There is one very important feature of ‘right-wing populism’ which is central to its appeal and its political economy. This is its rejection of ‘neo-liberalism’, and its blaming of the miseries of the working class and poor business on neo-liberal, cosmopolitan capitalism. In place of this, right-wing populism offers policies of national solidarity with a strong state or leader as a guarantor of the welfare of the masses. This is in contrast with the Left that offers policies of class solidarity. But, with the decline in large concentrations of workers, the scope of working class institutions is increasingly reduced to the public sector, where a single employer of large numbers of workers still remains, and even that is being fragmented by managerialist policies.
The reason for the rise of this populism is the failure of free-market capitalism to create full employment and adequate living standards, as well as the neglect by the world powers of the problems of the Middle East. For ruling elites in the capitalist countries, most notably in the UK, it has also been only too convenient to have populist movements deflecting criticism of those ruling elites for those failures, and blaming instead Brussels or foreigners. It is also reassuring to big business to have populist movements offering an alternative capitalism that is supposed to work. Such ‘roads to an alternative capitalism’ can always be manipulated in the interests of existing capitalists, as we can see in the circle around Donald Trump.
The first step in overcoming this political crisis must be for the Left to stop talking about neo-liberalism as the cause of all our miseries, or at least be much more judicious in our use of this term. Blaming neo-liberalism in the present political conjuncture only encourages the supporters of Trump and Le Pen in their politics of national solidarity against neo-liberalism. Instead of sticking a label of ‘victim of neo-liberalism’ on every person in poverty or social disadvantage, we need to analyse much more carefully the material bases of poverty and social disadvantage in the labour market and in the way our modern capitalism works. This does not mean telling the masses that their welfare will only be secured when socialism is finally achieved, but working out practical policies of improving living and working conditions, on the basis of class solidarity.