Democracy in pieces



The military advanced carefully and systematically. Today, they are in government with the fascist group and openly threaten democracy.

Brazilian democracy is seriously threatened. The authoritarian camp, made up of the military wing and the fascist wing of the Bolsonaro Government, is strong and, despite being pressured by the Federal Superior Court (STF) during this month of May, it still holds the political initiative. The resistance to fascism, made up of the liberal conservative camp and the democratic and popular camp, is weak, divided and on the defensive. We are dangerously approaching, in this month of May 2020, a fascist dictatorship.

This political situation is much more complex than the one we knew under the governments headed by the PT. We had a moderate party polarization that opposed the PT to the PSDB on the political scene and that basically revolved around the definition of economic and social policy – ​​neoliberalism or neodevelopmentalism? Neither of these two fields was homogeneous, they brought together classes and class fractions with conflicting interests, but, despite this fact, it was the fundamental division and each force tried to accommodate itself, even if critically, on one side or the other of the line. that divided national politics.

Since the impeachment crisis, new conflicts have emerged, others, until then weak, have gained a new dimension, and all of them have intersected with the old conflicts that, although displaced to a secondary plane, remain active in the political process. In the current situation, the interests of the various social forces present have multiple facets that sometimes bring these forces together, sometimes repel them and, as a result, the line that divides them has become very mobile and flexible.

Moderate party polarization disappeared, the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie entered into crisis, the micro Social Liberal Party (PSL) became big thanks to the electoral tsunami in 2018, the party system became fluid and state institutions became the central actors on the political scene. In the judicial system, a party in the broadest sense was born, Lava-Jato; the military, whose performance was diffuse, discreet and purely defensive during the PT governments, became a politically organized group and are a prominent force in the government and the Superior Federal Court (STF) is the protagonist of acute conflicts with the Federal Executive.

The 2016 coup and the birth of the fascist movement [1]

Until 2015, Brazilian politics presented a relatively simple division of fields. We had, on the one hand, the more orthodox neoliberal field, and, on the other, the neodevelopmentalist field [2]. The first represented the interests of international capital, of the fraction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie integrated into this capital and was mainly supported by the rich and well-to-do segments of the middle class. It also had some base in the labor movement – ​​just remember the oscillations of Força Sindical. At the party level, the main representative of this political field was the PSDB.

The second field represented the interests of the Brazilian domestic big bourgeoisie, a bourgeois fraction dependent on foreign capital, but which maintains moderate conflicts with this capital. The neo-developmentalist policy of state intervention to stimulate economic growth and moderately protect the internal market primarily served the interests of this fraction. Such a policy was supported by broad sectors of the popular classes – working class, peasantry, lower middle class and, very important segment, marginal mass workers [3].

State intervention in the fight against poverty and a moderate expansion of social rights contemplated, even if secondarily, the interests of these popular segments. In fact, a broad and heterogeneous political front was formed which we call the neo-developmentalist front, and this front was represented at the party level by the PT. This division between orthodox neoliberals and neodevelopmentalists did not threaten the democratic regime and the dominant perception was that democracy was consolidated in Brazil.

However, in October 2014, faced with the fourth consecutive defeat in the presidential election, the PSDB decided to abandon the democratic game and began a new phase of the political offensive restoring the neoliberal field, an offensive that had been ongoing since 2013. -president Dilma in May 2016 revealed weaknesses of the neo-developmentalist political front, weaknesses arising, moreover, from long-term characteristics of Brazilian politics, and promoted two changes of great importance.

At the top of the neo-developmentalist front, the internal big bourgeoisie, as had occurred at other times in the country's political history, oscillated politically. He was divided between joining the coup movement and a position of neutrality that was harmful to the government. On the basis of this same front, the main social support of Lulism – the huge contingent of marginal mass workers – did not mobilize in defense of the government whose policy it was also a beneficiary of. The populist relationship of the PT governments with this popular segment, a relationship that blocked the political organization of these workers, took its toll at the time of the crisis – not even in 1964 had there been a popular mobilization against the coup d'état.

As for the result of the deposition of Dilma, the Temer Government, on the one hand, and pursuing the objectives of the political force leading the impeachment coup, changed the course of economic, social and foreign policy of the Brazilian State and, on the other, represented a situation of instability in Brazilian democracy. Temer began to legislate primarily for international capital and for the bourgeois fraction integrated into this capital – privatization with preference for foreign capital, a policy of reducing the budget of the BNDES, greater commercial opening, etc. But he also legislated for the domestic big bourgeoisie, although he did so mainly when he attacked, on behalf of the entire bourgeois class, and not just one of its fractions, the interests of the workers - neoliberal reform of labor law, constitutional amendment of the spending ceiling, pension reform project and other measures.

With the Temer Government, democracy had been violated, it entered a phase of instability, but the defense of a strategy of “surgical political intervention” predominated among the forces of the coup: a rupture of democracy that was punctual and limited in time so that, after the election, 2018 and with an elected president, to be able to resume “democratic normality”. These were political parties, the media and agents of the Judiciary who professed a conservative political liberalism.

Although they had assumed an authoritarian and coup-like position in 2016, they still attributed some value to freedom of expression, the right of association, political representation through suffrage, etc. Things, however, did not happen as these liberals wished and predicted. It happened that the movement to depose the Dilma government, organized by the upper middle class, acquired strength and dynamics of its own and the candidacies of the orthodox neoliberal field, despite being strengthened by the adhesion of most of the internal big bourgeoisie, these candidacies proved to be electorally unfeasible. The big bourgeoisie and its liberal representatives then decided, pragmatically, to embrace the neo-fascist candidacy of Jair Bolsonaro and especially after the then presidential candidate announced that he would hand over the Ministry of Finance to the ultraliberal – we are now referring to economic liberalism – Paulo Guedes .

Neofascism and its candidate were born from two sources. Firstly, the purification of the reactionary movement of the upper middle class by the deposition of the Dilma government. Not all organizations and groups that encouraged that movement took the path of fascism, but all of them, without exception, supported the fascist candidate, moved by anti-PTism. Its objective was to stop the modest social ascension of the popular layers that had been propitiated by neo-developmentalism. Secondly, neo-fascism received support, already in its initial period, from landowners, mainly from the Center-West and South regions, landowners whose main objective was to acquire legal cover to arm themselves and to treat, literally, with fire and sword. peasants, indigenous people and quilombolas.

The big bourgeoisie arrived later. Until the beginning of 2018, she had stayed away from the neo-fascist movement, but in the middle of that year she decided to adopt it. Bolsonaro was then dressed up to become a candidate like any other and won the 2018 election, thanks also to other factors that it is not interesting to analyze here. In the second round of the presidential election, PSDB leaders assured that the fascist candidate would not pose any threat to the democratic regime.

The fascists, the military and the liberals.

Already in the Temer government, a new actor began to act openly in the political process: the military group. Growing up, this group took on a tutelary position over democratic institutions. Let us recall two milestones in this process. General Sergio Etchegoyen, Minister of the Institutional Security Office (GSI) of the Presidency of the Republic during the Temer Government, dismissed Dilma Rousseff, then removed from the presidency, but still residing at the Alvorada Palace, the treatment given to a prisoner and , two years later, the then Army Commander, Gal. Eduardo Villas Bôas, made, on April 03, 2018, a public intervention ordering the STF to refuse the habeas corpus requested by the defense of former President Lula.

In the meantime, the high-ranking military, active and retired, spoke with impunity about everything that suited them to block the return of the Workers' Party to the government. How did liberals react? Shortly before, with the opening of the impeachment process, they had already rejected the result of the 2014 election, discrediting the popular vote and, consequently, undermining the strength of political representation, which is a weapon at the disposal of the parties and the National Congress before the authoritarian pretensions of the State bureaucracy – civil or military.

Now, they also accepted the escalation of the generals on political life, after all, stopping the PT was, according to their calculations, essential for the country to return to the so-called “democratic normality”. The military then advanced carefully and systematically. Today, they are in government with the fascist group and openly threaten democracy.

Let's take a closer look at these three forces and the relationships between them. First, it is necessary to say that the fundamental political game takes place between them because the left and center-left were thrown to the bottom of the political scene. They accumulated defeat after defeat since May 2016, they are fragile and on the defensive. Secondly, it should be noted that fascists, military and conservative liberals are three forces that represent interests of the bourgeoisie.

Fascism is a special case. He wasn't bourgeois, he was born from the bottom up. It was a middle-class movement that, even with the support of sectors of the bourgeoisie, maintained its own dynamics. However, in order to reach the government, fascism had – as had happened with the original fascism in Italy and Germany – to bow politically to the bourgeoisie and, once in government, represent the interests of the capitalist class.

In the case of original fascism, Mussolini and Hitler took care of the implantation of the hegemony of big capital in the transition from competitive capitalism to monopoly capitalism [4]; in the case of Brazil, the Bolsonaro Government, following what had been initiated by the Temer Government, organizes the hegemony of international capital and the fraction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie integrated into this capital, counting, until now, on the subordinate participation of the internal big bourgeoisie in this arrangement of power.

Third, fascists, military and conservative liberals advocate, despite minor differences, neoliberal economic and social policy and a foreign policy of passive and doctrinaire alignment with the US. There is, then, a background unit between them; but, there are also differences. The differences between the military and fascists are of minor importance, they are together in government and act harmoniously. The biggest difference is between the conservative liberal political current and the two previous groups. Today, in Brazil, the opposition to the Bolsonaro government is led by the liberal bourgeois current and this has consequences.

The fascist group controls the government. Its strategic objective is to eliminate the left from the national political process, an objective that Bolsonaro proclaimed during the campaign and continues to proclaim and pursue once in government, an objective that is what directs this group towards the implantation of a dictatorship in Brazil. . This group is made up of President Bolsonaro and the majority of civil ministers – including Paulo Guedes, who is not in the government out of pragmatism, but, as his statements and interviews show, because he shares his boss’s fascist ideas. In this group, the ministers represent different ideological tendencies emanating from the fascist bases.

Damares Alves watches over the politicization of patriarchy and Abraham Weintraub, a leading representative of the fraction of the middle class conquered by authoritarianism, watches over the fight against the left and the plutocracy that, according to him, would be allies [5]. He also cultivates a feeling of disgust for what fascists call old politics, but which is, in fact, disgust for democratic politics. Ricardo Salles is the man of the big landowners, mainly in the Midwest Region, who adhered to fascism even before the great financial and international bourgeoisie did.

Sergio Moro was not part of that group. It represented the liberal and conservative middle class that, in the face of PT governments, assumed an authoritarian and coup-like position, but without doctrinally converting to authoritarianism – movements such as MBL and Vem Pra Rua had already abandoned Bolsonaro even before Sergio Moro left government. Bolsonaro has the last word in all government decisions. He shows determination and is not intimidated by generals.

The latter, on the contrary, and despite their great influence in the government, were unable to prevent Bolsonaro from dismissing the Ministers of Health and Justice and lowered their heads even in the face of the offenses and mockery uttered by the intellectual mentor of the fascist group, the writer Olavo de Carvalho . They are united with the fascist group by the hatred of the left, which was reinvigorated due to the work, under the Dilma Government, of the National Truth Commission, which laid bare the military institution's commitment to torture, the aspiration to implement a dictatorial regime in Brazil and, not least, they are united with the fascists also by the scandalous salary and social security privileges that the Bolsonaro government has provided them.

What separates this group from the fascist group is something adjective: the type of dictatorial regime that would best suit Brazil. Fascists plead, as happened with the original fascism, a dictatorship with political mobilization and cultural struggle. Olavo de Carvalho has a clear diagnosis about the military dictatorship: it had merits in the economy, but left the field of culture free for the left to act, that is, it did not create a cultural movement, which Carvalho euphemistically calls conservative, to dispute hegemony with to the left. The result, continues the fascist ideologue, was that in the first political crisis of the regime, the left occupied a hegemonic position in cultural institutions and established a long reign from 1994 to 2016 – this ideologue and his followers consider both the PSDB and the PT equally “of left” or “communists”.

He and his group aim for a dictatorship, but not a bureaucratic dictatorship, without political mobilization, which is the model that most seduces the military. Of course, they can, as anti-democratic they are, reach an agreement even on a mixed dictatorial regime, which would combine elements of fascism with elements of the military dictatorship. Conflicts between these two groups are therefore secondary, moderate and subject to accommodation.

The most serious conflict is the one that opposes the liberal-conservative current to the government composed of fascists and the military. This current represents, primarily, the big international capital and the fraction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie integrated to it. Why, then, do conflicts arise between the traditional representatives of this bourgeois fraction and the Bolsonaro government, which, as I have argued, has prioritized the interests of this same fraction? Both in the original fascism and in Brazilian fascism, the bourgeoisie did not manage to convert the fascist movement into a mere passive instrument of its designs. Bolsonaro has to give some satisfaction to his social base, that is, truck drivers, small businesses and segments of the middle class. The bourgeoisie favored the rise of fascism to power, it gained a lot from it, but now it is not able to control it as it would like.

The liberal-conservative current brings together political parties, such as the PSDB and the DEM, and the mainstream press, such as the Folha de S. Paul e O State St. Paul, and has control over important state institutions, starting with the STF. They might object: how to name liberal actors who participated in the 2016 coup? Liberal thought and politics, from Stuart Mill to John Rawls, from the UDN to the PSDB, never ruled out authoritarian measures to prevent the advance of the labor and popular movement.

In times of crisis, liberalism approaches authoritarianism, but without doctrinally adhering to the latter, and that makes a difference. The conservative politically liberal current, today, opposes the fascist group in its path to implant a dictatorship in Brazil. It so happens that this current is also, as we have already indicated, neoliberal, that is, it defends the minimal State in the field of the economy.

Now, Paulo Guedes has a radically neoliberal economic policy and, therefore, has the support of the bourgeoisie that staged the 2016 coup and the conservative liberal current linked to it. This current knows very well how to separate, when they criticize the Bolsonaro Government, the wheat from the chaff. They spare Paulo Guedes and focus criticism on the president. They are divided between resistance to fascism and support for the fascist government's economic policy. They don't seem determined enough to put a stop to the fascist offensive.


The fascist political offensive

A perhaps dominant perception in the press unilaterally highlights the current difficulties – now, this month of May – effectively faced by the Bolsonaro Government. Some conceive of an alleged cornering of the government by the STF and the Superior Electoral Court (TSE). Others, more moderately, speak of the existence of a balance of forces between the parties in conflict. I understand that these analyzes are wrong. It seems to me that the fascist government is on the political offensive towards a dictatorship, acts with ease and successively breaks one limit after another. It tests the democratic forces and does not find resistance to match. This offensive is visible within the government, in state institutions and also in the broader scope of society.

In analyzing the changes in the Ministry of Health and Justice that took place in April, the press unilaterally highlighted the wear and tear suffered by the government. Yes, there was wear and tear, but there was also an increase in the control of the fascist group over the government team. In the first place, thanks to the two replacements in the Ministry of Health, the government was able to move forward in its line of ignoring the epidemic in order to maintain – as you can imagine – capital accumulation. The militarization of this ministry was a bold decision that ended all hesitation and ambiguity in policy in this area, which is, at the current juncture, a vital area for governments around the world. The fascist line now prevails uncontested in the face of the epidemic: let those who have to die die, but capitalist accumulation cannot stop. Second, with the replacement in the Ministry of Justice, the government took control of the Federal Police (PF).

O Official Gazette published decisions that restructure the management positions and the functioning of the PF throughout the country and not only in Rio de Janeiro. In addition to putting himself, his family, friends and supporters beyond the reach of Justice, Bolsonaro shows that he will be able to convert the PF into his political police – an essential institutional part of a fascist dictatorship.

The governors who implemented the quarantine to face the epidemic are being the target of ostentatious operations with the supposed objective of combating corruption – that is to say: corruption may exist, but the objective of such operations is different and not exactly combating it. These governors are being cornered. Admittedly, there are mixed signs. The same PF has been acting harshly, since May 27, in the investigation of the so-called “Gabinete do Ódio”, a Bolsonarist producer of fake news. It seems that there is internal resistance to Bolsonarism within the PF. In the coming days, we will have a clearer picture of the situation.

Fascism is much stronger then in government and state institutions than it was before the epidemic. He maintained the support of the Armed Forces, going against those who thought that his line of ignoring the epidemic would wear him down in front of the military, and he took control of the PF. With regard to the National Congress, Bolsonaro managed to obtain support from the so-called Centrão and, at least at the present time, any possibility of impeachment or the success of any other process against him that depends on approval with a qualified majority in the National Congress is ruled out.

At the level of society, until now, only the right has held street demonstrations – demonstrations in support of the government, its genocidal policy in the face of the epidemic and for the closure of the STF and the National Congress. There is also the possibility of arming fascist groups. One podcast Site the earth is round analysed, with great authority and making use of the information provided by the video of the notorious ministerial meeting of last April 22, what they called the government's "A hidden agenda" and which consists, in a few words, in the arming of its supporters for the combating opponents, including those who are part of the liberal opposition [6].

It is possible that true militias of Brazilian neo-fascism are being organized from the so-called Militias, Shooting Clubs, Hunting Clubs and other support points. With each move of the political game, the military group's threats multiply – the last, most serious ones were uttered by Gal. Augusto Heleno, head of the GSI; the first threatening the STF and the second stating that Bolsonaro will rebel against any court order for him to hand over his cell phone for expertise. The fascist group’s leadership, through the voice of deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, already openly defends the coup d’état – the question, said the deputy, is not “if”, but “when”.

Faced with such threats, civil authorities remain silent or, at best, take timid action. Fascist and military authoritarianism advances and conservative liberals do not organize a true counter-offensive. The State institution that best represents conservative liberalism in the conjuncture is the STF. His initiatives against the head of the Federal Executive are the main actions of resistance to the advance of the authoritarian camp. The popular movement, left-wing and center-left political parties are at the rear. And this is not just due to the epidemic.

It would be possible to organize motorcades in defense of the process that the STF, through Minister Alexandre Moraes – yes, liberal and conservative! – moves against the so-called Cabinet of Hate. It should be remembered: there is no fundamental difference between the STF and the Federal Executive regarding the government's ultraliberal economic and social policy. What it is about is a struggle between those who want to implant a dictatorship, and who control the Federal Executive, and those who take up the defense, albeit very timidly, of democracy, and who control the STF. The left cannot remain indifferent in the face of this conflict.

We are not, however, in a stable political situation. The epidemic, unemployment and loss of income continue to grow. Bolsonaro's attitude towards the epidemic has already shaken support for his government among the middle class. Opinion polls indicate, on the one hand, a loss of support from the government among the rich and well-to-do middle class, as suggested by pots and pans in high-income neighborhoods, and, on the other hand, an improvement, albeit moderate, of the image government with the popular sectors.

The desperation of the low-income population makes them sensitive to the proposal for an early reopening of economic activities and the emergency aid of R$600,00 reinforced Bolsonaro's approach to these sectors. That is, the political effects of the economic and health situation have been, so far, contradictory. Moreover, the worsening of the economic and health crisis does not mechanically favor the democratic and popular opposition. If there is a majority perception that we are plunged into chaos, a coup to “restore order” could be well received even by segments that would not normally accept it. However, if the opposition manages to make clear the responsibility of the federal government in the worsening of the epidemic, in the increase in requests for judicial recovery or bankruptcy and in the growth of unemployment, when all this gets worse – and this is soon – we will be able to achieve the depose fascism from government power.

*Armando Boito is professor of political science at Unicamp and editor of the magazine Marxist Criticism.


[1] In an article published on the website the earth is round I justified in detail why it is correct to characterize the Bolsonaro government as fascist, although we do not have, until now, a fascist dictatorship in Brazil. See Armando Boito “The earth is round and the Bolsonaro government is fascist”. (

[2] I develop this analysis in my book Reform and political crisis in Brazil - class conflicts in PT governments. São Paulo and Campinas: Editora Unesp and Unicamp. 2018.

[3] Santiane Arias and Sávio Cavalcante make a detailed analysis of the social composition of the movement for impeachment. See “The division of the middle class in the Brazilian political crisis (2013-2016)”. In Paul Boufartigue, Armando Boito, Sophie Bérroud and Andréia Galvão (eds.), Brazil and France in neoliberal globalization – political changes and social challenges. Sao Paulo: Editorial Alameda. 2019. pp. 97-125.

[4] Nicos Poulantzas, fascism et dictature. Paris: Francois Maspero. 1970.

[5] See the lecture given by the current minister of education at the Conservative Congress of São Paulo. This event was held at Hotel Transamérica on October 11th and 12th, 2019. The lectures can be found on Youtube. Here is the link to access Abraham Weintraub's lecture:

[6] See “Uma agenda occult”, podcast with Leonardo Avritzer, Eugênio Bucci and Ricardo Musse. ground round

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