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President's Portrait - Guilherme Peters

President's Portrait - Guilherme Peters

Authoritarian Capitalism, Violence, and Resistance In Times of Collapse

Theory & ResearchIn April 2023, IRGAC of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung and the Seminar on Subjectivity and Critical Theory (Seminario Subjetividad y Teoría Crítica, SSCT) of the Graduate School of Sociology at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (Mexico) met for a “South–South” dialogue, exchanging findings and experiences regarding the dynamics of the multiple global crises. This dossier - which we will publish in parts over the next few weeks - presents some of the insights that have emerged from this encounter

What can we learn about the violence and militarization in Mexico when looking at it through the lens of India? What similarities and differences come to the surface when scholars from Mexico and Bosnia discuss the political economy of death in their countries? What would it mean for a Latin American woman to know first-hand from an Iranian feminist how patriarchal violence and its ensuing struggle is lived there? In April 2023, the International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies (IRGAC) of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung and the Seminar on Subjectivity and Critical Theory (Seminario Subjetividad y Teoría Crítica, SSCT) of the Graduate School of Sociology at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (Mexico) met for a “South–South” dialogue, exchanging findings and experiences regarding the dynamics of the multiple global crises.

What motivated such an initiative was the need to discuss the multiple ways in which violent authoritarian transformations are currently being deployed, experienced, and resisted around the globe. In the conversation, 25 scholars from 14 countries (Argentina, Bosnia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Ireland, Mexico, Turkey, and Zimbabwe) engaged in discussions on how authoritarian ideologies, subjectivities, and affects are manifesting in multiple and diverse contexts. The meeting was divided into six sessions to discuss: 1) How do we make sense of the current and multifaceted crisis? 2) What is the role of the state in managing the capitalist crisis? 3) How does violence within neoliberalism nourish authoritarianism? 4) How does the production of the Other shape specific forms of authoritarian mobilization and practices? 5) Are our anger, dreams, and hopes opening up a path towards a different world? 6) What are the aesthetic, narrative, and emotional strategies that fuel resistances?

We believe that by better understanding the multiple ways violence is currently lived, we might improve our understanding of capitalist domination and develop emancipatory counter-strategies in times of collapse. This dossier - which we will publish in parts over the next few weeks - presents some of the insights that have emerged from this encounter. 

There are multiple ways in which the contributions dialogue with each other, shedding light on the global entanglements of authoritarian transformations. We would particularly like to stress three transversal axes around which the debates evolved. The first is the relation between the multiple crises, the state transformation, violent practices, and processes of Othering. The second axis which connects many of the contributions concerns the relation between affectivity and authoritarian subjectivity, and the question this poses for research and anti-authoritarian organizing. And a third key concern that lies transversal to many of the articles is the struggle for life, as a fundamental conceptual and political claim to conceive anti-authoritarian politics and strategies today. In what follows, we will discuss these axes and their importance in more detail, and present the contributions to this dossier.

Crisis, the State, and the Creation of the “Other”

Among the concerns that arose during the event was the apprehension surrounding the widespread crisis, which is commonly associated with the rise of authoritarianism. Is there only one way to understand the correlation between crisis and authoritarianism? It became evident that the conceptualization of this crisis requires nuanced consideration in light of contemporary specificities. What is typically presented as a mechanistic and proportional relationship between crisis and oppression has unveiled a course of action that complicates the scenario. 

This discussion led to the opening of a fundamental dialogue spanning a wide range of issues, involving discussions on climate change, violence, neo-extractivism, and the state’s role, among other topics. For instance, Camila Barragán, while discussing the relationship between the contemporary socio-ecological crisis and the capitalist mode of organization, raises concerns about the different ways in which this crisis can be experienced and acted upon. Meanwhile, Edith González and Panagiotis Doulos explore how the state deals with the crisis of neoliberalism and its subjectivity through a combination of increased militarization and progressive rhetoric. 

The complexity of the current scenario arises from the strategies employed by neoliberal capitalism and its inherent contradictions, which manifest in the shaping of subjectivities distinct from those of preceding eras. Still, despite these novelties, the state maintains a key role in the perpetuation of violence and aggravation of social conditions, intermingling para-state actors to ensure governance. Milena Rodríguez thus challenges the discourse of state abandonment in Colombia to signal how violent processes respond not only to a “terrorist threat”, but also to social struggles that defy authoritarian policies and market pressures even in “progressive” contexts. Kennedy Manduna complicates readings on state and para-state violence by exploring the blurred border between perpetrators and victims within a capitalist mode of production, as with the case of the zama zamas, illegal miners in South Africa.

Moreover, the discourse developed in the discussions was particularly focused on bringing to light the construction of the Other as a primary recipient of the violent dynamics accompanying the crisis. Damir Arsenijević reminds us that this technique has a long history, as in the wars in Yugoslavia, where elites divided up the working people along ethnic lines, mobilizing them against each other. A political economy of death has since become a form of governance through insecurity-trauma-poverty. Likewise, César Popoca goes beyond to argue how disappearances in present-day Mexico are more than a technique of governance but rather a way to structure social relations, being a constitutive part of society. 

As our frustrations grow, we blame others: either ethnic groups, rural and native communities, or nature are made into scapegoats, disposable Others to eliminate and even gain pleasure in doing so. Different vectors come together to form specific amalgams of authoritarian mobilization and practices that nowadays aim to conceal such treatment. Paula Gil Larruscahim explains how hateful punitivist discourses go beyond a tool for subduing and neutralizing the Other, being a mechanism to protect “security” and “freedom”. Similarly, Mariano Féliz discusses how within extractivism local communities opposing “development” are constructed as disposable Others to sustain a “green transition”. An unresolved question remains: how do these disguises of capitalist brutality prevent us from implementing alternatives and truly dealing with the roots of the crisis?

Emotions Shaping Authoritarian Subjectivities

The second narrative strand focuses on emotions of hate, rage, resentment, anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, insecurity, and suffering, how they are experienced and mobilized against “somebodies”, and how they shape subjectivities. The distinctive trajectory of contemporary technology, deeply embedded in everyday life through algorithm-driven platforms and apps, contributes significantly to the formation of a particular subjectivity within neoliberal capitalism. Sagorika Singha, while analysing the role of motivational speakers from Assam (India) on YouTube as “creative entrepreneurs”, argues that these figures epitomize the privatization of hope and the buying of aspiration.

In effect, Gustavo Robles claims that, in response to the crisis, platforms are placing workers outside social protections and letting algorithms do their management, while shaping the figure of the self-employed entrepreneur that gives a false impression of autonomy and freedom. These technology-shaped subjectivities, fuelled by false hope, serve as a driving force behind both the cognitive frameworks of digital entrepreneurship and the breaking points that lead to an explosion of suffering sometimes even directed at random targets. In turn, this helps in producing authoritarian personalities that continue to taint politics. 

The generation of emotions presents a formidable challenge in establishing the interplay between hope and barbarism. For example, anger has manifested itself in collective forms of organization aimed at challenging the existing social order. But it has also been harnessed by the rhetoric of extreme right-wing leaders and parties, feeding their political base. In recent years, this phenomenon has played a role in the rise of governments that have pushed the political landscape to increasingly precarious extremes for broad segments of the population. Pablo Jiménez explains that this arrival of authoritarian leaders responds to new forms of reaction that aggravate the precarization of life and the destruction of nature in order to deal with the capitalist crisis. 

In this setting, the claim for freedom is blended with a reactionary defence of the existing order so as to give a sense of safety. Moreover, authoritarian leaders channel a diversity of emotions towards a project of transformation that nonetheless worsens rather than improves the consequences of the crisis. It is not only a matter of identifying a kind of “emotional manipulation” but also to reflect how it is that emotions sometimes prevent us from resisting, and other times give us the strength to do so. Karla Sánchez’s contribution precisely problematizes how anger and resentment are permanent states of modern subjectivities that can lead to both negative and positive practices. What are the decisive elements that would tilt the lever?  

Beyond Survival: Resistances for Life

Finally, the third theme that emerges from the overarching narrative of the conference concerns the emphasis on resistance and the potential for generating counter-strategies. In times of despair, a crisis of imagination seems to invade our minds in the search for anti-capitalist alternatives. As we witness the rise of authoritarian politics and feel deeply its consequences in the form of censorship, impunity, repression, and violence, we wonder how to keep hope alive. Strategies all around still illuminate the prospect of alternative forms of interaction while allowing for the reproduction of life amidst authoritarianism.     

The diverse geographies represented in the meeting show highly contagious manifestations of political creativity, sustaining the vitality to incorporate practices that defy the closing-off of the world. In this context, the discourse was far from naive in acknowledging the limitations of the so-called left, both in theory and in emancipatory practice. However, the emphasis on radical transformation was not merely an idealistic aspiration in the search for an alternative world; it finds concrete expression in current practices, especially through the conceptualization of counter-strategies. But what kind of resistances against the capitalist crisis are being built? Do they share common dilemmas and setbacks?

An examination of the texts presented shows that this process has a profound impact on the lives of those who position themselves against oppression in its various dimensions. Ülker Sözen, for instance, explores how activists navigate feelings of hope and hopelessness that can serve as mechanisms for emotional sustainability. In similar fashion, Firoozeh Farvardin discusses how feminized bodies can, on the one hand, be an object of neoliberal subjugation and of the misogynist and heteronormative regulations of the Islamic Republic; while on other hand being providers of social reproduction needs and creators of counter-strategies for collective survival and resistance against gender-based and sexual violence. 

The formation of anti-capitalist practices requires considerable effort in order to be effective. Thus, throughout the discourse, there is a discernible call for collective practice. This call goes beyond a mere moral argument, positioning itself as an indispensable feature in opposition to the isolating and fragmenting tendencies promoted by authoritarianism. Furthermore, it appears in conventional and creative forms to repudiate our own destruction, and care for life collectively. As Damir Arsenijević asserts, it is a battle not merely for survival, but for an unbribable life to flourish. This struggle entails the creation of spaces of contestation beyond borders that foreground practices and feelings of respect, responsibility, solidarity, and reciprocity against a bleak and violent panorama.

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