Tag Archives: authoritarian populism

Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter

© 2019 – 2019 Zapiro (All Rights Reserved). Originally published in the Daily Maverick in 2019. Used with permission. More Zapiro cartoons at http://www.zapiro.com.

African leaders from across the continent have dutifully congratulated Boris Johnson on becoming the new British PM. This thanks to the votes of an ageing, white, male Conservative party membership of only 92,000 people. With an extreme right-wing cabinet, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the UK is poised for a dangerous new era. As a Washington Post comment piece argues, it really is no laughing matter.

What is Africa making of it all? One of the most fulsome messages of congratulation came from President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, combined with a fawning piece in the state-run Herald newspaper. Desperate to normalise relations and seek investment, the Zimbabwean government has struck on a journalistic piece by Johnson penned in 2015, which blamed Tony Blair for the mess Zimbabwe was in, the propping up of Mugabe and the failure to pay compensation to white farmers.

As ever with Johnson’s writing – and much of his political conduct to date – journalistic flourish comes before facts. As anyone reading this blog will know, the history of UK-Zimbabwe relations, especially over land, is much more complex. It may be however that, with the UK concerned about post Brexit trade (despite the bluster, very few deals have been signed) and Zimbabwe keen to be re-admitted to the Commonwealth and become accepted again by the international community, common cause will be found.

To the relief of many, Johnson did not abolish the Department for International Development, nor reinstate the disgraced Priti Patel as minister – although shockingly she got the much bigger Home Secretary post. That said, the department’s mandate will no doubt continue to shift towards promoting the fanciful idea of ‘Global Britain’, focused on promoting UK trade and investment through ‘aid’.

Maybe this will deliver the bilateral partnerships (and cash) that Mnangagwa so desires. But the Zimbabwean government should be wary. What will the terms be? Just as with dealings with the much more powerful (and rich) Chinese, negotiating aid relationships with strings attached is fraught with dangers. With the prospect of a Johnson premiership some years ago on this blog, I argued that we should all be ‘scared, very scared’. Well now it has come to pass, and scary times are upon us.

The ever-astute South African cartoonist Zapiro captured it well in the image above. Trump and Johnson seem to come from the same stock. George Monbiot calls them and their ilk, the ‘killer clowns’. Dangerous, below a thin veneer, and backed by oligarchs interested in making money out of the chaos created by the ruthless destruction of the administrative state. Buffoonery, overt racism, and an overwhelming sense of privilege (of different sorts), combine with a lack of attention to detail, and a proclivity to make up facts to suit the argument. But both are smart, wily and surrounded by clever, dangerous people – from Bannon to Cummings –  with radical political agendas to pursue.

The link to a wider form of authoritarian populism is clear in their respective political projects. Along with close links to oligarchic capital and big business, they see their political base rooted in disenchantment with metropolitan, ‘elite’ politics, which has emerged as a consequence of a politics of austerity and the failure of ‘progressive neoliberalism’. Unlike the traditional Left, right-wing populist politicians across the world – from Bolsanaro to Modi, Orban, Salvini, Duterte and Erdogan – have been able to mobilise this discontent effectively – despite its obvious contradictions. We can expect a UK election soon with a similar regressive, populist rhetoric.

This inward-looking nationalism has consequences for how international relations are viewed. Johnson, like Trump, has a dismissive, colonial, often racist, approach to Africa. His litany of comments is well known. He has argued that Africa (which he described as ‘that country’) would be better off if still colonised, arguing that “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more” and ‘‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty”. Meanwhile, he claimed that the Commonwealth is supported by the Queen “because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies”. There is a long catalogue that could have come from the mouth of a Victorian imperialist.

Some will dismiss such comments as flourish and frippery. I believe this is mistaken. These are not jokes; they are deeply offensive comments from someone who is the British PM. They reveal much about the current state of the Tory party and British politics. Zimbabwe – and Africa more broadly – should be worried. It certainly is no laughing matter.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

 

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Turning the populist tide: what are the alternatives?

The last week has seen major gains for nationalist, populist parties in elections, both in Europe and India. Is this the end of the centre-ground consensus? What are the alternatives?

In India, the BJP swept to victory on the back of anti-Muslim rhetoric and Hindu nationalist slogans. Only Kerala stood out as a state where progressive politics resisted. In Europe, the picture was more mixed, but in France, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the UK, populist parties won, while in Germany a proto-fascist party won 10 percent of the vote.

Such parties rail against ‘elites’ and ‘outsiders’, notably migrants and minorities, and set a nation-first policy agenda seemingly against any forms of internationalism and globalisation. But who are their supporters? What are the connections to rural areas? Are there any lessons for Southern Africa?

Authoritarian populism and the rural world

The rural roots of such regressive, populist movements have been the focus of research linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative over the last couple of years. Yet, as we argued in the framing paper that kicked off the initiative, the rural dimension is frequently missed out in much contemporary commentary.

A major event last year gathered together researchers and activists to debate the issues. Emerging from this, a number of papers have been published in the Journal of Peasant Studies Forum on Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World. New papers (all currently open access) look at the US, Belarus, Hungary, Turkey, Spain, Russia, Bolivia and Ecuador…. and there are more in the pipeline.

Together, these papers demonstrate how the failure of neoliberal economic policies over the past decades has resulted in often extreme rural deprivation, combined with land and resource grabbing, and declining opportunities for young people in particular. A good overview from the ERPI-Europe group is offered by Natalia Mamanova. It is no wonder that populist politicians can easily enlist those who have been left behind. The dynamics are different across countries, of course, but the failure of the centrist consensus – what Nancy Fraser refers to as ‘progressive neoliberalism’ – is clear.

Whether it is the mainstream parties in the UK, the Indian National Congress or Macron’s En Marche, people do not see the jobs or livelihood opportunities being generated, and blaming migrants or minorities is an easy political win. Even when there’s a failure to create jobs or regenerate the countryside, as with Narendra Modi’s BJP over the past five years, nationalist-populist, religiously-inflected rhetoric seems able to deliver the votes, especially when a convincing alternative is absent.

Southern African challenges

In southern Africa, the nationalist populism of Zuma and Mugabe has gone, but their successors are struggling to find a convincing alternative. In South Africa, President Ramaphosa has just won an election offering a vision of stability, apparently appealing to everyone. But, if the pressing demands around land reform are not met, and a radical vision of economic transformation not pursued, the pent-up tensions at the heart of South Africa’s fragile post-1994 settlement may burst to the surface.

In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, President Mnangagwa’s appeal as being ‘not Mugabe’ is wearing thin, as a process of economic reform creates austerity and widening poverty. The IMF’s economic medicine didn’t work in the 1990s, and is unlikely to do so now with a fragile economic base. Popular fury burst onto the streets in January, and may do so again, with unknown political consequences.

Emancipatory alternatives?

So what of other alternatives that offer more hope, and tap into a more radical desire for economic and environmental transformation?

Across Europe, the Green parties had a good showing last week, committing to social justice, economic transformation and environmental policies.  In Kerala, the Congress-led alliance won with commitments to poverty reduction and social welfare. In southern Africa, the political starting point for alternatives are absent, with all main parties seemingly committed to some form of neoliberal consensus. Meanwhile, the populist radicals, led by Julius Malema in South Africa, offer little in the way of alternative economic and social programme.

Alternatives have to respond to real, lived, local problems, and, as we discussed at the ERPI conference last year – and shared in a number of short videos – there are many emergent examples of alternatives across the world that are creating new economies and generating sustainable alternatives. Whether these are experiments in food or energy sovereignty; new forms of mutual, collective economic regeneration; or commoning practices using new technologies that generate jobs and livelihoods, they all challenge the standard neoliberal recipe of austerity, efficiency and externally-led investment in rural areas.

Mobilising against right-wing populism

Too often, though, connections are not made between rural and urban efforts, between farmers and workers, between land-based and housing design initiatives. If isolated, the opportunities are missed for political mobilisation, based on new emancipatory narratives – what Chantal Mouffe calls left-populism. This is frequently the failing of the Green movement, seen too often as a privileged, urban, middle class concern; or indeed the Left more generally, with its roots in industrial unions.

Yet, taking a leaf from the right-wing populists and the Steve Bannon playbook that was well-rehearsed in Trump’s America, networking across potential supporters, linking diverse concerns, is essential. A great new paper from Jun Borras explains how mobilising alternatives in agrarian settings is tough, but not impossible.

The rural dimensions of creating emancipatory alternatives to both neoliberal capitalism and populist nationalism are essential, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa. The elections this week are yet another wake-up call.

Reading:

ERPI Framing paper: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693

JPS Forum (series of articles): https://think.taylorandfrancis.com/journal-of-peasant-studies-forum-on-authoritarian-populism-and-the-rural-world/

Open Democracy blog series: https://steps-centre.org/authoritarian-populism-rural-world/#articles

Viewing:

Open Democracy video series: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world/

 

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Picture credit: David Sierralupe: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sierralupe/25937491768/in/album-72157662852000427/

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Military muscle and populist promises: authoritarian populism in southern Africa

Last week I was at an amazing gathering at the ISS in The Hague, which brought together nearly 300 activists and academics to discuss the origins and implications of authoritarian populism. A short reflection on some of the themes emerging was published this weekend in openDemocracy.

Whether in the form of Duterte or Trump, Maduro or Mugabe, Modi or Erdogan, the rise (and sometimes fall) of authoritarian regimes with populist, sometimes religiously inflected, often militarily enforced, is evident all over the world.

In the build up to the event, we published a series of articles on openDemocracy with cases from India, the US, Myanmar, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa. The parallels are striking, although the contexts and political implications are very different. Do take a look. More from Russia, Guatemala and Colombia are coming soon!

The focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative is the rural and agrarian dimension. Much debate has focused on urban metropolitan areas, yet the support for many authoritarian populist leaders is rural, and the consequences of neoliberal neglect, extractivism and resource grabbing is keenly felt.

Among the 80 odd papers prepared for the event (all available via the Transnational Institute, one of the co-hosts), there were quite a few papers from Africa, including several from Zimbabwe. How does Zimbabwe fit within this wider picture? Not obviously is the short answer.

Mugabe’s economic populism was well known, with land reform the centre-piece, and anti-democratic, often militarised authoritarianism has always been central to ZANU-PF’s political culture. Yet, Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and socialist flag-waving did not put him in the group of regressive right-wing regimes.

Indeed one of the ambiguities of the term, authoritarian populism, is the difficult match to the now outdated categories of left or right. With liberation movement parties still in power in southern Africa, a particular form is evident. Former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, had a well-honed populist streak, but maintained control by leveraging power in different ways through a ‘captured’ state. Julius Malema the firebrand Economic Freedom Fighters opposition leader is the supreme populist, with often extreme authoritarian tendencies.

It’s not surprising given their histories that both in Zimbabwe and South Africa, land is central to the populist discourse – linking in turn to nationalist narratives and liberation struggle commitments. With debates about ‘expropriation without compensation’ this has risen to a higher gear in South Africa, and parallels (usually wildly inaccurate) with Zimbabwe are frequently made.

Now with Zuma and Mugabe gone, what are we to make of Ramaphosa and Mnangagwa in this frame? Both have been spouting populist promises in their first months in power, but this is fairly standard political fare, and large pinches of salt are recommended. Both also appear to be committed to a business-friendly, open investment economic position. Both countries are ‘open for business;’ presumably including both leaders’ businesses, of which there are many.

It is too early to see whether a new state project is being cultivated, and whether this could be described as ‘authoritarian populism’, as Zuma and Mugabe clearly were, although with very southern African flavours. Key will be to understand the nature of underlying power, and how accountable this is. Neither have faced national elections as yet, so we don’t yet know how popular the populist pleading will be. While South Africa’s democratic roots run deeper, the concerns validly expressed about the military influence in Zimbabwe are real.

Much discussion of southern African politics – and perhaps especially Zimbabwean – is rather insular. However, the intersections of authoritarianism (in various forms) and populism (also with many dimensions) is a phenomenon across the world. Reflecting on other settings may help us understand how military muscle and populist promises mix and match in the Zimbabwe setting. It’s often not a pretty sight.

Effective resistance and opposition mobilisation with new styles of emancipatory politics are needed to counter authoritarian populism globally, but currently in Zimbabwe this doesn’t look likely, as in its early days Nelson Chamisa’s MDC seems to be exhibiting some of the worst authoritarian populist traits, this time with an evangelical Christian religious tinge.

As the election year in Zimbabwe unfolds, making sense of the new politics will require some new lenses, and different responses. Thinking about authoritarian populism and how to confront it across the world may help focus thinking in Zimbabwe, so do check out the many materials emerging from the ERPI.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

Illustration is by Boy Dominguez produced for the event, titled Populismo

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Confronting authoritarian populism: challenges for agrarian studies

Woman reaper, 1928 (K. Malevich, Russian Museum, St Petersburg)

Last week I was in Russia at the fascinating fifth BRICS Initiative in Critical Agrarian Studies conference. Throughout the event we heard about the emergence of particular styles of authoritarian populist regimes, including in the BRICS countries, but elsewhere too. Based on my remarks at the final plenary, I want to ask what the challenges are for agrarian studies in confronting authoritarian populism.

This is a theme that is at the core of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), launched in May this year. The open access framing paper is available from the Journal of Peasant Studies, as is a brilliant contribution to the JPS Forum on this theme from Walden Bello.  The ERPI conference in March next year at ISS, the Hague now also has an open call for contributions (deadline, Nov 15). We have been somewhat overwhelmed by the global response to the initiative, and we had a flood of applicants for small grants, with the winners of the 2017 competition announced recently. There is a very vibrant network emerging among scholars and activists around the world, and many were present at the conference in Moscow.

So, what do we mean by authoritarian populism? It takes many forms, but we draw on the arguments of Stuart Hall and others made in the context of Thatcherism in the UK. In Gramscian terms, authoritarian populisms can emerge when the ‘balance of forces’ changes, creating a new ‘political-ideological conjuncture’. Drawing on populist discontents, a transformist, authoritarian movement, often with a strong, figurehead leader, is launched, mobilising around ‘moral panics‘and ‘authoritarian closure’, and being given, in Hall’s words, ‘the gloss of populist consent’. Sound familiar?

In this blog, I want to discuss the implications and challenges for how we think about agrarian issues in the context of authoritarian populism, and want to make four brief points.

First, as Dani Rodrik, the Harvard economist, explains, the form of populism that emerges around the world – broadly characterised as authoritarian or progressive – depends very much on the historical engagements with globalisation, and how populists mobilise, either around ethno-nationalist arguments when global migration flows create discontents or around class divisions when global trade has impacts on livelihoods. I think this is an important argument, but so far in his writings he doesn’t flesh out the detail, and in particular how globalisation processes affect rural spaces in different ways to urban metropoles, with contrasting implications for class, caste, gender or age – and so processes of political mobilisation. I’d argue that agrarian studies needs to engage with these questions, and perhaps bring more of a global political economy angle back in, where the economics are taken seriously.

Second, the emergence of populism, with a strong rural base, needs a careful analysis of the social and cultural dynamics of rural change, asking sympathetically why it is that young people, women, peasant farmers and others are often strongly behind reactionary populist positions. Liberals and leftists may argue that this does not serve their interests and they are somehow mistaken, but we need to look beyond such rationalist arguments, and think harder about the politics of identity, belonging, recognition and community. Rural religion and cultural identities are important, but not conventionally part of agrarian studies. Interest-based analyses (centred on class or whatever category) and conventional political economy may simply be not enough.

Third, at the same time, authoritarian populism provides an impetus to the continuation of extractive exploitation of rural resources – land, water, resource grabbing continues apace. But this time with a nationalist tinge, and with new capital-elite-state alliances forged. These processes, which were a response to the global financial crisis of 2008 and the desperate search for investment opportunities by global capital, now have a new context in many settings. How do new configurations of power, and a populist, nationalist, often anti-globalization narrative, affect the politics of dispossession in rural spaces, and with these the dynamics of accumulation, among local and international elites? I think these wider political shifts mean that our conversations around grabbing and extractivism that occupied many of the presentations at the conference, require an expanded frame that takes populist politics seriously.

Fourth, the ERPI is interested in how alternatives are forged and resistances mobilised to authoritarian populism. Our analyses must probe why these don’t happen, but also how and when they do. We also must think hard about the conventional frames for mobilisation, and ask whether these do the job today, in the face of authoritarian populisms. Take the idea of food sovereignty. For many, the food sovereignty movement has been a site for progressive discussion about agrarian alternatives. But the notion of sovereignty, localism, autonomy and rejection of the role of the state and globalism, has frequently been captured by regressive populist positions. Why do peasant farmers support such political leaders? Because they claim to offer a voice and a commitment to protecting their autonomy from the ill-winds of global trade and state interference. The Natural Farming Movement in India is a case in point. A perfectly good idea about agro-ecological farming gets wrapped up in exclusionary Hindutva nationalism, yet is celebrated as a food sovereignty success. A new politics of the mainstream requires a new politics of the alternative, and agrarian movements need in my view some hard thinking about positioning.

As outlined in our ERPI framing paper, a new moment is emerging: a critical, historical conjuncture, when the tectonic plates of global power relations shift. We cannot pretend this is not happening. In Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, for sure, but also in Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia, much of Europe and of course the US, political reconfigurations are underway, responding in different ways to a quite fundamental crisis in globalised neoliberal capitalism, with huge ramifications across rural worlds everywhere.

New contexts require new questions, new analytical frames and new forms of mobilisation. And with this moment unfolding rapidly, in alliance with others, the intellectual and political project of agrarian studies must rise to the challenge.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

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Confronting authoritarian populism: a new initiative

A few weeks back, I highlighted the launch of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), and the availability of small grants for doing research on both the contours of the current conjuncture, and how authoritarian populism emerges and is sustained in rural areas, as well as the forms of resistance and diversity of alternatives being generated for more emancipatory futures.

Now the team initially behind the ERPI have produced an open access ‘think-piece’ background paper, the first in a Journal of Peasant Studies Forum series on Authoritarian Populism in the Rural World.

The paper is open access, so please do share widely. The small grants window closes at the end of this week, so if you are thinking of applying do so now. And tell others across the world!

Since our initial launch, there has been massive interest, so do sign up for more info via the ERPI website (www.iss.nl/erpi). This paper will hopefully inspire further questions, suggest challenges and further provoke the debate. With political developments in all parts of the world, this is a vital theme for engaged researchers and activists concerned about the future of the rural world – and more broadly too.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

Emancipatory rural politics: confronting authoritarian populism

A new political moment is underway. Although there are significant differences in how this is constituted in different places, one manifestation of the new moment is the rise of distinct forms of authoritarian populism. In this opening paper of the JPS Forum series on ‘Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World,’ we explore the relationship between these new forms of politics and rural areas around the world. We ask how rural transformations have contributed to deepening regressive national politics, and how rural areas shape and are shaped by these politics. We propose a global agenda for research, debate and action, which we call the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI. This centres on understanding the contemporary conjuncture, working to confront authoritarian populism through the analysis of and support for alternatives.

Download the paper here. We’d love to hear what you think of it. And please do get involved in the Initiative!

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The Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative: small grants call

This week the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) is being launched, with a small grants programme. If you are anywhere near IDS in the UK on 24 May, come along at 1pm, when Ruth Hall and Ian Scoones will be introducing the Initiative. Together with a wider global network, we are interested in confronting the forces of authoritarian populism in rural areas, and exploring emancipatory alternatives.

Why is this important? Deepening inequalities, failed livelihoods, mass (under)employment, climate chaos and racist anti-immigrant attacks characterise many settings across the world. Forms of ‘progressive neoliberalism’ — peddled inaccurately as social democracy — have failed to stem disillusionment, disenfranchisement and marginalisation. The rise of populist, nationalist movements — with racist, misogynist and isolationist characteristics — has been one very visible response. Such exclusionary politics are unravelling protections for women, racial minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ communities and many others.

This type of populism depicts politics as a struggle between ‘the people’ and some combination of malevolent elites and racialized, unfairly advantaged ‘Others’. Yet the reactions to authoritarian populism are incredibly diverse, across and indeed within countries. In this Initiative, we are interested in changes ongoing in and in relation to rural areas that both give rise to a particular form of politics, but also offer alternatives.

Whether in the US, across Europe, Turkey, India, the Philippines, Brazil or South Africa and Zimbabwe – and many other countries besides – various forms of reactionary nationalism have entrenched a narrow, sometimes violent, conflictual, exclusionary politics. This may be in the name of ‘taking back control’ in favour of ‘the people’, or putting one ideology and position ‘first’, while excluding others, generating tensions across society. All are responses to crises in contemporary capitalism, yet they are rooted in specific histories, institutional and social structures and political dynamics. Responses may be contradictory: for example shoring up a certain style of political power, while selectively offering progressive policies, whether free education, land reform or investment in rural communities.

The ERPI is focused on the social and political processes across rural spaces that are giving rise to such political reactions today. We seek to understand – but not judge – the characteristics of the social base that give rise to such political dynamics. We also aim to explore how alternatives are being actively generated to regressive, authoritarian politics.  We seek to create the space for a debate about alternatives, documenting, analysing and theorising these in order to begin to outline new emancipatory politics that challenge narrow, exclusionary, violent and populist visions, analysing, sharing, supporting, deepening and scaling up alternatives.

Initially, we are proposing three core themes and a range of questions for the Initiative: (i) The current conjuncture: rural roots and consequences (ii) Resisting, organising and mobilising for an emancipatory rural politics (iii) Alternatives: understanding, supporting, creating, deepening and scaling. More detail on emerging thinking can also be found here.

With this call we seek to engage scholars, activists and practitioners from across the world who are both concerned about the current conjuncture, but also hopeful about alternatives. We will initiate a Working Paper series, supported by a limited number of small grants, to allow for the writing up of original research. In parallel we are inviting other, shorter contributions in a variety of media, helping to map out responses and alternatives. In 2018, we will host a major international conference on this theme, and we will be encouraging publication of a series of papers in the Journal of Peasant Studies, as well as other popular and media outlets, as a focus for an intense, informed and radical engagement around this theme. We hope others in social movements, political formations, policy institutions, and elsewhere will participate, developing new visions that respond to the current moment.

Collectively, we hope that we can make a small contribution in sharpening our analysis of the global situation, and by doing so, help inspire more people to join in peoples’ movements, community conversations and local innovations and experiments, wherever these may be. So readers of this blog, researching in rural areas and interested in these themes, please join the Initiative! You can sign up to mailing lists by getting in touch at emancipatoryruralpolitics@gmail.com, and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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