In the spotlight

A brief look at contemporary political trends

“Whether one calls them fascist, authoritarian populist, or counter-revolutionary, there is no doubt that angry movements contemptuous of liberal democratic ideas and practices and espousing the use of force to resolve deep-seated social conflicts are on the rise globally.” Walden Bello, Counter Revolution, the Global Rise of the Far Right, Page 3. Fernwood Publishing, 2019.

Facing down, resisting and living under extreme authoritarian, violent regimes are not new to most of us: the histories of many societies/nations are scarred by periods when political leaders used a combination of personal charisma, religious fervour, economic insecurity, fear of “others,” and promises to restore (usually imagined) glorious legacies, to impose political regimes that privilege particular classes, faiths and social groups while clamping down on the fundamental rights, freedoms and dignity of others. At numerous moments in colonial, apartheid, fascist, military, dictatorial and even democratic regimes, we have witnessed how the toxic synergy of interests driven by class, culture, religion and ideology can produce oppression, extreme violence and terror.

More recently, we have seen the rise of authoritarian regimes that seem to be consequences of the structural crises created by neoliberal capitalism and paradoxically, of the response by left forces and progressive peoples’ movements against the onslaught of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism and corporate-led globalisation not only failed in delivering social and economic well-being for the majority, but also destroyed the environment, weakened workers’ and small-scale food producers’ rights, undermined working class organisations, entrenched inequality, and increased hunger and malnutrition. Lower and middle classes saw their savings devalue and debts increase because of financial deregulation and prioritization of corporate over public interests. People mobilized to demand change, but two important trends enabled right wing forces to hijack these demands: 1) left political forces in many countries made uneasy alliances with ruling powers to gain footholds in the political system; 2) right wing forces used their resources to build the Post-truth era, where reality is deliberately distorted to influence public opinion and social behaviours, and strengthen the power of national-global elites.

Allied with ruling forces, left political forces were unable to show how their own programmes and visions for change were different. This left political and ideological fields open to capture by right wing forces who harnessed the anxiety, disillusionment, anger and desperation of the millions of people battered by the recurring financial-economic crises that have become hallmarks of global capitalism and corporate globalisation.

Although right wing forces presented themselves as deeply critical of the prevailing system, they shifted the blame for economic and social crises away from neoliberalism, towards particular sectors of society, naming them by economic class, social grouping and religion. This helped them to gather support from a wide swathe of classes and social groups–including the middle and wealthy classes–and build movements around prejudice and hate, while leaving the capitalist economic system unchanged. Although each regime is a product of particular historical conditions in its region, the above characteristics appear in varying degrees and nuances across them.

Despite rhetoric about addressing worsening social-economic conditions, these regimes remain committed to capitalism and neoliberalism. Since assuming political power, the conditions of rural and urban working classes have not improved, and the promised savings, incomes and jobs have not materialized. But, corporations and elites close to the ruling regimes have continued to win contracts for resource extraction, large infrastructure projects, industrial agriculture and property development.

Many right wing forces came to power through elections and claim democratic mandates to enact policies and laws that serve their agendas. However, they are opposed to liberal democracy, where all citizens, regardless of class, culture or religion enjoy the same rights, liberties and equality before law, and where robust oppositions provide checks and balances. Threats of political opposition from parties and social organisations are neutralized by dissolving some parties and making opportunistic alliances with others, and persecuting dissenters in the media and/or legally. Democratic procedures are used to build majoritarian societies where those identified as minorities face increasing disenfranchisement, marginalization and insecurity.

The reinvention of truth and facts – through the construction of narratives that present fictitious realities – are crucial strategies for the new regimes. These include: the decline of the nation and need for strong leaders to return it to greatness; racial, religious and gender superiority; threats to national security, identity and sovereignty; improvement in economic-social conditions, etc. These narratives are crucial for fascist regimes to be able to consolidate power, and are presented to the public through mainstream news, social media, text books, films, entertainment and public service programmes. They provide rationales for criminalizing and unleashing violence on those who are presented as enemies/threats (particular communities, migrants, rights activists, lawyers, journalists, movement leaders, etc.), and keep the populace in a state of uncertainty and anxiety, justifying the need for a “strong hand” to hold the nation together.

Authoritarian/fascist regimes threaten food sovereignty by their opposition to peoples’ rights, equality, diversity, local autonomy, cooperation and solidarity. They support the appropriation and control of lands, water, seeds, natural wealth, public resources and food systems by transnational capital. They rob local communities of their agency, and suppress voices and actions attempting to build peoples’ democracies from the ground up.

More info on the situation in Asia here.