Let me first thank the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union for inviting me to deliver the 2017 CLR James Memorial Lecture. I always thought that I would be the organizer, or in some way involved in the organization, of this Annual Memorial Lecture. I certainly did not envisage that I would one day be asked to actually deliver the Lecture. I suppose that is a factor of one’s seniority!
The Union started this Lecture Series in 1999, the year of the tenth anniversary of CLR’s death. The First Lecture was delivered by Tim Hector, Antiguan and Caribbean radical thinker and political activist who was himself a foremost Jamesian. Tim, also being deeply connected with West Indies cricket, spoke about our cricket and the state of the West Indies. It was, as usual, a tour de force. Since that time we’ve had a very distinguished group of speakers – Professor Anthony Bogues (at that time at the Centre for Caribbean Thought, Mona, UWI and Brown University); Professor Acklyn Lynch (then at the University of Maryland, Baltimore) who did a lecture discussion on the film “Lumumba”; Lloyd Best (the tenth anniversary of whose passing we mark this month); Dr. Pat Bishop who spoke to us about what work is and what work is not; Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine of the WPA, Guyana; cricket commentator Fazeer Mohammed; and we’ve interwoven the Lecture Series with film launches and showings (about CLR); book launches (Walter Rodney’s – How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, which Professor Norman Girvan was instrumental in organising); and of course the very important political and academic conference – “CLR at 100” which took place in 2001 This Conference organized jointly with the UWI (Mona and St. Augustine), Brown University, The T&T Institute of the West Indies, the George Padmore Institute and the OWTU was I believe the foremost conference on James. I trust that I can get somewhere close to the clarity of thought and analysis that has been the hallmark of this vitally important Annual Lecture Series dedicated to the memory of CLR James, one of, if not the leading, our Caribbean’s truly great political thinkers.
The theme which I have chosen for the Lecture – The Rise of Right Wing Nationalism and Populism and CLR James’ Thesis: “After Hitler our Turn” – I hope suggests itself as being relevant and topical given the developments in the world in the past year or two. I will summarise them now, but will, during the lecture, analyse this trend in some detail:
The rise in Europe of right wing political parties and movements. These include:
- The Freedom Party in Austria, led by Heinz-Christian Strache. In the 2016 elections for President that Party’s candidate obtained the largest number of votes in the first round held in April 2016, but came second in the run-off second round in May. The May run-off was then annulled for electoral irregularities and was held again in December 2016. Norbert Hofer the Freedom Party’s candidate ran second again to the Green Party’s candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. However there are two points that are significant: firstly that with a 75% voter turnout in the final round the Freedom Party got more than 46% of the votes cast; secondly that in the first round the Social Democrats and Austrian People’s Party, which between them have won the Presidency for decades and which were the coalition government, saw their candidates running fourth and fifth in the first round of voting – even being beaten by an Independent Candidate – Irmgard Griss, who offered herself to the Freedom Party as a candidate
- ThePartyforFreedomoftheNetherlands,ledbyGeertWilders.Inthe elections held just two weeks ago this party got the second largest number of seats in the Dutch Parliament – 20; behind the centre right party VVD, led by incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte which won 33 seats. Between them the Green Left Party, the Socialist party and the Labour Party garnered just under 40 seats.
- TheNationalistFrontPartyinFrance,ledbyMarieLePen,isthefront runner according to the latest polls for the first round of the elections for President to be held on April 23rd. Le Pen has the support of 25% of the electorate at this time but enough to take her into the second round. The likely winner who is second in the polls at the moment is a centrist Emmanuel Macron of the El Marche! Movement. Notably both the traditional winners in France – the rightist Republican Party whose candidate is Francois Fillon and the Socialist Party whose candidate is Benoit Hamon are not likely to make it to the second round, nor is Jean Luc Melenchon, who is the most left wing of the candidates, in his Unsubmissive France Party.
- The Alternative for Germany Party led by Frauke Petry, currently has just over 10% of the electorate according to the most recent polls, down from a high of about 15% in late 2016. The front runners are the two main parties – Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party each polling about 30%. The Left Party and the Green Party together have about 20% support.
- InItaly,thepopulistFiveStarMovementledbyBeppeGrillohassome 30% of the popular vote according to the polls about the same number as the centre left Democratic Party led by Matteo Ofini. Significantly, two other parties on the right of the spectrum – the Forza Italia led by controversial ex-President Silvio Berlusconi and the right wing Lega Nord led by Matteo Salvini have between them 25% support.
- Five of these right wing parties (Lega Nord – Italy; Alternative for Germany Party; Nationalist Front – France; Party for Freedom – Netherlands; Freedom Party – Austria) met on January 21st this year, exactly one day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the President of the United States, in Koblenz Germany in a “European Counter Summit”. At this “summit” Geert Wilders declared “yesterday a new America... and tomorrow a new Europe!...the people of the West are awakening. They are throwing off the yoke of political correctness...2017 will be the year of the Patriotic Spring”. The “summit” took positions against the “menace of Islam; political correctness; globalization and the European Union”.
- The Brexit Referendum in the United Kingdom in June, 2016 resulted in 51.9% of the voters electing to leave the European Union and 48.1% voting to stay in the EU. Significantly, the vote was varied: in England it was 54.3 v 46; in Wales it was 52.5 v 47.5; in Northern Ireland it was 44.2 v 55.8 and in Scotland it was 38 v 62. One of the driving forces behind Brexit was the rise of the right wing UK Independence Party which, although not having any seats in the UK House of Commons, is tied for the largest number of seats from the UK in the European Parliament and has some 438 councillors in local government bodies in the UK.
- The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in November 2016 on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti- free trade, pro-America nationalist agenda. We shall analyse this some more in a while. Suffice it to say that ideologically the avowed right wing populist and nationalist parties in Europe have seen themselves close to Trump (as in “we shall make Europe Great again”) and the fact that Heinz-Christian Strache of Austria’s Freedom Party publicly stated that he met in December 2016 with Mike Flynn who was Trump’s then nominee (later confirmed and resigned) for National Security Adviser.