From UFOs to Yoga
This neo-folkish resurgence encompasses a hodgepodge of anti-Semitic pagan sects, Christian Identity churches, variants of eastern mysticism, devil-worship cliques into Satanic black metal music, occult influences, New Age conspiracy subcultures
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Also from ANTIFA: Right/Left Polarization: THE BALLOT BOX AND THE STREET
FROM UFOs TO YOGA
A New book explores the bizarre fringes of National Socialism, past and present
By Martin A. Lee
A version of this book review is published in the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, Summer 2002
Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity
By Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke New York: New York University Press 2002 369 pp.
George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party until his violent death in 1967, gushed about having had a mystical experience when he first read Hitler's Mein Kampf. "I realized that National Socialism [was] actually a new religion," said Rockwell, who considered April 20th the holiest day of the calendar year.
That's when neo-Nazis around the world celebrate Hitler's birthday at secretive gatherings with Aryan shrines, devotional rituals, white power regalia, and other racialist kitsch. These annual conclaves are akin to religious ceremonies where true believers worship Adolf as an infallible avatar whose every utterance is gospel.
The quasi-religious and mythic elements that proliferate within the contemporary neo-Nazi milieu are explored by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in his important, new book Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. While there has always been a theocratic strain among fascist movements, several factors are contributing to a latter-day, folkish revival among Caucasian youth who are beset by an acute sense of disenfranchisement in Western societies. In response to the challenges of globalization, multiculturalism, and large-scale Third World immigration, neo-Nazi racism in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere has morphed into what the author describes as "new folkish religions of white identity."
This neo-folkish resurgence encompasses a hodgepodge of anti-Semitic pagan sects, Christian Identity churches, variants of eastern mysticism, devil-worship cliques into Satanic black metal music, occult influences, and New Age conspiracy subcultures.
Goodrick-Clarke, a British scholar who writes in an engaging and accessible style, has long foraged on the farther shores of right-wing extremist politics. His first book, The Occult Roots of Nazism, is a masterful study of a much sensationalized subject -- pre-Nazi folkish and pan-German racist groups in early 20th century Austria that embraced occult notions of ancient Aryan wisdom. Politically ostracized in a hostile world, these groups incubated reactionary ideologies of German racial identity. Building on his previous work, Goodrick-Clarke draws a parallel in Black Sun between folkish ferment in the post-World War One era and the incubatory function of today's marginalized neo-Nazi sects, which have repackaged the old ideology of Aryan racism in new cultic guises involving esotericism and eastern religions.
A crucial difference between then and now, the author maintains, is the shift in emphasis from the virulent German nationalism of the Third Reich to a broader racist ideology of global white supremacy. "It is highly significant that the Aryan cult of white identity is now most marked in the United States," says Goodrick-Clarke, who observes that American neo-Nazi organizations behave like persecuted religious sects preparing for the final, armed showdown against an thoroughly corrupt world. Incorporated as churches, Christian Identity groups explicitly present themselves as religions. Other white power zealots gravitate toward Odinism, which rejects the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West by invoking pre-Christian Norse and Teutonic gods.
Still others take their cues from non-denominational, runic cults such as the National Alliance led by William Pierce, America's unabashed guru of apocalyptic violence. While each have their specific theological eccentricities, all of these groups espouse millenarian visions of a white racial utopia, while vilifying people of color and demonizing Jews as the cosmic enemy.
American neo-Nazi spear-carrier James Madole, who rejected Christianity as a degenerate Jewish construct, became a key figure in the development of "esoteric fascism" after he founded the National Renaissance Party, the first U.S. neo-Nazi organization, in 1952. Although he never attracted more than a small cluster of followers, Madole established himself as "the father of postwar occult fascism" by saturating his extremist politics with a mish-mash of science fiction and esoteric notions drawn from theosophy and eastern traditions.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a Church of Satan spin-off cultivated close links with Madole's neo-Nazi party -- an alliance that anticipated the recent emergence of a violent, international fringe network devoted to Nazi Satanic rituals, Nordic gods, black magic, and occultism. David Myatt, chief representative of Nazi Satanism in Great Britain, defends human sacrifice and praises a new wave of satanic black metal skinhead bands that spout obscene lyrics and demented anti-social rants.
Myatt's "religion of National Socialism" owes much to Savitri Devi, the grand dame of postwar neo-Nazism, who had traveled from her native France to India as a young woman. An admirer of the racist caste system, Devi immersed herself in early Hindu texts. Noting that the Nazi swastika is also an ancient, mystical Indian symbol, she romanticized the Third Reich as "the Holy Land of the West."
Devi was the first Western writer to acclaim Hitler as a spiritual avatar, a supernatural figure who pointed the way toward a future Aryan paradise. The Jews, whom Devi blamed for all the world's suffering and alienation, were predictably pegged as the main obstacle on the path to the Golden Age. Devi's obsession with the pre-Christian origins of Indo-European culture was shared by Julius Evola, an Italian Nazi philosopher whose racial theories were adopted and codified by Mussolini in 1938.
Calling for a "Great Holy War" to battle national and ideological enemies, Evola exerted a significant influence on a generation of militant neofascist youth in postwar Italy. Among his protégés were the leaders of several right-wing terrorist organizations linked to numerous bomb attacks from the 1960s to the 1980s. Evola's mystical fascist writings include books on Tantrism, Taosim, Zen Buddhism, yoga, alchemy, and the hermetic tradition in Europe. After he died in 1974, his esoteric musings were rediscovered by New Age publications. Today, many of Evola's books are available in English translation in New Age bookstores in the United States, despite his status as an avowed fascist and an icon of unrelenting opposition to political democracy.
Another influential figure on the occult-fascist circuit is Miguel Serrano, a former Chilean diplomat and Nazi die-hard who touts yoga, meditation, and hallucinogenic drugs as techniques for raising consciousness in order to make contact with higher Aryan intelligence. Serrano blends exotic oriental religious themes with Jungian psychology, Gnostic doctrine, and fanciful tales about the Knights Templar, the Cathars, the Rosicrucians, and other secret societies.
He likens the Nazi SS -- condemned in its entirety for war crimes -- to an esoteric order of initiates seeking the Holy Grail. This notion appealed to Wilhelm Landig, an Austrian SS veteran and postwar Nazi activist, who coined the idea of the "Black Sun," a mystical energy source allegedly capable of regenerating the Aryan race. Goodrick-Clarke credits Landig with reviving the folkish mythology of Thule, the supposed Arctic homeland of the ancient Aryans, in order to prophesy the recovery and resurrection of Nazism as an earth-conquering force.
Landig and other occult-fascist propagandists have circulated wild stories about German Nazi colonies that live and work in secret installations beneath the polar icecaps, where they developed flying saucers and miracle weapons after the demise of the Third Reich. The abundance of UFO sightings, which began in the early 1950s, is attributed to the amazing prowess of Nazi science and technology. Such accounts are meant to evoke an ambience of immemorial Aryan superiority. The fall of Third Reich is cast merely as a temporary setback; at any moment, a battalion of Nazi extraterrestrials could zoom forth in their magical discs to deliver Aryan folk from the ills of democracy and Judeo-Christian decadence.
A hot item among promoters of holocaust denial and New Age conspiracy theorists, stories about Nazi UFOs may seem ludicrous to anyone with their feet firmly planted on terra firma. But these sci-fi legends underscore, in the words of Goodrick-Clarke, how "Aryan cults and esoteric Nazism posit powerful mythologies to negate the decline of white power in the world." Moreover, if the past is any kind of prologue, the new folkish religions of white identity "may be early symptoms of major divisive changes in our present-day Western democracies."
"The risks of race religiosity are great," Goodrick-Clarke cautions. "By projecting grievances, fears and anxieties onto the 'shadow' figures of other races, religious transcendence is stunted and perverted into the dynamics of exclusion and hatred . . . Whenever human groups are interpreted as absolute categories of good and evil, light and darkness, both the human community and humanity itself are diminished." A timely warning, indeed.
Copyright 2002 Martin A. Lee.
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Right/Left Polarization: THE BALLOT BOX AND THE STREET ____________________________________________________________________
CANADIAN DIMENSION 2B-91 Albert Street Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R3B 1G5 - Volume 36, No. 4, July/August 2002 -
by James Petras
The first-round presidential elections in France, where the combined vote for the extreme right totaled 20 per cent, is cited as an indication of the turn to the ultra-Right. Contrary to this mainstream view, a more powerful argument can be made that the major advance and impetus for the far Right is found in the election and rule of the Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney regime. The European ultra-Right's program merely seeks to imitate the U.S. Administration. There is no general shift to the Right.
What there is, however, is a sharpening polarization between the Right and the Left, with the former expressing itself at the ballot box and the latter in the streets. This polarization reflects diverse and complex situations and takes a variety of forms and expressions. The very conception of a right-left polarization needs to be clarified given the political confusion that surrounds what is "left" and "right."
Right and Left:
Today Journalists and mainstream pundits today are creating confusion. They correctly tag French political leader Le Pen as "far right" for his racist, xenophobic rhetoric. Yet, the Bush administration that engaged in wars (Afghanistan, Colombia), coups (Venezuela) and plans for future wars (Iraq) is mistakenly referred to as a "conservative," instead of "far-right," regime.
What is more, mainstream pundits label England's Tony Blair, France's Jospin and the previous Clinton Administration "centre-left," even though they slashed welfare programs and promoted financial speculation, overseas conquests in the Balkans and, in the case of Jospin, privatized more public-sector enterprises than any conservative predecessors.
Clearly the most appropriate label is "conservative" or "center-right." This confusion is symptomatic. The real reason for the strengthening of the far right is the militarist and imperialist policies emanating from Washington. The Bush Administration's support of the extreme rightist Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, and the massacre of Afghans, Palestinians and, proximately, Iraqis reinforces and legitimates the far-right-wing "anti-Arab," "anti-Muslim," "anti-immigrant" posture.
Moreover, Washington's embrace of unilateralism and its domestic chauvinistic campaign fueled by the anti-terrorism rhetoric makes a perfect fit with the position adopted by Le Pen, Haider and the rest of the European ultra- Right. The record of the Bush Administration on war and Muslims is far more right-wing than the rhetoric of Le Pen and Haider, and certainly far exceeds the policies of conventional European rightists such as Berlusconi and Aznar.
Le Pen talks of protecting French industries from "globalization"; Bush has instituted a vast array of barriers. Le Pen threatens mostly Arab immigrants; Bush has jailed and harassed hundreds of thousands of Arab immigrants and supplied strategic arms, diplomatic support and economic aid to Israel, which is displacing Palestinians.
Moreover, the electoral support of Bush and his ascent to power is very much in line with, or actually is worse than, Le Pen's approach. Bush received only 24 per cent of the electorate votes (49 percent of the 50 percent who voted) a minority of the popular vote, and resorted to illegal procedures in Florida to gain power. Le Pen and the ultra-Right secured approximately 18 per cent and have not resorted to illegal methods to grab power. Indeed, Le Pen's vote in the second round of the presidential elections in 2002 only replicated his vote seven years earlier.
The main area of difference is in Le Pen's use of anti-semitic rhetoric, which Bush eschews. In practice, on the issue of war, economy, politics, empire, Arab immigrants and international treaties, which are used to define Le Pen as an ultra-rightist, Bush is a much more forceful, direct and consequential practitioner. If, as most commentators, politicians and media pundits correctly believe, Le Pen represents the ultra-Right, then the Bush Administration represents the ultra-ultra-Right.
The significance of the "ascent of the ultra-Right" is not based on majoritarian electoral support but in the policies that are instituted once they are in power. Once in power, the ultra-right-wing minority Bush Administration seized on war and the mass manipulation of the terror scare to define the political agenda worldwide and to secure a domestic majority.
Equally significant, conventional right-wing regimes like Chirac, Aznar and Berlusconi, and former centre-leftists turned conservative like Blair, Jospin, Schroeder, et al., collaborated with the ultra-right war policies of Washington or offered feeble and inconsequential opposition. Only when U.S. protectionist measures on steel infringed on European and Japanese business interests did they respond with threats of sanctions
If the "right turn" has advanced furthest and taken its most extreme expression in the U.S., it is nonetheless the case that a similar rightward shift has gained momentum in European electoral politics. If we ignore the traditional "centre-left" and "centre-right" labels of the past, we can see that the actual policies of the European regimes in the past decades describe an almost unrelenting anti-labour, pro-big business strategy and practice.
No European country, whether governed by ex-Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Conservatives or other traditional party has increased social welfare for the working class. On the contrary, all regimes have weakened legislation protecting jobs, workers' security and trade-union rights; social, health and education benefits have been slashed in varying degrees. It is true, however, that the shift to the right varies in speed and scope and depending upon each country's particularities, especially the strength of the mass movements and trade unions.
The convergence of all the major European political parties on the neoliberal-military agenda means that there is an almost total political vacuum on the electoral Left -- no party represents those adversely affected by neoliberal policies, military expansionism and subsidies to big business and banks. The European multi-party system has been converted into the U.S. one-party-two-factions system.
The Right Turn: The March through the Institutions
The electoral successes of the ultra-right-wing political parties in France (Le Pen) and Austria (Haider) is directly related to the right-wing shift of the former "centre-left" coalitions. The supposed "centre-left" regimes have favored reducing state expenditures, threatening the social security system, affecting the elderly; reducing trade barriers; undermining small-scale farmers; selective immigration, while introducing "labour flexibility" (lowering the cost and increasing the ease of firing older workers); emphasizing police measures instead of job expansion to fight youth crime.
The result of the right turn is that significant sectors of the populace feel cheated and abandoned by the traditional left- and right-wing parties. The blurring of differences has had a dual effect of pushing the right closer to the far-Right on issues of police repression (law and order), immigration (greater restrictions) and increased public identification with big business.
In this context, the ultra-Right's xenophobic and chauvinist appeals are legitimated by the Right, while its protectionist and liberal policies appeal to small-business people, farmers and shopkeepers threatened by the liberal policies of the former centre-left. The ultra-Right draws electoral support from "passive opposition" to the politics of the neoliberal parties.
Their base of support is from older people fearful of rising crime -- derived from social decay and resulting from neoliberal policies -- among unemployed youth (particularly young immigrants). They also draw support from small businesses and farmers threatened by competition from imports and big business. The ultras also appeal to veterans of colonial wars, Christian traditionalists and long- standing ideological supporters of fascist or quasi-fascist sects or movements.
The most potent appeal, however, is to "nationalist sentiment" -- affirmation of national sovereignty against the undemocratic big-business-controlled EU, against U.S. cultural influence and greater independence from U.S. political domination.
The ultra-Right is hostile to the trade unions on both ideological ground ("they are run by Communists") and economic grounds (they hinder productivity.) They appeal to the workers to join in "protecting their jobs from foreigners" -- rather than from the multinationals who fire them.
Finally, the ultra Right echoes the anti-terrorist line to reinforce its strong police-state appeal, combining it with its anti-immigrant and anti-leftist policies to attract conventional rightists.
The Left Turn: The Streets Are Ours
If today the old electoral divisions between the centre-Left and -Right have become irrelevant, the left-right divisions are more relevant than ever if we take as our protagonists the growing left mass movements and the electoral-institutional forces of the Right. Today the significant and dynamic force of the genuine Left is found in the streets; it finds expression in massive mobilizations and not in the electoral process.
The mass demonstrations in Seattle, London, Genoa, Melbourne, Barcelona and Quebec have been more effective in politicizing and activating a new generation of youth than all the "Left" and "centre-Left" electoral campaigns combined. The demonstrations by the anti-globalization, anti- capital platforms have been more effective in calling attention to the injustices of the New Imperial Order and the international financial organizations (IMF, World Bank, IDF, etc.) than any and all Congressional critics.
In Latin America, these demonstrations have reached tens of millions of people and led to the proliferation of a vast network of supporters, organizers and international coordinating groups. Regional movements against the Latin American Free Trade Agreement (ALCA) have grown in scope and intensity.
The public debates on the foreign debt, privatization and neoliberalism in the mass international forums are far more effective in creating international solidarity with the poor and exploited in the Third World than the deafening silence in the halls of the U.S. Congress and the lonely critics in the European Parliaments.
The extra-parliamentary mobilizations against the IMF, the multinationals and the WTO have put them on the defensive: every place they hold their meetings they are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of activists, protected by barbed wire and thousands of police accompanied by helicopters and armoured vehicles. The class polarization pits youth, workers, farmers, salaried employees and professionals against the financial and industrial ruling classes.
As the former social-democratic and Communist parties move to the centre-right and embrace the right-wing neoliberal agenda, the extra-parliamentary movements occupy the space on the Left, and proceed to engage the far-Right, and the neo-liberal policies of the new and old Right.
The electoral arena has been by-passed because of the heavy institutional blockage -- the mainstream parties' monopoly of the mass media, the constraints embedded in voting procedures -- and because elected legislative bodies are impotent in the face of the centralization of power in executive institutions, central banks and other non-elected institutions.
Corruption, co-optation and impotence of elected representative institutions have forced workers, peasants, the unemployed, dissidents and left opposition to turn to extra-parliamentary forms of struggle -- which have proven to be more effective in raising issues and securing change.
Europe and the U.S.: Polarization? The "ultra-imperialism" of the ultra-Right in power has created a certain limited polarization between the EU and the U.S. Up to now, on all major issues, Europe has capitulated to Washington after expressing doubts, reservations and even criticism.
Nevertheless, given the growing power of the anti-capitalist movements in Europe and the militancy of the French, Italian, and to a lesser degree, German trade unions, the European Right cannot embrace the U.S. agenda without prejudicing their own multinationals and provoking mass opposition. The key to deepening the polarization between Europe and the U.S. depends on the extra-parliamentary movements, not the capitalist calculus of the right-wing regimes.
The socio-political movements have grown in direct relationship to the right turn of the former social-democratic parties. The British Labor Party is the party of the City of London. It is the party that opposes lowering British working hours and raising wages to the level of the rest of Europe. The Socialist Jospin and his Green and Communist satellite partners, privatized more public firms than the conventional right-wing parties.
Aznar, the Spanish ruler, has backed Bush's far-right, worldwide military agenda, followed Washington in supporting the failed military coup in Venezuela, and is in the forefront in supporting the IMF's efforts to impose new draconian measures upon the Argentine working class, in order to rescue Spanish banking, petroleum and telecommunications monopolies. In line with Bush and Blair, Aznar has severely curtailed democratic freedoms through a series of anti-terrorist measures, which have led to the outlawing of dissident parties and restricted peaceful civil protests. During the march against the EU summit meeting in Barcelona (March, 2002) Aznar mobilized over 20,000 police and members of the armed forces, helicopters and warships, to intimidate protestors. The move failed, as more than 400,000 demonstrators filled the streets.
In Italy, Germany and France, electoral politics moves to the Right, and the social movements occupy a privileged place as the major opposition. In France, in the first round, Jospin's coalition was soundly defeated, abstention surged to nearly 30 per cent and the ultra-rightist Le Pen secured nearly 20 per cent of the vote.
In the runoff however, nearly a million street demonstrators mobilized against the fascist Right and diminished his support. In Italy over 2 million workers demonstrated against Berlusconi's anti-labour legislation in the biggest protest since the end of the Second World War, successfully blocking the legislation, something the electoral centre-Left and Left were totally incapable of doing.
As the pressure from U.S. imperialism intensifies and popular discontent from below increases, the European ruling class alternates between criticizing the U.S. and capitulating and backing U.S. policy.
European socio-political movements have forced European governments to accept the Kyoto Agreements, to criticize Sharon's massacre of the Palestinians, to support the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Humanity, the international anti-biological and chemical warfare agreement and the ABM treaty on missiles, in opposition to Washington's unilateral rejection.
On the other hand, the European ruling class has backed the U.S. military offensive, beginning with the war in Afghanistan. The EU supports the IMF-U.S. position on Argentina and Europe and has followed the U.S. trade policy of protectionism at home and liberalization abroad. The latter has led to a series of major trade disputes, as the rival imperialisms compete for global markets. U.S. tariffs on steel from the EU and subsidies for U.S. exporters have provoked retaliation from Europe.
The U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area in Latin America is an attempt to monopolize markets at the expense of Europe. The U.S. unilateral decisions on the environment are designed to lower U.S. industrial costs to improve its competitive position. U.S. military interventions and the accompanying atrocities require Washington to reject any international judicial authority. The dynamic of the current drive for U.S. world supremacy does not include wealth and market sharing with its European imperial partners.
The Defining Political Reality
The worldwide polarization is between the far Right and Right holding state power and the Left located in the streets and in the mass socio-political movements. This is the defining political reality of the early 21st century.
The power of the Right/ultra-Right is found in their control of state power, including the means of repression and the basic economic institutions. These power bases provide continuity of action and control over the mass media.
The power of the Left is found in its capacity for mass mobilization and its occasional capacity to oust political leaders, paralyze economic activity and confront summit meetings of the imperial powers.
The weakness of the ultra-Right/Right is found in their structural position, as the root cause of world pillage, exploitation and ecological destruction -- which adversely affects several billion people while benefitting a small minority.
The weakness of the Left is the lack of continuity of its action and its lack of a clear strategy for taking state power. Powerful as opposition, the Left movements lack the Right's vocation for state power and rulership.
As time progresses the intensity of the conflicts inherent in the polarization deepens. The ultra-Right in Washington intervenes militarily throughout the world, pressing its clients to impose draconian cuts in social programs, and increases in military action. Military coups, the consolidation of military dictatorship in Pakistan and Sharon's genocide in the Palestinian territories became the norm.
On the Left, the mass movements take to the streets, the entire Palestinian people resist, the Colombian guerrillas strike back, the anti-capital demonstrations in Europe grow in size and scope.
The electoral Left is marginalized, the former centre-Left joins the Right. The Right takes power via its monopoly of the electoral process and then rules in the interests of big business. The Left mobilizes via its international and national networks, Internet and its articulation of popular grievances -- ignored by the nominally "elected bodies."
We are in a period of wars, rising authoritarian right-wing rule, deepening social polarization and increasingly effective extra-parliamentary action. This is a period of permanent wars, coups and empire building without end. These "forced circumstances" are the driving forces for the resurgence of mass mobilizations throughout Latin America.
The political outcome of this polarization is not predetermined: it depends on the political intervention of one or the other protagonists.
Four Scenarios of the Future
The polarization and confrontations are resolved by a return to social democracy. The extra-parliamentary Left grows and threatens the rule of capital but lacks a vocation for power. The ruling class, out of fear of losing power, wealth and property, negotiates with the "lesser evil," a revived centre-Left, a social pact, sharing the wealth.
The polarization results in a victory for the Right and far-Right, opening the door to a U.S. world empire based on repressive Third World regimes and U.S.-style one-party rule in Europe.
Scenario three: Left mobilizations and movements, combined with inter-imperial conflicts, trade wars and economic crises, culminate in the Left taking state power and initiating the socialization of the means of production.
Scenario four: Continued, unresolved polarization without any definitive resolution. U.S. empire is not sustainable because of economic cost and weakness of client regimes, the socio-political movements oppose dictators and client regimes but are unable to take power.
The European Union is driven by unresolved class and immigrant conflicts. Faced with these possible scenarios. What is to be done? What can be done to make scenario three a reality? The first and foremost concern is for the extra-parliamentary Left to break decisively with all ties to the electoral Left and to concentrate on expanding its mass base beyond its original constituencies and to develop a strategy for state power. This requires a total rupture with both sectarian-Left and "spontaneity" ideologues who fragment movements and/or turn the powerful movements into pressure groups.
Second, the extra-parliamentary Left must develop continuity of action, involving direct intervention in the day-to-day struggles of neighbourhood, trade-union and rural workers' struggles. The mass mobilization at international events must become subordinated to the building of continuous organizations that lead to national class movements.
Third, the extra-parliamentary movements must confront the fact that their main adversary is U.S. and European imperialism and not some vague notion of globalization or empire. Ideological clarity is essential in the formulation of an alternative program. The possibility of a revival of a centre-Left electoral force is highly unlikely given the turn to the right
Furthermore, even under mass pressure it is not likely that the capitalist class will accept a return to a welfare state. Almost surely it will embrace ultra-Right solutions. Even in the eventuality that a viable centre-Left reappears, it will hardly be a stable formation given the polarized political scene today. A definitive victory for the Right/ultra-Right would in most regions take place without a significant mass base. Even a military dictatorship resulting from a U.S.-orchestrated coup would face the problem of ruling without economic resources (its reason for being would be to restore foreign debt payments, etc.) and without even the tacit acquiescence of the workforce.
The Left must mobilize to prevent the ultra-Right from coming to power, while not compromising with the Right in any of its forms. Only political independence, the build-up of social power from below and a vocation for state power will resolve the current polarization in a historically progressive direction.
Left and Right:
In Latin America, the rise to power of the ultra-Right in Washington and its accommodation by Europe has deepened and radicalized the left-right polarization. Here, the Right and the far Right include almost all the regimes that support U.S. wars and interventions, that accept the Latin American Free Trade Area, and that follow the prescriptions of Euro-American financial institutions like the IMF.
In reality, that includes all regimes except Cuba and Venezuela. In Latin America the electoral Left -- namely the centre-Left, has moved to the centre-Right and beyond -- or is a minor force.
Meanwhile, the major expression of the real existing Left is found in the major movements and organized popular uprisings, such as have toppled two presidents in Ecuador, four presidents in Argentina and the president of Bolivia.
The Left has many different expressions, demands and forms of action. But there is a common thread. It relies on mass street mobilizations -- direct action -- and it rejects U.S. imperialism (Plan Colombia, ALCA, etc.), debt payments, structural-adjustment policies and other IMF prescriptions.
In most cases, it supports agrarian reform, the nationalization of the banks, vastly increasing the economic role of the state via public investments in social services, protection and promotion of the domestic market, new direct forms of popular representation and greater social equality via progressive tax legislation, expropriation of monopolies and confiscation of illegal fortunes.
There are many signs of the move to the extreme Right in Latin America and of the contestation of this by the extra-parliamentary forces of the Left. Let us examine this in terms of the developments in a number of key countries.
In Mexico, the Fox regime has broken with all previous foreign-policy practices and openly embraced U.S. interventionist positions, proposed Plan Pueblo-Panama turning the Mexican economy into a huge maquiladora (assembly plant economy), provoked a near break in relations with Cuba, and, through its foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, abandoned any pretext of an independent foreign policy.
In domestic policy it promotes the gradual privatization of the lucrative petroleum industry and a tax on staple items of popular consumption. As the Fox regime moves farther to the right, the level of popular opposition has increased.
Massive May Day marches throughout Mexico, involving the major and minor trade unions, peasant and Indian organizations, repudiated Fox's hostility toward Cuba and craven servility to the Bush Administration. The congressional opposition of the centre-Left (PRD) and Right (PRI) criticize Fox and try to modify his policies. However, the defeat of Fox's agenda will have to come from the mass of Mexicans outside of the halls of Congress -- the May Day demonstrators in the streets.
The far-Right in Washington found expression in the far-Right in Venezuela. This was clearly evident in the April, 2002 failed coup. Coup head and business leader Carmona's first measures were totally in line with Washington's agenda: the cut-off of petroleum to Cuba, the rejection of OPEC oil quotas, the embrace of Bush's foreign policy, the dissolution of all elected institutions -- almost all with Chavez majorities.
The coming to power of the ultra-Right in Venezuela took the form of a puppet authoritarian regime, exclusively and totally at the beck and call of Washington, prepared to massively purge all public institutions of any representatives of the Bolivarian movement (supporters of Chavez's presidency).
The opposition to the coup did not initially come from elected representatives, Congress or the armed forces. It came from the hundreds of thousands of poor, organized and unorganized, who took to the streets of Caracas and in other major cities to restore Chavez to power. This show of popular power encouraged "loyalist" military groups to reject the coup, and subsequently caused vacillating generals to side with the "loyalist" military. Even some original military coup supporters engaged in some political acrobatics -- seeing the coup was doomed, they joined the democratic restoration, all the better to impose their terms with a reinstated Chavez presidency.
The complexity of Venezuelan polarization, where Chavez, representing a hybrid of nationalist foreign policy and neoliberal domestic policy, confronts a domestic bourgeoisie and corrupt union bosses totally subordinated to Washington, is superimposed upon a real class polarization.
Long-standing privileges, racism, corruption and pillage by the upper class confronts a mass of angry poor and downwardly mobile lower middle class, suffering from 60 per cent unemployment and underemployment and where over 80 per cent live in poverty.
Chavez has not organized and met the basic demands of the mass of poor who support him. He has, however, politicized and given form to their hostility against the rich and powerful, inculcated racial pride in being of African ancestry, and affirmed Venezuela's national identity via his independent foreign policy. Popular participation and independence infuriates Washington and the local ruling classes, and encourages them to prepare the terrain for "Coup Two."
Colombia is the third example of the upsurge of the ultra-Right in electoral politics. Presidential candidate Uribe, the likely winner, is the voice of Washington: total war against the popular insurgency. Meantime, the Bush Administration is preparing a new, additional, multi-year, multi-million-dollar military-aid program specifically directed against the peasant-based guerrillas.
In Colombia the Washington-backed Pastrana regime broke peace negotiations and launched a failed military assault against the guerrillas, resulting in an escalation of the conflict and heightened military-paramilitary killings of civilian non-combatants.
Plan Colombia, Clinton's initial military-aid package to stem the advance of the popular insurgency in Colombia, has been extended by the Bush Administration in the form of Plan Andina, the militarization of Ecuador and Peru; new military bases in San Salvador, Manta (Ecuador) and in north-central Peru, and direct involvement of U.S. military officials, special forces and contracted mercenaries.
U.S. militarization of Colombian politics has fomented a polarization of civil-war proportions between the oligarchy and military and the guerrillas and peasantry. Politics is completely outside the realm of congressional politics: it is the military high command versus the extra-parliamentary popular insurgency.
Argentinean politics highlights extreme social and political polarizaton: between a non-elected (President Duhalde was not elected by the voters) "electoral regime" and the vast majority of the electorate whose main slogan is "Que se vayan todos" ("All politicians should go"). The popular uprising of December 19 to 20, 2001 was a spontaneous outpouring of anger, hostility and rejection of the political class,the major parties, provincial, municipal and congressional leaders and particularly the president, who fled the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) via helicopter to avoid the hundreds of thousands of former middle-class and unemployed demonstrators.
The social polarization could not be starker: the banks -- mostly foreign owned -- backed by the government confiscated all the savings of the middle class, over $45 billion, while between $30 and $40 billion belonging to the elite fled the country, just prior to the seizure of bank accounts. This socio-political polarization is expressed by the emergence of parallel political institutions: neighbourhood "popular assemblies," which include the impoverished middle class, pensioners and public employees, as well as workers, unemployed and others.
The popular assemblies reflect the growing politicization and participation of the Argentine majority, and are counterposed to the formal institutions, which have totally lost their legitimacy and representativeness. The distance separating the great majority of Argentineans from the political elites and the ruling classes has widened and deepened as never before in the history of the republic.
On one side, a ruling class made up of foreign bankers, local financiers and powerful "economic groups," which has over $150 billion deposited overseas and has confiscated the total savings of every Argentine; and on the other a great mass of Argentines without savings, 30 per cent without jobs, 50 per cent below the poverty line, pensioners unable to survive on delayed and devalued pensions of $50 per month (and falling), and hundreds of thousands of public employees in the provinces (health workers, teachers, civil servants, municipal workers, etc.) who have not been paid for months (and when they are paid, they receive a "provincial currency" only redeemable in the province).
In this context of mass impoverishment and a five-year depression (industry declined by 20 per cent in 2001-02) the IMF, World Bank and the Bush Administration, backed by the European Union, demand more budget cuts, elimination of provincial deficits and currencies, and more firings as a conditions for new loans.
Given the degree of social polarization and the isolation of the regime, compliance with Washington's demands is impossible without a regime of force -- either an outright military dictatorship or a presidential regime willing to seize dictatorial power. The Bush Administration and the IMF are openly demanding a president with the "will" to implement economic policies that will reduce the great majority of Argentines to destitution in order to meet foreign-debt obligations and relieve foreign banks of their financial obligations to Argentine depositors. In this context, where the choice is collective/national survival or imperialist-induced destitution/disintegration, the popular majority is fragmented by leftist internecine conflicts and dispersion of protests.
The socio-political polarizations have net yet led to a unified organized leadership capable of challenging for state power. Nor does the coup-oriented Right have the minimum social basis to sustain a coup.
Confrontation between Dictatorship and Revolution
The "street" and not the ballot box is the road toward creating authentic forms of democratic representation against the corrupt, impotent and complicit official political institutions. Only the mass social movements have been successful in overthrowing presidents complicit with imperial institutions in impoverishing the population and pillaging the economy.
The list of presidents ousted by the mass movements is long and growing: four presidents in one month in Argentina, two presidents in Ecuador, one in Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia. The social power of the mass movements has settled over 300,000 landless families on farms in Brazil, defended the livelihood of thousands of coca farmers in Bolivia and Colombia --defeated a U.S.-orchestrated coup and restored democracy in Venezuela.
There is a striking contrast between the power, integrity and effectiveness of the mass leftist movements and the impotence, opportunism and marginality of the left electoral parties. Right-wing extremism in the U.S. and Europe has weakened the centre-left electoral options, undermined its bases among the trade unions and the former middle class and set the stage for a classical confrontation between dictatorial reaction and revolution.
Right and Left:
Asia and the Rest of the World
The move to the far Right in the U.S. has encouraged and promoted the extreme Right throughout Asia and the rest of the world. There are innumerable examples, from the U.S. backing of Israel's invasion and destruction of the Palestinian territories, to Washington's ally General Musharraf's consolidation of his military dictatorship in Pakistan, to the closer ties with the anti-Muslim, Hindu-extremist free-market BJP regime in India.
In central Asia, the rulers of the former Soviet republics open the doors to U.S. military bases -- in effect becoming subordinate clients of the U.S. empire. In India, the BJP regime, aligned with Washington's anti-terrorist campaign, is allied with Hindu fascists in Gujarat who organized anti-Muslim pogroms killing and maiming thousands and displacing over 150,000.
In Pakistan, General Musharraf has allowed U.S. special forces to intervene and attack tribal communities, while organizing a fraudulent referendum to extend his rule (he won 98 per cent of the vote-all reported without irony or criticism by the Western imperial press).
In the Philippines, the Macapagal-Arroyo regime has violated all constitutional restraints and allowed the U.S. to re-establish military bases and to directly involve senior U.S. military officials in military operations against Muslim separatists. The move to the far Right in central Asia/Pakistan, India and the Philippines (as measured by the increased recolonization of territory, imperial military penetration and harsh repression of minorities and dissidents) is directly linked to the rise of the ultra-Right to power in the U.S. and their mutual interests in consolidating local power in the service of imperial domination.
James Petras is a frequent contributor to Canadian Dimension. He is the author of 36 books. The latest one, co-written with Henry Veltmyer, Globalization Unmasked, is the winner of the 2002 Kenny Prize. Copyright © 2002 Canadian Dimension
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