Fascists, fascists, fascists

Bill Woodrow, Silver, 1994


It is not enough to fight Bolsonarism, but it is necessary to fight all forms of fascism in the country

In the coming days, a large part of the Brazilian population, concerned about the political scenario in the face of the grotesque acts that took place in Brasília on January 8, 2023, will say “fascists, fascists, fascists”.

Never has that word – “fascist” – been uttered so many times in our daily lives. But it has also never been so misunderstood. And you have to understand it. And to understand it satisfactorily, it is urgent that it be broadly and deeply debated without the bookish vices of the academic environment and the superficiality that still characterizes Brazilian left-wing militancy, which is increasingly outdated on this point.

This text is an effort to contribute to this much needed debate.

The first point we highlight is that it is necessary to understand the different layers and temporalities that form fascism in Brazil, distinguishing those that are diachronic from those that are synchronic. In an article titled “Fascism is not just in Ukraine” published on the website A Terra é Redonda on March 27, 2022, we discussed in detail the long-lasting aspects of the fascist presence in Brazil, and therefore, we will only list them telegraphically in this text so that we can then carry out a more accurate approach. about the context of the events that took place in Brasilia.


The fascist tradition in Brazil

The fascist presence in Brazil is from the first hour. So many militants and sympathizers of Italian fascism and Nazism were still present in our country in the 1920s. It is impressive to know that Brazil formed a Nazi cell even before Hitler came to power in Germany, which was founded in 1928, in Santa Catarina, and even more, knowing that the organization of the Nazi Party in Brazil was the second largest in the world, second only to that of Germany. And, of course, it is always necessary to point out that we are one of those nations that has an indigenous fascist expression, the Ação Integralista Brasileira, an organization with headquarters spread throughout Brazil, dense capillarity among the Brazilian population, with schools for children, literacy centers for adults, social assistance for the poorest and diversified press chain formed by newspapers and magazines.

So many fascist, Nazi and integralist organizations were extinguished by law with the emergence of the Estado Novo Vargas, but they did not lose their influence on several people over the decades.

We were not exempt and immune to the fascist movements that occurred in several countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We were swept by them at different levels, from the formation of parties and the emergence of fascist leaders who disputed institutional politics to fascist and Nazi underground organizations, many of them street gangs willing to dominate territories through direct violence.

In recent years there has been a new fascist dawn in the world, with expressions such as the American Donald Trump, the French Marie Le Pen and the Hungarian Viktor Orban, among many others. Many of them do not manage to govern their countries, but build vigorous parties and elect several parliamentarians and many local governors, and others manage to assume the leadership of their governments, as was the case with Jair Bolsonaro.

The achievement of more than 57 million votes that elected the President of the Republic in 2018 was much more the result of a convergence of different processes than the work of political creativity by Jair Bolsonaro. The fierce competition at the geopolitical level and its consequences in domestic politics, the aggressive dispute between different sectors of the national bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie and the hardening of the class struggle in the context of the economic crisis generated a scenario of acute crisis in the country, with the aim of one of its most critical points was the legal chicanery that led to the arrest of then-presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. This context is exactly the one that the Greek philosopher Nicos Poulantzas highlighted as the most favorable for the emergence of fascism.

With such a scenario in place, a figure was missing that could unite the extreme right-wing forces that were seething, but still dispersed. Some politicians had been disputing for a long time the role of leader of the right-wing forces, most of them politicians of national projection and inserted in the backstage of power. But the person best able to understand the moment and take advantage of it for his own benefit was a deputy from Rio de Janeiro from the lower clergy of Congress, an ex-military man who had become a political leader. He managed to unite around himself all sorts of subjects and movements: Olavists, neo-Pentecostal leaders, military and police, extreme right-wing millenarians, lavajatistas and others. He managed to turn the most unlikely speeches and positions into an influential political force. With the difficulty of placing their candidates – Alckmin and Meirelles – in a short time, broad sectors of the bourgeoisie, including the major media, also embarked on that “train” that constitutes what we now call Bolsonarism.


Bolsonarism and its limitations

Bolsonarism is not just an expression of fascism in Brazil, but it is a new expression of it: it is, therefore, a specific form that updates our lamentable fascist tradition. However, there are two points that need to be highlighted: the first is that Jair Bolsonaro does not seem to have enough personal strength to lead the movement that has emerged around him. Something that historical experiences teach us is that the leaders who unite right-wing extremist forces around themselves need to fight hard until they consolidate themselves as uncontested: Hitler, for example, had to carry out several internal purges to assert his leadership, the most spectacular being one of them was called “Night of the Daggers”, when, in a few days, the leader of the SA, Ernst Röhm, and several of his members were assassinated.

Jair Bolsonaro also had to carry out his purges, politically eliminating several of his occasional supporters, but who, not being “pure blood” Bolsonarists, could detach from him and compete against him for the leadership of the Brazilian extreme right, as happened with Sérgio Moro, João Dória, Joice Hasselmann and Wilson Witzel, for example, who opportunistically surfed the Bolsonista wave.

However, despite the great political and popular force that gathered around him, Jair Bolsonaro had several problems in developing his organizational structure, among them, we highlight the failure to formalize his own political party, forcing him to negotiate with other association leaders and , above all, the COVID-19 pandemic. Jair Bolsonaro had called, for March 15, 2020, his followers to hold a large political demonstration that would, in fact, be a great demonstration of strength. However, the pandemic arrived in Brazil a few weeks earlier and ended up emptying what would probably be a watershed for Bolsonarism. This failure forced the former president to seek political stability and guarantees that he would not be deposed by approaching the lower clergy of Congress, a situation that I described in detail in an article published by the portal The Diplomatic World, on May 29, 2020.

This approximation guaranteed him the shelving of all deposition requests that were forwarded to Congress and peace of mind, and also the ability to continue to organize himself politically. All this allowed him to leave the second round defeated, however, conquering almost half of the Brazilian electorate, in addition to guaranteeing the expressive elections of his representatives, both in the Federal Chamber and in the Senate.

However, the reaction of the Brazilian bourgeoisie against Bolsonarism has been remarkable, much represented in the figure of the Supreme Minister Alexandre de Moraes, who has been implacable. This situation places Jair Bolsonaro in a delicate dilemma: on the one hand, he can assume the leadership of all this political force that still revolves around him, risking being legally implicated. On the other hand, he keeps to himself hoping that this political strength does not dissipate completely, until he finds a way to assume his leadership again. Apparently, he opted for the second alternative, but it carries a risk: Bolsonarism could become bigger than Jair Bolsonaro, leaving his political control.

If it escapes the control of the ex-president's hard core, Bolsonarism can become even more radical and uncontrolled, until it runs out of its own accord or finds another unifying leader to reorganize and boost it.

In any case, Bolsonarism has its limitations, but it is still a political force looking for a leader, be it the one who formed it, or any other. It is important to emphasize: Bolsonarism is no longer restricted to the person of Jair Bolsonaro.


The limitations of the anti-bolsonarista reaction

Any serious reactions to fascism can only come from the most radical left field, because fascism only thrives amid the contradictions of capitalism, therefore, a serious and total reaction can only come from the political field that proposes to overcome it. But the Brazilian left has long since completely bowed to the State, defending it not as part of a political tactic for structural change in society, but as a political strategy whose objective is simply to take over the government in order to administer it in a to balance the interests of capitalists and the working class.

Therefore, the Brazilian left is, today, in its overwhelming majority, institutional; there is no radicalism in it and, therefore, its political path is not one of organizing the working class, but solely electoral. Consequently, it is demobilizing, on the one hand, and permanently associated with the ruling classes, on the other. In other words, it needs to demobilize the working class, thus ensuring that its weak electoral program allows it to accommodate both left-wing organizations and right-wing parties.

In short, the Brazilian left is increasingly sinking into a drastic contradiction: it guarantees its constant presence in the running of the country, but for that, it leaves room for the extreme right to gain political projection, which, dangerously, assumes the role of organizer of the Brazilian population.


The strength of Bolsonarism

If the removal of its main leader puts Bolsonarism at risk of dispersion, the 08th of January demonstrates that it is still a popular force willing to do anything. And that is very powerful. Many media and political leaders have said it was an attempted coup d'état or acts of terrorism. It's not about this. Terrorist coups and attacks are organized actions that orchestrate different political forces and follow some well-elaborated planning. The acts of invasion of the buildings that make up the administration of the federal state are only the acts of a horde, a collection of poorly organized people who act according to their instincts of rage and under the impetus of revolt. For now, that's all.

But, and this is very important, this horde is easily organized, easily captured by a leadership that knows how to direct the power of this horde through simplistic narratives of a world divided between absolute good and absolute evil. This is fascism: the political manipulation of the population's instinctual force.

This available force will not be dissipated solely through police actions and cooperation between federal entities. These actions must be part of the solution, obviously, but they are far from being its centrality. The main element in the fight against fascism is popular awareness, or to put it another way, the political and symbolic struggle within the everyday life of the working class. Fascism thrives within the population and, therefore, if the conflict is far from the population, all institutional actions will be just a “drying ice” during a summer day. Saying it directly and clearly: the lack of popular understanding of fascism is one of the main elements that strengthen it.

But we cannot lose sight of January 8th. The regrettable event of that horde was an upward step in the Bolsonarist climb. It was a victory. Even the hundreds of prisoners will not be able to blunt the sense of accomplishment in the Bolsonarist imaginary. They went much further than the 2013 protesters, and they know it. Even though many of them are persecuted, arrested or just give up continuing in Bolsonarist militancy, this victory has the power to attract many more. The invasion of public buildings in Brasilia has already become a milestone in fascist narratives.


Some suggestions for actions to combat fascism in Brazil

The police and cooperation actions between the federated entities that were initiated on January 09th should only be seen as emergency events, something like putting your finger in the hole in the dam to prevent the water from escaping until the engineers can arrive and rebuild the entire compromised structure.

But it is urgent that we take broad-spectrum and deep popular awareness measures. As a political force based on popular mystification, fascism can only be fought with popular awareness of its nature and history. We are one of the nations that fought against Nazi-fascism, but this is almost not presented in schools, movies, plays, novels, etc. Only the highly politicized niches know and discuss the history of Integralism, and they do it as some kind of past history, we don't even present the history of fascism in elementary and high school and the faculties of History do not have in their curriculum a discipline that goes deeper into the study of fascisms. Even the old tactics of gang fights need to be revised and updated. Not that street disputes are not central in the fight against fascism, but perhaps, in societies already more complex and structured than those of the 1930s and 1940s, they require more complex and articulated actions between political forces of different shades.



We must not see fascism as an ideal-type or finished model. This reading error has made many qualified people make the mistake of saying: “we don't have fascism in Brazil because what happens in the country is not the same as what happened in Germany”, or “it's not about fascism, just 'proto-fascism' because Jair Bolsonaro is not that powerful nor has that much political strength” etc. This is a dangerous mistake. Each fascist experience is a historical process, always very complex, with advances and setbacks, internal and external disputes, etc.

After all, there are many differences between the situation of Italian fascism when it was still a popular movement, then it changed a lot after Mussolini was invited to form the government cabinet in 1922, and it changed even more when he finally consolidated his control over the Italian state thanks to to drastic changes in federal legislation, starting in 1925. In each of these moments, Italian fascism had different degrees of power of political action and influence with the population and control of State institutions. But, apart from differences in capacity, it was never “more” or “less” fascism.

We need to understand this so as not to minimize what Bolsonarism is. It is fascism, and it must be fought as such, regardless of its strength. However, we must also understand that it is not enough to fight Bolsonarism, but it is necessary to fight all forms of fascism in the country, which is not easy for the left that has become accustomed to conciliation between classes in Brazil, since many of its current government partners they are also potential fascists.

*Luiz Carlos Checchia is a doctoral candidate in Humanities, Rights and Other Legitimacies at FFLCH-USP.

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