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Milei and the Extreme Right’s Handbook in a Period of Global Crisis

In his inauguration speech, Milei compared the current historical juncture to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the situation could not be more different.

Claudia Cinatti

December 29, 2023
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Image: La Izquierda Diario

Judging by the first week in office, Javier Milei’s government looks like a museum of Menemist1Carlos Menem was the president of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, and was responsible for the neoliberal reforms of the 1990s. —trans. curiosities: an orthodox combination of austerity measures, “stagflation,” and the promise of repression at the national level. Milei’s administration automatically aligned itself with the United States in foreign policy (a sort of return to “carnal relations”), mainly against China and Russia and the informal bloc of the so-called “Global South.” It is also offering an unconditional alliance with the State of Israel, including the promise to move the Argentine embassy to Jerusalem, a policy taken from the manual of the extreme right of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.

The U.S. government received Milei’s arrival with mixed emotions. On the one hand, the U.S. government celebrates the fact that a third Latin American country — behind Mexico and Brazil — has entered the orbit of Washington’s unconditional servants in the context of its competition with China. This takes on additional value in light of the notorious loss of hegemony for the United States and the emergence of alternative blocs such as the BRICS, which Argentina was invited to join as of January 2024. But on the other hand, President Biden, who is at his lowest point of political support, fears that Milei’s far-right government will be a beachhead for Trump’s return to the White House in the 2024 elections.

This change in the political scenario will have regional consequences, and will most likely foreshadow tensions in Latin America. Let us not forget that Macri’s government2Mauricio Macri was the right-wing president of Argentina from 2015 to 2019. —trans. supported the coup d’état in Bolivia against Evo Morales in 2019, promoted by the local right wing and the Trump administration.

You might also be interested in: Milei’s Shock Therapy and the Workers’ Response

During his campaign, Milei overemphasized his exclusive allegiance with Washington. He even questioned relations with indispensable commercial partners such as Brazil and China, although later as President he backed away from this extreme fundamentalism, and in a “pragmatic” turn, he asked Chinese President XI Jinping to renew the currency swap to meet the payments to the IMF. Beyond his dismal relationship with Lula, he has so far taken an “open-minded” line, albeit with the aim of maintaining Mercosur.3Merocsur, the Southern Common Market, is an economic bloc of South American countries. —trans.

But beyond speculations for the future, the deeply reactionary foreign policy of the libertarian government has already had its first concrete expression. On December 12, and for the second time in less than two months, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the call for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza by a majority of 153 countries out of 193. Compared to the previous vote on October 27, 30 countries joined the call for a ceasefire, among them strategic allies of the United States such as Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Australia. But the Argentine government decided to change their vote in the opposite direction and abstained. Only 23 countries abstained (in Latin America: Argentina, Uruguay, and Panama). And only 10 voted against, most obviously the United States and the State of Israel (Guatemala and Paraguay in Latin America).

The scale of the massacre being perpetrated by Israeli President Netanyahu is taking on horrifying dimensions. A recent investigation, based on interviews with members of Israeli intelligence, shows that it is a “planned massacre of civilians” and not “collateral damage”: 18,800 civilians killed (including 8,000 children and 6,200 women), 51,000 seriously wounded without access to adequate medical care, 1.8 million displaced persons (80% of the population), in addition to the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the drinking water network. A humanitarian catastrophe reminiscent of the 1948 “Nakba.”

These UN resolutions have no direct impact on stopping Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people, although they do have the symbolic effect of exposing international alignments, and above all, the extent of U.S. imperialist hegemony. What has been exposed is the growing isolation of the United States and Israel in their justification of the genocide in Gaza, which exposes the enormous hypocrisy of Western governments in the face of the emergence of a mass movement against the war and in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The Alliance Between the Far Right and the State of Israel

Although it may seem like an oxymoron, the alliance of the extreme right-wing parties — many of them self-confessed antisemites — with the State of Israel and the Netanyahu government has an irrefutable political logic. According to an editorial in the daily Haaretz, Netanyahu made a “Faustian pact” with the parties of the European extreme right, which would consist broadly of condoning antisemitism and turning a blind eye to Holocaust deniers in exchange for support of the colonial expansion policy and the apartheid regime, and encouraging the transfer of European embassies to Jerusalem. This alliance is further cemented by a shared Islamophobic agenda, which is very much in tune with the anti-immigrant policies of the far-right formations in the European Union.

For the Trumpist right wing in the United States, the support, especially of the various evangelical churches, far exceeds the strategic alliance of U.S. imperialism with the State of Israel and the reasons of the pro-Zionist and neoconservative sectors of the Democratic and Republican establishment. This support is based on religious beliefs, interpretations of biblical prophecies, translated into geopolitical positions, and on an ideological-political affinity based on social conservatism. Organizations such as Christians United for Israel decisively influence the policies of the Republican party, among them is the transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem under the presidency of Donald Trump, who openly acknowledged that he had done it “for the evangelicals,” taking into account that they are the main component of the Republican electoral base. In his current campaign to return to the White House in 2024, Trump again used the Israeli card for electoral purposes, drawing a direct continuity between his candidacy and those who “love Israel,” whether Jewish or Evangelical. Bolsonaro seems to have had similar electoral motivations to Trump, given the significant weight of the evangelical right in his electorate, although he never got around to concretizing his proposal to move the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem.

Milei not only aligned himself unconditionally with the Zionist State but also allied himself with the ultra orthodox religious right, which led him to appoint his personal rabbi as ambassador to Israel, in addition to appealing to messianic invocations, such as the assistance of the “forces of heaven” to push through the brutal austerity measures he is trying to impose.

A Neoliberal at the Wrong Time

In his inauguration speech, Milei compared the historical juncture when he came to power to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the situation could not be more different than that of 1989-91. The victory of the United States in the Cold War, as well as the dissolution of the Soviet Union and capitalist restoration, gave way to a decade of unipolar North American hegemony. Ultimately neoliberalism was imposed with heavy defeats to class struggle: Dictatorships in Latin America, the triumph of Great Britain in the Malvinas war, the defeat of the air traffic controllers’ strike in the United States by the Reagan administration and of the British miners at the hands of Margaret Thatcher. Neoliberalism became hegemonic during the 1990s, with the spread of “globalization” and “liberal democracy,” which, according to Fukuyama’s famous writing, heralded the last stage of the evolution of capitalist societies. The neoliberal credo — free market, deregulations, and privatizations — was adopted without nuances by the conservative parties and the social democrats (or reformists) through the so-called “third way” constituting what Tariq Ali defined at the time as the “extreme center.”

The capitalist crisis of 2008 highlighted the exhaustion of the globalized world managed from Washington. Not only did China emerge as a power and main competitor of the United States, but so did a series of intermediate powers — such as Turkey, Brazil, India, and Indonesia — that are pursuing their own national interests.

The persistent tendency towards organic crises in the context of a profound political and social polarization divided the ruling classes and led to the development of Bonapartist and protectionist tendencies in the central countries. The maximum expression of these tendencies has been the Trump presidency, and the trade war with China, which continues without major variations under the Biden presidency. In turn, this situation opened a new intense period of workers’ struggles, popular revolts, and new political phenomena both in the core countries and in the capitalist periphery.

First the pandemic, then the wars of Russia/Ukraine-NATO and Israel in Gaza, have deepened these tendencies, with the formation of an alliance between Russia and China that presents itself as a “multilateral” alternative to the U.S. order, opening the field to “multiple alliances.”

The international scenario is characterized by uncertainty. The growing probability of a Trump triumph in the 2024 elections will make the situation even more convulsive. Even intellectuals of the Trumpist right are talking about the need for a sort of “caesarism,” that is, an authoritarian-bonapartist solution, setting off alarm bells in the liberal media.

The other side of the strengthening of extreme right tendencies is the development of class struggle phenomena unprecedented in recent years, such as the process of strikes and union organization in the United States. Furthermore, the emergence of a massive movement against Israel’s war in Gaza and in solidarity with the Palestinian people, particularly in the central countries, with an anti-imperialist stamp that has not been seen since the movement against the Vietnam War.

The American historian Adam Tooze dusted off the term “polycrisis,” originally formulated by Edgard Morin, to define the situation in the last 15 years. According to the author, it is a complex situation in which several crises — economic instability, climate crisis, rivalry, and confrontation between powers — interact in such a way as to make “the whole more dangerous than the sum of its parts” because the partial solution of one may aggravate some of the other dimensions. A liberal view of what we Marxists define as the re-actualization of the conditions of an era of crises, wars, and revolutions.

This article was originally published in La Izquierda Diario on December 17, 2023.

Translated by Kimberly Ann


1 Carlos Menem was the president of Argentina from 1989 to 1999, and was responsible for the neoliberal reforms of the 1990s. —trans.
2 Mauricio Macri was the right-wing president of Argentina from 2015 to 2019. —trans.
3 Merocsur, the Southern Common Market, is an economic bloc of South American countries. —trans.
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Claudia Cinatti

Claudia is an editor of our sister site La Izquierda Diario and a leading member of the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS) in Argentina.

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