Fascism in Brazil?

Image_Stela Maris Grespan

By Luciana Aliaga*

Bolsonarism can be understood as a moment of reaction – just as the civil-military dictatorship was in the past – gestated in a period of crisis of hegemony within the social relations of forces in Brazil

There is now a considerable and important intellectual effort inside and outside the academy to unravel the phenomenon of the emergence in Brazil of a specific type of authoritarianism that is characterized by the recurrent search for support from the masses through the wide use of propaganda, using digital media in particular. and the fake news, which has been called, still without much precision, “Bolsonarism”. Bolsonarism – like fascism –, in addition to being a form of political power management, demonstrates its intention to become a mass movement, with an allegedly revolutionary character (the disclosure of the ministerial meeting on April 22, 2020 clearly shows a speech anti-establishment of Bolsonaro and his ministers), with a strong emphasis on warmongering and attacks on democratic institutions. Due to the evident similarities with authoritarian forms of the past, especially with the Italian fascism of the first half of the XNUMXth century, the bibliography has frequently resorted to concepts such as neo-fascism or proto-fascism to understand the Brazilian political and social context.

The difficulties of characterizing a phenomenon before it develops and manifests all its characteristics are enormous and the use of known terminologies or concepts to unveil brand new phenomena is recurrent in the history of thought. Bernardo Ricupero, in “Notes on Bonapartism, Fascism and Bolsonarism” (Major Card, 11/12/2019), shows how fascism in its early days was understood by different intellectuals of the time as a form of Bonapartism, that is, as part of the “same family of political regimes, both being forms of direct dictatorships of capital ”. As we can see, in order to enable the intellectual apprehension of new historical events, for which there is still no specific vocabulary, the semantics of the past were resorted to, related to events already known, already apprehended conceptually. In the same sense, Karl Marx, in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte had already drawn attention to the fact that present generations borrow names from the past even when they seem to revolutionize history. The author says “[...] it is precisely in these times of revolutionary crisis that the spirits of the past are fearfully conjured up to their aid, borrowing their names, their battle slogans, their clothes, so that, with that disguise of old age, venerable language and this borrowed language, represent the new scene of universal history”. Using the semantics of the past to characterize new phenomena, not yet fully apprehended, is therefore a recurrent procedure in the history of movements and political thought. This procedure, however, has an eminently provisional nature as it is based on an analogy that is still very precarious due to the level of knowledge of the phenomenon. In this sense, Brazilian fascism, proto-fascism or neo-fascism can be understood as provisional concepts, useful for the needs of the moment, but, as knowledge of historical particularities advances, a new concept will probably emerge.

Antonio Gramsci was one of the first authors to attribute a more general character – capable of being translated to other national realities, therefore – to the set of phenomena that defined fascism, but instead of defining fascism itself as a concept, he proposed the concept of passive revolution or revolution-restoration. The author witnessed and developed his militant activity during the prolonged economic crisis since 1917, with the persistence of high prices, hunger and the consequent dissatisfaction of the Italian popular classes, which were central elements of the political crisis that would pave the way for the rise of the fascist regime. In that scenario, movements and parties in the broad spectrum of the left did not have a conscious direction that synthesized and channeled economic-corporate claims into political agendas capable of creating an organized and cohesive popular movement, which impacted on the defeat of the labor movements of the biennio rosso (1919-1920) and paved the way for the coup d'état. Us Prison Notebooks, the author recovers these experiences and focuses his analysis on the political and economic context in which fascism asserted itself. Gramsci points the spotlight to the social and political relations of forces, emphasizing that in crisis situations like these – not only in Italy in the first half of the XNUMXth century, therefore – the opportunities for reactionary groups to deepen their influence in politics increase: “It almost always happens that a 'spontaneous' movement of the subordinate classes is accompanied by a reactionary movement of the right wing of the ruling class, for concomitant reasons: for example, an economic crisis determines, on the one hand, discontent in the subordinate classes and spontaneous mass movements , and, on the other hand, determines plots by reactionary groups that exploit the objective weakening of the Government to attempt coups d'état” (Q. 3, §48, p. 328).

The solution to the crisis of hegemony, therefore, when it is not equated in a progressive, popular sense, can be resolved regressively, from above, that is, it can occur through an open coup d'état or through a charismatic leader , without formal rupture of liberal institutions, but with an authoritarian character. In the case of Italy, fascism was, in Gramsci's reading, a top-down solution to the hegemony crisis that had dragged on since the end of the First World War. Fascism would have been, then, one of the specific political forms from which the revolution-restoration was presented, that is, as a conservative form of reaction and response from above to the crisis of hegemony opened by the First World War and the Russian Revolution. In this way, it was possible to maintain order, modernize the productive apparatus to a certain extent and, at the same time, keep the masses passive and obedient. The definition of fascism as revolution-restoration was developed, therefore, from the analysis of the relations of forces, and it is this analysis – we believe – that helps us to understand the new phenomena, from which it is possible to perceive that the authoritarian and political forms /or reactionary – Bonapartism, Fascism, Nazism (and Bolsonarism) – emerged in conjunctures that had three common elements: 1. A prior and deep economic crisis and a crisis of hegemony; 2. The defeat of workers' movements, popular movements, the left, and; 3. Emergence of organized reactionary forces.

Bolsonarism, therefore, can be understood as a moment of reaction – just as the civil-military dictatorship was in the past – gestated in a period of crisis of hegemony within the social relations of forces in Brazil. In this sense, it can be understood as a concrete political form of the historical revolution-restoration dialectic proposed by Gramsci. In this sense, the author points us to a viable path for understanding the Brazilian contemporary phenomenon as a specific political form of power management that, despite the revolutionary vocabulary, the promise of political renewal, is fundamentally a movement to restore reactionaryism linked to both to militarism and colonialism, structuring our political culture over the centuries.

Bolsonarism, unlike the individual personality of Jair Bolsonaro, can be understood both as a form of power management and as a reactionary mass movement, incited by the spread of fake news, which emerges as a result of a political, economic, social and ideological crisis, whose origins can be identified in 2013. It is not possible to say, however, that Jair Bolsonaro has a State project – unlike Hitler or Mussolini –, but On the contrary, what becomes increasingly evident is that he exclusively has an individual (or family) project of power and is clearly campaigning for re-election in 2022.

However, to unravel the authoritarian political form of Bolsonarism, it is of fundamental importance to understand the foundations of Brazilian political culture, as already observed by Michel Löwy in “Conservatism and extreme right in Europe and Brazil”, published in 2015 in Social Service Magazine, colonial culture “impregnates attitudes and behaviors even long after decolonization”. Colonialism, which is a social, political and cultural structure reproduced throughout the centuries in Brazilian history, is being systematically restored in the Bolsonaro government as a State policy, both because of its manifest and repeated subalternity to US President D. Trump, and due to the absence of federal policies to confront a pandemic that mainly takes the lives of those subjects who have been secularly marginalized by colonialism, that is, black people, the poor and indigenous populations, who remain at the mercy of the devastating effects of the pandemic and the illegal exploitation of reserves Brazilian forests. Reserves completely unprotected by the Ministry of the Environment led by Ricardo Salles, who, as was made explicit at the aforementioned ministerial meeting on April 22, 2020, proposes to take advantage of the pandemic moment and the distraction of the media with the theme to “pass the cattle”, “pass the infralegal reforms of deregulation, simplification” of environmental protection norms, in a clear policy of damage to the homeland.

Militarism, in turn, as another important structural element in Brazilian politics, which still bears the open wounds of two decades of extreme and daily violence during the period of the civil-military dictatorship, is restored in the Bolsonaro government, that is, it gains new momentum. and value with the reiterated praise of the dictatorship by Bolsonaristas and by Bolsonaro himself, as well as the allotment of the State by the military. Bolsonarist militants, in their anti-democratic manifestations, find in military intervention, and especially in AI-5, the solution to Brazil's problems, which they imagine are concentrated in the National Congress and the Federal Supreme Court, insofar as they dare to impose the boundaries between powers. These are, in our view, the deepest and most deleterious elements for democracy, fundamental to unravel the foundations of Bolsonarism, which need to be better known in its specific determinations.

* Luciana Aliaga  Professor at the Department of Social Sciences and at the Graduate Program in Political Science and International Relations (PPGCPRI) at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB)

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