Solidarity and the Rise of National Populism

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Historians now agree that the Polish workers movement known as Solidarność – which arose in the 1980s and was inspired by the theme of solidarity in Catholic Social Teaching – was the beginning of the end for Communist tyranny in Europe.

The leaders of Solidarność campaigned against a powerful elite of corrupt politicians that pretended to care about the interests of workers and ordinary people but who, instead, used the state bureaucracy to enrich themselves and limit the freedoms of their fellow citizens.

Without firing a shot, the Solidarity movement accomplished in five years of peaceful protest what 40 years of armed standoffs and trillions of dollars in military spending could not achieve: it toppled the most powerful military dictatorship in history and freed half a continent.

Now, flash forward thirty years… and a new global movement has arisen that pursues many of the same goals.

Instead of a corrupt Communist bureaucracy, this new solidarity movement faces a global network of multinational corporations, Non-Governmental Organizations, media companies, human traffickers and politicians.

Like the old Communist nomenklatura, the members of this globalist network also pretend to care about ordinary people but are actually engaged in the largest transfer of wealth, from the many to the few, that the world has ever seen.

It is only recently that political scientists have been able to recognize and name what this new solidarity movement actually is.

In their 2018 book, National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, British academics Roger Eatwell and Matthew J. Goodwin outline just what national populism is… and what it is most assuredly is not.

Eatwell is emeritus professor of comparative politics at the University of Bath, while Goodwin is professor of politics at the University of Kent.

As social scientists, Eatwell and Boodwin do their best to look at the explosive growth of nationalist and populist parties around the world with the objectivity that corporate-controlled media outlets such as CNN and the Amazon-owned Washington Post no longer bother even to feign.

Their motto is, “In God we trust: all others bring data.”

According to Eatwell and Goodwin, National Populism is nothing less than a third major force in global politics, one that cannot easily be fit into traditional categories of the political Left and Right, conservative and liberal.

Like the Polish Solidarity movement, National Populists, according to the authors, “prioritize the culture and interests of the nation, and promise to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and often corrupt elites.”

The authors reject the characterization of National Populist uprisings – such as the election of Donald Trump or the vote by British citizens to leave the European Union (Brexit) – to be merely temporary temper tantrums of “angry white males” soon to be dispossessed by a rising generation of multicultural and tolerant millennials.

Rather, Eatwell and Goodwin argue, the data show that National Populist movements are a long-standing and deep-seated revolt against the anti-democratic corporate oligarchies that rule many western societies.

They remind their readers that the characterization of National Populist political parties as “fascist” or “extreme right-wing” is made by partisans – in the media and government agencies – desperate to remain in power.

In fact, they say, National Populist leaders are fighting for more democracy, not less – insisting that governmental policies benefit the people of the nation they are supposed to serve, not multinational corporations.

Pointing to supporters of such figures as Donald Trump in the U.S., Matteo Salvini in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Eatwell and Goodwin say that “most national-populist voters want more democracy, not less – more referendums, and “more empathetic and listening politicians that give more power to the people and less power to established economic and political elites.”

Indeed, polling data reveal that national-populist voters are far from being the “basket of deplorables” that their political opponents and the controlled media claim, poor racist rednecks in America or “Little Englander” hooligans in Britain.

Rather, Brexit was approved by one in three black voters in Britain and half of voters aged thirty-five to forty-four.

In America, Donald Trump won 47% of voters making more than $100,000 a year, 46% of political Independents and 36% of voters under age 29.1 He won 60% of non-Hispanic Catholics.

And in Italy, Poland, Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, Spain, and most recently, Estonia, national populist parties have surged in popularity among the dispossessed young who believe “bought and paid for” politicians give more aid and assistance to Islamic migrants than to their own people.

Eatwell and Goodwin argue convincingly that National Populism is here to stay precisely because it addresses the real and legitimate concerns among many people that their societies are degenerating before their very eyes.

Voters for National Populist parties believe that corporate and government elites are plundering, for their own personal profit, a cultural and economic inheritance that took centuries to create.

And it is precisely the virtue of Solidarity that is emphasized in Catholic Social Teaching – the habit of thinking about the common good of society – that is driving many National Populist movements and political parties.

For example, in Poland many veterans of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement have joined two national populist political parties, Solidarna Polska (Solidarity Poland) and Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice, abbreviated PiS).

Both are opposed to abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage and mass immigration but also advocate “economic nationalism” and support higher taxes on big corporations. In the last election in 2015, the two parties formed a coalition, winning 37% of the vote and picking up 75 seats for a total of 235 in the Polish legislature.

Outside of Poland, PiS and Solidarity Poland are reflexively denounced by western media as “extremist” and right-wing even though many of the parties’ policies are broadly Christian Democrat in nature, such as advocating for a state-guaranteed minimum social safety net.

Nevertheless, the U.S. State Department has criticized the populist government for recent perceived attacks on the independence of the Polish judiciary. And even Lech Walesa, Poland’s former president and a leader of the old Solidarity movement, opposes the current government and urges a return to the center-right, pro-EU Civic Platform party.

In the end, the big question for Eatwell and Goodwin is whether the rapid growth of National Populist parties worldwide signals the end of a process that has gone on for thirty years… or just the beginning of a radical political realignment that will transform politics everywhere.

The two social scientists lean towards the latter view.

Increasingly, they say, voters view traditional parties, such as the Democrats and Republicans in America, as merely “private label” versions of the same basic product, both controlled by billionaire elites indifferent to the concerns of ordinary people.

The more these voters learn, the authors say, the more inclined they are to throw the dice on “alternatives” – such as the eponymous Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany or Donald Trump in the United States.

1 https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/how-groups-voted-2016

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

Robert J. Hutchinson is the author, most recently, of The Dawn of Christianity (Thomas Nelson, 2017). He can be reached at CatholicSpeakers.com.

2 Comments

  1. Says the article:
    “Without firing a shot, the Solidarity movement accomplished in five years of peaceful protest what 40 years of armed standoffs and trillions of dollars in military spending could not achieve: it toppled the most powerful military dictatorship in history and freed half a continent.”

    Does anyone seriously believe that the Soviet Empire would have sat down and been defeated by a labor union if they were not flat broke from “trillions of dollars in military spending?” Decades earlier, before they were broke, the Soviets invaded Hungary for doing about what Poland did. It may be romantic to ignore the contributions of those who paved the way, but history does not happen in a vacuum.

    • My thoughts exactly. I spent my time in that “Cold War”, Solidarity was given its chance because the Eagle weakened the Bear. The final component was the confluence of two men, one of politics and one of the faith. Ronald Reagan and St. John Paul II.

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