Establishment Liberals Are Complicit in Far Right Extremism Seizing Political Power

The recent attack by supporters of Jair Bolsonaro on Brazil’s legislative, presidential and Supreme Court buildings, while city police largely looked on, has been analysed as the work of Bolsonaro alone, as a threat that’s largely been dealt with by the authorities, and one that should not unduly worry the people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Across the world, fascist and far-right power and influence is deeply embedded in state, political, corporate and media structures, resorts to the Nazi ‘Big Lie’ technique of ‘loss’ or ‘theft’ of ‘their’ country by cosmopolitan supporters of the UN, or WHO, EU, who favour foreigners, immigrants, refugees, terrorists, etc.

This is argued as being true of the US as of Brazil, of Bolsonaro and Trump, and others, alike. In both cases, there has been a focus on arresting and prosecuting relatively ordinary protestors or members of fringe groups enabled by elites, rather than bringing to book those elites who orchestrated, financed, planned and fomented violent insurrectionary attacks on the constitution. The consequence is that the fascist danger remains, gets stronger, emboldened, even more deeply embedded in the body politic, and becomes more dangerous to popular political and economic rights. Just look at the embedding of a fascistic Republican party in the US House of Representatives. 

Also Read: Brazil Riots, Bolsonaro, an ‘Attempted Coup?’: Five Essential Questions Answered

Unreliable establishment liberals

Establishment liberals – who publicly take up the mantle of defenders of democracy – are unreliable allies in the fight against fascism. They fear mass anti-fascist marches and movements far more than they fear fascism because at the heart of liberalism is a theory of government, economy and society that is elitist, top-down, anti-democratic, corporate-backed, and bought into the neoliberal project in all its essentials. And massive resistance to all those forces and factors has been mounting across the world – which is why neoliberal establishments and their allies turn to authoritarianism and fascism to divide people on lines of race, ethnicity, religion or other elite-cultivated cleavages in the social fabric. 

While fascists and far-right groups scream about the rise of the ‘Left’ and minorities and immigrants, liberals downplay fascist threats, disarm ordinary people, and enable more and more restrictive and undemocratic legislation – strengthening police and border force powers, restricting voting rights and rights or legitimate protest. We see this most starkly in the ways protesting workers and minorities are policed in contrast with extremely violent right-wing forces are treated.

It is argued by establishment liberals in both Brazil and the US that prosecuting either Bolsonaro or Trump would be politically provocative and cause more far-right and fascist violence. But we also know that where US Democrats govern cities and states during periods of mass rebellion and protest – such as those following the police murder of George Floyd – that they order massive policing to quell peaceful protests. And historically the treatment by the FBI of the civil rights movement and of the Black Panther Party was repressive, murderous, sustained, and anti-democratic. The white supremacist Ku Klux Klan on the other hand… 

There is little to separate Democrats and Republicans in those regards in practice. This is rooted in a consensus over the basic fundamentals of US society – it’s fair, the system works, and mass protest against forces that protect the corporate-dominated status quo is irrational and dangerous and must be suppressed or be lulled or deceived into thinking the fascist danger is over-played or has been quelled. 

Top-down elitist politics – funded by big business lobbies and arms firms – loathes democracy and fears a mobilised mass public that demands democratic rights, an end to economic precarity, decent health, housing and education – in short, a massive redistribution of economic and political power away from the few and towards the many. 

DC National Guard Military Police officers and law enforcement officers stand guard during protests against the death in Minneapolis custody of George Floyd, near the White House in Washington, DC, US, June 1, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Divide and rule politics to deflect peoples’ struggles

It is such demands for redistribution of wealth, income and political power that threaten the existing neoliberal, globalised corporate-dominated order. And it is the ruling elite’s demand that such movements be suppressed or marginalised that moves them towards authoritarianism, state violence and fascism. 

But there is another weapon in their arsenal too: the politics of divide and rule to develop and exploit cultural, racial, religious, linguistic or other differences among the people, and turn one group against another. The main political parties mobilise specific forms of ‘identity’ politics to achieve their ends. They dovetail well together. 

The extreme right defines ‘real’ Americans in specific ways and all others as threats. White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants, Males – real Americans. All the rest are just passing through. Meanwhile, establishment liberals supposedly represent the poor, women, youth, and racial minorities – yet have done precious little in those regards. Corporate donors and lobbies are firmly embedded financially and ideologically in the Democratic party as much as in the GOP. Witness the Barack Obama administration’s failures – African-Americans were worse off at the end of his presidency than they were at the beginning. 

Inequality and deindustrialisation, the consolidation of market fundamentalism and corporate power, and the 2008 financial crisis cannot be laid at the door of the GOP alone. Nor can the continuation of the Cold War-era military-industrial complex, now further boosted by the proxy war in Ukraine and growing tensions and militarisation over Taiwan. Arms firms’ stocks and shares have skyrocketed. Militarism at home and abroad, fuelled by flag-waving and tax dollars, greater inequalities, and an evaporating American dream.

Liberals’ fears of mass mobilisations for democratic rights, against racism and fascism, should not be underestimated. Once the masses – the irrational mob in need of rational expert-led corporate rule – are on the march, who knows where their demands will stop? 

Political establishments the world over have no solutions to offer ordinary working and middle-class people – only division, hatred, violence, and deception. Establishment liberalism is actively responsible for the dangerous political and economic conditions of today, deeply complicit in the rise of state repression, and the embedding of the far right and fascists in the institutions of political power.

The only reliable force today – and historically – that has resolutely opposed fascism and the far right are the broad masses of the people, which is why the GOP is hell-bent on curbing their rights, while Democrats vacillate like rabbits caught in the headlights, and engage in mass deception, claiming that they have it all under control.

We must also remember the lessons of World War II and what the liberal great powers swore to do:

“To destroy the National Socialist Party and its affiliated and supervised organizations, to dissolve all Nazi institutions, to insure that they are not revived in any form, and to prevent all Nazi and militarist activity or propaganda.

 “All Nazi laws which provided the basis of the Hitler regime or established discrimination on grounds of race, creed, or political opinion shall be abolished. No such discriminations, whether legal, administrative or otherwise, shall be tolerated.”

To the masses of ordinary people, who gave their lives in their millions in the struggle against fascism, the above is sacred; to the great powers, such declarations are mere scraps of paper.

Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London, a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences, and a columnist at The Wire.

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