Fascism yesterday and today

Dalton Paula, Silenced portrait, 2014.


Initial excerpt from the chapter of the recently released collection organized by Julian Rodrigues and Fernando Sarti Ferreira

Fascism, military dictatorship and the legacy of slavery

In the book Fascism and Dictatorship, by Nicos Poulantzas, there is an interesting statement about the actuality of fascism: “As for the actuality of the issue of fascism, let us simply say that fascisms – as, indeed, other exceptional regimes (military dictatorship, Bonapartist dictatorship) – are not phenomena limited in time. They may very well reappear today, even in the countries of the European area. As we witness a serious crisis of imperialism, a crisis that reaches its very center. The resurgence, therefore, of fascism remains possible, above all, today – even if it does not now take on exactly the same historical forms that it took on in the past”.

From this perspective, we are going to rescue the analysis of fascism as something current, as we are living through the crisis of the financialized neoliberalism stage, which engenders immense inequality and extraordinary concentration of wealth and income. This is what produces the breeding ground for the reappearance of so-called neo-fascist tendencies, both in developed and developing countries.

It is therefore necessary to analyze the resurgence of current fascism from the political characteristics it assumes, in particular, regarding the State. It is important to bear in mind that the Capitalist State of Exception is not, necessarily, a form of State restricted to a historical moment of capitalism, that is, the fascism of the 1920s and 1940s. period of neoliberal capitalism because fascism is a historical possibility that belongs to the state capitalist type.

Undoubtedly, fascism is a “regime in the form of a Capitalist State of Exception”. Poulantzas understands that the Capitalist State admits variations that can manifest itself in the form of a Democratic Capitalist State or, alternatively, in the form of a “Capitalist State of Exception”. Each of these forms of State admits, in turn, different regimes.

The Capitalist State of Exception comprises non-democratic forms of regime, such as the fascist dictatorship, the military dictatorship and the Bonapartist dictatorship. There are different regimes of the State of Exception that, in the imperialist phase, and also in the stage of neoliberal imperialist capitalism, whether in peripheral capitalist countries or in central countries, can, according to the phases of the class struggle, assume different combinations, among the repressive institution (police and military), the different ideological apparatuses (church, party, family, press) and economic-financial and fiscal institutions.

Schematically, it is possible to observe different historical combinations, in certain phases of the development of fascism in a given society, for example: in the Spanish fascist regime, the Church and the military repressive apparatus dominated; in the Italian fascist regime, the party and the military repressive apparatus predominated; and, in Germany, the strong presence of the party and the political police prevailed, leading the repressive apparatus.

It should be clarified that the concept of the Capitalist State considered here is constituted by a repressive apparatus, formed by civil, military and legal bureaucracies; a variety of ideological apparatuses, such as political, educational, religious, information/communication apparatuses and an economic apparatus integrated by budgetary-financial-fiscal management, central bank, etc.

Fascism in its historical forms presupposed the existence of a party or a movement responsible for the permanent mobilization of the popular masses and a paramilitary detachment that assumed private political violence, therefore non-state – in current terms, militiamen. Throughout the implementation process, it was verified the existence of relations of articulation and/or dispute between the party apparatus responsible for the violence and the repressive apparatus of the State. In the beginning, the party and the movement dominate. Later, progressively, when the fascist regime was implanted, they were duly framed by the strength of the state repressive apparatus, that is, by the army, administration, police and judiciary.

Furthermore, fascism, unlike military dictatorships, usually comes to power constitutionally, through the corruption of democracies. Thus, Hitler and Mussolini came to power according to the rules and legal norms of the parliamentary democratic regime.

In fact, fascism ascends to power mainly because it neutralizes the judiciary and the legislative apparatus, a neutralization that is only possible because the popular masses have suffered a series of defeats. Furthermore, because fascism won the support of the hegemonic class bloc that saw in fascism an essential instrument to assert its power over society as a whole.

In summary, during the process of “fascistization”, the State repressive apparatus seems to lose part of its monopoly on the exercise of force and violence in favor of private militias. However, it should be clear that only the power bloc profits from this, as there is clear connivance and complicit relations between the repressive apparatus and these militias, since, in most cases, it is the State that arms them or, at least least, it allows them to arm themselves.

One of the questions that Poulantzas seeks to answer, and an important one in the Brazilian case, is: what are the historical conditions that allow the emergence of fascism? According to him, the advent of fascism would be, in general terms, marked by: (a) the previous strategic defeat of the workers and popular movement, which means that the process of “fascistization” does not occur when there is a strong workers and popular movement organized and situated on the political offensive. For fascism to be viable, such a movement must find itself on the political defensive. Thus, it makes no sense to think that the conjuncture opened by the “fascistization” process is a moment marked by the polarization between fascism and socialism. No. Fascism only takes root in times and places where it is faced with a weak labor and popular movement and with social, trade union and party movements and organizations with difficulties in exercising the organized representation of broad bases of workers and popular sectors;

(b) by the political offensive of the bourgeoisie as a whole against the working and popular masses in the midst of a process of crisis of hegemony within the power bloc, which seeks the adoption of its agenda at any price, allying itself with the fascist movement . It is this offensive that allows segments of the middle classes (of the petty and middle bourgeoisie) to emerge as an organized social force either in the fascist party or in some kind of conservative movement;

(c) by the constitution of the alliance between the middle classes (small and medium bourgeoisie) and big capital, established throughout the process, managing to confiscate and politically direct the mass base of fascism and advancing towards the implementation of the fascist dictatorship. The moment of formation of this alliance is characterized by Poulantzas as a “point of no return”, thus indicating the irreversible character of the “fascistization” process from then on;

(d) by the different roles and functions performed by the different fractions represented in the State. It is about the role and functions represented, for example, by the “hegemonic class fraction”, which is the one whose interests are imposed on the other classes; by the “reigning class fraction”, the one that exerts power in an apparent way; and by the “class fraction that owns the State”, the one that controls the bureaucratic apparatus of the State.

We are going to develop these three concepts in a more concrete way, applying them to Brazil. The hegemonic class fraction is the fraction of the power bloc that holds priority over state policy. In the case of Brazil, for example, it is the financial fraction, expressed in the banking-financial complex and in the great industrial, agricultural and service financial bourgeoisie. The class fraction that reigns in the political scene, does so from their organizations, and their representatives can vary. For example: in the Temer government it would be the alliance between the PMDB-PSDB; in the Bolsonaro government, Centrão and the Bolso-militia-fascist base. The fraction that occupies the high administration of the State, in the Bolsonaro government, would be the “military party”. In many cases, the ruling fraction is intertwined with the fraction that controls the state apparatus.

*Dilma Rousseff, economist and politician, was president of Brazil between 2011 and 2016.



Julian Rodrigues and Fernando Sarti Ferreira. Fascism yesterday and today. Sao Paulo, Ed. Maria Antonia / Ed. Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2021.


See this link for all articles