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Did the Rebellion Shift to the Right?

Ahmet Insel*

The new radical right movement that emerged in the United States, initially self-described as “alt-right” or alternative right, has remained on the agenda since the Tea Party era, continuing through Donald Trump’s election in the United States and later Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil. Although these two far-right politicians were not re-elected, they still maintain a chance of being re-elected in future elections. Especially the re-election of Donald Trump as president in the United States seems to be a strong possibility for now. The resurgence of this new authoritarian-liberal wave came to the forefront again after the victory of libertarian far-right candidate Javier Milei in the presidential election in Argentina. Milei’s electoral success was followed by the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, led by Geert Wilders, a nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, and anti-European Union party, securing 25% of the votes and becoming the largest party in the parliament. Previously, Giorgia Meloni, from the neo-fascist movement in Italy, had been elected as prime minister, but Meloni represents a more classical nationalist far-right tendency rather than the alternative right.

In the book “International Alternative Right” published by İletişim Yayınları in 2023, under the subtitle “Is this new far-right movement the fascism of the 21st century?” P. Hermansson, D. Lawrence, J. Mulhall, and S. Murdoch ask this question. The echoes of this radical new right appear in social and political fields in countries such as India, Japan, Russia, and many European countries, carrying the stamp of the historical and social characteristics of each society. In addition to common issues with traditional far-right, such as racism, ethnic-religious nationalism, and opposition to the welfare state, the new reactionary wave, especially in Western societies, stands out for targeting or using the gains of the new social struggles that have emerged in the last thirty years as material for new discriminatory approaches. This new reaction often operates under the banner of anti-conformism, sometimes transitioning from antisemitism to Islam and immigrant hatred. It blends issues such as white male supremacism and gender, criticizing gender studies, what it calls “cultural Marxism” as elitism, and often targeting migrants and their defenders, portraying them all as new internal enemies replacing communists.

An important feature of this new reactionary movement is its ability to use social media and new communication tools intensively and masterfully, showcasing its impact in a dimension far exceeding its numerical size. It can channel activism energy that falls into ideological vacuum and carries concerns about the future.

As seen in the Capitol invasion following Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the election he lost, militants of these alternative right movements exhibit a drunkenness of resistance beyond the protest dimension against what they define as the “system.” This mood currently constitutes a major source of nourishment for radical reactionary movements in many countries.

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In his book titled “Has the Rebellion Shifted to the Right?” published in Argentina in November 2021, Pablo Stefanoni examines the new socio-political appeal created by the alternative right movement around anti-conformist, disruptive, and rebellious themes against the mechanism defined as the system. The critical moment of transformation from Reagan and Thatcher conservatism to alternative right movements was undoubtedly Trump’s election in 2016. Stefanoni points out the astonishment of many liberal conservatives since then, who found this movement strange, even crazy, as the leaders of this movement take over their political spaces, even occupying positions of power. Faced with this new political-social wave that makes ethnic nationalism its trademark, ideologues of neoliberal cosmopolitanism oscillate between a bewildered silence and getting involved in this new wave.

The new radical right or alternative right primarily ignites a desire for anti-progressivism. It does so by defining what contemporary progressivism advocates as the status quo, portraying established progressive circles as defenders of the status quo, boring, outdated ideas, and personalities. Therefore, it is also a comprehensive counter-culture movement. It expresses itself in a wide range, from anarcho-capitalism to libertarian transhumanism, elevating masculine values and promoting hostility towards women, incorporating homosexual nationalism and environmental fascism, among others.

Pablo Stefanoni, mentioned in the book “International Alternative Right,” also points to these areas of new reactionary movements and specifically highlights their spread on social media platforms around eccentric personalities. In this context, the question he poses is extremely important: “Have the positions of these internet networks turned from a revolutionary promise to a counter-revolutionary nightmare?”

Stefanoni notes the increasing appeal of radical right-wing activism to younger generations, skillfully using irony and provocation strategies against the identity politics and victimization elevated by progressive camps, making it penetrate mainstream media. This new reactionary movement adopts a kind of right-wing Gramscianism, basing its political strategy on the struggle to gain cultural hegemony that it claims is in the hands of arrogant, even insolent, elite progressivism.

Two years before Milei’s election, in his book, Stefanoni showcased the methods of extreme right-wing activism used to attract a segment of youth tired of the banality of the good. With an extreme discourse and symbolic promises such as radical pruning of the “caste” while standing on the podium with a chainsaw, Milei successfully created a new sensibility with the support of numerous talk shows he published in a short time. The traditional neoliberal conservatism noticing the rising wave hurriedly taking its place alongside it allowed Milei to be elected by a wide margin in the second round. Although Milei, without relying on any local power in a federal political system, is in a minority party position in the parliament, his fate is likely to be worse than Bolsonaro’s, but this does not mean that the political and cultural wave he created is temporary. Just like in Brazil and the United States.

Pablo Stefanoni reminds us that this mathematical economics professor, who was influenced by Murray Rothbard’s paleo-libertarianism and changed lanes while swimming in the waters of neoliberalism, not only makes a cynical praise of wild capitalism, such as advocating organ and child trafficking but also combines it with radical transhumanism through a fascistic environmental discourse. One of the examples he gives of the “green authoritarianism” that opposes the libertarian themes of political ecology is from Finland. A Finnish bird scientist who lives solely by fishing suggests a radical reduction of the world population, claiming that this is the only way to save the trees but not the refugees!

The proposal of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right in France and perhaps the winner of the 2027 presidential election, for a “new ecological civilization” also sheds light on the political imagination of today’s far right. According to the “lifeboat morality” frequently expressed by these circles, if you try to save everyone, you can’t save anyone. Therefore, environmental priorities should be considered within an ethnic-nationalist hierarchy!

Another striking feature of Stefanoni’s new right radicalism is its relationship with sexuality. The approach defined as “Homomilitarism” in “International Alternative Right” is fed by and feeds a civilization paranoia based on the irresistible rise of Islam. Stefanoni points out that the political leaders of this radical new right emphasize the struggle to defend the values of Western modernity, which they claim are under imminent threat, to gain the support of women and male homosexuals. He supports this argument with examples from Argentina and other places. However, at the same time, to avoid breaking bridges with traditional religious conservatism, they also adopt the demand for the prohibition of abortion.

What is at stake is a hybrid reactionism created in both economic and cultural matters. Moreover, it does not hesitate to present itself as “new progressivism.” While embracing issues such as anti-vaccination movements, new spiritual quests, and advocating “traditional treatments” rejecting modern medicine, it also supports the ban on abortion, tax reductions, the deportation of immigrants, and the exclusion of “lazy people and foreigners” from the welfare state.

In the conclusion of his book, Stefanoni briefly touches on how progressive movements can respond to this new wave. Should we engage in dialogue with these far-right movements? Despite the crisis and loss of influence experienced by the left, can ignoring or merely criticizing and exposing the radical right be a sufficient solution? To these questions, an example like Sahra Wagenknecht, who, while being part of the “Leninist bloc” in Die Linke in Germany, separated from the party by criticizing its detachment from the popular grassroots and mainly supporting the “cultural struggles of progressive civil society,” can be added. Is it a solution to fight against them by adopting the themes and programs of the new radical right? Does such a political stance, as in the recent elections in the Netherlands, legitimize the themes and program of the new radical right much more widely among the masses? However, as Stefanoni also points out, there is a fascist rebellion vibration against the “power caste,” expressed in the anger of “all must go but all” against vaccination, cancel culture, and woke hostility, seeing multiculturalism as a deadly threat to ancient local culture. This radical far-right or alternative right does not need an ideological integrity or identity. Its goal is to take the lead in a new cultural revolution against politically correctness, which it defines as preachy, restrictive of freedoms, and the “moldy progressive paternalism,” and to establish the legitimacy of anger and rebellion. In this context, the subtitle of Stefanoni’s book asks the most important question for socialist thought that demands freedom and equality not for a native and national elite but for everyone: “How does the opposition of progressivism and political correctness build a new common sense, and why should the left take these things seriously or how should the left respond to these issues as it loses initiative?” Rebellion is not a form of political action exclusive to the left. Neither is revolution.

Ahmet İnsel* (b. 1955) is a Turkish economist, editor, journalist and political scientist. Professor at the University of Paris 1, he regularly appears on the Turkish and foreign media, especially French, to talk about the political situation in his country.

The article was originally published in Birikim Magazine and has been translated from Turkish.

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