Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro
Take a look at Brazil, where the hard-right/soft-fascist candidate Jair Bolsonaro swept to a victory beyond expectations, promising a hunting season on the left, in the spirit of the country’s murderous Cold War-era dictatorship. Or Hungary, where Viktor Orban has instituted a permanent illiberal regime, with the Roma people as victims of increasingly lethal hate. Or Italy, where Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, from the Northern League, strands migrants on the high seas, and talks of cleaning the trash – again, the Roma – from the streets. Or Israel, where the leader of a persecuted people, within living memory of a Holocaust, sends out a tweet identifying the triumph of the strong and the perishing of the weak with virtue. Or half-a-dozen other places.
Then offer at least one cheer for Pauline Hanson.
For two decades, Hanson has been at the centre of the Australian hard right, and her presence there has had a material effect on its development. Having shot to fame by a fluke – disendorsed in 1996, after the ballots had been printed – she consolidated her appeal by emphasising whiny resentment at a changing world. No real account of how the world should be; simply that things weren’t as they were and “I don’t like it”. Her attempts to create a movement were hamstrung by the profound sexism of her supporters, who saw her as a Pasionara, to be chided when she fell short: “Get your act together, girl.”
But nor was it helped by her willingness to put her various parties in the hands of plausible carpetbaggers – often quite odd, young, right-wing men – or, well, her stupidity. Stupidity, not in the sense of having little formal education, or no apparent desire to remedy that; stupidity in that some people, from all walks of life, are simply incapable of thinking ahead.
Over 20 years, as a settler-capitalist country has undergone the strains of mass global transformation, the opportunity to create a unified, consistent hard-right force – nationalist in both economic and cultural terms – has come again and again. Her parties form and collapse even more rapidly than is usual for the right — crackpot goon squads that are pure products of the ticket system. Hanson was never able to pivot from the politics of petit-bourgeois resentment – the chippie owner, hemmed in on all sides – to a big-investment, big-nation politics of reconstruction. Had she been able to do that – had she the wit to access advisers other than bourgeois operators like James Ashby – she could have built a cross-state, right-wing force the size of the Greens.
Perhaps she would have fallen short in any case, at this historical moment. For a decade, nearly every country and region aside from ourselves and east Asia/India have suffered a relentless stagnation in their lives. Trillions upon trillions of dollars of quantitative easing (QE) has been pumped into the economy to keep the banking system afloat, only a small proportion of it hitting the ground. The effect has been silent inflation, eating away at people’s lives, year by year – as, simultaneously, QE has given the illusion of real recovery.
Because QE is a roundabout way of printing money – no wheelbarrows of cash – many have missed the degree to which we are simply rehearsing Mitteleuropa in the 1920s. Jobs growth, trumpeted in the US and UK economies, is of precarious work, and wages are flat. Raw “jobs growth” figures are simply a device for stoking global financial markets. Hence the paradox: Trump-led Republicans facing a Democratic landslide in the House, in mid-term elections usually dominated by older, white voters.
These global factors have caused a collapse in the centre-right towards right-wing populism, as the increased pressures of a stagnant global economy – which is many people’s experience of globalism as a system – has withered the “margin of tolerance” they’re willing to extend to migrants, cosmopolitanism, knowledge-culture elites in the good times. What eats at people’s lives, in the ’20s and now, is a system so abstract that it cannot be grasped, named, controlled. What they demand in return is the concrete: power exercised through violent assertion of will, tied to nation, traditional religion, memories of the shared meanings of monocultural societies, etc. The more the representatives of this mock abstract claims – to justice, fairness, equality, etc – the more pleased sections of the populace are. This is the root of fascism’s appeal: fascism dares to say what it wants, without reference to the claims of an “other”. Fascism crushes mutual recognition, and uses that destructiveness as an energy release.
Without that burning resentment, panic, sense of whole lives being lost – which is how people feel across the world – the Australian hard right has never been able to pivot away from the whining resentment “prelude” stage of their rise. They have been cossetted and protected in this by News Corp, 2GB and related outlets whose purpose is now commercial rather than political – to retain their last audience: older, socially conservative whites. Into this spiked trap, the mainstream right tumbles, incapable of determination of its own politics.
In such circumstances, it is foolish to exaggerate this farce of opportunism, obsession, dim-wittedness, failure into something more than it is. As Larissa Behrendt’s film After the Apology showed, the violence in Australia is structural and bureaucratic, the racist and genocidal practices of mass child removal continuing since the intervention. That is something far more serious than a two-line motion. Fascist violence on a mass scale will be starting across the world soon enough. It will be here some time after that. No need to mistake the mad Hanson’s tea party of the Senate for the bloody battles to come.