Gloomy November: Can The Right-Wing 'Outsiders' Really Do Anti-Establishment Politics?

Reactionaries skilfully win over people who are disappointed with a political class that put their country into crisis. But what happens next?

Gloomy November: Can The Right-Wing 'Outsiders' Really Do Anti-Establishment Politics?
Caption: November fashion - Argentine Javier Milei and Dutch Geert Wilders sport flamboyant hairstyles and far-right politics

On 19 November, the Argentinians went to the second round of the presidential elections, and on 22 November, the Dutch took part in the elections. Apart from the temporal proximity, these elections have at least two things in common: the winners are far-right politicians...and also the fact that they have very non-standard hairstyles.

Javier Milei, a 53-year-old economist, author, media figure and political outsider, clearly won the second round of the presidential elections in Argentina (which, it is worth mentioning, will become a BRICS+ member on 1 January 2024), winning almost 56% of the votes. He defeated the outgoing economy minister, the Peronist, Sergio Massa.

What is the socio-economic situation in Argentina? It is worth going back a few years. 

In 2018, right-wing President Mauricio Macri took out a $57.1 billion loan from the IMF, which is the largest loan in the Fund's history. As usual, the IMF imposed strict conditions on its loans. In 2001–2002, IMF conditions led to an increase in unemployment and poverty rates. After granting another loan and imposing new conditions (mainly austerity and public cuts), the same thing happened – the current crisis is even worse than the one 20 years ago. In 2019, the center-left Peronists returned to power, but Alberto Fernandez's government essentially continued the policies of the Macri government. Even during the Macri government, the average decline in per capita income was around 10%, and the cumulative inflation was over 300%. Additionally, it must be said clearly: the austerities imposed by the IMF are having the opposite effect, as shown by the term of office of Macri and Fernandez: In 2016, the Macri government cut subsidies for energy and transport. In the first four months of 2016, electricity prices increased by 250%, natural gas prices by 195%, water distribution prices by 300% and transportation prices by 100%. Despite these adjustments, the budget deficit increased in 2016. This was partly due to revenue losses resulting from cuts in income taxes, corporate taxes and exports. 

In 2023, poverty in Argentina is as high as 40%. The situation has also led to the unofficial dollarisation of the Argentine economy: the peso is almost worthless, so Argentines make major purchases (illegally) in US dollars.

Faced with this gigantic crisis, President Alberto Fernandez announced at the beginning of this year that he would not run for re-election. This caused the ruling Peronists to face the challenge of finding a new candidate. The obvious choice seemed to be Vice President and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who belonged to the leftist Peronist faction (as opposed to the "centrist," ie liberal, President Fernandez), but she faced corruption charges. Ultimately, the Peronists chose the Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, which is a completely incomprehensible choice to me. Not only does Massa belong to the ‘right-wing’ of the Peronist movement (he is basically a neoliberal), but also, as the minister of economy, he showed enormous incompetence in managing the crisis - the nomination of such an unpopular man was shot in the foot. It seems to me that Massa was nominated due to his own ambitions (he had wanted to be a president for years) but also the lack of an alternative - few Peronist politicians were interested in taking this position during such a terrible crisis.

So, in the face of an unpopular candidate of the ruling party, a raging crisis, millions of people living in poverty, and, above all, young people disappointed with the lack of prospects for the future, Javier Milei presents himself as ‘anti-establishment’ figure – and this allowed him to pose as an alternative.

Before the first round of elections, Milei raised slogans such as: the liquidation of the central bank, making the US dollar the currency of Argentina, and breaking off relations with "communists" (according to him, North Korea, China, Cuba, which does not raise any terminological controversy... but also Venezuela, Nicaragua and Brazil), abortion ban, privatisation of education and health care, limiting the number of ministries to 8 (currently 18). He basically advocates full "economic freedom" - including organ trade and selling children. He also promised to stop the process of joining BRICS+. He even attacked Pope Francis (who is Argentine) calling him "an imbecile who defends social justice," a "son-of-a-bitch preaching communism" and "the representative of the evil one on Earth." He called the Argentine political scene - from the "left", i.e. the Peronists, to the Macri right – a "caste". But that's not all: Milei efficiently ran his campaign on social media, including TikTok, which is very popular among young voters.

It is worth adding that apart from Milei's eccentric hairstyle, he says that he talks to the spirit of his dead dog. Milei reportedly visited a medium to communicate with his late beloved pet. It was in that telepathic conversation, Milei has said, that Conan relayed God’s mission for him to become President of Argentina. According to Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper, Milei believes that he and Conan first met in a previous life more than 2,000 years ago as a gladiator and lion in the Roman Colosseum and that the pair did not fight because they were destined to join forces in the future (which he believes was a prophecy of his animal-influenced presidential campaign)!

After the results of the first round were announced, however, he softened his tone: to gain support from the right, he stopped using the term "caste." Almost immediately he received the support of Patricia Bullrich (from Mauricio Macri's party), who came third. Due to this support, Milei's victory in the second round was arithmetically almost certain – and, in fact, it turned out to be even greater than the polls predicted.

At the time when the first election results were announced, as it became certain that he had won, not only Bullrich but also Macri himself stood on the stage with him. As usual – and this turned out to be true for Trump, Bolsonaro, Meloni, and other far-right ‘anti-establishment’ figures – he turns out to be incredibly pro-establishment. Half of the new ministers were already associated with previous right-wing Argentine governments.

Milei's Vice President will be Victoria Villarruel. She is an unabashed apologist of the country's Cold War-era genocidal dictatorship and an open admirer of the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and his cronies. Moreover, Villarruel will be Minister of Defence and Security.

Patricia Bullrich is to become the Minister of Security in his government. She also held this position in the Macri government. Luis Caputo will probably become the Minister of Finance. He was the Minister of Finance and the president of the Central Bank in various periods of the Macri government. Guillermo Ferraro may become the Minister of Infrastructure. He, too, is no political outsider – he was an official in the Ministry of Industry during the presidential term of Eduardo Duhalde in 2002–2003.

However, it was not only Milei’s position towards the political establishment that softened after the elections. On his profile on X (Twitter), he thanked Xi Jinping for congratulating him on his election victory. He also thanked the Pope, whom he called "Holy Father" (the official title of the head of the Catholic Church).

However, Milei did not withdraw from his promise about the liquidation of the Central Bank. He announced that his "shock therapy" would be very painful, but "will have the intended effect of stabilizing the economy." And he added that: "A fiscal balance is non-negotiable. The fiscal balance is not under debate. I will sack the minister who spends too much."

Even though the constitution allows the president to use executive orders for more radical changes (such as privatisation plans or the liquidation of the central bank), he will need the consent of Congress, in which he does not have a clear majority, but horse-trading is going on, so everything will depend on coalition talks.

Three days after Milei's victory in Argentina (which was not a surprise, because the polls were quite clear), Geert Wilders' far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) won an unexpected victory in the Netherlands. Early elections were announced after the fall of the government of Mark Rutte, who had been prime minister for 13 years. His last cabinet struggled with numerous scandals and the rising cost of living for Dutch citizens.

Wilders has been building his image on anti-Islamic rhetoric for years. He is describing Islam as a fascist ideology of “a retarded culture” and a “backward religion”. Since 2004, he has been under police protection and in 2016 was convicted of discrimination after he called Moroccans “scum” at a campaign rally.

The PVV is Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant. Party promotes Zionism in foreign policy - Wilders said: "Relations with Israel will be strengthened, among others by moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” Economically, PVV supports tax cuts (which also helped him win over voters), but does not intend to take away the elements of the "welfare state" - although Wilders stipulates that it should only cover the Dutch (and not immigrants).

During this campaign, to court mainstream voters this time around, Wilders has sought to focus less on what he calls the “de-Islamisation” of the Netherlands and more on tackling hot-button issues such as housing shortages, a cost-of-living crisis and health care.

It is also worth noting that Wilders' success is also due to the hypocrisy of the Social Democrats (who, of course, improved their result, but still have as many as 12 fewer seats than the PVV). As the New Communist Party of the Netherlands (NCPN) rightly notes in its analysis of the elections, that ‘progressive’ parties have failed to build a credible climate policy (which is important to many Dutch people): 

"[climate] policy they [social democrats] propose has nothing to do with environmental protection, but its aim is to provide massive financial support for the so-called ‘green’ capital investments - which often turn out to be not so green after all - paid for by levied ‘green’ taxes and fees on the working class must pay."

In the elections, the PVV won 37 seats (it needs 76 for a majority). the social democratic alliance GreenLeft-Labour or GL/PvdA came second with only 25 seats, then the outgoing Prime Minister Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy or VVD with 24 seats, and the new centre-right New Social Contract or NSC party received 20 seats. The remaining parties won less than 10 seats. This means that a fairly broad coalition will be needed to form a new government.

Before the elections, the remaining parties ruled out a coalition with Wilders. Now, however, they are softening their stance. Ms Yesilgöz (VVD leader) said that "our party colleagues will decide whether to join the coalition." Mr Omtzigt (NSC leader) said initially that his party would not work with Mr Wilders, but now appears to have changed his position, saying that they are "available to turn this trust [of voters] into action."

Returning to the brilliant analysis of the NCPN: 

"Capital [Dutch, but also the EU] has an interest in establishing a stable government that will be able to continue its policy of destruction in the near future [...] It is important for capital that this government is able to suppress public dissatisfaction. This is why these elections were held and these big ‘musical chairs’ were held in The Hague, with new faces and parties that can better sell the same destructive policies to the public. At the same time, there are also real conflicts of interest between various capital groups. Ultimately, it is the interests of the ruling class that will determine how the formation of the new government will proceed."

The Netherlands and Argentina are not the only examples of right-wing successes in November. On 17 November, the new, right-wing government of Luxembourg was sworn in. On 23 November, the new right-wing president of Ecuador Daniel Noboa took office. Noboa, the son of banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, who unsuccessfully ran for president five times, is also a businessman himself. He takes power in a country torn not only by a political crisis but also by drug-trading gang fights.

Arguably, November turned out to be a very gloomy month. It showed us all that in the face of the weakness of the left and the crisis – economic, political, and social – that is ongoing, the right can cunningly present itself as an alternative. Reactionaries skilfully win over people who are rightly disappointed with the political class that put their country into crisis. However, practice has clearly shown one thing: a right-wing anti-establishment politics does not exist

This form of politics is merely a disguised establishment, again representing the interests of capital. After coming to power, we note that they have completely shed the masks of "outsiders" and stepped into the comfortable shoes of the political elites – which they had criticised passionately during the campaign). All the while, without fail, they keep up their divisive rhetoric aimed at dividing the working class forces so that they cannot unite.

The author is a student of law in Poland