Illustration: Liu Rui / GT
A striking article, “The Brazilianization of the World”, was recently published in the journal American Affairs. Its starting point was the disastrous failure of Western countries to deal with COVID-19: more than 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, more than 525,000 in Brazil, more than 400,000 in India, 128,000 in Great Britain. This compares to less than 5,000 in China.
What makes the article striking and innovative is that it attributes this failure not to short-term political mistakes but to deep structural trends in Western society – a rapidly widening divide between rich and poor, l collapse of national institutions that help the entire population, and their replacement by purely private systems that protect only a small proportion of the population. It also involves the weakening of state institutions capable of dealing with serious crises such as COVID-19, the lack of major infrastructure improvements, the decline of long-term planning capacities, the growing corruption of elites and power. monopoly of technology companies capable of manipulating the law, etc.
The term “brasilianisation” was chosen because this country is perceived as a precursor of these trends. It is characterized by what the article calls “Belíndia” (Belgium / India) in which a small minority, the size of a minor country like Belgium, leads a pleasant life while the vast majority leads a precarious and precarious life. not prosperous – as in India.
“Brazilianization of the world” is the title of the article because this trend is analyzed as extending to advanced capitalist countries – illustrated by the great riches of Wall Street circles combined with the American “Rust Belt”, in which “incomes middle-income ‘well-paid jobs are cut and unemployment is high. Therefore, drug abuse is rampant, criminal gangs are powerful, etc.
Two major economic reasons underlie this development. Overall, the global economy has not slowed down over the past period – on a long-term moving average, to remove the distortions caused by short-term business cycles.
In historical comparisons, while the short-term economic crisis in advanced capitalist countries after 1929 remains the most severe in history, long-term economic growth in these states since the 2008 international financial crisis is now slower than during the Great Depression – characterizing the present period as the “Great Stagnation”.
Such slow economic growth makes it impossible to offer social improvement to the whole population – to create a project that improves the entire nation. Instead, increasing proportions of the population have no significant chance of improving their social conditions. This leads to discontent, which cannot be addressed by reforms due to economic trends, but instead faces increasing repression.
In developing countries, “The Brazilianization of the World” analyzes this process as due to the failure of the bourgeoisie to pursue national interests. A key moment in Brazil is analyzed as 1964. It was at this point that the Brazilian capitalist class abandoned the path of independent national development and instead supported a pro-American military coup.
A second key event took place in 2016. In 2003, Workers’ Party candidate Lula da Silva was elected president – followed in 2011 by Dilma Rousseff. They re-launched a “national project” – faster economic growth coupled with an independent foreign policy corresponding to Brazil’s national interests and social measures in favor of the majority of the population. To defend the national interests of Brazil, Lula and Rousseff participated strongly in the BRICS and sought a win-win relationship with China. But in 2016, the Brazilian legislature removed Rousseff from his post in a “legal coup”.
“The Brazilianization of the world” admits a decisive exception to these negative global trends – China. The article states: “Nowhere (except perhaps in China) do we find ruling elites pursuing any sort of ‘national project’ – something that involves and thus aims to integrate the masses. And, “leaving aside the exception of China’s remarkable rise, world history of the past forty years is one of regression.”
In most parts of the world, this analysis is accurate. Step out of an airport in an Indian city and immediately you will see huge slums, sometimes with millions of people, that just don’t exist in China. Likewise, in Brazil, prosperous city neighborhoods are surrounded by poverty-ridden “favelas” (shanty towns) which are frequently dominated by armed criminal gangs. Clashes between criminal elements, and not only with the police but even the army, are taking place. The non-national bourgeois, as the “Brazilianization of the world” sees it, does not seek to develop the country and provide a way forward for most of the population. Instead, he seeks to arm himself to drive the oppressed away from privileged centers of wealth.
In short, the trends analyzed in “The Brazilianization of the World” are real.
But there are also tendencies in the opposite direction – attempts to create a real “national project” for the majority of the population. China is by far the most important example. It is also shown in socialist countries, such as Cuba and Vietnam.
It is not historically unknown for a bourgeoisie to fail in a “national project” leading to forms of national decadence – such as “Brazilianization”. In an even more extreme case, the failure of the Kuomintang to adequately defend or develop China has led the CCP to become the leader of “national rejuvenation” – China’s national project. Organizations such as the Brazilian Workers’ Party or the Movement for Socialism in Bolivia have emerged as a result of similar, albeit less extreme, failures.
“The Brazilianization of the world” therefore deserves serious attention by precisely identifying the negative trends in Western society and the positive trends in China. But it is over-generalizing and not paying enough attention to the more positive trends happening in a number of countries in the South, including their ability to create a win-win relationship with China.
The author is a senior researcher at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, and former Director of Economic and Trade Policy to the Mayor of London. [email protected]