The ABC’s Sarah Ferguson delivered one of the most pathetic interviews of the year on Monday night. The Four Corners presenter gave US far right figure Steve Bannon free rein to outline his reactionary ideology, and failed to challenge almost any of his lies.
The first of these was Bannon’s insinuation that he is some kind of fighter for the working class. Bannon is as far from the working class as Pluto is from the Earth. According to US business magazine Forbes, he is worth between $9.5 million and $48 million – “well within the top 1 percent of Americans”.
He previously was a Goldman Sachs executive, sent his children to expensive private schools, lives in a mansion and owns a fleet of cars including Jaguars, Range Rovers and Fords. So for all the big talk about his hostility to the elites, Bannon’s class position is well in their camp. As Connor Kilpatrick wrote last year at US website Jacobin:
“Behind his supposed working class economic program lies the same shitty elitist views he pillories in liberals. Like every rich, right wing asshole, he plays GI Joe in public before settling in with a nice bottle of Amarone in a climate-controlled beachfront property.”
The second was the claim that president Trump is reshaping the US economy in the interests of working class people. In December, Trump passed huge corporate tax cuts, reducing the headline rate from 35 to 21, which will ensure a continuing transfer of wealth from workers to bosses and blow an increasingly large hole in public finances – a trend accompanied by cutbacks to already diminishing public services.
The conditions in public schools for instance, filled with the working class kids Bannon claims to represent, are appalling. The recent spate of teachers’ strikes across the country revealed the crumbling infrastructure – rat infested classrooms, holes in walls, letting in icy blasts during winter.
Trump’s offensive against public health also reveals how far his administration is from supporting working people. Millions of working class Americans cannot afford to see a doctor or get treatment for chronic illnesses. Yet Trump is doing everything possible to undermine the meagre public health system.
Not once were these issues raised by Ferguson. She was swept away by Bannon’s claims that Trump is “bringing jobs back to the USA” and that he is playing the long game to rebuild working class incomes. But the share of national wealth going to workers always depends on their capacity to organise in trade unions. And Trump is overseeing a legal offensive against unions’ right to organise.
The third lie was Bannon’s repeated assertion that he and Trump are turning the Republican Party into a workers’ party. This is a farcical claim. Like the Democrats, the Republican Party is not a membership organisation – it is just a network of big business donors and right wing politicians. A majority of the party’s voters are non-college educated whites on lower than average incomes, but they do not at all control the party; nor do party officials act in the interests of workers. In Trump’s first year in office, he has brought hundreds of representatives of industry and business into key government positions.
Bannon and the far right
The other free kick that Ferguson gave Bannon was on the question of the far right. Half way through the interview she seemed ready to press him on his association with fascist and neo-Nazi movements. Bannon swatted away her half-hearted efforts by claiming that the neo-Nazi movement in the US is an irrelevant part of the political scene, and essentially a fiction created by the liberal media.
“The neo-Nazis, the KKK and the confederates have no place in society”, he said. But we must look beyond his words to his actions. Bannon in 2007 was a co-founder of right wing website Breitbart news and became its executive chair in 2012. The website’s lurid ALL CAPS headlines often were (and continue to be) indistinguishable from the immigrant bashing, Islamophobic drivel in fascist publications.
Breitbart ran flattering interviews with far right figures and it published UK libertarian writer James Delingpole’s piece “In praise of ‘Hate Speech’”. It also ran an interview with Sean Gabb, who, while director of the Libertarian Alliance in 2006, said, “We believe in the right to promote hatred by any means that do not fall within the Common Law definition of assault”.
Breitbart has played an important role in reflecting and amplifying the far right’s ideas. One far right leader Brad Griffin, the creator of the website Occidental Dissent, described the process:
“You write for a pro-White website like the Council of Conservative Citizens, AmRen or VDARE, you have been labelled and stigmatised as an ‘extremist’, ‘notorious racist’ and a ‘member of a hate group’ and when you wake up in the morning and look for the subject to write about, say a refugee rapist, you realise that it is semi-pointless because UK Daily Mail or WorldNetDaily has already covered it. What is there left to do but link to the Breitbart story?”
Bannon claims he is worlds away from fascism. But there is a symbiotic relationship between the neo-Nazi thugs and the wealthy figures of the far right who wear suits, inhabit boardrooms and stalk the chambers of government. The wealthy figures of the far right make respectable the extremist views of the neo-Nazi thugs. They can reach greater audiences.
A case in point is the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) in Germany. This party, presenting itself as respectable and distinct from the explicit neo-Nazi movement, endorsed the fascist mobilisation in Chemnitz over the last week. A leading member of the AfD marched alongside the fascist street movement Pegida. Another tweeted: “If the state is no longer to protect citizens then people take to the streets and protect themselves. It’s as simple as that!” Bannon wants to incorporate the AfD into his “movement”.
While Bannon says that he isn’t a racist (on this Ferguson seemed willing to agree with him), he is building a movement of parties peddling racism as government policy. Last year, he held a speaking tour across Europe to strengthen, in his words, the “connective tissue” between various parties of the European far right, from the National Front in France to the Lega in Italy. These parties, many of which are in prominent parliamentary positions, are playing a key role in promoting racist sentiment and enacting racist, deadly border policy measures.
Bannon is a danger. He is an articulate and forceful proponent of a far right politics for the 21st century; one that cloaks itself in the language of standing up for the working class. We shouldn’t be fooled. This is a story as old as capitalism. Many fascist movements of the past claimed plebeian sympathies but acted purely in the interests of the wealthy by fostering working class division through racism.
Ferguson had an opportunity to rip the mask from Bannon. She chose a smile and a playful caress.
Dan Andrews, who has just resigned after nine years as Victorian premier, was probably the most controversial Labor leader since Gough Whitlam or indeed Jack Lang. Andrews was detested by the right as “Dictator Dan”, a man out to destroy all the “freedoms” so beloved by arch reactionaries and libertarians, such as the right of business owners to put profits above basic health measures.
A couple of weeks ago, Marcia Langton—usually one of the more conservative voices in Indigenous politics—became overnight a figure of hatred for Australia’s frothing right-wing journalists and politicians. Why? Because she said something mind-numbingly obvious about the upcoming referendum: “Every time the No cases raise their arguments, if you start pulling it apart you get down to base racism—I’m sorry to say that's where it lands—or sheer stupidity”.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek last week welcomed a UNESCO World Heritage Committee decision not to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”. But what is “great news” to Plibersek is not great news for the reef.
Chants of “Black, Indigenous, Arab, Asian and white—unite, unite, unite to fight the right!” echoed across the streets of Sunshine West on Saturday, when 500 anti-fascist activists and local community members gathered to protest against Legacy Boxing Gym.
Hundreds of refugees rallied outside Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil’s office in Oakleigh, in south-east Melbourne, on Monday, demanding permanent visas for those who have still not gained protection more than a year after the election of the federal Labor government.
As the referendum approaches, the key dynamic in the debate is clear. The conservative right views a defeat for the Voice as a chance to strike a devastating blow against support for Indigenous rights among the Australian population. In the process, it is reviving every racist myth in the play book: Indigenous people shouldn’t get “special privileges”; opposing anti-Aboriginal racism is actually “dividing the nation”; and the colonisation of Australia had only a “positive impact”, in the words of Jacinta Price.