The right tries hard to get ahead of the left story they seem already so far behind in, author and international relations scholar John Feffer explains, “There is a great opportunity for the left and for progressives more generally to assert a bold and visionary policy about not just mitigating the effects of climate change, but getting out in front of the problem and effectively using climate change as a lever for economic transformation.”
Feffer discusses his newest book in this interview. Right Across the World: The Global Networking of the Far-Right and the Left Response,Feffer argues that leftist international connectivity is too limited and disjointed in light of the growing challenges posed by an organized international group reactionaries and autocracies. Feffer discusses the origins, and in discussing the left reaction, he emphasizes the importance for transnational progressive organization.
Busra Cicek Previously, we discussed how “the pandemic brought out many of the pre-existing inequities, whether political or social while some transformational possibilities were also revealed.” You provided your insight on how a unified pandemic response could repair social compacts and help to reshape the national and global economy. What do you consider the “pandemic response”? New Right’s Achilles’s heelAnd other agreements, such as Paris climate deal?
John FefferThe Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) started a project a couple of years ago with interviews with around 80 people around the world who had some direct experience of tracking the far right in different countries. What we wanted to find out was the extent of transnational organizing by the far right. This was the main paradox. The far right, traditionally, couldn’t care less about internationalism or, as it calls it, “globalism.” In fact, the modern far right, the “alt-right,” has basically made a business for itself of attacking globalism, so why are they working together across international borders?
We discovered that the far right has a history of internationalism. For example, the Nazis formed ideological alliances that crossed borders. And it wasn’t just for strategic purposes — to align, for instance, with Japan to have an ally in the Far East — but also for ideological purposes: to identify groups that were considered Aryan or near-Aryan in their perspective. Neo-Nazis used a similar approach to their ideology, less for strategic but more for ideological. There was a history of far right groups working across borders. But what really emerged, and this is the argument of the book, is that there was a much more conscious and much more strategic effort by an emerging far right — a new far right, if you will — from the 1990s on that really understood transnational organizing as essential to their purpose.
The book identifies three levels in organizing. The most recent level is governmental and intergovernmental. This is, of course the one that has received most media attention. This is not the final piece that will fall into place, as, of course, there are the far right wasn’t in power until relatively recently. But once in power, figures like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Viktor Orbán of Hungary cooperated with one another and saw themselves as building a new axis in the world system to align against what they perceive as the liberal internationalist consensus. However, I did not say that this was the final piece. There were two levels of organizing before that.
One was the nongovernmental or civil society of far right. This was very prominent in organizing around the “Great Replacement” doctrine. The Great Replacement ideology was put forward in France around 2011, arguing that “outsiders,” folks who are not native to France in this case, were coming in to basically replace the so-called indigenous people in France — demographically, culturally — and basically hijacking French society. The Great Replacement theory was then applied to other countries in Europe, as well as to white-majority countries such Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. This was one of the ideological binding factors that brought together far-right actors in a civil society.
The third level is digital. This is a crucial level of organizing, as the far right tends to be at the margins in most societies. This vastly dispersed community could only connect digitally. They could organize themselves online, not spatially according the political party in a state, but transnationally through social networks and the internet. These are three different levels of connectivity. transnational organizingTo the right.
The book then discusses the content of this organizing. I mentioned the Great Replacement, but that’s only one element of the ideological map of the far right. Although the goals may vary from one organization to another, and from one country to another, there are some common elements. The far right has also proven to be excellent learners of left organizingGramscian theories about how to takeover culture, civil rights organizing in 1960s, or Saul Alinsky-style organizing in the United States that gained power in the 1970s.
You have content, such white identity politics. Structure is another important aspect. You also have strategies, often borrowed form left organizing. The book’s arguments are now consolidated. Then, at the conclusion of the book, I discuss where this leaves the left. What can we learn from this far right and its examples? transnational organizingWhat opportunities are available to the left now to take advantage of these opportunities?
Cicek: How can the Global Green New Deal be used?
Feffer: There’s good reason to be pessimistic, especially when assessing the progressive movement worldwide. If you look at where progressives are in power in the world, it doesn’t amount to a lot of countries, and there is debate over whether even those governments are progressive. People will raise up, for example the New Zealand government. Jacinda Ardern, but if you talk to a lot of folks in New Zealand, they’re like, “Well, she’s not really progressive.” The same applies to Iceland or South Korea. Or Mexico: AMLOIs it really a progressive?
And then, of course, there’s the EU. Is the European UnionIs it really a victory for progressives Although it was born out social-democratic and even socialist impulses it has clearly evolved from those original intentions. Is it still progressive?
The EU or New Zealand government, or the governments of Iceland and Orkney are viewed from the extreme right. MexicoThese are terrible socialist socialist governments of the left. But from a progressive point of view, it’s an open question whether we are, in fact, in charge anywhere around the world.
It’s discouraging when you look at how successfully the far right has captured not only offices but states. They’ve captured offices in the sense of winning power, but they’ve captured states in the sense of basically turning states into giant moneymaking opportunities for their clients or for their patrons…. So, there’s certainly lots of reasons for pessimism when we look at the array of forces, even progressive forces, being relatively weak when it comes to governance, and the far right being relatively strong.
And I’m not even talking here about authoritarian governance, which may or may not be explicitly far right, but there is certainly ideological overlap, whether it’s ModiIn India, Xi Jinping (China) or Vladimir Putin (Russia): extreme nationalism, hostility toward human rights and civil organization on the left, intolerance towards LGBTQ communities, and so forth.
On the other hand, progressives can say, “Look, we may not be in charge of governments, but we have had tremendous influence over structures and over culture, over society at large. For example, just look at the victories in civil rights movements. Or the victories for the union movement over the decades.”
All of that is prologue for answering your question about The Green New Deal. The book argues that far right is weak on climate issues. The far right has either been in a state of denial — “We’re not in a climate crisis. We should just ‘drill, baby, drill’ when it comes to oil.” — and everything else is a conspiracy theory cooked up by China or socialists or tree-huggers. Or they acknowledge the climate crisis because, increasingly, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that there are horrendous changes afoot in climate.
And they say, “Well, okay, things are happening, but our response should be entirely national. It shouldn’t be international because we don’t want any international authorities dictating to us what we do in the Amazon, what we do with our oil pipelinesWhat should we do about fracking? Our responses should be entirely national and focused on establishing walls or metaphoric walls in some cases, to ensure that climate refugees do not flow into our society and other measures to ensure that our societies — not other societies — are protected from whatever changes are taking place in the climate.”
All of this suggests that there is a huge opportunity for the left and progressives to pursue a bold and visionary strategy about not just mitigating climate change’s effects but also about getting in front of it and using climate change to drive economic transformation. This is something conservatives have been accusing us of for over 20 years. We are trying to capitalize on it. climate crisisto secretly achieve our economic goals. But I’m comfortable with that, to be honest with you. I mean, I do think this is an opportunity for absolutely necessary economic transformation, and the only way we’re going to push it through is if there’s a feeling that there is an imminent threat…. The far right doesn’t have any kind of response to this emergency, and I think progressives do. Progressives not only have a solution to this emergency, but it must also be international. So, it’s an opportunity not only for economic transformation but a new internationalism that is embedded in that economic transformation.
How can we make sure this isn’t just a transformation for those who are wealthy? Let’s look at the biggest and perhaps most important Green New Deal initiative at the moment, the European Green Deal, which was launched around 2019 and then added to this last July with a new set of initiatives, Fit for 55. Some of it can be good. Let’s be clear that a reduction of 55 percent over 1990 levels of carbon dioxideIt is better that what was originally proposed within the EU, which was somewhere around 35 or 40 percent. And it is better then what many other countries are offering. The fact that it is being embedded in EU practice, and it’s not just a set of declarations, that’s good too. The fact that there is a Just Transition Fund and Mechanism that’s part of this, that will ensure that the poorer areas of Europe will be able to keep pace with the decarbonization plans of Europe as a whole, that’s really good.
However, there are some problems.… So, for instance, there’s a European Carbon Border Adjustment MechanismThis will essentially place a tariff on imports into Europe based on how carbon-emitting the manufacturing process was. That sounds like a good idea. You want to penalize polluters, and it’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned for the main target of that which will basically be Russia, because I think we need to pressure Russia to basically wean itself from dirty manufacturing and its dependence on fossil fuel production and export. But there are plenty of other countries that are going to suffer because they don’t have the resources that Russia presumably has to upgrade their manufacturing and agriculture to avoid penalties on their exports.
And then there’s the question of how much is Europe going to actually provide for the rest of the world to decarbonize and make a clean energy transition. There will be some, but not nearly enough to allow the Global South to make this leap. And, as you probably know, it’s been like a decade almost that the UN has tried to mobilize a hundred billion dollars for the Green Climate Fund, which would assist the [poorer countries]This transition should be smooth. As of maybe a month ago, they’d raised just about $80 billion, but they were supposed to meet this target quite a long time ago.
When it comes to decarbonization, there’s still going to be this big gap between the frontrunners and the folks that are back in the pack. I think that can be addressed, so I’m not entirely pessimistic about that. We can push Europe to be more prominent in providing funds for the disadvantaged. Global South, then we’ll have a greater chance of persuading Japan, the United States and China to pony up the money to close this gap.
Cicek: You state that although the new right has not been irreversibly successful, it has created a sense of momentum (Brexit referendum, Trump’s election, Bolsonaro’s victory). My question is about the momentum. Where do we start? Haven’t we tried? What other things do we need to make sure that? authoritarian leaders go home?
Feffer: First, I would say that you’re right. In my book, I discuss how the far right, with its string of wins, has made these victories seem like they were inevitable. But it’s not inevitable. We’ve seen, of course, Trump lose the 2020 election. We see the declining popularityBolsonaro. We see it in the possibility that Orbán will lose in the next election because the opposition finally has gotten behind a potentially viable candidate.
But — and this is a big “but” — there are the “normal” pendulum swings in politics as voters become disenchanted with the promises made by the current government. They turn to the opposition, and then they get disenchanted with that, and they turn back, and so you have this seemingly “normal” pendulum swing.
The far right is determined to short-circuit this process, or, in other words to institutionalize their power. Changing the constitution, for instance, as Orbán has done in Hungary. Redistricting in the United States is done to ensure that Republicans have a semi-permanent hold on power, even though the Democrats are not. demographics are against the RepublicansFor a long time, they have been against Republicans. Redistricting would allow them to remain in power, at least for the short term, without majority support. So, there are different ways that the far right has conceived of upending this “normal” pendulum swing between the center left and center right.
In the 2020 election here in the United States, there was sufficient disenchantment with Donald Trump to give just enough votes to Joe Biden, and that disenchantment was largely because of Trump’s handling of the COVID crisis. There were plenty of other reasons why Trump was, from an objective point of view, a terrible candidate for political office, which some Republicans would own up to, but that wasn’t what ultimately proved to be the determining factor. This terrible tragedy for the United States was the determining factor. mishandling of the COVID crisis. All things considered, the 2020 election should’ve been a landslide victory for Biden. It wasn’t a landslide, but it was just enough to get Biden over the finish line. That should be a stark reminder to the left that we can’t rely on simple pendulum swings to get the far right out of power. We can’t rely on the fact that voters will look at the obvious incompetence of some of these leaders and conclude that they should be kicked out of power.
What the left has to do is provide an agenda that is convincing for enough citizens, a positive agenda rather than just a “kick out the bums” from power, a positive agenda that at least in part appeals to the same constituency that brought the far right into power in the first place. This means that we must address the number one question. economic precariousnessThis has been a major issue for far right movements around the globe. It’s not the only issue … but if a sufficient number of people didn’t feel insecure economically and believe that that economic insecurity came from global economic pressures and the incompetence of their own national government, then the far right would have remained a politically marginal force.
So, if we’re talking about rolling back the far right, progressives clearly have to come up with a policy that is positive and appeals to this constituency. This is where Green New Deal policies can help. You don’t have to call them Green New Deal. They can be called anything we want, but they are essentially a type of economic securityThis is not based on the possibility that an individual will become wealthy or that the government will unleash entrepreneurial energy. It is based on government playing positive and constructive roles in the economy and creating and supporting sustainable industries to provide good jobs. This addresses the economic insecurity issue. Environmental policies by themselves don’t do that. While people are concerned about climate change, the left must be able to create a political program that can bring them to power. It must also address economic precarity and climate change.
Daniel Falcone – Your work reminds us of how the right organization capacity can be seen in both the left and the right international domestic realm. Some on the left in the United States sadly dismiss the right’s actions as a bizarre set of unorganized happenings, not more dangerous than neoliberal democratic corporate policies that are devastatingly harmful. Can you comment about domestic electoral politics? infrastructureWhat does bill tell us about the world? TrumpismWhat does it say about our ability to move the policy needle within an electoral framework?
Feffer: That’s a good jumping-off point because Trump himself also emphasized the importance of infrastructure. He stated that he wanted to see an infrastructure bill pass. He never actually got it together because Trump was not a politician and didn’t understand how politics operated. But infrastructure was big for him,At least in his own mind. The far right can also use infrastructure as a type of category. Hitler was a big believer in infrastructure, such as the construction of the Autobahn. It was vital to his vision for rebuilding Germany. Making Germany great again.All that is left are potatoes and meat for the far right.
You would think that if a bill on infrastructure is passed here in the United States, it would be supported because the Republican Party has said it wants infrastructure. But that is not the truth. 13 RepublicansThe House approved the infrastructure bill. Now that we have seen the debate unfold here in the United States, it is clear that the far right’s agenda is a mess. There’s nothing at the center. There’s actually no real content to the far right. Much of it is symbolic. Okay, yes, there are real policies associated with their symbolism, whether it’s immigration or women’s rights or LGBT questions, so there are real policies associated with their retrograde views. But ultimately, those are symbolic positions, which is revealed by their often-contradictory stances — for instance, on opposing government mandates on vaccines and masking but supporting the government blocking a woman’s right to choose.
These contradictions result from the fact that the far right has no real policies, and it is all symbolic at times. In other words: If infrastructure is useful at a symbolic level for the far right when Trump is in power, then they’re all for it. But when it ceases to be of use because the symbolism of infrastructure has been “hijacked” by the Democrats, then they’re more than willing to jettison whatever transitory affection that they had for infrastructure before….
We may have gone further than that because politics has become a battle of symbols. The Democratic Party has lost the fight because of its insistence on real issues, whereas the right and far right have realized that. real things make no differenceYou won’t be able to do that any longer. Fake things have become more important, whether it’s wild claims, conspiratorial or counterfactual claims — or, again, simply symbolic claims that have little connection to reality. What has become important is the degree to which such a claim or such a policy engenders anger, fury, resentment in the population which pushes people to vote….
Essentially, what the far right has said is, “We will lose if we engage in the traditional playing field because that’s what happened over decades. So instead of changing the way we operate on the traditional playing field, we’ll simply establish a different playing field where we know that we’re stronger. And over time we will shift the debate to our playing field.”
When we look at election results all over the world, we see that the symbolic playing field that the far right is playing seems to be increasingly the one that is important, electorally. This is their way to power.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.