Lula is back – fascism interregnum

Kartick Chandra Pyne, Workers, 1965.


It was not the rise of struggles that made Lula return, but the fear of fascism by part of the elite

In 2015 I wrote that when Lula returned, he would have to deal with a working class (the so-called middle class) in the process of proletarianization. The passive technologies of Lulism served only the industrial, employed, formal working class.[1]

Henri de Man, leader of the Belgian Workers' Party and who ended up becoming a collaborator with the Nazis, was very astute in describing a social fact that was at the base of the emergence of fascism. The middle class in the process of proletarianization and those who resent the loss of a status construct a kind of psychic defense, a “false conscience”, in the face of this situation. To delude the perception of this decline and the resulting suffering, which is essentially economic in origin, these social groups would transfer their economic resentment to non-economic objects. These objects were, for example, nationalism and racism in Nazism. In turn, the hostility of these social groups to Marxism and the political and ideological expressions of the proletarians would be a way of denying and imaginarily moving away from their condition of proletarianization.[2]

Anti-PTism has been central to the development of Brazilian neo-fascism. At the same time that he directs resentment towards a non-economic object, he helps to imaginarily deny proletarianization and the fear of social decay by representing hostility to a political and symbolic expression of proletarians. In that year, 2015, this base of fascism was already quite visible. See the anti-PT demonstrations for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. But its first appearance took place during the demonstrations in June 2013, after the bourgeoisie moved from criminalizing to redefining the demonstrations for the reduction of transport fares. Phenomenon that at the time was called the “revolt of the coxinhas” by leftist militants who were on the streets.[3]

The French fascist Maurice Bardèche summarized very well in 1961 that fascism was the party of the nation in rage: the party mainly “of that layer of the nation that is usually satisfied with bourgeois life, but that crises disturb, that tribulations irritate and indignant , and which then brutally intervenes in political life with purely passionate reflexes, that is, the middle class”.[4] The dialectic between the right and the left in June 2013, which is generally at the root of fascism, I have detailed elsewhere.[5]

However, fascism cuts across social classes. Without this, it does not gain the social dimension to impose itself. Brazilian neo-fascism (and not just Brazilian, obviously), spreads to groups and individuals from different social origins, exploring resentments, fears, insecurities and frustrations of different orders, through processes studied and described by social and mass psychology. Since 2018, this neo-fascism has reached a critical mass and reached a point of no return… But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

In 2018, I wrote after Lula's arrest that he would only return after an ascension, which was and is beyond our horizon, of intense and significant social struggles. Only in this way would the channel for the integration of struggles and social conflicts be reopened, which the rise of union cadres and the PT in the State was the consequence. The 2016 coup and Lula's arrest imposed a coherent agenda that suited the expansion of the profit rate to low organization and low pressure from workers.[6] It is not necessary to channel the integration of conflicts if they are of little significance.

In 2021, given the release of Lula by the STF, which was one of the actors in his arrest and impeachment, and the change in the bourgeois media towards the PT, I discussed whether Lula would be returning.[7] And in 2023 we can then say that Lula did indeed return, and it was not because of an upsurge in the struggles of the working class, but because a fraction of the bourgeoisie and the state's elites felt threatened by the extreme right. Lula was the only one capable of defeating Jair Bolsonaro, which is why he was released and rehabilitated by actors who some years earlier had committed themselves to arresting him for preferring, above all, a government that did not offer any concessions to the proletariat, through the ultraliberalism of a Paulo Guedes. It was not the rise of struggles that made Lula return, but the fear of fascism on the part of the elite. And, incidentally, fascism only rises in moments of degeneration in the organization and struggles of the working class.

stf and Globo, two players of the first order in Lula's arrest and the PT's impeachment, had to rehabilitate him to hide behind his candidacy, in order to defend themselves against the fascism they helped to feed. A character with mythical contours due to his life story, Lula returns at an advanced age as the only one who could “save” us all from the fascist beast. He added this prologue to his impressive biography. And the perspective with a re-election of Jair Bolsonaro would be the deepest rigging of the State, including the electoral system. A closure of the regime along the lines of Erdogan's Turkey, Putin's Russia, Orbán's Hungary or Maduro's Venezuela.

The bet of the sectors of the right that had to use Lula as an instrument in the battle against the fascism that threatened them, probably lies in the ineligibility of Jair Bolsonaro and in the legal repression of his supporters. The intention in this sense would be, by setting an example, to lead the extreme right leaders to behave like toucans in order to have political survival. If it works, they would be free to get rid of Lula and the PT if they could again. But this intention collides with social reality. There is a mass of about half the population willing to vote for right-wing extremists. Far-right politicians are in demand today, and their electoral market is much larger than that of the right.

Fascisms in Italy and Germany fell by military defeat. A devastated Germany, with Nazi leaders arrested or killed and Nazism banned. This is how Nazism was defeated. European countries with fascist regimes that remained neutral in World War II had long decades of regime, until fascism fell due to wear and tear and the rise of workers' struggles in the 1970s. Cases of Spain and Portugal.

Fascism is not an electoral phenomenon, but a social one. If there is dynamism and daring in social struggles, which historically tend to appear in leftist movements, today they are characteristic of extreme rightist movements. In turn, electoral indices show that at least one third of the Brazilian population votes by identification, no matter what the government of their identification object does. Not even a deliberate policy of mass death of the population during a pandemic is able to change that.

The libidinal investment, the common identity created in the electoral processes, mobilization and sharing of narratives, the whole experience of jouissance and liberation from the superego (or rather, the replacement of its social reference by that of the liberating leader), all of this has already established on a mass level, a new relationship with reality and society that is not erased or replaced overnight. The level of critical mass, the point of no return for fascism, is given not only as a result of social and mass psychology mechanisms in the last decade, but also because fascism has spread to all social strata. From the yoga teacher, to your neighbor, your co-worker… Anyway, it is in all segments and especially in those that historically were the exogenous axes of fascism: the Churches and the Armed Forces.

It must be emphasized that the basis for the rise of fascism in Brazil and in the world is material, as it was in the rise of historical fascism. It is necessary to look at work and the economy and seek their elements: (i) a horizon of decreasing expectations that only deepens;[8] (ii) expansion of economic inequality, with hoarding and concentration of wealth and power in billionaires;[9] (iii) a reality experienced at work in the neoliberal context that is the basis of social insensitivity and the emergence of virility as a psychic defense.[10]. By the way, it should be noted that Christophe Dejours already showed how the work under neoliberalism could be analyzed from the perspective of the work of Nazi elimination.

(iv) A global capitalist economy with at least four decades of relative stagnation compared to post-war decades;[11] historically, fascism only established itself as a regime in stagnant economies, which became incapable of advancing along the path of increased productivity and relative surplus value.[12]

To these material, economic aspects, join what Guy Standing and Paolo Virno have already pointed out about the characteristics of the composition of the working class in post-Fordism. More than ten years ago, Guy Standing already warned that the tendency of the precariat, of chronic economic insecurity, was to feed fascist movements and leaders. Based on psychology studies he pointed out that: “Insecure people produce angry people, and angry people are volatile, prone to support a policy of hate and bitterness”.[13] And if we add to this what Paolo Virno has been trying to show for over twenty years, we will have a more accurate dimension of the problem.

Paolo Virno pointed out that in post-Fordism the entire workforce, including the most “guaranteed” in terms of stability and rights, would permanently experience the condition of an industrial reserve army. All would fit the Marxian concepts of fluctuating, latent or stagnant superpopulation.[14] In short, the entire workforce today would approach the objective conditions of the precariat, as described by Guy Standing.

The point of no return is given by the dimension, diffusion and social cohesion of the neo-fascist movement and by this material base, relative to the tendencies in the labor and economic relations of capitalism since the last decades. But the electoral ideology of bourgeois democracy penetrates even the left, to hide reality. Through the lens of this ideology, elections can work magic, and so can governments. The gaze is diverted to elections and not to changes in the structure of social relations.

Lula's return will be remembered in history as the last breath of a left whose social base no longer exists. A left that was born in an industrialized country, based on the strength of workers' struggles and a salaried working class. Lula was simply a tool from the past, from another era, but one that was still available, due to the electoral capital he retains, to try to curb fascism. Whether the interregnum that Lula's election may provide will be four years or, less likely, less than four years, is evidently still open.

Bourgeois democracy does not have adequate means to deal with fascism, even if it wants to, as fascism gains such a dimension as we are witnessing in Brazil today. In 2026, electoral harassment, which has already gained an unprecedented dimension in 2022, will certainly be much greater. It's about learning from the fights. And in this case, the extreme right learns and disseminates new instruments of struggle as well. Against such mass indiscipline as the electoral harassment of thousands of businessmen and neighborhood shopkeepers across the country, the repressive apparatus collapses, showing itself to be incapable of containment. And electoral harassment is just one example of the instruments that neo-fascism has begun to learn to use on a scale.

The question is: what is the proper policy in an interregnum? What is the appropriate action when bombs cease on a city due to a circumstantial ceasefire, or when forces manage to momentarily push the enemy back? This is the realist political question, which the electoral ideology of bourgeois democracy sweeps under the rug. Should we evacuate some posts and regroup where we feel it is most vital to resist and defend?

The fact is that a left that has shown little capacity for coordinated action to deal with a coup and the loss of rights in the last decade will hardly be able to know how to use the interregnum to prepare for the long winter to come. Even more so when it is steeped in electoral ideology that clouds a view of ongoing historical trends. Until the mole, who knows, emerges one day again, we should be preparing the winter coats and gloves for at least one generation.

*Leo Vinicius Liberato He holds a PhD in political sociology from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).


[1] What time does Lula come back?

[2] BERNARDO, John. Labyrinths of Fascism. Vol 1. São Paulo: Hedra, 2022.

[3] 20th of June: the Revolt of the Coxinhas

[4] This citation can be found in the text of the collective Passa Palavra, The Dangers of the “Angry Nation”

[5] Far beyond the “June 2013” ​​myth

[6] What time do Lula and Marielle get back? Republished in the book The Idea: Lula and the meaning of contemporary Brazil, organized by Lincoln Secco and published in 2018 by the Núcleo de Estudos de O Capital.

[7] Is Lula coming back?

[8] ARANTES, Paulo. The New Time of the World. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

[9] PIKETTY, Thomas. A Brief History of Equality. Rio de Janeiro: Intrinsic, 2022.

[10] DEJOURS, Christophe. The trivialization of social injustice. Rio de Janeiro: Editora da FGV, 1999.

[11] BENANAV, Aaron. Automation and the Future of Work. London: Verse, 2020.

[12] BERNARDO, John. on. cit.

[13] STANDING, Guy. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2001, p. 224.

[14] VIRNO, Paolo. Virtuosity and revolution: political action in the era of disenchantment. Madrid: Sueños trafficker, 2003.


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