How Capitalism Stokes the Far Right and Climate Catastrophe
A capitalist system that prioritizes profit and perpetual growth over all else is the mortal enemy of global aspirations for a sustainable economy that satisfies needs rather than stock portfolios. “Green capitalism” was touted as a compromise that could allow humanity to keep the planet and eat it too. But scientific data show that incremental adjustments of pollution standards and banning plastic straws cannot compensate for the destruction wrought by the 100 companies that produce 71 percent of global emissions. Far too often, efforts to reel in pollution (or establish decent working conditions) are derailed by the ability of multinational finance to either run roughshod over local laws or divest from countries or regions that challenge their profitability.
We must recognize that the climate crisis and the resurgence of the far right are two of the most acute symptoms of our failure to abolish capitalism.
Capitalist crisis, competition and manufactured scarcity also provide essential fuel for the growth of fascist and far right politics—especially when there is no viable left alternative. Early fascist and Nazi movements grew by exploiting economic insecurity during the Great Depression while the left tore itself apart. In the 1970s, the fascist National Front took advantage of economic turmoil in the UK and more recently, the emergence of parties like the fascist Golden Dawn in Greece owed a great deal to the 2008 financial crisis. In part, Bolsonaro rode to victory by harnessing popular disenchantment stemming from “the worst recession since the return of democracy.”
In times of crisis, we can either look outward in solidarity or turn inward in xenophobic, reactionary fear. Fascism and far right politics harness and promote fears of difference and anxieties about joblessness and financial ruin when left alternatives falter. When avowedly socialist political parties in Greece or Brazil enacted brutal austerity measures, they opened the door for the far right. In the United States, Trump managed to capitalize on opposition to free trade policies that had become the hallmark of the Democratic Party. In a context of economic anxiety, Hillary Clinton’s promise to “put a lot of coal miners” out of work — even if it was in the interest of saving the planet — played into the ability of the far right to generate support for Trump by taking advantage of the antagonism between working class livelihood and ecological sustainability that capitalism fosters.