Caio Prado Júnior and fascism – II

Carlos Zilio, SÓ, 1970, felt-tip pen on paper, 47x32,5


The Brazilian thinker analyzed several aspects related to the fascist rise, seeking to understand the historical, geopolitical and philosophical particularities of this anti-human phenomenon

On July 18, 1937, Caio Prado, in allusion to the maneuver that Vargas initiated for the monopoly of power, wrote down in a handwritten notebook (part of his “Political Diaries”) that Plínio Salgado, the integralist leader, after a demonstration in which there was confusion and death, had been forbidden to speak by the government. A month later (18/08/1937), prophesying the farce, still obscure today, said Cohen Plan, Caio comments that rumors are circulating about a “communist coup”. But he ponders that what “really exists is the threat of an integralist coup”: a coup “tolerated by the police” and “sponsored by the government”. And he adds: there is a “general nervousness” in the country.

On the date of the coup d'état (November 10, 1937), the Marxist, recently released from prison where he had spent two years, was in Paris, where he had been in exile for a few weeks. In his notebook (10/11/1937), he makes the following note: “Getúlio unleashes a coup. The new constitution, clearly dictatorial, inaugurates in Brazil a regime with a fascist tendency”.


"1937”: an unpublished and still current essay

Having matured the idea of ​​​​the coup, in the following month, Caio Prado makes a long consideration about the internal and external socio-historical aspects that contributed to the event. This is the unpublished essay “1937” (Political Diaries, Paris, December 1937 – the following quotes refer to this text).

Right at the opening, he exposes the paradoxical nature of what happened – a Getúlio who, from a progressive in 1930, would return, a few years later, to an authoritarianism with a fascist nuance. It is worth noting here that – as in Political evolution of Brazil – in this article he already outlines his classic conception of historical evolutionary “meaning” – a little later systematized in Formation of contemporary Brazil: “With the year 1937, one of the most important and moving phases of the political history of Brazil ended, and another began, still full of uncertainties and obscure perspectives. Politically, the November coup is the epilogue of an evolution towards the growing strengthening of the executive power with the parallel weakening and demoralization of the other powers. Historical paradox: the phase following the 1930 Revolution, unleashed under a liberal, anti-authoritarian banner (...), this phase ends precisely with the advent of a regime in which presidential authoritarianism results not only from a de facto situation, contrary to the constitution in force (as has been the case until today), but it is expressly inscribed in the text of the country's organic law.”

Following the essay, Caio goes on to summarize the elements that led to what he calls Vargas’ “fascist measures”, which would lead to the “political evolution of the country towards dictatorship” – culminating in the coup that was outlined as a transitory solution. and whose only function was to disguise the country's socioeconomic contradictions: “Extremely complex factors contributed to this outcome. Internal factors combine with others of an external nature and it is very difficult to highlight facts and analyze them in isolation. They link and interdetermine in such a way that it is not possible to reach conclusions within particular or partial points of view. Perhaps the historian of the future, having before him the complete picture of events – for the time being we are still confined to a small sector and most of the political drama represented has yet to unfold – perhaps the historian of the future will be able to unravel the skein that are the facts that we witnessed. Today that is impossible, and we have to content ourselves with some general outlines.”

As the author explains, the “Revolution of 1930” – with the fall of the Old Republic – marked “unquestionably the end of a regime, of an outdated political system”. In the event of 1930, he says, is the milestone of overcoming the old regime, characterized by the predominance of “state autonomy imposed mainly by São Paulo”; a “political mechanism” that was “founded on small local oligarchies, with sham elections”; a “[national] State without initiative in the economic and social plan” – whose inaction had been shaken by the capitalist crisis of 1929. “The unpopularity of all governments, from the federal to the municipal – complete –, had reached its peak”.

With the Revolution of 1930, however, only the “objective conditions” changed, not the “ancient tradition”; this was the core reason that led Brazil to experience the “rebirth of a system that seemed to be abolished”: “the old customs were not extirpated”; a “political maturation” did not occur in the country, and the four years that followed it were one of “agitation and disorganization”.

“What seems most serious in the character of the parliament of the New Republic – which, incidentally, reflects a defect in the entire political reorganization of the country – is the regionalist trait, a legacy of the past, that manifests itself in it. In a word, the new political order reproduced, although already very attenuated and only as a residue of the past, a good part of the defects of the policy prior to 1930. The old political system (...) had become completely incompatible with the new conditions of the country".

This picture, however, would begin to change with the design of two organizations: “integralism” and the “Aliança Nacional Libertadora”. Despite this, reflects Caio, the “general opinion” of the country was not open to either of these two groups. Integralist extremism, as well as the radicalism of the ANL – and I highlight here the difference, always omitted by the corporate press, between the “extremist” position (inordinate, sectarian) and the “radical” position (derived from the precise analysis of the root of the problem) – is due to internal factors, but “mainly to international circumstances”.

Integralism, a Eurofascist-inspired movement, had its extremism curiously evident not in its leaders, but in the “spirit of its movement and the masses that accompanied it”; in fact, this was precisely his weakness: the “insufficiency” of his bosses – whose profile was too “conservative”.

As for the left-wing movement, he states that “the groups and social classes capable of pushing it forward lacked maturity and efficiency”: “Communist fear” mobilized “all the conservative forces” in the country against the Alliance. “The November 1935 uprising, a simple barracks conspiracy”, was the “last spasm” of the ALN before disappearing – this gesture, by the way, resulted more from the “heroism” of a handful of officers, than from a “widespread movement”. collective".

Integralism, for its part, was less incisive in its action. Braked by the bosses, he showed himself to be quite moderate: “despite the models that inspired him – Italian and German fascism”. This is also due to the fact that integralism “never enjoyed wide popularity” – on the contrary, it suffered “strong revulsion” from “especially the proletariat”. “As for the conservative classes – observes Caio Prado, who is well acquainted with the national Xucra elite – they looked with a certain sympathy on a movement that presented itself as the vanguard of the anti-communist struggle”: “they even gave it financial support”, despite the fact that this movement caused them “ a certain fear”.

At this moment, Caio makes an aside, in his text, to analyze fascism in general: a regime that “everywhere where it was implanted, was always received as a last resort” – as an extreme action to calm the “convulsion Social".

“The implantation of fascism, if on the one hand it represents the guarantee of social stability, at least for the immediate future, on the other hand it brings considerable inconveniences for the classes interested in social conservation. Accepting the fascist dictatorship, they abdicate a good part of their rights and their freedom of action. They accept a strict economic, political and social control that is at least uncomfortable. The price that the conservative classes, accepting fascism, pay to guarantee the essential, which is their existence, is thus very high; and they are only willing to pay it when there is no other remedy or they believe there is no other remedy”.

However, this was not the case in Brazil: in Caio’s interpretation, the “weakness” of “the entire left-wing movement in Brazil” did not inspire such “great fear” as to opt for “extreme measures such as fascism”. ”. Even the “uprising of 1935” turned out to be “so easily quelled that it did not provoke desperate gestures”.

If, however, “extreme measures” did not come, as in Italy and Germany, the communist uprising would be the small pretext that Vargas was waiting for to implement “fascist measures” – which would ultimately lead to dictatorship. On the reactionary side, Integralism did not “find an environment” in Brazil either, but only “vegetated until 1935”, and was incapable of reacting to Vargas’ offensive against its organization.

Thus, although the country, its “problems” and “political balance”, demanded a renewed “national policy”, contradictorily, the dilemma that would end up posed was: “or go back, that is, reconstitute the old political situation, based essentially on a regional basis” – ponders Caio – “or to suppress any and all policies, imposing in their place a somewhat artificial structure, based exclusively on a situation actually supported by force”.

Caio Prado concludes the essay “1937” by stating that, faced with the “imminence of a return to the past”, and as a way of crushing an (improbable) more radical outcome, the Brazilian elites chose the second option: a fascistized and artificial State structure that would “suppress” national politics through an “unstable” dictatorship that is nothing more than a “provisional solution”, and that could lead the country to a “civil war, a relentless struggle that will last for a long time” .


World War II and the Fascistization of Global Capitalism

Convinced that Brazil was on the “imminence of a return to the past”, as he states at the end of the article “1937”, let us now analyze how Caio Prado Júnior interprets the Estado Novo process and the decades after World War II: a period in which capitalism world goes through this process that he calls “fascistization”, while Brazil lives the farce of the “economic miracle”.

In March 1938, the Brazilian Marxist, already very critical of the PeceBist strategy at the time, with his “abstract” schemes –stageism and the consequent alliance, always along European lines–, points out that the PCB was divided into two blocks: one, which indirectly approaches the government, contrary to “agitations that would favor integralism and the complete fascistization of the Getúlio government”; another, dissident, “more radical, which seeks to articulate a popular united front against the current government” (DP, March 1938).

Two months later, the Integralists, deceived by Getúlio, would try to strike a blow after a blow. Caio writes the text “Integralist coup in Rio de Janeiro – attack on the Guanabara Palace” (DP, May 1938) – highlighting that “there are indications of German participation in the failed coup”. The following year, on the eve of World War II, Caio Prado returns from exile in Europe.

In 1942, already in the middle of the war, he starts to rehearse a reflection on the movements of Brazil on the domestic and international war front: “The fascistization of Brazil continues its march. The Estado Novo is raised to the clouds. […] Getúlio is absolute lord. […] The country is apathetic; the conservative classes fear communism (fear exploited by the situation); the people are under police terror. […] The DIP [Department of Press and Propaganda] exercises an undeniable dictatorship over the country’s thinking.” (DP, 1942)

As for international relations, says Caio in the same note: the “government is contradictory” – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs forces rapprochement with the US, but the Ministry of War leans towards “Germany and fascism”. And in this conservative clash, he completes: “the left is asleep”.

As mentioned many times in Political Diaries, he misses a properly national communist project, which is not dogmatically guided by external molds – a Marxist reading that apprehends the socioeconomic and cultural specificities of the nation.

However, a year later, more optimistic, he began to see a hint of hope in the popular mobilization. Faced with the clash between USP students and police in a public square, where “first blood flows” for the country’s democratization, Caio states: “Brazil wakes up from its lethargy” –and adds– “the European war was the first sign of new Times". At first the “general sympathies of the situation [Getulismo] went frankly towards Germany”; the “fascio-integralists and sympathizers of all stripes” dragged the country. However, due to the “Pan-American commitments”, the aggression against the United States forced Brazil to break with the Axis.

In any case, he concludes that here “the war is being carried out bureaucratically, without popular participation” – to which he proposes the following (and very current) reflection: “'Democracy' is still a facade in Brazil to justify itself in the face of its Anglo-American allies. Incidentally, there are fascist tendencies in the latter, so that the dubious position of the Brazilian economic situation fits very well into the order[…] of the moment. What tipped the scales in favor of democracy are the Soviet victories.” (DP, November 1943)

Note that in his interpretation that the “fascist tendencies” of the time, in Brazil as well as in the United States, converge and thus align, he seems to prophesy the future of fascistized American politics in the post-war period – as well as its allies in global capitalism. Thanks to his accurate political-economic analysis, in a remarkable moment of genius he effectively foreshadows the historical movement that would conform in the second half of the century, namely: the accentuated fascistization of the USA and vassal powers (NATO) – driven by the desire for expansion of markets (early days of liberal globalization).

A newspaper clipping Today (16/07/1946), highlighted in the Political Diaries almost three years later, he arrives at the same conclusion: the idea of ​​fascism “is still alive”, stimulated by British and American capital that advance and need consumer markets.

On the other hand, Caio Prado Jr. ponders that, given the victories of the Soviet Union, the government was forced to “allow a certain campaign for democracy and against fascism”: “The results were not long in coming” – movements for democracy began to spread throughout the country (DP, November 1943).

Still in this confident line, a year later – in correspondence with the editor – he writes:

“The year 1944 has in its favor, as far as Brazil is concerned, a great asset: it is the participation of our troops in favor of the great cause of today, the crushing of fascism[…], [but] unfortunately the domestic situation does not bring us equal satisfaction[…], [given the] difficulty in satisfying the most elementary needs and the distressing situation of most of the population.” (DP, “Letter to Octavio Thyrso”, director of “Sombra”, dated 08/11/1944)

The causes of this problem, he goes on to say in the letter, are “deeper, and go back many years before the war, which only exposed the vices of a system”. He ends with too much hope, saying he believes that Brazilians are now more “enlightened”, and that next year (1945) the “end of the war” and the “collapse of all fascism” should come: “Tomorrow's world will not be of dictators, and humanity will enter a new phase”, in which Brazilians will have “their share” if they know how to keep alive the “flame of freedom and democracy” – which they now started on the battlefields.


End of the War and the Estado Novo

At the end of 1945, with the war just over, the Estado Novo also ended. However, in the PCB, the new orientation in defense of the “national union” – line of the National Commission of Provisional Organization (CNOP), in support of Vargas– makes many militants leave the party. Caio disagrees with this current, but an organic communist accepts the decision.

In November of this year, comments (DP, 1945) that Integralism seeks to reorganize itself –under the name of Popular Representation Party– and criticizes the posture of Prestes, whom he considers verbose and powerless to promote a “renewal” of communism in Brazil. He understands that Prestes' "attitude and policy give rise to attacks that could greatly harm the Brazilian revolutionary movement."

During this period, Caio and several intellectuals signed an anti-Integralist manifesto: “[this] serious threat to all Brazilians” – the result of “maneuvers by the enemies of democracy and progress” (DP, January-February 1946).

Months later, in the “Letter to companion Evaldo da Silva Garcia” (DP, 11/05/1946), states hopefully that with the Second War Brazil took a “great step”, since: “a popular conscience was formed like we never had in the past” – and “the fundamental conditions exist today for the beginning of the great transformation that will lead us, albeit in a future that we cannot yet foresee, to a new order very different from the current one”.


Post-War Geopolitics and the False Economic Miracle

The “new order”, which Caio Prado foresees for Brazil – an idea defended in many of his works –, should be built by overcoming the external guidance of our economy, creating a strong domestic market. However, decades later, he would find disappointed that although the Second World War had brought about great changes in the “march of the peoples”, essentially it did not change the “meaning of Brazilian evolution”. There was an effort to restructure, with renewed features, the same system in “crisis” – but without compromising its “colonial essence”. As a result, the contradictions on the social and political plane are aggravated.

On the one hand, with the decrease in imports – due to the European productive environment weakened by the War–, national economic activities grow and diversify, especially those of industry (import substitution); however, the archaic characteristics of the Brazilian economy remain, so that given the international demand, there is an invigoration of the “traditional system of the past” – the export of food and raw materials. As soon as, on the other hand, on the social and political plane, “imbalances and maladjustments” are accentuated – he writes in the article “The crisis in motion”, from 1962, a chapter added to later editions of Economic History of Brazil (the quotes below are from this text).

“At first, he says, this scenario caused the chronic contradictions of our economic system to decay, temporarily curing the balance of foreign payments. However, it is important to point out that, if “clear progress” has been made in these times, there has also been an increase in the cost of living –since prices are pressured by insufficient internal supply, an effect of increased external demand–, without taking into account counterpart increase in wages (squeezed with authoritarianism). The result of this was a strong “increase in the exploitation of the workforce” – analyzes Caio –, and an appreciable “surplus profit”, which provokes “intense capitalist accumulation”, considerably enriching sectors of the dominant classes”.

“It is therefore an unstable period of “balance” and “artificial prosperity” – which would begin to decline as soon as the “extraordinary circumstances” that caused them disappeared”.

“As can be foreseen, a new period of crisis would soon come. In 1947, the value of imported products exceeds those exported; in the following years, the trade balance improves slightly, leaving positive balances which, however, are insufficient to pay financial commitments (usury on the external debt, etc.) – such deficits being covered with more foreign loans, in a vicious cycle.

In 1951, back in power, Getúlio Vargas, based on a momentary favorable international situation (given the rise in coffee prices), launched a program to promote the industry. However, such a policy fails to be immediate and lacks joint planning –a vision of the economy as a whole–, so that it ends up favoring only private financial interests. From this experience, there would be a lesson –“unfortunately not well assimilated”– that the industrial development of the country requires deeper and much broader measures: structural changes”.

In terms of international relations, Caio Prado explains that, in the immediate post-War period, the capitalist economy (especially the US) experienced intense growth, driven by the “easy financial situation” of the US – resulting from the restriction of consumption during the conflict, the financing of the war, and the subsequent business of rebuilding Europe (Marshall Plan). Such impulse, and the consequent strengthening of the United States, will be prolonged by the policy of world financial reorganization imposed by this power – based on the “Bretton Woods” agreement. In addition to this country, other capitalist powers would greatly benefit from this conjuncture of growing monopolization of capital, especially Germany and Japan, which defeated in arms, won economically; this fact might seem contradictory, were it not for nazi-fascism a solution (and form) of capitalism itself – as the Marxist states in “Post Scriptum”, from 1976, added to the work Economic History of Brazil (The following quotes are from this essay).

“Brazil would not remain on the sidelines of the monopoly offensive –this “offspring of developed capitalism”–, which would find a generous welcome here, given the political orientation Exterior (facing outward), which has always been adopted by our ruling classes.”

“Such a surge in the national and international economy, leveraged by the influx of capital and technology from large centers to the periphery of the system, was known around here as the “Brazilian economic miracle” – a phenomenon founded on precarious financial foundations that for three decades managed to disguise “artificially ” (only with mild recessions) the “structural tendency of the capitalist system to stagnation”.

“However, this broad international political-economic farce forged in the post-war period could not last much longer. The “structural” failure of capitalism would be clearly revealed in the early 1970s, with the intense and widespread inflationary process and unemployment, accompanied by the idleness of the productive apparatus (notably in the more industrialized countries) – a shock that demonstrated the limits of capitalist expansion. Parallel to this, there is a sudden rise in oil prices – which severely affects the European and Japanese subpowers, which do not produce black gold”.

In short, concludes Caio Prado, the supposed “Brazilian miracle” was nothing more than a brief artificial outbreak, motivated by the exceptional and unstable international situation of the period that followed the Second World War. There was no significant sign of essential change in the “archaic structures inherited from our colonial past”. Our industry continued to be weak, with little infrastructure and dependent on the foreign market. And what is more serious: without even glimpsing the basic needs of the Brazilian population. After the outbreak, ponders the author, the nation then returned to its “mediocre normality tied to the past”.


Fascism as a capitalist tactic in times of crisis

As can be seen throughout this exhibition, Caio Prado Jr., through an analysis based on the dialectical conception of history, shows that fascism, whose apex took place in the barbarism of the Second World War, far from being able to be compared with any type of authoritarianism of the pioneering attempts at socialist construction (as “intellectuals” try to sell in the market), has always been a historical force opposed to communism. Or, to put it another way, Nazi-fascism was just a renewed face, a brutal face of capitalism.

Such a definition was later deepened by Hobsbawm (age of extremes, 1994), who sees fascism as a modern extreme right, the modus operandi capitalist adapted for more difficult times to be controlled – and therefore the solution for its cyclical periods of crisis, or as they say, for the moments when it is necessary to “socialize the loss”.

It should be noted that with fascism and the subsequent World War II, the path was clearly opened for the US geopolitical rise which, after the Soviet fall (in the face of economic and war pressures from the superpower and its minor allies, the Western Europeans), would culminate with the unprecedented unipolarity seen in contemporary international relations in the 1990s (the “neoliberal” decade, which for Brazil was the second consecutive “lost” decade).

From another perspective, Caio Prado's message is that we should not base our actions on dogmatic and Eurocentric rules that place European historical evolution as a standard for the world. For the thinker, he urges that Brazil, in spite of ready-made models, build its own national democratic-communist project, according to its own Marxist reading that apprehends the Brazilian historical idiosyncrasy: its socioeconomic and cultural peculiarities.

However, given the ebb of communism after the defeat of the USSR in the Cold War and the dispersion of the left in the current scenario, it seems healthy to point out that Caio Prado, when he opposes alliances, refers to alliances with the bourgeoisie or part of it that compromise the autonomy of the socialist movement – ​​as it happened in the past (with Vargas, etc.), and even in present times (as in the case of certain reckless –and betrayed– agreements from the period called Lulism).

The Brazilian Marxist, however, does not hesitate to place himself in favor of possible specific interclass agreements, in favor of common projects of humanitarian urgency, such as minimal reforms that can reduce extreme poverty; he points out, however, that, in the case of alliances with sectors of the dominant classes, the leadership of the political project must always remain with the working class.

By the way, this is also the conception of Vladimir Lênin, Antonio Gramsci and José Carlos Mariátegui, among other great Marxist thinkers who, when they understood the fight for the conquest of basic rights as a foundation for the Revolution, corroborated the idea of ​​Marx himself – who n'the german ideology (1845-46) had already written: “the first presupposition of all human existence and, therefore, of all history, is that men must be able to live in order to be able to 'make history'”; however, “in order to live, you must first of all eat, drink, have a home, and dress”; “this is a historic act, a fundamental condition of all history”.

In this way, Caio Prado understands that defending emergency reforms, of a humanitarian nature, that even provisionally solve human vital needs, although a risky political gesture (subject to betrayals, coups) does not mean deviating from the revolutionary sense, but on the contrary , it is about having the sensitivity to realize that without this – without the slightest humanization of social relations – it will be even more difficult to make the journey.

*Yuri Martins-Fontes He holds a PhD in History from FFLCH-USP/ Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Author of Marx in America – the praxis of Caio Prado and Mariátegui (Avenue).

To read the first part of the article click on



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MARTINS-FONTES, Yuri. “Caio Prado: expanded agrarian reform and armed struggle”. Mouro Magazine: Nucleus of Studies d'Capital, São Paulo, year 6, n.9, Jan. 2015.

MARX. Carl; ENGELS, Friedrich. The German Ideology. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2007 [1845-1846].

NEWS, Fernando. “Caio Prado Jr. historian". New Studies, n.2, São Paulo, Jul. 1983.

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