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The political and historical background to the US war drive against Russia.

22 Feb

Statement of the WSWS International Editorial Board

Also on Monday, the Russian government reported that two Ukrainian armored personnel carriers entered its borders and were destroyed, killing five Ukrainian soldiers. Russia announced that it was sending military forces into Eastern Ukraine, which has been targeted by massive military barrages from the Ukrainian government.

These developments mark a significant escalation in the development of the conflict in Ukraine into an all-out war involving Russia, the United States and the major European powers in the NATO military alliance.

Under conditions of crisis, it is necessary not to be swept up by the militarist propaganda that is promoted relentlessly in the media. For this, current developments must be placed in their broader historical context. The present conflict did not arise overnight. It is a culmination of a whole series of provocations and actions by American and European imperialism, which have worked relentlessly to expand NATO into Eastern Europe.

Six years ago, on February 18, 2016, the International Committee of the Fourth International published a statement, “Socialism and the Fight Against War,” which anticipated the current war danger with remarkable precision.

The WSWS is reposting portions of this statement below. The fact that the statement could foresee so clearly developments that are now erupting is itself a powerful refutation of the claims by the Biden administration that its war threats are an immediate response to “Russian aggression” and a defense of the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine. The statement should be carefully studied by all those who want to understand the driving forces behind the present crisis and what must be done to stop the danger of World War III.

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Excerpts from “Socialism and the Fight Against War,” Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International, February 18, 2016

Fifteen years after the United States launched the “war on terror,” the entire world is being dragged into an ever-expanding maelstrom of imperialist violence. The invasions and interventions organized by US imperialism have devastated Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. NATO is engaged in a massive rearmament program in preparation for war with Russia…

The world stands on the brink of a catastrophic global conflict. The statements of heads of capitalist governments grow increasingly bellicose. The proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria have drawn NATO and Russia closer to a full-scale confrontation… As in the years that preceded the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and World War II in 1939, political leaders and military planners are approaching the conclusion that a war between major powers is not a remote possibility, but, rather, highly probable and, perhaps, even inevitable…

The drive to war is centered in the efforts of the United States to maintain its position as the global hegemonic power. The dissolution in 1991 of the Soviet Union was seen as an opportunity to assert unrivaled US domination throughout the world. It was glorified by imperialist propagandists as the “end of history,” creating a “unipolar moment” in which the unchallengeable power of the United States would dictate a “New World Order” in the interests of Wall Street. The Soviet Union had encompassed a vast expanse of the globe, stretching from the eastern boundaries of Europe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the vast regions of Eurasia, occupied by a debilitated Russia and newly independent Central Asian states, were again “in play,” open for corporate exploitation and plunder. The Stalinist restoration of capitalism in China, its police-state repression of working-class resistance in 1989 and the opening up of “free trade zones” to transnational investment made available a vast reservoir of cheap labor…

The application of such geostrategic plans is evident in both Europe and Asia. A systematic buildup of American and allied military power is underway in the Indo-Pacific against China, while Russia has been confronted with NATO deployments in Eastern Europe and US pledges of military support to the ultra-nationalist regimes in the Baltic states and Ukraine. The American ruling class has drawn the conclusion that the nuclear-armed states in Beijing and Moscow must be brought to heel, sooner rather than later. Washington’s objective is to reduce China and Russia to the status of semi-colonial client states, control the “heartland,” and rule the world.…

Seventy years after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich, the German ruling class is once again demanding that its state assert itself as the unquestioned overlord of Europe and as a world power. In the face of deeply felt anti-war sentiments within the German population, Berlin is deploying military force to assert its interests in the Middle East and Africa. It is pouring money into rearmament, while apologetics for the crimes of the Nazi regime are being advanced across the political establishment, media and academia, with the aim of justifying the revival of German imperialist ambitions…

British imperialism, for its part, sees in the US decline an opportunity to expand the still significant global operations of the banks and finance houses based in the City of London. France is striving to regain its grip over its former colonial dominions in North and West Africa…

The crisis of the capitalist nation-state system gives rise to two irreconcilable perspectives. Imperialism strives to overcome the clash of economic and geostrategic interests inherent in the capitalist nation-state system through the victory of one world hegemonic power over all its rivals. This is the aim of imperialist geostrategic calculations, and its inevitable outcome is global war.

Opposing the geopolitics of the capitalist class, the international working class is the social force that objectively constitutes the mass base for world socialist revolution, which signifies an end to the nation-state system as a whole and the establishment of a global economy based on equality and scientific planning. Imperialism seeks to save the capitalist order through war. The working class seeks to resolve the global crisis through social revolution. The strategy of the revolutionary party develops as the negation of imperialist nation-state geopolitics. The revolutionary party, as Trotsky explained, follows “not the war map but the map of the class struggle.”…

The Russian government is the representative of the oligarchs who emerged from the Stalinist bureaucracy after it dismantled the Soviet state and abolished nationalized property relations. Its promotion of “Great Russian” nationalism is the extreme outcome of Stalinism itself, which was a violent and counterrevolutionary repudiation of the internationalist program of Marxism…

World economy and world politics have entered a new stage. The period of capitalist triumphalism that opened up with the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe and reached fever pitch with the Stalinist dissolution of the USSR is over. The speculative house of cards that has underwritten the parasitic wealth of the ruling class is collapsing. The fall of stock market valuations is not only deflating the size of portfolios, but shattering the reputations and credibility of pro-capitalist theorists and political leaders.

The Democratic Party spearheads war drive against Russia; No More War!

2 Feb

The Biden administration and the Democratic Party are spearheading a campaign for war against Russia that is bringing the entire globe to the brink of World War III.

On CNN’s Sunday television interview program “State of the Union,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the ranking Republican on the committee, James Risch of Idaho, appeared side by side to demonstrate the bipartisan unity of the two big business parties against Russia.

Menendez dismissed the warning by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that US talk about an imminent Russian invasion of his country was unwarranted. “He wants to create a semblance of calm as it relates to his economy,” the Democrat said, “So I understand that.”

He hailed the bipartisan legislation authorizing the Biden administration to impose “the mother of all sanctions… that ultimately would crush Russia’s economy, and the continuing lethal aid that we are going to send, which means Putin has to decide how many body bags of Russian sons… are going to return to Russia.”

“This is beyond Ukraine,” Menendez warned. “We cannot have a Munich moment again. Putin will not stop with Ukraine if he believes that the West will not respond.”

The top congressional Democrat on foreign policy was only one of dozens of Democrats comparing Putin to Hitler and advocating measures that lead inexorably to a military confrontation between Russia and the United States, the countries which possess the two largest arsenals of nuclear weapons.

There are two interrelated political and social processes at work in the increasingly hysterical campaign against Russia: 1) The disintegration of the anti-war faction of the Democratic Party that emerged during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War; and 2) the pro-imperialist evolution of the affluent middle class, which, beyond Wall Street and the military itself, forms a principal social base for the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party has always been a party of the American capitalist class. A Democrat was president and commander-in-chief in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the first half of the Vietnam War. But as the mass antiwar movement gathered strength in the course of the 1960s, the Democratic Party took on the role of co-opting and containing antiwar sentiment within the framework of bourgeois politics.

A substantial faction of the Democratic Party came out against the Vietnam War, associated with figures like Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee J. William Fulbright (Arkansas); Indiana Senator Vance Hartke; Minnesota Senator and 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy; Idaho Senator Frank Church; Connecticut Senator Abe Ribicoff; and Tennessee Senator Al Gore, Sr. In 1972, South Dakota Senator George McGovern won the Democratic Party nomination for president on an anti-war program.

Senator Church headed the Church Committee, established in 1975 to investigate abuses and illegal activities carried out by US intelligence agencies throughout the world. Even into the 1980s, most Democrats opposed US military intervention against the Nicaraguan revolution and other radical movements in Central America. As late as January 1991, 45 Democrats in the Senate voted against the resolution authorizing George H. W. Bush to launch the first Gulf War against Iraq, although 10 supported it, just enough to ensure passage by a 52-47 margin.

The administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) marked a significant shift. Clinton picked Al Gore, Jr., one of the 10 Democratic senators who had voted for the Gulf War, as his running mate, and his administration used military force aggressively in Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Haiti. When Gore became the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, he chose another hawkish senator, Joe Lieberman, as his running mate.

By 2002, when the Authorization for Use of Military Force came before the Senate, authorizing the administration of George W. Bush to wage a second US war against Iraq, the balance within the Democratic Party had been reversed.

The vote among Senate Democrats was 29-21 in favor of the resolution, compared to 45-10 against the equivalent resolution in 1991. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who backed the resolution and managed its passage, was Joe Biden of Delaware—now the US president. When mass antiwar demonstrations erupted in America and throughout the world, the Democratic Party turned its back on them and embraced the war drive of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell.

Two more significant steps to the right followed. In the 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama attacked Hillary Clinton incessantly over her 2002 vote for the Iraq war. He was silent about his own close ties to the US intelligence agencies, which personified the deep connections between the Democratic Party and the Wall Street-military-intelligence complex.

President Obama quickly ditched the antiwar rhetoric of candidate Obama, using US military power just as aggressively as previous administrations. He escalated the war in Afghanistan as he carried out the drawdown in Iraq at the pace set by Bush, and launched new wars via NATO in Libya and via Islamic proxies in Syria and Yemen. Obama then sent US forces back into Iraq against ISIS. US forces conducted drone missile warfare on an ever wider geographic scale, from Pakistan through Central Asia and the Middle East and across North Africa.

The Obama administration was part of a broader elevation within the Democratic Party of candidates with a background in the intelligence agencies and the military, whom the World Socialist Web Site refers to as the CIA Democrats.

The final chapter in the Democratic Party’s abandonment of any pretense of opposition to war came in the course of the Trump administration. The principal, even the sole, axis of the Democratic opposition to Trump was the anti-Russia campaign, based on the bogus claim that Trump was either a Russian stooge or an outright agent of Vladimir Putin. This campaign led to the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which turned up no evidence, and then to the first impeachment of Trump, based on his pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens by withholding a shipment of US weapons, which disrupted long-running US plans to escalate the conflict with Russia.

Alongside and connected to the transformation of the Democratic Party is the pro-imperialist shift that took place in the middle class, particularly its most privileged layers. As it emerged in the 1960s, the antiwar movement was dominated by sections of the middle class, particularly on the campuses. The end of the military draft in 1973 was part of a broader strategy of the ruling class to integrate a section of the middle class into the political establishment, including through the cultivation of identity politics.

Beyond the corporate and financial aristocracy, a section of the upper middle class—the top 5 or 10 percent of American society—has enriched itself in the course of the four-decades-long Wall Street boom, which is dependent on the dominant global position of American capitalism. The Balkan War of the 1990s, promoted by the Clinton administration as a war for “human rights,” was a turning point. As the WSWS wrote at the time:

The objective modus operandi and social implications of the protracted stock market boom have enabled imperialism to recruit from among sections of the upper-middle class a new and devoted constituency. The reactionary, conformist and cynical intellectual climate that prevails in the United States and Europe—promoted by the media and adapted to by a largely servile and corrupted academic community—reflects the social outlook of a highly privileged stratum of the population that is not in the least interested in encouraging a critical examination of the economic and political bases of its newly-acquired riches.

These social processes find their reflection in all the official institutions of the ruling class. In the media, one cannot find a single voice that questions, let alone opposes, the official government lies being used to justify war against Russia from a left-wing standpoint. There is no equivalent to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who famously declared his opposition to the Vietnam War in the wake of the 1968 Tet offensive. Among the well-paid media talking heads, as well as the privileged layers in academia, imperialism finds an absolutely devoted constituency.

Pseudo-left organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America play a central role in supporting American imperialism and channeling opposition behind the Democratic Party. The liberal magazine American Prospect reported on the weekend that in response to questions about US policy in Ukraine, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib either declined to answer or did not return calls.

Such transformations are a worldwide phenomenon. In Germany, the Green Party, formed by environmentalists and antiwar activists in the 1970s, finally came to power as part of a coalition government in 1998, and the Green foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, a former radical “street fighter,” spearheaded the dispatch of troops to the former Yugoslavia in the first deployment of German forces outside the country since the Third Reich. Similar political metamorphoses took place in France, Britain, Italy, Canada, Australia, Spain and other countries.

Opposition to war is and must be centered in the working class. Opinion polls show overwhelming popular opposition to US intervention in any military operations in Ukraine or Eastern Europe. But this opposition finds no expression within the official US two-party system. The struggle against imperialist war cannot be waged through the Democratic Party or through any of the institutions of the capitalist political establishment. It requires the independent mobilization of the working class, on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program.

International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

Patrick Martin31 January 2022

Neoliberalism Has Always Been a Threat to Democracy

5 Jun

BYALDO MADARIAGA

More than just a set of free-market policies, neoliberalism has always sought to alter society’s balance of power in favor of bosses. Its assault on democracy and undermining of unions is now playing straight into the hands of the far right.

Neoliberalism has been with us now for more than three-quarters of a century. Since the Mont Pelerin Society’s efforts to reinvent old-fashioned liberalism in the 1940s, neoliberalism has taken various forms, be it the Chicago School and German ordoliberalism, the Pinochet-led Chilean coup of 1973, the Thatcher–Reagan revolutions, the IMF and World Bank–driven structural adjustments, or the European Third Way.

The topic of neoliberalism has produced a veritable cottage industry of commentary, which has only expanded in the last decade as pundits try to make sense of an increasingly contested and slippery term. Many of those who write about neoliberalism are now extolling what they believe to be its last waltz on the world stage: amid transformations brought about by the 2008–9 financial crisis, the rise of protectionist authoritarian governments, and the need for large-scale public policy solutions in the age of COVID-19, many have proclaimed that neoliberalism is indeed on its last legs.

But is that really the case? Or is neoliberalism simply lumbering on — in even more virulent forms?

As I have argued elsewhere, neoliberalism isn’t dying but is instead undergoing important transformations that make it especially dangerous for today’s democracy. Indeed, it’s this very threat to democracy that is the key to understanding neoliberalism’s resilience: its capacity to endure crises and rival systems is not so much a consequence of the enduring appeal of free markets and economic competition. Instead, neoliberalism has survived by altering the very foundations of our democratic institutions and organizations.

In doing so, neoliberalism has allied with forces — dictators and technocrats — equally contemptuous of democracy. This core aspect of the neoliberal project is what is setting the stage for a new breed of radical right leaders across the globe. Today, there is an emerging alliance between neoliberals and big capital drawing on the support of nationalists, social conservatives, and authoritarian populists. It is this alliance that may well pose one of the greatest threats to democratic politics.

Neoliberalism Is a Political Project

It’s a political project that aims not only to reduce the power of the state but, more concretely, to undermine the efforts of any collective actor.

For many, neoliberalism is a set of economic ideas that touts the superiority of markets as a form of social coordination among individuals. Read in this way, the thinking is that neoliberalism is capable of seducing, convincing, and ultimately prevailing over rival ideas like state planning. For those who subscribe to this definition of neoliberalism, suggestions that the state is making a “comeback” are taken as proof that the pendulum is swinging back toward a social consensus that rejects neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is thus commonly understood as the ideology that puts markets over states and individuals over societies. However, decades of research have proved what Philip Mirowski calls the “double truth” behind the neoliberal doctrine: while offering freedom of choice and liberation from oppressive state regulations, neoliberals were always aware of the need for a strong, very often coercive state.

This has meant two things. First, neoliberals were less interested in markets per se (and even less in market competition) than in what could be achieved through them. Though neoliberals usually aim to eliminate any state intervention that interferes with the free decisions of private enterprise, they are not opposed to all forms of state intervention. Neoliberals are, of course, less concerned with forms of state intervention that redistribute to core business groups (through generous tax exemptions or massive bailouts during financial crises) than they are with the kind of intervention that mandates redistributive measures for the working class. Similarly, neoliberals vow to extend markets and market logics to all forms of social and political life but are less concerned if this ends up leading to unfair competition or outright monopoly.

Second, it is now well understood that neoliberals need strong states to impose — and enforce — their free markets, even if it takes the form of outright repressive state measures.

Neoliberalism, then, is much more than just a set of ideas about free markets. It’s a political project that aims not only to reduce the power of the state but, more concretely, to undermine the efforts of any collective actor — be it states, labor unions, political parties — to interfere with the decisions of private enterprises. This project to alter the balance of power is the key to its resilience.

Neoliberalism Versus Democracy

Neoliberalism’s assault on union organizations and collective bargaining rights is well documented. Less so is the way that our political institutions have been designed so as to block any credible political opposition.

To understand the relation between neoliberalism and democracy, we need to look to neoliberals’ age-old fear of the tyranny of the property-less majority and the possibility that their democratic ambitions might impinge on economic liberty. James Buchanan, one of the most revered exponents of the neoliberal tradition, explained this neatly in his famous coauthored book, Democracy in Deficit.

There, his focus was not on free competition, proper market operations, or even on criticizing state intervention. It was on “the political institutions through which economic policy must be implemented.” Applying this logic, Jaime Guzmán, the mastermind behind Chile’s Pinochet-inherited political and economic architecture, reasoned that political institutions should be arranged in a way that “if the adversaries were to govern, they [would be] constrained to take actions not so different from those that one would desire.” As explained by Walter Lippmann, the grandfather of the Mont Pelerin Society, “the crux of the question is not whether the majority should rule but what kind of majority should rule.”

Neoliberalism constrains democratic politics by altering the balance of power among its supporters and opponents with the ultimate aim of constricting available space for politics and policy. From a study of neoliberalism and democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe, we can identify three concrete mechanisms at work.

The first involves creating a new business class by privatizing former state assets and allowing new business opportunities in the now deregulated sectors. It has long been held that the logic of dismantling the social state was all about maximizing efficiency and growth. However, in countries where neoliberalism has thrived, targeted privatization and deregulation primarily aimed to create or empower those businesses most likely to lend support to the broader neoliberal project.

This was especially the case in the financial sector, among competitive exporting firms and multinationals. Businesses with vested interests in neoliberalism’s perpetuity have used the structural advantage afforded them to push back against reformist attempts, ranging from taxationindustrial policy, and social measures to environmental and labor protections.

Second, neoliberalism has survived by keeping anti-neoliberal political forces from gaining a foothold. Neoliberalism’s assault on union organizations and collective bargaining rights is well documented. Less so is the way that our political institutions have been designed so as to block any credible political opposition. This has included increasing the power of the executive to circumvent more representative parliaments, the institutionalization of nonelected veto players able to overrule majority decisions, and more. The most successful of these tactics have been those affecting patterns of political representation, such as electoral engineering and gerrymandering.

This was the case in Chile, where in 1989 the electoral system and district magnitudes (the number of elected representatives in a given district) were designed in order to give the Right one-half of all representatives in parliament (up from its customary one-third). It was this move that kept the Left without representation for twenty years, while pushing the more moderate Left into a long-term alliance with centrist forces that watered down their otherwise reformist stances. Together with required supra-majoritarian thresholds to change basic features of Chile’s Pinochet-designed institutions, these actions were key in preventing any meaningful reform during four consecutive center-left governments during the 1990s and 2000s.

In other cases, efforts to limit representation included the outright disenfranchisement of large swaths of the population. This was the case in Estonia, where neoliberalism found common cause with the most radical expressions of the nationalist independence movement against the former Soviet Union. Neoliberals successfully exploited the Estonian people’s fears that the large Russian population in the country (about 40 percent in 1989) would block independence to leave ethnic Russians without voting rights. And they did so all while pushing through one of the most far-reaching neoliberal projects implemented in Eastern Europe.

As a consequence, those most hurt by these reforms either did not have the right to vote or voted on nationalistic, not socioeconomic, grounds. Eventually, this prevented the forming of social democratic forces capable of at least tempering the neoliberal onslaught, as was the case in most other Eastern European countries.

Finally, neoliberals have insulated policymakers from popular demands through what’s sometimes termed “constitutionalized lock-in,” meaning that key aspects of a country’s economic policy are kept out of reach of democratic deliberation, lest they be in Buchanan and Richard E. Wagner’s words, “left adrift in the sea of democratic politics.” Independent central banks and fiscal policy rules, for example, are key instruments in keeping monetary and fiscal policy away from democratic deliberation. Anchoring inflation as the key macroeconomic objective reduced the capacity of central banks to use monetary policy to soften economic crises and privilege employment considerations over price stability ones. Conversely, fiscal rules like balanced-budget procedures severely reduced government’s overall spending capacity. In addition, the establishment of high constitutional thresholds to change these arrangements locked key aspects of elected government’s economic policy tool kit out of their reach.

In neo-Gramscian terms, a multiparty social bloc rooted in specific business sectors has successfully defended the neoliberal project thanks to these concrete economic and institutional resources reducing the space available for politics and policy. And the direct consequence of this has been a stark decline in the representative character of our democracies.

Neoliberalism and Populist Reason

In the 1970s to ’80s, neoliberal ideals were aligned with authoritarian doctrines to create some of the most sweeping reforms — and dictatorships — the world had ever seen.

Considering neoliberalism’s hostile relation to basic democratic institutions, it is not hard to understand the elective affinity between neoliberalism and today’s radical populist right. In contrast to what Wendy Brown has argued, the radical right is not emerging “from the ruins” of neoliberalism but from the concrete possibilities that arise when the core tenets of neoliberalism are “hybridized” with populism.

How did this hybrid emerge? In the 1970s to ’80s, neoliberal ideals were aligned with authoritarian doctrines to create some of the most sweeping reforms — and dictatorships — the world had ever seen. Later, during the 1990s and 2000s, neoliberals conquered the hearts and minds of technocratic “third way” elites wanting to impose market discipline on irresponsible governments. Similarly today, the core principles of neoliberalism are prone to form alliances with the radical populist right.

These alliances are not based on a shared interest in market freedoms but on a common contempt for democratic politics and the perceived need to further limit representative democratic institutions (not to mention, an individualized conception of the social). Hence, despite claims that populism and neoliberalism are antagonistic tendencies, populist attempts to hamper basic democratic liberties and institutions actually reinforce neoliberalism’s antidemocratic project.

Almost everywhere, neoliberalism has been associated with enhanced executive authority and the delegation of democratic power to unaccountable bureaucratic institutions. Often, neoliberals have altered electoral systems and patterns of political representation to favor “economic liberty,” similar to how the radical populist right undermines democracy today.

The radical populist right does embrace a moralizing and nationalistic worldview, which would appear to be at odds with neoliberalism’s individualism and incredulous stance toward society in general. Whenever neoliberals have made appeals for broad social support, it has usually come in the form of the potential benefits of mass individual consumption brought about by freer markets. Populist mobilization, by contrast, has been said to re-politicize an increasingly apathetic and individualized society.

However, as Melinda Cooper’s research has shown, there are strong connections between neoliberalism and social conservatism. And as Wendy Brown reminds us, Hayekian-style neoliberalism aimed at protecting traditional hierarchies as much as it did economic liberties. Chief among these hierarchies were family values and the traditional division of domestic labor. This resonates strongly with the populist right’s drive to rally around the figure of the traditional family.

If we look beyond Western Europe and the founding OECD countries, the connections between neoliberalism and another core characteristic of the radical right, nativism, are nothing new. Nationalistic chauvinism was already present in the 1990s neoliberal-cum-populist leaders of Latin America and Eastern Europe, the paradigmatic cases being Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Lech Wałęsa in Poland — as well as Estonia.

What lies behind these elective affinities is an individualized conception of society that makes for easy appeals to a vacuous notion of “the people.” “The people,” in right-wing populism, is not a foundational unit of society nor is it based on a common set of bonds; it is constructed through an individual’s internal identification with the populist leader’s discourse. This is why Ernesto Laclau calls this construction an “empty signifier” that can be filled with a diversity of unspecific conservative, authoritarian, and nativist appeals. Observing the rise of a new type of radical right in 1960s Germany, the philosopher Theodor Adorno noticed precisely that their appeal rested not so much on ideas like the demos or the nation but rather on an individual’s authoritarian personality traits and a longing for authority and discipline. In that same sense, while the populist “re-politization of society” may lead to angry mobs, it does not give way to the type of organized collective power that the proprietor class truly fears.

In fact, populists have not empowered the workers they vow to protect, much less reduced the power of the business class in general, nor finance in particular. If anything, the alliance between neoliberals and populists seems to be about wresting control of the neoliberal project from third way technocratic elites: whereas third way technocrats may begrudgingly recognize the excesses of neoliberalism, increase social protections, and allow for greater accountability from technocratic bodies, true neoliberals understand that their project rests on the continued limitation of representative democratic institutions.

Neoliberalism’s alliance with the radical populist right is hastening the decline of democratic politics and stoking a desire for authority, order, and social conservatism, while also unleashing capital’s tendency toward unbounded accumulation. Whether neoliberalism and the radical populist right can manage to form a stable hybrid will depend on structural and institutional factors — that is to say, on politics. It is only once we recognize the concrete economic, political, and institutional mechanisms that make neoliberalism so resilient that we can begin to sketch some ideas about how to halt its forward march while defending democracy and equality.

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Aldo Madariaga is an assistant professor of political science at the Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile and associate researcher of the Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies. He is the author of Neoliberal Resilience.

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