Bolsonarism, integralism and fascism

Christine Borland, Ghost Twins, 1997
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By GUILHERME SIMÕES REIS*

Preface to the recently released book by Sergio Schargel

The need to investigate fascisms systematically

Studying fascism is obtaining satisfaction amidst the shadows, precisely creating conditions to alert when they are covering the paths of democracy and justice. And what a great joy to see Sergio Schargel's exceptional dissertation, which I had the pleasure of supervising in the Postgraduate Program in Political Science at UNIRIO, converted into this beautiful book.

I consider fascism to be one of the most relevant topics to be debated in contemporary politics, obviously aligning myself with the group of scholars with the vision that Sergio Schargel classified as “malleable fascism” – and which he also fits into, forgive me. O spoiler. The most interesting thing about this work, even more than the consistent study of the state of the art of the debate on the topic that is carried out at the beginning, is that the author discusses the current nature of the problem while also turning to the past.

A deep dive into the textual production of Italian fascism allows, in a very rich way, to realize that the movement itself underwent adaptations, adjustments, and quite drastic changes over the decades. This reinforces the deficiency of very rigid definitions of this political phenomenon. Even if a single case is taken, it does not remain static, with exactly the same characteristics, over time.

A concept applicable to more cases necessarily requires less circumstantially restricted parameters. Evidently, care must be taken not to incur what Giovanni Sartori called “conceptual stretching”, that is, “stretching” the concept too much so that it can be applied to any situation you want. Sergio Schargel mentions several cases in which the term “fascism” was adopted in this way. The looseness with which “fascism” is sometimes used as an expression of attack does not make its opposite, the denial of fascism as an existing phenomenon, a more productive intellectual stance.

The way Sergio Schargel explores the winding paths traced by Mussolini and his followers helps a lot in understanding the phenomenon in its complexity and, by extension, allows the projection of the problem into other spatial and temporal contexts. Documents and speeches are analyzed from the first fascist program, published in 1919 in the newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia, to the DoctrineOf 1932.

The same methodology applies to Brazil, which, in addition to smaller groups directly inspired by Benito Mussolini's approach and German Nazism, had, in the classical era of fascism, a significant autochthonous and original movement, although inspired by the Italian experience: the Integralism. The movement led by Plínio Salgado also produced documents, which are analyzed, with the same theoretical and methodological parameters, by Sergio Schargel, based on the October Manifesto of 1932.

The rejection of individualism and classism are seen, both in Italian Fascism and in Brazilian Integralism, as selfish deviations from national unity. It is in this way that both are born opposing liberalism, even though this becomes diluted over time and alliances with liberal business occur at different times. The contrast of this inconsistent opposition to liberalism with the perennial and virulent anti-communism, with the visceral aversion to the classist vision of the left, with the complete and eternal repudiation of the concept of class struggle, in the name of supposed national interest and unity, is brutal: the “ reds” will always be your enemies.

Class struggle, it is important to clarify, given the confusion on the subject, is not limited to situations of physical confrontation, what Antonio Gramsci called “war of movement”. Class struggle refers to any antagonism of interests between the working class, “salary dependent” as Wolfgang Streeck referred to it, and the capitalist class. It refers to any distributive conflict between them.

This opposition is reflected in each reform that increases the regressive nature of taxes or deregulates labor rights, in each (mis)adjustment of economic policy towards greater austerity, in each (ir)rationalization of the transport system that reduces business spending that exploit it privately while increasing the amount of leisure and rest time of workers on the bus or train carriage.

The study of fascism requires an attentive mind that is not accommodated to formulas and exaggerated simplifications. This is because it is necessary to identify the common patterns, specific to fascism, at the same time that each case is unique, with its respective specific “scapegoats”, with its singular national repertoires, with the past that each of them idealizes and uses as a mirror of the order that it intends to build, once the current one is destroyed.

Sergio Schargel's precious investigation precisely explores the idiosyncrasies of each case and, simultaneously, traces the bridges and rapprochements between them. Without the excessive rigidity, common among historians, of resisting grouping distant cases into the same group, due to the unique aspects that each of them obviously has, the author is skilled in connecting classic fascisms with contemporary Bolsonarism, and central Italian fascism. to Brazilian peripheral fascisms.

This ability to systematize at the macro level is one of the virtues of political science – which, obviously, also has its weaknesses, like every academic discipline. The plural training of Sergio Schargel, also a master in literature, made it possible for such an order, typical of political scientists, to scrutinize with ease the textual productions of the three cases of fascism mobilized in this book, analyzing the speeches, the messages, the self-images.

The intellectual mission in which the author has been engaging is to scrutinize the influences and penetrations of politics in literature and literature in politics. Thus, points of contact with his previous book are inevitable, Infinite fascism, in reality and fiction: how literature has presented fascism in the last hundred years, product of his other master's thesis, in literature at PUC-Rio, whose defense I had the opportunity to be part of the evaluation panel.

In that book, he found that fascism could be back – here, a reference to the excellent German film He's back again, and the homonymous novel by Timur Vermes from which it was adapted. In this book, Sergio Schargel shows that fascism is effectively back, including in Brazil.

Studying Bolsonarism is more than investigating the conditions that allowed its rise, which includes the criminalization of politics via Lava Jato and the breaking of the democratic pact by right-wing parties in the establishment, with the non-recognition of the electoral defeat by the tucano candidate Aécio Neves and the coup d'état disguised as impeachment against PT member Dilma Rousseff.

Bolsonarism, we can say in economic language, has a demand side and a supply side. On the demand side, there was space open for an authoritarian, reactionary figure, who poses as outsider destructive of all the bases of the political system. I had developed this point in an article in 2017, “Fascism in Brazil: the serpent’s egg hatched” (Development in Debate, vol. 5), co-authored with Giovanna Soares. The supply side, in turn, has to do with who this figure is, with the coincidentally tragic surname Messiah.

Sergio Schargel does solid research on the impact that military authoritarian thinking, with its paranoid daydreams of “cultural Marxism”, had on the undisciplined and prematurely retired military Jair Bolsonaro, who, after a long career as a federal deputy of the “lower clergy”, he would become president of the Republic in these sad times when democracy is receding across the planet.

Also as a textual document, an article by Ernesto Araújo is also analyzed, which summarizes traces of the “flat-earth” reading that Bolsonarism makes of world politics. In addition to the submissive alignment with Donald Trump, there is orientalist xenophobia (in the sense of Edward Said!), conspiracy theories, Islamophobia.

As Sergio Schagel draws attention, the far right has managed, throughout the world, to benefit more than other ideological groups from the use of social networks. It is interesting to note that fascisms also took advantage of other communication technologies, in other historical moments, with particular efficiency. The Nazis, the followers of Mussolini, and the postwar American reactionary agitators studied by the Frankfurters were all experts in the use of radio. Nazism also had well-known success in cinema, with Leni Riefenstahl's iconic films promoting the ideals of racial superiority, anti-Semitism and encouraging imperialism and war.

The fact that fascism mobilizes emotions, hatred, fear, desire, rather than rationally chained arguments, makes the mass media very conducive to its ends. Bolsonarism does the same in the era of memes, chain messages on messaging apps, and widespread sponsored YouTube channels where any “influencer” has an authority equivalent to or greater than that of a specialist scholar or someone with extensive experience on the topic in question.

The book I present in this preface helps to understand this phenomenon that has been resurfacing for a century in very different contexts, with different aspects, but always intolerant, hostile, authoritarian and reactive to civilizing advances towards a more just and supportive world (I refer to solidarity with those who are different, not companionship within the entourage).

To face a problem, concern and willingness are not enough, you need to identify the threat. And we cannot wait decades to deal with this, as danger crosses our path every day.

*Guilherme Simões Reis is a professor at the School of Political Science at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Unirio).

Reference


Sergio Schargel. Bolsonarism, integralism and fascism. Rio de Janeiro, Folhas de Relva, 2024, 308 pages. [https://amzn.to/3ySJo7F]


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