Norms and Values
New Offensive of the Ultra-Right: Argentina, Netherlands, Then Everywhere?

The refusal to support the old elites in favour of both right-wing and left-wing non-systemic politicians can be seen working in tandem all around the world. The key thing for voters is precisely the protest against the old system, and who they choose in retaliation, right or left, is determined only by the specifics of the moment, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.

The results of recent elections in Argentina and the Netherlands record the dramatic success of right-wing populism; one might even say, ultra-right forces. What are the reasons for this? To what extent can we say that these are not isolated cases that simply coincided in time, but the manifestation of a new trend?

In his inauguration speech, the new President of Argentina, Javier Milei, addressed the connection between history and the future. He passionately proclaimed the arrival of a new era in the life of Argentine society. He directly compared his election to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Milei also evoked the “golden era” in the second half of the 19th century, when, according to him, Argentina was ruled by his soulmates. Milei then disparaged the hundred years of humiliation and shame that followed. All of Argentina’s troubles, he said, were due to this shift away from right-wing libertarianism. Now he promised that everything in the end would be fine. But not immediately. Since the previous rulers had driven the country’s economy to the brink, Milei spent a long time in his speech pouring out figures reflecting financial catastrophe and collapse. He also persistently pursued the idea that the only recipe for resolving the situation would be shock therapy in its most severe form. This is exactly what he intends to carry out, without delay. Therefore, at first it will be difficult, and even very difficult, dear citizens of Argentina. But then happiness will definitely come.

Residents of countries that have already experienced right-wing neo-liberal shock therapy in their recent history (including Russia, with the shock therapy of Gaidar and Chubais in the 1990s) will only smile bitterly at this. The hardships during the course of shock therapy prescribed by Milei will definitely be monstrous, but whether deliverance will come is far from certain. History, despite Milei’s speech, does not know many cases of successful shock therapy. There are quite enough counter-examples when such steps led to social catastrophe. Whatever the outcome, shock therapy always leads to severe psychological trauma for an entire generation. The Argentines will now have to re-enter these waters. We can only pray for them and wish them perseverance and good luck.

In general, it should be noted that when the pendulum of electoral preferences swings sharply towards non-systemic parties, then almost always one of the main reasons for this is society’s fatigue with the old elites, who during their decades in power were engaged only in hypocritical self-glorification and were often mired in corruption. Corruption is now commonly referred to by the politically correct term “revolving door” between government and business. This institutionalised lobbying is essentially no different from real corruption, but for some reason it is called differently and therefore is not prosecuted by law in any way.

In such cases, people are ready to vote for any other candidate, no matter how populist and unattainable their programme might look in reality. With a new face, people may be pinning their last hopes for correcting the situation on conditions where the people have no confidence in the old elites. By the way, this “last resort choice” towards a non-systemic candidate does not always favour ultra-right forces. Here everything depends on the specifics of the balance of power in a particular country. Recently, we have seen not only the successes of the right, but also, for example, the resounding victory of the left-wing candidate Bernardo Arevalo in the presidential elections in Guatemala. However, the elites are now trying in every possible way to prevent him from coming to power through various legal tricks. The role of lawyers as enemies of democracy, in our opinion, here becomes quite obvious.
The Global Revolt
Report: Global ‘Rightist Revolt’: Trumpism and Its Foundations
Oleg Barabanov, Boris Kagarlitsky, Dmitry Efremenko, Vasily Koltashov, Kirill Telin
Since 2015, the Valdai Discussion Club has been studying global alternatives to the traditional neoliberal mainstream and their impact upon the world’s transformation. The main collision in the march of globalization is being shifted to domestic conflicts inside the West.

Several years ago, in a completely different geopolitical era, during the Trump administration and when Syriza held power in Greece, the Valdai Discussion Club published two special reports on this topic. “Global ‘Rightist Revolt’: Trumpism and Its Foundations” and “The Global Leftist Revolt: Expectations and Realities” detailed the push against the neoliberal mainstream. Even at that time, we concluded that the refusal to support the old elites in favour of both right-wing and left-wing non-systemic politicians can be seen working in tandem all around the world. The key thing for voters is precisely the protest against the old system, and who they choose in retaliation, right or left, is determined only by the specifics of the moment. A lot of time has passed since the mid-2010s; it would seem that the surge of these non-systemic “revolts” of the population has already been overcome and digested by the old elites. But now we see that this situation of growing protest is returning. Therefore, it again requires expert attention.

The results of the previous wave of electoral success of non-systemic parties were different. Often, especially in the case of non-systemic leftists, having won elections, they forgot about their previous promises and immediately became an organic part of the global mainstream. Examples such as the aforementioned Syriza in Greece and Matteo Renzi in Italy are very indicative. Speaking in strict Marxist language, here we are dealing with a typical unfortunate manifestation of opportunism and compromise. This opportunism has always been widespread on the left, since the Alexandre Millerand incident more than a hundred years ago. It has not disappeared anywhere, as we see, even today.

However, similar compromises are also characteristic of the right. The most significant recent example here is Giorgia Meloni in Italy. There were all kinds of labels they put on her during the election campaign, trying to scare Italian voters. Even the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was involved, very transparently hinting to the Italians about their responsibility and the consequences if they choose the wrong candidate. Meloni, despite the whole campaign of bullying and intimidation, won the election. But what happened next? She suddenly turned out to be simply “holier than the Pope” and joined the transnational mainstream just as organically as her opponent Matteo Renzi had done a decade earlier.

Another tool of influence of the old establishment on the winning non-systemic candidates is the open sabotage of their decisions by their own government apparatus. This worked quite well for Trump. In his memoirs, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, without hesitation and with an extreme degree of cynicism, describes the mechanism of internal sabotage.

Of course, the old elites still intimidate the population. With us, dear voters, your life, of course, may not be very good, but everything is already familiar to you, there is an understanding of the situation, the power of inertia and stability. If another person comes instead of us, no one knows who, maybe from the street, the situation will only get worse. Therefore, please do not destroy what you have yourself, and vote for us again.

Another option for reacting is when a non-systemic political force receives a relative, but not an absolute majority in elections, and therefore cannot form a government itself, then the old mainstream political parties, which had previously been at odds with each other for decades, immediately unite into a coalition to stay in power. Coalitions of this kind are well-known: between the CDU and the Social Democrats in Germany against the Alternative for Germany, or the coalitions of the mainstream left and right in Italy to prevent the Five Star Movement from gaining power in its early, revolutionary era. It is clear that no ideology has any meaning here, and one single principle prevails – to remain in power by all means.

The next example of the influence of old elites on a non-systemic winner is the “junior ally”. Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer in Brazil are a very significant example of this kind. This junior ally betrays and steps aside at the first opportunity, and everything returns to normal.

In our opinion, this charge of protest that has now accumulated can work in favour of non-systemic forces not only in Argentina and Netherlands, but also in other upcoming elections. In this regard, it will be especially interesting to follow the elections to the European Parliament and the presidential elections in the United States.
The Global Revolt
Report: The Global Leftist Revolt: Expectations and Realities
Oleg Barabanov, Daniil Grigoryev, Boris Kagarlitsky, Vasily Koltashov
A few sensational victories including Donald Trump’s rise to power allowed the right wing to get a high profile. Now it is the Left that has a chance to regain initiative in order to challenge the neoliberal mainstream.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.