On 3 and 4 June, Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity people joined thousands in London protesting against Donald Trump’s state visit. On 4 June we were part of an “against Trump, against Brexit” contingent, with Labour for a Socialist Europe and Another Europe is Possible.
Trump has stridently backed Brexit and boosted pro-Brexit right-wingers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Trump represents Brexit-type politics in the USA; Brexit represents Trump-type politics in Britain. It’s the same broad trend also represented (with important variations) by Modi in India, Erdoğan in Turkey, Salvini in Italy, Putin in Russia, Orban in Hungary, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Netanyahu in Israel, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and others.
The neo-liberal consensus which seemed overwhelming from the 1980s through to 2008 still has considerable grip in ruling-class circles. But it has fragmented and frayed since the 2008 crash and the subsequent economic turmoil and depression. Despite some rhetoric, none of the new-right figures has departed seriously from the neoliberal model of economics within their own terrains: marketisation, privatisation, contracting-out, social cuts, whittlingdown of trade union rights and individual workers’ rights. Some, like Modi in India, Netanyahu in Israel, and some of the Brexiters in Britain, are in fact strongly pro-free-market in that sphere.
Mostly, though far from invariably, the new right dissents from the “rules-based order” of global trade which was instituted by the World Trade Organisation from 1995 and by the European Union from the early 1990s, and which has been pivotal in neoliberalism. The bourgeois consensus was for a world of relatively free flows of trade, investment, and finance (much less free flows of people, except within the European Union), regulated primarily not by bilateral deals but by international institutions and rules, with international tribunals and courts to adjudicate disputes. Trump’s USA has stretched WTO procedures to breaking point, and threatens to sabotage the WTO’s whole dispute-resolution process by blocking the nomination of new judges.
Trump has pursued trade relations with China, not by the old US method of seeking to integrate China into a global web and extracting concessions along the way, but by bilateral exchanges of threats, penalties, retaliations. Though the Brexiters talk of keeping Britain “open to the world”, their drive has been to extract the UK from the “rules-based order” of the EU and do the best they can with a series of bilateral deals. Many governments of the new right, however, see no possibility of getting anything better from bilateral jousting than they can get from the “rules-based order”. The common core of the new right is not so much distinctive economics as politico-ideological: a nationalist, populist, anti-migrant or anti-minority appeal.
Often, though to varying degrees, they recycle some of the social conservatism that was embedded in neoliberalism in its Thatcherite version but then replaced by a bland but real social liberalism (on issues like same-sex marriage, for example) in more mature versions of neoliberalism. They pick up on the resentments, not usually of the poorest, but of middling layers of society who feel themselves in relative decline.
The archetypal new right supporter is an older man of the majority ethnicity or religion. He is not necessarily poor. Trump’s voters, on average, were better off than Clinton’s. Brexit-voting in 2016 was higher in lower-income areas than in higher-income areas, but not necessarily or markedly higher among lower-income individuals than higher-income individuals (except at the very top of the income scale, where there was a big anti-Brexit majority). Academic analysis concluded that “rather than representing the ‘left out’, Brexit was the voice of [an] intermediate class who are in a declining financial position”.
This archetypal new right supporter is more likely to live in a smaller town than in the big cities with more multicultural and younger populations. Even if not badly off, he is less likely to have a formal educational credential like a university degree than younger, big-city people, and so more likely to feel resentment against the inflated “credentialism” widespread in neoliberalism. That archetypal supporter is rallied by slogans like “Make America Great Again” or, in Britain, “Take Back Control”.
We have seen over recent decades that new-right forces starting with such an apparently limited and declining demographic can expand from it to win wide support in some countries from younger people, women, minority ethnic or religious groups, and in big cities. Le Pen in France, and Salvini in Italy, have succeeded in that expansion. Evidence suggests that new-right support is not based on “realistic” calculations or estimates that the new-right politicians will bring this or that particular material relief.
The new-right current represented today by Trump has been growing or stable in US politics for decades now, although it has “delivered” almost nothing material to its base. Many, maybe most, pro-Brexiters today expect cash-in-hand loss rather than gain from Brexit. The new-right base, it seems, see their politics as a matter of “values”.
Way back in the Reagan years, a journalist was told by a Republican official at one of their conventions: “There’s not much these people like. But there’s a lot they hate”. People have been recruited to support the new right because it plausibly represents their hatred or distrust of migrants, minorities, “elites”, “intellectuals”, “experts”. Prejudices sunk deep into the subsoil of society, over decades or even centuries, have been drawn to the surface again, to flow vigorously in current politics.
That has happened because labour movements and the left have failed to offer adequate alternatives, both on the level of specific proposals to improve material conditions, and on the more fundamental level of “values”, ideals, general political culture. And that’s happened because our own political culture became so defensive and downbeat in the long decades of neoliberal hegemony, and as a consequence so cluttered and corrupted by the debris left over from Stalinism.
We joined the protests against Trump to signal our resolve to build a new socialist movement capable of defeating Trump and Trump-type politics on every front, and to link up with the young people new to politics who in future years will take the lead in that movement.