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Posts Tagged ‘Populism

The Far-Right and the ‘Covid Sceptic’ Bandwagon.

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Piers Corbyn Shown the Door.

(Anti-vax protestors including Piers Corbyn have been forcibly removed from an event led by Sadiq Khan in North London tonight.)

The presence, and in important cases, the leading role of the far-right in protests against restrictions brought about to deal with the Covid pandemic, has been widely reported. The hard core have propagated the view that efforts to stop the spread of the virus are part of a ‘globalist’ plan, run by a Cabal of various bodies, Big Pharma, an opportunity fabricated by those planning the Great Reset of Capitalism (after the expression prominent at the 2000 World Economic Forum).

A widely broadcast video, Hold Up, Retour sur un chaos by French conspiracist Pierre Barnérias claimed that the virus was created in “l’Institut Pasteur before being sent to Wuhan. On-line it was seen by over two million of people in France and elsewhere. The film compiles a variety of false claim “These include the supposed futility of face masks, claims that hydroxychloroquine is a proven remedy for Covid-19, the theory of links to 5G mobile networks and the notion of a totalitarian global government – known as the New World Order – bent on enslaving the people.”

During Lockdown there were protests in many countries, including Ireland and the UK. Their theme was ‘freedom’ from health based restrictions but included conspiracists and the far-right. No formal rightist presence was noted, although the robust anti-vacinne actions called by ‘Official Voice’, “a collective forum of like-minded truth seekers”, in September had a quasi-militarist look about them.

When in France the government introduced the Health Pass (Pass Sanitaire) large demonstrations took place. On the 17th July 100,000 marches across the country, initiating public demonstrations which reached a peak of 237,000 in the middle of August before declining to a few thousand in November. The leading role of Florian Philippot, former henchman of Marine le Pen put the leader of his own far right party, Les Patriots, back in the limelight. “When Philippot was addressing the Paris rally and introduced a man called Benjamin onto the stage, saying, “He got vaccinated, but that was his choice,” there was an awkward moment of hesitation in the crowd, Le Figaro reported. It then erupted into cheers when Philippot said, “But he’s against the health pass!” as Benjamin ripped up his vaccination certificate.” (France 24).

Phillipot’s association with the anti-Health Pass movement was joined by the participation of other extreme-right groupuscules. Their presence went with the anti-Semitic symbols and placards of some protestors, (asking Qui ? ‘Who’ said to indicate a cosmopolitan plot behind the Macron/Cazeneuve measures). This did not deter some left-wingers from joining the upswell, sometimes on the very same ground. For them it was an issue of civil liberty. Jean-Luc Mélenchon called the Health Pass, and other moves, Une addition de sottises sans nom, dans une inefficacité totale et une brutalité absolue.” (a pile of nonsense, completely ineffective and totally brutal) while dissociating himself from the racist presence. The La France insoumise Presidential candidate rejected being lectured to by the Macron political “caste” and complained of having to put up with the far right and anti-Semites on the rallies, ( France Info, “de devoir supporter l’extrême-droite et les antisémites.) Some suggest that the motive of this section of the left was to make a populist appeal to the remains of the gilets jaunes movement which has supported the movement.

At present France’s far-right is engaged in a battle for next year’s Presidential elections. In the duel between Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen Covid issues have come up. The former has winked towards the anti-Health pass movement and has promised to abolish the Health Pass, adding, that boosters will be only for the over 65s. The candidate of the Rassemblement National has called to end the obligation of health care workers to be vaccinated and an easing of restrictions. Florian Philippot has announced his own Presidential candidacy, around the call “le rétablissement de toutes nos libertés” (re-establish all our freedoms) which barely registers (Présidentielle 2022 : Florian Philippot candidat 16.11.21).

The issue has come to the fore across Europe with the weekend demonstrations in Austria, the rioting in the Netherlands, and outbreaks of violence during a Brussels march.

Today the US NBC sums up the most recent developments.

Far right spies an opportunity in Europe’s new wave of Covid pain and protest

A new fault line is emerging in Austrian and European politics: whether or not a party supports Covid restrictions.

The Vienna rally was organized by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest political party in Austria, which experts say has used the pandemic to further its anti-establishment credentials and re-establish public support after a high-profile scandal.

“STOPP Impffaschismus,” (stop vaccine fascism) one sign in Vienna read. “Kontrolliert die Grenze, nicht euer volk,” (control the border, not your people) another said — just some of the slogans mixing vaccine skepticism with right-wing ideology.

Austria has become an explicit case of direct far-right involvement in these issues.

What of the UK?

Piers Corbyn is still at it.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 24, 2021 at 2:44 pm

Populista. The Rise of Latin America’s 21st Century Strongmen, Will Grant. Review.

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Populista: The Rise of Latin America's 21st Century Strongman

Populista. The Rise of Latin America’s 21st Century Strongmen, Will Grant. Head of Zeus.

In the new millenium new ways forward for the radical left in Latin America seemed open. “For a decade and a half, populist left-wing presidents were in power from the Amazon to the Andes, The leaders of the Pink tide were democratically elected and radical in heir socialist reforms, though not sufficiently communist to be deemed ‘red.” The BBC correspondent in Latin America Will Grant continues, “Yet within a decade and half, the party was over…A movement that had promised so much was either floundering or had crumbled entirely….. several governments morphed into pseudo left wing kleptocracies run by repressive authoritarians. In some cases the constitutions had been changed to allow indefinite presidential re-elections and concentrate power in the hands of the executive.”

Will Grant’s hefty and path-breaking book begins in Venezuela. The early, pre-Presidential biography of the leader the Bolivarian Revolution, a career military man, would-be 1992 MBR-200, golpsita, the is a starting opener. In power from 1999 the “worker President”, Hugo Chávez who promised a “socialism of the 21st century.” Wreathed for years in “unconditional love” he passed away in 2013, still holding the reins of government. Behind the grieving the promise of socialism had already begun to end with the “biggest robbery of national resources and looting of national funds in Latin American history” .

It is hard to summarise what Chavez and his successor’s ‘socialism’ as an alternative to the capitalist system’ was and is. The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, (PSUV) and millions of members owes a founding loyalty to “Comandante Hugo Chávez” and a mixture of anti-imperialist, patriotic, and a variety of ideas fashionable on the left. It is better to look at its practice. Today far from abolishing capital or bringing workers and peasant power, resources are dominated and exploited by the Boliburguesía, the monied cartel ennobled by this socialist and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Chavista thugs terrorise political opponents, even the local Communist Party is now banned from running for office. The country’s economy is “in free fall”; infrastructure is wasting away. Cuban trade and help have brought their ruthless secret service in their wake. Conditions are bad enough for over 4 million refugees to have fled. Only die-hard supporters blame these conditions on ‘Imperialism’.

“Venezuela is a stark warning of what can happen when vanity and dogma outweigh pragmatism and common sense” Yet Populista is far from another denunciation of the vain hopes of the left. As he moves from the North to Brazil Grants paints a portait of the extraordinary life of the leader of the Workers’ Party,  Partido dos Trabalhadores(PT) an organisation launched as democratic socialist, with internal democracy and tendencies. Lula da Silva , who went from shoeshine boy to President. He is a democratic socialist and states, “I don’t consider myself a populist I consider myself a leader who dared to govern with the people, who was no afraid” of the people. In this reformist vein Lula created his social programmes, such the family grants, the Bolsas Familias. If Lula’s party has had is share of corruption scandals, he personally had power snatched away by the an openly biased state and judiciary following the Operação Lava Jato. Brazil is now governed by the right wing, extreme right-wing, populist Jair Bolsonaro, recent victories in court cases and his good showing in polls indicate that he may make a strong electoral comeback.

.Populista goes into the achievements of Bolivian indigenous leader, Evo Morales, another remarkable leader, whose first language is Aymara. His ideology, Grant outlines, draws on this heritage, ‘Kataymism’ an indigenous culture, mixed with European pacifism and ecology, and a Guevarist image of the Two Bolivias, “international neoliberal v. exploited nationals’ whites v. Indians, oligarchs v. subalterns; global models v. local experience.” One of Morales’ key measures, the renegotiation of foreign energy (gas and oil) contacts, reflect this outlook Social reform efforts, breaking down the ‘apartheid’ between the “crillios” of European descent, and the peasants and indigenous population run with their grain. Morales made mistakes, the proposed TIPINIS highway driving through indigenous areas which was vigorously resisted, and ended up on an autocratic pathway, self-cocooned by his own councillors, and seeking refuge in “hollow socialist rhetoric”.

Left Populism?

The ideas and policies of Morales can be compared to left populism, pitting the People, el Pueblo, against the European owners of natural resources, 500 years of struggle against the “oligarchy” But Morales did not believe that they were ‘enemies’ that excluded each other. He did not pose as a Caudillo, strongman, who would stamp out his opponents. The president came from the self-organised assemblies of peasant workers (‘cocaleros’, after the coca leaf), by definition accustomed to both action and negotiation. His political party the Moviemento al socialismo (MAS), is said to have a ” bottom-up, decentralised structure, with regional and local branches having a large amount of input on party decision”. Adjustments had to be made, a “plurinational state” created by consent, backed by “overwhelming popular support.”

The personal qualities of the President aside you can’t help thinking that Bolivian history played a major role in injecting caution into the MAS project. Since independence from Spain Bolivia has seen 190 coups, attempted coups and revolutions. The forced “resignation” of Morales in 2019 under charges of terrorism” was widely seen at the 191st.

These are epic histories and biographies. The chapters on Raphael Correda’s authoritarian rule in Ecuador and the sordid tale of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship in Nicaragua paint pictures on a smaller scale. Correda, described as a “populist”, “a tragedy replete with treachery, sedition and corruption”. The latter the grave-digger of Third-Worldist hopes with a wife and Vice-President, Rosario Murillo, a blend of “Lady Macbeth and Dick Cheney.. Cuba comes across as an exhausted model, its repressions aide, “The island is dysfunctional in the extreme but doesn’t suffer from the violence or extreme poverty seen elsewhere in Latin America.” Why people continue to consider Cuba as a beacon of hope is a mystery. …

In an Epilogue Populista states “In that extraordinary unprecedented line-up of left-wing leaders at the start of the twenty first century the urgent needs of el pueblo were fulfilled for a time.” The cost, outlined in its pages, was great. The “permanent campaigns” of charismatic chiefs peter out, are revived, lift spirits, and, in the case of Venezuela many would say, have caused lasting damage. Brazil and Bolivia remain the focus of wider hopes, but as Grant indicates, did not fit like a glove, if at all, into the “populista” mould and above all the leadership of a Caudillo.

Laclau and the ‘Political Logic of Populism’.

Populism, Ernesto Laclau argued, is a “political logic”. Grant cites the late Argentinian theorist and professor discourse studies at Essex University that it presents itself as “subversive” of the existing order and the starting point of a new one. There are heavy layers of emotion, ‘affects’ attacked to political leaders who can articulate the democratic demands of the people. These can be mobilised by populists of the right or left against the ‘enemy’, globalisers, metropolitan elites, capitalist oligarchs, neoliberals. What is right and what is left are, on this account, constructed ‘relationally’ and ‘discursively’, they have no fixed meaning.

It has been suggested that the reasoning behind the academic’s approach can be traced to his early years on the Argentinean Left. This was faced with the issue of how to engage with Peronism: specifically, how to develop a leftist project that could win mass support in an era when the working class remained linked to a Peronist political identity. 

Laclau’s founding political experience was in the early sixties in a group that called itself the National Left party, (From Marxist to Post-Marxist Populism: Ernesto Laclau’s Trajectory within the National Left and Beyond. Omar Acha 2019) Without going into the small group politics of the organisation founded by figures such as Jorge Abelardo Ramos the “critical support” given by the  Partido Socialista de la Izquierda Nacional (PSIN) to populist leader Juan Domingo Perón and ‘Peronism’ stands out. In semi-colonial countries (Argentina and the rest of South America) the national tasks of the bourgeoisie had be carried out by the working class – no doubt with the PSI indicating what they might be.

Acha’s description of the PSIN as an “appendage” of Peronism can be applied to those who saw, like Laclau, Chavism as a renewed “Latin American populism.” A theoretical justification for the Socialism of the 21st Century that accepts and justifies the idea that “an entire political movement” can be “built on the shoulders of one man” is beyond implausible faced with the results Populista lists in sad detail. Only those practised in “disconnection from reality” can ignore this. The Marxist principle that emancipation comes from the people, the workers, themselves, not from populist leaders, stands in sharp contrast to the populist experience brilliantly narrated and analysed in Will Grant’s riveting book.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 8, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Populism. Before and After the Pandemic. Michael Burleigh. Review.

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Populism: Before and After the Pandemic: Amazon.co.uk: Burleigh, Michael:  9781787384682: Books

It is traditional to begin any writing on populism by noting that it is a protean, slippery. word. The historian Michael Burleigh starts Populism by saying something a lot clearer, “By Populism I mean the identification of the people as an organic and uniquely virtuous whole, ignored or malignly divided by corrupt and oligarchic elites”. Reminding us of the difference between today and era of mass totalitarian movement these illuminating talks, taken from the Engelsberg Lectures, also speaks of the Majoritarian Right which has appropriated minority “grevance culture” – of as we would call it, right wing identity politics, the political project of GB News.

.At one time it was on some sections of the left it was the fashion to approach populism in the terms laid down by Chantal Mouffe. “We are currently witnessing in Western Europe a “populist moment” that signals the crisis of neoliberal hegemony. The central axis of the political conflict will be between right- and left-wing populism. By establishing a frontier between “the people” and “the oligarchy,” a left–populist strategy could bring together the manifold struggles against subordination, oppression and discrimination.” (For a Left Populism. 2019)

Burleigh makes little reference, although poor old Yanis Varoufakis gets a mention, to any form of left wing populist politics. That horizon has already receded into the far distance. ‘Left’ populisms have made no headway. In Spain Podemos is in alliance with the Socialist PSOE, in France La France insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon remains far from the handles of power, in Britain Corbynism no longer dominates the Labour Party and is a crisis of disillusion. Post-Brexit, after the rise and fall of Donald Trump, and the enduring influence of right-wing governments that appeal to the ‘real’ national peoples in Poland and Hungary, many now speak of national populism. That influence, extending to participation in a variety of European coalition governments, Burleigh calls the “springtime of the nationalists”.

Does this make populism itself an “organic whole”? British populist ideologues, he observes, are divided between those who demand more spending, A “Wagnerian “magic spear which heals all wounds” and those animated by “the happy vision of “Singapore on Thames” which excites some hedge-fund bosses” (Page 7) Brexit was propelled by the well-heeled southern shires, Wiltshire posh persons” more than by the ‘left-behind’. The ‘left’ supporters of leaving the European Union have reaped little benefit from this alignment with the backers of national neo-liberalism and an ‘anglosphere’, but no doubt they too contributed to the diversity of the ‘people’ standing up the EU ‘elite’.

These multiple forms occur across the nations. Appeals to the ‘real’ people, sovereigntist economics and cultural preference to the nation, are only one side of the populist mixture. Conspiracy theories, now tricking down from ‘Soros’ to vaccination, have surfaced from in the depths to emerge in large, if shallow, anti-lockdown movements. The straight-forward racist-populists in France, like Renaud Camus and Eric Zemmour, can be countered by the multiple views and ressentiments of the Gilets Jaunes, at present back with protests against Health Passes and Vaccination. How far this mean for political support for the far-right, like  Florian Philippot (the ‘Patriotes’) deeply involved in the marches, is hard to tell. The ‘confusionnisme’ of sections of the left towards populist ‘anti-elite’ calls has opened the way in France, in Britain, and in many other countries to ‘red-brown’ populisms, like George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain, or the former Revolutionary Marxists of Spiked who backed the Brexit Party. There is a recent French book onto such phenomena La grande confusionComment l’extrêmedroite gagne la bataille des idées. Philippe Corcuff. (2021).*

Populism Before and After the Pandemic is full of insights into such issues. A striking chapter compares the difficult aftermaths of empire in Britain and Russia. Burleigh speculates that today an angry and resentful post-imperial “Engerland” might act like “Rossiya” and become a perpetual nuisance for the European Union.

Burleigh observes that the populist political style has been ill-adapted to the pandemic, “something one cannot attach a sinister face to”. Fringe anti-vaxxers apart that seems a fair judgement. How will the populists fare after the pandemic? Optimists believe this is the moment for ‘liberals’ to fight back, one would hope that it’s the democratic left that could lead the charge, on economic and social justice to begin with. He is pessimistic in the sense that some forms of populist demagogy work well in channelling people’s fears but claims that libertarian anti-lockdown protesters will never rub well with Q Anon and the satanic conspirationnistes .Hedging his bets the author suggests that If recession kicks in populism may be back. For the moment the “experts and technocrats” have proved their worth in making sense of the pandemic threat.

It is good to be reminded of that, and encouraging to see a work of such clarity and observation on tangled issues – all in 98 pages

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Dans « La Grande Confusion », Philippe Corcuff dresse le panorama de l’extrême confusion idéologique actuelle

Le sociologue et politiste signe un méticuleux travail d’analyse dans lequel il dissèque les manquements, les incohérences et les errements de la gauche, dont la droite et plus encore l’extrême droite font leur miel.

The book is long..670 pages..

Written by Andrew Coates

August 4, 2021 at 2:29 pm