One of the main challenges for understanding the concept of authoritarianism is the many different meanings it has. Already in the 1970s, Brazilian sociologist and political militant Florestan Fernandes analysed the ambiguity of the concept of authoritarianism and its use in political mainstream discourse. He assessed that if we explain authoritarianism only through the liberal lens – as being in opposition to “democracy” -, we ignore the inherent authoritarian tendencies of liberal democracy and its everyday abuse of power. Florestan proposed a different understanding instead.
Raimundo Bonfim, national coordinator of the Centre of People’s Movements (CMP), talks about the current political situation in Brazil and gives perspectives on the struggle against Bolsonaro and the challenges currently posed to the Brazilian left.
The attack on science and knowledge production is known to be one of the main elements of the rise of the authoritarian right in the past decade. As one of the main global expressions of contemporary authoritarianism, Jair Bolsonaro is no exception to that. His government has been an important part of the context of difficulties for the higher education sector in Brazil, especially since research is highly dependent on public universities and funding agencies in the country. On top of that, the COVID pandemic in 2020 created difficulties for universities all around the world. If such a global crisis is expected to generate differentiated pressures across the Global North and South, the impact of authoritarian politics is surely prone to making the situation particularly delicate for universities.
The relationships between the local and the global in the shaping of space comprise a set of fundamental categories of Milton Almeida dos Santos, one of the greatest Brazilian thinkers in the second half of the twentieth century. He was a geographer who produced a critical and totalizing theory that permeates different areas of knowledge, such as philosophy, sociology, and political economy. In this text, I will present some of his main concepts, due to their relevance and accuracy. His notions of space, technique, place, and territory are fundamental for the understanding of contemporary political, social, and economic dynamics in the Global South and North.
Pedro Magalhães (Brazil) discusses with Boaventura Monjane (Mozambique), Sabrina Fernandes (Brazil), and Saker El Nour (Egypt) from the International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies (IRGAC) on food systems, environmental activism and climate denialism in the Global South.
In Latin America, the re-neoliberalization of political and economic systems has intensified an ongoing process of de-democratization, strengthening the onslaught by neoconservative religious and secular groups, which have been growing more powerful since around 2013. These two processes—re-neoliberalization and the growth of neoconservatisms—are connected.
More than 6,400 families have been evicted from their homes and another 19,000 remain threatened with eviction in Brazil since March 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak started in the country. In the state of São Paulo, 1,681 evictions were carried out and up to 5,000 families can be evicted from their homes at any one time. This startling data relates to informal settlements—evictions for non-payment of rent are not included—and numbers may be even higher, as this reflects only the cases identified by popular movements and the organizations participating in the “Zero Eviction” campaign.
Many influential voices have pointed out, with different degrees of optimism, that the COVID-19 pandemic might finally have ushered in the final days of neoliberalism. However, if we understand neoliberalism as a set of practices and institutional mechanisms that shield market relations from popular deliberation, we reach a different conclusion. In these terms, neoliberalism is not dying. If emergency measures are aimed more at safeguarding the profits of banks and large corporations than securing wages and welfare programmes, then this crisis is in fact an opportunity to increase wealth inequality, and not to address it as a problem.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, is known internationally for his far-right stances. He supports loosening gun control and frequently rants against human rights and “political correctness”. His motto of “God above all” pleases the more fundamentalist sectors of his evangelical base and he promotes a particular idea of the “good citizen”, often represented by a white middle-class Christian family man. His government employs a neoliberal economic agenda and is completely dismissive of environmental concerns. He was elected on a “tough on crime” platform full of false promises on how to solve the crime and violence problem in Brazil. His racist and sexist positions are well-known and add to the conservative positions of his government.
For the past few years, platform capitalist companies such as Rappi, Uber, 99taxi, Loggi, Ifood, and James have been gradually infecting Brazil’s largest cities. By connecting consumers, workers, and products through digital apps, these companies have been responsible for further entrenching the Brazilian neoliberal restructuring of labour that has been going on since the 1990s.