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Can nationalists of the world unite?

Interests, not ideologies, seem to be the driving force behind nationalist movements worldwide

September 21, 2018

2:31 PM

21 September 2018

2:31 PM

Want to lecture people about the anti-globalism trend that is supposedly sweeping the West? It goes without saying that you must refer to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, followed by mentioning the right-wing (‘nationalist,’ ‘populist’ or ‘illiberal’ or ‘far-right’ could substitute as adjectives) political parties that rule Hungary, Poland, and more recently, Italy.

After all, they want to Make Poland/ Hungary/Italy Great Again! suggesting that the electoral victories of Poland’s Law and Justice, Hungary’s Fidesz, and Italy’s Lega and Five Star Movement, are ideologically allied with Trumpism – and Putinism – and their nationalist, protectionist, and nativist agendas, would help advance the interests of the Trump Administration.

If Breitbart is your first read in the morning, and you follow Steve Bannon’s new Big-Think entry, with the same fervour that a 1960s lefty radical would be devouring Herbert Marcuse’s words of wisdom, then everything happening in the world makes a lot of sense to you.

Indeed, what to many looks like a political universe full of chaos and on the eve of destruction, attains a certain coherence in your eyes: Hey, it’s all about the globalists (bad) vs. the anti-globalists (good). All you have to do now is to employ the Bannon-made political template and fill the blanks.

In a way, Bannonism is a mirror-image of globalism as an ideology. While globalisation is a geo-economic process that helps facilitate economic and human interaction across borders, globalism is an ideological dogma – like Marxism. It’s a reflection of economic determinism that promotes a vision of a world in which the old nation-state and its historical and cultural traits would be replaced by a unified global community, and supposedly it’s represented by the villainous Davos Man and the Western political and economic elites.

So if globalism is the thesis, Bannonism is the antithesis. It proposes that since the political and economic losers of globalisation in the West are facing common threats in the form of free trade, open immigration, and challenges to their national identity, they could therefore be seen as political allies united behind an anti-globalism agenda.

Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, was for most of his adult life a traditional conservative Republican. In his late fifties, he discovered the creed of nationalism. And like a teenager who had just read Atlas Shrugged and saw the light, Bannon embraced nationalism with the zeal of a new convert, and has been spending his free time spreading the nationalist gospel in Europe.

Because, as we know, the Germans and the French, the Poles, the Hungarians, and the Czechs need a former Goldman Sachs investment banker to introduce them to the appeal of nationalism. ‘Brexit was a foreshadow of the 2016 Trump victory, and the populist nationalist revolt is about a year ahead in Europe than in the United States,’ Bannon told a conference in Budapest, as Joshua Green writes in his book about Bannon, Devil’s Bargain.

If liberals bash Brexit, Trumpism, and the right-wing movements in Europe, and their ally in the Kremlin, and regard the critique of open immigration and free trade, as the embodiment of nationalism, mercantilism, nativism and various forms of ethnic and religious nationalism, Bannon seems to be responding with a loud ‘Yes!’ calling Hungary’s Orban, a ‘Trump before Trump.’

More specifically, Bannon has been travelling across the Continent with several stops in Britain, has a plan to establish a political movement, called, well, The Movement, that would bring together the anti-globalism forces before next year’s 2019 European parliamentary elections. And is it then to Australia? Asia? The Middle East? Latin America? Nationalists of the World, Unite!

And since it is so ‘in’ these days to recall what was happening in Europe on the eve of World War II, some may point out to an historical analogy: the creation of the Communist International (Comintern) after the Bolshevik Revolution, an international organisation committed to uniting the communist movements around the world. Indeed, Bannon has reportedly compared himself several times to the lead of that revolution, Vladimir Lenin. So is he in the process of establishing his own Nationalism International?

If anything, since the leaders of the Comintern, not unlike some of attendees of the annual meeting in the Swiss resort town, were committed to ‘the complete abolition of the state,’ perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare Bannon’s Movement to the Anti-Comintern Pact, an alliance concluded between Germany and Japan, and later joined by other, mainly fascist, governments and which was directed against the Comintern.

But then neither the Comintern nor the anti-Comintern survived as viable political movements, for a simple reason: the adherence to one’s national interest overrides a commitment to a universal ideology, whether it is Communism or globalism, or for that matter, any effort to form a united international grouping, like the anti-Comintern or the Movement, to counter those forces proclaiming universal dogmas.

The Comintern was officially dissolved by Joseph Stalin in 1943, to avoid antagonising the United States and Britain, his allies in the wars against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and at a time when the Georgian-born dictator was trying to revive Russian nationalist sentiments in the campaign to defeat the German aggressors.

At the same time, the anti-Comintern pact proved to be but an interim step towards the creation of a military alliance between the Axis Powers during World War II. Some the original signatories to the pact, like Spain, Turkey and Finland, remained neutral during the war, while China fought on the side of the allies. Interests, not ideologies, had been the driving force, behind the two warring coalitions.

This is the kind of lesson that Bannon is bound to learn as he tries to bring together what are in essence nationalist movements, each reflecting their own unique history and cultural traits, not to mention the interests of their nations, that are not necessarily compatible.

While it is true that Poland’s Law and Justice, Hungary’s Fidesz, Italy’s Lega and Five Star Movement, or for that matter, France’s Front National or Germany’s and Britain’s pro-Brexit forces, represented a populist wave, ignited by the large flow of Muslim migrants into Europe – a problem that never touched the Poles, the Hungarians or the Czechs directly – it is doubtful that these political parties would find a common ground for long-term cooperation, beyond support for placing restrictions on immigration and restricting the power of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. In a way, pressure from Poland, Hungary and the Czechs has already led to the toughening of immigration rules in the EU and to the decline of Muslim migration into the continent.

Media reports sometimes create the impression that the ‘nationalists’ in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Italy, seek to withdraw their countries from the EU and to dissolve NATO, which is not the case. There is no public support in these three countries for a Brexit-like divorce with the EU but only calls for devolving more power from Brussels to the national capitals, and a certain sympathy with Britain’s position now in its negotiations in Europe.

Nationalism is to an extent organic in and particular to Poland, Hungary and the other Central and Eastern European countries, not to mention Russia. National identity and citizenship overlaps with religious and ethnic identities – as opposed to the Lockean concept of nationalism and citizenship in Britain, France, contemporary Germany or for that matter, the United States.

At the same time, Euroscepticism and mistrust of political and economic elites do not necessarily translate into the kind of protectionist agenda that Bannon is promoting: in particular, his demonisation of China as the leading threat to the global economy.

The economic growth of the Czech Republic depends very much on expanding its trade with other economies, while Hungary has been expanding its trade and investment ties in China as is Britain. It is very unlikely that France under the leadership of the National Rally would join the Trump Administration in a trade war against China; it would probably try to take advantage of the Sino-American economic cold war.

Moreover, notwithstanding the occasional flirts with the Kremlin on the part of some of Europe’s right wing political parties, the security of Europe’s nations, especially of small states like the Czech Republic and countries that share borders with Russia, including Poland and the Baltic States, continues to depend very much on the continuing existence of NATO, and the strengthening of the U.S. role in the Western alliance.

Trumpists of the Bannon kind fantasise about the grand alliance that would evolve in the aftermath of the dissolution of the EU and NATO, between the United States and conservative and nationalist Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and, of course, Poland, which Trump stated in an address in Warsaw in 2017, shares the same values as the United State, in their support ‘for family, for freedom, for country, and for God.’

How did the Trumpists dream of reducing U.S. military presence in Europe and of getting close to Russia, react when Polish President Andrzej Duda during his White House press conference with President Trump last week asked for a permanent U.S. military presence in Poland as a bulwark against Russia?

A conservative nationalist Polish leader calling on a conservative nationalist American President to send troops to defend his country against a conservative nationalist Russian president. That cannot be integrated into Bannon’s political template.


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