The Growing Right-Wing Threat
R Arun Kumar
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ON August 13th, a political tremor shook Argentina. Javier Milei, a far right politician pushed behind the contenders of the two established political parties in Argentina and emerged as the leader in the presidential primaries. Milei’s electoral gains were immediately acknowledged by almost all the far-right leaders of Latin America.
The rising popularity of Milei in Argentina is one among the many instances that point towards the growing right-wing forces throughout the world. In Germany, we find the Alternative for Duestchland (AfD) gaining in strength. In Israel, the far-right government is using its hold over State power to push the country towards religious orthodoxy and bigotry. In France, we have witnessed the consolidation of the right-wing forces, in defence of the police officer who had shot dead a man of colour. In the US, the continued support for Trump and the attacks on progressive legislations from the judiciary indicates the sway of right-wing ideas over the people. All these developments vindicate our assessment that we are living in a period which is witnessing a political rightward shift.
SOCIAL POLARISATION IN ISRAEL
Israel has been making headlines due to extensive protests against a judicial reform bill proposed by the far-right government under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu. The protests led by the majority fearing the executive takeover of the judiciary, killing its independence were met with equally vociferous protests by the religious orthodoxy and other conservative sections in the society. Apart from their political views, most of these people are mobilised around the idea of protecting religious orthodoxy. Women’s rights have been the first in line of their attack.
A crucial element of the extreme rights’ judicial reform bill (apart from an attack on judicial independence) is an attack on women’s legal rights. The bill substantially increases the powers of the religious courts on the issues related to marriage, divorce, abortion, inheritance, etc. These religious, rabbinic courts follow Halacha, Jewish law, and do not allow women to be judges or occupy social spaces. Female witnesses are barred from testifying, even in the cases of domestic abuse. Divorces will be difficult to obtain.
The influence of extreme right forces is giving rise to the demand of segregation of public places. Women are now being denied to travel along with men in railway compartments. Recently, news reports have appeared about how a woman was pushed out of the train as she tried to enter a compartment. The male passengers refused to allow her to enter. Women are forced to use a separate, rear entry to board a bus and forced to sit in the back. Bus drivers are refusing to allow women to board their buses, because of the way they dress. Women bus drivers are not being allowed to drive. In public events, women are made to sit separately. Men and women are being segregated in educational institutions. Public libraries are having separate reading hours for men and women. Orthodox individuals are insisting that women should not be running for office.
As a result of such discriminatory policies, Israel dropped from 60th place to 83rd this year in the global gender index and in women’s political empowerment, it had dropped from 61st to 96th position. This is what right-wing politics does to women’s rights. Though Netanyahu said that the expansion of religious courts will not take place, the far-right ideas of discrimination are gaining ground.
US: JUDICIARY’S PUSH TO THE RIGHT
In the US, the courts are increasingly pronouncing verdicts that are rolling back years of gains that were made by civil rights movement. Women’s rights, affirmative action and rights of sexual minorities are coming under increasing attack. This is made possible by the conservative take-over of the various judicial positions. Under Trump administration, vacancies in judiciary were filled on the basis of their ideological positions, rather than legal merit. This is wreaking the already fragmented social system in the US.
The US Supreme Court in June ruled that the race-conscious admissions programmes were unlawful. This ruling effectively curtails affirmative action in colleges and universities around the country. The recent Supreme Court verdict overturns the earlier verdict of the same court (2016), wherein affirmative action was upheld as valid. The present ruling comes in the background of growing attacks on Afro-Americans in various cities and increasing instances of racial discrimination.
The bias of the courts can also be assessed from the manner in which the police officers who were involved in the killing of Afro-Americans were treated. In many cases, those police officers were either acquitted or sentenced lightly. None of them have been punished for culpable homicide. This in itself showcases the deep-rooted bias in the society, where racism still pervades. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting note: “The court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society”.
In another instance, the Supreme Court of the US has ruled against the $430 billion student debt forgiveness plan that was intended to provide relief to more than 40 million students who took loans for pursuing their studies. The student debt relief plan was challenged in the court by Republican led governments. The Supreme Court, where a majority of the judges share conservative ideas, struck down this relief plan and upheld the neoliberal ideological bias of the conservatives. The dissent to this judgement by Elena Kagan exposes this: “The plaintiffs in this case are six states that have no personal stake in the secretary’s loan forgiveness plan. They are classic ideological plaintiffs: they think the plan a very bad idea….”.
The other major issue that exposed the conservative hold on the courts was the judgement ruling against abortions and another on providing services for same-sex marriages. As of January 2023, abortion has been banned in 14 US states and the Supreme Court too has banned it in June 2022. The regressive position taken by the US Supreme Court by essentially dismantling 50 years of protection to the right to abortion puts millions of women and girls at serious risk. The rights of women are being eroded in the name of religious beliefs. The same is true for the attack on the rights of the LGBTQ.
Mike Pence, a former vice president in the Trump administration had openly stated: “Religious freedom is the bedrock of our constitution and today’s decision reminds us that we must elect leaders who will defend that right and appoint judges who support religious freedom”. What Pence refers to as religious freedom here is the refusal to acknowledge the right to choice.
These abortion bans in many states have been accompanied by a rapid erosion of the right to privacy, as law enforcement officials are increasingly relying on electronic data to track those seeking abortions or those who aid and abet them. They are accessing much of this data without a warrant. This is an example of eroding democratic rights.
A political indicator of the growing right turn in US society is the persisting support to Donald Trump and his conspiracy theories. In spite of his defeat and indictment on various counts, surveys point out that Trump enjoys considerable support among the people of the US. He still is considered as a major contender for the upcoming presidential election next year. All the challengers to Trump from the Republican party are projecting themselves as more conservative than him. This shows the extent of right-wing influence over US citizens.
ALTERNATIVE FOR DUESTCHLAND IN GERMANY
According to a survey conducted in late June in Germany, all the major mainstream political parties are facing anger from the people. The ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Liberals (FDP) would now win only 38 per cent of the vote, while, the right-wing party, Alternative for Germany (AfD) would gain 20 per cent on its own, more than any of the three parties currently in power, including chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD. At the federal level this is the highest the AfD has ever polled in its ten-year history. The AfD is particularly popular in the eastern states, where it currently polls as the strongest political party.
In order to understand why these right-wing parties are growing around the world, a survey done in Germany could well be an indicator. A significant proportion of AfD supporters say they would vote for it out of dissatisfaction with the other parties, and not because they actually agree with its far-right beliefs. This is true in many countries, where the major political parties – both the conservatives and social democrats – are proving to be no different in terms of the policies they are pursuing. The people are identifying these policies as responsible for their problems and as they do not see either of them as an alternative, are flocking to the far-right parties that are campaigning on issues like racism, immigration and Islamophobia. These parties are successfully ‘othering’ people’s issues and winning their support.
As the survey in Germany points out, a deep sense of uncertainty prevails among the people. 77 per cent of those polled say they are worried about the overall situation in the country. Inflation, climate change and immigration top the list of their concerns. It is these concerns and the failure of the government (only 25 per cent are satisfied with the performance of the government) that is pushing them to trust the campaign of the far-right parties and support them.
ECONOMIC HARDSHIPS: THE MAIN REASON
If we look at the situation in Argentina and its grim economic scenario, it becomes all the more clear. Year-on-year inflation is above 115 per cent, one in four Argentines is living in poverty. The BBC reports that the local currency peso has plummeted to such an extent that football fans from rival countries have torn up peso bills to taunt Argentine fans. This kind of economic hardship is pushing people to turn to far-right politicians like Milei.
Exploiting people’s economic hardships, politicians like Milei are unleashing venomous hatred into the society. They are campaigning against women’s equality, environmental protection and other social welfare measures. In a campaign, Milei had openly stated: “Culture ministry – out! Environment – out! Ministry of women and gender diversity – out! Public works – out! Science – out! Labour and social security – out! Ministry of education and indoctrination – out!”
This is classic right-wing campaign, where women, science, education, culture and social security are openly targeted. People in Argentina are falling for this ‘othering’ campaign as both the Peronist party and the conservatives have failed in governance.
The countries discussed here are reflective of broad contours throughout the world. They are from all the regions – Latin America, North America, Europe, and West Asia. Though Africa is absent, more or less this happens to be the trend there too. The question before us is – this is the reality, which is not to the interests of either humankind or planet earth, but what is the alternative?
The alternative to the growth of right-wing parties lies in the struggle against the policies that are giving birth to such ideas and parties. In Spain, the recently concluded general elections show that the far-right party Vox, not only failed to increase its support, but actually lost its votes and seats. Similarly, in Greece the extreme-right Golden Dawn, which has splintered into various fragments to escape persecution, failed to garner popular support in the recently concluded elections. On the contrary, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) had increased both its vote share and also representation in the parliament. The consistent struggles led by the KKE and working class organisation PAME had contributed to their increased strength and also prevented the emergence of right-wing forces in strength.
Experience shows that wherever class struggles take the lead, together with a proper ideological perspective exposing the ruling parties, the right-wing forces can be contained. We are witnessing a tussle between Left and Right in various countries, if not in an organised form, at least at the popular level. It is in this context we have to assess the phenomenon of the growth of right-wing forces – in the US, where efforts to unionise too are gaining currency; the strikes taking place in the UK; the struggles in France against labour reforms. Who will triumph in this struggle will ultimately be based on the commitment and resolve of the contending forces. For the Left to march ahead, mere ideological superiority is not enough. Together with ideological commitment, consistent and sustained struggles on socio-economic issues confronting people are all the more important.
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