As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, the volatile political situation around the world is being exacerbated by the authoritarian adrenaline of neoliberal right-wing populist governments.
Right-wing leaders are manipulatively managing the state apparatus, and the result of this skullduggery performed by populists, such as US President Donald Trump, is clearly shown by the massive $434 billion increase in the combined wealth of American billionaires.
Other right-wing leaders such as Viktor Orban in Hungary, Lenin Moreno in Ecuador and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil have augmented their electoral power structures and strengthened the reach of neoliberalism by turning a Nelson’s eye towards the innumerable people who are dying due to the absence of public health infrastructure.
Such dictatorial mismanagement by neoliberal right-wing autocrats necessitates that the global community of governed people organise themselves coherently and boldly challenge the fiat of fear, which present-day governments are using to silence dissidents. In order to actualise this goal, a schematisation of a specific strategy, which provides us with a unified programme for a post-Coronavirus politics of mobilisation, needs to be undertaken.
The construction of this strategy would be done by dividing mass mobilisation into three stages – grievance formation, protest motivation and the protest stage (actualisation of protest).
By using these three categories, a protest movement which is appropriate to the current conditions can be developed.
1 Grievance formation is the foundational stage of any protest movement. In this stage, the grievance of the masses has to be identified and then used as a raw material for the second stage in which it would get progressively transformed into a concrete motivation.
In neoliberal circumstances, long-term grievances have emerged along with sporadic outbursts of short-term grievances. Long-term grievances refer to the accumulated frustrations engendered by neoliberal restructuring of society and these are deeply rooted in a series of historical events. Short-term grievances are ephemeral feelings of moral outrage, anger, and empathy. These are mainly caused by “dramatic displays of violence” in which the cultural statist government brazenly uses physical force to discipline heretics and cultural critics.
Jair Bolsonaro’s decision to unleash a regime of police state and invoke genocidal feelings against indigenous people demonstrates this violence practiced by present governments. The short-term and long-term grievances, which a cultural statist government inevitably foments, astronomically increases the possibility of starting protest movements.
2 After the identification of grievances, methods have to be devised ton channelise them into a unified spirit of protest motivation. This stage is necessary because it usually involves the interplay of another powerful factor to translate a grievance into protest motivation.
In contemporary situations, protest motivation has to be formulated through organisation. Only organisationally-generated protest motivations can complete the cognitive liberation of the people through the assiduous assemblage of their shared grievances. A sense of self-efficacy has to be inculcated in the oppressed masses and they have to be shaped socio-psychologically so that they inculcate a faith in hope.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in his book Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, said, “My humanity is a constant self-overcoming”. It is this humanity, which protestors have to adopt to continuously overcome repressive restraints and become a “new being” every time they set out to protest. For this to happen, affinity groups, local meetings, regular demonstrations and recruitment networks have to be effectuated.
The 1963 Birmingham civil rights movement in Alabama is a good example of a systematised movement that successfully coordinated its actions. To contradict this claim of the necessity of organisational tasks, many examples of spontaneous movements can be given like the one in Tunisia, which defenestrated President Ben Ali or the Egyptian protests which brought down President Hosni Mubarak.
But in present conditions of right-wing populism, the situation has become more complex and nuanced because of which we need sturdy organisational structures. The presence of myriad externalities, like informational autocracy and cultural counter-movements entail the construction of well-structured movements. Variables like media can effectively discredit protests by negatively influencing public opinion. Moreover, the new presence of cultural counter-movements centred on identitarian axes like the regressive Hungarian Christian identity or white racist identity present a serious threat to ill-organised movements.
But excessive bureaucratisation of protest movements should be avoided while organising movement. Social Movement Organisations (SMOs) in the neoliberal era are rapidly decaying due to over-formalisation and institutionalisation. They have, in fact, corporatistically crafted conservative arrangements, such as a “professionalised inner core” of the organisation that alone has the task of “talking with the political elite”.
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Along with this, membership-based groups are themselves facilitating political passivity by regarding members as consumers who are mainly present for resource mobilisation. In this way, a “protest business” is being opened where “chequebook activism” is practiced. In opposition to rationalised and marketised movements, disunified and chaotically flexible movements are emerging. These movements, due to their directionlessness, are unable to holistically posit their problem.
For example, the Chilean protests against the right-wing president Sebastian Piñera have been successful only in implementing reformist measures such as a plebiscite on the institution of a new constitution and increased public spending. These protests, despite being supported by 77% of the citizenry, have been unable to put forward demands such wealth taxation and universal access to social services.
Anna Kowalczyk, while commenting on the protests, has said that the protest’s “dissociation from political parties and unions makes their calls increasingly appear as individual demands which can be satisfied through occasional cash transfers and reforms.”
3 In the “protest stage”, material techniques have to be applied to synchronise demonstrations. Disruptive demonstrational techniques have to be used instead of public opinion-centric protests.
Disruptive actions include sit-ins, boycotts, blockage of roads and public spaces. These actions are totally different from people-centric protests that are mutating disgustingly into mere colourful symbolism. These political theatrics called people-centric protests concentrate their attention on grabbing media attention and engaging in a hollow media battle.
Along with the existence of people centric protests, the NGO-isation of resistance is another phenomenon that is defusing collective protests. The emergence of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is contemporaneous with neoliberalism and it functions to substitute the welfarist operations of the state in a diluted and diminished manner. NGO-isation of protests gratifies people with benevolence and depoliticises their political mentality by offering charity.
In the words of Arundhati Roy, “The NGO-isation of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, nine-to-five job.”
The abovementioned strategy of reviving protests will ensure that the internal fissures of right-wing populism and neoliberalism are widened. Extricating oneself from the web of fear laid down by dictatorial leaders is the cardinal component of this strategy. This act of breaking the fear machinery requires collective introspection, epiphany and action. For this collectively-coordinated action, individualist fragmentation has to be stopped and new normative channels have to be created.
As the poet June Jordan said, people have to realise that “we are ones we have been waiting for”.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India. He is interested in studying the existential conditions of subaltern classes. Yanis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.