Ever since the fall of “actually-existing socialism” we have been told that history reached its end, that ideologies don’t make sense anymore, that it’s time for “unideological” and strictly functional governance. This implies that organized political intervention by the subaltern classes – with their own demands and representative subjects – is obsolete. Leftist political parties and class organizations such as trade unions were branded with the mark of anachronism and resistance to change. Accordingly, political power should be reserved to technocrats and neoliberal apparatchiks.
Political disenfranchisement grew immensely after the dismantling of the social pact established during the post-World War II. The basic social fractures haven’t been eliminated; on the contrary, they widened. The unbridled rule of financial markets and big business alienated the majority of society from policy-making processes. The working people moved away from traditional working class parties. Indeed, they moved away from traditional parties as a whole, including bourgeois parties. But the promised post-socialist utopia of human rights and progress never came. Instead, we have a dystopia of mass unemployment, widespread military conflict, forced migrations, racism, terrorism, poverty and environmental destruction. Structural unemployment and precarious work relations add socioeconomic disenfranchisement to political disenfranchisement, especially among the youth.
Neoliberalism marginalized millions of people both socioeconomically and politically. The weakening or co-optation of working class organizations, together with high levels of political abstention among the subaltern classes, permitted traditional bourgeois parties to retain hegemony for a while, but times are changing. Populist politicians like Trump herald the political reawakening of the marginalized. To be sure, this reawakening is inconsequential, as populism does not offer any progressive alternative to neoliberalism. In most of the cases, it is simply “national-minded” economic liberalism (or rather protectionism), combined with cultural conservatism and sprinkled with outright racism. Besides, populist politicians are easily co-opted by traditional political elites. The case of the True Finns (Perussuomalaiset) is exemplary in this regard: just a while ago the enfant terrible of Finnish politics, the True Finns have been swiftly domesticated as soon as they set foot in a bourgeois government. Maybe Trump will do the same and forget his aberrant campaign promises once in power.