The earth is round and the Bolsonaro government is fascist

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By Armando Boito*

How to characterize the extreme right movement that came to power in Brazil? And how to characterize the Bolsonaro government? Neoliberal? Neocolonial? Neofascist? All of the above?

Socialist and progressive intellectuals and political leaders have stated that the Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it should not be characterized as fascists or neo-fascists. They argue by opposing such a movement and such a government to an erroneous characterization of original fascism, in our view. Contrary to what those who reject the concept of fascism or neo-fascism to characterize Bolsonarism think, it is not correct to characterize fascism by the bourgeois fraction that held the political hegemony in the original fascism – the great Italian and German monopoly bourgeoisie – and it is not correct either. characterize it by making generic references to the nationalism, militarism and imperialist practices characteristic of the politics of the original fascist states.

These ideologies and practices were or are also present in bourgeois democracies from that and other historical periods. Within the same form of State – be it democracy, military dictatorship or fascist dictatorship – different blocs in power are possible and, consequently, different types of economic, social and foreign policy.

A fascist dictatorship in an imperialist country will not have the same power bloc as a similar one implanted in a country whose economy and whose state are both dependent. This means that it is indeed possible to contemplate the hypothesis of a fascist movement and an eventual fascist dictatorship subject to international capital, and not to the imperialist national bourgeoisie as happened in Germany and Italy. Put directly: a fascist government can apply a neoliberal economic and social policy and, in the dependent countries of Latin America, it can apply a foreign policy of passive subordination to the US.

The distinction between form of state and power bloc is fundamental. However, to characterize the neo-fascism already in force in Brazil, it is necessary to mobilize other conceptual distinctions. It is necessary to make explicit the distinction, which operates implicitly in the previous paragraph, between the form of State, movement and ideology.

The fascist dictatorship presupposes the existence of an ideology, the fascist ideology, and such a dictatorial regime only becomes reality if there is a social movement, the fascist movement moved by the fascist ideology, which fights for the implantation of that regime. But – attention! – Fascists also make tactical calculations, can hesitate and are not always clear about their objectives. They may, at a certain juncture, give up the fight for a fascist dictatorship, postpone it, or even be unclear about it.

Palmiro Togliatti, in his classic book Lessons on Fascism, shows that a bit of all of this happened in the Mussolini Government between 1922 and 1925. And it was not certain that Mussolini would emerge victorious from the crisis generated by the murder of the socialist deputy Mateotti. That is, theoretically it is possible to admit that a fascist movement, moved by fascist ideology, reaches the government and does not manage to implant a fascist dictatorship.

With regard to Brazil today, we have the neo-fascist ideology, the neo-fascist movement and a government in which the neo-fascists occupy the dominant position – they managed, after a few months in government, to displace the military group to a secondary level and the military group is prone to another kind of dictatorship. What we don't have in Brazil, at least until now, is a fascist political regime. The current regime in Brazil is a deteriorated bourgeois democracy in crisis.

Fascism and Neofascism

Let's make a third distinction: fascism is a genre; German and Italian Fascism, on the one hand, and Brazilian Fascism, on the other, are both species of this genus. I am calling the first original fascism and the second neo-fascism.

What is the fascism genre? Synthetic definitions are always limited, but we can risk the assertion, inspired by Togliatti's analysis, that, in its most general characteristics, the fascist movement is a reactionary mass movement rooted in middle strata of capitalist social formations.[I] Fascist ideology and the typical characteristics of its social base are present, with variations, both in original fascism and in Brazilian neo-fascism. Even the analyst needs to detect the relationships between one – the ideology – and the other – the social base.

Fascism and neo-fascism are driven by a superficially critical and at the same time deeply conservative discourse about the capitalist economy and bourgeois democracy – criticism of big capital and defense of capitalism; criticism of corruption and “old politics” combined with the defense of an authoritarian order.

The ideology of both is heterogeneous and unsystematic; it highlights the designation of the left as the enemy to be destroyed (didn't Bolsonaro openly proclaim in a speech broadcast on the big screens on Avenida Paulista that the left in his government should emigrate or go to prison?); the cult of violence (any doubt about that with regard to Bolsonarism?); its mainly destructive, negative, non-propositive character (Bolsonaro did not clarify, to justify his lack of positive proposals, that his government will be like chemotherapy for Brazil?); irrationalism (the earth is flat and global warming is an invention, right?); an authoritarian and conservative nationalism (cult of the homogeneity of national society and rejection of “deviants”) and the politicization of racism and machismo, herbs that spontaneously sprout in the soil of capitalist society – in class inequality, in the patriarchal organization of the family, in the authoritarianism of the capitalist enterprise – and which fascism raises, with its party program, to the political scene.

We risk saying that if we go looking for the social roots of conservative criticism, the fight against the left, the cult of violence, the fundamentally destructive attitude, irrationalism and other characteristics of fascist and neo-fascist ideology, we will always find a petty-bourgeois despair or middle-class, despair of someone who is faced with a threat, real or imaginary, it doesn't matter, and, at the same time, he also feels politically incapable of offering a solution to his own problems. They are the crazed petty bourgeois Engels spoke of when examining a similar situation.

Fascism aims to eliminate the “left” from the political process, not simply defeat it. However, “left” is a generic and merely indicative term. In classical fascism this “left” was composed of two mass workers' parties, which aimed to overcome capitalism or profoundly reform it – the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. In Brazilian neo-fascism, the “left” to be eliminated is the democratic movement and governments, driven by neo-developmentalist bourgeois reformism and with popular support, a political field that has been, until now, under the leadership of the Workers' Party.

That party ceased, a long time ago, to be a mass party and became a party of cadres or notables. The enemy of original fascism demands from the latter a mass party as well. This mass party was a petty-bourgeois party, which also included militants and leaders recruited from disqualified sectors of society. The enemy of Brazilian neo-fascism, on the other hand, is not an open threat to capitalism and does not politically organize the heterogeneous portion of the population, typical of dependent capitalism countries, which we can call “marginal mass workers”. For this reason, neo-fascism can, at least so far, dispense with a mass party, mobilize its bases for specific struggles through social networks,[ii] and settle for a political ballast based on religious organizations.

Fascism in power

Fascism and neo-fascism are reactionary movements of the middle classes, but they came to power not as representatives of those layers that gave rise to them, but after having been politically confiscated by the bourgeoisie or by one of its fractions with the aim of, based on them, overcome a political crisis and implement an anti-democratic, anti-working-class and anti-popular government.

This type of crisis, which Nicos Poulanzas in his work fascism and dictatorship, characterized for Germany and Italy in the 1920s, was also verified, changing what should be changed, in the Brazilian crisis of the 2010s. crisis or decline of the traditional bourgeois parties gave rise to the co-option, from above, of a movement that came from below.

This particular dynamic of the political process can only be properly understood when one takes into account that in the most advanced phases of the fascistization process, both in original fascism and in neo-fascism, the popular classes come from consecutive defeats and find themselves politically on the defensive - momentarily incapacitated. , therefore, to present own and viable political alternatives. This dynamic prevailed both in original fascism and in Brazilian neo-fascism, despite the differences between the kind of fascism prevailing in the XNUMXth century and the kind of fascism that is being formed in the XNUMXst century.

If in classic fascism, the big national capital, faced with the crisis of the political parties that traditionally represented it, confiscated the petty-bourgeois movement, leaning on it, to implant its hegemony; in Brazilian neo-fascism, it was the international capital that, in view of the crisis of its traditional representative in Brazil, the PSDB, four-time champion in defeats in the presidential elections, it was this capital, mainly the US capital, that confiscated, in alliance with segments of the big bourgeoisie Brazilian, the movement of the upper middle class and managed to reestablish the political hegemony lost during the PT governments.

It was the upper middle class that took a ride on the demonstrations started by the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL) in June 2013 and that took the initiative to organize the struggle for impeachment, while the divided PSDB hesitated, and it was from that movement that the neo-fascist movement emerged. It should be remembered that the mobilizations, based on a presidential call, of the social base of the Bolsonaro government, on March 17, May 26 and June 30, could count – now with some, now with others – with the organizations created from June 2013 – MBL, Vem pra Rua, Revoltados on Line and others.

From the June 2013 protests, through the explicit anti-PTism of 2015 to the neo-fascism of 2018 and 2019, the path is not so tortuous. International capital and segments of the Brazilian big bourgeoisie confiscated this middle-class movement to, in the case of US capital and segments of the Brazilian big bourgeoisie associated with it, in addition to expanding the internationalization of the Brazilian economy, profile the Brazilian State alongside the States. United in the dispute for hegemony with China. Their task was made easier due to the fact that the bourgeoisie as a whole converged on the program, which the coup movement presented from the beginning, of withdrawal of workers' rights.

The neo-fascist group consolidated its dominance in the government team. Measures against democratic rights expand – censorship, threats, arbitrary arrests. I'm not saying it's the most likely, but it's not out of the question that we'll end up with a fascist-type dictatorship in Brazil.

*Armando Boito is professor of Political Science at Unicamp and author, among other books, of Reform and political crisis in Brazil: class conflicts in PT governments. (Unesp/Unicamp, 2018)

This article is an updated and modified version of a text published in the journal Brazil of Fact on March 2019.


[I] Brazilian neo-fascism also had, at the beginning of the movement, the support of landowners, mainly in the South and Midwest regions. Yet another resemblance to Italian Fascism. Gramsci, in a text from 1921, goes so far as to speak of the existence of two fascisms since the beginning of the movement: one of the petty bourgeoisie and the other of the landowners of Emilia, Tuscany, Veneto and Umbria. See “I due fascismi”. In Antonio Gramsci, south fascism. The Cure by Enzo Santarelli. Rome: Editori Riuniti. 1973.

[ii] Luiz Filgueiras and Graça Druck, The Bolsonaro government, neo-fascism and democratic resistance. Le Monde Diplomatique Brazil, November 2018. Accessible at https://diplomatique.org.br/o-governo-bolsonaro-o-neofascismo-ea-resistencia-democratica/.

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