Home > The Great Unraveling? > The Rise of Counter-Revolution

Regressive political movements have increased in size and power over the last decade, within a backdrop of dissatisfaction with the status quo and increasing political polarization. In this episode of the “Great Unraveling?” series, Walden Bello joins Laurie Laybourn-Langton to explore the factors behind the rise in political fragmentation in both the Global South and Global North, and the success of nativist and other political movements.

Walden Bello is currently a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton, a former member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, and a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award in 2003. His latest book is entitled Counterrevolution, the Global Rise of the Far Right.


Laurie Laybourn-Langton
Regressive political movements have increased in size and power over the last decade with dissatisfaction with the status quo and political conflict on the rise. In this episode, we explore the factors behind the rise in political fragmentation, and the success of Nativists and other progressive political movements.

To do so, I’m joined by Walden Bello, whose latest book Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right explores these issues. Among other positions, Walden is currently a professor of Sociology at the State University of New York, Binghamton in the USA, a former member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, and a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award in 2003. Walden, welcome.

Walden Bello
Thanks for inviting me, Laurie.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton
My pleasure. So, you spent a distinguished career, among other things, understanding and often acting against far-right political movements. In your book, you use the frame of counter-revolution to understand the rise of regressive movements in both Global South and North. Could you tell us a bit about why such movements have done so well, at least in recent years?

Walden Bello
Well, I think that these movements in the Global South as well as in the Global North have certain common characteristics, but they also have some different emphasis.

Let me just say, for instance, in the Global North, you have to realize that neoliberalism created such a tremendous crisis for workers and for the middle class. In the case of Europe, for instance, you had the unelected technocracy of the European Union seeming to subvert local democratic sovereignties. And that was one of the criticisms of it.

And then thirdly, you had the migration issue, which the right was able to monopolize, setting the frame on basically saying, you know, that, “Hey, it’s okay, we can have all of this welfare state measures, but only for people of the right color, skin color, of the right culture, of the right religion, and that sort of thing.” So they were able in the Global North to put those things together, and pirate a lot of the base that used to belong to social democratic parties.

So that was in in the Global North. In the Global South, you’ve had strong movements from the far right, coming to power, say in Brazil, in the Philippines, and India—three of the biggest democracies in the world. And I think here, you more had a sort of a kind of counter-revolution, against liberal democracy—between the promises of liberal democracy, of equality, and everything else, and the reality of great poverty and inequality.

Charismatic personalities—like, in The Philippines, Duterte, and in India, Modi—were able to then create that dissatisfaction and say that, “Okay, liberal democracy hasn’t delivered, and there are people who are really responsible for this crisis that you people have.”

In Duterte’s case, he says, “It’s criminals and drug dealers,” and in Modi’s case, he says, “It was the Muslims.” So these are some of the specific characteristics about the Global North and the Global South in terms of the movements, but also some of the differences between them.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton
And how, so, you know, nearly all of the countries that you’ve listed there are experiencing the profound shock of the coronavirus pandemic. What impact do you think that will have on the prospects for a lot of these movements, both in Global North and Global South?

Walden Bello
Well, I think the corona, even before the coronavirus hit, I think the momentum in terms of organizing was with the far right. And the neoliberals just don’t have anything to offer at this point. As far as the left is concerned, you know, still the way that social democracy compromise with neoliberalism is in the minds of everyone.

So into this sort of instability you had, you know, the right having this message that seemed to be really focused on getting people’s, you know, resentments together.

I think that the coronavirus, it doesn’t really change the equation. I think that perhaps it might even have added more strength to the global right. And, for instance, in The Philippines, Duterte was able to have a new Anti-Terrorism Bill really moved on. It’s strengthened the popularity of Modi in India, and Orban in Hungary has been able to, you know, even strengthen his authoritarian hold even more so. So this is one of the things what we really have to confront. And how we deal with that is going to be a central issue that progressives have really to think about very carefully.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton
As we look forward into a future that will not only be experiencing the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but a future in which the environmental crisis will grow—the consequences of that will start to come home even more than they already are, particularly in the Global South. As we look forward to the coming decades, how do you think those factors will impact the prospects and the evolution of these these regressive movements?

Walden Bello
Well, I think that there are a number of movements where I think we progressives, you know, have the edge on. And I think one of them is the women’s movement. And it continues to have a great deal of dynamism.

Another one is, you know, the movement for racial justice, as we’ve seen in the United States, and even in Britain at this point in time. And a third is the climate justice movement, where the right is practically not a player on it at this point.

Now, these are movements with a great deal of resonance among great sectors of the population that we really need to make sure are at the center of the mobilization of a progressive democratic movement. So I think that although the right wing may have the momentum at this point, I think, nevertheless, with good thinking, with good leadership, with good flexible tactics, and we can appeal to people’s better sentiments, and ideals, we can beat them at it.

Now, it’s not going to be easy. But I think that we just need to really grapple with the problem and not go off into old strategies, old tactics that won’t work, and of what and, above all, not to be doctrinaire, in terms of the way that we approach things. Flexibility is really going to be key at this point.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton
Let’s take the younger generation that is often coming to the fore, in some of those progressive movements that you described. What kind of challenges do you think that they will have politically in a world that is becoming more environmentally destabilized? You know, people who are of the millennial age group or younger, who are looking forward to the next few decades and see this looming, this growing environmental crisis? What kind of challenges and opportunities do you see facing them over the next couple of decades?

Walden Bello
I think that their survival is at stake. I mean, that’s in a way what they are feeling themselves, you know. Just like the Global South, the younger generation is on the front lines, in a way that the older generation like me, for instance… I mean, we, we are not on the front lines, because we’re going to disappear, but it’s a generation that’s going to be there.

So I think that has a very strong impact in terms of people realizing that, my God, we have to have strategies, the flexibility, the ability to be able to work together in order to be able to pull things through. I think what is important here is I think the younger generation can think out of the box in a way that the older generations like us have been boxed in by certain theories of the way that politics should go.

I think the ability to think out of the box is something that I would see coming out of the younger generation. Above all, I think the ability to look at things and look at opportunities and not be daunted by challenges, I think that spirit of young people to say, “We’re going to take on the world, and nobody is going to scare us from taking it on.”

I think that’s the kind of spirit that I think has emerged, for instance, in the racial justice movement in the United States, but also in the environmental movement and the women’s movement. So I am quite confident, although I do write about the right, and about counter-revolution and about the possibilities that in the near future, we might have some setbacks. I am quite confident in the end it’s going to be the side of rights and justice that’s going to triumph in this complex battle that is looming.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton
Walden, we’re out of time. And I think that’s a lovely note to end on. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Walden Bello
Thank you, Laurie. I really appreciate your having invited me.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton
My pleasure. Thank you.