Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

“For National Populism”: the Man-Crush of Spiked (former, Revolutionary Communist Party) for Viktor Orbán.

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Image result for orban cartoon

Orban’s Gallant Defiance of EU Elites.

A few days ago Frank Furedi was doing his chivalrous bit by coming to the aid of distressed demagogue Hungary’s PM, Viktor Orban,

The Hungarian government’s values are very different to the technocratic outlook of the EU federalists. The best way to describe the Hungarian government’s outlook is conservative, traditional and Christian. It is also democratic and very human. These are values that the EU oligarchy is determined to abolish, to erase from the European landscape and history, in order that it might replace them with its own technocratic cosmopolitan outlook.


Furedi launched this crusade for Orbran and now his minions are now following.

The former High Up of the RCP and ex-Editor of Living Marxism Brendan O’Neill  has leapt into the fray in the right-wing Spectator.

Tory MEPs were right not to denounce Viktor Orban

You would never know it from the shrill media coverage, but Tory MEPs’ refusal to back the EU’s censure of Viktor Orban’s Hungary is one of the most principled things they have ever done. They are, of course, being denounced as Orban apologists, as cheerleaders for the authoritarian turn Hungary has taken under his prime ministership. Nonsense. They have taken a stand against authoritarianism. Against the authoritarianism of the European Union, whose technocratic arrogance has now reached such dizzy heights that it presumes the moral authority to punish nation states for doing what their own people, the electorate, have asked them to do. That is a far greater crime against democracy than any committed by Orban.

Good on the Tory MEPs who refused to back the anti-democratic censure of Hungary. And shame on those who are denouncing these Tories as bootlickers of Orban’s regime. It brings to mind the way that those of us who opposed the war in Iraq were written off as stooges for Saddam. Grow up, everyone: you can be critical of a foreign government while also opposing any tyrannical attempt by outsiders to overthrow or throttle that government.

What lies behind the New Course?

The Chief explained in August 2017.

Residing in Hungary for much of last year, I could see that the attacks levelled against that country by the EU-influenced media were motivated by the same impulses driving the anti-populist crusade across Europe. These attacks said more about the undemocratic spirit of Brussels than anything that was going on in Budapest.


This book, appearing last year, to all the loud ‘umph of a falling hazelnut, intends to be a kind of alternative to Chantal Mouffe’s For a Left Populism (2018)

..one of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about Brexit, and remain so, was precisely because I see the EU as detrimental not only to public and political life in Britain, but also to the future of Europe. My book is devoted to explaining how the values espoused by the EU oligarchy are actually alien to the longstanding values of European civilisation.

The EU continually upholds the identities of minorities, regions and ethnic and other groups, but the one identity it singles out for attack is that of the nation. The EU prides itself on its celebration of identity politics and diversity; but its love affair with diversity doesn’t extend to appreciating the diversity of this continent’s national cultures. In my book, I argue that the EU is carrying out a culture war against national pride and consciousness.

National sovereignty is important for two reasons. First because it provides the largest terrain that humankind has discovered so far where democratic accountability can be exercised and have real meaning. Popular sovereignty can occur within a local community, a city or a nation – but it cannot be exercised in a territory larger than the nation. And the second reason national sovereignty is important is that it provides a context for the cultivation of a real, felt identity. There are other possible ways for people to develop their identities, but for most people the nation constitutes the largest area within which their identity can be forged and gain real purchase.

Having asserted the case for “identitarian politics” Furedi continues,

 in the course of researching this book, I came to the conclusion that, from the EU’s perspective, the main crime of the Hungarian government is that on many issues it promotes values that directly contradict those of the EU.

It is interesting to set these claims beside those made by Chantal Mouffe (who will be the subject of a full length  reply on this Blog, here is a very critical review in French, in which it is also published: Populisme de gauche, du nouveau ? Sur le dernier livre de Chantal Mouffe KHALFA Pierre) defending her new book, For a Left Populism (2018).

 She asserts that,

The only way to fight rightwing populism is to give a progressive answer to the demands they are expressing in a xenophobic language. This means recognising the existence of a democratic nucleus in those demands and the possibility, through a different discourse, of articulating those demands in a radical democratic direction.

This is the political strategy that I call “left populism”. Its purpose is the construction of a collective will, a “people” whose adversary is the “oligarchy”, the force that sustains the neoliberal order.


This raises the obvious point that the demand “out with the immigrants” has no progressive content, nor does a demand for “sovereignty” rub up against markets, capitalism, or any of the left’s targets. That is the mechanisms which create inequality, injustice and oppression.

To put it at is starkest: those who claim that the ‘strain’ on public services ’caused’ is caused by migration and the EU ‘elite’ freedom of movement policy,  divert anger against austerity towards migrants…

Mouffe also claims that her alternative, “cannot be formulated through the left/right cleavage, as traditionally configured. “

It needs,

to bring these diverse struggles together requires establishing a bond between social movements and a new type of party to create a “people” fighting for equality and social justice.

Let us leave aside the point that such a “people” is something which has yet to be seen and touched, and how exactly does a “collective will” take decisions,  outside of her theoretical abstractions.

More significantly Mouffe’s examples, Podemos and La France insoumise, are widely different.

The first is a genuine mass movement with links to social movements (it was formed in the wake of the anti-austerity Movimiento 15-M), which, while not founding Podemos, are in close relation with a democratically organised organisation. Podemos has a proper elected leadership, conferences and internal debates, even ‘tendencies’. It takes decisions, hard ones in the case of the separatists populists of Catalonia, where they recognised national rights without giving way to the creation of ‘sovereigntism’, either of the Spanish state or the Catalan bourgeoisie.

La France insoumise (LFI), by contrast,  is a top-down Rally led by a Chief, Jean-Luc Mélenchon a “Party-Movement dedicated to training actors “in the art of becoming historical agents”. There is a simulacrum of internal democracy for its (massive, I am a ‘member’) on-line ‘membership, conferences of delegates in which a majority are chosen by lot, and policy decided by the Trainers. There are no internal tendencies (unlike their allies in Ensemble). LFI has recently been accused of drifting towards the nationalism which right-wing populism thrives on.

Feurdi and his mates have a simpler answer: they consider not just the kernel but the whole populist nut of people like Orban worth defending.

All the works of Lenin, Trotsky,  Marx, and Engels, all the ideas about capitalism, modes of production, class struggle, have evaporated.

The slate is clean.

The populists, Orban in case you asked,  are the Nation-People incarnate, proudly felt.

Woe betide ‘elites’ who attack them!



3 Responses

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  1. Latest row over La France insoumise’s drift towards the xenophobic end of populism.

    Andrew Coates

    September 18, 2018 at 4:21 pm

  2. Some common decency survives at the Spectator:

    Tory apologists for Viktor Orbán should be ashamed of themselves

    Stephen Daisley

    18 September 2018

    To think they said Brexit would cost us friends. The UK Government has found itself a new chum in Viktor Orbán, Hungarian prime minister and global alt-right pin-up. Last week, the European Parliament voted to initiate Article 7 proceedings against Hungary, citing its lurch towards authoritarianism. Fifteen Tory MEPs voted against while a further two abstained. Scotland’s Baroness Mobarik was the only one to break ranks. Makes you proud to be British.

    Article 7.1 of the Treaty allows MEPs to refer a member state to the Council to determine if its actions present ‘a clear risk of a serious breach’ of the values detailed in Article 2, namely ‘respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities’. The resolution, authored by Dutch Greens MEP Judith Sargentini, cites concerns about administration of elections; judicial independence; corruption; freedom of expression, association and religion; equality under the law; and the rights of Jews, Roma and migrants.

    Sargentini hardly had to look far to make her case. Here is Human Rights Watch on the situation under Orbán:

    ‘The Hungarian government fails to respect the rule of law and human rights. Government representatives are increasingly hostile to journalists and critics and engage in anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric including through publicly funded campaigns. Authorities have introduced legislation targeting civil society organisations and universities receiving funding from abroad. Asylum seekers are detained indefinitely in substandard border camps without a possibility to challenge their detention. They face violence during operations to force them back to the border, and limitations on meaningful access to asylum.’

    While the political objectives of HRW and similar groups is open to question at times, its assessment of Hungary is, if anything, overly restrained. Since coming to power in 2010, Orbán has remade the country as an illiberal democracy, rewriting the Fundamental Law — Hungary’s constitution — to remove key checks and balances on executive power. The Constitutional Court’s scope for judicial review has been severely restricted and its pre-Orbán precedents torn up. Freedom of speech has been curtailed through a mass buy-up of TV networks, radio stations and newspapers by Orbán allies and commercial broadcasters banned from carrying political advertisements. Reporters Without Borders calls Orbán ‘a strongman…trying to silence all criticism’ and notes that supporters of his Fidesz party ‘now have dominant and often monopolistic position in virtually all the media’. Dissenting journalists are banned from parliament and even from asking questions during press conferences.

    Orbán is canny, forging ties with Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist government while pandering to anti-Semitism at home. He has described Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s war-time leader, as an ‘exceptional statesman’. Horthy imposed discriminatory edicts on Jews before even the Nazis and he was later to become an on-again-off-again collaborator with the Third Reich. Orbán had a statue erected in Budapest’s Liberty Square, the Memorial to the Victims of the German Occupation, which reframes Hungary as an innocent casualty of World War II. In fact, the Hungarian state collaborated with the occupation forces in the mass deportation of Jews. In his crusade against migrants, Orbán has appropriated the American far-right’s bogeyman George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist depicted in Orbán posters as a sly puppet-master.

    We shall have to get used to buddying up with characters like this on our exciting adventures in Brexitland. Appearing on Andrew Marr on Sunday, Michael Gove cast this as a mere procedural row; the Tories had ‘a long-standing principle’ that Brussels should not ‘interfere in, or censure, the internal democracy of a particular country’. If it was any other Cabinet minister, this could be shrugged off as brutal Tory expediency. The fact that a sincere and fluent democrat like Gove could not summon the language of even mild censure is dismaying.

    There is more than pragmatic statecraft going on here. Conservatives see nationalism resurgent and believe they must evolve to accommodate it, for electoral reasons but also to regulate a potent political-emotional force. In modern times, British Toryism has been bound up in the ties of national identity. As Mrs Thatcher contended:

    ‘The conservative virtue of stability leads directly to accepting the legitimacy of nationalism as a basis for independent statehood. National pride, in combination with liberty and the rule of law, powerfully strengthens democratic government.’

    But the latest iterations of nationalism — the nationalisms of Orbán and Salvini, Trump and Brexit — pride themselves on disruption rather than stability and view democratic liberalism as an encroachment on national sovereignty that weakens as much from within as from without. Democratic nationalism takes a sledgehammer to democracy’s load-bearing walls — the rule of law, division of powers, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, a strong opposition — and leaves only the hollow shell of majoritarian rule. It also anathematises ‘neoliberalism’ at least as much as the far-left. Traditionally right-of-centre parties that embrace nationalism will have to abandon or drastically redraw, as Fidesz has done, their commitment to welfare reform, spending restraint and other policies that hurt the working poor and underclass.

    European (and American) conservatism has not evolved to incorporate nationalism, it has been incorporated by it. Conservatism once flowed from the pens of Russell Kirk and William F Buckley Jr; now it zings into news feeds from asinine snarkers and ethnic demagogues. Western culture used to be upheld by Kipling and Harold Bloom; today’s conservatives hero-worship celebrity psychologists and columnists who spray racial accelerant and dangle a lighter for entertainment. Man was fallen, a sinner in need of the moral boundaries of law and society; social regulation has become an attack on his right to unrestrained ego and boorish prejudice. God is dead and we’re recruiting all our Overmen from reality TV.

    The Tories could have taken a stand against this anti-conservatism and voted to investigate Hungary. Instead, they sullied themselves and their country. The road to Budapest is a long stretch yet but Brexit and a ‘hostile environment’ are initial steps to a post-liberal Britain: Corbyn Labour v. Orbán Tories. Economic authoritarianism v. social authoritarianism. Jew-baiting v. Muslim-baiting. Still, at least the EU won’t be able to investigate us much longer.

    Jim Denham

    September 18, 2018 at 4:24 pm

  3. Below is a contribution I made to a Facebook discussion on Spiked and sovereignty:

    The concept of ‘sovereignty’ must include the idea of who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. If one rejects class, as our old pals do, then one has to find another criterion on which to base sovereignty, and that can only be the nation. We have seen this with Spiked, who at first appealed to ‘people’ in a such a vague (and hilariously liberal) way that I felt that it couldn’t last as a leading concept, but have now adopted the nation.

    And as is their wont, Spiked has attached themselves to the nation with that 100 per cent commitment and sureness with which they attach themselves to everything else (save the curious reluctance fully to embrace climate-change denial).

    Sovereignty must not mean merely maintaining control over who is to enter a nation-state, but establishing the criteria which are set for that control. And this must impact upon those already within the borders: if people who apply to enter are subject to stringent criteria to establish their fitness to become citizens, how will that impact upon people already within the borders who do not satisfy those criteria? And the satisfying of those criteria can be set on a popular basis, that is, via popular prejudice that might go further than the official definition.

    In the case of Britain, this last point will mean what it means to be British. In post-EU Britain, this is more to be what it means to be English, which is already a heavily racialised concept, Welsh and Scottish (which could both become racialised as well), if deep economic problems occur and people react in a non-class, nation-orientated manner.

    We have seen with Hungary that Orbán is making clear what he means by Hungarian: by emphasising ‘Christian’ it’s a heavily racialised concept that excludes a lot of people, including — so ironically, considering Frank F’s endorsement of him — Jews as well as non-Europeans.

    Dr Paul

    September 18, 2018 at 10:41 pm

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