Notes on Fascism in Latin America



In these countries, internal propensities towards authoritarianism and fascism were greatly intensified by the action of the imperial power

Fascism has lost, as a historical reality, neither its political significance nor its active influence. Bearing in mind the evolution of “Western democracies”, it can be said that Hitler and Mussolini, with their satellite regimes, were defeated on the battlefield. Fascism, however, as an ideology and utopia, has persisted to this day, both in a diffuse form and as a powerful organized political force. Not only are there still explicitly fascist regimes in several countries; a new manifestation of fascism tends to take shape: through traits and even tendencies that are more or less open or concealed, the “strong” industrialist version of pluralist democracy contains fascist structures and dynamisms. In fact, the so-called “defense of democracy” only modified the character and orientation of fascism, evident in the political rigidity of the pattern of bourgeois hegemony, in the use of state political power to avoid or prevent the transition to socialism, in the technocratization and militarization of “normal functions” of the capitalist state, in an era in which it becomes the “armed political arm” of big corporate business and the rearguard of a world system of bourgeois power.

Latin American countries are not – nor could they be – an exception in this vast picture. In these countries, internal propensities towards authoritarianism and fascism were greatly intensified and recycled by the growing political rigidity of “Western democracies” in the face of socialism and communism. As the socialist revolution broke out in Cuba, the “threat of communism” ceased to be a remote and nebulous specter. It presents itself as a continental historical reality and a direct political challenge.

Unfortunately, the study of fascism has suffered two impacts. One was and continues to be the misapplication of concepts like “authoritarianism”, “totalitarianism”, “modern autocracies” etc., to hide ideological identifications (or certain intellectual commitments). Clearly fascist regimes can be described as "authoritarian" or even as "functional dictatorships", provided it is postulated that they "are often instituted in order to prevent the threat of a coup by a totalitarian movement", and have "an essentially technical feature". ”[I]. On the other hand, more systematic attention has been given to the analysis of types of fascism of historical "scope" and "meaning". Spain and Portugal, for example, were relatively neglected[ii]. The consequence of this is that a form of fascism of less ideological refinement, which involves less “mass orchestration” and a more rudimentary propaganda apparatus, but which is fundamentally based on the class monopolization of state power and on a modality of class totalitarianism[iii], is not well known sociologically.

Fascism in Latin America has been, up to the present, a complex version of this kind of fascism.[iv]. As such, it presupposes an exacerbation of authoritarian and totalitarian use of class struggle, social oppression and political repression by the state rather than mass indoctrination and mass movements. He is substantially counterrevolutionary and employs civil war (potential or real; and “hot” or “cold”) on two different (and sometimes concomitant) levels: 1st) against democratization as a social process of structural change (for example, when it threatens the superconcentration of wealth, prestige and power); that is, he consciously stands up against “revolution within the order”; 2nd) against all socialist movements, qualified as revolutionary – therefore, he also seeks to stop the “revolution against the existing order” (which was, incidentally, the historical function of fascism in Germany and Italy). Some observers regard this form of “sub-fascism” or “pre-fascism” as a colonial heritage, locating its central component in the autocratic manipulation of power structures and state machinery. It is not necessary to deny certain cultural continuities in order to criticize such an interpretation. It would be wrong to assume that the manifestations of fascism in Latin America are a mere product (or a by-product) of archaic power structures. Fascism, in itself, is a very modern force and its most recent objectives are related to “secure development”, an unfolding of the interference of the hegemonic capitalist powers and multinational companies with a view to guaranteeing the political stability on the periphery. This evolution coincides with the conservative, reactionary and counterrevolutionary interests of relatively powerless bourgeoisies, who prefer political capitulation to imperialism to fight for the traditional (or “classical”) banners of a revolutionary bourgeois nationalism. On the other hand, if we adopt derisory concepts (such as “sub-fascism” or “pre-fascism”), we will not change reality. These and other names barely apply to the politically and militarily organized counterrevolution and its political implications so complex and destructive, which consolidate the power of reaction and exclude from the historical scene all forms of structural political change (anti-capitalist or not), which escape the direct or indirect control of the possessing classes and their ruling elites.


The empirical delimitation of fascism, in the historical context of Latin American countries, is in itself a very complicated task. The low level of autonomy of the political order everywhere prevents the emergence of extreme forms of fascism. However, in this same condition lies the root of the extreme diffusion of fascist and specifically fascist traits and tendencies, in different types of power compositions (although, frequently, the properly fascist element appears as a political connection either to an autocratic domination of class, or of the autocratic bourgeois State).

In this sense, it could be argued that conditions and processes external to the political order have a functional and causal relationship with the proliferation of both embryonic manifestations and “mature” varieties of fascism. Considering the 20 Latin American countries as a whole, the contemporaneity of non-coeval historical situations reveals a shocking phenomenon. Some countries are facing situations structurally similar to those in which nation-states emerged, or even those in which limited national integration was achieved under traditional-oligarchic domination. Other countries are facing the present dilemmas of dependent capitalism in a period of “industrial advance”, of reincorporation into the central and stressed capitalist economies, with bourgeoisies unable to fulfill all their historical roles as agents of a national revolution. As typical cases of each of these three instances, it would be possible to mention Haiti, Paraguay and Brazil (or Argentina). In the first case, the maximization of interests, values ​​and lifestyle of the dominant sectors prevails according to an extremely particularist and traditionalist orientation (despite the modern apparatus of a totalitarian dictatorship). These sectors oppose, at the same time, either a community of political power between equals (which could lead to a transition to a form of oligarchic domination), or the social participation of the masses (which could imply some degree of political democratization ). As a result, the persistence of the status quo depends on a specific form of despotism, whereby a caudillo (or a despot) becomes instrumental in the control of political power structures and government by the dominant social sectors. In the second case, the dominant sectors are organized as a traditional oligarchy, able to protect their interests, values ​​and way of life through tight control of political power and government. They restrict social participation and oppose the emergence of an expanded participatory democracy (seen as a threat to the status quo). The third case is more complex. The dominant sectors are diversified and face internal cleavages, linked to national conflict polarizations and external imperialist domination. But they have the conditions to establish, thanks to civil-military compositions, a conservative-reactionary policy and to impose it as an articulation of bourgeois hegemony (including internal and external agents, with their respective interests and value orientations). That is to say: plutocratic control of the state and government, over or through politically legitimate processes, and the preservation of the status quo through institutionalized and organized violence (to maintain the permanent distortion of democracy with expanded participation and to prevent any transition more or less fast even for a “competitive democracy”).

In these three cases, conditions and processes external to the political order determine the reorganization of the political space, with the correlated functions and the free uses attributed to it. However, in all three cases it is evident that the predominant political order subsists under intense and permanent compression (“legitimate”, according to the dominant conception, for which privileges are “natural”, “useful” and “necessary”; and the one dynamized by a totalitarian compulsion of the privileged sectors themselves). The nature of this political process has different meanings and variable structural implications in each case. Nevertheless, it involves a political dynamism that is universal and fundamental. In all three cases the political order is adapted to changing demographic, economic, cultural and political conditions, and the adaptation always has the same basic function: the reconfiguration of the political order to establish new positions of strength, strong enough to guarantee the continuity or the perfecting of privileges and the stable control of power (in all its forms) from above.

If we consider only what happens to the political order, two concomitant political processes could be identified empirically. First, the weakening of the political order as a source of community and societal dynamisms of “national integration” and “national revolution”. Second, the strategic use of political space to adjust the State and the government to a clearly totalitarian conception of the use of power. To the extent that the political order is weakened, it cannot generate the political forces required either by the supposedly “normal” uses of power in the existing legal order, or to be the source of “progressive” economic, sociocultural, and political changes. Which means that what is presupposed or implied transcends the preservation of the status quo. The political order, institutionally established (in all cases) as being “democratic”, “republican” and “constitutional” is permanently distorted by and through totalitarian objectives of the dominant social sectors. And political transitions, from “despotism” to “narrow democracy”, from “narrow democracy” to “broad democracy”, or from “broad democracy” to “competitive democracy”, are always undermined, blocked and postponed. As a result, “national integration” and “national revolution” (in terms of the existing legal order) become impossible. To the extent that the strategic use of political space is organized and directed according to a totalitarian conception of the use of power, the State and the government, in practice, are projected into an intense and permanent trend of fascistization (at all levels of functions and decision-making processes in which the State and the government are involved). Therefore, a class totalitarianism produces its own kind of fascism, which is diffuse (rather than systematic), which is fluid (rather than concentrated), in short, a fascism that has its specifically political nexus within the state and government, but that socially pervades all power structures within society.

The lack of ideological elaboration and organizational technology (such as mass movements; mobilization of the “low sectors” – or at least the Lumpen and petty bourgeoisie; one party; associations controlled by the party and regulated by the state – with the exception of trade unions; shared symbols; charismatic leadership defined in terms of "nationalism" and the "sacred character of patriotism" etc.) does not indicate the absence of fascism. But it constitutes cultural-historical evidence of a particular form of fascism (not just potential), in which these fascistization requirements of power, state and government structures do not require either an intense ideological elaboration or an organizational technology of their own. The fascist character of political actions and processes is not based solely on the contradiction between the institutionalized use of violence to deny established social rights and guarantees and the “universal” impositions of the legal order; but in the existence of a constitutional order that is less than symbolic or ritual, since it only has validity for the self-defense, empowerment and predominance of the “most equal” (or the privileged). Consequently, it embodies and updates itself daily in the constantly reproduced political connection between class totalitarianism, “national salvation” (or “defense of order”) by autocratic, reactionary and violent means, and “institutional revolution” ( that is, the double counterrevolutionary action, which unfolds simultaneously, in fact against democracy, nominally against communism). In this sense, the essential element of political actions and processes seems to be the counter-revolution, which affirms the totality by its negation, that is, a “unity” and a “security” of the Nation that are nothing more than a unity and security of interests, values and lifestyle of the dominant classes, as well as its reflection in the totalitarian conception of the omnipotence of such classes. Therefore, in an extreme situation of crisis and extreme tension, the social hegemony of large families, or the oligarchy, or the bourgeoisie is imposed by the reverse of their normality (which reverses the relationship between large families, the oligarchy and the bourgeoisie with the legal order they support). Here is an ultra-contradictory combination of extremes, a rationality that is irrational, a defense that is destruction, a solution that eliminates normal transitions and intensifies the revolutionary potentialities of crisis.[v]

On the other hand, the lack of ideological elaboration and specific organizational techniques is a product of the kind of control of economic, sociocultural and political forces achieved by the privileged, powerful and active minority through class totalitarianism, since that minority can, thanks to the extreme concentration of wealth and power, direct and permanent use of institutional violence objectified, legitimized and monopolized by the State. If the civil order is weak, as it happens for different reasons in the countries taken as a point of reference, the absence of organized opposition or a very efficient organized opposition, the occasional character and the relative impotence of civic resistance allow the fascistization of certain essential and strategic functions. of the State (without touching on other conditions, structures and functions), wants to achieve a rapid fascistization of such State functions (and even of the entire State) if circumstances so require. “Appearances” are maintained; It is the relationship between political means and ends that changes, to give way to political controls that place change, the “defense of order” and the crushing of any and all opposition under the will of dominant and privileged minorities. The constitution and codes remain, but they only remain functional for those minorities and, if it is imperative, they receive innovations that neutralize their political and legal guarantees, according to some model of “authoritarian democracy”, “corporate” and “national” (Usually, the influence of the Francoist and Salazarist regimes is stronger than that of German Nazism or Italian Fascism). Freedom is preserved, in these terms, as ideal identification, consent and apathy. Other traits of fascism are evident at different levels of the human mind and individual or collective behavior. In all three countries (or four, including Argentina), direct persuasion, organized and institutional violence, occasional or systematic terror are applied through various means. Control of mass communication, ritual elections, symbolic parliaments, oppression and neutralization of the opposition, suppression of dissidents, etc. constitute a routine supervised by the State's repressive apparatus. Also the central control of the economy, of education, of the labor movement and trade unions, of workers' and students' strikes, of civil disobedience, etc. and with notable flexibility – with a view to reproducing the totalitarian orientations of the dominant classes and the capitulation or submission of recalcitrant opponents to the government's fascist impositions. There is supposed to be a separation between state and society, but this is unclear in practice, as a result of the rigid combination of economic, social and political monopoly of control of the state and its strategic functions by the dominant classes and their ruling elites. However, in Haiti, Duvalier could say: “l'Étatc'est moi”. entourage and of Stroessner's supporters; it is impossible in Brazil or Argentina. For in the latter cases, power is invested either in an oligarchy or in a plutocracy, prevailing conditions that reduce or annul personal despotism (including excluding the link between fascism, demagogic manipulation of the masses and absorption of political profits by the "charismatic leader" ). Another important variable is linked to police and military or “legal” controls. A paroxysmal terror, such as that prevailing in Haiti, dispenses with an effective institutional militarization of State structures and functions. The same happens when class totalitarianism arises in combination with the political mechanisms of the traditional oligarchy, because the old type of military dictatorship is enough to unleash the necessary degree of fascism through the political power of the state. However, the articulation of class totalitarianism with modern plutocracy (in which pro-imperialist local bourgeoisies and imperialist external domination enter) requires a high level not only of militarization, but also of technocratization of state structures and functions. It does not matter who the “president” is – a civilian, as in Ecuador; or a military man, as in Brazil and Argentina –, the essential thing is as control a relatively differentiated and politicized “mass society” (it would be better to say: an expanding and very unbalanced class society). What Friedrich and Brzezinski call, thanks to a crude euphemism, the “technical vision” of the modern dictatorship, dominated and managed by a plutocracy, presupposes a “minimum of fascism”, on a scale that surpasses what existed and was necessary in Spain of Franco and in Portugal of Salazar.

This description is too succinct. However, it starts from and ends in “hot events”, in the present in process. Therefore, at least the “empirical nature” of the main tendencies of the typical (and specific) manifestation of fascism in Latin America today was highlighted. Now, it would be necessary to consider other questions, which arise from the past or the future.

With reference to the past, three issues deserve attention in this summary. The really pre-fascist traits and tendencies (and not of a mere potential fascism, a very vague notion that leads nowhere) of class totalitarianism. The manifestation of fascist movements shaped by fully developed European paradigms and their failure. The fascist potentialities of demagoguery, populism, the one-party (or official party) system. As a persistent component, it would also be necessary to point out the structural and dynamic contribution of the new trend of incorporation of Latin American countries into the economic, sociocultural and political space of the hegemonic capitalist nations and, mainly, of its superpower, the USA.

It would be advisable to start with a digression on this last topic. Despotism like oligarchy has always been seen as easily accessible to outside manipulation. However, regimes of despotism and oligarchy (through personal dictatorship or restricted democracy) possessed economic, social and political stability or had an “automatic excess of arbitrary power” to control the change towards new political regimes, which it equipped them with police-military, “legal” and political resources to serve foreign interests without having to resort to extreme political rigidity or the salient fascistization of certain state structures and functions. Therefore, the security of such interests, in economic as well as political terms, could be guaranteed in a spontaneous but efficient way within the “normal” frameworks of exacerbation of the authoritarian elements inherent in the established order. Therefore, external influence only becomes intrinsically and increasingly fascist and fascist around the 1930s and beyond, a time when those political regimes begin to fail either in preserving and reproducing the status quo, or in selecting and indirectly controlling political change, or in providing the “security volume” demanded by external partners and imperialist domination. Then, in a generalized way, fractures occur in the political balance, which ceases to be “automatic”, since the available “arbitrary reserve of power” has faced definite pressures (no matter how “weak” or “strong” they arrived to be) towards democratization. In this context, in contrast to the “more underdeveloped” countries, the countries that already had a national market (or in national integration) and tried to industrialize more or less quickly discovered the relative impotence of their bourgeoisies and the impossibility of founding in the bourgeois hegemony any viable control of the status quo. The implementation of a bourgeois democracy with expanded participation (with the corresponding “democratic legal order”) was either nothing more than a mirage (which occurred in Brazil) or entailed convulsive crises, with no prospect of a solution in the short or medium term (which ruined the lead that Argentina managed to obtain in the functioning of democratic institutions). Of course, the relative importance of external components in the pattern of bourgeois hegemony varied from country to country. Everywhere, however, the foreign presence was physical, voluminous and direct: people and groups of people active, in all levels of economic, social, cultural and political life, with complex roles in the vital processes of decision-making, in the organization of bourgeois hegemony and in the very role of the State.

From this perspective, associated and dependent capitalist development created its own pattern of political articulation at continental and world levels: the capacity acquired by imperialist external domination to depress and distort the political order became unique, allowing hegemonic capitalist nations and their superpower, thanks to and through various types of institutions (in addition to diplomacy), to maximize economic interests or political and military objectives, as well as to control from a distance a broad process of accelerated modernization. What is important to note are two well-known facts. On the one hand, in periods of crisis and tension, in which the different political systems mentioned required structural political changes, the “foreign interests” leaned towards the right and the counterrevolution, reinforcing the natural tendencies of the elites in power to stifle the “ threats of anarchy” with an iron fist (the desire to “fight communism” made any price acceptable and several waves of fascistization of state power received a sympathetic or warm welcome). The political nature of such an articulation can be conveniently analyzed either through puppet regimes, such as that of Batista, in Cuba, or through “savior”, “institutionalized” military dictatorships, such as those that came to power in Brazil and Argentina. On the other hand, the historical context of the Cold War consolidated and generalized these trends. The essential thing was to prevent the critical phases of modernization from offering alternatives to revolutionary nationalist groups or to the “world communist movement”. “Avoiding new Cubas”, but actually making the periphery “safe” and “stable” for monopoly capitalism became the central target of this composite pattern (internationalized and imperialized) of bourgeois domination and bourgeois political power. The confluence of these processes gave the dependent and impotent bourgeoisies of Latin America an active and considerable role in the capitalist counterrevolution and in the “encirclement of communism”, both worldwide, and entailed, as a counterpart, a clear intensification of tendencies towards the fascistization of the State, supported by police-military and political advice, material or human resources and strategies coming from outside (as part of “global modernization”). All this indicates that this “dark course of history” is not short-lived. It is linked to a pattern of necessary political articulation between the center and the periphery of the capitalist world. The probability (or improbability) of eliminating it involves “revolutionary nationalism” or “revolutionary socialism”, two realities that are scarce in a historical scenario sclerotic by strongly pro-imperialist national bourgeoisies and directly or indirectly sterilized by imperialist pressures.

Pre-fascist trends and processes were naturally linked to what M. Weber characterized it as dual ethics: under an autocratic domination (at the same time “traditional” and “rational” or bureaucratic), the dominant social sectors took devastating advantage of the ethical duality (since the others were the worthless little people). Because of this, there is a long tradition of potential fascism in Latin America. When fascism appears as a historical reality, it already finds within the constitutional and legal order, sanctioned by “customs” and “laws”, a quasi-fascism operating as a social force (and therefore as an indirect political force). This quasi-fascism was hidden behind the monopolization of power (in general) and the monopolization of state political power (in particular) by the possessing, privileged and ruling minorities. And it was he who blocked the most definite attempts to absorb differentiated, organized and specific fascism, because it made it a reinforcing factor or merely supplementary. Many observers highlighted the peculiarity of presidentialism in Latin American countries, which makes the “Mr. President” a despotic dictator, with his own bossy and authoritarian traits. Here, it would not be too much to recall other aspects of the same context that have analogous significance. The extreme level of centralization of decision-making processes, the fatal preponderance of the executive and the practice of a “legal dictatorship” (or legitimized only by the minority that makes up civil society) feed an enormous ease of using the normal apparatus of the bourgeois democracy as if it were a State of exception or passing quickly, through “emergency laws”, to the state of siege, the redemptive dictatorship and the State of exception characterized as such. It is obvious that similar measures only appear on the crest of crises – but any crisis seems like the “end of the world” for those who use an autocratic and obscurantist perspective. In any case, the pre-fascist orientation restricted the need and use of “exceptional measures” to situations in which institutionally stored violence proved to be too weak for “the demands of the situation”. Furthermore, even the least differentiated countries have a civil society in which antagonistic interests or values ​​of class stratification affect the dominant sectors. Two things result. First, groups fully (or only partially) integrated into civil society (and therefore the legal order) are able to use political space both to support and to oppose the continuation of the status quo. Second, these groups can channel existing political forces, make “downward” alliances and even polarize certain dangerous tensions either to preserve or strengthen or to transform or subvert the political and legal order. Pre-fascist traits and tendencies only become effective political forces when this kind of polarization cannot be resolved by “gentlemen's agreements” and “within the order”, civilly!

Some fascist movements emerged in Latin America and are too well known to need to be re-described here. They are linked to the eruption and evolution of fascism in Europe, as well as the influence it exerted on right-wing and ultra-right tendencies in Latin America. Some movements also managed to acquire mass support and tried to follow the models of Italy or Germany in terms of ideology, organization, leadership, propaganda, propensity for a coup d'état, etc. In a few instances, as in Bolivia, did they take on the character of right-wing revolutionary nationalism; in others, as happened in Argentina and Brazil, the actions of demagogic leaders penetrated deeply, giving rise to false social pacts between “progressive groups” of the bourgeoisie and the popular masses, and served to produce both the domestication of unions and the distortion of the trade union movement, or the political fragmentation of the working class. However, given the Latin American situation, these fascist movements did not have the economic, ideological and political space to grow and spread. Indeed, fascism had to compete with class totalitarianism, a rudimentary but effective and less risky equivalent. It made it possible to achieve the same goals of self-protection of the dominant classes and of strengthening resistance to democracy with expanded participation or to socialist revolution, without having to give in to pressure from the popular masses or to the arrangements of sectors of the more or less progressive and radical elites. Presidentialism itself and the traditional form of simple dictatorship contained a potential for limited fascistization of “government action” in defense of the existing order that was considered sufficient by the privileged classes and their economic or political elites. The main thing was to keep the poor and the “pressures from below upwards” suffocated, inert, impotent. The ideological indoctrination and mass mobilization of a real fascist movement could break this much-cultivated accommodation. The pseudo-socialism and pseudo-syndicalism of the fascist movements emerged as explosive threats in a historical context where nationalism could easily become a powder keg and a revolutionary factor. Furthermore, the radical pole of a central fascist movement cannot be easily contained and can transform itself, in the very oscillation of opposites, into its opposite (as exemplified: in Bolivia, the leftist wing of the MNR managed to impose its preponderance). . All these caveats do not hide a net gain for the most conservative and reactionary sectors of the ruling classes. It was thanks to fascist movements that failed and were absorbed or overcome that the political socialization of various “restless”, “radical” or “rebel” figures and groups took place. At present, these figures and groups are returning to the political scene, prepared to guide the counterrevolutionary turn of the bourgeoisie. As soldiers or civilians they knew how and where to prepare and reinforce the fascistization of state structures and functions, using “institutional revolution” as an expedient to mount as much fascism as is compatible with the circumstances. Furthermore, many distortions introduced thanks to the direct influences of those fascist movements remained. As an example in Brazil: the various legal measures that subject unions to government supervision and, through this, to business interests and the standard of social peace of the bourgeoisie. Corrective pressure from the trade union and labor movement has never been able, in this and other respects, to reverse the historical situation.

An elitist bias, reinforced by a “liberal” point of view of external origin, imposed a negative evaluation of demagoguery, populism, the one-party (or official party) system, realities always described as having a fascist character or orientation. . This is true in many cases and could be understood in light of the potentialities of pre-fascism mentioned above. However, there are other cases in which the demagogue, populism, the single-party (or official-party) system played a quite different role: 1) channeling or trying to create favorable conditions for a “revolution within the order”; 2nd) becoming a source of social and semi-political mobilization of the poor, of the masses deprived of civil and political guarantees, of the rebellious sectors of the lower, middle and upper classes. As the popular masses and radicals do not have a political space to be used by a true opposition against the order, there is no favorable objective situation for them to unleash a democratic revolution (whatever its content). Still, the shift from repressive conservative and reactionary controls (inherent in the pre-existing order and the presidential state) to controls that derive from state structures and functions that have been subjected to localized fascistization demonstrates that there has been an oscillation in history. These facts suggest something clear to the sociologist. The difficult democratic revolution ended up emerging and assuming the contours of a real threat. In its zigzags, the backward bourgeois revolution knocked on several doors, some right, some wrong. Until the national bourgeoisie, the State and the multinationals formed a tripod, these zigzags opened confusing paths. What is certain is that the new level seeks to eliminate all demagoguery, all populism and all commitment of the single-party system (or official party) to the national revolution. This needs to be hushed up on the altar of “accelerated development” and “political stability”. All this underlines that some popular, radical and national integration manifestations are uncomfortable in themselves, regardless of the occasional connection of certain trends or movements with fascist traits or propensities. And, secondly, it demonstrates that the localized fascistization of certain areas of the state apparatus has its own political logic. It repels any “democratic transition” and is incompatible with an “effective democratic revolution”. Its real political function is to keep the counterrevolution alive by any and all means possible. Which shows that this fascistization without fascism is very dangerous. And this is not because it gives rise to dissimulation and ambiguity. But because this hidden and masked fascism foments cold civil war and is capable of passing from the State of exception to “constitutional normality” without allowing the autocratic element that turns the State into the bastion of the counterrevolution to be destroyed. It not only blocks the “democratic transformation of order”.

In short, we do not harbor the illusion that fascism is an extinct phenomenon. At present, not only are the advanced industrial societies of the “Western world” ready for it, they go further. They stripped fascism of the ritual, ideological and orgiastic elements that placed the “heroic” and the “vulgar”, the “elite” and the “mass” side by side. An extreme rationalization led it to a metamorphosis: today, it is part of the civil and military technostructures of capitalist society. It lost salience, but it did not lose its instrumental character for the defense of capitalism and the crisis of capitalist industrial civilization. Latin America was all involved in this trend, but as a “periphery”. Not that the tragedy of the center becomes the comedy of the periphery. On the contrary, the melancholic reality of the center becomes a dirty reality of the periphery. It is there that we encounter the historical sense of a “defense of order” and a “defense of political stability” that obscures, ignores or suffocates through institutional violence the only path of liberation and redemption that opens up to the great silent majority in the Latin America.

However, it would be advisable to distinguish the possibilities that this historical scene conditions. One has to do with the persistence of the type of fascism described in this work. The political crises facing Latin American countries are structural crises. Because of this, to the extent that the dominant social sectors prove capable of preserving the social monopoly of power and state political power, class totalitarianism (with its political implications) will continue to be a repetitive social-historical process. On the other hand, wherever the stage of the industrial revolution is reached as an externally controlled modernization and transition (that is, under associated and dependent capitalism), the militarization and technocratization of state structures and functions will have to grow and , with them, new tendencies of generalized fascistization will emerge (in other words, localized fascistization will give way to a global fascistization: what happens today with the State and starts to happen with the big corporate company will happen with all the key institutions, at all levels of organization in society). According to the pattern received from the external radiating centers of the process, however, this global fascistization will have little salience. In the current era, under monopoly capitalism, it has already been learned “what was useful under fascism”, the risks to be avoided and how to operate a fascistization that is silent and disguised, but highly “rational” and “effective”, in addition to being compatible with strong democracy. Finally, as a self-defense reaction against democratization, the radical-popular varieties of democracy and the socialist revolution – still the ghost of the “communist threat”, of “new Cubas” etc. – it is possible that this trend acquires, much sooner than is thought, more ostensive, aggressive and “dynamic” dimensions, with a new re-elaboration of the ideological or organizational element and the manipulation of the masses. These prospects are bleak. In the conditions in which they carry out the transition to industrial capitalism, under the famous tripod – national bourgeoisie, State and multinationals, with total imperialization of their centers of power and decision-making – Latin American countries are not only faced with the option: either " pluralist democracy” or “socialism”. In fact, bearing in mind the background described, the emergence of a new type of fascism may be linked to the transformation of “pluralist democracy” into the citadel of world counterrevolution. Would we be facing a recovery of the “extreme” or “radical” model inherited from European fascism (that is, from Germany and Italy)? Even if that were to happen, the fundamental point would be different. Central and specific fascism would appear modified by the new potentialities of the third technological revolution. He would be much more dangerous and destructive.

In summary, the concept of fascism continues to be relevant in the social sciences and, in particular, is important for the study of contemporary Latin America. It is useful for characterizing, empirically, a type of fascism that has been neglected by political scientists. And it is necessary for a better understanding of the boundaries between a normal pattern of authoritarian government under presidentialism and the extreme distortion that is affecting the present political order. It is also fruitful for qualifying factors and forces that operate for or against “national integration”, “national revolution”, “democracy” and “socialism”. It is stimulating for prospective analysis, as it makes it possible to situate the probable activity of factors and forces that are behind the struggle that is being waged today for control of the future of Latin American countries. However, as these realities are in motion, in transformation, we run the risk of fighting one form of fascism while another, worse one, is taking shape and expanding. Which shows that the concept doesn't just matter to social scientists. It is essential for all human beings who are engaged in the relentless struggle for the suppression of realities conceptualized as fascism, in their past, present and possibly future modalities. The issue is not reduced to “survival with freedom”. It is a matter of knowing whether man will be master or slave of modern industrial civilization, with all the perspectives it opens up, either for the destruction of humanity or for equality and fraternity among all human beings.

Supplementary Note

Elaborated some time ago, this essay does not capture later evolutions of the political form of fascism in Latin America. In other conditions, Pinochetism would be the peaceful point of reference for illustrating its most complex and, at the same time, strongest and richest manifestation, which occurred in Chile after the overthrow of the Allende Government.

However, when the book was already in an advanced stage of editorial production, I came across an excellent article by Newton Carlos, published by Folha de São Paulo.[vi] In it, Newton Carlos highlights the fear that one of the currents of the regime implemented in Chile and “improved” thanks to the ruse of a ritual plebiscite feels before the prospects of a broad “popular mobilization”. This is an essential question for the characterization I developed of fascism, in its Latin American irradiation; This part of Newton Carlos' article clearly provides decisive evidence for one of the central points of that work. For this reason, I took the liberty of transcribing the article in its entirety, thus sparing the reader the need for a search of his own.


Dictatorships try to create “civil bases”

newton carlos

In addition to “institutionalizing themselves”, as in Chile, the dictatorships of the Southern Cone are thinking of “participation” models, such as the “Movement of National Opinion”, through which General Viola dreams of creating the “civil bases” of the military regime. Argentine. But it is in Chile that the development of models moves faster and more efficiently. The setting up of a “Civic-Military Movement”, announced by General Pinochet in September of last year, is accelerated with the beginning of the “constitutional” period of eight years, defined as a transition stage to a protected, technified democracy, led by technicians and not politicians.

This acceleration is not ostensive, there is no mention of movements or mobilization of a political nature. Apparently it is a municipalist operation, the strengthening of the “municipal ballot” under direct control of the central power. The idea is to put City Halls at the head of a broad “participationist” gear, whose parts would come together in a civic-military movement in support of the regime. This operation was launched shortly after Pinochet took office as “constitutional” president.


Although he says he is “constitutionally” invested in the Presidency, under the new Constitution “approved” in a plebiscite last year, Pinochet extended the state of emergency; war courts are functioning in Chile, “illegal” arrests, banishment and torture continue. A well-known actor and director with a play in theaters, Fernando Gallardo, was arrested by the CNI, the National Information Center, which reached the same levels of repressive brutality as its predecessor, DINA. Is this the kind of “moderately repressive” regime that Jeane Kirkpatrick, one of Reagan's Latin Americanists, says is tolerable, as long as it's friendly? Pinochet was invited by Reagan to visit Washington, where General Viola, from Argentina, had already been. Reagan suspended the economic sanctions against Chile, decreed by Carter in retaliation for the impunity of the mandates and executors of the assassination in Washington of a former Chilean minister, Orlando Letelier.

With external pressure relaxed and internal controls tightened, Pinochet embarked on a major “civic” operation. Watch carefully what happens in Chilean municipalities, it is the message of the opposition. The municipal map of Chile was altered by decree, with the creation of new “cells” that will help give life to Pinochet's “civic-military movement”. The mayors are in charge of creating and developing communal groups, organizations of neighborhoods, of mothers, of “pobladores”, favelados. Pinochetism invests in urban sectors, in the past largely responsible for the strength of Christian Democracy, of ex-president Eduardo Frei. To face the left with the control of the unions, the PDC tried to organize the marginalized populations of the cities. Pinochet goes deeper into this strategy, transforming city halls into the leaders of the assembly of a broad “civic” movement in support of the military regime.


The Chilean opposition, all fragmented, wielding different options, finds itself even more cornered. The regime itself, however, is not exempt from the consequences of this operation. The idea of ​​a dictatorship with a “social base” is defended by the hardest sectors of Pinochetism, who want a populist dictatorship and fight the current economic model. The “moderates” or “open tourists”, supporters of the economic model, linked to big companies, want an authoritarian government subject to limitations of powers, “constitutional”, “institutionalized”. They are afraid that a mass movement, Francoist style, will end up turning against them. So far Pinochet has managed to manage both factions, but the “moderates” are already looking to see the scope of the municipalist revolution.

As for the opposition, it is going through its worst moments. The “historical” left itself, traditionally adjusted to the political game, begins to opt for violence. Other sectors surrender to the feeling of total impotence. Former President Frei went on to write an international politics column.

*Florestan Fernandes (1920-1995) was professor emeritus at FFLCH-USP, professor at PUC-SP and federal deputy for the PT. Author, among other books, of The integration of black people into class society (Rile up).

  1. S. Notes from the presentation given at the roundtable on “The Nature of Fascism and the Relevance of the Concept in Contemporary Political Science” (Department of Sociology, Harvard University, March 10-11, 1971). The few changes made did not affect the essence of the original text. In addition, the ideas presented remained stuck in the last half of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s.

Originally published in the book Power and Counterpower in Latin America.


[I] CJ Friedrich and ZK Brzezinski, Totalitarian dictatorship and autocracy. Cambridge, Massachusettes, Harvard UniversityPress, 2nd. ed., 1965, pp. 8-9.

[ii] It seems to me that the empirical delimitation of fascism, introduced by E. Nolte (Three faces of fascim. Action Française, Italian Fascism. National Socialism, London, Weidelfeld & Nicolson, 1966), is quite fruitful and corroborates the analysis made (see especially p. 460). With reference to Spain, his characterization is accurate, showing the advantage of the concept, so avoided by many social scientists.

[iii] “Class totalitarianism” is only possible in stratified societies in which special culture of the ruling class (or sectors of the ruling class) operates and matters as if it were the universal culture of the whole society (or the “civilization”). Sometimes the special culture of the lower class is opposed to it as "folklore" or "popular culture". When members of the lower class “step out of their world” and play roles that are linked to the economic, social, and political spheres of global society, they share, in one way or another, institutional traits or complexes of “civilization” (or, in other words, the culture official and dominant).

[iv] This type of fascism corresponds to the two functions of self-defense and self-privilege that it achieves in the hands of threatened classes, described by F. Neumann (The democratic and the authoritarian State – Essays in politics land legal theory. Glencoe, Illinois, The Free Press, 1957, pp. 250-51). (Ed. braz.: Democratic State and Authoritarian State. Rio, Zahar, 1969.)

[v] If we consider the fall of Batista and the collapse of capitalism in Cuba, this is not a simple assumption.

[vi]Folha de S. Paul, April 14, 1981.

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