Beyond authoritarianism: Counterstrategies and Way to Freedom | CAPS22

The final discussion of the 2022 CAPS Conference (“Contesting Authoritarianism: Perspectives from the South”) was held in Berlin on 16-21 May 2022. It encapsulated the one-week conversations of scholars and activists from all over the world on how to confront the rise of authoritarianism as experienced in many and differentiated ways.


‘Contesting authoritarianism’ means using critical thinking in tackling neoliberalism and authoritarianism that breeds “carelessness and hate towards others and ourselves” and opposing the “blindness, stupidity and cold-heartedness” in this given moment, according to Boerries Nehe, IRGAC Coordinator and forum facilitator. “Authoritarianism” is discussed in the CAPS conference, not as a mere political regime, but “as a mode of living, a governmentality, that run through us in differentiated ways.” Boerries further explained that authoritarianism is “not only located in political institutions, but embedded in infrastructures, work conditions, in bodies and minds” furthering a commodification of life and feelings of helplessness.


In this final forum with the title, “Beyond authoritarianism. Counterstrategies. Solidarities. Utopias”, the panelists tackled questions on authoritarianism as experienced and struggled against in their respective contexts. Specifically, they talked about the counterstrategies they find significant to defend rights and how to respond to people’s anger, resentment and anxiety that has been capitalized by the far-right, that has engendered the different faces of authoritarianism we see in the world today. The forum invited distinguished scholars and activists as panel members, namely: Eva von Redecker (Philosopher, Germany); Harsh Mander (Author, India); Sabrina Fernandes (Ecosocialist, Brazil); Damir Arseijevic (Author, Bosnia and Herzegovina); and Yunyun Zhou (Feminist, China).


Authoritarianism: as experienced and struggled in differentiated ways
Authoritarianism has no single definition; it feeds on specific political and historical contexts. In China, as one of the biggest authoritarian regimes in the world, Yunyun Zhou argued that authoritarianism in China can be characterized in different facets, such as authoritarianism in institutions, in cultural aspects, in language, knowledge and coalitions in neoliberalism. Authoritarian institutions refer to the concentration of power to one institution, in this case it is the communist party-state but with a paternalistic relationship to its citizens that is rooted in Confucian state organization. Authoritarianism in China is expressed by cultural elements, such as influencing the frame of mind by othering outsiders and enemies to be silenced, indifference to class struggles and perpetuating the logics of fear to justify repressive policies through language and knowledge censorship. At the political-economic dimension, authoritarianism in China embraces neoliberalism that “shapes the peoples’ aspirations to material life, individualism and the capitalist life,” despite strong economic and social regulation.
Damir Arseijevic discussed the subjectivities engendered by the false choice between neoliberal peace and authoritarianism in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the war. The war-torn small country presently experiences the triad of insecurity, trauma and poverty that shapes docile workers for service industries or war machines in the context of neoliberal peace. Struggles on how to pierce through neoliberal subjectivities need to question “what kind of neoliberal mode of governance” has been experimented on this little country after the war.


In contrast, the experience of authoritarianism in India has started in the last 25 years during which the ‘notion of egalitarian solidarity’ has deteriorated continuously culminating in the present collapse of Indian democracy according to Harsh Mander. Everyday lynchings and persecution against the Muslim population, silencing of dissent, anti-terrorism laws, self-censorship among the media, academia and political parties, joblessness, hate and violence manifest that things are falling apart in India. The social institutions (i.e., media, academia, political parties, trade unions, etc.) that would have held the State accountable have been silenced.


Sabrina Fernandes argued that the new wave of authoritarian governments manifest parallelisms in the global north and global south, such as in the case of Brazil wherein ‘new’ political actors with authoritarian practices are legitimized via “democratic” elections. These political actors present themselves as anti-establishment, anti-elitist, and have risen to power via ‘denialism, fake news’ and populism. Authoritarianism and far-right policies in Brazil have systematically attacked human rights and freedoms targeting women, LGBTQ, migrants, etc., appropriating democratic concepts towards far-right logic. Similarly, in the US, the authoritarian political actors in Brazil hide behind liberal-democratic or center politics while pushing far-right policies.


Eva von Redecker put emphasis on the affective stances shared around the world that drives authoritarianism called ‘the defense of phantom possession’. At the center of many authoritarian desires is the frenzied possessiveness not anchored on ‘future-oriented’ capitalist possessiveness but of “getting priority access to destruction”. Upon reflecting on the difference between authoritarianism and fascism, experiences in Germany show that the Left, queer-communist movements, progressives, and even the moderates have become the minority in many parts of Germany and have to co-exist with fascists. The difference in attitudes of contemporary fascism and Nazism compared to the 1930s fascism is the “post-neoliberal individualism” exemplified by the slogan, “my life, my rules” at the core of the right-wing pride, which also describe certain left-wing attitudes. The right-wing promise of glory or superiority is about the fantasy of participating or having the status of “being able to express sovereignty and the right to exert violence”. There is hatred discourse particularly on feminism or gender equality; an alliance between the far-right and respectable bourgeoisie men; and the linking of individual domains that they can enjoy destruction while denying the future.


Beyond authoritarianism: which dimensions should counterstrategies address?
Yunyun Zhou picks the dimension of feminism, especially on women diaspora and feminism, that counterstrategies should address which is primarily challenging the “limitations of knowledge which are usually used as tools to shape our thinking.” The counterstrategy involves constructing feminist knowledge, decolonizing concepts, and organizing in democratic ways by redistributing power among members in the context of organizing feminist movements and trade unions. Another counterstrategy as proposed by Damir Arseijevic, is to fight the legacy of the far-right by looking at it as an international organization with connections situated in different countries. In the midst of the crisis of inequality, crisis of ecology, crisis of living in increasingly diverse communities, the counterstrategies to build an equal society, proposed by Harsh Mander, are on radical reimagination, radical solidarity and radical love. To fight the rising politics of hate we have to reply with radical love and standing together to prepare for a more equal future. There is a need to name the whole system we want to fight against, which is about pinpointing the antagonist and the implications of this system, according to Sabrina Fernandes. Naming that this is an anti-fascist movement or resistance is important to address the need for imaginaries and historical contradictions. However, negation is not enough: linking anti-authoritarian or anti-fascist movements with environmental, feminist and trade unions movements and building relations is a necessary counterstrategy for the Left. An important counterstrategy is to be specific on what kind of world we want, not just saying ‘another world is possible’; people need to “show up” together, and take care of each other. Showing up for each other is a counterstrategy at the core of organizing our life, says Eva von Redecker. Protesting to maintain care structures (to preserve life) against destructive entitlement must go beyond the rhetoric of rights and confront the right-wing promises based on possession.


Countering anger, resentment and anxiety capitalized by the far-right
The far-right, driven by anger, fear and resentment, have a history of revolting. The Left movements have a similar history of revolting but towards equality. There are experiences of countering anger via ridicule or satire as a form of revolt particularly in China wherein ‘sarcasm’ is a mode to attack an oppressive state. For Harsh Mander, “the world we want to build must reflect the ways in which we move. If we are building an idea of solidarity, taking care of each other, the forms of struggle must reflect that kind of value. We cannot fight hate with hate. We cannot fight for a world that mirrors the current world of violence.” One of the most important elements in the struggle against authoritarianism and fascism is that all movements must be informed by feminism with freedom or emancipation as the center of our utopia. Based on grassroots organizing, visions offered by utopias are powerful imaginaries to mobilize struggles. The differing contexts and experiences in political-economic and social repression and inequalities, the bedrock of authoritarian practices, counterstrategies may emerge in its many indigenized forms that needs to link up with international and global anti-fascist and democratic movements across the world.

The panel „Beyond authoritarianism: Counterstrategies and Way to Freedom“ was part of the conference „Contesting Authoritarianism: Perspectives from the South“ that happened in Berlin from 16. to 21. May 2022. You can watch all vídeos here