Caio Prado Júnior and fascism

Image: Clara Figueiredo, blind goat, digital photomontage, 2020


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

“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” (Caio Prado, “1937”, Political Diaries [1]).

We live in a time of devaluation of knowledge and rescue of fascist policies, treated by the corporate media and other solid institutions (which should also be serious) as if they were an authentic “conservative theory”, worthy of space, and not a mere irrational and inhuman nonsense. . Everywhere, in all aspects of society, what is seen is the rise of anti-scientific beliefs – absurd and dangerous.

Times similar to those of today – of a serious economic crisis, followed by the devaluation of reason in the name of preserving the capitalist order and high profit rates – were experienced in the last century on several occasions, especially in the interwar period (from the 1920s to 1940). However, as history shows, the fascist beasts, always invoked and supported by capital in crisis, cannot or do not want to be tamed, not even when their lack of “rationality” affects their own affairs and those of their allies.

To better understand the disgrace of fascist-capitalism, which is eternally repeated (while it lasts), let's see some reflections by the Marxist Caio Prado Júnior about fascism** - phenomenon that he lived in the skin, when young.

The rise of fascism according to Caio Prado

An erudite thinker, above all a historian and philosopher, but a scholar of several areas of knowledge, Caio Prado left us three decades ago. His interdisciplinary and comprehensive work, still in the mid-twentieth century, would make him one of the exponents of the history of Brazilian and Latin American Marxism.

Caiopradian Marxism is characterized by being a critical and radical analysis of society: an interpretation attentive to the concrete national reality, and averse to Eurocentric “theories”, often artificially copied from contexts different from ours (which were “booklets”).

For this “dialectical sin”, Caio would enter into several clashes and controversies, clashing with the current that then prevailed in the Communist International and in its party, the PCB, according to which the Brazilian Revolution should follow steps similar to those of European nations.


From the interwar period until the beginning of the second half of the XNUMXth century, the Brazilian thinker analyzed various aspects related to the fascist rise, seeking to understand the historical, geopolitical and philosophical particularities of this anti-human phenomenon that was – and is – an international problem.

These essays can be read in manuscripts belonging to the Archive of the Institute of Brazilian Studies at USP; they are composed of study notebooks and political diaries (which include reviews, articles, analyses, notes and clippings from periodicals with personal notes), in addition to various correspondence. They are largely unpublished texts in Portuguese, although some have been published in a recent Argentine edition dedicated to the Brazilian Marxist, entitled Caio Prado: history and philosophy (Rosário: Editorial Último Recurso/ Núcleo Práxis-USP, 2020), which brings an unpublished Castilian translation of a selection of the author’s main writings over decades.

Caio Prado, in these studies, dedicates himself to interpreting various events in the country's history: from the formation of an extremist reactionary movement (integralism, a version of fascism in Brazil), to the "fascistizing" tendency that from the mid-1930s onwards XNUMX takes over the government of Getúlio Vargas (leading to the Estado Novo dictatorship, which persecuted the communists).

Later, in the 1960s and 1970s (and therefore from an already reasonable historical distance), the communist thinker will deal with the socioeconomic and political consequences that the Second World War bequeathed to the “meaning” of our history – that is, to the direction, the paths taken by our nation in its historical process. On the subject, see the late chapter “The crisis in motion” (from 1962, updated in 1970) and the afterword “Post scriptum” (from 1976), included in more recent editions of his book Brazil's economic history.

Crisis context: the announcement of fascism in the interwar period

In the mid-1930s, in the period of social and economic crisis called “interwars” – which would culminate in the Second World War – Caio Prado writes in his political travel chronicles “USSR: a new world” that Western Europe was not moving towards a higher social form, but its society was regressing. For him, the “social-democratic project” – which had predominated in more industrialized nations (England, Germany) – had not brought social progress, but on the contrary, had delayed plans for building a less unequal, “socialist” society.

During these times, says Caio, only the “Bolsheviks” – a reference to the party that led the revolution in Russia and founded the Soviet Union – kept on guard the struggle for “equality among men”, this motto on which the “bourgeois democracies ” they said a lot, but which in reality was never more than an empty “pompous” speech.

Starting from such reflections, the Brazilian Marxist concludes that it is necessary to reject the theory of “social evolutionism” or “stageism”: a dogma that believed that historical evolution would be a rigid process with fixed stages, passing from feudalism necessarily to capitalism, before being able to achieve socialism. As mentioned, this theory sought to forcibly transplant to peripheral countries, such as Brazil, the European revolutionary models (countries with realities so different from ours).

Therefore, by rejecting the idea of ​​stageism, Caio Prado also rejects the idea of ​​alliance, according to which the Brazilian Revolution it should be based on a political strategy of alliance between supposedly “nationalist” social classes (workers and a faction of bosses/bourgeois). Such a political thesis believed that there would be, among the Brazilian elites, a portion that would be progressive: the supposed “national bourgeoisie”.

However, given the correlation of forces – too adverse to the lower classes –, the allianceist thesis placed the workers, albeit temporarily, as submissive allies of the “national bourgeoisie” (to whom the proletarians should submit, while the idealized “bourgeois revolution”).

The phenomenon of “national bourgeoisies” (bourgeoisies that allied with their people in the face of a foreign threat) had indeed existed in certain European and Asian nations. However, in our Brazilian reality this was – and still is – a decoy –, as Caio Prado rightly observes: the Brazilian bourgeoisie believes itself white, worships the values ​​of foreigners and does not identify with its people, has no project for the country, it is a minor partner of imperialism.

According to Caio, it is crucial that each nation builds its own – and careful – reading of Marxism, according to the peculiarities of its history. And on this path, he began to dedicate himself to understanding fascism – a phenomenon that he perceives as having been generated in the long European crisis that goes from the First to the Second World War, including the stock market crash of 1929.

In the caiopradian conception, fascism is a new guise for the extreme right, a non-liberal deviation from capitalism – the result of the socially unstable situation of the interwar period.


At this point, it is interesting to mention the similarity of his ideas with those of an important European Marxist historian, a little younger than Caio, whose conclusions about the fascist phenomenon are similar. For Eric Hobsbawm (who writes decades later, already with a broader historical panorama), the fascist extreme right derives from the “collapse” of the “old ruling classes”: where the former elites remained organized, there was no “need for fascism” , he says. In addition, for the English Marxist – as for the Brazilian –, the fascist regime is based on the economic interests of the dominant classes, characterized by a “non-liberal capitalist” model of economic management, and also, having the particularity of to be a mass movement, a right-wing populism that uses social alienation to mobilize the population through populist spectacles.

This aspect of fascism as a “choice” of the elites is something that should always be historically reiterated and detailed, as it has been surreptitiously questioned by pseudo-impartial voices – such as certain academics who use their position to commercialize ideas “under measure”, which serve to ratify the conservative opinion of the corporate press.

"Political Diaries” – notes on fascism in the historical evolution of Brazil

As mentioned, in times of generalized economic crisis and consequent social turbulence – as in the interwar period (1920s and 1930s) and in the current era –, irrational discourses tend to strengthen, among which fascism: this regime that is the apex of ignorance and modern terror. For Caio Prado Júnior, fascism, in its various forms and intensities of stupidity, is an alternative route used by capitalists in times of crisis, when the hegemony of power of the dominant classes (lords of capital and their minions, the so-called “right” ) is threatened by popular dissatisfaction. It is an even less democratic and more violent way in which capitalists (neoliberals, conservative liberals, etc.) face adverse situations, in which they are no longer able to control the nation and the people through the common media and electoral manipulations, which they call “liberal democracy”.

This is a subject that, unfortunately, as we see day by day in the newspapers of the XNUMXst century, maintains its unusual topicality.

To better situate ourselves in Caio Prado's point of view on fascism (an experience he suffered firsthand, living in prison and in exile), and to understand the historicity of his criticism and his clashes in the intellectual field, let us first note what highlights the historian Boris Fausto (in history of Brazil, 1995): at the end of the 1920s, the world economic crisis (which erupted in 1929) reinforced the “discredit” of liberal democracy – that is, of this regime that identifies itself, in economic terms, with capitalism.

In this context, which opens up flanks to authoritarianism, it so happens that, shortly after the 1932 São Paulo coup attempt – still called today by the pompous oligarchic (Paulistocentric) name of “constitutionalist revolution of 1932” –, the Brazilian Integralist Action appears in São Paulo, fascist-inspired movement.

Integralism was an ultranationalist conservative doctrine, aimed mainly at confronting communists and workers' mobilizations. In 1935, after violent clashes between these right-wing extremists and left-wing (socialist) militants, the Vargas government enacted its National Security Law, tightening legislation on actions against the stability of the State (or “its government”), and affecting civil guarantees, such as strikes and the right to political demonstration (branded as “incitement” to “class hatred”).

At the end of that year, the communist uprising (1935) was defeated, which would intensify the repression of the Vargas government against the interests of the workers – for example, the National Commission for the Repression of Communism was created.

From then on, Vargas' shift to the right would deepen. In 1937, a false bulletin written by integralists to incriminate the communists – in which the imminence of a popular revolt was stated – was the government's pretext to interrupt the electoral process and carry out its coup d'état. It can be seen that the tactics of fake news (“fake news”) about the “communist danger” are not even creative.

In the new political scenario, the Integralists – whom Getúlio had supported at the beginning – are in solidarity with the coup, hoping to obtain a ministerial chair; however, they were later disillusioned, as Vargas would centralize powers, prohibiting the existence of any party (although, in practice, he tolerated the integralists continuing to organize themselves discreetly, as a way of harassing socialist militancy).

Vargas' "fascistizing" turn: fascism as unorthodox capitalism

Vargas, from then on, turned definitively to the right, in a movement that Caio Prado Jr. classifies as the “fascistization” of the Brazilian government. Despite this, it is worth emphasizing that the Marxist thinker considers that previously, in the so-called Revolution of 1930, Vargas had taken a progressive position, when facing the regional oligarchies.

Regarding this historical moment, it is interesting to observe the analysis that Boris Fausto would make on the subject, decades later, and which converges with that of Caio Prado: the Estado Novo represented an alliance between the civil and military bureaucracy, and the industrial bourgeoisie.

Caio Prado, in the early 1930s, in his first studies on fascism (manuscript on an article by C. Hayder, “O Estado corporativo italiano”, 1931, from the IEB-USP Archive), notes that “fascist unionism” distinguishes it from other currents, especially: by the “acceptance of the capitalist class as socially productive”; by the “illegality of the social struggle”; by the “principle of class collaboration”.

Such a system is characterized, he summarizes, by a “complete artificiality”, relying “entirely on the dictatorship”, and aiming at maintaining “very low wages” and the “passivity of the masses”.

Regarding the European context of fascist rise, the author points out that the Italian situation is “deplorable”: “a large herd of unemployed and half-occupied people”.

In his review of the essay “Communism and fascism: distinctive economic character” (by Keneth Burke, New Masses magazine, 1934), Caio ponders, with regard to world politics, that “orthodox capitalism has entered a crisis”, since its “ basic strength” (which is its capacity for “expansion”) already “can no longer develop”, given the saturation of the market. Then, he assesses the capitalist need to integrate “politics” and “production”, which consists of a kind of “directed economy”, based on “business” – unlike communism, he says, which seeks such “integration” through “business elimination”.

The “ideal of the business”, with its hope in the return of investments, needs expansionism, which starts with “economic imperialism”, a kind of “commercial invasion”, and goes “tending towards a military invasion”. It follows from this that there is no "logic" in the fascist attempt to "build a stable economy on the contradictions of business enterprises".

Finally, summarizes Caio: the difference between fascism and communism is that the former through “business” and the latter through “politics”: the former “subjugates” and the latter “prioritises” the worker.

A year later, in an analysis of an article by G. Haschek (from 1935), published in the magazine Annals, Caio Prado points out that fascism is a “mass movement”, which aims to overcome the “deep antagonisms” of modern society through “nationalist enthusiasm”, aiming to conform “a new elite”, a “new cadre of leaders”.

About the Estado Novo of Getúlio Vargas

It is based on such conceptual parameters that Caio Prado elaborates his political interpretation of the Estado Novo, by Vargas – in what ends up diverging from the line of the communist leader Luís Carlos Prestes, who would support Getúlio in favor of the “national-liberating” Pecebist strategy, in opposition to the “fascist threat”, which supposed external. According to Caio Prado, however, this threat came from Vargas himself.

During this period, in the mid-1940s, Caio's disagreements with Prestes worsened, and also with the direction of the PCB as a whole – paths that he saw as dogmatic and centered on the European model (according to his political diaries).

*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).

This article is a version of the first part of “In the sense of fascism: geopolitics and Second War in Brazilian historical evolution according to Caio Prado”, chapter of the book Brazil and Latin America in World War II (Ed. CRV).


[1] It's called political diaries to the set of handwritten notebooks, largely unpublished (belonging to the IEB-USP Archive), in which Caio Prado systematically wrote, for years, his socio-political reflections.


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