by Daniel Chavez
Porto Alegre, 2017
1. Are we really entering into a new political period, or is it just a continuation or radicalisation of processes that were already brewing since the previous decade?
• From my personal perspective I tend to favour the second answer. As we heard from the presenters, there were already signs of increasing authoritarianism developing in Africa, in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world long before the recent election of Donald Trump in the US.
2. How do we characterise the current global trend and what are the drivers of the shift to conservatism, including the resurgence of the extreme right?
• The current expansion of the right and xenophobia is not a process that relies only on political and economic changes, but also on a social and cultural regression to conservative values, tribalism and religious fundamentalism in different regions of the world.
3. What is the role and the position of the US in the new global context?• The response to this question is rather complex. The American hegemony is today weaker in terms of economic and even political power, but the US remains the undisputed military power, including the resurgence of discussions and plans about the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
4. How deep and extensive is the trend towards conservatism, authoritarianism and xenophobia?
• There are plenty of reasons to be concerned. As we heard this morning, the expansion of social conservatism is backed by hyper-conservative media networks. In the US the so called alt-right have links to the Tea Party and other radical factions of the Republican Party, and in Brazil and other parts of the world (unfortunately, we did not have a presentation on India) the media is also closely related to extremely conservative forces.
• The space for social and political dissent is also rapidly shrinking. This includes more possibilities for social control, facilitated by the militarisation of police equipment and tactics and the rise of new technologies for surveillance and repression, as well as the criminalisation and illegalisation of critical social organisations, as have seen before in Nicaragua or we see today in Ecuador in relation to environmental NGOs and the representative organisations of the Shuar indigenous people.
5. How does all this relate to other debates about the meaning and prospects of neoliberalism and the ecological crisis?
• Like Pierre Beaudet, I am sceptical about a potential demise of neoliberalism to be triggered by the Trump administration. I tend to agree with Harvey when he talks about neoliberalism as a political and spatial project, and not just a set of economic policies.
• But even if we go back to the characterisation of the Washington Consensus originally proposed by John Williamson, we see that only one of the pillars of neoliberalism (liberalisation of trade and investment) would be threatened by Trump’s discourse, but all the others (including privatisation, deregulation, the restructuring of public expenditure with elimination of social policies and public services, fiscal policy, tax reform and the reinforcement of property rights) would be maintained.
• In that sense, I think Pablo Solón’s characterisation of the new period as a hybrid of neoliberalism and nationalism deserves to be discussed in more detail. I tend to agree with him. I think we can expect more protectionism and nationalism in the flow of trade and investment in the most conventional sectors of the old global economy, and the continuation and even radicalisation of the neoliberal project within each country.
• But I also have my doubts, and that is why I made a reference to the old economy. I think it was not by chance that the majority of the most technologically advanced and innovative companies of the Silicon Valley and the West Coast did not support the election of Trump, because their survival depends on the permanent expansion of their international base of consumers and a very complex supply and production chain, with many different components in many different countries of the world. They would not be so happy with Trump closing the borders or entering into new trade wars with China or Europe.
• I think Pablo’s intervention about the importance of not having a discussion about xenophobia and conservatism in isolation from other very urgent debates and mobilisations around environmental justice and other social issues is very relevant, because all the different components of the crisis reinforce each other.
6. How do we characterise the new waves of right-wing populism and the new political alternatives that are emerging from the left?
• We already discussed the problematic frontier that might exist between the new right and the conventional right. I already mentioned that drawing on Christophe Aguiton’s characterisation of the ‘new far-right’ we should also have a deeper discussion on the scope of the internalisation of radical values and policy frameworks within the conventional right parties.
• We have also discussed the limits and profile of the supposedly radical and innovative new European left, which we have seen is clearly moving towards a rather classic social-democratic strategy and programme.
• I also fully agree with Ze Correa about the problem of using the concept of populism as a relevant or useful analytical category. Some years ago I published an academic article criticising the simplistic and rather ahistorical utilisation of the concept of populism among academic researchers, and I still believe that we should be much more careful when we use this concept.
7. Can we use the same framework of analysis to talk about the global wave of authoritarianism and xenophobia in different parts of the world?
• Clearly, we cannot. In the fist place because we cannot make general assumptions for regions of the world that are internally diverse, as our comrades from Europe, Latin America and Africa reminded us today.
• And second, because the drivers and main agents of the shift to the right in national politics are different in different regions of the world. In India, it would be religious fundamentalism promoted by a radical Hindu party obsessed about religious purity; in Europe it would a new right-wing ideology fed by the social crisis caused by the politics of austerity imposed by the troika; in the US it would a combination of factors linked to the gradual but continuous erosion of the US hegemony in the global economy and global politics; in Latin America it would be related to the decomposition of the political project of what once was called the ‘new left’; in Southern Africa it would related to the lack of completion of the project of national liberation and decolonisation, as suggested by Mazibuko Jara…
8. Additional comments
• I will not refer to the positive side and the signs of hope, because I think that will the focus of tomorrow’s discussion. Several positive processes were highlighted by the second part of Pierre Beaudet’s presentation (Black Lives Matter, the Quebecois student movement, the Standing Rock mobilisation, and our comrade from Morocco also referred to some concrete social struggles.
• I will only highlight something that two presenters mentioned: the lack of international models (clearly, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are no longer the proper references for the left). We need to create new alternatives and think (yes, again!) about new kind of parties.
• How to create new democratic institutions? What is the current meaning of ‘participatory democracy’?. My original area of research focused on participatory budgeting and other democratic innovations produced by the Latin American left, but these alternatives have been hijacked or neutralised by the right.
The Social Forum on Resistance was Porto Alegre’s edition of the Thematic Social Forum, organised by Brazilian movements in response to and to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos (January 2017). The seminar “Global initiative against conservatism, xenophobia and intolerance” brought together around twenty people and began with presentations by region: Asia by Meena Menon, North America by Pierre Beaudet, Europe by Christophe Aguiton, Latin America by Pablo Solon, South Africa by Mazibuko Jara, the Maghreb and Machrek by Hamouda Soubhi. Summary by Daniel Chavez from Argentina and Geneviève Azam from France. The reflection was marked by the feelings about the election of Donald Trump in the US and its consequences, by Brexit in Europe and by the struggles and failings of the Latin American left.