Zibechi: The social bases of the new rights

Last Sunday, millions of people demonstrated against the government of Dilma Rousseff. Photo: Afp.

Last Sunday, millions of people demonstrated against the government of Dilma Rousseff. Photo: Afp.

By: Raúl Zibechi

A new right is emerging in the world and also in Latin America, a region that presents its own profiles and a new social base. It’s necessary to become familiar with it in order to combat it, to avoid simplistic judgments and to understand the differences with the old rights.

Mauricio Macri is very different from Carlos Menem. He introduced neoliberalism, but was a son of the old political class, to the point that he respected some legal norms institutional times. Macri is the son of the neoliberal model and behaves according to the extractive model, making dispossession his principal argument. His pulse doesn’t tremble at the time of stepping over the values of democracy and the procedures that characterize it.

Something similar can be said about the Venezuelan right. It’s about attaining objectives regardless of the means. The modus operandi of the new Brazilian right even differs from the privatizing government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Today the referents are characters like Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi, or the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a militarist and warrior, who don’t respect either the Kurdish people or the legal opposition, whose offices and meetings are systematically attacked.

These new rights relate to Washington, but it’s of little use to think that they act mechanically, following orders emanating from an imperial center. The regional rights, above all those of the big countries, have a certain amount of autonomy in defense of their own interests, above all those that are supported in a more or less developed local business group.

But what’s really novel is the broad support they get from the masses. As has been said, the Argentine right had never before reached the Casa Rosada through the electoral path. This novelty merits some explanation that cannot be exhausted in this short space. Nor does it seem adequate to attribute all the advances of the right to the media. What reasons are there for maintaining that voters on the right are manipulated and those of the left are conscious and lucid votes?

There are two questions that would need to be cleared away before entering a broader analysis. The first is the manner of doing things, the non-stop authoritarianism almost without argument. The second is the reason for the support of the masses, which includes not only the middle classes, but also a part of the popular sectors.

About Macri’s authoritarian decisions, the writer Martín Rodríguez maintains: “Macrismo acts like an Islamic State: his occupation of power signifies a sort of irreverence for the sacred Kirchner temples” (Panamarevista.com, 28/01/16). Mass firings are supported on the firm belief of the middle classes that the state workers are “privileged” and collect paychecks without working. The political cost of those tremendous decisions has been very low as of now.

The comparison to the methods of the Islamic State sounds exaggerated, but has a point of contact with reality: the new rights come in cleaning house, sweeping away everything that gets in their way, from workers rights to institutional rules of the game. For them, being democratic is just counting the pieces of paper in the ballot boxes every four or five years.

The second question is to comprehend the mass support attained. The anthropologist Andrés Ruggeri, a researcher in recovered companies, emphasizes that the right was able to “construct a reactionary social base capable of mobilizing itself, based in the most backward sectors of the middle class, sectors that always existed and that supported the dictatorship in the 1970s” (Diagonal, 13/02/15). That social base is anchored in a voter-consumer “that acquires a vote like a supermarket product.”

He considers that the big error of the Cristina Fernandez government consisted of, instead of fomenting an organized popular subject, in promoting “a dismembered social group, individualistic and consumerist, which also thought that the conquests of the fight in 2001 and the social benefits attained in those 12 years were acquired rights that were not at risk. Convincing them of the latter was a great achievement of the rightwing campaign, the key to its triumph” (Diagonal, 13/02/16).

The middle classes are very different from those of the 60s. They no longer are referenced in the layers of professionals that are formally trained in state universities, who read books and continued studying when ending their careers, aspired to work for mid-level paychecks in state divisions and socialized in public spaces where they come together with the popular sectors. The new middle classes revere the rich, aspire to live in private neighborhoods far away from the popular classes and the urban framework, are deeply consumerist and distrust free thought.

If a decade ago part of those middle classes banged on casseroles against the “economic closures” of the Economic Minister, Domingo Cavallo, and on occasion came together with the unemployed (“picket and casserole, is just one fight,” [1] was the slogan of 2001), now they just worry about property and security, and think that freedom consists of buying dollars and vacationing in five star hotels.

These middle classes (and a part of the popular sectors) are culturally modeled by extractivism [2]: by consumer values that financial capital promotes, so distant from the values of work and effort that an industrial society promoted barely four decades ago.

The defenders of the neoliberal model attain a level of support at around 35-40 percent of the electorate, as all of the processes in the region show. We often don’t know how to confront this new right. It’s not agitating against imperialism like we will overthrow it, but rather demonstrating that one can enjoy life without falling into consumerism, debt and individualism.

[1] It rhymes in Spanish: “piquete y cacerola, la lucha es una sola.”

[2] Extractivism – Zibechi’s use of this term is similar to David Harvey’s accumulation by dispossession. It implies corporations taking a resource or possession away from people in order to create profits.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Friday, February 19, 2016

Re-published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee






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