A Brit’s speech in an American election takes a Stalinist turn

  • By
  • Anne Applebaum

It was a scene that could only have taken place in the globalized, interconnected, multicultural world that we now inhabit: Nigel Farage — a former British stockbroker, a Brexit campaigner, a wearer of pinstripe suits, a denizen of elite London eating establishments — appeared onstage this week in Fairhope, Ala., campaigning for former judge Roy Moore. He didn’t argue that Moore, who was tossed off the Alabama Supreme Court for disregarding the law, would actually be good for the people of Alabama. He didn’t have much to say about the Alabama economy or Alabama’s particular problems. Instead, he called on Alabama voters to support Moore because “it’s important for the whole global movement across the West that we have built up and we have fought for.”

Sacrifice your own interests for those of the movement! Ignore local issues in the name of an international cause! If you had closed your eyes and silenced the country music playing in the background, it could have been a Marxist rally from yesteryear. Farage denounced “big banks and multinational corporations.” He condemned the “enemy within” — a turn of phrase used frequently and famously by Stalin himself — by which he meant the “establishment” Republicans, i.e., America’s elected legislators, who are said to be impeding the international revolution. In the face of these parasites and saboteurs, he called upon the global movement of anti-globalists to “rejuvenate the movement” and to make anti-globalism great again, just like it was back in the good old days of 2016.

It was a weird moment, not least because there aren’t any “pro-globalists” to fight back. “Globalism” is a fiction invented by Stephen K. Bannon, Breitbart News and a host of Internet trolls, both amateur and professional, and promoted on social media. It’s a phantasm that, like “Islam” (or, for that matter, the “international Jewish conspiracy”), makes a good enemy and helps unite people as different as Farage, Moore, the citizens of Fairhope and the people of Sunderland, at least in cyberspace. But “anti-globalism,” otherwise known as nationalism, populism or sometimes fascism, is real. In fact, the movement I’ve also called the Populist International appears to be growing in both strength and stupidity.

Look, for example, at the reactions of the international anti-globalists to the better-than-expected 13 percent result for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the German nationalist party, in last week’s German parliamentary elections. For most Europeans, 13 percent support for a party whose co-founder wants to revive “pride” in Germany’s Nazi past is at very least an unwelcome result. But not for Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front — France being a country that knows a lot about the evil impact of German nationalism in the past: She congratulated “our AfD allies” for their “historic showing.” Weirder still, voices congratulating the AfD were found on the nationalist right in Poland, a country utterly devastated by German nationalism in the past. Even in Britain, a country that has practically fetishized its role in the war against Nazi Germany, quite a few loud voices were found in support. Farage, for example, praised the AfD for its “historic achievement”; just before his trip to Alabama, he went to Germany to support one of its candidates, too.

Behind these public performances, the international anti-globalist movement, like its Marxist precursors, has some less visible propaganda arms. Just as the Comintern ran disinformation campaigns on behalf of the Soviet Union, the informal alt-right coalition now runs social media campaigns for the Populist International. In both the French and German election campaigns, the international alt-right posted, tweeted, memed and trolled its support for its candidates. Alongside their Russian comrades — it’s not easy to distinguish “Russian” and “alt-right” trolls and bots, because they use the same kind of language — the global anti-globalists helped the AfD dominate German Twitter. Hard to say how much it matters, but in some elections, where a couple of percentage points can make an enormous difference, of course it could matter quite a lot.

The bigger question is when the penny will drop; that is, when will loud French or Polish nationalists begin to ask themselves whether equally loud German nationalism is actually good for their country, and when will the good people of Alabama start to wonder whether Farage and Bannon really have their interests at heart? The precedents aren’t good: The international Marxist movement lasted for more than a century, so we may have a while to wait.