Modi surges, Trump purges, Durante splurges and Europe diverges: Divergent trends in New-Populism
It took time and dogged persistence to internationalise the neologism New-Populism (NP); it was a harder sell than the Single Issue Common Candidate slogan because the latter was local argot. NP is now accepted after Durante-Brexit-Trump, Geert Wilders’ defeat in Holland, and not quite Modi. Sadly, the hoi polloi has little grasp of the nuances underlying the term. Yes, “far-right” has been in vogue in Europe for over a decade to denote a trend in France (National Front, NFF), Britain (Independence Party, UKIP), Denmark (Party for Freedom, PvV), Austria (Freedom Party of Austria FPO) and others. But it is simplistic and needs to be deepened.
It is theoretically erroneous to call them fascist or semi-fascist; they are not. European fascism ravaged the Continent in the particular circumstances of the inter-war years; neither social, nor economic, nor political, nor cultural conditions now exist for its recurrence. Sometimes NP seems to sail close to a fascist wind, Rodrigo Durante for example; sometimes it has a more looney than Mussolini ring as with Donald Trump. I have emphasised the difference between NP and fascism for long, but only now has the penny dropped as empirical evidence and divergences between NPs becomes evident even to the politically near sighted.
We need to define what we mean when we say right-wing; is Modi more right-wing than his Congress predecessor? All NPs manifest a pro-capitalist economic orientation; they possess certain social and nationalist features; anti-immigration national conservatism, anti-liberalism, anti-globalism, Euroscepticism in Europe, cultural revanchism (in Austria and Germany) and in the case of Trump but not France’s Marine Le Pen, an economic plan to cut social welfare and medical coverage for the poor and ladle out tax breaks to the well to do to pay for it. Crucially, they all ride a wave of frustration with government, revulsion of politicians, rebuff of ruling elites, rejection of the prevailing economic order and repugnance of the ethnic “other” be it colour, faith or language. These features give them commonality as an early Twenty-first Century singularity.
But this is not fascism. What marks off fascism from all other state forms is that it pulverises every other institution. Parties, trade unions, citizen’s organisations, learned societies and churches are crushed. Where they are allowed to exist as shell entities they are a mere extension of the Fuhrer, Il Duce, Gestapo or the Italian corporate state. The characteristic, the defining feature of inter-war fascism is that it pulverised every organisation that was independent of the fascist state. This is far different from Tsarist autocracy, pre-capitalist absolutist monarchies, Marcos, the one-party state in China, and the worst that MR–Gota would have been had the former been re-elected. (MR is Lanka’s version of New-Populism). Others that bear characteristics similar to fascism are Stalinism, Sadam Hussein, North Korea, and Gorilla military regimes that littered Latin America in the days when Pax Americana reigned supreme.
The spectrum of New-Populism (NP)
It is an oversimplification to rank NP movements on a linear scale from more centrist to more far-right, but crude measures are starting points. I suggest that Modi is centrist and mass-populist and Trump a fake populist much further to the right. Durante and Le Penn (if she is elected) inhabit the centre ground. Modi has no choice but to be homo economicus (economic man); history will judge him, and his legacy will depend, on how well he delivers to ‘the common man’ on the economic front. His policy thrust is ameliorating poverty, improving mass standards of living and making India modern and moderately prosperous. His survival depends on authentic populism in the proper sense of the term. It is his anti-Muslim communal depravity that pushes him, morally, into the genre of ugly populism. His choice of Yogi Adityanath as UP Chief Minister confirms this.