Why West waxes and wanes with ‘Brazilianization’?
Published: Oct 20, 2021 04:58 PM
File photo of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: AFP

File photo of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: AFP

Editor's Note: 

Alex Hochuli is a freelance writer and research consultant based in São Paulo, Brazil. He is a co-host of the global politics podcast Aufhebunga Bunga and co-author of the forthcoming The End of the End of History (Zero Books, 2021). In his article entitled "The Brazilianization of the World," he wrote, "The West's involution finds its mirror image in the original country of the future, the nation doomed forever to remain the country of the future, the one that never reaches its destination: Brazil." Why would he say so? What has the West gone wrong in his opinion? Hochuli talked about these issues in a written interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Xu Hailin. 

GT: In your article entitled "The Brazilianization of the World," you wrote that "leaving aside the exception of China's remarkable ascent, the global story of the past forty years is one of retrogression." Why has China managed to be an exception within such a global trend? Why is the liberal democracy advocated by the West not working?

First, China's ascent should not be compared with the West, but with other countries that found themselves in a similar position in the 1980s. China managed to avoid the neoliberal shock treatment meted out to the former USSR by opting for more gradual reform. In doing so, it retained greater state capacity and ability to direct development that was lost elsewhere. This allowed it to carry out catch-up development. But in a situation of global oversupply and control of intellectual property by all leading states, this is not an option that appears open to the rest of the developing world. Only if there were transfers of technology to developing countries and an abandonment of neoliberal recipes of privatization, deregulation, and so on, that some countries might be able to achieve faster growth and development. But capitalism has its limits and imperial powers will likely prevent catch-up elsewhere.   

Second, it is the "liberal" part of liberal democracy that is not working. Specifically, the neoliberal turn was a response to profitability in the 1970s, which involved wearing down democracy to reduce wages and demands upon the state: destroying trade unions, hollowing out political parties, reducing political competition. As a result, in the West, there is little pressure from below on elites, as political participation has declined. This has allowed for increasing plunder by elites through increasing financialization, rising asset prices and so on. So there has been no real brake on deindustrialization as this has served economic elites well. At the same time, political elites have allowed state capacity to wither, as the neoliberal recipe prescribes that the state should not seek to guide development. This has suited political elites well: they have given up their responsibility for what actually happens in society. And with mass political institutions - like trade unions and left-wing parties - so hollowed out, elites are not really held to account. So what is "not working" in the West is directly tied to a lack of democracy.

GT: After the Brazilianization of the world, what will come next? Can some of China's development concepts and ideas be the answers to address this worldwide trend?

China's development might provide some impulse to renew state capacity, re-shore industry and for politicians in the West to take more direct responsibility for social outcomes. Competition with China will undoubtedly concentrate minds in the West. But it is unlikely that on its own this will lead to an improvement of people's lives. Only citizens and workers organizing to fight against the kernel of Brazilianization - precarization of work and life in general - will challenge this process of involution and decline. Elites on their own might undertake some shifts in economic management, but this won't be to the benefit of the majority. 

GT: Brazil has been facing a serious social gap between the rich and the poor. China also once suffered from poverty, but it has finally made the commendable achievement of eliminating extreme poverty. How do you evaluate China's successful alleviation of poverty? What lessons can Brazil and other Latin American countries learn from China's experience?

Brazil though has always been more unequal and never benefited from real revolutionary upheaval. It has also been more penetrated by imperialist interests, something China managed to avoid since the revolution. China's growth has been remarkable, but as I've argued, not so easily replicable.  

What it can do is to seek to develop domestic industries rather than rely on imports, shift focus away from agribusiness and primary exports, and grow the internal market by redistributing wealth downward. But again, democracy is essential for that: popular forces would need to pressure and eventually overthrow Brazilian elites for that to happen. The tragedy is that Brazilian elites are not interested in development: as long as the stock market rises, they are satisfied. And as we know, there is no real correlation between the health of the stock market and economic growth, let alone social development.

GT: In your book The End of the End of History: Politics in the Twenty-First Century, you said, "The idea that Western liberal democracy was the 'final form of human government' has been exposed as bluster: the old order is crumbling before our eyes." Then what should be the final form in your mind?

There is no final form. The notion of the "End of History" is taken from US political scientist Francis Fukuyama's reading of the philosopher GWF Hegel. But Hegel's philosophy is centered around the notion of contradiction - that any idea or social formation is contradictory, and that these tensions lead to new formations that come to superpose themselves on the old. So liberal democracy is not the final form of human government, but any new superior form will also have its contradictions - new, better contradictions. As Marx saw it, socialism would succeed capitalism, which would then birth communism. Only then would "real human history" begin. So there is no ending: contestation over the future, over how to organize human life, will continue. 

GT: Since the adoption of reform and opening-up, China has been accelerating its integration into the world. But the West has always been reluctant to truly embrace China. Under the current international situation, what might the West eventually bring to itself as it engaging in denial and suppressions of China?

I'm afraid I don't know how to answer this question, but I would just state that increasing great power confrontation is a consequence of the dynamics of capitalist competition. Only socialist revolution in the West - and in China - can lead to peaceful coexistence.