Bourgeois fractions in the current crisis

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By André Flores Penha Valle e Octávio F. Del Passo*

An analysis of the social interests in dispute between the traditional right and the neo-fascist right

What separated the two factions, therefore, was not a matter of principle, it was their material conditions of existence. (…) That there were, at the same time, old memories, personal enmities, fears and hopes, prejudices and illusions, sympathies and antipathies, convictions, questions of faith and principle which kept them bound to one royal house or another—who deny? (...) the acts later proved that what prevented the union of both was more the divergence of their interests (...) this only meant that each of the two great interests into which the bourgeoisie is divided (...) sought to restore its own supremacy and supplant the other. (Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)

Contrary to the analyzes that seek to explain the different positions in the right-wing field as a mere expression of the electoral pretensions of the political agents in dispute, we have argued that these fissures are based on specific social interests[1] and that, even if there is a convergence between the classes and fractions of the ruling classes on the application of a neoliberal economic program, the current polarization between them, related to the Covid-19 containment measures, can bring important consequences, including the change of the political regime[2].

We indicate that neo-fascism has as its main representation President Jair Bolsonaro and the traditional right has some prominent leaders, such as Rodrigo Maia and João Doria. Representation on the political scene has polarized, therefore, between the federal government, on the one hand, and the National Congress and state governments, on the other hand. In this text, we seek to take an initial step in the collective work of mapping the social bases that support these different positions in the political scene, and present possible explanatory hypotheses, that is, non-conclusive and provisional ones, through the information available in the press.

Because it does not have a formal party organization, neo-fascism has its representation distributed unevenly and more or less diffusely in parties such as the PSL, the PRB, in the evangelical bench, in the Frente Parlamentar da Agropecuária, which has the vice-presidencies of the Senate and the Federal Chamber, and also on the bullet bench. To a lesser extent, it is also possible to find neo-fascist representations in the Novo party and in Podemos.

The traditional right, on the other hand, has a broader spectrum of party support, but the PSDB and the DEM, today, stand out. Especially the latter, which has the presidency of the Chamber and the Senate, in addition to having Minister Mandetta, who can be a kind of Trojan Horse within the government at the moment, since he has popular support, support from the Chamber and the Senate. and support on social networks. On the other hand, the representations of the left in the political scene are disoriented and without the capacity to influence, with their actions guided by electoralism and incapable of elaborating a mass line and a policy of alliances to stop the process of fascistization in the country.

It is these two large blocs that have managed to polarize the political process and that have been the protagonists of the toughest disputes in the face of the new dilemmas that the crisis caused by Covid-19 is generating. The polarization has taken place around two main narratives, that “the economy cannot stop” and that “the small, medium and informal ones will fail”, directed by the neo-fascist wing; and the one that “we are all in the same boat”, led by the traditional right. The narratives derive from different tactics. That of neo-fascism that speaks for its own and against its enemies with the aim of radicalization and that of the traditional right that is conciliatory and seeks to contain social polarization.

To deepen the analysis, it is necessary to verify who the political actors represent. It is evident that there are social forces that are outside these political spectrums, such as the various popular movements, the leftist political parties represented in Congress and the hundreds of combative unions. However, we limit our analysis to neo-fascism and the traditional right because it is these forces that, today, polarize the dispute for hegemony.

The dispute between neo-fascists and the traditional right is disguised as a dispute between “denialists” and “isolationists”. Despite being a specific theme, which prevents further generalizations in relation to the whole of state policy, this conflict constrains the positioning of the various forces in presence, being a useful case to illustrate the division and the social bases that sustain right-wing political representations , as well as advancing the explanatory analysis of this phenomenon. 

The neo-fascist wing gathers support from part of the ruling bloc, particularly the internal big bourgeoisie linked to industry, retail trade, and part of agribusiness. We found manifestations of endorsement by large industry to the proposal of vertical isolation, presented by Jair Bolsonaro, through the CNI and the businessmen organized in the articulation Diálogo pelo Brasil, animated by Paulo Skaf, president of Fiesp[3].

This movement, with members from different sectors and in several industrial cities, has taken root in the state of São Paulo through the headquarters of the Center of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Ciesp)[4]. Expressing concern about the impact of social isolation on economic activity, industrialists seek to evoke the defense of the national interest for the continuity of productive activities and the maintenance of jobs, through restricted isolation to risk groups and testing of employees of their companies.

The commercial bourgeoisie, actively intervening in the political scene against social isolation, has been represented by the businessmen who organize the Brasil 200 movement, chaired by Gabriel Rocha Kanner, but led by Luciano Hang, a caricature figure of Lojas Havan[5], and by Flávio Rocha, owner of the Riachuelo stores. In addition to these, there are individual statements of support from economic agents, such as Centauro stores, Rede Polishop and large restaurant chains such as Madero[6]. Also making up the base of Bolsonarism, the Newcomm Group, by Roberto Justus, private security companies, such as Gocil, and Petropar[7].

In common, these companies and entities seek to appeal to the economic impact of the crisis and its deleterious effects on the employment and income of workers, in order to defend the functioning of commerce and minimize the risks inherent in the restricted isolation of risk groups. For these capitalists, the deaths caused by unemployment and deprivation resulting from social isolation would be greater than the deaths caused by the epidemic. In addition, they openly defend the reduction of wages and the release of FGTS to workers, which was responded to by the government through Provisional Measure 936/20, providing for the suspension of wages for up to four months, and which would be quickly revoked after pressure of the popular classes in the National Congress and on social networks.

It is important to highlight the identity between the government discourse and the discourse of the commercial bourgeoisie aligned with Bolsonarism in this context, which can serve as an indicator of the political class direction of the government during the health crisis.

Parts of agribusiness should also be included, represented nationally by the CNA, by state entities (Faesc, Faemg, Faep, Farsul and Aprosoja-MT) and by Abrafrigo, which strongly criticized social isolation measures[8]. As is well known, even though the export segment is bitter with the government due to the hostilities uttered against its main trading partner, China, these employers and the Frente do Agro have not shown effective signs of breaking with the government[9].

Without discursively opposing human lives to economic losses, these entities sought to defend the exclusion of rural producers from social isolation measures, warning of the possibility of shortages in cities during the period of social isolation and the need to maintain jobs linked to production for the export.

Small and medium neo-fascism

Among small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, neo-fascism also seems capable of bearing fruit. This is the case of the Becker Stores[10], which develops productive, commercial and transport activities. The easy adherence to ideological discourse on the part of small and medium-sized businesses is because they are mostly politically disorganized, but also because this feeling has material ballast.

Some economic sectors even showed internal fissures within the sector itself. We cite as an example the civil construction industry that cracked with the Lava Jato operation and continues, even today, like this. Regarding the coronavirus, for example, both MRV[11], real estate construction company, regarding ABDIB[12], which represents the large construction companies of heavy works, clearly defend isolation, while on the APeMEC website, representative of small and medium-sized construction companies in São Paulo, there is a video[13] explanatory document called “Continuing without stopping with dedication and security”, where they show that the small and medium real estate market continues to work. It is an emblematic case.

Until now, the neo-fascists have shown difficulties in rooting their radicalism in popular sectors. Its most active base is restricted to the middle classes (despite the latest casualties evidenced by the pots), that is, it is composed mainly of non-manual workers in liberal professions, the State bureaucracy and high-paid employees of the private sector. The popular sectors that support the government seem to be truck drivers, which include small landowners, self-employed professionals and wage earners, as well as small shopkeepers and traders and part of informal workers.

Thus, radicalism against social isolation, in addition to strengthening the bond with small and medium-sized companies that already make up the neo-fascist base, can win over disorganized urban workers. In this dispute, it has the media aligned with Bolsonarism, such as TV stations, such as Record and Rede TV!, and large radio stations such as Jovem Pan, but apparently it does not have any large commercial printed newspaper.

We can risk some explanatory hypotheses here: in the case of small and medium capital, and also informal workers, we can list that, in large part, they are politically disorganized and more vulnerable to the economic crisis, which makes them more susceptible to the ideological appeal of the State, deluded by the lack of alternatives to loosening isolation measures.

The position of the large industrial bourgeoisie and retail trade can be explained by the despair of these segments in the face of the sharp drop in profit rates, especially in the case of the trade and services sector, whose activities are more dependent on face-to-face consumption, although they are already integrated with online sales platforms.

These segments are more concerned with the immediate impact on companies' revenues and prefer to impose the risks of worsening the epidemic by postponing or loosening isolation measures, despite the unsuccessful cases of this strategy in Italy, Spain, Holland and England. This concern is also seen in part of agribusiness, especially the exporting segments, possibly more affected by the impacts of social isolation on the set of their production chains, although segments aimed at the domestic market, such as small and medium-sized slaughterhouses, also complain against the policy adopted. by the Ministry of Health.

The traditional right and isolationism

On the side of the traditional right, we find support for the defense of social isolation on the part of the internal big bourgeoisie and, above all, the bourgeoisie associated with foreign capital, supported by portions of the popular masses contrary to the government's denialism.

National banking capital, involving large and medium-sized commercial banks, such as Bradesco, Itaú, Santander and Banco Fator, went public to support social isolation measures. Large banks, in particular, were directly benefited by the Central Bank's rescue measures, which committed to lending BRL 1,2 trillion to increase the supply of liquidity in view of the increased demand for credit by companies and families. The leaders of these institutions justified their support for isolation as the most effective measure to avoid “wasting time” in overcoming the pandemic and, consequently, the recovery of economic activity[14].

The quotation of financial assets also indicates the alignment of the non-banking financial sector, associated with foreign capital and with a predominant role in the capital market, with the traditional right. Concerned about the effects of denialism on the political stability of the government, this segment reacted negatively to the rumors of the resignation of Luiz Henrique Mandetta as Minister of Health on April 6, putting a brake on the rise of the Ibovespa and the fall of the dollar at that time. day, caused by the slowdown in cases of contamination of the virus in Europe and the appreciation of bank shares with the measures announced by the Central Bank[15].

This event may indicate that the relationship of this segment with the Bolsonaro government is more pragmatic and stems exclusively from the commitment to neoliberal reforms, with denialism and authoritarian pretensions as obstacles to the approval of these reforms.

We also verified the support of large telecommunications companies, predominantly with foreign capital, such as Oi, Vivo, Claro, TIM and Nextel, which announced a joint action plan to help transmit epidemic monitoring data and population displacement. to bodies linked to the Ministry of Health and state governments, and also to meet the increased demand for internet access during social isolation. According to data from SindiTelebrasil, representative of companies in the sector, the flow of data on the internet increased by 40% during the period of social isolation, with the change in the routines of families and companies, involving the use of home office and the increased use of the internet for leisure purposes[16].

Part of the food industry, notably the large slaughterhouses (such as Aurora, BRF and GTFoods), went public in isolation and through Abia to encourage social isolation[17]. The supermarket segment also positioned itself in favor of the measures recommended by the WHO and the Ministry of Health, in the case of Abras and Apas, under the condition of maintaining operation as an essential activity. In addition, the large chains have been registering an increase in revenue from sales on the digital platform and with the rush of consumers to the markets.

Apas is even part of the São Paulo government’s Covid-19 crisis cabinet[18]. The increase in sales of food for domestic consumption during the period of social isolation seems to be an explanation for the positioning of these segments, which speak for “responsibility for the health and well-being of Brazilians”.

Automotive companies, national and foreign, such as Marcopolo, Randon, General Motors and Mitsubishi, represented by Anfavea, also positioned themselves in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health, even with the significant drop in sales during the month of March. According to the president of Anfavea, some of these companies have been dedicating themselves to the maintenance of respirators and the production of masks and health materials, and defend the “Chinese model” as the most effective way to reduce the impacts of the crisis on economic activity in the long term.[19].

Alone and in the opposite direction to the majority of retail trade, important chains such as Magazine Luiza, Lojas Renner and Leroy Merlin also joined the discourse in defense of social isolation as the most effective measure for combating the epidemic and for economic recovery[20].

State agribusiness entities, located in the states of the Midwest region and in the state of São Paulo, such as Faesp, Famato, Famasul, Faeg, were in favor of the social isolation measures issued by the Ministry of Health and local governments. The discourse of these entities defends the continuity of food production under the justification of less exposure to the risk of contamination in the production chain of small and medium-sized producers, aimed at the domestic market.

As well as the food industry and supermarket chains, a possible hypothesis for the positioning of these entities is the increase in sales of food for domestic consumption during this period, which seems to reflect in the same discourse of “responsibility” with health and well-being -being of consumers to justify the continuity of their activities[21].

Despite still being the wing with the greatest electoral capillarity, due to the thousands of mayors and councilors spread across Brazil, the traditional right does not transform this fact into political organization and mobilization, so we can say that it does not have a large social base in popular strata. and this may be the explanation of the “we are all in the same boat” narrative. It appeals to the feelings of those at the bottom, but without mobilizing them against a specific enemy, as neo-fascism does when it calls on small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and informal workers to reopen trade, against the National Congress, governors and mayors.

However, the traditional right still maintains the support of part of the middle class, which is organized through movements such as the Movimento Brasil Livre and the Movimento Vem pra Rua. In addition to them, it maintains the support of some unions led by union centrals or pelegas leaderships.

It is important to emphasize that the traditional right has the advantage that the most powerful mass media are on its side. Important sectors of traditional media such as Globo and Folha de S. Paul, with a much larger and broader audience than the big broadcasters that support neo-fascism, have come into direct conflict with the government since the 2018 elections. and due to the risk of the implementation of neoliberal reforms, these companies also saw their government advertising budgets reduced and were constantly threatened by the strengthening of competing companies aligned with Bolsonarism, such as Record and SBT[22].

Tapping the interests at stake

Our initial investigation work allows us to point out the following picture of social forces and their positions in the face of the health crisis:

With this, we seek to demonstrate that the division of the ruling classes in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic is an element that points to a real weakening of the government, although this does not mean “isolation”, as many analysts have been claiming.

As we seek to demonstrate, in addition to the health issue, both the denialist discourse and the discourse in favor of social isolation serve specific social interests. While the first is supported by the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, more dependent on face-to-face consumption to carry out production and sales, and by the agribusiness segments linked to the grain export chains, the second finds support from the banking, financial, food sector bourgeoisie. and automobiles, involving national and foreign capital, in addition to small and medium-sized rural producers in the Midwest region.

In this way, the observation of this division within the power bloc and the real weakening of the government does not authorize us to state that it is in a terminal stage, since, in addition to Bolsonarism maintaining politically active support from part of the bloc in power, we have no indications of another social and political force effectively mobilized to overthrow him.

In this way, we can also demonstrate that the division between neo-fascists and the traditional right, reflected in the divergence related to social isolation, is not reduced to a mere matter of electoral calculation, even though there is an internal struggle between their political representatives to gain representation from the bloc. in power in the 2022 elections. By stating this, we do not seek to minimize the importance of this type of conflict, just to point out that it is not the main explanatory factor and that it must be understood in the light of the social interests in dispute — as Karl Marx would say, in the epigraph of this text: “Who denies it?” What explains the current division in the field of the right is the divergence between the different social interests represented by it.

* André Flores Penha Valle e Octávio F. Del Passo are PhD students in Political Science at Unicamp


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