address the role of neoliberalism, the strategies of the far-right to gain and maintain power, and how progressive forces might confront the far-right
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. This is part two of my conversation with Philippine sociologist, Walden Bello, who just published a book called Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right. Thanks again, Walden, for having joined us today.
WALDEN BELLO: Thanks again for inviting me, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So in the previous segment we talked a little bit about the causes of the rise of the far right, and there’s a comment I wanted to make, or an observation that I wanted to make about your analysis actually that I didn’t have a chance to make in the previous segment, which is that it seems to me, and this is kind of a strange phenomenon, that is the right seems to rise under both conditions of neoliberalism and social democracy.
That is, on the one hand it rises and when there’s social democracy because the elites are afraid and want to roll back those gains, so that’s definitely a counterrevolution. Then it also seems to rise when there is neoliberalism, and there’s of course many examples of that particularly in Europe and the United States. But we can see that in other countries where there’s been a predominance of neoliberalism where the right rises. It seems a little bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation. That is, whether you introduce a social market as they call it in Germany, or that is a social democracy, or whether you introduce neoliberalism with a very harsh capitalism, in both cases, it seems to bring about the rise of the far right. At least that seems to have been the tendency in many cases historically and in contemporary society.
I want to look at though – these are two somewhat different circumstances, although they seem to combine sometimes especially when you think about neoliberalism. Some people actually have called neoliberalism to be a form of counterrevolution. That is, it already is a reaction against the gains of social democracy and the welfare state. Now, I just wanted to see what your reaction is to that idea that neoliberalism itself is a form of counterrevolution.
WALDEN BELLO: Well, yes, I would say that definitely neoliberalism was a big effort on the part of the elites to roll back the gains of the working class, the capital-labor compromise, the welfare state. So, basically in that sense it is already a counter-revolution, but what I’m talking about here in the book is something that’s – because of neoliberalism, you have the crisis in living standards that under circumstances where you would have a progressive party that has a very good analysis and that is anti-neoliberal, that could provide the locus of resistance to neoliberalism.
But as I say in the book, in both Europe and the United States, the social democratic parties and the Democratic Party in the United States basically we’re one over to neoliberalism, whether we talk about Blair or we talk about the Democratic Party with Bill Clinton. Because of this, there was a sense that among working classes that they had been abandoned by their traditional parties that they had been reliant on in the past to defend a welfare state, to defend the gains that they had made. The right-wing, and many of them again these are usually middle-class activists with very far-right kind of politics, saw an opening here.
That is why throughout Europe at this point, you have a stampede of many working class base to these parties at this point in time. I’m not sure, some people say that the stampede or the bleeding of the social democratic parties has tapped, but I’m not so sure of that at this point in time. I guess my point here is this counterrevolution because – or a move to the right, or a move to this very opportunistic kind of programs that basically says, “the welfare state will be here, but only for those of the right color and the right ethnic stock.” So what the right has been able to do is to merge these sort of social concerns with a racist, ethnic, and anti-immigrant kind of program.
That is a very dynamic and very threatening kind of thing at this point. That is what I would say – a very active, heated counterrevolution that is taking place. The same sort of dynamics, of course there are differences in a number of things including how liberal democracy and neoliberalism failed, but you also see that in countries like India and the Philippines. So, you have this middle class-led and based movements that quite unexpectedly, to many, have captured mass allegiances at this point in time despite the fact that, for instance, a guy like Duterte almost spits at every value of liberal democracy and he has an 81% approval rating.
Now the only other thing, Greg, that I would like to say here is that we need to distinguish between the active supporters and passive supporters in a place like the Philippines or in India and others. The active supporters then to come from the middle classes, but the passive supporters of these counterrevolutionary movements are usually from the workers, the masses, that sort of thing. They are brought along with the wave, but they’re not necessarily the people who make the ideological justifications for them and create the mass movements and the parties that push these programs.
GREG WILPERT: Right. I think that we’re basically getting into the area now of the strategies that they use to maintain power, which I think is also very important to look at. One of the things that I think is also interesting about this is that these governments oftentimes espouse to be, like you’re saying, I think the term that you used in the book is a race-based solidarity that seek to protect, as you say, the welfare state for the ingroup of that race or that ethnicity that’s predominant or the majority in that country.
But it seems to me also actually, and this is also an interesting point which you raise or what you look at in several different countries, is that they do combine it still with neoliberalism. That is, they’re actually dismantling the welfare state. You can see this is particularly the case in the United States of Donald Trump, where Obamacare is being dismantled and taxation for the upper class is being dismantled, and things like that. So actually, even though he’s on the one hand, it’s basically rhetoric this protection for the ingroup because the fact of the matter is that he’s actually implementing a lot of neoliberal policies.
You could say that also, I think, to a large extent in the Indian case for Narendra Modi and maybe even in Turkey with Erdogan. On the one hand, they have this dual nature. I think you kind of also describe it as being kind of an opportunistic type of government. I’m just wondering if you could comment on that briefly.
WALDEN BELLO: Sure. Well, the relationship of these counterrevolutionary movements with neoliberalism is very interesting in both the North and the Global South because whether it’s with Marine Le Pen or with the Nordic right-wing parties, they used to be tied up with the right with anti-tax movements, greater market “freedom,” neoliberal programs. But I think over the last 15 years, and you can see this for instance in Marine Le Pen’s program, they moved away from the classical neoliberal program and basically have embraced this program of “we’ll keep the welfare state, but just for the ingroup, just for those who have been here since time immemorial, that kind of thing.
And the enemies are the liberals and the social democrats who are the people who are trying to bring in the immigrants. So, basically they are reconfiguring social conflicts in a way that’s quite counterrevolutionary. This is not the kind of elite-led coalition— you know, “you give me this, you give me that” politics. These sort of very interesting class alliances being created with a racist, and at the same time pseudo-social democratic kind of ideology. That’s in the North with all its contradictions. I see what you pointed out about Trump. On the one hand, dismantling Obamacare. On the other hand, opportunistically telling the workers, “Okay, hey, I’m against the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” and that’s what you are against, right?
So, I guess it’s the first or second executive order that he made. And so, it’s a kind of very opportunistic kind of thing. Trump is not a doctrine of neoliberal. He’s a very opportunistic kind of right-wing politician who is going to bring together something that may not have much ideological coherence, but has a lot of emotional coherence that responds to this base that feels threatened; for instance, by immigrants. In the Global South, there you have a situation where Duterte continues to have a neoliberal program and Modi, again, also has a neoliberal program. Both are allied to their elites at this point in time, despite the fact that the neoliberal program is not working or is not bringing about the kind of better living conditions that they had promised. Nevertheless, they continue to have a lot of support. So it’s a very interesting and at the same time, very dangerous kind of situation, a combination of neoliberalism and great popularity.
GREG WILPERT: Right. Before we conclude, we briefly have to touch on the issue of the strategies that can be used to overcome counterrevolutionary regimes. Now, in a nutshell, what would you say would be the best way to confront them?
WALDEN BELLO: Well, I think the first thing is I think it’s going to be very, very important to really hold on and espouse and promote democratic values, and the values of protection for human beings, human rights and due process, which is being threatened everywhere. For instance, Duterte basically has said due process does not hold for criminals and he’s ended up killing over 20,000 people. Basically, it’s not a popular thing at this point in time, but we really have to uphold these traditional democratic values, the right to life and human rights.
Secondly, I think we cannot just go back and promote and say to people, “Hey, we have to go back to democracy.” And people will tell you, “What do you mean democracy?” for instance in India or the Philippines at this point in time. “This so-called democracy that you kept on telling us, we have been under it for decades. Things are still extremely bad for the masses of people. The inequalities, Greg, and everything else. Your democracy hasn’t delivered.” I think what you really need to do is to go beyond these elite liberal democracies and really propose social democratic programs. I use that in a scientific sense, not in a political sense, but we really have to put equality at the center now.
We cannot just have this formal equality, but really inequality. I think both in the United States, in Europe, in the Global South, equality has now to be at the center. Now whether we call this program socialist or social democratic, or popular democracy, for me that’s not important. The important thing is we have to distinguish that from the kind of capitalist liberal democracy that has hidden class conflict and has not really delivered. The third thing is really we have to find a way to counter the mass appeal of these demagogues that are appearing at this point in time. One of the problems with progressive movements are oftentimes they’re so rationalistic, if you know what I mean. Basically, the appeal is very much based on the interests. The appeal is very much sometimes very economistic in terms of its appeal to different groups. And they haven’t been able to win people emotionally.
Now, I think we can win people emotionally in a good way and not in a fascist way, but we really have to try and try very hard on that score. Then the other thing that I think we really need to look at is really the importance of the women’s movement at this point in time because all of these people— whether it’s Trump, whether it’s Duterte—they are misogynists. They are espousing misogynism in their behavior and in their programs, and the women’s movement throughout the world is on the rise and is quite uncompromising at this point in time. I think it has a very great role to play in terms of opposing these moves towards counterrevolution and fascism, which are very misogynistic right now.
These are just some things that I’ve been thinking about in terms of the way that we can get a handle on these movements and then confront them. One important thing I would just like to say, Greg, is we have to give up – we can’t fall into conspiracy theories that these are just people being manipulated by elites or by clever people. You know, there is a mass base to these right-wing movements, and I think we really need to accept that and then see how we can go toe to toe with them in terms of winning over the allegiances of people.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah, I think that your point there is very well taken and very important. Especially also for the left, I think it’s crucial to understand the rise of the right in order to figure out where did we go wrong, so to speak. Like I said, it seems like the rise of the right is linked to both neoliberalism and social democracy. In other words, if we want to avoid the rise of the right in the future, that means having to overcome both neoliberalism and social democracy.
But unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Philippines sociologist, Walden Bello, about his just published book Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right. Thanks again, Walden, for having joined us today.
WALDEN BELLO: Thanks too, Greg. I’m very happy to have been in your program today.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.