José Antonio Kast – the Chilean Bolsonarist

Image: Hugo Fuentes


Considerations on the far-right candidate for the presidential elections in Chile

The comparison between Jair Bolsonaro and José Antonio Kast as two faithful representatives of the extreme right in Latin America is quite recurrent, equating to both a kind of updating of the fascist ideological and sociopolitical matrix and a contemporary derivation of what the writer and semiologist Italian Umberto Eco would have called it “eternal fascism” or “ur-fascism”.

Strictly speaking, Bolsonaro's fascism is somewhat sui generis and, in an important part, it includes the aspects pointed out by Eco and not the traces of the traditional fascism installed in Italy from the 1920s onwards (specifically in 1922, after the March on Rome). The fascism of Mussolini and his followers had a strong nationalist nature, fueled by the narrative of rebuilding the “Empire” and taking back the power of the overseas colonies, as was the expansionist project of the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

On the contrary, the Bolsonarist program is characterized by a proud nationalism and by its almost absolute submission to the interests of large multinational corporations – specifically, to the excesses of the United States, which was even more accentuated during the government of Donald Trump, the true hero for the country. former captain.

Even today, with Trump already out of the White House, manifestations of evident submission to the designs of the north continue to be observed, facilitating the penetration of business capital in the Brazilian space, mainly in the exploitation of natural resources in vast territories of the nation.

Bolsonaro's nationalism is just a facade: it was intentionally created to sell the image of guarantor of national interests, when in reality it promotes the most abject surrender of national sovereignty to the interests of foreign conglomerates. Part of his project, rejected by the Armed Forces themselves, consisted of installing a series of US military bases in Brazilian territory, becoming one more barrier to contain possible enemies of the “American Empire” in the style of Colombia.

As for the link between the State, the working class and the unions, it is known that the Mussolini regime suppressed the mobilization capacity of the workers through the co-option of the unions, where the union leaderships were submitted to the designs of a central authority, promoting verticalization, control and discipline of workers. There was, therefore, an organic and close connection between the fascist state and the proletariat.

None of this happened – or was even attempted – during the Bolsonaro government. Despite its intention to restrict union rights, Bolsonarism has a disjointed relationship with workers, seducing a small number of leaders without any impact on the class as a whole. The destruction of unionized bases has occurred through processes of flexibilization, precariousness and the so-called “entrepreneurship” of individual agents who seek – fragmented and on their own – their insertion in a work structure that could be defined, according to Zygmunt Bauman, the more gelatinous , more liquid.

This phenomenon has been studied in depth by Ricardo Antunes, María Moraes Silva, Giovanni Alves and other authors, as already mentioned highlighted in another article. In the current scenario, what exists is an “independent”, individualized, precarious and autonomous worker who does not maintain a contractual relationship with any industry, who works mainly informally and who, therefore, does not configure any association or entity that represents his interests. This situation is not new, but it reflects a trend that marks a clear difference between the condition of the working class in times of Italian fascism and the current situation, which can be summarized in its fragile, dispersed and atomized character.

Nor does Bolsonarism represent a consistent political project, on the contrary, it seems an amorphous heap of prejudice, Pentecostal fundamentalism and irrational fury against systems of political representation. It is expressed through authoritarian forms and uses the threat to instill fear in the population, although it does not have the forcefulness or the totalizing dimension of classic fascism or other more contemporary expressions of it, such as the Latin American dictatorships of the last century.

If, as Umberto Eco warns us, totalitarianism is “a regime that subordinates every act of the individual to the State and its ideology”, certainly neither Bolsonaro nor the Chilean extreme right candidate, José Antonio Kast, can represent a model of totalitarian society, partly because the first is too crude to conceive an ideology with the pretensions of realizing the Hegelian notion of an absolute State and the second because, recognizing the constraints, it almost always intends to pass itself off as an exponent of pluralist and democratic values.

Kast's ultra-rightism does not resemble the classic form of fascism when it comes to exacerbated nationalism or a corporate and interventionist state. On the contrary: Kast strictly follows the precepts of neoliberalism and the defense of the minimal State, as stated by one of his main advisors in economic matters, José Piñera, sadly recognized as the mentor and promoter of pension systems based on individual capitalization. Consistent with this, he does not conceive of the formation of intermediate social bodies that function as the articulating axis between the authoritarian State and a subordinated civil society.

Instead, Kast's project consists of building a strong government, imposing order from above, using the prerogatives that the constitutional mandate can confer on him to claim a monopoly on the use of force to combat expressions of "chaos" and "anarchy". ” of Chilean society. It should also include, in the same package, popular mobilizations, struggles of indigenous peoples, urban crime, illegal immigration, subversion, debauchery, vandalism, etc.

Defender of the military dictatorship for its achievements in the economic sphere, he verbally opposes human rights violations, although there is reliable evidence – and not just indications – that his father (a former Nazi soldier) participated in the murder of peasants in Paine, a city ​​about fifty kilometers south of Santiago.

In terms of speech, Kast is a defender of democracy. But his contempt for diversity and his inability to understand, for example, the conflict between the Chilean state and the Mapuche people, precludes any possibility that his eventual mandate will be governed by democratic procedures, while he gives no guarantees – on the contrary – of having the ability to negotiate with those who oppose their vertical, hierarchical and elitist vision of State policy and action.

Kast, being an almost imperturbable, measured and cold figure, much less rude and unrestrained than the Brazilian president, does not escape the former captain's moral precepts: with his cynical Catholicism, his phobia of foreigners, homosexuals, indigenous peoples and the popular world in general. Under a cloak of civilized cordiality, Kast is an ultra-rightist who would not hesitate to issue an order to violently repress demonstrators or dissidents of his government, including workers who make use of the legal strike established by the Labor Court.

Both Bolsonaro’s and Kast’s ultra-rightisms are closer to what Umberto Eco defined as “eternal fascism” or “ur-fascism”. That is, they are fascist expressions of an ideological, cultural character rather than a political and economic one. Both are “ur-fascists” in Eco's sense, since they lack any kind of empathy for the weak and helpless; for them, the world belongs to the strong, the winners, the dominators – regardless of the means to achieve success. This type of fascism also converges with a taste for tradition, national values ​​and national identity. Kast responds to anyone who questions his German background and style by saying he is “a Chilean by birth”.

Bolsonaro is a traditionalist who hates the values ​​of modernity and its processes of individualization. His irrational tendencies and disdain for science stand out. His denialist stance against COVID-19 distances him from all the patterns known so far: he does not believe in the dangerousness of the virus, he is ironic about the vaccine, he does not wear a mask and boycotts social distancing and recommends the use of drugs without scientific proof for fight the virus.

The former soldier does the opposite of the recommendations of specialists, epidemiologists, infectologists and scientists in general, including the suggestions of the World Health Organization (WHO). Although Kast accepts some scientific parameters, his mental structure discards discordant and different thoughts, defending a retrograde morality that expresses itself as anti-modern and irrational.

In a sense, the differences that exist between Bolsonaro and Kast are more in form than in content, as the latter tries to convince his followers by maintaining a more moderate and clean profile, carefully reflecting on what he is going to say. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, seems unhinged and a pimp, with his frequent allusions to scatology and human excrescence. But, deep down, both despise all forms of civic organization and the gains obtained by workers over decades of struggles and claims for the fulfillment of their labor rights. With greater or lesser effusiveness, Bolsonaro and Kast miss the civic-military dictatorships that were imposed in their respective countries, although the Brazilian president more blatantly claims the dictatorial regime established after the 1964 coup.

Both rely on the phenomenon of cultural fascism that despises expressions of diversity, the consolidation of rights and the emergence of popular culture in their countries. In the case of cultural fascism among Brazilians, one can see how an elitist perspective on politics and life is attributed to this segment: it is unbearable for them that the vote of a worker or peasant is worth the same as the vote of a citizen. “enlightened and informed”.

With all their peculiarities and style differences, both Kast and Bolsonaro feed on the frustration of the middle classes who have been experiencing a drop in the standard of living, since, comparatively, there has been an improvement in the conditions of the subordinate classes, noting how a maid could pay for a flight abroad or how a worker's son can get a college degree for a traditional career.

Hand in hand with an elitist view of society, this fascism relies on militarism and the permanent threat to democratic institutions as a form of political blackmail to impose its ideas. Despite their permanent persecution, it is up to the democratic majorities to be alert to constantly commit themselves to rescuing the historical memory of the struggles to block the explosions and perversities of this paradigm that only brings misery, destruction and death to all humanity.

*Fernando De La Cuadra He holds a PhD in social sciences from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ). Author, among other books, of Intellectuals and social and environmental thought in Latin America (RIL).

Translation: Cauê Seignemartin Ameni for the magazine Jacobin Brazil.


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