Upon observation the forces of Reaction seem much more adept at identitarian politics, as we have seen consistently for a very long time. It was in the 1970s that the forerunners of the New Right sought to co-op evangelical Christianity as a basis to resuscitate social conservatism and usher in the ensuing culture wars of the 1990s. Around the same time in Iran the collapse of the Shah’s rule created a vacuum into which the radical Islamists moved and crushed the competing tendencies of nationalism and socialism. In the late 1980s and early 90s Europe saw the recrudescence of irredentist ethno-nationalism in Serbia and Croatia to the detriment of Yugoslavia as a socialist federalism. The thoroughly counter-revolutionary and reactionary character of these developments can hardly be ignored with ease. The degree to which we may understand this form of identity politics as a co-optation by right-wing demagogues is a matter worth exploring.
One cannot help notice that the language and sometimes the practices of these movements were pilfered from radical traditions. The Catholic rightist Paul Weyrich infiltrated left-wing groups and sought to utilise the similar organising methods to politicise and mobilise Christians into a reactionary electoral base for the Republican Party. Likewise, it was Ayatollah Khomeini who emptied out the Islamic socialism of Ali Shariati only to substitute it for a conservative order within a radical framework. In dying days of Yugoslavia it was Slobodan Milošević and his supporters who appropriated the language of radicalism in condemning their enemies as ‘counter-revolutionaries’. It may be down to the compatibility of particular identity-markers (whether religious or ethnic) with a populist form of politics. In each of these instances we find that the collective identity serves as a means for demagogic leaders to attain power. The key difference is that the Serbs and American Christians can hardly be said to have been repressed in the same way as Shi’a Muslims.
Fundamentalism soon became the lynchpin of GOP campaigners and remains so to this day. The politicisation of Christianity came in conjunction with the right-wing reaction to the counter-cultural movements at the level of economics. The basic rights of American workers were soon under an unprecedented assault of Reaganism, while moral issues of abortion, gay rights, drugs and pornography became a means to mobilise millions behind an otherwise bankrupt party-state. It is worth acknowledging that the Islamist forces of reaction were originally mobilised in Iran to help overthrow the Mossadegh government in 1953. Instead of an Islamic regime it was a secular dictatorship which followed as the riots instigated by the CIA and MI6 were used in turn to orchestrate a coup. Khomeini was among the ‘Warriors of Islam’ protesting at the time, he would re-emerge as the Supreme Leader over 25 years later. It was an active policy of American and European governments to support the disintegration of Yugoslavia into splintered sectarian states. This went as far as offering aid to ultra-nationalists looking to secede and refusing aid to the Yugoslav edifice. It was a way to drive a nail into what was left of really existing socialism.
We have only to look at post-colonial Africa to find yet more instances of a convergence between identitarian forms of reaction. In the Congo we find the rise of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu brought with it a cultural nationalism opposing all forms of European culture still lingering in the country. As part of the authenticité campaign the suit and tie were banned and the name of the country was changed to Zaire. Mobutu came to power amidst the instability of the 1960s just as socialist democrat Patrice Lumumba was murdered in a coup no doubt supported by the Belgians, Americans and British secret intelligence services. In fact Mobutu was instrumental to the coup and would later to come to dominate the country as a kleptocrat until the 1990s. The soi disant African nationalism of Mobutu’s dictatorship may have functioned as a means of channelling the legitimate grievances of the people ruled by the Belgians through Mobutu. The same process may be found in Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe maintains a party-state through the appeal to anti-colonial and nationalist sentiment. Stripping away the property of white land-owners has tremendous symbolic value to Mugabe’s regime, only for the property is then handed to the henchmen around the despot backed and funded by the capitalist roaders in Beijing.