Neofascism and neoliberalism

Image: Elyeser Szturm


The Lulo-PT administrations did not ideologically work with the reactionary political mentality rooted in the Brazilian social formation

The question of politics in contemporary Brazil is expressed in and through the contradiction established between, on the one hand, the content of social relations under the domination of financial capital and its rentier and self-expanding global logic, and on the other, the political form, which corresponds to the State as a space in which power acquires centrality from civil society permeated by subjectivation processes related to neoliberal rationality in the wake of a strongly reactionary social formation. Therefore, it is a contradiction between social content and political form.

It is based on this argument that, with this third intervention, I intend to close a trilogy that began with the essay entitled “Lawfare, coup d'état and neoconservatism” (August/2022), followed by “Bolsonarism and neo-fascism (January/2023) – both published in the earth is round.

In this direction, I come to share this brief note in which I indicate some elements to think about a phenomenon that I consider central to a critical analysis of contemporary Brazil: the emergence of a neo-fascism in the political form of a mass movement with strong institutional representation, from the seam established between, on the one hand, a reactionary neoconservatism, and on the other, neoliberalism as a political rationality contrary to the democratic logic of social citizenship – I reiterate: despite the similarities, something different from the historical fascism registered in Italy at the beginning of the XNUMXth century.

In this context, the need arises to think not only about historical fascism, but above all fascism as an analytical category, and it is at this point that we arrive at the concept of neo-fascism. This demand is supported by a hypothesis that has been corroborated by the facts, not only in Brazil, but in the recent historical period of the democratic West: even after the rise and decline of historical fascism, they continued to proliferate in the wake of the daily life of civil society and social apparatuses. institutional, micro-fascist elements capable of maintaining the silent ideological reproduction of a reactionary background structured in discursive practices ingrained in the formation process of individuals as subjects in the experience of life in society, from the family nucleus to the school, the church, the party, the institutional apparatus of the State, etc.

The crisis of liberal democracy in this XNUMXst century is largely due to this process of social and cultural formation, which ends up acquiring a character of political-ideological deformation regarding the ways in which individuals experience the content of social relations in the experience of life in society under the democratic logic of social citizenship. That is why it is important to talk about this established contradiction between content and form, situated within the subjectivation processes that form (and deform) individuals as political subjects.

Still in the context of this contradiction, the question arises that has imposed itself in contemporary political life, in a way that has brought to light some of the weaknesses of the very young Brazilian democracy. More specifically, it deals with the contradiction established between, on the one hand, the fragile democratic State based on Brazilian law (the political form), and on the other, capitalism and how it developed in the historical formation of Brazil (the social content ).[I] This contradiction has its raison d'être in the bowels of the relations between the State and civil society, under the determinations of financial capital that, throughout the social experience, is ideologically hidden by the same elements through which it is revealed in the phenomenon of neoliberalism.

As a political rationality, this process produces a business subject completely estranged from itself as a collectivity and its political values ​​capable of sustaining the democratic spirit not only as a government regime, but above all with culture - and it is in this aspect that democracy keeps its most important link. fragile; after all, the directions taken by the June days were the full proof of this fragility.

Along with this, the most current stage of labor exploitation, ultimately determined by financial capital in times of algorithmic digitization, finds in neoliberalism the adequate political rationality to engender the constant threats to social rights and the democratic logic of citizenship, arising from the movement rentier of substantivation and self-expansion of the value form (Wertform) – as we can understand from the first notes formulated by Marx in the third book ofThe capital, as well as today, scholars such as Cedric Durand, Michael Hudson, François Chesnais, among others.

In today's Brazilian context, since the 2016 coup, this movement takes place as a seam, between, on the one hand, the neoliberal rationality consolidated in the relationship between capital and work by the Temer Government, and on the other, the reactionary neoconservatism empowered in and by the Bolsonarism. From the stroke of lawfare launched against the Dilma government, this process turns against the social rights established as a duty of the State in the 1988 Constitution. This is the path that takes us to the seam established between neoliberalism and neoconservatism under the social domination of globalized finance.

Under the inference of the coup of lawfare, legally manipulated in its political content, the democratic logic of citizenship starts, contradictorily, to politically legitimize its own destruction as it shows itself to be strongly determined by the coup-like establishment of the authoritarian rule of law – as I have already explained in previous expositions. In this context, neoliberal political rationality then fulfills the role of surreptitiously “harmonizing”, not only economically, but above all ideologically, the distension between the social content (the subsumption of labor to capital) and the political form (State ) within the processes of subjectivation that formed this reactionary/business political subject.

In this way, as a social reason immanent to the relationship between the State and civil society, the value form – through financial capital – strengthens its social and economic domination as class domination in the political field, and worse: anchored in this rationality contrary to democratic logic of social citizenship, catapults a reactionary uprising that in recent years has resulted in mass neo-fascism. Therefore, neoliberalism, whether as an economic primer or as a political rationale, is incompatible with democracy.

We have arrived at the moment of necessary self-criticism: in the path that led to the overthrow of the Dilma government, in its consumer citizenship, the Lulo-PT administrations did not ideologically work with the reactionary political mentality deeply rooted in the Brazilian social formation; Democracy as a culture was not worked on. The ideology was solely in charge of the fetish of the commodity in its mediation, which is constituted in the way in which the logic of capital is experienced, which in this case took place through consumption stimulated by the State via the credit system, which included everything from the Bolsa Family to tax exemptions, bank spreads, etc.; that is, social policy for workers and entrepreneurs; or yet, the PT governments transferred income not only to the poor, but also to the rich.[ii]

This was the political recipe on which Lulism bet with its left-wing neoliberalism, a kind of platypus political-economic arrangement of neoliberalism with social policy under a conservative social pact. We cannot forget that on April 30, 2003, President Lula (ironically, as did Jair Bolsonaro in 2019) walked down the Planalto ramp at the head of an extensive entourage to personally deliver to the National Congress a project with a conservative Social Security reform . We know that Lula also played the financial capital game – it is worth remembering that, as recorded by Singer (2012), in the first year of the Lula government alone, financial institutions had a positive result 6,3% higher than in the previous period (Government FHC).

In the Lulista era, fictitious capital deepened its social domination through a citizenship ideologically backed solely by the logic of consumption. In this political promotion of the “citizen-consumer”, as analyzed by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval (2016), “the figure of the 'citizen' invested with collective responsibility gradually disappears and gives way to the entrepreneurial man”; that is, the democratic logic of social citizenship – still so precarious in Brazilian society – gives way to neoliberal rationality in the biopolitical management of the mass seduced by the consumption of those goods and services to which it had no access previously. In short, consumption experienced as a political festival of prosperity without political-ideological education among the masses, did not confront the ideological work that ultra-conservative sectors have been doing for more than a century on the outskirts of Brazil, like the neo-Pentecostals - as seen in churches such as the Assembly of God, which has been operating in this country for over a hundred years, as analyzed by Alderi Matos in Brief history of Protestantism in Brazil (MATOS, 2011).

In Lulista Brazil, as analyzed by sociologist André Singer (2012), consumption became the only mediation to improve life within the order, ideologically capturing the social subjectivity of the masses, through objective conditions sophisticatedly integrated into the global process of accumulation of fictitious capital, and without working ideologically with any level of criticality regarding political subjectivity and its historical constitution in the Brazilian social formation determined by everyday micro-fascisms that historically support the social formation of a deeply reactionary political mentality anchored in a colonialist, slave-owning past , racist and authoritarian that insists on subsisting in the present.

In the management of the Brazilian State, while providing a great service to fictitious capital, Lulism also left an open flank for the rise of this reactionary political subject, given that, if on the one hand it found a way to combat poverty by integrating it to the rentier logic, on the other hand it also further mystified the class struggle in its political and ideological determinations in the Brazilian social formation. We are facing the political consequences of what, from the point of view of political economy, Alfredo Saad Filho and Lecio Morais (2018) called developmental neoliberalism. Wouldn't this be the perfect terrain for a resurgence of the recent and fragile democratic achievements achieved in the 1988 Constitution?

Summary of this political opera: in the crisis arising from the tension between capital and democracy triggered by the June days, from the path opened by the coup d'état lawfare in 2016, the small fascist elements latent in the microphysics of the Brazilian social formation are ideologically channeled and amplified in phenomena such as Bolsonarism, which end up favoring and strengthening the outbreak of a mass neo-fascism aligned with neoliberal rationality.

After the crisis of the Dilma government and the 2016 coup that brought Michel Temer to power, came the ideological attack constituted in legal and politically organized anti-PTism, which had in Operation Lava Jato its main front of combat through the lawfare affiliated with the traditional coup-mongering media. With the collapse of the Lulo-PT administrations, a favorable moment arose for a new political leadership to channel the micro-fascisms sedimented in the popular imagination of a society that had just left a civil-military dictatorship, a process that in the ideological field represents a synthesis of all the Brazilian social formation.

This time, under the return of that authoritarian and fascist civil background – very well represented by the deputy Jair Messias Bolsonaro – that continued to proliferate silently in every Brazilian family nucleus, even after the end of the civil-military dictatorship. The military fell, but this authoritarian civilian background never stopped reproducing. It is the basis of the social formation of the Brazilian family model historically consecrated by Bolsonarism and which, before this, was ideologically worked on by the neo-Pentecostal myth in the last century.

It is precisely in this context that this authoritarian mentality magnetizes the neo-fascist vector: the revival of a mythical vision of a nation constituted under a theocratic chauvinism with a micro-fascist ideological base, which is projected into power from a coup d'état. lawfare capable of establishing the State of exception as a paradigm of government, supported by an authoritarian moralism sewn with neoliberal political rationality.

Four points seem reasonable to try to synthesize the relationship between neoliberalism and neofascism: (i) Bolsonarism is important, but it is an epiphenomenon as an expression of something deeper that, throughout the Brazilian social formation, ideologically acquired the political form of mass neo-fascism. This phenomenon was produced as, through micro-fascism, the worst expressions of the Brazilian social formation since colonization, were strengthened as morally sanctioned discursive practices and ways of being constituted in the ways in which individuals politically experience the content of social relations, for example slavery, racism, machismo, bossism and historical denialism;

(ii) Neo-fascism cannot be reduced to Bolsonarism, just as the latter does not explain the former, quite the contrary, Bolsonarism is explained by micro-fascism as a progression immanent to the formation of neo-fascism and its processes of subjectivation; (iii) The seam between, on the one hand, neoliberalism as a political rationality, and on the other, micro-fascism, is shown as a passageway for this neo-fascist uprising, triggered by the limit reached by the tension between neoliberalism and democracy, in the form of the economic (and political) crisis aggravated by the Dilma Roussef government, and how this was managed by the coup d'état. lawfare;

(iv) In its entirety, the barrier is between capital and democracy. On the periphery of global capitalism, the democratic rule of law and the democratic logic of social citizenship have become an impasse for the “profitable investment” of fictitious capital, under what David Harvey called the madness of economic reason.[iii]

Therefore, in this period from 2016 to 2022, the relationship between the coup de lawfare and the seam established between neoliberalism and neofascism in contemporary Brazil can be summarized as follows: on the one hand, the political form of the democratic rule of law is struck from within its own content (democracy) and in favor of a neofascist political project; and on the other, the project of submission of the State to neoliberal rationality is deepened as a political strategy contrary to the democratic logic of social citizenship, in favor of fictitious capital.

All this woven under the neoconservative moralism of the neopentecostals,[iv] which appears as one of the main systems of neo-fascist ideological significance, from the micro-fascisms ingrained in the Brazilian social formation. In this direction, democracy suffers from a merely formal political expression, and neo-fascism appears precisely when we reach the limit of the impasse between neoliberal rationality and the logic of citizenship. It is at this point that the lawfare tactically fulfilled the mission of “democratically” enabling the death of democracy itself, which agonizes only as an empty signifier, constituting the phenomenon that the political scientist Wendy Brown called de-democratization (de-democratization).[v]

Brazilian neo-fascism then consolidates itself as the ideological signifier of this de-democratized democracy under neoliberal rationality; and the lawfare reveals itself as its legal normativity sanctioned by the permanent state of exception and its representatives, largely elected to the various spheres of legislative power in 2022. -redemocratization.

*Wecio Pinheiro Araujo Professor of Philosophy at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB).


BROWN, W. American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization. Sage Publications. Political Theory, Vol. 34, No. 6, Dec. 2006, p. 690-714.

DARDOT, P; LAVAL, C. The new reason of the world. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2016.

DIP, Andrea. In who's name? A evangelical bench and your power project. 1st ed. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2018.

HARVEY, David. The madness of economic reason: Marx and capital in the XNUMXst century. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

MATOS, Alderi Souza de. Brief history of Protestantism in Brazil. Voz Faifae: Journal of Theology of the Faculty FASSEB, v. 3, no. 1, 2011, p. 1-26.

SAAD FILHO, Alfredo; MORAIS, Lecio. Brazil: Neoliberalism versus Democracy. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

SINGER, A. [et al.]. state and democracy. Rio Janeiro: Zahar, 2021.


[I] At this point, it is essential to resort to the contribution of the Marxist theory of dependency, especially in scholars such as Ruy Mauro Marini, André Gunder Frank, Theotonio dos Santos and Vania Bambirra.

[ii] Laura Carvalho analyzes this issue in her work Brazilian Waltz: from boom to economic chaos (2018)

[iii] Cf. HARVEY, 2018.

[iv] See the work of journalist Andrea Dip (2018).

[v] See BROWN, 2006.

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