Bolsonarism explained to young people



It is necessary to exercise the theoretical and practical imagination beyond the borders of the crisis, so that we can once again see the end of capitalism, before the end of the world

“It is not because you do not see what is happening in front of you that it is not happening”
(my grandma)

Like many, I understand that the pandemic exacerbates what already exists. And so, it poses an opportunity to see and think about where we are, how we got here, and where we're going.

I understand that we are experiencing a kind of dress rehearsal for the end of the world: an end of the world in the biological sense of the term; or an end of the world as we know it.

I will analyze some aspects of what is evident to our eyes. Initially, I will discuss why Bolsonaro is a perfect criminal, in the sense that he is assured of impunity. Then, I will explore the fundamental meaning of Bolsonarisms that proliferate around the world. Finally, I will comment on the Bolsonarist calculation and the open and closed perspectives for the near future.


Who defines what is a crime and what is not a crime? And who defines the hierarchy among the crimes? I read Pinocchio to my daughters during the pandemic. In the story, he is arrested for stealing two bunches of grapes because he was hungry – and he regrets it. Because in Italy at the end of the XNUMXth century, where people were starving, private property was at the forefront of life.

In another passage, when father Geppetto is dying and needs a glass of milk, the farmer says to Pinocchio: where are the coins? As the doll doesn't have one, he has to draw a hundred buckets of water from a well, to have a glass of milk. We see a world of “cashless monetary subjects”: it takes money to get anything.

In Pinocchio's Italy, there is a clear hierarchy in law: private property before the famine; money before life. This hierarchy is reaffirmed in a story published in chapters in newspapers of the time – they were our “series” today.

Who defines this hierarchy? A hierarchy has to do with values, which express power relations. These values ​​are part of an ideology, in the sense that they express a certain class vision, that is: the interest of a part (of the class that has power) is taken as the interest of the whole. The way in which these interests are imposed is the so-called class struggle.

You see: what defines Hitler as a criminal and not a hero is the fact that he lost the war. History is not only written, but shaped by the victors. In the documentary “Under the fog of war” with Robert McNamara, this high official of the American State recognizes that the incendiary bombs dropped in Japan on wooden houses, incinerating entire cities, were crimes against humanity. If he had lost, he would have sat in Nuremberg.

The point I want to reach is that Bolsonaro is a peripheral Hitler, without industry and without an army. He is a Hitler in the sense that he practices a potentially genocidal and suicidal policy: he is Nazism, with other means – with peripheral means.

I speak of genocide and suicide, because that is the fundamental meaning of your policy in the pandemic, nine other than perversion, which I will talk about later. It's a policy that plunges the country headlong into the plague, rather than trying to build some kind of ark in the face of the social and economic deluge. And he does it deliberately, as a result of a political calculus.

And yet, Bolsonaro and his government are not perceived as such: he is not going to Nuremberg. Why? Because he kills, but with other means. And in our society, killing with weapons is illegal (if you're not in the military), but killing economically is not.

Let's think about Pinocchio, in the XNUMXst century: who defines that coca-cola is legal and cannabis is not? Who defines that having sex with a minor cannot, but child advertising can? Why receive interest on borrowed money, is it legal? But receiving money from the other by pointing a gun, right? You will say that borrowing is a choice, but I ask you, in fact, do you think that borrowers choose?

I clarify that I do not advocate armed robbery. My point is that the definition of what violence is, what is a crime and what is fair is socially constructed. And the architecture of what is violent, legal and fair in contemporary capitalism contradicts life, which has three dramatic global expressions today: atomic bombs, the ecological issue and pandemics.

Bolsonaro is the caricature of this contradiction between capitalism and life: a caricature because in him these traits are more evident, because they are more exaggerated. However, they are in the game. The president is the radical version of necropolitics, a power of death exercised, but by indirect means. If in feudalism economic coercion was indirect and the punishment with death was visible (the gallows), in capitalism economic coercion is direct and death is invisible. In Bolsonaro, economic death, social indifference, political perversion and ideological obscurantism are taken to paroxysm: but he does not go to Nuremberg, because he is an exaggerated version of the normal. More than killing, he lets die. And? After all, he has no crime there.

Or to say it more precisely: if we understand the deliberate attack on life as a crime, then there is a lot of crime there, but they are not perceived as such. Hitler confined Jews in concentration camps, a crime. Bolsonaro urges his country to be suspicious, which in practice exposes them to death. Why is this not a crime?

Those at the top in Brazil just don't die for civil disobedience. But also because it has the means for civil disobedience. So if they die, it's because of recalcitrance. As Paulo Guedes said: “Let everyone fuck themselves the way they want. Especially if the guy is bigger, vaccinated and a billionaire”.

That this scandalous ditch has the complacency of those at the top and those at the bottom is a thermometer of the corrosion of our social fabric: those at the top don't care about those at the bottom, and those at the bottom don't expect anything else from those at the top.

I would say that the deepest meaning of Bolsonarisms around the world is this: to deepen this invisible violence, or this normalization of violence by other means. What I will call naturalizing barbarism.

Let's go back a step: who defines what violence is? Who defines what is a crime? Why dismissing a father or mother and condemning their families to starvation is not seen as violence? Or why is this violence condoned? But if that same family occupies land or an empty house, are they criminals? Why is it possible to evict, but not to occupy, if the right to life comes first?

Why is surplus value, which simply means appropriating another's work without paying, not a crime? But usurping private property, is it? Why can you kill one way but not another? Steal one way but not another? Lying one way but not another?


My second point is that contemporaneity is marked by an objective fundamental contradiction and a subjective one. Both are rooted in the world projected by the Enlightenment, which had wage citizenship as its ideal.

The objective contradiction is a world in which the productive capacity is greater than ever, so less and less work is needed to provide the conditions for life. And yet, work is increasingly scarce and those who work do so with ever-increasing intensity. From the popular point of view, this contradiction is expressed in a left that organizes itself to fight around work, in a reality in which work can (and must) be overcome.

I will not detail this contradiction, which is at the root of the structural crisis of capitalism since the 1970s. Instead, I will examine the subjective contradiction, which also comes from the Enlightenment: at the same time that progress was made towards recognizing the equality of people and the right to life as universal values, we are all faced with a daily life that contradicts these precepts. In this sense, it seems to me a happy blunder when the PCC read a communiqué on TV at the beginning of its existence, and the person who made it read “enlightenment” as “illusionism”: in the daily lives of Brazilians, the universal values ​​of enlightenment they are a “real illusion”, or an ideology.

Concretely, this means that if we ask anyone what comes first, money or life, the answer will be life. Life asserted itself as a universal value. But this is not the practice. Thus, there is a seminal split between values ​​and practice.

This reality has many psychosocial effects. For example, people build various types of "defense" (in the psychological sense of the term) against what hurts their humanity, in order to survive. These defenses form a layer of indifference necessary to navigate the city and work. Otherwise, how can I go to sleep on a Tuesday in the coldest weather, having found an injured man wrapped in swaddling clothes sleeping on my street?

Every day, we encounter beings wrapped in cloth on the cold streets of our lives. And we are compelled to move forward, forming defenses.

The paradox is that there is an element of health in these defenses: while we need them, it is because there is a life pulsion contrary to indifference. We survive the beings on the cold streets, but the discomfort and restlessness are there. Barbarism is not naturalized

One of the dramas of current politics is the pretense of the interests represented by the Bolsonaros of this world, move the values. The crux of the matter is not to ban unions, parties and demonstrations (although this may eventually happen), but to modify the conditions in which people consider it legitimate to demonstrate, and to rebel: in other words, to generate a new normal

Along the way, Bolsonaro has a method. He tests, and if there is no reaction, he advances; if the reaction is strong, deny it. As the Bolsonaro character is a gloss between the politician that he is, and the pub uncle that he is, there is no commitment to the truth. As a politician, people give you a discount when you're not telling the truth, and as an uncle at the bar, he can say anything silly. Even so, he communicates with the people who distrust TV and Brasilia, with good reason. Since he is not committed to the truth as part of his policy as an uncle at the bar, he withdraws without remorse and without prejudice among the faithful. This still gives him an aura of authenticity, while those who stand up to him are associated with mainstream politics, rightly perceived as lying.

In this sense, I understand that Bolsonaro is literally a pioneer of the XNUMXst century: he is the captain of the bush opening with a machete, the trails through which the progress of the people of São Paulo will pass. Hence the complacent support from above. It is a complacency analogous to that of a Churchill facing a Hitler who promised to uproot the Soviet Union and communism. They let Nazism run its course, until it became clear that the “War” card the Germans had was world domination. So, they negotiated with the Soviets a more reasonable sharing, as a basis for peaceful coexistence in a world where violence has moved to the periphery – “Cold War” can only be a Eurocentric term.

What our XNUMXst century Nazi pioneer does, albeit in an unpredictable way, because he is largely intuitive (hence Juca Kfouri compares him to Garrincha, apologizing for the offense), is to expand the aspirational horizon of his base. It burns away the thin layer of Brazilian civil society, deepening the self-devouring dynamics of business.

To give an example. The appointment of Sergio Moro as minister was a scandal, by any republican standard – something that people outside Brazil do not understand. Shortly afterwards, irrefutable evidence of Moro's collusion with those who accused Lula came to light. When Bolsonaro realized that his government was going through this scandal unscathed, it was clear that he would never fall for ethical reasons. The president continues to burn our thin layer of civility, and has advanced one more little house, claiming the closure of congress.

I make a parenthesis to propose an exercise. Imagine for a moment that the PT in power appointed a judge as minister who arrested his rival; retain that judge, despite the evidence that he did so; put a lunatic as chancellor and interfere in the appointments of the Itamaraty, disrespecting hierarchies; rehearsed naming his son as ambassador to the US; had children involved with militiamen and publicly admitted that he needed to defend them from the Federal Police; imagine Lula picking fights with the entire press; threatening to close the STF; equipping the federal police; saying that she will close the congress; or simply, imagine the president speaking the ignorance that Bolsonaro says, in a vulgar, violent and profanity-filled way.

These double standards, which every Brazilian intuitively knows exist, mean that Bolsonaro has the endorsement of those from above, as long as his foolishness harmonizes with the economic agenda of the bourgeoisie. He has a green light to burn weeds and open a path, because he is opening a path in the right direction.

What the pandemic also shows is that monetary subjects with money (our bourgeoisie) consider Bolsonaro, at best, unpleasant, as Marine Le Pen said. That's because the violence of the military is basically just another facet of his class violence.

The reasoning of the rich was explained by Paulo Guedes, when he justified his participation in the electoral campaign: “Everyone there worked for Aécio, thief, stoner. Worked for Temer, thief. He worked for Sarney, a thief and a bad character who set up the whole of Brazil. Then a completely crude, brutish guy arrives and gets votes like Lula did. The Brazilian elite, instead of understanding and talking like that, hey, we have the opportunity to change Brazilian politics for the better [...]. Ah, but he curses this, curses that… Soak up the guy!”. Asked if it was possible to tame Bolsonaro, he sentenced: “I think so, it is already another animal”. Taming the beast in favor of their class interests, that is the bet of those at the top.

In the Bolsonaro government, a kind of division of labor was set up. The military offers the framework of the new neoliberalism, in which political and economic violence is exacerbated: this framework is the police state. The economy, he outsources to Paulo Guedes, to agribusiness, to private health and so on.

So what is the fundamental difference between the Bolsonaro government and the previous one? Critics of the PT governments like me, we say that South American progressivism managed the crisis. One thing that the April ministerial meeting revealed on video showed is that Bolsonaro is not there to manage anything: he governs through the crisis.

It can be seen in the video that there are two types of cadres in the government. Those who take advantage of the beast to advance their agenda, as is the case with Guedes, who sees himself as Mefisto, believing that he manipulates Bolsonaro for his own ends. And the ideological frameworks that are there, as my colleague Abraham Weintraub said, “to fight”.

Attending that meeting, it is observed not only that the pandemic did not appear - or appeared only as an opportunity to make the herd pass through the Amazon, as Minister Salles said. But in a high-level meeting to present a socioeconomic plan, the president only opened his mouth to demand unconditional militancy and political action from his subordinates. That is, he presides over the country in the same way of operating as it was built in politics: throwing gasoline on the fire, screaming.

Imagine if the PT governed like this: no management, just ideology?

What Bolsonaro does, in form as in content, is to expand the limits of what is acceptable. It is to make the impossible possible – which, paradoxically, has always been a motto of the left. Hence the upside-down world we live in: the subversion of order has become a policy of the right, while the left defends this order.


This leads to a third observation in the pandemic: the institutional left is not an alternative for change, insofar as it does not reason or act according to a fundamentally different logic.

What do I mean by that? To stay in the Brazilian case: just like Bolsonaro, the PT approaches the pandemic crisis as an opportunity, and calculates the best way to take advantage of it. It is clear that what the PT identifies as an opportunity is very different from what Bolsonaro does. But rationality is identical: it is the logic of political calculation. They all calculate, even though they are calculations involving different variables.

What is Bolsonaro's calculation? The president assumes that the crisis has two dimensions, health and economic. His bet is that the effects of the economic crisis will be felt more by the people. The speech against horizontal isolation dialogues with those who die of hunger, not of covid. Bolsonaro correctly assumes that workers want to work: I spoke to few people lately, but among the workers I spoke to, I heard several criticisms of the governor, who advocates isolation, in Bolsonaro's defense.

Evidently, the other side of this policy is the certainty that the Brazilian state will never assist workers as in Europe: on the contrary, provisional measures facilitated wage reductions and dismissals. Minister Paulo Guedes' neoliberal fundamentalism is the fulcrum of Bolsonaro's political calculation.

Fundamentalism here is not a figure of an image. Note that at the April meeting, the director of the Central Bank himself criticized Guedes' speech, which proposes to attract private investment that will not come, to get the country out of the crisis. The government's orientation challenges capitalist rationality itself in the face of the crisis – after all, European states confine and pay wages to workers not out of charity, but to minimize its effects. As Keynes said, it is about saving capitalism from the capitalists. The Brazilian response is along the lines of facilitating deforestation, layoffs and restructuring: in short, to intensify accumulation by dispossession.

Evidently, the Bolsonarist calculation is cynical and perverse, putting millions of lives at risk. But since it is perceived like this (as a calculation), it is not a crime. Deep down, it passes as an acceptable alternative in a world where, despite Enlightenment illusionism, life is subordinated to the market; the truth is written by class interest; and crime is defined by the winners of politics – and in this case, the winners are the capital class.

On the other side of the same coin, we observe the PT calculating that it was better not to military for impeachment. In an interview in early March in Europe, Lula was against Bolsonaro's impeachment, "unless he commits an act of insanity, commits a crime of responsibility". A month later, the question that remains for Lula is: define insanity, and responsibility.

At the beginning of April, there were more than twenty lawsuits filed in the Chamber of Deputies, none of them by the PT. The party decided to enter the campaign pressured by its base, and it only did so at a time when impeachment was out of the cards in Brasília. Recently, the president who defended an agreement with Judas if he had the vote, refused to sign manifestos, claiming that they would be endorsed by people who supported the impeachment. I do not dispute Lula's decision, but the argument is dubious: certainly, there is more calculation than principles there.


However, in a reality where Bolsonaro's main enemies are Sergio Moro, João Doria and Witzel, it seems that the left is losing relevance. FHC is still listened to by conservatives, but few ask Lula what he thinks of the situation.

So the drama is not looking at the PT, but at our people, and seeing how the pandemic throws open a divided country. Admittedly, this is nothing new in the socioeconomic sense, which Florestan Fernandes described as a “social apartheid”. But there is also a split in terms of the formation of cultural, political and symbolic references. We observe the country from the center – which beats the pot or not, and the periphery that tries to survive, where the pots have little echo.

Faced with this reality, I highlight two aspects on which Bolsonaro's policy rests. First, what I would describe as a Haitian relationship between the people and the state. As happened after the earthquake on the island, here nobody expects government support. It doesn't cross people's minds that the Brazilian State is financially responsible for keeping workers at home during the pandemic.

I emphasize that this is a socio-political and not an economic limit: the crux of the matter is not that there is a lack of resources, but that a State with a slave-owning origin cannot support the population, otherwise it would jeopardize labor discipline. In the world of work, the same logic works as in prison: the living conditions of those who stay at home can never be better than those of those who are imprisoned. After all, people only work by economic coercion. If Brazilians discover that the State can support them, who will hold the slave quarters?

A second point is the discrediting of politics and institutions, which include

the Globo network. And this is the background of the president's authenticity: instead of the false promises of the usual politicians, who intend to contain the crisis, Bolsonaro recognizes the crisis. He admits autophagy (one against the other) and promises to arm his constituents so that, as he himself does, they defend themselves by attacking. Hence its “authenticity”.

The president's speech is addressed to this population that does not believe in Dória, Lula or Globo; who smells a certain authenticity in the president; he expects nothing from the state and if he receives $600 he will continue working. Bolsonaro dialogues with the alternatives that seem open to the working population. In line with his logic, the president does not propose to contain the pandemic, but defends the freedom of people to work, that is: the freedom of “viração” – of people fighting in the autophagic world, for their survival.

hence the abyss that we observe in Brazil today. On the one hand, the society that has a savings account, scandalized by the president's primitivism, which defies science and good European customs, which now include quarantine. And the mass of “turners”, who sell lunch to pay for dinner. The other side of the abysmal indifference and cynicism of those on top is the lack of perspective from those on the bottom, beyond the individual heroism of killing a lion a day in the face of autophagy.

In this context, a coup d'état seems unlikely. Historically, what motivates a coup is the threat from below, which is not present in Brazil today. On the contrary, I understand that the democratic façade is valuable for this new neoliberalism. Faced with the impotence of those at the bottom, Bolsonaro may even fall for the small politics that overthrew Dilma – especially if the instability that it feeds compromises business. Or if the misery he manipulates turns into rebellion. But for now, this is not set. Care must be taken not to look at XNUMXst century politics with the grammar of the last century. With three thousand soldiers in the government, perhaps the coup has already been dealt.


With no intention of managing the crisis, Bolsonaro operates by generating crises – some real, others false – through which he navigates. Hence the meaning of his policy, crystal clear in the video meeting: it is a struggle against anything that opposes it. It is also a fetishized policy, in the sense that it is realized as an end in itself: there is no project, there is no future. For Bolsonaro, the fight is an end in itself. This is his “my fight”.

Meanwhile, the caravan passes by, as Ricardo Sales explained.

Against all this, there remains the humanism of people who want peace, not war. And the political imagination, which needs to be recovered. How would we do in a world without money? What would I do if I didn't have to work? How would a society without a state function? What would a society without police be like?

It is necessary to exercise the theoretical and practical imagination beyond the borders of the crisis, so that we can once again see the end of capitalism, before the end of the world.

* Fabio Luis Barbosa dos Santos is a professor at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of A history of the progressive wave.


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