Evolution of the

Global Right
















Logo of the identitarian movement

Chris Chase-Dunn, Peter Grimes and E.N. Anderson

         Institute for Research on World-Systems, University of California-Riverside


This is IROWS working paper # 134 at

https://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows134/irows134.htm  draft v. 7-29-19, 13780 words To be presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, New York, August 12, 2019 Comparative Historical Section, “Global Rise of the Right”


An understanding of the current right-wing national and transnational social movements can benefit from comparing them to the global and national conditions operating during their last appearance in the first half of the 20th century and by carefully comparing 20th century fascism with the neo-fascist and right-wing populist movements that have been emerging in the 21st century.  This allows us to assess the similarities and differences, and to gain insights about what could be the consequences of the reemergence of populist nationalism and fascist movements. Our study uses the comparative evolutionary world-systems perspective to study the global right from 1800 to the present. We see fascism as a form of capitalism that emerges when the capitalist project is in crisis. World historical waves of right-wing populism and fascism are caused by the cycles of globalization and deglobalization, the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers, long business cycles (the Kondratieff wave), and interactions with both Centrist Liberalism and the Global Left. We consider how crises of the global capitalist system have produced right-wing backlashes in the past, and how a future terminal crisis of capitalism could lead to a reemergence of a new form of authoritarian global governance or a reorganized global democracy in the future.

All state power rests on two pillars: ideological legitimacy and coercion.  Legitimacy justifies the chronic inequalities of class, ethnicity, and gender by use of a foundational ideology/religion; while coercion surfaces to reinforce those divisions when they are challenged by a crisis.

Egalitarian movements have sought to ground state legitimacy in the project of eliminating these inequities; while the privileged benefitting from them have reacted against such movements to retain them. Since 1800 these two visions of society have battled both ideologically and militarily. In the early 20th century the egalitarian (“progressive”) movements perceived the divisions of class as their primary target, and attacked capitalism because it created and reproduced class divisions. They achieved state power in Russia in 1917 and were actively seeking to replicate that achievement across in the whole world-system.

The first reactionary backlash against such movements emerged as fascism.  Fascism appeared in the early 20th century as a popular virulent nationalism that was a reaction against to the rise of proletarian internationalism, the difficulties of adjusting to competitive party politics in states that had adopted electoral democracy. It emerged in the context of virulent interimperial rivalry among nation-states before and during World War I. The capitalist world-system was in crisis because of the uneven development of industrialization – the rise of industrial challengers to the economic hegemony of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The rise of the Soviet Union further spurred the fascist parties and encouraged their support by land-owners and industrial capitalists. The 21st century reactionary backlash is also a political response to recent progressive gains, this time made by the world revolution of 1968.  Simultaneously there is, once again, a global crisis of capitalism, uneven development and challenges to the hegemon (now the United States). Yet the economic crisis today differs from that of the 1930’s.  Today’s crisis of overproduction (illustrated by the recent recessionof ’08) is caused by the fluid mobility of capital beyond the control of nation-states, not the choking of that mobility by those states.  (Hence the popular appeal of Trump’s re-imposition of tariffs.)

So, the rise of fascism 80 years ago and neo-fascism today are somewhat similar with regard to both political content and the larger structural conditions that produce reactionary political movements and regimes, but there are also important differences that need to be understood.  Despite these differences, the political forms of reaction have remained the same:  deflecting popular anger away from the ruling class and the failures of capitalism and instead toward racial/ethnic minorities.  And during each oscillation, the progressives have mobilized around the divides of class, while the fascists have focused on race, ethnicity and virulent nationalism.

The world-system literature on revolutions has tended to focus on the rebellions and social movements of the Left (“anti-systemic” egalitarian movements) to see how these temporal clusters of collective behavior from below have been related to changes in the larger structures of world politics and capitalist development. These constellations of social movements from below have been analyzed and compared with one another in order to understand their ideologies, constituencies, and the effects that they have had on the evolution of global institutions and regimes. But reactionary and right-wing elite and popular movements have largely been left out of this analysis.[1] Here we review debates about definitions of fascism and propose our own definitions. We define fascism as an authoritarian and pro-violence ideology and political movement that uses scapegoating of ethnic, religious, or political minorities to distract attention from government collusion with, or actual fusion with, large privately-owned corporations or state-owned large economic organizations. The rise of right-wing sects, movements, parties and regimes in the last few decades has obvious similarities with the populist nationalisms and use of symbols and tactics used by fascists in the last century. Their resurgence now requires a reconsideration of world politics that includes the entirety of social movements, and the implications of cyclical relations among movements of the right, center and left.


The world-systems perspective.

The world-systems perspective presents a structural interpretation of the cycles and trends that have constituted the expansion and evolution of global capitalism (Arrighi 1994; Chase-Dunn and Lerro 2014: Wallerstein 2011). It focuses on the stability of the global core/periphery hierarchy and global class relations (Amin 1980). This holistic structural approach allows us to see both the similarities yet important differences between the contemporary world historical period and earlier periods. The gradual expansion and deepening of capitalism has been punctuated by the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers, waves of colonization in which European powers subjugated and exploited most of Asia, the Americas and Africa, followed by waves of decolonization that extended the European system of formally sovereign states to the non-core. Each of the hegemons (the Dutch in the l7th century, the British in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century) were formerly semiperipheral states that rose to core status in struggles with contending great powers. The expansion and deepening of capitalist production, and the increasing size of the nation-states that played the role of hegemons, were each driven by their adaptive responses to the separate movements of resistance that were located within core polities, in the periphery, and the semiperiphery, respectively.  Their successes were partly based on their abilities to deal with resistance from below more effectively than their competitors (Wallerstein 1984).

Within this broad pattern, it is necessary to accurately grasp both the structural similarities and the differences between the current world historical period and earlier periods that were similar but also importantly dissimilar. An example is the United States. It has been in decline in terms of hegemony of economic production since 1945, and this has been similar in many respects to the decline of British hegemony in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Chase-Dunn et al 2011). But, as Giovanni Arrighi (2006) has noted, the period of British hegemonic decline (1870-1914) moved rather quickly toward conflictive interimperial rivalry because economic challengers such as Germany and Japan could develop powerful military capabilities that could be used to contest the Pax Britannica. The U.S. hegemony has been different in that the United States ended up as the single military superpower after the demise of the Soviet Union. Some former economic challengers (Japan and Germany) can no longer play the military card because they lost the last World War and were occupied. This, and the immense size of the U.S. economy, will slow the process of hegemonic decline down compared to the rate of the British decline, but the decline of U.S. hegemony has still invigorated counter-hegemonic sects and social movements of both the Left and the Right that perceive the inadequacies of the contemporary world order. 

The post-World War II wave of trade globalization and financialization faltered in 2008 but has recovered since then. A future trough of trade deglobalization like what happened in the 1930s could happen again if a perfect storm of calamities and more powerful resistance to further economic globalization should emerge (as seems now to be the case). The declining economic and political hegemony of the U.S. poses huge challenges for global governance. Newly emergent national economies such as India and China are competing for insertion into the global structure of power. The unilateral use of military force by the Bush administration further de-legitimated the institutions of global governance and provoked much resistance and challenges. A similar bout of “imperial over-reach” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on the part of Britain (e.g.--the Boer Wars) led to a period of interimperial rivalry and world war. Such an outcome is less likely now, but not impossible.

These developments parallel what happened a century ago, with the likelihood of another “Age of Extremes” (Hobsbawm 1994) and/or a Malthusian correction such as what occurred in the first half of the 20th century becoming increased but with new twists. The number of people on Earth was only 1.65 billion when the 20th century began, whereas at the beginning of the 21st century there were 6 billion (now 7.5 billion). At the beginning of the 20th century fossil fuels were becoming less expensive as oil was replacing coal as the major source of energy (Grimes 1999, 2003; Podobnik 2006). It was this use of inexpensive, but non-renewable, fossil energy that facilitated the abolition of slavery and serfdom and made the geometric expansion and industrialization of humanity possible.

Now we are facing global warming because of the spread and rapid expansion of machine production and energy-intensive consumption. Energy prices have temporarily come down because of fracking by oil importers and overproduction by exporters, but the low hanging “ancient sunlight” in coal and oil has been picked. “Peak oil” is approaching. “Clean coal” and controllable nuclear fusion remain dreams. The cost of energy will probably go up no matter how much is invested in new kinds of energy production (Heinberg 2004). None of the existing alternative technologies offer low cost energy of the kind that made the past expansion possible. Many believe that overshoot has already occurred in terms of how many humans are alive, and how much energy is being used by some of them, especially those in the core. Adjusting to rising energy costs and dealing with the environmental degradation caused by industrial production will be difficult, and the longer it takes, the harder it will become.

Ecological problems are not new, but this time they are on a global scale. Peak oil and rising costs of other resources are likely to cause more resource wars that exacerbate the problems of global governance. The war in Iraq was both an instance of imperial over-reach and a resource war because the U.S. neoconservatives thought that they could prolong U.S. hegemony by controlling the global oil supply. The Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions reached in December of 2015 implied that the powers that be were taking anthropogenic climate change seriously, but the setback delivered by the Trump administration in the U.S. is going to exacerbate the problem of compliance for both core and non-core countries. The coming of global climate change is going to increase the problems of global governance and inequalities in ways that were much less salient during the decline of British Hegemony in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  And this contextual difference is likely to produce altered forms of counter-hegemonic movements. The New Global Left has seen the rise of an important climate justice movement (Bond 2012) while much of the New Global Right claims that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax.

World Revolutions

The institutional changes that have occurred with the rise and fall of the hegemonic core powers over the past four centuries have constituted a sequence of forms of world order that evolved to solve the political, economic, and technical problems of successively more global waves of capitalist accumulation. The expansion of global production required accessing raw materials to feed the new industries, and food to feed the expanding populations (Bunker and Ciccantell 2005). Coercion is a very inefficient means of domination, and so the hegemons sought legitimacy by proclaiming leadership in advancing civilization and democracy (the Gramscian side of hegemony). But the terms of these claims were also employed by those below who sought to protect themselves from exploitation and domination. So, the evolution of hegemony was produced by elite groups competing with one another in a context of successive powerful challenges from below in a dialectic. World orders are those normative and institutional features that are taken for granted in large-scale cooperation, competition and conflict. World orders have been contested and reconstructed in a series of world revolutions that began with the Protestant Reformation (Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000: 53-64; Linebaugh and Redicker 2000).

Like “world order,” “world revolution” is a broad notion that encompasses all acts of resistance to hierarchy, regardless of whether they are coordinated with one another, but that occur relatively close to one another in time. Local rebels were not usually aware of, or connected with, one another but they were indirectly connected through the centralized networks of the colonial empires.

Usually the idea of revolution is conceptualized on a national scale in which new social forces come to state power and restructure social relations (Goldstone 1997; 2014). When we use the revolution concept at the world-system level we must adjust it. There is no global state (yet) to take over. But there is a global polity, a world order, which has evolved as outlined above. It is that world polity or world order that is the arena of contestation within which world revolutions have occurred and that world revolutions have restructured.

Boswell and Chase-Dunn (2000) focused on those constellations of local, regional, national and transnational rebellions and revolutions that have had long-term consequences for changing world orders. Years that symbolize the major world revolutions after the Protestant Reformation are 1789, 1848, 1917, 1954, 1968 and 1989. Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989) analyzed the world revolutions of 1848, 1917, 1968 and 1989 (see also Beck 2011). They observed that the demands put forth in a world revolution did not usually become institutionalized until a later consolidating revolt had occurred. So, the revolutionaries appeared to have lost in the failure of their most radical demands, but enlightened conservatives who were trying to manage hegemony eventually incorporated the reforms that were earlier radical demands into a current world order in order to cool out resistance from below. It is important to tease out the similarities and the differences among the world revolutions to be able to accurately assess the contemporary situation and to learn from the past. Both the contexts and the actors have changed from one world revolution to the next.

This view of the modern world-system as constituting an arena of both political struggle and economic competition over the past several centuries implies that global civil society (Kaldor 2003) has existed all along. Global civil society includes all the actors who consciously participate in world politics. In the past, it has consisted primarily of statesmen, religious leaders, scientists, financiers, and the owners and top managers of chartered companies such as the Dutch and British East India Companies. This rather small group of elites already saw the global arena of political, economic, military and ideological struggle as their arena of contestation (Braudel, 1984). Elites led religious and secular social movements in which masses were sometimes mobilized, as in the Protestant Reformation. And counter-movements such as the Catholic Restoration emerged in which transnational organizations such as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) formed an early instance of a consciously global political party (Chase-Dunn and Reese 2007).  There has been a “global left” and transnational social movements led by non-elite actors at least since the world revolution of 1789.  Though the Haitian revolution of 1804 was mainly a revolt of slaves on the sugar plantations in Haiti, some of the leaders were literate former slaves that were inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution (Dubois 2004).

While global civil society is still a small minority of the total population of the earth, the falling costs of communication and transportation have enabled more and more non-elites to become transnational political actors and increased the extent to which local revolts are able to communicate and coordinate with one another. This said, local revolts in which actors were oriented toward local rather than global power structures have always played a role in world revolutions to the extent that colonial powers reacted to them. Global consciousness is not necessary for global consequences. An objective global interaction network of indirect connections existed long before modern communication. But the spread of global consciousness has made globalization and the local/global imaginary an increasingly important and contentious aspect of world politics.

Our earlier research has focused on what Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2006) has called the New Global Left and compares it with earlier incarnations of the global left (Chase-Dunn and Kaneshiro 2009; Chase-Dunn and Niemeyer 2009; Smith et al 2014). The global left is part, but not all, of global civil society. Other important contemporary transnational political actors are the forces organized around the World Economic Forum, and the new conservative and neo-fascist elements (Anderson, 2005; Zuquete and Lindblom 2005), the BRICs (Bond 2013), and the jihadists (Moghadam 2009).

We are amid another world revolution now. Chase-Dunn and Niemeyer (2009) have called it the world revolution of 20xx (WR20xx), because it is not yet clear what the key symbolic year should be. They claim that it began with the anti-International Monetary Fund riots in the 1980s and the Zapatista revolt in Southern Mexico in 1994.

World revolutions are hard to study and difficult to compare with one another because they are complex constellations of events. They each have had different mixes of social movements, rebellions and revolutions, including reactionary movements, and have occurred unevenly in time and space.  What have been the actual and potential bases for cooperation and competition across the spectrum of progressive movements? How did some of the movements affect the others?[2]  And how did they relate to the similar and different terrains of power and economic structures in the world-system at the time that they emerged? How have they affected the struggles among elites in their efforts to maintain their positions or gain new advantages?  We now ask the same questions about the global right in the 20th and 21st centuries.  We also investigate the interactions in both centuries between the sects, movements, parties and regimes of the right and the left.

Sandor Nagy (2017) contends that world history has seen a sequential cycle of progressive and reactionary revolutions and counter-revolutions. This idea is an interesting twist on the notion that progressive global elites implement reforms in response to challenges from below. The challenges have taken both progressive and reactionary forms and the victorious coalitions have been responses to both kinds. The obvious example here is the U.S. New Deal which was a response to both the global left and the global right. This suggests that Polanyi’s double movement and the spiral of capitalism and socialism described by Boswell and Chase-Dunn (2000) should include an analysis of the global right and the co-evolution of capitalism, socialism and fascism.


The Global Right and the Rightwing Backlashes

Just as there has been a Global Left since the emergence of the ideological hegemony of Centrist Liberalism after the French Revolution, there has also been a Global Right. The three camps together constitute the ideological constellation of world politics that Immanuel Wallerstein (2012) has called the geoculture.  Wallerstein’s geoculture is another version of the “world order” concept above. It is part of a set of broadly held institutionalized assumptions about what exists (ontology) and what is good (ethics and morality). The whole global culture includes more than just political beliefs and institutions.  It includes the predominant ontologies of the universe and of life, the nature of time, and beliefs about human nature. The contemporary world-system remains multicultural, but the major cultures have converged and increasingly form an interactive and structured whole – global culture.[3]

Immanuel Wallerstein (2012) tells the story of the emergence of the tripartite political geoculture in the long 19th century.  The Global Left is a progressive faction that favors egalitarianism and democracy.  The Global Right is a reactionary faction that favors traditional hierarchies and institutions.  And there is a Centrist Liberal faction that is tolerant but seeks stability by combining strategic coercion with efforts to engineer consensus by making compromises with popular movements and with the other factions.  

All three camps, the Global Right, the Global Left and Centrist Liberalism, have co-evolved since the 19th century in the shifting geo-political context of successive waves of globalization, the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers, and 40-60-year phases of economic growth and stagnation (Kondratieff waves). This period saw the fall of British hegemony; the rise of Germany and Japan as core challengers; the rise and stagnation of the hegemony of the United States; and the emergence of “new nations” in the Americas, Asia, Oceania and Africa, each restructuring global power and geoculture.

Centrist Liberalism has evolved with the changing nature of predominant capitalism, adapting to the structural cycles and reorganizations listed above and in reaction to the changing ideological and organizational aspects of both the Global Right and the Global Left. There have always been “varieties of capitalism” even among the capitalist core states, and they have co-existed with various forms of authoritarian regimes and economies in the non-core. Core states and then non-core states extended citizenship from wealthy landowners to men of no property, abolished slavery and serfdom, and extended the suffrage to women.  Authoritarian forms of government were mainly in the non-core, but it too experienced “waves of democracy” (Markoff 1996) and the rise of parliamentary institutions and electoral politics. Centrist liberalism adopted the welfare state as a response to both radical challenges to the property of elites from the Left, and popular fascist movements from the Right.


The Global Left sequentially embraced movements for popular sovereignty, to extend citizenship to men of no property, to women, and to abolish slavery and serfdom. These causes melded with the rise of the labor movement and its offshoots –anarchism, socialism and communism. And these were concurrent with waves of movements for national sovereignty in the non-core, including the rise of indigenous peoples desiring autonomy. Conservation movements split into more radical and centrist wings of the environmental protection movement. Pacifism and anti-war movements emerged and opposed warfare and institutionalized violence. These formed an evolving constellation of what Wallerstein has called “the family of anti-systemic movements.” They competed with one another as well as cooperating. In the World Revolution of 1968 several new social movements (sexual orientation, a now-global indigenous movement) joined the older ones, and the older ones (peace, civil; rights, third wave feminism, labor, “Third Worldism”) co-evolved with the newer ones. 1989 added a new appreciation for “bourgeois” freedoms as well as cementing the notion that socialism and communism had failed. Additional egalitarian movements emerged in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st (slow food, food sovereignty, alternative media; open source knowledge, global justice and climate justice). These progressive movements changed in interaction with one another and in interaction with the anti-regulatory version of Centrist Liberalism that emerged after 1968 (neoliberalism), along with the evolving Global Right.

The Global Right in the 19th century emerged as a reaction against the French Revolution and the Napoleonic attempt to convert the core of the world-system into an empire. The British and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were the main supporters of the Concert of Europe, a precursor to the League of Nations that was intended to shore up the European traditional powers against movements for popular sovereignty. The Austrians and the British fell out over how to handle the emergence of Italian nation-building and the Concert of Europe disintegrated. But the conservatives did not stop opposing the rise of popular sovereignty and preservation of the prestige of religious hierarchy and aristocratic property and rule. The World Revolution of 1848, with nascent workers movements allying with students and intellectuals to construct democratic nation-states, was crushed by traditional authorities and their allies. But as parliamentary democracy, labor unions and labor parties spread across the core, Germany and Japan rose as challengers to the British hegemony. (Then as now, the booms and busts of capitalist industrialization produced losers as well as winners.) Meanwhile the Left mobilized peasants, workers and the unemployed with ideas about socialism, proletarian internationalism and anti-militarism.

Populist right-wing movements had existed since the French Revolution when peasants from the Vendee rose to protect the king and the church from the Jacobins (Tilly 1964).[4] They were appreciated, supported and manipulated by the aristocratic and theological conservatives. But what happened in the early decades of the 20th century was different. Authoritarian right-wing populist movements grew under the leadership of non-elites some of whom, like Mussolini, were former leftists. These right-wing movements emerged to confront the Left and in reaction against, and disgust with, the parliamentary stalemates and endless partisan jockeying for power of early electoral democracies (Mann 2004; Paxton 2004). The Left was internationalist and supported immigrant workers and opposed militarism. Fascist populism glorified the nation, the state, political violence and militarism (Kumral 2015). Fascist political leadership denigrated the importance of consistent political ideology and championed action and ideological pragmatism. They asserted the importance of a unified nation led by an authoritarian state that did not compromise with opponents. Fascism took different organizational forms, picking different internal and external scapegoats and using differing forms of organization in the countries in which it emerged.  Where fascists were successful in building a mass movement and attaining state power they did so by allying with powerful land owners and large enterprises. But traditional conservatives were charry about these alliances. Some of them sought to use the fascist movements against the left and to shore up their privileges. But the tail sometimes wagged the dog. The support given by traditional elites was often motivated by fear of dispossession by the socialists and communist (often based on a paranoid misperception of the real power of leftist forces (Mann 2004)). Most traditional conservatives were nervous about the upstarts who led the fascist movements and wary of what populist fascist movements might do once they obtained state power. But the crises of global capitalism that produced World War I, the Depression, and the radical labor movement also produced 20th century fascism as a reaction against both Centrist Liberalism and the Global Left.


Definitions of Fascism and World Historical Comparisons

We here review the efforts of social scientists to go beyond the use of the term fascism as an expletive. W. L. Goldfrank (1978) and Michael Mann (2004) noted that fascism as a unitary phenomenon is difficult to define because it was not uniform but varied greatly by location and context and evolved over time. It is particularly hard to define fascist ideology because the leaders were often extremely pragmatic and promiscuous in their choice of ideas. One of the key features of fascism – hypernationalism— was constructed differently in by location, which produced locally specific internal and external enemies.[5]  Definitions of fascism in the scholarly literature vary in width, choice of characteristics and in emphasis on different characteristics.  Some emphasize the nature of deeds (e.g. Paxton 2004) while others focus more on ideology (e.g. Griffin 1991). Michael Mann (2004: 13) strikes a good balance between these:

I define fascism in terms of the key values, actions and power organizations of fascists. Most concisely, fascism is the pursuit of a transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism.

Both Mann’s (2004) and Robert Paxton’s (2004) excellent studies realize that this definition may not exactly fit somewhat similar phenomena that have emerged since 1945, but they are both willing to examine the nature of late 20th and early 21st century fascisms to tease out the similarities and the differences. A working definition of fascism and its traits helps both researchers and opponents to identify emergent contemporary fascist and similar threats. There were several “flavors” of fascism in the 20th century and new flavors are likely to emerge in the somewhat different context of the 21st century. One or two of the characteristic features may not be present in a contemporary right-wing movement but it may still be accurate to designate it as neo-fascist.

We use Mary Kaldor’s (2003) definition of global civil society: all the actors who are consciously engaged in contesting power and ideology on a global scale, though our definition includes groups that go beyond most definitions of civility (e.g. terrorists).  Our view of the global polity is organized around Immanuel Wallerstein’s (2012) study of the rise of Centrist Liberalism in the 19th century.[6] We see the neoliberal globalization project that emerged in the 1970s as a recent expression of the Centrist Liberalism that emerged in the 19th century.[7]

Neo-conservatism emerged in the last decades of the 20th century as a response to the decline of U.S. economic hegemony.  So, neoliberalism is in the center with the Global Right and the Global Left on each flank. Inspired by Kaldor, our conception of the contemporary Global Right includes neo-conservatives, conservative and reactionary think-tanks and media outlets, populist nationalists, anti-immigrant movements, neo-fascists, male supremacists, racial supremacists, and reactionary religious fundamentalisms (radical jihadists, Hindu nationalists and Christian identity groups).  This broad constellation of contemporary counter-hegemonic far right groups suggests comparisons with analogously diverse players in the world revolution of 1917 (WR1917).  At that time, in some countries, fascism was posed as secular “national socialism” and syndicalism, whereas in others it was formulated in religious terms. Italian and German fascisms were anticlerical. However, religion-based fascism did exist.  A perceived “ideological crisis within the state” was tied to the rise of fascism in Turkey. Paxton (2004: 203) cites examples of religious fascism such as the Falange Española, Belgian Rexism, the Finnish Lapua Movement, and the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael.[8]

Immanuel Wallerstein (2017) explains the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a reaction to the economic downturn of the 1970s, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the failure of the movements of the world revolution of 1917 to produce a more humane and sustainable global society, and so their loss of popular support. He contends that religious identities had been becoming less and less important in world politics from the Protestant Reformation until 1970.[9] He also points out the ambiguous relationship that religious fundamentalism has had with states. God’s law is higher than state law, but the fundamentalists try to take state power to impose god’s law.

Religious fundamentalism since the 1970s has also been a reaction against the world revolution of 1968 and against further commodification of traditional social functions formerly handled by families or communities, gains for gender and racial equality and individual freedom that disempowered traditional tribal and religious authorities. Religion plays an important role in contemporary right-wing social movements as a force for mobilization, cohesion-building and the effort to restore the authority of patriarchal families and religious leaders. Religions provide frames and imagined golden ages that are used by many right-wing movements to build their ideologies (Whittier 2014). One reason why religious fundamentalism became counter-hegemonic after 1970, but was not very important in the world revolution of 1917, is that fundamentalism became a functional counter-hegemonic substitute for revolutionary Marxism and related Leftist ideologies that had been the basis of the Global Left in the 20th century (Grimes, 2003). Immanuel Wallerstein agrees that one of the causes of the recent rise of political/religious fundamentalism was the perceived failure of secular counter-hegemonic movements.  It is as if there is an ideological menu embedded in the geoculture from which individuals and groups take frames, and when one appears to have been discredited others are selected.

In the United States bible study groups provided the backdrop for recruitment to right-wing movements with rhetoric that “mourns” the decline of white, Christian roots (Polletta and Callahan 2017: 6). A conquest narrative and premillennial apocalypticism were bound together by a blood rhetoric, all tied directly to religious sources in Hebrew, Islamic and Christian scriptures (Gorski 2017). Religious boundaries were transformed into racial ones, synthesizing religious and ethnic nationalism. These narratives have come to life, sometimes literally as in the Puritan conquest of the native peoples of North America, and sometimes allegorically to reinforce racial boundaries and harken back to a day of white Christian primacy (Gorski 2017). Islamic neo-fundamentalism mirrors its Christian counterpart. A global rise in militant political Islam, tied to calls for a return to strict adherence to religions tenets, has emerged as a reaction to the neoliberal globalization project and movements favoring women, individual freedoms and non-traditional sexual practices and identities. Reactionary movements reject modern European geoculture, neoliberal globalization and universalizing secular political tenets and commodification.

Fascist movements and regimes in the 20th century were authoritarian attacks on democracy and the rule of law. The social science literature on nationalism discusses different forms: racial vs. civic. Racial nationalism is understood as being based on genetic inheritance (“blood”) while civic nationalism is a collective identity organized around notions of consensual beliefs and commonly held legal and traditional norms and a shared history. In practice the populations of national societies often combine these types and their relative importance varies from country to country. It is civic nationalism that has become enshrined in the centrist geoculture, while the hypernationalism found in fascist movements is typically rooted in the racial.

Ironically, the racial hyper-nationalism of the 20th century fascists further institutionalized civic nationalism by provoking a cosmopolitan reaction against extreme forms of nationalism. Thus, did civic nationalism become embedded in the Centrist Liberalism of the geoculture after World War II. The international institutions that emerged after (the United Nations and the international financial institutions) all embraced and institutionalized the civic version of nationalism as the ideal type that should be adopted by the new nations emerging from colonialism.


Logics of Accumulation: Co-Evolution of Capitalist and Tributary Modes

Fascism is a hybrid of capitalism and a version of the tributary mode of accumulation that has co-evolved with capitalism for centuries and with the efforts to establish socialism since the late 19th and 20th centuries. In order to develop a better understanding of 21st century fascism, populist nationalism and authoritarian practices and regimes and possible 21st century futures it is helpful to understand this long-term process of co-evolution among these different logics of accumulation.

The comparative evolutionary world-systems perspective sees human prehistory and history as having evolved from a kin-based mode of accumulation that regulated interaction by means of consensually-held norms to tributary modes that added institutionalized and organized coercion  (the law, state regulation, etc.) over the top of the kin-based institutions, to the capitalist mode in which accumulation became mainly based on the making of profits from commodity production and financial services.[10]

The tributary modes of accumulation have directly used state power (institutionalized coercion based on the law and its enforcement and specialized police and military organizations) to extract surplus product from domestic and distant populations through taxes, tribute, serfdom and slavery. States and empires that mainly employed tributary accumulation have usually been controlled by military, priestly and land-owning elites whose wealth was mainly based on this form of accumulation. The tributary states and empires emerged during the Bronze Age out of kin-based chiefdoms. They frequently engaged in military competition (warfare) with one another for territorial conquest and tribute. In contrast, capitalism accumulates surplus value by making profits on the production of commodities and financial services while repurposing state institutions to support profit-making. Early capitalism grew in the interstices between tributary states and empires. Autonomous semiperipheral capitalist city-states under the control of merchants expanded regional markets and induced the production of surpluses for trade (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997; Chase-Dunn, Anderson, Inoue and Alvarez 2015). The growth of long-distance trade in the Iron Age also encouraged some internal commercialization of tributary empires (Sanderson 1995). 

Since the 16th century CE capitalism has become the predominant logic of the Europe-centered (modern) world-system in a series of waves in which nation-states have increasingly come to be controlled by capitalists. Market forces and money have deepened and geographically expanded their influence.  Warfare was increasingly employed as an adjunct to profit-making. The shift from classical imperialism (conquering ones’ neighbors) to colonial imperialism (conquering distant sources of raw materials and trading nodes) accompanied the rising predominance of capitalist accumulation. The failure of the Habsburg Empire of the 16th century to establish a core-wide empire over the regions of emergent capitalism was an early instance of co-evolution.  Capitalist accumulation in the non-core (the periphery and the semiperiphery) was a mix of commodity production with forms of coerced labor (slavery and serfdom) that had been developed in the tributary empires. This mix has been called “peripheral capitalism” and seen as a necessary part of the global process of capitalist accumulation, but its overlap with the tributary mode is of interest to us because we are considering how the tributary mode has co-evolved with capitalism.[11]

Tributary formations cycled back and forth between more and less centralized forms everywhere. The rise and fall of Rome, European feudalism and absolutism were examples of this.   European capitalism was able to become predominant in part because the tributary states were weak. The Dutch revolution moved the capitalist state from the semiperiphery to the core and facilitated the emergence of a world in which capitalist nation-states with colonial empires were the drivers, though old-style empires survived until the 19th century.  

Perry Anderson’s (1974) Lineages of the Absolutist State argued that European “Absolutism” was a dying effort by feudal tributary kings to harness the surplus being generated by emerging capitalist enterprises via state licenses, the very state monopolies that Adam Smith railed against. The Spanish and the Hapsburgs were trying to re-constitute Europe into an updated tributary Roman empire.

            Regarding co-evolution, the tributary mode periodically regained purchase during periods of crisis in the capitalist modern world-system. The Hapsburg Empire, the Napoleonic episode and the German attempts in the 20th century to establish core-wide empire were instances of the tributary mode regaining importance and coevolving with capitalism.  And the efforts to build a socialist world-system in the 20th century devolved into state communism in the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China resulting in regimes that combine elements of socialism with capitalism and elements of the tributary mode (Chirot 1977; Bahro 1980; Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000). The fascist movements and regimes of the 1930s and 1940s were resurgences of the tributary mode in which institutionalized coercion in different forms was brought back as a major mobilizer of social labor.


Comparing the Global Right with the Global Left

Our construction of the geoculture as an evolving interaction between the contending ideologies of the right, center and left notes that their interaction also reflects the changing contexts of the institutional structure of the modern world-system (Nagy 2017).  One obvious difference between much of the global right and the global left is with respect to nationalism. The global left in the World Revolution of 1917 was explicitly internationalist.  Most socialists, communists and anarchists believed in proletarian internationalism and condemned nationalism as false consciousness that was promoted by capitalists to undermine the class struggle and to get workers to go to war. This was an important instance of secular global humanism and cosmopolitanism, though it was mainly understood as international class solidarity. It came to grief when German politicians tricked the German socialists into voting for war credits at the outbreak of World War I, thus abrogating an agreement among the national parties of the Second International to not go to war and kill each other at the behest of their national capitalists. It was this event that sealed Vladimir Lenin’s disgust with the labor movements of the core and provoked his turn to the “Third Worldism” of the Third International (Claudin, 1975).

Internationalism, transnational humanism and Global Southism (formerly Third Worldism) continue to be important characteristics of the New Global Left in the World Revolution of 20xx (Steger, Goodman and Wilson 2013; Carroll 2016). 

Fascist movements before and after World War I attacked the workers movements and socialist parties both because the fascists opposed class struggle in favor of organic nationalism and because they opposed the internationalism and pacifism of the Left (Paxton 2004). Attacking peasant and labor unions also gained the fascists the support of landowners and some large capitalists, and this became an important source of powerful elite support and finance for those fascist sects that were able to move on to become mass movements and to take over national regimes. But hypernationalism was also an obstacle to transnational and international cooperation and organization.  The fascists did try to organize a fascist international during the late 1920s and the 1930s (Laqueur and Mosse 1966), but their own commitment to the myths of nationalism stood in the way (Paxton 2004: 20, Fn. 83).  This was, and still is, an important difference and conflict between the global right and the global left.[12]

Dani Rodrik (2018) contends that two kinds of populism have arisen to contest the neoliberal globalization project. In Latin America in the 1980 and the 1990s the structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund that required austerity and privatization were supported by neoliberal national politicians who attacked labor unions and parties of formal sector workers, but this produced a populist reaction in which progressive politicians were able to gain electoral victories by campaigning against these policies and by mobilizing the residents of the “planet of slums” (Chase-Dunn et al 2015). This phenomenon was called the “Pink Tide.”  Regimes based on left-wing populism emerged in most of the Latin American countries, and Rodrik rightly sees this as a reaction against the neoliberal globalization project. Right wing populism emerged, and is still emerging, in countries of the Global North in which neoliberal globalization produced deindustrialization and many workers lost their jobs.  This occurred in contexts in which it was easier for politicians to blame immigrants and minorities than to point the finger at the big winners of global capitalism. And some of the big winners provided support for the politics of hypernationalism, zenophobia, racism and sexism that are the working muscles of right-wing populism and neofascism.

Right-wing populist politicians exploit cleavages along cultural lines, rallying individuals against foreigners and minorities. Left-wing populist movements, on the other hand tend to garner support based on economic cleavages. They pointed to the wealthy 1% and large corporations as responsible for the disruptions of the neoliberal globalization project. The ease of mobilization around these cleavages depends on the salience of the issues for constituents as well as prevailing political cultures and reactions against recent regimes. Individuals who feel their jobs and public services have been threatened by immigrants and minorities are easier to mobilize along ethno-national and cultural cleavages.

The cultural cleavages Rodrik describes are becoming easier to exploit in areas impacted most by massive migrations and economic relocation and divestment. Global warming has led to declining agricultural output, declining peripheral state revenue to purchase the loyalties of competing local constituencies, natural disasters, and the collapse of peripheral states leading desperate people to flee local conflicts and poverty by seeking refuge elsewhere. In the north, automation has led to unemployment among skilled and unskilled workers (Grimes,1999). Right-wing politicians have been able to prey on the fears of the economically insecure individuals in the Global North, who see waves of migrants as threats to their social and economic way of life.


Comparing the Contemporary Global Right with the Global Right in WR1917

The global right in the World Revolution of 1917 was composed of reactionary conservatives still resisting the rise of centrist liberalism and the remains of a few far-right sects that had emerged in the late 19th century, especially during economic downturns. The fin de siècle intellectual climate was tired of parliamentary debates and stalemates among contending parties. Romanticism and transcendent ideologies were becoming more popular. Countries that were new to mass politics had relatively weak regimes that could not effectively deal with the problems caused by World War I or the problems that came along with the global financial collapse of 1929. These crises were opportunities for anarchists, socialists, communists and fascist sects to become mass parties, fascists especially in locations in which the left was becoming powerful and threatening.  The important point here is that fascism was itself a popular movement at first and that it was only later that it was supported by traditional agrarian and capitalist elites who saw it as preferable to dispossession by communists.  Michael Mann (2004: 21) contends that the elites often overreacted to perceived threats to their interests from leftist movements that were not actually powerful enough to dispossess them. But the result was that fascist parties were embraced by some of the old conservatives and were enabled to take state power in Italy and Germany. These, and the militarist authoritarian regime in Japan, mounted a global challenge to liberal capitalism from the right.

One feature common to the German, Japanese, and Italian attempts to build domestic support was in their respective efforts to create new empires.  The Germans sought to conquer Europe, the Italians sought colonies in Africa, and the Japanese attempted to conquer East Asia and the Pacific. The U.S. hegemony that emerged after World War II was legitimated as a centralist liberal “free world” regime that had been formed in the struggle against colonialism, communism, fascism and Japanese imperialism.

The second world war shows that fascists need enemies to attack, but the internal and external enemies they chose varied depending on their national and international context.  Many 20th century fascists were anti-Semitic, yet Mussolini only accepted anti-Semitism as a condition for his alliance with the Nazis.  Nazism was racial, but Italian fascism was a form of cultural hypernationalism that did not require racial purity. The global right of the first half of the 20th century also contained movements and regimes that were authoritarian, but not fascist.

The difference between the two that matters here was described by Goldfrank (1978). He defined a truly fascist regime as one emerging from, and expressing, a genuine popular movement from below, in contrast to an authoritarian regime that was imposed upon the populace by the elites.  According to this distinction the Vargas regime in Brazil and the Peron regime in Argentina were not fascist, nor was the militaristic authoritarian regime in Japan. These are instead better understood to have been non-democratic coups from above in which state power was used to mobilize development, expansion, and resistance to the economic domination of the Great Powers in the core (Goldfrank 1978). These were non-fascist, but authoritarian statist responses to the crises of global capitalism and should be considered to have been part of the global right. They sometimes made use of fascist symbols and ideas, but they were not mainly based on ultranationalist movements from below. In practice it is often difficult to ascertain how much popular support a movement really has. Nearly all movements, even those mobilized by elites, claim to have popular support. And the leadership of nearly all movements is mainly composed of people from at least the middle class because political participation requires skills and resources that very poor people usually do not have.  But it is still possible to make the distinction between movements from above and movements from below as Goldfrank and Mann have done.

The contemporary global right is composed of rather different reactionary groups. Jihadists (and Muslims in general) are a favorite enemy of the neo-fascists who have announced that sharia law will soon be enacted in the United States because decadent liberals and multiculturalists are encouraging Muslims to take over. Jihadists attack commercialized global youth culture, which they see as individualist, consumerist and sexually immoral. The good news here is that the jihadists and the neo-fascists are unlikely allies. So, the contemporary global right is far from unified.


Neo-Fascist Movements

Most neo-fascist movements do not regurgitate the rhetoric of the early 20th century fascist movements. Instead they are shaped by the contemporary socio-political-economic context (Paxton 2004; Alvarez 2019). Neo-fascist movements have not (yet) been as violent, and nor have they glorified violence, as much their 20th century predecessors. They are generally covert and adaptive, attempting to capture public spaces.  In the old days that meant streets, villages and newspapers. In recent decades it has meant inexpensive rural television and radio venues, the internet and online social networks.

Harris et al (2017) claim that the leadership of neo-fascist movements relies on misdirection, and on their supporters’ comfort with “alternative facts” so that they can survive in a globalized economy while pushing isolationist and racist agendas. As with the New Global Left, they are a reaction against the neoliberal globalization project, but instead of proposing an alternative form of democratic and multicultural globalization they propose reactive nationalism, “he-tooism,” xenophobia, protectionism and making x great again.

Paxton (2004) recognized a series of events that presaged the growing popularity of contemporary right-wing movements:

…ethnic cleansing in the Balkans; the sharpening of exclusionary nationalisms in postcommunist eastern Europe; spreading ‘skinhead’ violence against immigrants in Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, and Italy; the first participation of a neofascist party in a European government in 1994, when the Italian Alleanza Nazionale, direct descendant of the principal Italian neofascist party, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), joined the first government of Silvio Berlusconi; the entry of Jörg Haider’s Freiheitspartei (Freedom Party), with its winks of approval at Nazi veterans, into the Austrian government in February 2000; the astonishing arrival of the leader of the French far Right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in second place in the first round of the French presidential elections in May 2002; and the meteoric rise of an anti-immigrant but nonconformist outsider, Pym Fortuyn, in the Netherlands in the same month. Finally, a whole universe of fragmented radical Right ‘grouplets’ proliferated, keeping alive a great variety of far-Right themes and practices (2004:173)

While symbolic violence and the glorification of violence has been increasing in Hungary, Poland, Russia, the U.S., Brazil and the Philippines there has yet not been the level of lethal violence that rising fascism employed in the 20th century.

Another difference between the earlier and more recent versions of fascism is the attitude toward the national state. Most of the earlier versions glorified the state as an instrument of the purified nation. The realities of state control were more complicated in both Italy and Germany, but at the level of ideology “statism” was an important fascist value.  Contemporary neo-fascist movements do not glorify the state. They favor more authoritarian and interventionist state actions, but they do not glorify the state as such. This difference is one reason why some scholars prefer the term “populist nationalism” over “neo-fascism.” Another important difference is regarding military expansionism. Glorification of military expansionism was an important part of both Italian and German fascism (Kumral 2015), Japanese authoritarianism, Argentinian efforts to reclaim the Malvinas, and current Russian military annexation of the portions of Ukraine required to access the strategic port of Sevastopol. But no neo-fascist movement or party has endorsed such a policy, at least so far.  The decolonization of the whole periphery and the establishment of international organizations such as the United Nations that oppose conquests and support the sovereignty of member states seems to have effectively delegitimized formal colonialism and military expansionism. Clientelism and covert interventions continue to be the main modes of exercising power in geopolitics. These have been the mainstays of U.S. imperialism throughout the 20th century. It is likely that neo-fascist regimes would not hesitate to employ clientelism and covert interventions, but a return to military conquest seems unlikely.

Though many of the earlier fascist movements embraced syndicalism and were anti-capitalist in their early phases, most neo-fascists and right-wing populists today strongly support capitalism (Hochschild 2016; Skocpol and Williamson 2012).[13] This appears to be part of a continuing reaction against the welfare state that emerged in the post-war core, and continues to be an important theme in right-wing populist movements such as the Tea Party in the United States. On the other hand, fossil fuel corporations are not averse to state interventionism as long as it works in their favor, as in providing huge subsidies (Edenhofer 2015).  Neoliberalism did not abolish states. Rather it repurposed them as instruments for enacting policies that favor big capital.

Pro-capitalist popular authoritarianism, and neo-fascism, are surging in several Asian and Latin American countries. Docena (2018) cites three inter-related crises as the catalyst for this growth—crises of neoliberal capitalism, liberal democracy, and reactions against the Pink Tide leftist populist regimes that emerged at the turn of the century. These conditions are found more in areas deeply penetrated by global capitalism and where liberal-democratic elites have already replaced dictatorships. These elites have continued the policies of their predecessors, such as export-oriented development, loosened business restrictions, attacks on labor, reduced social spending, and stalled redistribution. As unemployment and poverty increase, people see symbols of unattainable wealth spring up around them in the form of shopping malls and luxury condominiums. In response to the ineffective leftist anti-systemic movements and perceived corruption of the Pink Tide populist regimes, the people in these areas are turning toward right-wing authoritarian political leaders. 


Reactions to Globalization and the Future of the Global Right

The rise of 21st century neo-fascism has been mainly caused by the crisis of the neoliberal globalization project. An “interlocking set of new enemies” are seen as tearing at the status quo, including “globalization, foreigners, multiculturalism, environmental regulation, high taxes, and the incompetent politicians” (Paxton 2004: 181).  The neoliberal globalization project has led to a transformation of the world economy, thereby providing “a new fertile terrain for far-right mobilizations” (Saull 2013: 631). The fragmented, insecure precariat no longer gathers in membership-based collective organizations (Standing 2011). A globalized economy provides opportunities to blame immigrant labor, finance capital, foreign investment, labor-outsourcing, and ineffective politicians for local economic dislocations (Saull 2013).

Spektorowski (2016) claims that racial ethno-regionalism is supplanting nationalism in the global political-economy. He argues that post-national European fascism may be the next stage in the evolution of fascism in transnational regions with a focus on preserving an “ethnic federation of European people” in the form of a “strong, dominant, and productive conglomeration” (Spektorowski 2016: 126). But this vision of transnational racial struggle is undermined by the rise of hypernationalism.

Classical fascist rhetoric claimed to transcend class struggle (Mann 2004). But a divide now exists between those qualified for open sector, internationally competitive jobs and those stuck in sectors that are unable to compete globally (Kriesi et al 2006). Globally-minded liberals and progressives have become the enemy of locally-focused traditionalists (Hochschild 2016). Individuals can only vote in their local and national elections. The European Parliament is a partial exception, but international organizations such the United Nations are lacking in their institutional ability to directly represent citizens (Monbiot 2003).

New Right movements seek to demonize characteristics of centrist liberalism such as “materialism, individualism, the universality of human rights, egalitarianism and multiculturalism” (Griffin 2004: 295). These movements claim to restore the primacy and purity of ethno-national groups, now threatened by globalization and immigration. The immigration issue is not likely to go away soon. Population continues to grow rapidly in many countries in the Global South in which prospects for economic development and job growth are very bleak and many other countries have large numbers of people who are of little use to the accumulators of capital. The peak migration wave of 2015 has receded, but economic forces, political disruptions, and civil wars are likely to continue to make South/North immigration a contentious issue for the next several decades (Mason 2015).

Western Europeans and Americans have known mostly “peace, prosperity, functioning democracy, and domestic order” (Paxton 2004: 187) since World War II. Right-wing populist politicians who are trying to build a mass movement usually distance themselves from the political violence of their most ardent supporters.[14]  The neo-fascist fringe groups do use forceful confrontation as a tactic and this is reminiscent of the fascists of the 20th century, but, at least so far, lethal violence appears to have been restricted to mentally challenged individuals inspired by the rhetoric of others. There is fear of growing securitization and more centralized and coordinated forms of surveillance of troublemakers. William I. Robinson (2013, 2014) theorizes the rise of a coordinated transnational capitalist state that is increasing its capacity for global repressive coordination. This may be the future, but so far, the geopolitical competition among contending nation-states seems to reflect a growing contentious multipolar structure rather than a centralized and coordinated global structure of repressive power.[15]

The enthusiasm that some neo-fascist groups have shown and the apparent rapid spread of authoritarian rightist populism and neofascist movements across the globe is disturbing. The currently low unemployment rate, the revival of housing construction, the real estate market and the Trump-induced stock market bump slowed these movements down. But a new financial crisis and/or an economic slowdown will increase the level of frustration and support for these neo-fascist sects and movements. This, combined with a global ecological crisis, could lead to the “perfect storm” theorized by Glenn Kuecker (2007). But the rise of the nationalist right has also provoked a new focus on internationalism from the left. Movements provoke countermovements

 The replacement of most of the Pink Tide progressive regimes and Latin America by reinvented local neoliberals and/or Trump-like strong men has been one consequence of falling prices for agricultural and mineral exports because Chinese demand has slackened. Another factor is the fall in energy prices because of the expansion of fracking, which allows more gas and oil to be extracted from older fossil fuel locations such as the U.S. The social programs of the leftist populist movements were dependent on their ability to tax and redistribute returns from raw material exports. But this may also represent an improved new normal for Latin America because almost all earlier transitions involved military coups and violent repression, whereas most of these recent rightward regime transitions have been relatively peaceful electoral transition that have not involved takeovers by the military or violent repression (at least so far).[16] In Brazil the threat of military rule continues to play a role in politics, but at least so far, the rightward shift has been less violent than it was in earlier regime transitions.  Stable parliamentary democracy to have finally arrived in most of Latin America. This is not utopia, but it is progress. Leftists can contend for power again in the next round.

The continuing rise of right-wing populist and neofascist movements and their electoral victories in both the Global North and the Global South[17] have added a new note that is reminiscent of the rise of fascism during the World Revolution of 1917. Religious fundamentalism played a much weaker role in the early 20th century wave. It was present, but not so dramatically. The rise of religious fundamentalism after the World Revolution of 1968 was partly due to the perception that the Old Left had failed. Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms have been important sources of frames for the counter-hegemonic right-wing forces that have emerged since the 1970s. The important role that the threatened fossil fuel industry is now playing in funding and supporting right-wing causes is another difference. In the early 20th century the fossil fuel industry was a rising force in providing cheap energy for a great wave of industrialization. But the challenges of anthropogenic global climate change have put the fossil fuel industry on the defensive (Daub and Carroll nd). Though the fossil fuel industry has always been conservative, it has increasingly funded right-wing causes during the contemporary rise of the Global Right (Mayer 2016; Wenar 2016).

The other big difference between the early and late waves of the Global Right is international military adventurism, which was an important aspect of early 20th century fascism, but, at least so far, has not been an important aspect of late 20th century and early 21st century right-wing populism or neo-fascism.  This is good news, but its dependence on the institutionalization of international organizations that are supposed to keep the peace may be sorely tested in the coming age of multipolarity and interimperial rivalry that is bound to follow the continued decline of U.S. hegemony (see also Moghadam 2018, 2019 and Berezin 2019)

This raises the issue of the relationships between movements and counter-movements and the possibility that the instrumentation and articulation of the global left could be driven by the need to combat 21st century fascism.[18] The glorification of strong leaders in the right-wing populist and neo-fascist movements was also seen in the 20th century. But charismatic leaders have also been important in progressive movements in the past. The Democratic Socialists of America (D.S.A.) in some ways seem to be reacting against the “leaderless” ideology of the horizontalists by capitalizing on the extraordinary popularity of their most famous member, Bernie Sanders, currently the most popular politician in the U.S., with 63% public approval. The platform proposed by Sanders incorporates many of the tropes of the New Left and the global justice movement.



Recent changes in world-economy that are important for understanding the evolution of the Global Right include: job losses by formerly protected workers in the core states via automation and out-sourcing; global migration from south to north spurred by global warming, and the automation of agriculture and mining. These developments have enabled deflection by demagogues in the core of working-class anger away from global capitalism toward unwanted immigrants and deflection of class contradictions in favor of racism.


Comparing the 20th and 21st incarnations of the Global Right yields many similarities but also some important differences. Religious fundamentalism played much weaker role in the early 20th century wave. It was present, but not so dramatically. The rise of religious fundamentalism after the World Revolution of 1968 was partly due to the perception that the Old Left had failed. Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms have been important sources of frames for the counter-hegemonic right-wing forces that have emerged since the 1970s. The important role that the threatened fossil fuel industry plays in funding and supporting right-wing causes is another difference. In the early 20th century the fossil fuel industry was a rising force in providing cheap energy for a great wave of industrialization. But the challenges of anthropogenic global climate change have put the fossil fuel industry on the defensive (Daub and Carroll nd). Though the fossil fuel industry has always been conservative it has increasingly funded right-wing causes during the contemporary rise of the Global Right (Mayer 2016; Wenar 2016).

The other big difference between the early and late waves of the Global Right is international military adventurism, which was an important aspect of early 20th century fascism, but, at least so far, has not been an important aspect of late 20th century and early 21st century right-wing populism or neo-fascism.  This is good news, but its dependence on the institutionalization of international organizations that are supposed to keep the peace may be sorely tested in the coming age of multipolarity and interimperial rivalry that is bound to follow the continued decline of U.S. hegemony. Because the story is unfolding before our eyes, our efforts to characterize the nature of 21st century neo-fascism and its similarities and differences with earlier incarnations remains provisional, but our characterization of similarities and differences suggest what to keep an eye on. (Amin 2018). Regarding the future of fascism, our observation that fascism has come in waves implies that new forms of fascism and authoritarianism could emerge in the 21st and 22nd centuries as humanity struggles to implement a sustainable and humane form of global society.


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[1] An important exception is W.L. Goldfrank’s (1978; 1990) analysis of fascism in world historical perspective, a valuable review of the theories and comparative literature on 20th century fascism that built on the approach developed by Karl Polanyi to flesh out an analysis at the level of the global system.  Goldfrank saw 20th century fascism as a reaction to the crises of the capitalist world-economy, employing Polanyi’s idea of the double-movement in which societies become over-commodified and then react against commodification.

[2] We have examined the links that anarchists (Aldecoa et al 2019) and indigenous rights activists (Chase-Dunn et al 2019) have with other movements that participate in the Social Forum process. 

[3] In Chapter 5 of Global Formation Chase-Dunn (1998) contended that normative regulation based on cultural consensus had been the main glue holding small-scale human polities together, but that markets and states had emerged as the main forms of regulation in complex social systems, relegating normative regulation to a supportive role.

[4] A similar phenomenon emerged after the Mexican Revolution (1926-29). The Cristeros were peasants in west-central Mexico who fought against the Calles government to support the church and traditional authorities and were in turn supported by the Los Angeles diocese of the Catholic Church (Davis 1984).

[5] Goldfrank (1978:78) says “In contrast to the varieties of communist parties and states, the differences among the fascisms are mandated, as it were, by nationalist principles rather than mere adaptations to local traditions or political exigencies.”

[6] Wallerstein (2012) uses the term “geoculture” to characterize what we call world politics.

[7] The Weberian construction of this center of the geoculture as the expansion of formal rationality and the empowering individuals, organizations and nation-states is portrayed by John W. Meyer. 2009.


[8] Even when fascism was secular it was usually formulated as a mystical essence based on either race or culture, and on topophilia (sacred soil and place). 

[9] While counter-hegemonic ideologies became increasingly secular, religion continued to play an important part in politics. Mike Davis (2018) notes that Catholic political parties played an important role in undermining socialist parties in Europe in part by championing family values. And Linda Gordon’s (2017) study of the movement of the Klu Klux Klan to northern U.S. cities in the 1920s championed “true Americanism,” racial purity, religious intolerance and opposition to immigration. Waves of white racism have been reactions to gains made by non-whites since the Civil War in the U.S. (Gates 2019).

[10] In Chapter 5 of Global Formation Chase-Dunn (1998) contended that normative regulation based on cultural consensus was the main glue holding small-scale human societies together, but that markets and states had emerged as the predominant forms of regulation in complex social systems, relegating normative regulation to a supportive role. See also Chase-Dunn (2014)


[11] The Chinese trade-tribute structure that was predominant in the East Asian world-system was a somewhat milder form of the tributary mode in which ritual exchange played an important role in reinforcing the notion of China as the center of the human universe (Arrighi et al 2003). Mingwin Jin (2019) sees reflections of the East Asian trade/tribute system in the emerging relationships between China and Africa.

[12] Its current main manifestation is about the treatment of migrants. The 2018 meeting of the World Social Forum in Mexico City focusses on the plight and rights of migrants.


[13] But see Minkowitz (2017)


[14] An exception was Donald Trump’s mention of “the Second Amendment people” during the U.S. presidential campaign of 2016.

[15] Some neo-fascist organized actions have displayed considerable political savvy in framing and coordinating their street tactics. The demonstrations against “sharia law” claimed that it legalizes female genital mutilation, thereby attempting to mobilize women and feminists to support anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant causes. 


[16] The 2009 Honduran coup is a notable exception.

[17] The terminology of the world-system perspective divides the Global South into the periphery and the semiperiphery.

This turns out to be an important distinction for comprehending political developments in the Global South. Activists from the semiperiphery have been far more likely to participate in the Social Forum process, and activists from the periphery have been much more critical of international political organizations than those from either the Global North or the semiperiphery (Chase-Dunn et al 2008)

[18] In November of 2018 Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis issued a call for a Progressive International to unite against the rise of neo-fascist and right-wing populist parties (Progressive International 2018) see also Basu (2019).