Reflections on the Political Crisis and Right-wing Populism
by Frank Deppe and Dieter Boris, 2019
Reflections on the character of the political crisis
by Frank Deppe
[This article posted in March 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.zeitschrift-marxistische-erneuerung.de/article/3444.ueberlegungen-zum-charakter-der-politischen-krise.html.]
“Time is out of joint: shame and grief,
That I came to the world to set it up!”
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1602,
1st act, 5th scene, translation: Erich Fried)
On the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, a Global Risks Report 2019 was published. It is dedicated to the dangers the world will face in the coming year. The range of such risks is broad: from natural disasters, diseases, cyber attacks to the threat of war, trade wars and economic and financial crises. “The greatest risk to humanity… currently lies in ‘geopolitical and geo-economic tensions between the major powers in the world’ … At the same time, ‘macroeconomic risks’ are increasing,” he said. Economic growth is declining worldwide. Financial markets were showing increasing volatility and the global debt burden, at a massive 225 percent of world economic output, was considerably higher than before the ‘global financial crisis’ of 2007 to 2009. In the face of increasing tensions, it was even unclear whether common solutions could be found in the event of the outbreak of a new global crisis.”
The Davos Forum was founded nearly 50 years ago – as a meeting place and discussion forum for a global elite of politicians, top executives of transnational corporations and banks, and prominent academics. The participants of the forum – according to the official mission – want to participate in “improving the state of the world” (“committed to improving the state of the world)”. “Davos” sees itself as an informal forum of “global governance” whose importance is considered by some participants to be higher than that of the United Nations (UN), for example. The public and non-public dialogue between the rich and powerful of this world is supposed to be part of a global management that promotes good business, but also “orderly relations”, including the reduction of borders and tensions, of conflicts between states or between power blocs.
The escalation of global risks and open crises, however, suggests that this goal is increasingly being missed. This year – for different reasons – the political leaders of major states were not present – Donald Trump (USA), Emmanuel Macron (France), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Xi Jingping (China) and Theresa May (UK). The idea and conception of the forum – namely, to launch or support the political management of global problems through transnational consensus among key players in business and politics – seem clearly damaged. The discrepancy between the description of risks and crises on the one hand and the awareness of the lack of problem-solving competence of the political and economic “elites” of the West creates a rather pessimistic parting mood in Davos. The Süddeutsche Zeitung headlines after a few days (Jan. 26, 2019): “Perplexed in Davos. At the World Economic Forum, people openly discuss the negative consequences of globalization, but the powerful admit: there is a lack of ideas on how to eliminate inequality.”
As recently as 2012/13, liberal managers of the Great Financial and Economic Crisis of 2007 – 2009 had cheered that they had the crisis “under control,” that a crash of the entire system had been prevented, and that the rise in mass unemployment had also been limited (unlike after 1929). The U.S. took care of rescuing the financial system; China provided a huge boost to investment and growth to revive the global economy. Economic historian Adam Tooze, in his comprehensive study of ten years of financial crisis, suggests that “the jubilation of liberal crisis managers … was premature… meanwhile, we must be prepared for the fact that the crisis … is not yet over. What we are now dealing with is not a repetition but a mutation and metastasis … the financial and economic crisis of 2007 to 2012 is morphing into a full-scale political and geopolitical crisis of the post-Cold War world order between 2013 and 2017.” Tooze points to “longer-term problems of a modern capitalist democracy,” “growing inequality and disenfranchisement,” and the massive side effects of fighting the crisis that have since become apparent.
Colin Crouch’s post-democratic diagnosis of the times from the years before the Great Crisis has now become radicalized. The tendency toward “authoritarian capitalism,” the “death of democracies,” and the looming of fascist dangers have long since become topics of political and academic debate. The naive optimism that celebrated the new wave of democratization in the world after 1991 (“end of history,” Fukuyama) has given way to the hangover of a new crisis consciousness. Stefan Kornelius laments in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (9/26/2018) about the “farewell of the USA”: with Trump, they have turned into an “inward-looking, destructive and isolationist superpower … the world trade system… is on the verge of collapse with hardly calculable consequences for prosperity and thus social stability in large parts of the world.” Heitmeyer summarizes the “authoritarian temptations”: “An increasingly authoritarian capitalism intensifies social disintegration processes in Western societies, generates destructive pressure on liberal democracies, and promotes authoritarian movements, parties, and regimes.”
Economic and political crises
In the theoretical history of Marxism, the concept of crisis plays a central role. Not infrequently, and often justifiably, Marxists have been reproached for tending to inflate the concept of crisis. Not every contradiction is already a crisis! And also the lack of morality on the part of the rulers (“greed of the rich” etc.) reflects rather the state of normality in the system of profit-making than that of an economic or political-moral crisis. In this context, the question of the connection between economic and political crises has been raised again and again. Marx dealt with both the periodic business cycles and the structural determinants of accumulation crises (overaccumulation of capital, underconsumption, tendential fall of the rate of profit). However, he also emphasized the “counteracting causes” as well as the “cleansing function” of economic crises, which enable the continuation of accumulation or a new upswing. Schumpeter followed this up with his thesis of “creative destruction.” Marx and Engels also recognized a long-term historical tendency of capital accumulation driven by the development of productive forces, the tendency toward the centralization of capital (monopolization), but also by global competition and the effects of class struggle on the power relations of the classes. This tendency necessitates political, i.e. state, intervention to safeguard capital valorization and to “tame” the class conflict in sociopolitical terms.
After the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, Marx and Engels were still convinced that a new economic crisis would also “produce” a new period of revolutionary struggles. However, they later no longer advocated this direct link between the economic and political crisis. They were aware that after 1871 (“Paris Commune”) a new epoch of capitalist development, nation-building and organization of the workers’ movement had begun. Engels stated in 1895: “The time of surprise, of revolutions carried out by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is over.” Nevertheless, Marxist theorists and politicians have repeatedly invoked – especially in periods of economic crises – the connection between the collapse of production, the rise of misery and mass unemployment, and a political crisis in which class struggles radicalize to the point of a “revolutionary crisis,” i.e., open struggle for state power. The imperialism analyses from the beginning of the 20th centuryhave worked out the connection between monopolization and the cross-border expansion of capital, rearmament and the approaching danger of war. The First World War, in fact, turned out to be a hitherto completely unknown intensification of the political crisis, the “primordial catastrophe” of the 20th century. Between 1929 and 1933, the Communist International diagnosed a “death crisis of capitalism,” to which it responded through fascist dictatorship and the preparation of another war. The strategy of a “revolutionary rush to power” derived from this failed, and not only in Germany in 1933.
In the 20th century, Marxist economists – against the background of the “long waves” of the business cycle – distinguished between periods with expansive or stagnant underlying tendencies, between “major” and “minor crises.” In the Great Crises, as a result of class struggles and wars, the relationship between accumulation and state regulation of the entire process of reproduction and the stability of society as a whole were each redefined.
In 1920, Lenin, in writing on the critique of “left radicalism,” had spoken of a “fundamental law of revolution” “that has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions of the 20th century.” Revolutionary situations do not arise as a result of a cyclical economic crisis, but in it reactions to multiple – longer-term – crisis processes are condensed – from the impoverishment of broad masses of people, to the experience of political despotism and oppression, to the consequences of wars. He was aware that the catastrophe of the world war (including its economic consequences) formed an essential political precondition for the escalation into revolutionary crisis situations in various countries. For Lenin, the transition from economic to political crisis was connected with the emergence of a revolutionary situation in which the struggle for state power takes center stage. “For revolution it is not enough that the exploited and oppressed masses become aware of the impossibility of continuing to live in the old way and demand a change; for revolution it is necessary that the exploiters can no longer rule in the old way. Only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want the old and the ‘upper classes’ can no longer in the old way, only then can the revolution triumph. In other words, this truth can be expressed thus: The revolution is impossible without an all-national crisis (encompassing exploited as well as exploiters). Consequently, for revolution it is necessary: first, that the majority of workers (or at any rate the majority of class-conscious, thinking, politically active workers) fully grasp the necessity of the overthrow and are ready to go to their deaths for its sake; second, that the ruling classes undergo a crisis of government which draws even the most backward masses into politics, … renders the government powerless, and makes it possible for revolutionaries to overthrow this government quickly. “ Lenin’s thesis of the “primacy of politics over economics” refers, of course, to the level of political practice in which theoretical insights and strategic conclusions must be communicated. This, for Lenin, is the central task and role of the political organization, the party.
Great crises as crises of hegemony
After 1928, in prison, Antonio Gramsci dealt with the experience of two crises: the post-war revolutionary crisis (1917-1923), which ended with the victory of fascism in Italy, and the world economic crisis after 1929, which ended with the victory of fascism in Germany. He opposes deterministic and economistic interpretations of crisis. Every crisis is embedded in complex historical-political contexts. “It will be necessary to fight anyone who wants to give a single definition of these events or, what is the same thing, find a single cause or origin. It is a process with multiple manifestations…” The crisis always offers the opportunity for the reorganization of the “ruling bloc” or for a “passive revolution,” that is, for economic, social upheavals in order to re-stabilize the rule of capital or the bourgeoisie. The “ruling bloc” thus responds a) to the contradictions of capital accumulation that produced the crisis, and b) to the relationship of forces of the classes expressed in the social and political struggles to overcome the crisis. In this sense, the Great Crises constitute turning points in the history of bourgeois-capitalist society. What can be learned from Gramsci is that there is no mechanism that directly transforms the economic structural crisis of capitalism into a revolutionary crisis.
The hegemony of a class presupposes that it is (economically) dominant and (politically) leading. It must (within the framework of a democratic constitution) also base the legitimacy of its rule on the consensus of subaltern classes or class fractions. In the process, class compromises must be made. “The interests and tendencies of the groupings over which hegemony is to be exercised (are) taken into account.” From this “a certain balance of compromise is formed, that is, that the leading group makes sacrifices of a corporate-economic kind, but there is no doubt that such sacrifices and such compromise cannot concern the essential, for if hegemony is political-ethical, it cannot but be economic as well, cannot but have its material basis in the decisive function which the leading group exercises in the decisive core area of economic activity.”
Gramsci then speaks of an “authority crisis” or an “interregnum”. “When the ruling class has lost the consensus, i.e. is no longer ‘leading’ but solely ‘ruling,’ holder of pure coercive power, this means precisely that the great masses have moved away from traditional ideologies, no longer believe in what they believed in before, etc. The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot come into the world: in this interregnum the most diverse symptoms of illness occur.” The “death of the old ideologies,” he adds, at the same time opens favorable conditions for the “unheard-of spread of historical materialism.” Elsewhere, he refers to the crisis of authority (“organic crisis”) as a “crisis of hegemony or crisis of the state in its totality.” In the face of the “mortal danger” (that would be the proletarian revolution), all parties and groups of the (old) ruling bloc unite “under a single leadership”, “the only one considered capable of solving an existentially dominant problem and averting a mortal danger.” In this context, Gramsci refers to Marx’s “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, that is, to the connection between Bonapartism and fascism.
Manifestations of the “organic crisis
Marx and Gramsci – at different times (1852/1934) – analyzed political crises in the system of bourgeois rule. The economically ruling class, the bourgeoisie, which had advocated the declaration of human rights and parliamentary-representative democracy under the sign of liberalism, submits to a dictator who – by coup d’état – suspends parliamentary institutions, suppresses the left and organizes popular consent through plebiscites. Bonaparte relied on adventurers, the socially declassed, and the parcel peasants, small farmers who had emerged after 1789 from the dissolution of aristocratic large estates, but who were predominantly poverty-stricken until 1850. In the “18. Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Marx writes: “By denouncing what it formerly celebrated as ‘liberal’ now as ‘socialist,’ the bourgeoisie admits that its own interest dictates that it be subjected to the danger of self-government, that in order to establish tranquility in the country, above all its bourgeois parliament must be quieted, in order to preserve its social power intact, its political power broken; that the private bourgeois can only continue to exploit the other classes and to enjoy unclouded property, family, religion, and order, on condition that their class be condemned to equal political nullity with the other classes; that, in order to save their purse, the crown must be cut off from it, and the sword which was to protect it must at the same time be hung as a sword of Damocles over its own head. “
The turn to Bonapartism or authoritarianism is not a direct response to an economic crisis. It is also only a mediated response to the danger of proletarian revolution; for – according to Marx – the working class and its left, communist wing had already been defeated in June 1848. In Gramsci’s remarks on the character of Italian fascism, however, its front position against socialism and communism at home and against the Soviet Union or against the CI naturally plays an essential role. Nevertheless, Gramsci is more interested in the question of whether and how the victory of fascism in Italy after World War I – then also as a reaction to the Russian October Revolution of 1917 – was favored by the hegemonic weakness of the bourgeoisie in the last instance, which had persisted since the founding of the state (1870). No stable hegemonic constellation emerged from the Risorgimento – according to Gramsci – under the political leadership of the Italian bourgeoisie. This resulted in extreme political instability as well as the inability of governments to resolve the country’s problems and contradictions (North-South antagonism: industrialization versus quasi-feudal agrarian relations in the South; as well as the class antagonism between the working class and the bourgeoisie). In addition, there was the foreign policy of a sub-imperialist power with colonial “catch-up” needs. These were features of a constellation of rule whose contradictions intensified during the World War. In the subsequent “two red years” (the council movement in the north, the “biennio rosso”) and finally with the victory of fascism by 1922, a political crisis of hegemony manifested itself among the bourgeoisie, which willingly submitted to Mussolini’s dictatorship in order to secure its economic domination and to profit from the fascist state’s suppression of the socialist/communist workers’ movement.
The “Bonapartist constellation” can thus be understood as a response to an “organic crisis” in which economic domination and political leadership (along with the mobilization of consensus “from below”) by the bourgeoisie (and by the ideological state apparatuses) are increasingly falling apart. Consensus is being replaced by repression, democracy by dictatorship, pluralism by the cult of leadership and völkisch identities. But how does the “organic crisis” appear as a political crisis on the surface? Its most general expression is political instability, disorder: as a result of elections, no clear majorities emerge to form governments, the “people’s parties” of the “old order” of a “stable (democratic) center” lose prestige and voters, the “political class” (and its associated media sector) falls into disrepute. In the minds of growing segments of the people, confidence in their competence to solve pressing social and political problems is waning. Cases of corruption, as well as the self-alimentation of the political class by the state finances, reinforce the loss of legitimacy of the “bloc in power” and the disdain on the part of the subalterns, who are now also called upon by the upsurge of left-wing and right-wing populist movements and parties. The political right propagates the leader model as an alternative to the party state and parliamentarism. Carl Schmitt (1888 – 1985), whom the New Right still reveres today, had already argued in this sense in his 1923 critique of parliamentarism that the “myth of the nation” – personified by a “leader” (Duce) acclaimed by the people – was superior to the “relative rationalism of parliamentary thinking” in a time of crises.  The social and political left, on the other hand, in addition to defending human rights, will advocate a program of social democracy critical of capitalism, calling for interventions in market freedoms as well as property relations in the interest of the “many” and addressing the exit from fossil fuel dependence and growth coercion.
Market freedoms and democracy
The crisis of democratic representation was already recognized at the beginning of the 21st century as a consequence of the weakening of nation-state institutions in the course of the globalization process. The tendency toward “authoritarian capitalism” results, among other things, from a “new constitutionalism” that subjects the actions of nation-states to the constraints of global competition (location competition). Market-oriented democracy,” as called for by the German chancellor, is based on the premise that there is no alternative to adapting politics to the demands of global competition. In the field of domestic policy, therefore, the competitiveness of the respective location (the company, the region, as well as the state as a whole) must be secured and optimized. Individuals are also subjected to this competitive discipline (at school and university, at work, and even in social relationships). The internalization of such constraints characterizes not only the type of “labor entrepreneur,” but also a TV culture in which superstars, models, and winners of quiz shows are incessantly produced. A Social Darwinist like Donald Trump congratulated the winner on his TV show as an “American Hero” and shouted to the rest, “You are Fired!” This makes the policy of neoliberalism appear to have no alternative, both internally and externally (“There is No Alternative”). According to Stephen Gill, by the end of the old century neoliberalism had already turned into “disciplining neoliberalism,” which is no longer hegemonic (in Gramsci’s sense), but is increasingly associated with a “politics of domination.” The “classics” of neoliberalism are the “classics” of neoliberalism.
The “classics” of neoliberal thought – from Vilfredo Pareto to F.A. Hayek – were already convinced that the expansion of market freedoms must necessarily lead to the restriction of “popular sovereignty.” They feared that the lower classes – supported by a strong socialist or communist labor movement – will use the right to vote to enable state policies that socialize private ownership of the means of production or even make regulatory interventions in property relations, in the distribution of wealth (through tax policy), in the power of disposal of capital at the enterprise level (through economic democracy), in the risk areas of unemployment, illness and old age, etc. The crises of capitalism – in 1929ff, in the 1970s and in the present – were and are therefore still assessed by the disciples of these “classics” as the consequence of political – especially socio-political – interventions in the freedom of the markets. Against such dangers, one would then also have to be prepared to change the constitution (by restricting the right to vote or by declaring a state of emergency) or to support a dictatorship whose further task would be to break the power of the trade unions.
The weakening of nation-state regulation through globalization processes was often interpreted – by liberals as well as left-wing anti-statists – as progress during the upswing phase of the neoliberal hegemonic cycle until the end of the 20th century. “Global governance” would be ensured by international organizations, NGOs and free trade agreements, but also by the expansion of supranational competences, e.g. of the European Union. The power structures of the “American Empire” were mostly ignored. Toni Negri’s followers welcomed the loss of sovereignty of the nation-state, imagining themselves already on the road to communism. They also did not face the question of what role states and global institutions would play in the system of transnational institutions in the event of world economic and political crises. From the beginning, the reason for this ignorance was that they had not recognized the global system (empire) as a system of political and economic power relations and imbalances, that is, of power hierarchies between states. The maxim “globalization (plus cosmopolitanism and abolition of border regimes) is good – nation-state (with nationalism) is reactionary” is therefore at an extremely low level of scientific and political knowledge. It does not go beyond mere moral outrage in the face of the recent reactionary renaissance of nationalism and racism.
Loss of control and crisis of representation
The crisis of representation (as a crisis of legitimacy), however, is in turn reinforced by the “loss of control” (Heitmeyer): on the one hand, a “loss of control of the ruling polity”, on the other hand, at the level of individuals. These feel – often independently of their concrete socio-economic situation – fear and powerlessness with regard to the – current and future – shaping of their working and living conditions. Dieter Sauer et al. note in their “Arbeitsweltliche Spurensuche” (search for traces in the working world) on the influence of “right-wing populism” in the trade unions that among wage-earners the “effects of the increasing pressure to perform” in companies “reinforce resigned attitudes” to “defend themselves against it”. They are “dominated by fears of relegation and the future, by loss of control and experiences of devaluation.” Together with “disenchantments with politics,” this opens the “gateway for right-wing populism.”
The crisis of representation is thus closely related to a social crisis that goes hand in hand with the divisions between top and bottom, with social insecurity about the future, with feelings of powerlessness in the face of “globalization,” and with the perception of the risks of the economic-ecological pincer crisis, as well as with the weakness of the social and political left. Even before 2008, many people’s mistrust was focused on transnational projects that were touted as progress within the framework of the EU (single market, euro) or within the framework of international organizations (IMF, World Bank, “Washington Consensus,” etc.) in the design of new free trade agreements. The eastward expansion of the EU as well as the introduction of the euro met with massive criticism within many member states. There were already complaints of a split between educated middle classes, the “elites,” and the “people.” Among the “little people,” fear of social decline was increasingly combined with a negative assessment of a policy of cross-border liberalism and its consequences (for example, on the labor markets). There were massive protests against the EU’s so-called “Bolkestein Directive,” which was supposed to liberalize the European labor market for services – especially from trade unions, which knew about the effects of low-wage competition (undermining national, collectively agreed regulations) from the EU’s Eastern European member states. Since then, right-wing nationalism has tried to take advantage of these sentiments.
The erosion of the hegemony of the (economically) ruling class, the bourgeoisie, results in the last instance from the fact that the latter – as an expression of the loss of control – does not have a majority-capable “state project” as crisis management, with which both coherence within its own class and the integration of various class fractions (including representatives of the working class) into the “integral state” or “ruling bloc” can be guaranteed. In the post-World War II Fordist formation of capitalism, the class compromise of welfare-state regulated capitalism was one such project designed to respond to the interwar crises and systemic competition. Conservative, liberal and socialist forces competed for the concrete shape of the project. As a result of elections, governments were formed which, in the Federal Republic, were led by the CDU/CSU – shifted to the right – or by the SPD – shifted to the left. The neoliberal “counterrevolution” since the end of the 1970s was also a project that mobilized majorities and was able to incorporate various class factions in the “bloc in power.” The new social democracy of Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder adopted and modified the project, which was to realize global competitiveness and the dismantling of state regulation at home. The projects of European integration and transatlantic security policy (in the Cold War era), were also supported over a long period of time by broad support from the major parties and their electorates. They were widely equated with the “prosperity” and “security of the West.” The fact that negative attitudes and evaluations in these policy areas in particular had been on the rise since the beginning of the century was an early indicator that central areas of prevailing politics could no longer count on unbroken approval.
The Crisis of Globalization and Rising Inequalities
Wolfgang Streeck was quick to point out that with the transition to a period of “interregnum,” the “experts in the repair shops of capitalism…have, it seems, never been more divided than they are today, not only about the therapy, but also about the diagnosis…The three trends, now decades old, that mark the gradual decay of contemporary capitalism as a social system capable of reproduction continue unabated and are beginning to spiral downward together. Declining growth, rising inequality, and rising overall debt-where low growth increases income inequality just as it conversely, in the form of increasing concentration of social wealth among the top ‘one percent,’ stands in the way of higher growth; economic stagnation makes debt reduction just as difficult as high debt stands in the way of the additional borrowing required for new growth, even at the lowest interest rates; and with ever-higher debt pyramids, the risk of a renewed financial system collapse continually increases. “
The cycle of hegemony opened in the last quarter of the 20th century in the Great Transformation and with the triumph of neoliberal policies and ideology has passed into a constellation of “reflexive globalization”. The expansive phase up to the end of the century was characterized by enormous growth and dissolution of boundaries, internationalization of production and financial markets, opening of new markets (as a consequence of the collapse of real socialism and the opening of China), as well as by the beginning of a (digital) revolution of productive forces, a recomposition of the working class, and the dismantling of the Fordist welfare regime. “Reflexive globalization,” on the other hand, means that the internal contradictions of this expansion are having more and more of an impact on the very metropolises of capital from which these processes emanate. The consequence of the wars waged by the West since 1991 are part of this, as are the consequences of the growth of industrial civilization, which is partly responsible for the destruction of nature as well as for climate change, but also for the misery in the world. The increase in refugee and migration movements in the world has just as much of an impact on the metropolises as the crisis potentials on the global financial markets and the efforts of numerous governments to arm and modernize their armies. In this way, they aim to improve their position of power in the face of intensified international competition. Military threat potentials are intended to support national interests in international and bilateral conflicts.
The second dimension of the “organic crisis” underlying the rise of right-wing populism and nationalism is reproduced by “uneven development” in capitalism. In the capital metropolises themselves, the policies of neoliberal globalization have driven an enormous strengthening of transnational corporations and finance capital, and at the same time the division between rich and poor, between the top “1%” and the rest of the “99%”. As a result of the flexibilization and internationalization of labor markets, a growing sector of precarity (with temporary employment and low wages) has established itself in the capital metropolises, encompassing almost a third of the workforce and giving rise to the phenomenon of “full-employment poverty.”
The decline of the “West” – led by the U.S. – and the rise of the “East” – led by China – produce new power conflicts and increase the risk of military confrontations. In the “ruling bloc,” therefore, the willingness to accept violent and authoritarian solutions for the state’s ability to act will increase. At the same time, the uneven socioeconomic development between different states – on the global level, but also within the West or the European Union (EU) – intensifies both the competitive pressure and the tendency toward national isolation. In the EU, this tendency has clearly intensified since the 1990s, since the eastward enlargement, the realization of the internal market and the introduction of the euro. The establishment of authoritarian regimes in Hungary and Poland, for example, was also a reaction to the fact that, via the EU, exports of goods and capital from the “rich” states (above all Germany and Austria) inhibit the development of a national bourgeoisie, while at the same time forcing the export of cheap labor to the rich countries. When, as a result of the crisis of 2007/8, unemployment increased and poverty as well as public and private debt increased once again, the ground was prepared for the successes of a nationalist policy that prioritizes national economic promotion and social policy as well as the isolation from a common refugee and asylum policy of the EU.
In dealing with these constellations of contradictions, a new – social and political – line of conflict has solidified, which both divides the “ruling bloc” and, at the level of civil society, triggers sometimes fierce controversies and confrontations as a contrast between “cosmopolitanism and populist nationalism”. Nancy Fraser has sharpened – also for the left debate – this line of conflict. The political crisis of neoliberalism is reflected in the fact that the electoral successes of right-wing populists, as well as those of the political left (e.g. Sanders or Corbyn), include rejections of “economic- and finance-driven globalization, neoliberalism, and the political establishments that promoted both.” These voters supported a No vote to the “lethal combination of austerity policies, free trade, exploitative credit and debt practices, and precarious, low-paid employment.” According to Fraser, this “mutiny of the electorate” is directed primarily against a “progressive neoliberalism” that is a “state project” of the “ruling bloc” of the New Labour era (from Clinton to Tony Blair to Gerhard Schröder, Felipe Gonzales et al. ) was supported by a broad alliance of social and political forces: “an alliance between, on the one hand, tone-setting currents of the new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and the advocates of LGTBQ rights) and, on the other hand, commercial, often service-based sectors of high symbolic value (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood).” Via the New Social Democracy in government, parts of the trade unions were also integrated into this bloc. The left – according to Fraser – should think about “how we can overcome the political economy of financialized capitalism by reinvigorating Sanders’ catchphrase of ‘democratic socialism’ …”.
Challenges to crisis management
What constellations of contradictions constitute the core of the “organic crisis” and reinforce loss of control and perplexity at the level of political crisis management?
Tooze states at the end of his major study, “Since 2007, the scale of the financial crisis has placed extreme strain on the relationship between democratic policymaking and the demands of capitalist system governance.” This “manifests itself in a ‘crisis of political parties.'” They are paying the price for their “inability” to “constructively and effectively confront the crises and pressures.” The fear of a new global economic and financial crisis is accompanied by the fear that the global crisis management of the years after 2008 via the “Dollar Wall Street regime” and the FED is not repeatable and would be deliberately blocked by Donald Trump with the “America First” policy. The answers of the experts as well as the relevant political actors to these dangers show helplessness! There is no “project” of a global answer and crisis solution which could establish the hegemony of the bourgeoisie (in the sense of Gramsci).
The “economic-ecological pincer crisis” demands national as well as transnational efforts to stop the destruction of the environment, natural resources and climate change. Angela Merkel pleaded in Davos for states to “act together and strengthen the ‘multilateral order’ in the face of global problems – climate change, pollution, refugees, financial crises.” But it also left us perplexed because it had nothing to say about the practical implementation of this order. The alternative ideas of left economists, growth critics, and global ecology movements are marginalized by governments that pursue the “national interest” first and foremost in the interests of the ruling economic class. The cost of rearmament and the military exceeds the resources spent on protecting the environment and combating the climate crisis. The power of international organizations and multilateral (institutionally secured) agreements is waning in the face of crises and conflicts related to the struggle for the new world order.
Responses to the accelerating productive power revolution (“Industry 4.0) are highly controversial. Utopias of a society freed from the burden of heavy physical labor, in which working hours can be significantly reduced, are confronted with negative forecasts and scenarios. These predict an increase in unemployment due to redundancies in the industrial sector (especially the automotive industry) and thus an increase in poverty and misery. At the same time, competition between states to appropriate the benefits and profits of the technological revolution, which also permeates the military sector, will increase. Domestically, there is a need for a policy of reducing working hours while at the same time developing new training and career prospects in services – care, health care, science and culture. The terms “digitalization” and “Industry 4.0” dominate the political discourse; they mark a “state project” in the interest of the economic ruling class – above all to ensure global competitiveness – that will intensify social divisions within as well as competition and power struggles between states.
Inequality between classes and between states or regions has been exacerbated by the management of the Great Crisis after 2008. Thus, the pressure of migration – as a reaction both to the consequences of wars, but also to environmental damage and water shortages, to poverty, dictatorships and “failed states” – has also increased on the rich metropolises of the North. There, new social and cultural problems are emerging, but also new political-ideological divisions regarding how to deal with migration. The responses to these problems by the “ruling bloc” – sealing off on the one hand, increasing competitiveness on the other, and a flanking social policy that increases the pressure to prove oneself in deregulated labor markets with rising precarious employment – flank social polarization, but also social decline processes (especially in the middle classes). The rise of right-wing populism, which wants to reduce and stop immigration, is among other things a reaction to this development. However, dissatisfaction with the prevailing politics is increasing, as is the willingness to protest and resist, including the willingness to strike. The “yellow vests” movement in France of 2018/19 is perceived as the failure of a young president who only recently had himself celebrated as a “revolutionary” who wanted to radically change the crisis of the economy, politics and society in France – in the sense of a neoliberal reform program. A national assembly of the “Yellow Vests” drafted a call at the end of January 2019, stating their goals: “Since November 17, from the smallest village, from rural areas to the largest city, we have risen up against this deeply violent, unjust and intolerable society. We will not let this continue! We are rebelling against the high cost of living, insecurity and poverty. We want to live in dignity for our loved ones, our families and our children. 26 billionaires own as much as half of humanity, this is unacceptable. Let’s share the wealth instead of the misery! Let’s put an end to social inequality! We demand an immediate increase in wages, minimum social standards, allowances and pensions, an unconditional right to housing and health, education and free public services for all.”
Alternatives of left politics advocate redistribution in income and wealth, the restoration of a strong public sector, a significant increase in investment for a functioning infrastructure, in health, care and education. All of these measures require interventions in property and wealth relations and measures to regulate markets – combined with measures for a new international economic and financial order and multilateral regimes to address global problems. Such an alternative can be the starting point for socialist politics in the 21st century. However, in order to prevent this, the political forces associated with the economic ruling class must increasingly move to restrict democratic rights and use methods of violence to secure their rule.
Hegemonic shifts and the EU
All these fields or subfields of the “multiple crisis” are superimposed, overdetermined by the profound changes in the field of world order. After the end of system competition, the USA saw itself as the only world leader and therefore also as the “world policeman”. Germany, as a “sub-imperialist” power that was simultaneously expanding its supremacy in the European Union (EU), was well able to come to terms with this strategy. The U.S. world policeman role failed with the military response to “Nine-Eleven-2001.” At the latest with the Great Crisis of 2008 onwards, the awareness of the decline of the “West” and the US leadership role increased. The rise of China, the shift of the weights of the world economy from the Atlantic to the Pacific or to the “South” had, of course, already been registered since the end of the last century. However, the consequences of the crisis in the West – the election of Donald Trump and the crisis of the EU – have enormously increased the perplexity and the awareness of the loss of control. It is not the global economic and military power of the U.S., but its hegemonic leadership role (combined with the provision of public goods) that is being called into question by Donald Trump’s “America First” policy itself. In this context, as Ulrich Menzel points out, the “old leading power” faces a “hegemonic dilemma”: “Should it maintain its leadership role, should it continue to provide international public goods despite its declining capacity, tolerate the free-riding of the catching-up laggards and thereby promote its own decline? Or should it take up the emerging conflict of hegemony in the sense of limiting, even abrogating, its role as a supplier of international public goods and focusing its dwindling resources only on its own development?”
The Chinese Communist Party’s program for the 21st century, presented by its leader Xi Jinping at the last party congress (October 2017), aims to overcome poverty at home, but also proclaims the vision of a “new world order” that is not subject to the hegemony of the West. China offers precisely the countries of the South models of economic and political cooperation that can advance their development and independence. At the same time, the “Silk Road” project opens up prospects for economic development as well as closer economic integration of the Euro-Asian region (including Europe and Russia) through the expansion of transport routes and economic interdependence. Together with its military efforts, the People’s Republic of China therefore embodies the classic type of emerging, challenging great power that will question the role of the old leading power (the U.S.) or the old leading powers (the West). Political uncertainty and perplexity in the West also relates to the question of whether there will inevitably have to be an “elimination struggle” in the course of the century. Here, too, the strategic options within the “ruling bloc” are divided: on the one side are the (more liberal) supporters of cooperation (and free trade) – on the other the (conservative) hardliners and “hawks” who rely on the power of military superiority. The prevention of such a violent “elimination struggle” has become one of the central issues of peace and foreign policy in the 21st century!
In this context, the state of the EU conveys the chilling image of a deep political crisis, the overcoming of which is not in sight. At the turn of the millennium (2000), the Lisbon Summit was still celebrating the successes of integration policy after the end of the East-West conflict: Single market, eastward enlargement, economic and monetary union, introduction of the euro. The Union – so the heads of state proclaimed – was on its way to becoming a “global player,” a world power in a newly forming world order. Nothing has remained of this mood. In the euro crisis – brought to a head in the Greek crisis, then in Brexit – supranational elements of a European economic and financial regime have indeed been expanded since 2011. To this end, the ECB assumed an important role as crisis manager. However, it saw its task primarily in “rescuing” the European banking system, which is closely interconnected with the “dollar Wall Street regime” (Peter Gowan). Nevertheless, in the course of the crises since 2008, both centrifugal forces, disintegration tendencies, and, ultimately, nationalist discourses and activities have increased enormously. In the refugee crisis since 2015, it became dramatically clear how “in the sign of diverging national interests and intensified distributional struggles” politics became increasingly renationalized. Germany’s economic supremacy was expanded. The coercive austerity regime imposed by the German government on Greece and other debtor states has severely damaged German leadership, and overall the legitimacy of the “Europe” project – as a project of prosperity, democracy and peace. Adam Tooze refers to the eurozone as “a German prison.”
Brexit is seen by more than a few actors as the beginning of a disintegration of the EU in its current composition and constitution. Former Foreign Minister Joseph Fischer fears the consequences of renationalization: the “states of Europe … (will) finally abdicate from the world stage in an order of sovereign states …. Europe would be torn between transatlantism and Eurasia and become easy prey for the non-European great and world powers of the 21st century – and, if worst came to worst, even the theater of their global hegemonic struggles.” For the hyper-realist Herfried Münkler in the “Courts of Power,” Europe – under German or Franco-German leadership – must “secure its vital interests independently of the United States” after Trump’s election and face the “challenges on its borders.” These lie in the east (Russia), in the southeast (from the Balkans to the Middle East) and in northern Africa (Maghreb). The “EU is no longer the security ward of the United States… It must develop and maintain, independently of the United States, all the capabilities needed to protect its space while ensuring that it can seize opportunities to have a voice in world politics.” The Machiavellian strategist, of course, forgets to address the question of how the EU’s political crises are to be overcome so that the EU – as a collective actor alongside the great powers – could have an influence on world politics.
A socialist project against nationalist
The reflections on the political crisis support the thesis of the change of epoch or the transition into a crisis-like period of “interregnum”. This is characterized in particular by the fact that the economic ruling class and its factions – at the level of nation states as well as in the system of “global governance” – are increasingly losing the ability to control economic and political challenges, crises and contradiction complexes. Nor do they have a hegemonic state project that, in the bloc in power, enables coalitions with other classes and class fractions – at the same time international alliances with the capacity for global crisis management. The often invoked perplexity of politics reflects this fundamental dilemma. Yet the crisis consciousness of the time is not determined by economic collapses: the world economy has developed dynamically in the 10 years following the 2008 crisis. The economic system of global capitalism, based on global corporations, financial markets (with the U.S. dollar as the decisive anchor currency), and the power of the American state, has been expanded even further.  The downsides of economic prosperity appear in the long-term decline of the U.S. share of global GDP, but especially in the “decline of society … with particularly mediocre scores in environmental quality, nutrition and basic health care, and access to basic knowledge.” The U.S. has been a major contributor to this decline. However, numerous countries have taken much longer than the U.S., Germany and some states in the north of the EU to recover economically from the consequences of the crisis. Italy is already reported to have fallen back into recession by early 2019.
The production of wealth on a global scale has accelerated enormously. The “digital revolution” is changing not only communication systems, but also the systems of production, work and mass culture. Potentials for “good life” and “good work” are opening up everywhere; at the same time, divisions are widening between the bottom and the top, between poverty and wealth, between the greed and extravagance of the rich and the misery of the marginalized. The policy of “muddling through” does little to mask those pessimistic forecasts that fear the “interregnum” as a transition to a new “age of catastrophes.” That the “jeunesse dorée” of the ruling class (and its aggregated cultural industries, which include the world of fashion and sports) lives and celebrates by the motto “After us, the deluge” reminds some of pre-revolutionary periods in European history. The enjoyment of wealth by the rulers with a simultaneous loss of social and political hegemonic capacity – in the sense of loss of control and helplessness – characterizes a culture of decadence. Machiavelli wrote – in Florence – in the early 16th century against this tendency – by the way little successfully; because the foundation of an Italian state took place only well 350 years later! The so-called fin-de-siècle crisis at the end of the 19th century was thematized by intellectuals who – such as Friedrich Nietzsche – advocated an anti-bourgeois radicalism in view of the “flourishing” of capitalism, a decadent bourgeoisie (“coupon cutters”) and the upsurge of the socialist workers’ movement in Europe. They despised a bourgeois class that increased and enjoyed its wealth but seemed no longer able to meet the great challenges posed by socialism.
Today, völkisch-nationalist ideologues seek to hark back to these schools of thought (from Nietzsche and Sorel to Carl Schmitt). They despise the decadence of a “bourgeois class” that has lost its ability to respond successfully to the challenges and crises of the present – in other words, to cope with a necessary “state of exception” – in globalization, but also because of the concessions made to the working class in the post-fascist period of Fordism and system competition. The left cannot limit itself to focusing its response to these challenges on the “red-red-green” project within the parliamentary-representative order. According to Gramsci, the “interregnum” constitutes a crisis-like transitional period in which “the old dies, and the new cannot come into the world.” The left, in its various departments – social movements, trade unions, political organization – must learn to accompany the struggle against the wave of right-wing populism (with its authoritarian “state projects”) with a clear socialist option, that is, with the programmatic of a socialist project. This raises many new and open questions, the answers to which are being struggled for not only in practical politics and in the struggles that are being fought out today all over the world in the crises and conflicts of the capitalist empire. It also requires intensive theoretical work and scientific knowledge. The socialist project must be carried by a “bloc of social, political and cultural – including intellectual – forces” pursuing a “new class politics.” In the struggle against exploitation, inequality, political oppression, and alienation, the “axes of conflict of ethnicity/nationality, gender, and ecological sustainability” must intertwine with classical issues in the field of distribution such as the necessary socialization of private property.”
 Jörg Kronauer, Dangers to Humanity. Risk report of the World Economic Forum presented, in Junge Welt, January 17, 2019, p. 3.
Right-wing populism – backgrounds, characteristics and changes in form
Reflections on different explanatory approaches
by Dieter Boris
[This article posted on December 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, Rechtspopulismus – Hintergründe, Ausprägungen und Formveränderungen (Boris) – Z. ZEITSCHRIFT MARXISTISCHE ERNEUERUNG.]
The emergence of right-wing populist currents, parties and even governments or government participation in recent years is undoubtedly one of the dominant development trends of the present. Despite the sometimes considerable country specifics of right-wing populism (RP), there are also commonalities, which are obvious due to the temporal parallelism and similar causes or complexes of causes of this phenomenon. To grasp this phenomenon conceptually-analytically and to reflect, systematize and weigh up the most important previous theoretical explanations for it seems worthwhile and important.
As was to be expected, the emphases in the explanatory attempts are quite diverse: political economy, socio-structurally oriented approaches, political science-influenced as well as culturalist and socio-psychological approaches or emphases occur, sometimes in distinction to each other (sometimes even understood as mutually exclusive), sometimes also lined up additively next to each other or complementarily related to each other (e.g., Rippl/Seipel 2018). More rarely, the different dimensions are put in a certain order or even causally related to each other and a certain weighting of individual levels of reality is considered. The differing “layers of time,” e.g., short-term or long-term, would also have to be included in such a consideration, as would, of course, the fact that political developments are by no means merely the product of “objective processes” or “subjective reactions,” but that these ultimately emerge from corresponding interactions, struggles of groups, factions, or classes.
The wealth of approaches indicated will not be presented here in detail, but only briefly sketched.
Economically oriented attempts at explanation usually start from elements and effects of neoliberal globalization: the relocation of jobs, combined with redundancy or downgrading in wage income, flexibilization and intensification of work intensity, spreading of the income structure, polarization of total income and wealth, accumulation of speculative financial crises, generally the loosening of “meritocratic” principles (linking of performance and pay), accelerated devaluation of knowledge and qualifications as a result of technical and digital progress – all this has led to uncertainty and feelings of powerlessness among a considerable number of workers. The general weakening of trade union and collective resistance (through “tariff evasion,” individualization, precarization, etc.) accompanied this downgrading and was hardly able to prevent it.
Explanations of social structures that frequently link up with these fundamental tendencies often refer to the “transnationalization of social space” or the transnationalization of hitherto (“container-like”) “national” social structures. This usually means that an increasing number of positions in the social structure of a developed country are proving to be transnationally “mobile,” i.e., that these position holders temporarily fulfill their activities in different countries, and as a result (have to) develop a new habitus.
This is perceived as the basis of a developing cleavage line (“cleavage”) between cosmopolitan, neoliberal, tolerant milieus and a communitarian-nationalist, more protectionist milieu. Some see this cleavage and conflict line as being present at all levels of the social hierarchy: at the top, in the middle, and also at the bottom; with people of migrant background, transnational commuters, precarious workers being thought of at the bottom, while personnel from economic management, science, politics, the entertainment industry, sports, etc. are thought of at the top or upper middle class. Some approaches to social structural analysis also point to erosion tendencies of the “social middle” as a result of polarization in terms of income, education, housing options, urban-rural divide, etc. Tendencies to dismantle welfare-state safeguards would have given rise to actual or feared “declassification experiences/perceptions” that have fostered attitudes critical of globalization.
1 The predominantly political science approach focuses on the “anti-establishment” or “anti-elite discourse” prevalent in the RP. This criticizes the independence of politically and economically dominant groups/parties that make decisions against majority interests without sufficient legitimacy (key words: bank bailouts, EU bailouts of highly indebted countries, opening borders to all refugees, etc.). This is discussed as a “representation crisis” of the parliamentary system or even of the entire political system, by some also treated under the keyword “post-democracy”. So this is another level that inspires dissatisfaction, feelings of powerlessness and corresponding feelings of anger.
2 In culturally influenced attempts at explanation, the focus is on an accelerated change in values, a change in lifestyles and sociopolitical ideas, and conservative resistance to these tendencies. The intensified striving for equality of the sexes, which has helped to shape everyday life, the increased participation of women in working life and to some extent also in politics, the introduction of “gender studies” at most universities have shaken firmly entrenched world views – especially in the male sphere – and in some cases provoked defensive reactions (instead of learning processes). The legal and increasing social recognition of different sexual orientations, with corresponding consequences for marriage, adoption, etc., pose a further threat to certain circles’ ideas of order. Not infrequently, these conservative-reactive (or reactionary) orientations are accompanied by a revaluation of the local/regional, of “own” traditions, of “home” in a special sense, which is brought into position against an all too euphoric, undercomplex and harmonizing view of “multicultural conditions,” of growing immigration (especially from other cultural circles).
3 Another position sees in particular the failure of the left (in the broadest sense) as an essential enabling condition for the emergence and spread of FP. The weakening of unions through globalization and the widespread adoption of neoliberal patterns of thought by social democratic parties has made their (once) broad base of workers even more helpless and disoriented. Unless there was a withdrawal from political activities in general (or from electoral participation), not a few workers were also open to or susceptible to (apparently) system-critical, radical options from the right. The social and intellectual distance of politicians on the left from their former base led them to focus in part on small-scale anti-discrimination policies in the cultural and sociopolitical sphere – which were compatible with neoliberal ideas – while “overlooking” or talking down crucial social problems that were spreading as a result of globalization. There is talk in this context of a primacy of so-called “identity politics” and a “progressive neoliberalism” (Nancy Fraser).
4 Another variant of the RP interpretation/explanation is content with the reference to cumulating crises that produced negative effects and made visible that the control and containment possibilities of the functioning governments (mostly from so-called “people’s parties” or coalitions of them) were far from sufficient to solve these problems: worldwide banking crisis due to uncontrolled overspeculation, then EU debt crisis, bailouts via austerity policies, influx of refugees, fundamentalist threat scenarios, etc., were, according to this position, a significant breeding ground for corresponding RP promising remedies.
Before discussing these approaches, a methodological preliminary consideration and caution is in order. Quite a few authors on the topic of RP know from the outset what constitutes RP at its core and design their surveys of AfD voters, for example, or of non-voters in such a way that it is only possible to determine to what extent the presumed RP attitude is true, possibly still why and how one arrived at it. In most accounts, the “typical populist worldview” is seen as an expression of “nostalgia,” of “romanticizing backwardness,” stupidity and irrationalism, combining elite criticism with completely outdated notions of a “homogeneous people.” The following remark by a team of researchers at the WZB, for example, can be seen as characteristic of this view: “That the party (the AfD, DB) continues to rely on anti-elite and crisis rhetoric in its communication and that its electorate dreams, at least in part, of a return to an unprecedented golden past seems certain.” (Giebler et al. 2019:22)
1. such a frequently encountered choice of words (which already documents partisanship) as well as the associated extreme positions assigned to the RP are unscientific and counterproductive for any gain of knowledge for several reasons. What is taken as “populism” as a basis (already conceptually), these “researchers” get out again by corresponding “questioning”; a circle, which means the opposite of knowledge increase. Those who exclude from the outset that there is not also a certain logic, partly justification behind the statements/positions of the right-wing populists, can make it easy for themselves and simply dismiss these statements as an expression of aberrant irrationalism, as undiscountable nostalgia, romanticization and hopeless backward-looking or backwoodsism. With this judgment, a moral and intellectual disqualification can then take place in the second stage; an argument with “crazy” or “amoral” people is superfluous, seems to be pointless. This confirms precisely the perception on the part of right-wing populists that the reaction of the liberal public and leading politicians to them is merely “elitist know-it-allism” or “do-gooderism,” etc., which straddles itself as the sole saint-making authority and thus attempts to deflect attention from the problems addressed.
2 Thus, anyone who a priori does not look for reasons or objective determinants of typical statements of right-wing populists, does not try to decipher the “rational class-political core” (Dörre), must inevitably fail in the analysis of the RP. 3.
3 The “rational core” of typical statements and topoi of right-wing populists can be seen in the fact that negative phenomena and tendencies in the current economy and politics are in principle accurately perceived, but their real causes are usually not analyzed in more detail or are accounted for in a wrong way or in an extremely simplified way. The proposals to combat these tendencies are correspondingly misguided. The criticized tendencies of neoliberal globalization, the independence of the economic and political establishment, etc. are reinterpreted in such a way that the structural mechanisms (exploitation/ polarization, precarization, etc.) are not identified as consequences and necessary implications of internal power relations, but are either simply personalized or reinterpreted as the result of an internal-external relationship (e.g., “evil foreign capital,” U.S. dominance or U.S. imperialism, migrants, etc.).
4 Part of this methodologically questionable approach to RP, which Philip Manow has rightly characterized as a combination of “theory deficit and morality surplus,” is the fact that in the public debate certain subject areas and topoi are increasingly left to the right-wing populists because they are considered “right-wing” or objectionable topics. These include, for example: Criticism of globalization, criticism of the ruling class or bloc (whether you call them “elites” or “establishment”), striving for as much national-sovereign control of economic life as possible (as long as we don’t have a “world state” or “EU state,” from both of which we seem to be far away), control of migration (as a counter to the neoliberal concept of unrestricted immigration for the purpose of supplying cheap labor), defense of the welfare state, which, by the way, depends on the aforementioned aspects as well as on a certain political-social homogeneity of the territorial population, which by no means has to be complete “ethno-cultural homogeneity”, criticism of media, one-sided and/or ideological reporting ( one can also express this differently than with the loaded word “lying press”), etc. – As a result of the fact that these (and perhaps other) fields of politics and public discussion – formerly clearly “left-wing topics” – have been increasingly occupied by the RP, they are considered disreputable per se and are avoided by the left or occupied with highly abstract slogans (“social rights for all”, or: “migration is a human right”, all can migrate at any time, etc.). An up-to-date analysis of the development of these problem areas is largely dispensed with. In this way, right-wing populist figures of thought are once again reinforced and made into a quasi-general instance of truth for their addressees. Bernhard Schlink recently put this in a nutshell: “The topics that he (i.e. the mainstream, DB) did not discuss and that were usurped by the right are now right-wing topics, and as right-wing topics the mainstream can no longer discuss them… The narrowing of the mainstream, the lack of communication between it and the right and the AfD had and has its price. It has not made the right and the AfD weaker, but stronger.” (FAZ v. August 1, 2019)
1. it is true that – as indicated in point 3 – “right-wing populism can largely be grasped as a multi-causal movement against the decomposition of social and cultural securities that national welfare state capitalism had promised and partially realized and global market capitalism is now continuously denying” (Urban 2018: 184). Nevertheless, it is necessary to ask about connections, weightings, the sequence as well as the perspective development in this multicausal diversity.
2. there should be no doubt that neoliberal globalization has exacerbated social inequality, constantly restructuring the world of work in ways that (like social polarization) have significantly fostered insecurity and future uncertainty and anxiety. This does not yet answer questions about who the AfD’s social base mainly is, to what extent globalization and modernization losers in particular (at what levels?) meet here, or whether other social milieus are also present to a relevant extent. Despite the ongoing academic discussion, the multi-causality of the RP phenomenon also seems to translate into the heterogeneous social structure of its voters and sympathizers. The following statement seems to me to be true in tendency: “It is true that the data indicate that the unemployed, workers, and people with low educational resources vote for right-wing populist parties with above-average frequency…and that this also applies to trade union members in Germany…However, this does not imply arithmetically – and this is often overlooked – that the majority of supporters of right-wing parties come from these groups. As important as the search for the reasons why socially deprived people and people threatened by the precariat do not (any longer) see their political home in the political left is, this search for causes must not lose sight of the fact that right-wing populism is successful precisely because it mobilizes across classes, i.e. it does not appeal to an ‘alliance of different, culturally declassed groups’… but has an impact right into established self-employed and civil servant milieus…” (van Dyk/Graefe 2018: 337).
3 The “emptying of democracy,” which the genuine democracy of the right-wing populists is opposed to, can be interpreted as a consequence or concomitant of the subordination of politics to market mechanisms. “Market-compliant democracy” is inevitably transforming into a “post-democracy” (Colin Crouch), in which formal mechanisms (elections, parliamentary votes, etc.) continue to take place, but their real significance is enormously relativized by the fact that, at the same time or in advance, authoritative decisions are made elsewhere. “Representatives of parties aligned to the point of indistinguishability unsuspectingly pass laws whose texts have been formulated by interest groups of big business. Deputies as voting machines bow to alleged constraints in outwardly unchanged but hollowed-out institutions of parliamentarism. ‘The majority of citizens,’ Crouch writes, ‘play a passive, silent, even apathetic role in this, responding only to the signals they are given.’ In the shadow of this political staging, real politics is made behind closed doors: by elected governments and elites who primarily represent the interests of business.'” (Bratanovic 2016).
4 If one adds to this the fact that increasingly elements of political, national sovereignty are being transferred to transnational entities (e.g. EU et al.), and that this has been carried out consciously and deliberately by national political elites, the talk of the “irresponsible establishment” becomes more than mere right-wing populist propaganda. Political programs directed against supranational authorities also seem to gain in plausibility and credibility in view of the disenfranchisement of citizens that they further promote. 5.
The fact that, conversely, the “true democracy” proposed by the RP would certainly not be any better or more democratic than the liberal version, and that the independence is primarily due to the – unrecognized – constraints of capital utilization, is another matter. A central question would be why the “shift” of causation factors away from the anonymous constraints of capitalist accumulation and toward personalizing conspiracy theories with ethnic-nationalist undertones – can work so relatively easily and successfully, while a decidedly “leftist” argumentation/agitation, on the other hand, remains comparatively resonantly poor.
6 If it is clear that the social declassifications brought about by neoliberal globalization – at various levels – and the by no means unrealistic fears of future declassifications have contributed to the insecurity of growing sections of the population, and that this feeling of powerlessness has been deepened by the almost complete inaction of official politics in this regard, the question remains how “culturalist” interpretations of the RP are to be classified or weighted here. As indicated above, this is to be understood as a change in values in the broadest sense (concerning equal relations between the sexes, sexual orientation, linguistic expression, religious tolerance, different educational styles, etc.).
7 The importance of gender-specific components/causal factors in the strengthening of the RP seems to be indisputable, but the specialists in this field are apparently not entirely clear about their weight. B. Sauer sees the insecurity of men also as a result of a tendency to change the distribution of roles between women and men (which also implies a certain devaluation of the male role as sole breadwinner of the family, higher participation of women in the employment process, better levels of education, more political participation, etc.). Conversely, there is a new model of minoritarian hyper-masculinity expressed in the role of banker, stockbroker, etc., he said. “In the neoliberal discourse of uncertainty, right-wing populist invocations of gender or, better, anti-gender … offer points of contact for a re-establishment of traditional gender constellations and hierarchies. This discursive offer is prescribed, as it were, as a cure for a degraded and marginalized masculinity.” (Sauer 2018: 319). Moreover, the supposedly necessary protection of women in the majority society against migrant (especially Islamic) men also contributes in the revalorization of masculinity.
8 In this respect, it is no surprise if the AfD was clearly disproportionately male in the last elections (it is probably similar with the Trump electorate) and it probably registered the largest gains especially among male workers between 35 and 59 years of age (Becker/Dörre/Reif-Spirek 2018:10, and Heitmeyer 2018: 131). “In the 2017 federal election, 16.3 percent of men voted for the AfD, while only 9.2 percent of women did. Almost two-thirds of AfD voters are thus male, with no differences in the distribution between the East and the West (Decker 2018). Certainly, the “fight against threatened masculinity,” i.e., a culturalist moment, has played a significant role here; although, of course, other factors such as feelings of threat and powerlessness in the world of work, increased competition with migrants, e.g., in the search for housing, infrastructure spending, etc. – as further motivating factors in the electoral decision – should not be forgotten.
9 The explanatory variant of the RP, according to which it is the result of the failure of the left, rarely occurs in this exclusivity, but with other elements and “framings” it represents an important perspective. Not least, the writings of Arlie Hochschild, Didier Eribon, and Nancy Fraser, which have been quickly translated in this country, have spurred this strand of discussion, albeit with different emphases. Indeed, the basic question of the RP is why the moments of crisis and insecurity generated by bourgeois-conservative neoliberalism could not be appropriately used by the left opposed to it to strengthen its own following, but rather by a radical right from which no serious anti-capitalist measures can be expected. How, then, a “shift” of the weights within the defenders of the capitalist order could take place without the order itself apparently losing more support and legitimacy.
10 One could agree with this version in two partial aspects, the weight of which should not be underestimated. On the one hand, the adoption of neoliberal models of thought (in economic and social policy) by the social democratic parties, and perhaps also within the rest of the left, became effective in such a way that a consistent opposition policy against the ruling line could no longer be seriously conceived and realiter tackled. Another variant of leftist adaptation to neoliberal policies is described by Nancy Fraser as “progressive neoliberalism.” By this she means that leftists increasingly renounced class-political objectives and the fight against social inequality in general in favor of sometimes small-scale anti-discrimination measures, and at the same time significantly moderated or completely discontinued their criticism of neoliberal economic and social policies.
11. Another aspect (or implication) of this approach should be mentioned. The unreflective and unrestricted closing of ranks of significant parts of the left with the bourgeois parties in the face of the right-wing populist threat leads, as Andreas Nölke notes, to a “double shift to the right,” since in this coalition decidedly left-wing positions become quieter or remain in the background and, moreover, the right-wing populists can now claim that they are the only ones who are really standing up against the “establishment.” 12.
12 As accurate as this version of RP interpretation is in its core in certain partial aspects, it should be relativized in its weight in several respects. For one thing, the failure of the left does not constitute the main cause of neoliberal polarization and declassification processes. For another, the fragmentation of the working class (in the broadest sense) is more advanced today compared to the time about 40 years ago, so that a unifying policy toward the ruling class currently poses greater difficulties and must be very well considered (Dörre 2019: 41ff.). Which, of course, does not mean that hereby the criticism of considerable deficits of the left has no justification.
13. finally, the thesis that the RP was able to emerge and unfold mainly through an accumulation of events during the last decade partly hits the right notes, but is too little connected to long-term tendencies and structural problems of globalization. In a theoretically satisfactory overall approach, this – rather short-term and contingent – chain of factors can and must certainly find its place, especially as an amplifier or trigger for reactions to feelings of insecurity/powerlessness that had developed long before and were more or less latent.
14 By the “accumulation of events” with higher relevance, we mean above all the banking and financial crisis of 2007/08, the subsequent sovereign debt crisis (including the austerity policy derived from it) in almost all European countries 2010 et seq., the strengthening of the “Islamic State”(IS) and the increase in large-scale terrorist attacks (2013 et seq.) as well as the Greek crisis (2015) and the influx of refugees associated with the ongoing civil war constellation in several Middle Eastern countries (especially 2015 et seq.). – Although these events are not all directly related, they have undoubtedly strengthened the sense of being threatened and powerless, not least because official policies and responses to these developments did not start from reality-based analyses (and partial complicity in doing so) and, as a result, essentially consisted of a gradual extrapolation of previous policies. The confusion and dispositions for right-wing options that thus increased – especially as a result of the refugee crisis of 2015f. – were aptly paraphrased by W.F. Haug: “The hardships (of austerity policy, DB) had been passed off as without alternative. Now, for those who felt neglected by politics, it looked as if the actors of neoliberal desolidarization in the country were organizing a culture of solidarity for foreigners! Indeed, what a surge of solidarity under the name of welcome culture – for foreigners! And wasn’t there suddenly money for multiple material help, German courses, accommodation, etc.? Those in power had forgotten to deal with this inconsistency: ‘The solidarization with strangers is in contradiction to the neoliberal desolidarization of the last decades.'” (Haug 2017: 301).
15 Similar effects on the feelings and consciousness of not inconsiderable parts of the population were produced by the other events – not to be discussed in detail here – and the comparatively helpless official policy, which was not very willing to make fundamental changes (e.g. in European policy). Since the neoliberal grand coalition could offer few social alternatives to previous policies and the left could also propose few short- and medium-term effective, concrete and credible policies (going beyond abstract wishful slogans), a vacuum was created or the ground was prepared for answers from a completely different direction. This nationalist-ethnosocial propaganda, which starts from real problems but reinterprets them in a certain sense, sees the opposition between “above” and “below” not at all as a class opposition, but as one between “corrupt elite” and “homogeneous people of integrity” and, above all, an even more important opposition between “inside” and “outside”.
In conclusion and in summary, perhaps this much can be stated:
1. causes 1) to 3) – economic, socio-structural and political – are closely related, mutually conditional, possess the same, longer duration of existence as well as a similar depth dimension; taken together, they could be called the “neoliberal market dominance complex.” This is where the most serious causes are to be found, without which all the other factors mentioned above, which appear in the following explanations, would not have had such an effect (or would not have had such a strong effect). These are the structural determinants that have allowed fears, insecurity and feelings of powerlessness to develop into a “generalized culture of insecurity” (M. Candeias) in manifold forms. For the RP, these are at the same time the central starting points for its “diagnosis” and “therapy” proposals, which include an alleged “radical crackdown,” nationalist claims of exclusion, and an orientation toward a “golden, well-ordered community of yesteryear.” How close to reality and feasible these programmatic proposals are seems to be of secondary importance, since the past is apparently closer, easier to reach than a distant and opaque future.
2. the reaction of the “masculinity losers” – as an intermediate causal factor – has become broader, more intense and politically effective only after the macropolitical wind had turned to the right; latently, these defensive impulses had emerged before. In my opinion, the “weakness of the left” in whatever form would also have to be classified in this second category of causal factors, i.e. not as a primary factor. This weakness can probably be understood as a mixture of not being able and not wanting and is to be classified as an additional mediating and reinforcing link in the chain of many factors.
3. the third type of causation factors of the RP rise, which bear a relatively short-term character and are to be regarded as comparatively contingent (but by no means completely random), are those grouped around outstanding individual events that had signal character. These events, some of which are connected, some of which are not, meant that the factors mentioned under 1) to 5) and the imbalances/downturns/dangers etc. caused by them seemed to clearly confirm the aloofness, incompetence and loss of control on the part of the ruling “elites”. The banking crisis, the debt crisis, the austerity regime, the Greek crisis, Islamist terrorism and finally the influx of refugees – all these were apparently further striking evidence of the loss of control and the inability and/or unwillingness to change something about the apparently inevitable, ever more dangerous and confusing situation.
4 Of the many unresolved problems of a satisfactory, coherent theoretical explanation of FP, three should be outlined again at the end. One is why a left-wing response to the “generalized culture of insecurity” has apparently been far less attractive and successful than right-wing populist responses have been. This seems all the more incomprehensible if one may assume that the main causes of this insecurity and danger of declassification are analyzed and named much more accurately by the left than by the right and, moreover, that regaining control over one’s own living conditions can only be achieved through a decisive democratization of the economy and society; on the other hand, a mere replacement of political elites, with a simultaneous continuation of foreign domination and exploitation through unrestricted capitalist relations of production, would do little to change the basic problems perceived as critical – which would probably be the case if the RP were to take over the government. The question of whether and when, in order to clarify this problem, a socio-psychological explanatory dimension – e.g. the conditions of emergence and the spread of authoritarian character structures – or the country-specific different forms of world market integration, labor market structures and welfare state models centrally included in Dani Rodrik’s and Philip Manow’s Political Economy of Right-Wing and Left-Wing Populism would have to play an essential role would have to be addressed and questioned. Surprisingly, these dimensions of the problem are not addressed or even included at all in the vast majority of works on RP.
5. second, I do not think it has been clearly established that the rise of RP must necessarily go hand in hand with an absolutization of the opposition of inside versus outside or of the front against migrants/others. Or, to put it differently: whether the double front position or demarcation against “above” (the “elites”) and against “below” (marginalized groups, the unemployed, “social parasites,” lesbians, gays, etc.) is or must always be constitutive for the RP. In this context, migrants, asylum seekers, etc. could – at least theoretically – be dispensed with as negative projection groups and other “enemy groups” could be targeted. Candeias hints at this relative arbitrariness of “functional equivalents” for the purpose of demarcation. “The radical right enables individuals to engage in nonconformist conformism, in which the resistant stance is rhetorically directed against instances of domination, but at the same time practically invokes them for the devaluation and exclusion of the ‘other,’ the migrants, the ‘work-shy,’ the ‘filthy 68ers,’ feminists, etc. This can be experienced as a stabilization of restrictive agency under intensified conditions of insecurity.” (Candeias 2018:42).
Thirdly, it would be necessary to further address how the course of the RP is shaped: whether there is a radicalization to the right, as can be observed, for example, with the FPÖ, the AfD, etc. (and thus the term “right-wing populism” would have to be replaced with “right-wing extremism”), or whether the opposite development occurs in the direction of moderation, an opening to the center, and a stronger incorporation of welfare-state elements into the program, as is apparently the case with the “Front National” in France and the “Danish People’s Party.
Rising and falling processes and power shifts in the global economy
by Dieter Boris
[This article posted in June 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.zeitschrift-marxistische-erneuerung.de/article/3486.auf-und-abstiegsprozesse-und-machtverschiebungen-in-der-weltwirtschaft.html.]
1. processes of ascent and descent in the world economy – special features under conditions of neoliberal globalization
Since the 16th century, there have always been processes of ascent and descent in the emerging capitalist world system, although each is usually characterized by particular forms and economic emphases. Since the “capitalist world system” has been understood since I. Wallerstein as a multi-hierarchical, dynamic whole, “processes of ascent and descent” involve either the attainment of a higher position or, correspondingly, a decline to lower positions in the world system.
The current processes of ascent and descent have been taking place within the framework of neoliberal globalization since the 1970s and 8o’s of the previous century. As a result, an extraordinary compression of space and time has occurred by means of new communication and transport technologies across – in some respects – relativized nation-state borders. This includes the likewise extraordinary speed of these processes of ascent and descent as well as the international financial markets playing a prominent role in this process. It is not the conquest of foreign territories as a goal, but rather the unhindered access to (and security of) worldwide investment opportunities and the unlimited mobility of financial flows that are characteristic. New communication technologies and intensified exchange processes have led to a partial acquaintance with foreign cultures, religions, habits and behaviors to an extent never before achieved. This, together with local/regional economic and/or ecological structural crises or warlike conflicts, is a factor that keeps international migration processes at a high level, as at times in the 19th century. Admittedly, migration processes are also partly causes and consequences of upward and downward mobility processes. What the central and more subordinate factors/determinants for these are is, of course, disputed – as with any complex issue.
Without going into detail, I would like to single out and emphasize what I consider to be two particularly important determinants for upward mobility processes from the “periphery” or the “semi-periphery” – which, in the case of success, go hand in hand: first, a coherent and efficient state apparatus which, in addition to a relatively effective administration and internal sanctioning power, is above all capable of and willing to make appropriate economic policy interventions, planning, industrial policy, etc.; flanked by sufficient sociopolitical measures. On the other hand, a state that can initiate and accompany education, training, technological development, general material and immaterial progress in civilization; this, in turn, has repercussions not only on economic development and population growth, but also on the internal conflictivity of the respective society. Despite some weaknesses and deficits in the implementation of this objective, it is now possible to speak of a “renaissance of developing states.” “The gain in attractiveness of developmental state models within international politics can be attributed … only in part to its strengths. Rather, it seems that the disastrous record of the market-centered development model of neoliberalism in the past and present has been instrumental in supporting the renaissance of the developmental state and the return to the understanding that the state is a central developmental actor.” (Peters 2017: 104f.)
I would venture the thesis: there is no country, no state in the last 40-50 years that can be counted among the “up-and-comers” that has not been able to exhibit these two characteristics at least above average. Conversely, the “relegated” countries in the global economic and political hierarchy certainly include countries that lacked these two characteristics – for whatever reason.
It should be well known that in the last 40 years the world economic weights have developed strongly in favor of some former peripheral or semiperipheral countries. The order in the shares of world social product has shifted significantly: In terms of purchasing power parity, the share of advanced, central capitalist countries fell from about 64 percent (1980) to 42 percent (2014). Conversely, the shares of emerging and developing countries grew from 1980: 36 percent to nearly 58 percent in 2014 (Goldberg 2015: 27). Whereby it should be kept in mind that this epochal reversal of the global economic weights is mainly due to the above-average growth rates and the far above-average population size of about 10 emerging countries (China, India, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, etc.). The order of countries in terms of their shares of global GDP in 2017 (also calculated by chewing power parity) is as follows: 1. China 23.1 percent; 2. U.S. 19.5 percent; 3. India 9.5 percent; Japan 5.4 percent; Germany 4.2 percent (Neelsen 2019: 29). Accordingly, or more or less modified, the shares in world trade, foreign direct investment, foreign exchange reserves, shares in industrial production, etc. have also changed; of course, less so in terms of per capita income and even less so in terms of social indicators such as the “Human Development Index,” “Hunger Index,” etc.
All in all, the world economic weights have developed in the last 40 years in a direction that the world around 1800, i.e. more than 200 years ago and before the “industrial revolution”, already knew in a similar way..
2. “Global North” versus “Global South”.
In analyses and debates of world political and economic contexts, the terms “global North” and “global South” have become more and more common in recent years, gaining acceptance even among those who themselves doubt the coherence and cohesiveness of this terminology. Given the intimations made in the first thesis, we are dealing with a multi-hierarchically tiered, dynamic whole in the contemporary world economy, which for several reasons cannot be simply divided into two main blocs that are clearly opposed to each other. For at least four reasons: First, because the countries that are each assigned to one bloc are too different, or it is not at all clear whether they belong to this or that bloc. Do the OECD members South Korea, Mexico and Chile belong to the “global North” or the “South”? Conversely, is China part of the “global South”? If so, what justifies putting the world’s second most powerful economy on a par with the “Central African Republic”? These questions could be continued at will. Moreover, different countries not only have quite different economies, but they have been moving in opposite directions for a long time and have had widely divergent growth rates over longer periods of time.
It should also be noted here that the respective overall conditions on the world market and in the individual countries do not remain the same, but are constantly changing precisely as a result of the upward and downward movements that have already taken place, and by no means merely in the sense of a positive impulse or example from an emerging country that has risen, but on the contrary as a further obstacle in perspective to gaining a stronger foothold on the world market, for example through industrial exports. The rise of China, South Korea, Taiwan, etc., in particular, acts to a considerable extent as a further impediment to successfully pursuing a similar strategy and possibly contributes to stabilizing their subordinate position in the world system. In addition, in a new phase of neoliberal globalization, the risk of “premature deindustrialization” arises for some semiperiphery or periphery countries due to the fact that a certain “reindustrialization” is increasingly taking place in advanced countries through backshoring (“re-shoring”) and robotization, of which there are already clear signs (Sanahuja/Comini 2018:37).
Second, for the individual countries, especially since the neoliberal period and under the impression of the crisis in 2007 ff., an increased tendency toward internal socio-economic polarization can be recorded, so that it is hardly possible to speak of a uniform way of life or a “united we” vis-à-vis the outside world (most recently: Hürtgen 2018:124ff.).
Whether, thirdly, the overall significantly higher level of living in the central countries of developed capitalism results predominantly from the exploitation of “labor and raw materials” from “elsewhere,” especially from the so-called “global South,” would first have to be proven. There are not even approaches and attempts to do so, whereby the protagonists of such theses often refer to the “invisibility” of exploitation and corresponding one-sided transfer processes. Where nothing can be proved any more, science must abdicate and faith or an attitude towards life (of necessary asceticism) must be addressed.
In contrast, it can be assumed with some good arguments (Sablowski 2018) that the significantly higher overall productivity of central countries is based to an overwhelming extent on the technological advantage and the exploitation of their “own labor force” (in the broadest sense, i.e. also including immigrants and migrants); however, the contributions to the higher standard of living in this country coming “from outside”, which are by no means to be denied in view of the multiple and blatant exploitation conditions in practically all peripheral countries, play an overall, i.e. i.e. in overall economic terms, only a subordinate, additional role. And this despite many blatant examples of extreme exploitation processes, such as in the textile production sector in Bangladesh and elsewhere, in cobalt extraction through child labor in the Congo, or in oil production from palm oil monocultures in Indonesia, etc.
Who actually belongs to the “global south” and what role and what weight this actually has in the foreign economic relations of the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, is unfortunately never made known in the relevant – by the way extraordinarily successful (several editions in the shortest time!) – publications that advocate this thesis.
Finally, fourthly, a predominantly historically oriented justification of the term “global South” as a summary of all former colonies and semi-colonies (so tending: Wemheuer 2016:10ff.) can also only be convincing to a very limited extent, since e.g. the USA, Canada and Australia – core countries of today’s “North” – were, as is well known, also once colonies; moreover, it would have to be asked whether the past alone can offer a sufficient classification criterion for present processes.
When talking about the “global South” – as a relatively homogeneous, compact unit that is unilaterally dependent on the “global North” and therefore tends to be passive and opposed to it – it should be borne in mind that the regional weights in world trade have changed considerably compared to the 1960s/70s. South-South trade as well as South-South foreign investment and credit relations grew much faster than the corresponding elements of North-South relations during the last two decades. At that time in the 1960s/70s, North-North trade accounted for about 70-75 percent of total world trade, North-South trade was between about 15 and 20 percent, and South-South trade was almost non-existent or comprised at most about 5 percent of total world trade. Today, North-North trade (“triad” between the U.S., EU, and Japan) is about 50-60 percent, South-South trade is probably about 30 percent, and North-South trade is about10 percent, if one excludes the PRC – still often listed as the “South representative.” (Unfortunately, due to the statistical problems of classifying “North” and “South,” more precise estimates are scarcely available). In view of the international value chains controlled by transnational corporations, which are responsible for a considerable part of foreign trade, no clear or unambiguous conclusions can be drawn from the strong increase in South-South trade with regard to greater autonomy or independence for the “countries of the South.”
3. inconsistencies in processes of power shifts
Power shifts in the international system are based on the extent and availability over power resources. A systematization and illumination of these power resources has been made by Stefan Schmalz in his recent and very important work “Power Shifts in the World System” (2018). He essentially lists the five most important ones: Production, Raw Materials, Finance/Currency, Science/Technology, and Military, all of which are more or less closely interrelated. Nonetheless, there are also unilateral dependency relationships between the individual power resources. “Economic development forms … the basis for the exercise of power in the world system, since only in this way can armaments be produced and research financed.” (Schmalz 2018. 45). At the same time, there are also partial inherent logics of certain power resources whose appropriate assessment is important for the overall perspective of power shifts. Commodities and finance/currency dominance are very important, but the exploitation of commodities in one’s own country may possibly be limited in time; the finance/currency dimension could also be weakened in the medium term without sufficient underpinnings. There are often inconsistencies occurring with respect to the unfolding of different dimensions or the respective power resources, which is indispensable for an accurate analysis and possible foresight of the dynamics of the power shift; it is also relevant to distinguish between stock and current “output” (lard) of power resources.
It is often rightly pointed out that the U.S. is still clearly the preeminent, hegemonic, or dominant power in the international context in many dimensions, although its position – compared to 1945 or 1990 – appears today as weakened and challenged. Especially if one takes seriously the thesis of economic development as the basis for power shifts in the world system, one might come to the conclusion that dominance in finance and currency, in certain sectors of digital technology, and in the dissemination of mass culture might prove insufficient for maintaining dominance in the long run, as the broad economic underpinning for this is lacking.
The terse reference to the discrepancy between “stock” and current growth/”output” seems central to the core of current power shifts: primarily between the U.S. and China, and more broadly between the U.S., Japan, EU on the one hand, and China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, etc. on the other.
Although the rates of increase in the pace of growth, in terms of shares in world social product, financial and currency presence, foreign investment, spending on technology/science and military are growing at an above-average rate in the former (especially China, India), the “stock” in these areas is still quite high in the case of the USA, so that a qualitative leap in global power shifts and resource availability cannot be assumed any time soon; at most, these can be regarded as relatively probable in the medium or long term (thus also the central thesis of Schmalz 2018: 382ff.).