Globalization and the Rise of the Radical Right
by Yacov Ben Efrat

January 17, 2004

Send this page to a friend! (click here)



Speech delivered at Bamat Etgar in Jaffa, Israel, December 11, 2003

1. Thesis, antithesis…

At a time when people speak of a new world order, when production, capital, the labor force, and the market are all being internationalized, when borders no longer seem important, suddenly there emerges the phenomenon known as the radical right, associated with extreme nationalism. We see it in Europe and in the US administration, while among the have-nots we find its counterpart in Islamic fundamentalism. Before what, then, do we stand: before an era of globalization or before one of nationalism and religious fanaticism? Is the world opening or closing?

Everywhere, it seems, the radical right is achieving acceptability:

In Israel, Ariel Sharon is Prime Minister. In the 1980's, after the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, who would have imagined that this man could ever reach the top? Yet not long ago the Labor Party sat in his government. Today he has a right-wing coalition.

In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen – whose message is "France for the 'French'" – won second place in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections.

In Italy Gianfranco Fini, Deputy PM and leader of the far right National Alliance, will be representing his country at the EU's constitutional convention. Israel just had him in for a visit, despite his 1994 remark naming Mussolini as "the greatest statesman of the century."

In Austria, Nazi-praiser Jorg Heider has moved out of the government, but his party has not.

In Switzerland, in the parliamentary elections of October, the far-right party (anti-immigrant, anti-EU) won most of the votes (27%).

In Russia, Vladimir Putin's party won the recent elections by a landslide. This veteran KGB man has taken over the media, having muscled out the owners of the TV stations, and now he controls the parliament. His aim is to rebuild the Russian empire.

We see the strong rise of nationalist parties also in Denmark, Holland, and Belgium.

All these ascents occur, mind you, within the framework of democracy. We recall that Hitler and Mussolini made their revolutions after coming to power in democratic elections.

Religion too plays a role. Fundamentalist Christianity stands behind George W. Bush and his neo-cons. Around the globe, fundamentalist Islam is on the rise. Crusade meets Jihad.

The mix of religion and nationalism reaches the point of ignition in Israel. Here we have a self-styled "Jewish state" lined up against Muslim-Arab nationalism. People from one side occupy the other side's cities, seal its towns, destroy its houses, kill men, women and children, while people from the other side blow themselves up in the occupier's restaurants and buses.

2. The rise of the right: a consequence of capitalist globalization

Globalization, capitalist style, uses the most advanced techniques to rake in the biggest profits, causing dissonance everywhere. We only need look at Tel Aviv, a fourth of whose population now consists of migrant workers from East Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Capitalist globalizers create huge profits by exploiting cheap labor from the global "periphery". They want a flexible labor force, which they can transport at will from country to country. There is pressure from the poor nations, people who have nothing to eat. They come to seek a living in the richer countries, which want them cheap and unorganized. They bring down the overall price of labor, and profits rise.

The migrant workers become minorities in the employing countries, while fewer company earnings go to the common good. The rising unemployment of the citizens causes bitterness. "Who," people wonder, "is taking our jobs?" Answer: "The foreign workers." "Who is causing this?" "The same big capitalists who've taken over the world." "What do we need to do?" "We need to build a society that is purely French, Spanish, Belgian, whatever, that will be only for the French, based on French values, etc. We need a return to the days when we alone ate the cake. We don't want to be part of this globalized world. We don't want the globalizers throwing their foreign workers at us, we don't want to worry about our international credit rating, we don't want to be part of this game."

Capitalist globalization has created extreme situations in Europe and the US. Among the unemployed, and within minority groups, crime has been transformed into an alternative economy alongside the official one. Where people can't make a living legally, they try other means. Within this illegal economy circulate billions, on which live millions, from the Afghan peasants growing poppies to the Bolivians and Colombians growing coca, and reaching upward to the dealers. The rise of organized crime lowers personal security, and then come the fascists and say, "We'll bring order and morality back. The migrants are responsible for the social diseases."

While capitalist globalization treats the world as a source of profit, the gap between haves and have-nots increases. Israel is an example. Here the topmost fifth earn 21 times more than the bottommost fifth (compared with 11 times more in the US). On both ends of the gap, fear and hatred are nourished by the radical right. Once again we hear the kind of thing that the Likud Central Committee [which includes many from the poorer development towns on the periphery – Ed.] very much wants to see: "We'll build a good state, we'll get rid of the gaps and cut the cake so that everyone will get a share, a commonwealth just for us, not foreigners." This looks, at first, like the socialist idea – but in the twisted meaning that Hitler gave it. Such a program is National Socialism, i.e. socialism for a specific national group. Here, again, the Nazi example is not just a thing of the past.

Nationalism is not an inevitable outgrowth of the human condition. It arose in Europe, after the Industrial Revolution, to serve the needs of the bourgeoisie, which took the position, "The nation is our market. No outsider can compete with us here. The products of outsiders will be subject to tariffs." The bourgeoisie imposed free compulsory education; in the schools it taught a national language and a national history. Thus nations were created. There is nothing natural about them: we see them break up all the time – witness, most recently, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Nationalism has always been so vague an affair that Hitler could claim, "We're not just a nation, we're a race." He invented the Aryan race, which gave him roots to the past. Mussolini said, "We're Romans." Saddam Hussein wrapped himself in the mantle of Nebuchadnezzar. In Israel too they sell us Father Abraham. We're not here very long, after all, half a century, so they tell us, "We're the Jewish people, with a long history, we're something great." But all such nationalism, I repeat, is artificial. In itself, it's not a strong motivator. If it wants to sell an identity, it needs pseudo-historical aids.

3. The rise of religious fundamentalism: a twofold consequence of globalization

Religion entered the fray in the 1980s as part of Ronald Reagan's war against the "Evil Empire". The socialist bloc was then the single greatest obstacle to capitalist globalization. Not only did it hinder access to huge potential markets, but it also forced the western nations to treat their workers tenderly – to keep them from being lured by socialist ideas.

Reagan used religion on two fronts. In Europe he worked with Pope John Paul II. The place was Poland, very Christian, anti-Russian. The Pope was Polish. Everything fit. The US conferred with the Pope, supplying information and gaining his cooperation. The Vatican supported Lech Walesa and the supposedly progressive trade union movement.

But Reagan saw an additional front where he could employ religion against the Soviets: Afghanistan. The idea went like this: "We'll go to Saudi Arabia, we'll use the Muslim Brotherhood, and we'll give them a good reason for their existence: we'll let them make an Islamic war, a jihad. For years they haven't had a decent jihad. The regimes haven't let them." So the Americans went to the Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia: "You want a jihad?" "Sure," they said, "without a jihad we don't exist." "We'll give you a jihad – over in Afghanistan. There's a Muslim people there. Go drive the Soviets out. You'll get help, all you need."

The religious genie popped out of the bottle. Who let it out? The Americans. As a way of fighting the Commies.

The US campaign against the Soviet Union went very well, except for one item. After winning in Afghanistan, the Islamic fighters did not melt away. America said, "Friends, good work! Go home. Bye bye!" This left the Islamists unemployed. After several years, they understood: "The Americans used us! We beat the Soviets for them, and now they're laughing at us! Who are these infidels who dare to laugh at us? We'll make a jihad against them! We beat Red Satan, now it's White Satan's turn!"

Well, someone decided to let this genie out, and we know who. It was the war against the Soviet Union – in other words, the push toward capitalist expansion (= globalization) – that released the religious genie as a weapon. It boomeranged.

The Islamic militants would not be a force to reckon with, however, if they did not have broad popular support. Here is the deeper effect of globalization: it has shunted whole peoples to the margins, where they have nothing but religion, where the only practicable motive is revenge.

Israel, for instance, pummels the Territories day by day, hour by hour, without end. The statistics remain the same: 70% of the Palestinians want the attacks on Israelis to continue. If you ask them whether they believe in some leader, I don't think anyone will get much more than 5%. When it comes to attacks, it's 70%. They don't believe in their leaders, but they believe in revenge. We know what revenge can do. We saw it after World War I. In critical situations where people lose hope in life and in society, they are willing to go and do very hard things.

4. Nationalism out of the bottle

The Americans did not stop with the religious genie. To consolidate their power, that is, to keep Russia small, they made use of nationalism. They went to Yugoslavia and said, "What's this? Since when do Croatians, Bosnians and Serbs all live together? Since when in Czechoslovakia are Czechs and Slovaks living together? And in the former Soviet Union, all these folks: Moldova, Latvia… Every people deserves its own state. You'll advance, you'll have markets, you'll get democracy. Ukraine, same thing. We'll remove it from Russia." They began pumping up that nationalism. Along with it came Skoda factories, Volkswagen factories, steel factories, exploiting the cheap labor of the workers in these states, which remain today as poor as ever. Look at Russia itself. Once it competed with the US, sold planes and technologies and traveled in outer space. Today it's reduced to competing with Saudi Arabia in the sale of oil. Or look at Moldova, once part of the Soviet Union. What's its main export today? Women. Israelis import them too. It was America's interest to dismantle those states and bring about disputes among the peoples. In fact, when it came to the war on Iraq, the US took these countries, with Poland at their head, along with Spain and Italy, and used them to gain a European majority, isolating Germany and France.

5. America in Iraq: "Le monde, c'est moi."

The phenomena we have looked at reach their harshest expression in Iraq. More than a year ago, in Afghanistan, the world supported America's war. When it came to Iraq, however, nations rose up on their hind legs, refusing to go along. Bush had put forth the doctrine of pre-emptive war: if it looks like another country might someday threaten your dominance, attack! The "dominance" in question is not just military, but economic – and everyone knows that. Everyone knew who would get the Iraqi contracts. Here is globalization indeed, but globalization as Americanization. "Le monde, c'est moi."

6. Capital out of the bottle

In their quest for markets, the globalizers liberated not only religion and nationalism from the bottle, they also let capital out. It too had been in a bottle. As long as the Soviet Union existed, offering another alternative, the western governments said to capital, "Be moderate. You may make profits, but there are also other things, other needs that you have to serve. We cannot privatize everything: the army, education, hospitals, telephones, water. If we privatize those things, there'll be people who can't buy them. Therefore, you'll have to pay more taxes. Also, workers must do better than a dollar a day; we have to ensure that labor and capital cooperate to preserve a degree of balance."

Then the Soviet Union went under and along came the capitalist globalizers, saying, "That's the old economics. From now on private initiative will decide, everyone will compete for labor and capital in the free market, whoever succeeds succeeds, who doesn't doesn't. When the tide is high, all the boats go up. The more the rich prosper, the better off the poor will be." That, anyway, is the theory. In reality, most boats sink.

At a certain moment, when a country is no longer able to provide work, nor security, nor social security, when companies rack up big losses, when unemployment reaches 20% or more, at that moment, democracy ceases to function. That happened once, and it will happen again.

7. Socialist globalization

To Marxists – and I speak as a representative of the ODA – the ascent of the right is no surprise. We have never regarded fascism or National Socialism as things of the past. At best it is wishful thinking, at worst it is fear and denial, to say, "Our democratic traditions are strong. It can't happen here."

In the 19th century, when the bourgeoisie was inventing nationalism, Karl Marx said, "The workers have no homeland." He opposed the nationalist idea. He understood that the bourgeois elements that fight each other in the name of the nation for colonies and spheres of influence, for markets and raw materials, would mobilize the workers as cannon fodder. He claimed, therefore, that workers ought to serve their own interests, not those of the bourgeoisie.

In the ODA, we have no homeland. Our homeland is the idea that we believe in, not a region or race or religion, things that divide human beings. We are internationalist – which is why we can include both Arabs and Jews as a matter of course, without making a fuss about it.

Marx was the father of globalization. He wanted a global society where workers would cooperate to advance the interests of all human beings equally. His idea wound up, of course, in constant conflict with nationalism. Socialism was not established through a gradual process, in which people were persuaded to give up private property. It came into being amid social catastrophes, the results of capitalism.

Perhaps such catastrophes will not recur. In that case, we can dispense with socialism. But if we read the situation correctly, if Bush and Sharon, Berlusconi and Fini, Le Pen and Heider, represent a trend, if nationalism is on the rise, if it pits peoples against one another in war (because Iraq is war, and September 11 is war), then our socialist program is relevant.

There is only one way to fight the right-wing alternative and make globalization viable: to free ourselves from capitalism, which has already produced fascism once.

We set forth socialism not as a slogan, but as a program. Marx spoke the truth, "Workers have no homeland." Workers have to rule the world for the sake of us all, for the common good.

Yacov Ben Efrat is General Secretary of the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA), a Marxist party in Israel. He is also an editor of Challenge, an excellent magazine covering the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Other Articles by Yacov Ben Efrat

* The Geneva Accord: Beyond Time and Space
Euphoria and Reality in Palestine

* Not Stalingrad






FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com