“Don Kalb is a professor of social anthropology at Central European University in Budapest. In his latest book Headlines of Nation, Subtext of Class – Working Class Populism and the Return of the Repressed in Neoliberal Europe (Berghahn Books, 2011), edited together with Gábor Halmai, Kalb and his fellow researchers aim to explain the deeper processes behind this surge both in Western and in Eastern Europe.
The strong rise of populist right wing movements and parties is one of the most dominant political phenomena in the recent decade, both in eastern and Western Europe. What are the underlying social processes of this Europe-wide political process? What about left wing populism? How are globalization, the working and middle classes implied?
In your most recent book you and your fellow researchers examine the circumstances of the rise and strengthening of the populist right in Europe. There are several case studies in the book from Eastern and Western European countries too. What led you to examine such a wide range of cases?
These are not just national histories that are haunting us now, but national histories that have become reappropriated and rearticulated in a right wing way – in the West and also in the East – and this has much more to do with the growing insecurity in social life due to a decrease of welfare and social rights, the relative stagnation of incomes and the growing importance of the financial sector in the European economies. These are relatively universal properties of European societies in the last 20 years. So what you see basically everywhere in Europe – and this is more dramatically the case in Eastern Europe– is that industrial regional economies have been restructured, and that working classes over time have found their social reproduction ever more narrowed and threatened.
And when I say working classes I want to keep this as a very broad concept. I don’t necessarily mean blue collar working classes – I basically mean people who are less able because of their qualifications, assets, location, or general cultural equipage, to sustain themselves on a purely individual basis in labor markets, however these labor markets look. So over time there has been a class of people that has become ever more vulnerable. This is what we nowadays call the ‘precariat’. The precariat is an open social space – it doesn’t have an identity of its own yet. And what we see in the moment is an escalating political competition between different political formations about how this precariat is going to be politically defined and explained.
What does this competition look like in everyday politics?
You see that voting has declined in Western Europe from about 80 percent as an average for national elections in the early 1980s to around 70 percent these days. So you have a non-voting population that can potentially be turned into the largest party at once and that is a new development for Europe. You can only explain this by looking at who doesn’t vote: non-voters are to a very large extent dispossessed and disenfranchised working classes, again in the broad sense of the term.
And there are the new nationalist political entrepreneurs like in the Netherlands Fortuyn and later Wilders, who actually succeeded in remobilizing these voters with a displaced political object – the immigrants or other ‘aliens’ such as Roma, ‘the communists’, the Jews, or the ‘international capitalists’, who are depicted as not belonging to the genuine community. And so they play the anti-immigrant and xenophobic cards and mobilize voters that would otherwise not have voted anymore. And these are the deeper processes behind right wing populism.”
Întregul interviu, aici.