Between the ridiculous and the threatening

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By ANDRÉ SINGER*

After Bolsonaro's troll march on São Paulo, Democrats need to isolate the lunatic right

The past itself never comes back, but its thunder and lightning continue to rumble and shine through time. In early 1932 Leon Trotsky, then in exile on the island of Prinkipo near Istanbul, published an analysis of the German situation. In it, he warned of the danger posed by the National Socialist Party, which had obtained 18% of the votes in previous elections and swore, when it suited them, to respect the Constitution.

Faced with doubts, in particular by the Social Democracy (the largest group in the German Parliament), whether the Nazis would take violent action, Trotsky wrote: “Under the cover of the constitutionalist perspective, which puts his opponents to sleep, Hitler wants to preserve the possibility of giving the strike at the right time.”

Convinced of the diagnosis, the author, in whom even Winston Churchill, despite the harshest criticism, recognized his acute intelligence, stated that the only remedy would be the formation of a front that brought together communists and social democrats, bitter competitors since 1918, with nothing less than the heroic corpses of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Without blocking the advance of Nazism, the organizations of the working class, and with them the Weimar Republic, would be dismantled, warned the Russian revolutionary.

In Brazil, almost a century later, Jair Bolsonaro is not a fascist, the government already belongs to the extreme right and the September 7 putsch gave birth to a domesticated mouse. Why, then, remember a ninety-year-old text, written in one of the worst European winters? Why bring back disastrous memories at the end of a sunny winter pacified by the pro-consul Michel Miguel Elias Temer Lulia?

Analogies between eras need to be taken Cum grain salis. No point-to-point connection works to think about specific circumstances – but a common element between the past and the current framework is the technique used by Bolsonaro to deceive the other actors on the scene.

Benito Mussolini, protagonist of the March on Rome, invented a kind of buffoonery, later adopted by Hitler, which, deliberately mixing the ridiculous and the threatening, circumvented the rationality through which the common policy operates. As a result, understanding the picture required extra doses of intellectual investment. Trotsky records, for example, that the Italian Communist Party (PCI) “did not discern the particular traits of fascism” and, “except for Gramsci” (another exceptional analyst), was unaware that there was “a new phenomenon that was still in the process of being formed”. ”.

Here's the problem. Bolsonaro is part of a developing global constellation, which nobody knows where it will lead. It has fascist traits, but it is not the reissue of the old Italian and German fascism. Therefore, I propose to call it, provisionally, “autocratism with a fascist bias”. The formula, somewhat clumsy and which may need to be modified later on, intends to contribute to an understanding, which proves to be urgent, of the Brazilian moment.

Autocratic leaders of the XNUMXst century realized that they could use social networks to operate from a kind of “role playing game” permanent, in which fantasy and reality mix, confusing everything and everyone. The philosopher Rodrigo Nunes explained, in an article in Folha de S. Paulo, how the alternative right, which Trump and Bolsonaro allied with, “discovered the advantages of assuming the position of one of the central figures of contemporary culture: the troll”. In writing this article, I learned that “I'm trolling”, on the internet, it is something like throwing a bait to catch muggles.

The key to understanding trolling is that it seeks to “introduce 'controversial' and 'controversial' ideas into the public debate in an ironic, humorous way or with a certain critical distance, always keeping in doubt about whether this is a joke or for real,” says Nunes .

Therefore, the question of whether there is a risk of a coup by Bolsonaro cannot be answered unequivocally. Trump “played” with the idea of ​​a coup until his last day in the White House. As preposterous as it sounded in the cradle of modern democracy, no one believed it. Until on January 6, 2021, the president stirred up hosts gathered in Washington, among which there were people dressed as Vikings, against the capitol. Joke or real scammer attempt? A fatal mixture, since, occupied for four hours, the Congress of the United States of America had to be defended with gunfire, costing five lives.

In current language, the spark of totalitarian imagination that is producing such confusion has become known as post-truth, a word that has gained international currency since 2016, when the Proposed referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union and Trump's victory. If, unfortunately, the global stage was already contaminated by implausible narratives, such as, for example, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003, the organized use of troll inventions to mobilize the masses constituted a leap, worthy of the phenomena pathologies noted by Gramsci in his prison notebook 1930s to refer to fascism.

Post-truth corresponds to a communication in which facts are disregarded, in favor of versions, no matter how far removed from reality they are. Assuming that they can commit immeasurable distortions without punishment, post-truth characters give themselves the right to say literally anything. It is implied that the important thing is not what they say, but who says it, since it is always and only a question of reinforcing one's own power, starting by securing oneself at the center of the news.

Like any socially effective mechanism, post-truth is nourished by a central aspect of human existence: the non-existence of absolute objectivity. In other words, there is always a margin of uncertainty about what happens. There are, however, reasonable approximations of the truth, that is, possible degrees of objectivity – as any serious journalist who is committed to the ethics of the profession soon learns. This is one of the reasons why autocrats wage a particular war against the informative press, which must systematically deal with standards of objectivity and control of the same.

The repudiation of reliable information is a trait of autocratism on the march, as it needs to distort the facts until it drives the public crazy. According to Theodor W. Adorno, “the so-called fascist-style mass movements have a very deep relationship with delusional systems”.

The Frankfurt School realized that, although the root of fascism was to be found in the capitalist mode of production, its effectiveness as a political movement depended on tapping into the unconscious traits of individuals. Skilled Nazi propaganda activated a deep desire to punish scapegoats, channeling against them a rage that comes from the course of society, felt as adverse and dangerous.

Involved by this maddening publicity, one could imagine, in a very simplified way, that Bolsonaro adherents believe they are part of an oppressed people, whose “freedom” is threatened by a coalition that goes from Lula to the Federal Supreme Court (STF). ), passing through China and Faria Lima.

It is a vision without foundation or reason, since such a coalition does not exist and the forces mentioned are alien to each other, when not opposed. On the contrary: who wants to end freedom is Bolsonarism, which asks for military intervention to establish a dictatorship in the country. However, once the delusion has been internalized, it is useless to try to clarify it.

Therein lies the danger posed by September 7, 2021, the first occasion on which fascist-biased autocratism demonstrated its ability to mobilize the masses in Brazil. For them, the “proof” of authoritarianism of the Lula-China-Faria Lima-STF “system” would be in the prisons determined by Supreme Minister Alexandre de Moraes.

The most important arrest reached former deputy Roberto Jefferson, president of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), in mid-August. Jefferson was arrested because, in rude language and posts in which he appeared armed, he asked the Armed Forces to support an intervention in the STF, in addition to threatening that “if there is no printed vote (...), there will be no election next year”. Trolling?

From this point of view, the commemoration inaugurated on the Day of the Fatherland was not that of the two centuries of the Independence of Brazil, but that of the centenary of the March on Rome, which, in October 1922, brought together fascists from all over Italy to pressure, successfully , King Victor Emmanuel 3rd to name Mussolini prime minister. With the significant difference that the troll march on São Paulo was just the beginning of a cycle of mobilization against next year's election.

Shortly after encouraging followers to civil disobedience, Bolsonaro apparently backed down, saying he respected the Constitution. Fascism also invented a sibylline way, adopted by current autocratic leaders, of naturalizing the break with the rule of law. The writer Stefan Zweig synthesized how the Hitlerian method worked. “One dose at a time, and after each dose a short break. Always just one pill and then wait a little to check if it wasn't too strong, if the conscience of the world tolerated that dose.”

Trump and Bolsonaro use, consciously or unconsciously, the arsenal forged a century ago. Unlike historical fascism, today's autocrats do not have, so far, the central objective of containing a left-wing labor movement or promoting warlike expansionism, both characteristic of the situation after the First World War. However, they set in motion artifices with similar effects.

Auxiliary forces to the autocrats contribute to stifle the “conscience of the world” and naturalize democratic corrosion. In general, these occasional allies think that they are facing something bizarre and therefore transient, which they can use and then discard. Perhaps this is the case of the Brazilian military, who maintain a frightening ambiguity regarding the occupant of the Planalto. On the one hand, they participate actively and openly in the mandate, to the point of not being sure whether it belongs to the president or to the uniforms. On the other hand, they seem to endorse behind the scenes that the most insane groups in the Bolsonarist asylum gallery are repressed by the STF. For greater “peace of mind” establishment civilized, whenever consulted offline, active duty officers send word that they do not join adventures.

The same dubiousness can be observed on the part of the centrão, a decisive part of the National Congress. On the one hand, Bolsonaro maintains, with the president of the Chamber of Deputies resolutely blocking requests for impeachment against him. On the other hand, it refuses the approval of the printed vote, which would instrumentalize the representative to affect the 2022 election. In this regard, it reminds us of the US Republican Party, which defeated Trump's impeachment in the Senate, but did not accept to participate in the Viking putsch against diplomacy from Biden.

A similar oscillation can be observed in the middle class. While a portion of big capital signals that it is against Bolsonaro – a position that its American correspondents also occupied in relation to Trump –, slices of agribusiness, the services sector and small and medium-sized companies remain sympathetic to Bolsonarism. The war of corporate manifestos that took place a few weeks ago demonstrates this.

Hannah Arendt tells that the German bourgeoisie intended to instrumentalize Hitler. By the time he realized the reverse was happening, it was too late. When, after all, will it be “too late” here? There is no answer to that $1 million question.

Stealth authoritarianism, well described by Adam Przeworski, erodes democracy little by little, without definitive ruptures. It is a “slow and steady” process, in which erosion, driven by elected officials, occurs largely within the laws and is full of comings and goings. It uses the loopholes available to restrict freedom of expression, change the composition of judicial bodies, change the rules of the electoral system, disorganize the State, prohibit or hinder associations, intimidate oppositionists, surveil them, prosecute them, arrest them, attack them. them physically etc.

When there is a scandal, they retreat. Then they start over. Trump’s “coup” consisted of pressuring the institutions – first the counting boards and then Congress – to recognize that there had been fraud in the election, and that he would be the real winner. Failing that, he gave ground, but even outside the Presidency he did not give up.

Therefore, society should not take risks. The democratic opposition needs to use whatever space is available to resist, wall in and reduce autocratism to a lunatic and isolated fringe.

In Hungary, where the autocracy of Viktor Orbán, in power for more than a decade, advanced to the point that the European Parliament denounced “a clear risk of serious violation of values”, the center-left opposition won the elections in Budapest in 2019, defeating the official party. In Turkey, where the European Parliament has declared itself "committed to including democratic conditionality", student protests in early 2021 toppled President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rector of the country's top university.

In Brazil, the best way to stop autocratism would be to impeach Bolsonaro. To this end, it is essential to create an active unity between left, center and right forces, which otherwise have antagonistic views on how to lead the nation if the president is impeached.

Immediately, therefore, the necessary step is the mutual recognition of the profound differences that divide this possible democratic front, above all with regard to the economic program. Without legitimizing distinctions, reciprocal trust is not established, and enthusiasm wanes.

The second moment would be to clearly determine what the unifying points are, outside which all currents are guaranteed the freedom to follow with their respective points of view, to be democratically disputed in the elections.

“Each organization continues under its own flag and direction. Each organization observes the discipline of the united front in action”, recommended Trotsky from the Turkish observatory. Despite other controversies involving the character, it is worth meditating on one of the moments in history when he hit the nail on the head.

* André Singer is a professor of political science at USP. Author, among other books, of The senses of lulism (Company of Letters).

Originally published in notebook Illustrious from the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, on the 19th of September 2021.

 

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