fascism and racism



To speak of anti-fascism without anti-racism is to speak of nothing

In recent days, the visibility of the fight against fascism and also against racism has grown. And this has already led to a discussion on social networks about what the “priority of the agenda” would be, signaling in some cases the incompatibility of the two agendas.

I think there is a great deal of theoretical confusion on this issue. And this confusion begins with the definition of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. This confusion even led some Brazilian intellectuals to argue, during the elections, that it was not a question of a risk to democracy and just the election of an exponent of cultural wars. Much of what we are currently experiencing in Brazil stems from this error of assessment. Newspapers called – and some still call – Bolsonaro a “right-wing” or “conservative” politician and not exactly what he is: an exponent of the extreme right.

Herbert Marcuse, in the text The fight against liberalism in the totalitarian conception of the State [1] has a precise definition of “totalitarianism” and why Nazi and Fascist regimes fit this perspective. The German philosopher stated that the totalitarian ideal is expressed as a counterpoint to the liberal order, giving the impression that the contradiction is in the liberal and totalitarian institutional models. When Bolsonaro and his followers attack Congress, the Federal Supreme Court and the press – basic institutions of the liberal order – this idea is expressed.

However, Marcuse goes much further. He claims that this apparent clash of “worldviews” obscures the fact that the social order structured under ownership of the means of production remains – that is, capitalism. For this reason, what happens to Marcuse is that the totalitarian order appears as an alternative when the liberal model reaches the limits of guaranteeing the maintenance of the capital reproduction model.

In other words, liberal capitalism generates totalitarian capitalism, largely due to a reflux of competitive dynamics and the internal contradictions in the ruling class that can be managed within the institutions of liberal democracy – this is the function of systems of checks and balances between powers of the Republic, plurality and alternation in political representation, among others. This view of Marcuse is nothing new, it has already been analyzed by Marx in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

The model of reproduction of capital is currently based on the pattern of flexible accumulation, on the fragmentation of production worldwide, which results in the brutal concentration of wealth, the dismantling of social protection systems, the strengthening of imperialism's mechanisms of imposition and the transfer of income from labor to capital. As this project was being applied, based on the co-option of political segments of the center-left, formerly defenders of the Social Welfare State such as the European Social Democracy and, here in Brazil, by the PSDB, the degradation of the quality of life for the majority of the population. As a result, these political forces gradually lost their support base, opening space for the emergence of a far-right narrative of a xenophobic nature and, in some nations such as Brazil, a moralist one.

It is here that we return to Marcuse, who states that the totalitarian project is not limited to just one form of government, to the fact that the State radicalizes its “terrorist” stance against certain social segments. For Marcuse, the existing particularities in the dimensions of State and society disappear. Unlike the liberal model, in which the public (political) and private (economic) spheres maintain relative autonomy between them, here there is a forced convergence of the two dimensions, synthesizing society with the State itself.

There is, here, an apparent dissonance between a strong totalitarian State and the idea of ​​a minimal State of the neoliberal project. But it is an apparent dissonance, as what happens is a displacement of state apparatuses to the dimension of repression and control of civil society. The minimalization of the State occurs through a dimension of convergence of public and private bureaucracies, in a way that opens up the possibility of an emptying of regulatory institutions and interveners in economic relations. However, the need to maintain a large repressive apparatus partially collides with the neoliberal narrative of reducing the State, and this is one of the difficulties of Bolsonarism.

As an example of this, the phrase of the Minister of Education Abraham Weintraub, in the famous meeting of ministers with the president on April 22, is symptomatic: “I hate this thing about indigenous peoples, gypsy peoples, there is only one Brazilian people”. And what would this “Brazilian people” be? The answer lies in the manifestations of Bolsonarists using symbols such as the Brazilian flag and the shirt of the Brazilian football team and Bolsonaro himself when he constantly states that he represents the Brazilian people because he was elected, and any questioning of his positions would be a disrespect to the will of the Brazilian people, even though he was not elected by the absolute majority of the population. From then on, the executive openly defended the private appropriation of State apparatuses, such as the Federal Police, judicial instruments, support for journalistic bodies that were unconditionally aligned with him.

However, Marcuse does not define Nazi-fascism only in this totalizing State/society synthesis, but also in the dimension of civil society. Marcuse highlights the role of the Nazi party in unifying this idea of ​​society (synthesized from the State) and the individual. More than an authoritarian state, an authoritarian society. An idea of ​​the individual who adheres to this model is imposed. Marcuse says that this synthesis in society is carried out by the Nazi party, and here lies one of Bolsonaro’s difficulties, since such an organization does not exist – hence he tries to appeal to a “diffuse” movement of Bolsonaristas who organize themselves as militias, for the capillarity of the Neo-Pentecostal organizations. However, this diffuse and capillary character opens spaces for internal contradictions.

Returning to Weintraub, who hates indigenous peoples, quilombolas, gypsies, among others, and for whom there is only one Brazilian people. What society (or people) does this Brazilian authoritarian state model want to synthesize? Precisely the one that has the structural conditions to be included in this model of reproduction of capital: the white ruling class. White normativity has a double function here: first, to justify the racial exclusion of blacks and indigenous people; second, to legitimize the anti-national project since whites are a minority in the country. Totalitarianism in Brazil has the clear sense of transforming the country into a great slave quarters of imperialism in which Bolsonarist middle segments aspire to be foremen (and some blacks, like Sérgio Camargo, aspire to the position of captains of the bush...). These specific aspirations are one of the explanations for the percentage of support for Bolsonarism even among the poorest.

Thus, what we have is a totalitarian government, with fascist tendencies that only fail to be fully realized due to the absence of institutional and conjunctural objective conditions. But the signs are clear.

The covid-19 epidemic has revealed the iniquity of neoliberalism. The economic crisis deepened and highlighted the brutal social inequalities. The World Health Organization warned that the spread of the coronavirus in Brazil stems from social inequalities. This and the deepening of the crisis of capitalism with the epidemic amplified precisely the cruelest element of all this: racism. For this reason, the episode of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, United States, led to a wave of protests worldwide against racism. A protest that expresses a damming of feelings of consternation in view of the significant increase in murders of young black men and women in the peripheries, which this year, even in times of social isolation, grew by more than 50%.

The equation that arises is this: crisis in the neoliberal model of capitalism, in institutional models (liberal and authoritarian) evidenced by the structural aspect of inequality that is racism. For this reason, the anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-neoliberal agenda tend to converge. Evidently not everyone will have this reading. The newspaper's editorial The Globe of May 31, which proposes a “political concertation” involving Bolsonaro himself (appealing to the common sense of someone who has never had it), the speeches of figures such as Ciro Gomes that “it is not the time for identity guidelines” or resentful arguments of PT leaders against the anti-fascist front point out the limits of normative whiteness in carrying out the anti-fascist struggle. It was no coincidence that the person who gave the most moving anti-fascist speech these days was the black activist Emerson Balboa – criticizing fascism and evoking Malcolm X. -liberal. In the United States, Martin Luther King, in his famous speech I have a dream, says African-Americans received a “bounced check” from liberal democracy. In Brazil, democracy never arrived for the black people of the periphery.

To speak of anti-fascism without anti-racism is to speak of nothing.

*Dennis de Oliveira He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) and a researcher at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA) at USP.

Originally published on Journal of USP.


[1] Herbert Marcuse. “The fight against liberalism in the totalitarian conception of the State”. In: culture and society, vol. 1, p. 47-88. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1997.


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