Fascism yesterday and today

Ermelindo Nardin, Untitled, Oil on canvas, 1982 120,00 cm x 130,00 cm


Commentary on the recently released book organized by Julian Rodrigues & Fernando Sarti Ferreira

Did fascism end in 1945 with the deaths of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler? The fascist experience was and is more than these people; Hiroíto, Francisco Franco and Oliveira Salazar, fascist leaders, remained in power after 1945, with minor changes. Fascism encompasses power relations on a broad social scale, economic and social interests beyond state and government. And it survives through other characters and institutions, even outside the State apparatus; inspired and inspires subsequent dictatorships, business practices and customs. Only those who fight for freedom and justice prevent him from regaining and further expanding his strength.

The collection Fascism yesterday and today it is part of this fight and helps to overcome the naive assumption of an absolute end to such horror on that date. The contributors to the volume highlight the fascist persistence in attacking the social conquests of men and women, in the field of rights, and invite readers to fight it.

This is how Julian Rodrigues, in the “Presentation” of the book, talks about neoliberalism; and indicates that, in Brazil, “part of the ruling classes” (which part? The answer appears in some of the following texts) opted for the coup against Dilma Rousseff, overthrown by a legal-legislative and media-military plot in 2016. Jair Bolsonaro emerged as a credible champion of the late conservatives, in the name, supposedly, of the dispute over values ​​and morals, waging a sexual war against rights won by women and LGBTQIA+; against the vague designation “gender ideology”, in addition to the attack on black men and women; to promote and exploit the moral panic of sectors of society, supported by religious fundamentalisms; to define a neoliberal neo-fascism. Rodrigues points out the urgency of those who oppose this to dedicate themselves to “communicating, organizing, forming” radically alternative projects.

The authorship of the following text, “Fascism, military dictatorship and legacy of slavery”, by President Dilma Rousseff is not a coincidence. Based on the writings of Nicos Poulantzas,[I] Roussef discusses the actuality of fascism as a form of the capitalist State, State of exception (become a rule, according to Walter Benjamin...),[ii] to encompass a party or something similar, militias and mass mobilization.

Dilma indicates in that State “a repressive apparatus (...), permanent mobilization of the popular masses and a paramilitary detachment”, articulated “by the force of the state apparatus” (army, administration, police, judiciary). There is a conjunction of a weakened labor movement and a bourgeois offensive, the grouping of the dominant class fraction (especially “financial-industrial, agricultural and services”), plus a reigning one (parties and militias) and another that occupies the high administration – “ the military party”. Dilma Rousseff evokes the right-wing argument of an “internal enemy” (left-wing sectors and their allies), which justifies a blind alignment with US policies, and hatred of slaves and the poor, an argument recorded at the end of the comment, which deserves to be expanded.

These two texts play a general introductory role in the publication.

Part I of the book, “Case Studies”, includes, on an international scale, eight writings by Fernando Sarti Ferreira and Rosa Rosa Gomes, plus an essay by Lincoln Secco.

In “Contexto”, the transformation of the term “fascism” into a generic adjective is criticized, with the memory of the emergence of that problem in the universe of crises of capitalism, since the beginning of the 1920th century, a political tendency consolidated in the 1930s and XNUMXs, capable of be reactivated in later crises. The First World War is characterized by the dispute between industrial powers, even called the Industrial War, competition for consumer markets of that production and suppliers of raw materials.

This war resulted in the worsening of workers' living conditions, but also, in its outcome, the first lasting experience of a socialist state (USSR), hostile by capitalist countries, which intensified repression against workers in their territories to prevent that was reproduced elsewhere, and they even included topics of labor rights in the Treaty of Versailles – a peace agreement that was not endorsed by the main economic power that emerged from that war, the USA. The productive expansion in the 20s of the 1929th century, in that universe of competition, led to price drops, bankruptcies, leading to the great economic crisis of XNUMX. To better explain the different paths of several countries, Ferreira and Gomes analyze some national experiences.

They begin with “Fascism in Italy” (pp 41/49), a national state of late unification (1870), with disastrous participation in the First World War (unprepared army, internal opposition to engage in combat, in addition to economic difficulties and resentments later of the conflict). Social movements of Italian workers achieved good results in the post-war period, with the occupation of factories and the formation of workers' committees in their direction, in addition to the occupation of land by peasants, but they were hard fought by the Fascism in formation.

Benito Mussolini, the main Italian fascist leader, had been a militant and socialist leader before, moving away from that path; he started to defend the Italian participation in the Great War, sponsored militias that fought workers, supported by the monarchy, the Catholic Church and by big businessmen of the country. The name of Filipo Tommaso Marinetti, futurist writer, appears, in the book, in this context of consolidation of Italian Fascism, but the fascination of the artistic current that he headed for speed, technique and war, to silence serious social problems of Capitalism, had prefigured, since rather, facets of that political tendency, ardently supported by the poet and his companions.

The link between fascism and militias was designated there by the expression “legalizing illegality”. The birth of the Communist Party of Italy, in 1921, appears in the text as a factor that contributed to weaken the bases of the left, divided with the Socialist Party, not to mention the anarchists, who rejected institutional politics. Territorial conquests (Ethiopia, Libya, Albania and parts of other Mediterranean countries) strengthened Italian fascism, but the country's participation in World War II was a new military and economic disaster, leaving part of the peninsula under German control until 1945. The invasion of its territory by allied troops and the national anti-fascist guerrillas put an end to this experience in terms of state control.

In the Germanic case (“Fascism in Germany: Nazism”), another national state of late unification (1871), the great industrial development deserves to be highlighted, at the level of (or even stronger than) England and France, with an authoritarian political elite and militaristic. The SPD (German Social Democratic Party) grew to the point of governing the country in the first post-war period, but renounced effectively socialist programs, allied with conservatives in combating leftist groups. German hyperinflation in the 1920s hit the poorest hard, preserving businessmen who sold their products in dollars and paid wages in heavily devalued marks.

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in general were greatly supported by military sectors and even by the Judiciary, promoted intense propaganda, exploited German resentments in relation to the defeat in the Great War and in the face of the economic problems that followed. After the great crisis of 1929, the German parties that previously governed suffered demoralization and Hitler, similarly to Mussolini, reached the rank of Chancellor legally. Jews came to be characterized as responsible for German chaos, persecuted and murdered, along with Slavs, communists, homosexuals, gypsies, disabled people and other groups. The German military defeat in 1945 did not prevent the continuation of Nazi groups in the country.

The topic “Fascism in Japan” starts from the Meiji Restoration (1867/1868), modernization of the state bureaucracy with the name of returning to the imperial past, marked by an industrialization that was supported by the State and agrarian sectors. There is a technical “westernization” of the country, associated with the census vote and the desire for imperialist domination over other areas of Asia. Privileged sectors rejected parties and defended a military dictatorship, fighting leftist political groups. The War Economy imposed more sacrifices on the poor. As in the Italian and German examples, this picture was altered with the harsh military defeat by the Allies, preceded by an atomic bombing of an already subjugated country. Japan entered the US orbit, against the USSR. The prohibition of a national army in the country did not mean the absence of militarized practices in the world of work, associated with intense xenophobia.

“Fascism in Portugal: Salazarism” explores the example of a country that, far from being industrialized, depended economically on its colonies and had a strong presence of the Catholic Church in its political culture. There is an excess of argumentation when it is stated that “Salazarism (…) destroyed the Portuguese intelligentsia”: despite censorship and other forms of repression, the country harbored important production in arts and thought. The wars against the colonies contributed to the separation between Salazarism and the Portuguese Army, which resulted in an accommodation of the country to the interests of the United States and the European powers.

“Fascism in Spain: Francoism” pointed to the decline of that country's colonial empire at the beginning of the 1936th century, mixed with separatist movements in rich Spanish regions. The “Civil” War of 1939/1970 had a strong international character, with the participation of Germany and Italy supporting the monarchists and conservatives, plus the International Brigades alongside the republicans and revolutionaries, it was won by the anti-popular front, with the complacency of France and England, prefiguring the Second World War. This dictatorship was also closely associated with the Catholic Church, linked to US interests, in the space of the Cold War and to the benefit of multinational companies. The economic crises of the XNUMXs had as a response the strengthening of social protests; Francoism was more or less surpassed, without judgments or punishments for its crimes, and remains a strong reference in Spanish politics.

“Fascismo no Brasil: o Integralismo” announces, in its title, to dedicate itself to this important current of the Brazilian right, but dedicates its greater space to a national republican panorama until the “Revolution of 1930”, without mentioning the debate of Edgar De Decca and Carlos Alberto Vesentini on the memory of the winner in the construction of this concept,[iii] evoking popular revolts and summarily characterizing the Integralists, with the merit of highlighting their survival after the dissolution of the Brazilian Integralist Action, including during the 1964/1985 dictatorship.

The writing gives little prominence to the presence, in the AIB staff, of influential intellectuals, such as Plínio Salgado himself, Gustavo Barroso, Vinícius de Morais, Hélder Câmara and Luís da Câmara Cascudo, remembering more the name of Miguel Reale. Getúlio Vargas' relations with fascism hardly appear in the analysis, which primarily maintains the AIB with this subsidiary political role, without discussing multiple appropriations of fascist traditions in Brazil, although it points to possibilities of this content by evoking Jair Bolsonaro at the end of the debate.

The last text by Ferreira and Gomes, in this sequence, is entitled “The Military Dictatorship of 1964”, neglecting, in this preliminary designation, the civil power in such a universe, from the planning of the coup to the dictatorial management, expressed in the strong presence of economists, jurists and journalists, among other professionals, as well as businessmen, in their senior management and ideological background.

The writing starts from the debates on economic development after 1945, with nationalist groups and others more linked to foreign capital. The Authors characterize the last Vargas government as elected “in the arms of the people”, a triumphant metaphor that hides the interests of businessmen and other powerful people in that election. They mention the accelerated pace of growth after such a government, “rationed democracy”, along with conspiracies by dominant social sectors and the middle class against the proposed reforms. In this perspective, elites “mobilized fascist forces to shield the power of the people”, as if they themselves were not fascists… But the analysis has the evident merit of pointing out the fascist continuity in the same Army that participated in the fight against Mussolini, through the Expeditionary Force Brazilian, pathetic contradiction!

Lincoln Secco closes this first stage of the collection with the essay “Fascism in Brazil today: Bolsonarism”. It is worth mentioning, in this title, the present as History. It departs from an important synthesis of previous texts: the need to preserve the bonds of identity between fascism and capitalism, a virtual counterpoint to Hannah Arendt's analysis, which critically approximates Nazism and Stalinism, keeping liberal democracy on the sidelines of the debate on totalitarian practices, including with regard to racism/Apartheid in the USA (Arendt is not mentioned by Secco in this text).[iv]

The historian evokes capitalist warmongering, highlighted by Rosa Luxemburgo, the irrationalism of capital and anti-communism as fascist traits that Bolsonarism has updated since the beginning of its governmental period, which is observed in passages of the Conference of Conservative Political Action, in October 2019. In news about the event, Eduardo Bolsonaro appears as his father's successor, an almost monarchical argument, an even more degraded version of the fascist universe.

In this universe, history appears in the form of “great men and women of the past”: the present has no historicity. And Bolsonarism appeals to everyday terror. Lincoln points out that this world did not receive academic recognition, but there were, in such a space, those who praised its military fabric, considered to be well prepared.[v] It also highlights the service to military corporatism and the cult of death, comparing it to the Francoist experience during the “Civil” War in Spain, as observed in the contemporary Brazilian extermination of elderly men and women, the poor, black men and women in the face of the pandemic. Covid-19.

Part II of the work, “Theory and debate”, takes on the character of a balance sheet and conclusions on the previous analyses.

“Theories of Fascism” by Ferreira and Gomes discusses the interpretations of Umberto Eco, João Bernardo and Robert Paxton.[vi] Eco lists 14 identifying traits of fascism: cult of tradition, selective refusal of modernity, action for the sake of action, refusal of criticism, racism, frustration (especially of the middle classes), nationalism, national feeling of humiliation, permanent war, elitism, cult of heroism and death, machismo and homophobia, homogenization of the people and foul and poor language. Not all of these elements are present in the various fascist experiences.

João Bernardo particularly highlights the revolt of the order, associated with the crushing of the left, with gradations between greater radicalism (articulation between militias, party and unions) and more conservative approach (links between church and army). Paxton, finally, understands the fullness of fascist power only in Italy and Germany, indicating traits such as mass politics, the socialist left that failed in attempts at revolution, fear of communism and the crisis of liberal institutions. He also registers the definition of scapegoats (Jews, blacks, foreigners, women), articulated by anticommunism, in addition to the legalization of illegalities, “walking metamorphosis of irrationalities”.

Lincoln Secco's "Origins and Structure of Fascism" ends the collection as its most extensive topic. He stresses the role of the middle class as the mass base of fascism, without an essence, totalitarian in harmony with traditional elites, without pretensions to replace capitalism. It is about political and rhetorical technique, linked to the class struggle, astute ability to explore the opponents' limits, fusion of propaganda and terror and raw expression of Capitalism. Without losing sight of the classic German and Italian examples, Secco evokes faces of Bolsonarism to highlight the continuity of fascism in the present.

Result of a course held at the Perseu Abramo Foundation, Fascism yesterday and today it plays its disseminating role well, even going beyond this limit by polemicizing with those who reiterate the dominant periodization of fascism, which would have ended in 1945, along with the Second World War. And, in addition, it contributes to criticizing the fascists of the hour, such as Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters, including those who are self-righteous.

To reach “Fascism Never Again!”, it is necessary to keep the weapons of criticism in action.

* Mark Silva He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Teaching history in the XNUMXth century: In search of understood time (Papirus).



Julian Rodrigues & Fernando Sarti Ferreira (eds.). Fascism yesterday and today. São Paulo, Perseu Abramo Foundation/Maria Antonia Editions, 2021, 160 pages.



[I] POULANTZAS, Nicos. Fascism and dictatorship. Translation by Bethânia Negreiros Barroso. Florianópolis: Enunciado Publicações, 2021 (1st ed.: 1972).

[ii] BENJAMIN, Walter. “On the Concept of History”, in: Magic and Technique, Art and Politics. Translation by Sérgio Paulo Rouanet. Sao Paulo: Sergio Paulo Rouanet. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1985, pp 222/232) (Selected works – 1) (text from 1940).

[iii] VESENTINI, Carlos A. and DE DECCA, Edgar. "The winner's revolution". Counterpoint. São Paulo: I (2): 60/69, Nov 1976.

[iv] ARENDT, Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism – Antisemitism, Imperialism, Totalitarianism. Translation by Roberto Raposo. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012.

[v] This is the case of the interview:

MOTA, Carlos Guilherme. “The military prepared for the country, the parties did not”. The state of Sao Paulo. São Paulo: 21 January 2019.

[vi] Eco, Umberto. “Eternal Fascism”, in: five moral writings. Translation by Eliana Aguiar. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2002.

BERNARDO, John. Labyrinths of Fascism. Porto: Confrontation, 2003.

PAXTON, Robert. Anatomy of Fascism. Translation by Patrícia Zimbres and Paula Zimbres. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2008.

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