From a talk given by Andrew Tait. Originally printed by the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa).
Three weeks ago, police moved in to clear a protest camp out of an inner-city park, to make way for a shopping mall.
The protesters were a mixed bunch: leftists, environmentalists, even architects,who felt they had no other option than direct action to stop the destruction of another piece of history, another park, another shared social space. The police moved in with brutality, with near-lethal force. Images of their violence were shared on the internet and instantly sparked outrage from hundreds of thousands of people, especially youth. After three weeks of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, the police have managed to clear and hold the city square and protests are quietening down. But after the police moved in, council workers followed, planting trees and flowers – a sign perhaps that the mall development has been abandoned.
Elsewhere, a demonstration against public transport fare rises was attacked by the police, sparking an outpouring of anger and copycat protests and riots. In one city, a police facility was burned and the City Hall was attacked. The government backed down and the price hikes were scrapped, but protests are continuing – now against the spending of billions on hosting a sports event instead of funding health and education.
The first country is Turkey and the second is Brazil. The same events could have taken place in almost any developed country – in Auckland, Jo’burg, Paris, Beijing. Although each country has its own culture and history, there is a massive political convergence underway from Istanbul to Brazil.
One reason often suggested for this convergence is the internet. The ability to share not just messages but images, movies and music has eroded the traditional boundaries between young people in different countries and has broken the stranglehold of monopoly media.
But important though this new technology is, there is a deeper reason: neoliberalism has globalised production, meaning work and wages are similar across more countries than ever before, and neoliberalism has deprived democracy of real content because “there is no alternative” to the market and austerity. There are more supposedly democratic countries in the world than ever – but the range of political choices and citizen engagement is declining.
Both Brazil and Turkey are “new democracies”, which only emerged from military dictatorships in the 1980s. Both have booming economies. Brazil has emerged from Third World semi-colonial status to become the seventh largest economy in the world. It is often cited, alongside Russia, India and China, as an emerging power. Turkey, although smaller, has also enjoyed double digit GDP growth recently but the benefit of this growth, as in Brazil, has been unevenly shared. It is now one of the most unequal countries in the OECD. [Read more...]