Over the last couple of weeks, the challenge of right-wing populist, Geert Wilders, in the Netherlands, had started to wane, ahead of this week's elections. The reality of Trump's election in the US, of Brexit in Britain, has begun to sink in to people across the globe, and begun to cause an oppositional reaction. As I have been arguing for a long time now, the material basis for the political centre, that existed for the last thirty years, has collapsed. It was, in any case, built on a fantasy of paper wealth that was presumed to grow each year like topsy, founded on nothing but the apparently magical properties of compound interest. That fantasy cannot be reconstructed, but nor can the economic policies that rested on it provide any solution for current problems, and so the basis for the political centre has collapsed with it. As the centre has collapsed, and continued to decay, so on the one hand it breeds right-wing populism on the one side, and left social-democracy on the other.
In the US, that groundswell that initially grew as part of the Occupy Movement, and that began to organise politically in support of Bernie Sanders, is now having to organise and focus even more to oppose Trump and the Republican administration. Across Europe, following Brexit, and the challenges being put up by Le Pen, Wilders, Grillo and other right-wing populists, a similar regroupment and reorganisation of social forces on the left is occurring. It takes a multitude of forms. In Britain, it is the Corbyn movement; in France it is the election of Hamon.
In other places it does not appear even as something particularly left. In Germany it is the return of Martin Schulz, as the SPD appears likely to overtake Merkel; in the Netherlands, the social-liberal, D66 are gaining ground on the basis of its pro-EU federalist programme. That is rather like the rise of the Liberals in Britain a few years ago, who were wrongly seen as being a progressive, modernist alternative to the Blair-right Labour Party, a delusion that has returned, in ghost form, in recent by-elections, as a response to the collapse into nationalism over Brexit of Corbyn's Labour Party.
No one should expect that workers and activists will arrive at the correct solutions immediately. As Engels once advised US socialists, mass working-class movements only develop the correct programmes by learning from their mistakes. Only when those old ideas that provided the basis for the last 30 years, represented by parties like the British Liberals, the Blair-rights, D66 and the other parties of the political centre are seen to offer no solution, and when equally the kind of national socialist politics represented by all those still influenced by the legacy of Stalinism, are also exposed, will workers begin to develop the kind of internationalist, social-democratic programme required to deal with their current problems, on the way to developing the socialist programme required to secure their futures.
The success of D66 in the Netherlands shows another aspect of this. In the 1930's, Trotsky warned the German Stalinists about the danger of them responding to the rise of the Nazis by adopting a nationalist stance themselves. He was right. As the German Communist Party adopted a wording very similar to the nationalistic language of the Nazis, instead of undermining the Nazis support amongst sections of the working-class, and those who felt “left behind”, it simply legitimised the Nazis arguments, and given the choice between the authentic nationalism of the Nazis and the adopted nationalism of the Stalinists, all those Germans who felt “left behind”, and who sought an easy scapegoat for their predicament, flocked to Hitler.
In Britain, Labour under Blair rather than addressing the actual problems of Scotland, which would have required adopting a more radical social-democratic programme that challenged the power of the money-lending capitalists, and would have undermined the asset price bubbles that created the paper wealth upon which his policies were based, instead appeased the rise of Scottish nationalism with devolution. But, instead of undermining Scottish nationalism, it necessarily fed it, and enabled it to grow, as the basic economic and social problems of Scotland remained unsolved, and allowed the SNP to simply argue, “we need even more power; we need to take back control.”
And the same has been true in the EU. The problems faced by workers across the EU, and most starkly seen in Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Ireland were problems that flowed from the adoption of those same centre-ground policies of the last thirty years, and the blowing up of asset price bubbles. Instead of dealing with those underlying economic problems, for example, by promoting real capital accumulation in places like Greece, to deal with underlying differences in labour productivity and competitiveness, conservative EU politicians papered over the cracks with yet more credit, financed by the blowing up of even bigger asset price bubbles. And when, right-wing populist parties, like UKIP, began to garner support by pointing to easy scapegoats for those problems, the centre-ground politicians simply pandered to it, calling for greater controls over migration, or less power for the EU, when, in fact, the opposite is what was required.
And, sections of the left were simply confused. Organisations like the SWP, jumped on the nationalist bandwagon. I was amused yesterday, to see SWP members standing outside Parliament with banners calling for support for EU citizens living in Britain, for their right to stay and so on. But, the SWP, in the referendum, were calling for Brexit, or as they ludicrously styled it, Lexit (Left Exit), which was always going to create the kind of carnival of reaction that has been seen since the referendum result, and was always going to create divisions between workers, and undermine the position of EU citizens living in Britain! The SWP lay down with dogs and seems surprised that they have woken up with fleas.
And, as I wrote a few days ago the ideas that underlie this have not themselves sprung from nowhere. The leading members of some of these SWP (or spin-off) organisations can regularly be seen on the Kremlin's international propaganda machine, RT, as can the mouthpieces of the remnants of the old Stalinist parties and their fellow travellers, like George Galloway. They sit cheek by jowl, metaphorically, with programmes that give vent to all sorts of right-wing politicians and ideologues like Max Keiser, who features assorted right-wing mouthpieces from the US, and Europe.
This foul brew of nationalist ideas ties together these populists and demagogues of both right and left. In the same way that the neo-cons fed off an external threat of Islamist terrorism, and Political Islam fed off the Islamophobia of the Neo-Cons, so the same thing is happening here. At the point that Wilders support in recent polls was waning, Erdogan has come to his support, by sending his Ministers to speak in the Netherlands, days before the General Election. Having used the failed coup in Turkey as the justification for strengthening his authoritarian grip on the country, he now seeks to tighten it even further.
By sending his Ministers to the Netherlands, to speak to the Turkish diaspora there, about something nothing to do with the current elections in the country, but to whip up nationalistic support amongst emigre Turks, for his increasingly authoritarian regime, at a time when he has been attacking governments across Europe, Erdogan knew that he would provoke a backlash, and he did. At the same time, Erdogan must have known that this would play into the hands of Wilders, enabling him to breathe life into his flagging campaign in the days before the election.