Uncertain times lie ahead. People have had their fill of neoliberalism and they’re looking for alternatives. So far, they’ve found dreadful ones. Trump was elected president of the US, Marine Le Pen currently ranks second in the polls for the 2017 French presidential elections, Geert Wilders is polling first for next year’s parliamentary elections in the Netherlands. Mainstream politicians like Manuel Valls and Angela Merkel try to ride the wave of fear and xenophobia by attacking Muslim communities with burqa and niqab prohibitions.
As I’ve argued before, these aren’t real alternatives to neoliberalism and austerity. Usually, these right-wing populists merely defend some form of economic protectionism. If their programmes are actually implemented, they won’t create jobs and provide safety and stability for working people; they will instead uphold the interests of national capitalist groups. They will attempt to smash trade unions, leftist parties, and all independent working class organizations, thus depriving the workers of means of struggle. The most vulnerable, destitute and marginalized sectors of society will be dealt with the utmost brutality (just take a look at the murderous anti-drug campaign of the Filipino President Dutarte, which allegedly was praised by Trump himself). Capital will have free rein to exploit people and the environment. Far-right populism represents a real threat, especially for workers, migrants, women, gender and sexual minorities, etc. Its fiercely nationalist outlook might also lead to escalating tensions and conflicts worldwide.
But it can also happen that they don’t apply their programme at all, or at least in its entirety. It’s true that the ruling classes in Europe and the USA have been destabilized by this phenomenon, materialized in the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory. The success of far-right populism stems from aspirations of breaking with the status quo, but it’s quite possible that the ruling elites find a way of transforming these loudmouth politicians into more inoffensive actors, for ex. by co-opting them into the ruling circles. I’ve already mentioned the example of the True Finns in this regard.
On the other hand, the rise of far-right populism – whether it applies its programme or bends the knee to traditional ruling groups – may trigger dissidence and active resistance. In some countries, people have already looked to the left in search of alternatives. Bernie Sanders in the USA, the ascent of the left in Portugal, and Corbyn in the UK are good examples of this. The civilizational regression represented by Trump, Le Pen, or Wilders, has to be addressed with resistance by the subaltern social groups. Progressive social movements of workers, women, migrants, youth, LGBT people, etc., have to come forward and resist the barbarism that hangs over our heads.
Far-right populism is in no way a step ahead when compared with neoliberal establishment politicians, but appealing to the vote on neoliberal politicians as a way of countering far-right populism isn’t the appropriate tactic. It is from neoliberal politicians that people are running away in the first place. Neither should we incorporate their xenophobic and racist discourse into our political programmes just to gain votes. That would be letting them define the terminology and the agenda of political debate. Besides, people tend to prefer the original to half-hearted copies.
Neoliberalism and austerity sowed the seeds of far-right populism. The latter wouldn’t exist without the former. Consequently, the proponents of neoliberalism and austerity have to be treated as part of the problem. In the USA, for instance, it has been pointed out that Sanders would be in a much better position than Clinton to defeat Trump. This shows that far-right populism should be combatted with leftist and socialist alternatives that propose a break with neoliberalism and austerity, not by flirting with neoliberal politicians (the path unfortunately chosen by Sanders) or by adopting elements of far-rightist programmes. It remains to be seen whether the disenchantment with far-right populism (which is likely to come, judging from the True Finns’ experience) will give rise to a new wave of dissidence and social struggle for a radically new society.