A ghost haunts declining neoliberal globalization: It is the ghost of ultraright populism.
That ghostly shadow, which was hazy at first, but is now clearer, had its first success with Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. and was then later solidified by Jair Bolsonaro’s success in Brazil. One can find a third vertex of this triangle in the Europe of Matteo Salvini (Italy), Víktor Orban (Hungary), Marine Le Pen (France) and the Vox party (Spain).
And as for the person articulating this monstrous trend, we find one name, Steve Bannon, who was chief strategist and presidential adviser in Trump’s White House for seven months.
Who is Bannon? An ex-banker, he was known as the executive director of Breitbart News, the go-to website for the anti-establishment ultraright in the United States. The creation of the “alt-right” movement was driven by this website.* Breitbart News was also the springboard for Bannon’s role as CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign, and later as White House strongman until he was dismissed in August 2017.
But really, that dismissal was a chance for Bannon to kick-start himself. He knew how to read, and take advantage of a Gramscian moment, in which the old is not finished dying and the new is not finished being born.** It was a historic moment in the terminal crisis of capitalism in a multipolar world, where the neoliberal globalization project of the economic elite has entered into crisis, and where, in this chiaroscuro world, monsters rise up.
Until that moment, Bannon had begun testing ideas using Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that harvested data from 50 million Facebook users and used the information to psychologically manipulate the election that gave Trump his victory in the United States.
But a year later, in August 2018, Bannon met with Eduardo Bolsonaro and agreed to work with him in order to get his father, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, elected president of Brazil. Eduardo Bolsonaro is the Brazilian Federal Deputy elected with the greatest number of votes in Brazilian history, almost 2 million.
Everybody knows how that turned out. And Bolsonaro represents the triumph of an ultraright monster in the biggest country in Latin America.
Once again, as in the U.S., it was a social network that was the decisive factor in the wide margin Bolsonaro received in the first round, and in the final result in the second round. In this case the social network was WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook). An entire ecosystem of “fake news” was created, transmitted by the messaging system, and through micro-segmentation and the use of "big data,” it ended up deconstructing political reality, and at the same time, constructing a parallel reality in the population's imagination.
The message that was being pushed was similar in both the U.S. and Brazil (with specific details appropriate for each country): fighting against cultural Marxism and gender ideology, along with a taking a critical stance with respect to mass media (whether CNN or Globo***), which are part of the establishment. This message was crafted to appeal to the fears and aspirations of the working class.
On the basis of this ultraright ideology, from his experience at Breitbart, and as a way of articulating and expanding the “alt-right,”, Bannon created “The Movement.” He set his sights on a Europe where for a long time, the only ultraright party with political muscle was the National Front of Marine Le Pen (which went on to win some European Parliament elections in France with the anti-immigrant vote of the white working class).
The Movement originated in Brussels. This is not a coincidence, since its ally, the Belgian Popular Party, is based in Brussels, and Brussels is the home of the European Parliament. Brussels is Bannon’s next objective; he will try to create a group of eurosceptics and ultraright populists after the European elections take place this coming May.
The first to join in this European group will be the prime ministers of Italy, Matteo Salvini, and Hungary, Víktor Orban, as well as the Spanish ultraright party Vox, whose contact with Bannon is Rafael Bardají, former adviser to José María Aznar’s FAES foundation. Vox just won 10 percent of the vote in the elections in Andalucía (comparable in size to Portugal), and was decisive in ousting the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, giving the presidency to the People’s Party of Spain. Vox could be the big surprise in the next European elections in Spain.
But, in addition, the tentacles of The Movement have already produced offshoots in Germany,
with the Alternative for Germany party; Austria, with the Freedom Party of Austria; Sweden, with the Sweden Democrats party; Poland, with the Law and Justice party; Finland, with the Perussuomalaiset, which is the Finns Party; and the United Kingdom, with Ukip or the U.K. Independence Party.
The eurogroup that may emerge after the elections in May could be the second largest, with a radical ultrarightist platform against immigration, Islam and feminism, and in defense of border security.
In conjunction with this new political map of the European Union, Trump’s U.S. and Bolsonaro’s Brazil form a “trivote” full of monsters. And behind these monsters, the figure of Bannon rises, articulating a worldwide ultraright alternative to neoliberal globalization.
It is up to us, not just to build a resistance to this movement, but to confront it with proposals and alternatives to this world, fragmented and in crisis, that it has fallen to us to inhabit.
*Editor’s note: “Alt right” is a white nationalist movement.
**Editor’s note: The author may be referring to Antonio Gramsci, a Communist leader and Marxist theoretician who died in 1937
*** Translator’s Note: Grupo Globo (Brazil) is the largest mass media group in Latin America.