As we reach the end of 2018, Getintothis’ Jono Podmore reflects on the worrying political climate and suggests urgent change is necessary.
When Jair Bolsonaro assumes office as president of Brazil on New Year’s Day, the international rise to power of nationalist, right wing and neo-liberal forces will have reached a new a frightening peak.
At such a height and with such global coverage they are beginning to appear to be unshakable.
Bolsonaro and Donald Trump in the Americas. Vladimir Putin in Russia.
Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Saudia Arabia. Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. Shinzō Abe in Japan.
Emboldened crypto fascist parties all across Europe, including the perverse power the far-right ERG wields over the UK government.
These people represent not just political power at home but financial clout globally. Either billionaires themselves or maintained in power by pan-global finance, it is the great irony of our times (founded on greater deceit) that their nationalism is a tool in the global markets they profit from. And profit from at our expense without any recourse to national boundaries.
On Bolsonaro‘s election, Netanyahu, Israel’s equally, nationalist, bigoted and racist leader tweeted this: “I spoke this evening with the president-elect of Brazil, @jairbolsonaro. I congratulated him on his victory. I told him I’m certain his election will lead to a great friendship between our peoples and a strengthening of Brazil-Israel ties. We are waiting for his visit to Israel!”
This emboldened network of extremists is interwoven. Their support for each other functions in many different ways. From the direct tinkering in elections and referenda by Putin, to more subtle psychological changes in the electorate.
A Jewish friend of mine, Jack, died earlier this year. British, but as he’d spent many years in Israel, at his funeral his coffin was draped in the Israeli flag. Many of his friends had spent time in Israel and as Jack had, even served in the Israeli armed forces.
So over sandwiches and the odd drop of whisky after he’d been laid to rest, the conversation inevitably turned to politics. I mentioned that perfectly decent people had been unfairly accused of anti-Semitism as they had spoken out against the behaviour of Israel’s current atrociously right wing government – and perhaps the best way to deal with that issue was to work towards electing a more responsible government in Israel.
One response was that why should the Israeli government be singled out for criticism when everywhere else in the world had also lurched to the right.
There is logic in this, but it is a logic informed by the global right-wing network.
Subtly, moderate and even left wing Israelis are more prepared to countenance violent extremism in their government on the basis that Trump and Putin are in power too.
The big money knows how this functions and is happy to perpetuate it. Their grip on power appears to be snowballing.
As we know from the Thatcher years in the UK (the period when so many of the seeds of the currently parlous state of UK politics and public life were sown), a right wing government can in a relatively short space of time, with the support of the press, pull the agenda of the electorate alarmingly to the right.
Today is no different. Despite food banks, galloping poverty, social division, a shrinking economy and the fire sale of our public services, 42.4% of the population at the last election still voted Conservative – voting for the very party directly responsible for forcing these hardships upon us.
We see the prominence of the DUP in government bolstering the far right in Northern Ireland.
The extreme right has become a regular presence on the BBC as if to represent a “range of opinions”.
The Leave campaign, and Theresa May’s Hostile Environment policy before it, have soured British public life by legitimising racism and xenophobia to the point we see black players taunted by racists at football matches – behaviour I thought had been cast on to the ash heap of history years ago.
It’s getting close to home too. Where I work in Cologne, one of the most historic and established music conservatories in Europe I recently discovered to my horror that one of my colleagues is a vocal member of the AfD.
Alternative für Deutschland is a barely legal political party representing very little other than racism and Islamophobia.
Despite the name they offer no alternative, simply a return to the darkest episodes of the 20th century.
Sickeningly they managed to secure 94 seats (12.6% of the vote) at the last election. They are a kind of more successful UKIP profiting from migration fears in the East German electorate. And now, there is someone I’m directly connected to who is not only furthering their bigoted nonsense but is using the name of my establishment to legitimise his spiteful, irrational rubbish.
Not only that but his subject is Systematic Musicology, particularly Indian and West African music and culture. The administration are doing their best to contain him but the very laws of free speech the AfD would deny others are tying their hands. Ten or 15 years ago no German professor would be so bold as to publicly support the policies of the AfD.
So everywhere we look, from the POTUS to the football terraces, from the TV to our workplaces, we find extreme right-wing ideology becoming a bigger and bolder presence – and bringing with it the whiff of the gas chambers.
So how did we get here?
Here’s a UK timeline:
Brexit – Cambridge Analytica – May’s “Hostile Environment” – the murder of Jo Cox – the rise of UKIP and Nigel Farage – the wars in the middle-east and the refugee crises they generated – the financial crash of 2008 with the austerity measures and “quantative easing” that followed – New Labour’s capitulation to the worst of capitalism and pledges to curb immigration – the sale of national assets and sowing the seeds of distrust in the EU – Thatcher and the first wave of neo-liberalism.
This train of events didn’t just appear from nowhere.
Behind Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were ideologues like David and Charles Koch.
They have more wealth and power at their disposal than entire nations. In an essay in 1978, Charles Koch claimed: “Our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm” – effectively defining the pan-global billionaire’s club that is now so seemingly omnipotent.
They cemented their power by funding, among other shady organisations, the Tea Party that paved the way for the election of Trump in the U.S.
Going further back from the Koch brothers we find James McGill Buchanan funding neo-liberal and extremist enterprises; using his wealth to manipulate our democracies.
So the roots of this rise of the right run deep into our culture and politics. But it would be a powerless irrelevance, the laughable folly of a handful of foolish old capitalists, were it not for one thing that I missed from my timeline.
My father was born in 1932 and worked most of his life in middle management in the food industry. He bought his own home and supported a family of five.
When he retired he received a pension that kept him in his own home until his death 18 years later. He had free health care his entire life. His parents lived in a three bedroom council house. None of this would be possible today: to live his life would be beyond the income of some of the most highly paid among us.
So what’s changed? Are there fewer resources, less money to go around? Clearly not. The reason we have less is down to how that wealth is distributed. The shift of wealth to the already wealthy fits perfectly with the shift of the global political agenda to the right – perpetuating and fueling the problem itself.
What I missed from my timeline is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. This has had a greater and weirder impact than I for one foresaw at the time.
I’ve listened to too many first hand accounts and met too many innocent victims of the brutal dictatorships of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Communist China and the other Eastern European communist regimes to bemoan their passing. But what we now truly miss, to the point of national collapse as we’re now seeing in the UK, is the moderating influence the communist world had on capitalism.
Between 1945 and 1989 there WAS an alternative. An alternative that had Western capitalists baying for blood and stockpiling weapons. Culturally, fear of the communists was employed as a tool on the electorate, but where the fear was truly felt was in the boardrooms and golf clubs of the capitalists.
The communists were offering full employment with housing, health care and education as rights, not commodities to be traded on the stock exchanges at our expense. For the likes of the Koch brothers, this was a direct threat to their power base and had to be kept at bay.
So to maintain their power they had to offer a little of what the opponents were offering in order to keep the population from looking behind the iron curtain and seeing the communist states as utopias – worker’s paradises that we were shut out from.
But now, since 1989, there is no need to pretend to offer us a modicum of rights or dignity to keep us from siding with the opposition.
Transglobal capitalism is now without competition (and since 2008 can even get it’s debts paid by taxation) so it can push for greater growth and higher dividends without recourse to the needs of the people or the needs of the planet.
Fighting this head on is pointless. They have almost all the resources and media outlets under tight control. Any direct confrontation can be suppressed, sidelined or ridiculed.
But what can work is to create a functioning alternative – to organise society with a fairer distribution of wealth, to bring infrastructure under social control and to end the lunacy of infinite growth with finite means. This is not extreme thinking or opening the gates to dictatorship. Moreover, this is perhaps the only way civilisation can survive.
If as a nation the UK could be run (pardon the quote) for the many not the few, then the impact would not only be felt here, but across Europe and the world. We would drag the agenda to the left and the capitalists would have to loosen their grip on resources simply to survive – as they were forced to from 45 to 89. WE would be the alternative.
Bolsinaro‘s crowning in Brazil on New Years Day will be the peak of the far right’s hold on power, but from there let’s ensure it’s all downhill.
The writing is on the wall for the Trump administration as Robert Mueller is closing in. The Brexit disaster could lead to the total collapse of the UK government and the end of the Tories as a viable political party. A general election 2019 could see the UK become the alternative the world needs to survive – but to do this we need a Labour government and the UK back at the centre of the EU.
Things are moving quickly now, but could career even more out of control as the global far right begin to lose their grip. We must be prepared for that by offering the alternative of a Labour government.
There IS another way. Let’s show that to the world in 2019 and make it a genuinely Happy New Year.
But before that, let’s spend the holidays stocking up on good will and mince pies to be ready for the changes ahead – changes being the only thing we know for sure that there will be plenty of.