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New clothes, old threads. The dangerous offensive of the right

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New clothes, old threads. The dangerous offensive of the right

December 6,2021


Dossier 47

While the old world dies, said Antonio Gramsci, in the "interregnum" monsters arise. The images in New Clothes, Old Threads use satire and ridicule to take on the monsters of emerging right-wing and fascist movements in Latin America. Satire, after all, has historically been used as a form of resistance art to confront fascism. Using digital collages and stylistic mashups, photographs of contemporary right-wing leaders and movements are turned into a new Tarot-style iconography of monsters: The Libertarians, The Anarcho-Capitalist, The Anti-Scientist, The Feudal Techno-Lord, The Anti-Communist Savior, The Peacemaker and The Interventionist. Above these figures is a caricature of the right's greatest fear, "El Fantasma," who to the rest of us is a symbol of hope and resistance ushering in a new world.


The western world lives in discontent. On the one hand, the progressive models have not managed to maintain the levels of politicization, the mystique, the capacity for questioning, the transforming vocation and the possibilities of concrete changes for the majority. On the other hand, neoliberal projects systematically fail to meet the aspirations that they themselves promote: take advantage of new technologies, bet on entrepreneurial capacity and achieve significant improvements in the living standards of the populations.

Success models linked to social advancement through work or linked to people becoming entrepreneurs of themselves, remain behind and put the majority in a situation of constant frustration and discontent. This is, without a doubt, the breeding ground for new right-wing operations in all its broad spectrum. It is in part the situation described by Mark Fisher (2016) in his book Capitalist Realism, in which the catastrophe unfolds slowly: the future only holds the same as the present, and this is not very auspicious.

To a certain extent, the promises of the free world after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which inextricably linked economic progress, individual liberties and democratic life, have failed miserably. In the Latin American region, the neoliberal scorched earth could not prevent the resurgence of the struggles of the peoples and the flourishing of new popular leaderships that reached their splendor in the first decade of the 21st century. This new rise of popular governments and mass mobilizations, managed to disrupt the tranquility of the cemetery in which the neoliberal projects tried to keep us. Renewed hopes, new myths, new political identities, new struggles and new tactics put on the table for millions of people a mobilizing, massive and popular sense for which to fight and for which to live.

However, the world turns in another direction. The breaking of the neoliberal inertia allowed the Latin American region to rebuild links between peoples, dignify the excluded, improve living conditions, but within the framework of a trend towards the total precariousness of life that could not be altered in any way. root. In the framework, moreover, of a cultural triumph of neoliberalism that radically changed the subjectivity of the majority. A hegemony that has taken deep roots based on individualism, consumerism and the loss of perspective of the future that does nothing more than narrow our horizon to what is possible, which for the vast majority of humanity is to survive. At this point, as Fisher tells us "The power of capitalist realism derives partially from the way in which capitalism consumes and subsumes all previous histories" (2016: 25). This is the cultural political context of the West, it is on this decadence that the neoliberal projects had a new stage of offensive centered in Washington from 2012 onwards. Soft and hard blows, lawfare, fake news, armies of haters, were different forms of the hybrid war that the American Hard-Power carried out. It increased its levels of intervention, sophisticated its methods and achieved its objective of destabilizing the progressive balance of the Latin American region in a few years.

Of course, as we said, the forms of the traditional right tied to the program of neoliberal globalism or to the more historical conservative views of the oligarchic elites, failed to fulfill their promises based on anti-populism. On the contrary, they are also part of the problem. However, the emergence of Donald Trump in the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic swept away the few certainties that remained. The right adopt new faces that mingle with the old ones and, at the same time, break with them. Alternative right, neo-reactionary right, extreme right, post-fascist right, religious fundamentalism, anarcho-capitalists, have moved from the complete margins of the political system to places of relative importance in the Global North. Just to give one of the most prominent examples, Steve Bannon, a white supremacist who manipulated data on social networks, became one of the White House's star advisers for eight months. After his departure, mainly because it was shown that he manipulated Facebook user data for electoral purposes, the former Trump adviser dedicated himself to developing links between the different parties or experiences of the new nationalist right in all his motley landscape in European lands. Together with the Belgian Mischaël Modrikamen, he promoted what they called in 2018 The Movement, a space for coordination and support for innovative right-wing projects in the different countries of the region. In this way, they strengthened ties with far-right parties from different countries and leaders of the stature of Viktor Orbán who presides over Hungary, Mateo Salvini who was Prime Minister of Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, references linked to Vox in Spain, Golden Dawn in Greece, among others. Events went into free fall. The pandemic in 2020 showed that the decline of the capitalist West is profound, that its model of civilization is in a crisis of great dimensions. This provided a map of possibilities for the initiatives of the extreme right that took the place of denouncing the "system", of the need to break inertia, of the expression of tedium and fatigue caused by capitalist realism that does not offer alternatives that, according to Gramsci, can be assumed as good sense within the people.

Latin America was not safe from this wave of new forms of the right. From the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the most important country in the region in economic and geopolitical terms, to the rise to the presidency of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador, the actors of the non-traditional right have gained weight, visibility and incidence of masses. At the same time, they mix or at least open the political-discursive spectrum so that the most conservative and traditional rights of Our America find echoes in the criticism of progressivism, the left and national-popular projects.

In this Dossier 47 of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research: New clothes, old threads, we present an analysis of these right-wing movements in Latin America. Between the new and the old. The new clothes that are woven with the threads of racism, classism, homophobia, misogyny, authoritarianism, militarism and repression.

Big capital oscillates between new and old rights

Since the 2008 crisis, global capitalism has accentuated its previous tendencies and magnified them. The financialization of the economy accelerated its pace after the states of the North (particularly the United States) carried out multimillion-dollar bailouts of the investment banks that had a very important part of their portfolio in subprime. This new wave of financialization accelerated the rate of growth of new bubbles and leveraged the new triumphant mega-corporations: the hi-techs and the platforms. The world of work continued its excluding course of more than 50% of the population in the capitalist countries of the South (ILO, 2021), with the accentuation of productive relocation and new linkages of global value chains in which the positions The middle ones continue to be occupied by the countries of the Global North, with the exception of China.

These processes were undoubtedly exacerbated by the pandemic in 2020-2021. The coronavirus pandemic acted as a catalyst for the economic tensions accumulated in previous years (Tricontinental, 2020). Above all, it clearly showed a significant distance between the national dynamics of capital accumulation and the global dynamics, among which the power of platforms and investment banks prevails. Amazon, Meta, Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft, Tesla represent the great winning capitals of the new post-2008 bubble and, above all, in 2020 and 2021 in the face of the exponential growth in the use of platforms and virtuality. The large financial companies operated as an indispensable gear to direct the circulating dollars towards these vectors of capital accumulation.

To a large extent, the relationship between the new technological developments of Silicon Valley and the new emerging right is well known: Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, is a furious defender of alt-right ideology; cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are promoted by white supremacist Richard Spencer as the currency of the alt-right; Oracle CEO Safra Catz donated some $127 billion to Donald Trump's last election campaign, among other ties. Above all, the sectors aligned with neo-reactionary positions, followers of Nick Land and other expressions of a philosophy based on uchrony, such as Mencius Moldbug, have reinforced, based on the new developments of platforms, social networks and cryptos, anti- statists and anti-globalists who are the fuel of the new right-wing movements in the North.

Undoubtedly, the alternative right sees in the development of the so-called cognitive capitalism [1] and in the financial developments of the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, concrete ways of favoring private capital accumulation logics in which the national States have little or no capacity to intervention. The programmers linked to the new waves of Silicon Valley have linked the new developments of high tech companies with the potential to solve the "problems" of democracy and state intervention. It is what Cédric Durand (2021) calls “The Silicon Valley consensus”, which rather than producing an effect only on this small group of companies (the so-called emerging companies) tries to carry out a hegemonic operation, to produce a new cognitive map that puts in traditional conservatives of the Republican Party and progressive Democrats who lead "(...) to egalitarian, consumerist and multicultural mediocrity" (Raim, 2017: 59). This ideology was expressed as early as 1994 in what was called A Magna Carta for the Age of Knowledge, prepared by the Progress and Freedom Foundation (Dyson, Gilder, Keyworth and Toffler, 1994). Although it failed to challenge the brief years of neoconservative hegemony at the state level, in which the Pentagon hawks led the way, big business took a position according to which “Silicon Valley, or rather its enchanted representation, is the showcase of the new capitalism: a land of opportunity where, thanks to start-ups and the venture capital society, ideas flourish freely, jobs abound, and high-tech developments benefit the many” (Durand, 2021: 49 ).

Thus, we can say that this ideological operation that has been developing since the 1990s managed, after the failure of the neoconservative and the globalist initiatives of Barrack Obama, to go on the offensive and strengthen its political agenda during the years of Donald Trump's government. One percent of the world's richest have acquired as their own the proposition that the creation of value in contemporary capitalism is not found in the material but in innovation (be it information technology, finance or obtaining patents to later develop physical production). As Mariana Mazzucato (2019) shows us, from Apple to PayPal and from Goldman Sachs to Pfizer, the position is clear: they are the ones who create value, as opposed to the inefficient ones, among whom the State and the working poor are the examples always cited. .This relates quite well to the neo-reactionary movement which represents “an anti-modern and futuristic movement of disillusioned libertarians” (Raim, 2017: 55).

The key question here is how much of these elements have been behind the projects of the Latin American right? Can we see that this “Silicon Valley ideology” is setting the pace for the demands and proposals of the ruling classes in the countries south of the Rio Grande? And, on the other hand, what link do the new emerging right have with the local ruling classes?

We will not be able to answer these questions conclusively here, but we can at least propose some hypotheses.

The first hypothesis that we propose is that anti-populism is the main articulator of the great business community of Latin America. The big business class considers the different popular projects (which they contemptuously brand as populist) as their main enemies. As we pointed out, since the years of continental post-neoliberalism in the first decade of the 2000s, the reunion between concentrated capital and the political right-wing took place from the need to confront the emerging governments of the anti-neoliberal struggle. This articulation became increasingly close, to the point of generating new processes that range from soft to hard coups d'état, passing through a variety of formations of reactionary electoral coalitions.

The axes on which the great capitals of the region gave their support to the different coalitions and leaders of the right were constantly the polarizations in relation to "populism": republicanism vs. institutional deterioration; free market vs. statism; democracy vs. autocracy; among others.

In this we find a line of continuity with the current processes. If we take Brazil as an example, it is clear that the big business community prefers to support Jair Bolsonaro (Taglioni, 2021), who we could define as a neo-fascist, in the face of the possibility that his government ends up collapsing and gains access to power once again. popular project headed by former president Lula Da Silva. In general, the economic elite in Brazil tends to position itself in a more classic and globalist neoliberalism, which is somewhat represented in the figure of Paulo Guedes, Minister of Finance, within the Brazilian government. The novel synthesis that appears in Brazil, with respect to the 1990s, is a reconciliation between the classic neoliberal program in the economic sphere (Filgueiras, 2021), with the neo-fascism of Bolsonaro in the political sphere. From the agribusiness sectors (Poder360, 2021) to the banks (Contente, 2021) they currently openly support the government.

The point of articulation is the fear of the return of a popular government. If it fails to stop this return, the reactionary bloc in Brazil is ready to carry out all possible regressive structural reforms to undo the already reduced state capacities. The Brazilian bourgeoisie does not consider articulating another possible project, maintaining the neoliberal horizon at the economic level and sweeping the fascist excesses of Bolsonaro under the rug.

Similarly, the big business community in Argentina positioned itself in an anti-populist stance from the very moment of Néstor Kirchner's inauguration as president in 2003 and then took increasingly firm steps to flesh out a project that would succeed in replacing Peronism in the government at the hands of a force that, headed by Mauricio Macri, smacked of the new right but had more of the conservative, republican, colonialist and oligarchic right than of a right that grew based on political incorrectness, extreme anti-statism, political mobilization and reactionary nationalism. In 2015, the Argentine Business Association (the association with the greatest weight among business associations in the country), the big agribusiness players (which are expressed in the Argentine Rural Society and other entities) and the large groups that operate in the Argentine Industrial Union , had a position of absolute support for Macri's electoral campaign and the support of his policy that, in terms of profitability, did not even benefit them substantially. However, the need to sustain a neoliberal policy remained the central axis "in the face of the populist threat" (Cantamutto and López, 2019).

The big business community in Argentina is clearly in opposition to the government of President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Fernández, the vast majority contributing to the right and center-right coalition of which former President Mauricio Macri is a part. The phenomenon of the new right, whose maximum reference is Javier Milei, does not currently have a significant ascendancy in the business community. Capital, with all its oligarchic tradition, chooses conservative neoliberals for the time being rather than ultraliberals and anarcho-capitalists.

These cases show us that the ruling classes of our region are at a crossroads: continue to support a model of bourgeois democracy today in crisis or take the leap towards an authoritarian form of government. In all cases, the only point of agreement is an anti-popular economic program. The adjustment variable is how much political violence should be allowed, but not how much economic violence.

A second hypothesis, linked to the previous one, is that the new right does not really have an economic program that can be appropriated by the main expressions of capital. In concrete terms, most of the economic policy measures of governments considered to be of the "new right" such as Bukele in El Salvador and Bolsonaro in Brazil, we could say that they are still in the process of radicalizing the Washington Consensus rather than novel initiatives based on the exacerbation of the knowledge economy, the 4.0 revolution or the adoption of the premises of the Austrian school. The central macroeconomic measures of these projects, like those developed by Sebastián Piñera in Chile, Mauricio Macri in Argentina or those carried out by Lacalle Pou in Uruguay, are summarized in the program of neoliberal globalism. Of course, this program has been showing its systematic exhaustion for decades and that is where sympathy is beginning to be produced in the business community towards the neo-reactionary forms and the alternative right.

Perhaps the only case that we find as a babble in the sense of producing new forms of a reactionary political economy appropriate to the times, is the adoption of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency in El Salvador as legal tender. In a measure of great radicalism, the model president of the neo-reaction in Latin America promoted this law that was approved by the majority of the parliament of that country, adds a very important risk of instability, since the free conversion of dollars to Bitcoin can produce widespread speculative effects given the volatility of cryptocurrencies (BBC, 2021). The central point of this measure is that El Salvador already has its monetary policy atrophied due to the fact that the economy is dollarized, but the adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender directly turns towards the privatization of the monetary issue. Stripping the State of any capacity to intervene or regulate money is one of the great neo-reactionary dreams that seem to be coming true in this Central American country.

Thus, with the exception of Nayib Bukele's advance in the leap into the void of cryptocurrencies, the economic policy proposals of the right-wing in the region are quite well related to the classic neoliberal programs and these are the economic proposals that the big business community defends and defends. holds to oppose any popular advance program. In short, at this point it is clear that the different rights are united by fear and hatred of the working classes.

As a third hypothesis, which is linked to the above, the distance between the logic of capital accumulation and the political projects of the ruling classes is increasing. The dynamics of accumulation of revolution 4.0 and extreme financialization subordinates the ruling classes of the countries on the periphery of the world to the imperatives of global capital like never before. The response of these capitals that want to survive the global competition that increasingly tends towards techno-feudalism is to return to the agenda of overloaded neoliberal reform. This agenda does not have, however, the popular support it used to have in the last decade of the 20th century. The bourgeoisies of the countries of the Latin American periphery oscillate between explicit support for the governments of the traditional right and growing sympathy towards the still marginal sectors of the new right that promise new discourses, new reactionary utopias and new forms of mobilization to support a capitalist refoundation.

A key point of this debate is how much the dynamics of accumulation of global and national capital need today of domination through bourgeois democracy or if it is in other searches.

The expansion of the discursive frontier to the right

The offensive carried out in the last decade by the dominant sectors of the region unfolds, to a large extent, in the field of the dispute over meaning. Let's see how new discursive frontiers are being forged from the action of the right.

As we have been pointing out, in our region this offensive is constituted fundamentally as a reaction to the progressive governments and the processes of expanding rights that have taken place in the last two decades. Here demonization emerges as the ordering objective and the topic of "corruption" as one of the priority discursive axes.

If the offensive of the 1990s was developed in the name of a market-centric utopia, which projected the logic of profitability and efficiency as a way of organizing our societies, modernizing them and overcoming the problems of the old welfare states, this new offensive will not can hold on to that optimism. After the economic crises, the rise of the protests against the neoliberal model and the emergence of governments that widened social inclusion, the dominant sectors relaunched their project in this new century from a double movement in their discursive device. On the one hand, from the abstract and triumphant macro story about the benefits of the market, the origins of the neoliberal doctrine are delved into to pass to a version personified in a primordial subject: the entrepreneurial businessman. On the other hand, the dichotomy between freedom-democracy vs. authoritarianism, with its anti-populist and/or anti-communist variants, depending on the country in question. Faced with the weakening of that mercantile utopia, the horizon is placed more in a past golden age —generally linked to an oligarchic and free-trade order— than in an imminent future. That is why this offensive is deployed, largely, in the name of traditional institutions and values ​​—from the family and the “natural” role of men and women, to the army or even religion— that come to fill the new crusade with meaning. .

That said, there are three aspects that characterize this conservative reaction in terms of communication strategies and discursive construction procedures and that, to a greater or lesser extent, can be identified at the continental level.

First, the revitalization of a conspiratorial matrix and a story centered on the image of the pernicious advance of the left, which would be driven from a supranational structure. Which implies the construction of an external and powerful enemy, which recalls the anti-communist discourse of the Cold War. That enemy can be objectified in a government (Cuba, Venezuela), in a leader (Lula, Maduro, Evo Morales) or in a space of articulation (São Paulo Forum, Puebla Group). This discursive construction is more anchored among actors that contain sectors from the Armed Forces, but it is not exclusive. The COVID-19 pandemic was a scenario in which this conspiratorial matrix appeared in other stories. In any case, the complement of that threat is the nomination of strong political figures, who personify salvation or protection from danger.

Second, weakened the possibility of mobilizing citizens in pursuit of a mercantilist utopia capable of offering a superior and easily visible future, the appeal to “sad passions” [2] becomes a strategic line of action. The defense of personal freedom and private property appear as the hard core of a common sense that is also projected in hyper-individualistic perspectives. In communicational terms, outrage is encouraged, for which all tools are valid: defamation campaigns, fake news, messages segmented according to audiences. At this point, examples abound. Again, the cases of Brazil and Colombia (El Espectador, 2016), appear as paradigmatic due to the intensity with which these actions were applied and because they served as a reference for other scenarios.

Thirdly, we are facing a conservative reaction that justifies and validates neo-liberal economic and social policies, while placing the problem of insecurity as a central issue. For that it promotes punitivism and repression. The defense of freedom as a principle for individual and collective fulfillment goes hand in hand with control, the deepening of penalties and the empowerment of security forces. Thus, the contradiction becomes palpable and includes a displacement that goes from the crime against private property to the criminalization of social protest.

A brief review of some countries in the region will allow us to see how these strategies and discursive forms appear in a transversal and recurring way.

The Peruvian cold war

Peru is going through a prolonged political crisis that has one of its most notorious manifestations in the fragmentation of the party system and in the existence of equally fragmented leaderships (Capote, 2020). The field on the right has its communicating vessels, but it is also characterized by heterogeneity. There operate sectors that can be defined as more classic liberals, others rather populists, sectors with nationalist roots and also extreme right. There are traditional and new parties, forces that emerged in Fujimori and less institutionalized groups that express themselves above all in social networks and in direct action.

One of the data left by the second presidential round last June was the support that Keiko Fujimori (Popular Force) achieved from sectors identified with staunch opposition to the regime headed by her father in the 1990s. Due to the weight of her public figure, that turn had in the writer Mario Vargas Llosa one of its strongest icons. In a column published a few days after the first round (Vargas Llosa, 2021), the Nobel Prize winner spared no words to associate Pedro Castillo with the idea of ​​a "communist dictatorship" that would bring more poverty to the country. It must be said that anticommunism is a central topic of the discourse of the Peruvian right. Discursive nucleus that was strengthened from two factors: the revitalization at the continental level of a conspiracy story with reminiscences of the Cold War and the surprising electoral projection of Castillo. In the Peruvian case, since the 1990s, hand in hand with the repressive policy of the Fujimorist state that had the Sendero Luminoso organization as its priority target, this anti-communism was also associated with "terrorism" and from there it spilled over to the whole of the left. and social protest in general (Capote, 2020).

From another sector of the right more linked to the army, in the run-up to the second round, the congressman for Popular Renovation, Vice Admiral Jorge Montoya, assured that Peru was deciding between "living in democracy or living in communism." He linked Castillo's performance to "a plan of the São Paulo Forum" and stated: "we need an alliance between the right-wing parties of the entire continent to stop the advance of communism" (Álvarez Solís, 2021).

Fujimori, for his part, referred to Castillo as a bearer of class hatred that deepened the division among Peruvians and presented himself as a “savior” and guarantor of “national unity” (Nodal, 2021a).

These discourses converged in the construction of an enemy that is not recognized as having any legitimacy to represent significant sectors of the population. In this way they gave more air to groups that, with an even more radicalized discourse, came to physically attack Castillo's followers. Entre estos sectores se destacan dos grupos, la Coordinadora Republicana (La Mula.Pe, 2021) y La Resistencia (Perú21, 2021). Estos grupos tienen una fuerte intervención en redes sociales, cuentan con vocería en medios de comunicación y se dedican a realizar concentraciones de denuncias a periodistas y funcionarios. Muestran una prédica anticomunista, tienen lazos con sectores fundamentalistas religiosos y defienden los valores de la “familia tradicional”.

El experimento neorreaccionario de El Salvador

Como hemos mencionado, una de las grandes novedades de la derecha continental es Nayib Bukele, quien lleva dos años y medio en la presidencia de El Salvador. Su llegada al gobierno y su perfil sólo pueden entenderse en el contexto de una profunda crisis de legitimidad de los partidos que se alternaron en el poder luego de los Acuerdos de Paz de 1992, ARENA y el FMLN. Con un accionar con nítidas reminiscencias al estilo Donald Trump, la comunicación política de su Gobierno y sus principales medidas evidencian un modo de construcción basado centralmente en el fortalecimiento de su liderazgo.