Bolsonarism: an authoritarian conception in formation

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By DANIEL AARÃO REIS*

Considerations on the rise of the extreme right

The election of Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency of the Republic of Brazil, in November 2018, surprised and created a state of perplexity and disorientation, above all in the field of the left, but also among forces of the center and the democratic right.

The present article tries to contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon, articulating itself in the following sections: (1) International context of the rise of the extreme right; (2) The rise of the extreme right in Brazil; (3) The character of the Brazilian extreme right; (4) The construction of democratic alternatives.

The international context of the rise of the extreme right[I]

The growth of far-right political forces and various types of authoritarian regimes has been a worldwide trend since the late XNUMXth century and early XNUMXth century.

At the core of the process is what is conventionally called the digital or computer revolution, which has radically changed humanity's civilization patterns. Like the so-called Fordist revolution that, at the turn of the XNUMXth/XNUMXth centuries, profoundly transformed human societies, the information civilization, a product of the current revolution, has also produced destabilizing social, political, cultural and economic effects.

Within the framework of the new revolution, some aspects in the economy and society stand out: the acceleration, since the 1970s, of social and economic inequalities (T. Piketti, 2014); from the 1980s, the consolidation of the hegemony of financial capital, with emphasis on speculative capital and tax havens freed from previous restrictive legislation; the weakening of regulations governing the internal and international movements of capital and goods; the privatization of economic sectors and public services, even those that were until then considered strategic to national interests; the corresponding weakening of the capacity of intervention and control of the National States; since the 1990s, the emergence of new dynamic sectors/activities, such as, among others, information technology, biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, with a high level of monopolization or oligopolization, with radical impacts in the area of ​​communications (internet, social media, etc); the international reallocation of world industrial production and the accelerated decline of the demographic weight of the working classes in the most powerful capitalist countries; the disarticulation and precariousness of labor markets (uberization) and of traditional union institutions; the emergence of new development poles (India, China) and regional megamarkets, altering the balance established after the Second World War.

Representative democracy regimes have been unable to deal with the challenges arising from these mutations. Political and legal institutions lose credibility by failing to meet social demands. Among young people and the popular classes, lack of interest in electoral processes and distrust in relation to a political system criticized as ineffective, corrupt and demoralized is accentuated (S. Levitsky and D. Ziblatt, 2018 and D. Runciman, 2018) . This is an ongoing process since the 1960s/1970s, when they began to emerge as protagonists of political struggles, social movements that do not allow themselves to be framed by institutional and/or electoral games (D. Aarão Reis, 2018).

A “society of insecurity” was established (N. Fraser, 2007). Those who lose positions or are unable to keep them, the great masses of wage earners or those who live off their own work, feel frightened. Cultural references that seemed solid melt into thin air. Terrorist actions, since 2001 (T. Ash, 2011); economic crises and natural catastrophes accentuate an atmosphere of uncertainty and anguish.

Reformist, democratic or socialist forces and political parties have not been able to present proposals that are capable of reforming political and economic structures, reducing social inequalities or/and questioning the hegemony of large financial capital[ii]. Huddled within national borders, they lose the ability to face phenomena that unfold globally and are unable to control or mitigate the destructive effects of the ongoing revolution.

They have thus been identified, rightly or wrongly, as partners in regimes incapable of defending the large majorities, which became particularly evident in the face of the economic crisis of 2008, when the cost of overcoming its effects collapsed on the backs of salaried workers ( A. Przeworski, 2019).

It is within this general framework of despair that right-wing nationalist and authoritarian trends and proposals are reinforced, in a process of nationalist reaction[iii], almost always expressed through far-right organizations or parties[iv].

The Donald Trump phenomenon in the United States, the growth of far-right forces in Western Europe (Italy, France and England) and Central Europe (Hungary and Poland), Asia (India and the Philippines) and Latin America (Chile, Colombia and Brazil) attest to the existence of the process. One of its main particularities is that such forces do not openly confront democratic institutions, but instrumentalize them, corroding them from within, disfiguring them. They effectively combine recourse to public opinion and the intense use of so-called social media within the framework of nationalist, anti-democratic and conservative options from a social and religious point of view.[v].

The Rise of the Far Right in Brazil

Jair Bolsonaro's victory is part of this international scenario. It is the Brazilian expression of these trends.

To understand it, once contextualized on the international level, I propose the articulation of three temporalities: in the long term, the study of right-wing authoritarian traditions in the country; in the medium term, the deterioration of the political system between the enactment of the 1988 Constitution and the 2018 elections; in the short term, the incidence of the electoral campaign and its effects.

Right-wing authoritarian traditions: the long run

Right-wing authoritarian traditions are dense in Brazil. Among others, racism stands out; social inequalities; patrimonialism and mandonism; the systematic exploitation of anticommunism; gender discrimination and closed and elitist democratic regimes.

Let's examine each of these aspects.

Slavery relations, before being belatedly abolished, spread throughout society (domestic or proximity slavery), generating contempt for manual work and hierarchical relations. The peculiar process of miscegenation, presented as an antidote to racial discrimination, only disguised omnipresent forms of racism, evidenced, among other indices, in inequalities in employment, income and education; in the use and abuse of police violence; in the prison population. Structural racism. and structured[vi].

Inequalities of all kinds were not mitigated by economic progress, registered between 1930 and 1980. Even the poverty reduction policies, when formulated and applied (2002-2010), reproduced brutal patterns of regional and social inequalities, configuring large majorities in a condition of second-class citizenship, whose rights, although proclaimed in laws and even in the constitution, are not materialized, except very partially, in social practice.

Patrimonialism and mandonism, foundations of the agrarian Order, anchored far in the colonial past, have retained great strength. In a recent article, anthropologist Roberto Da Matta referred to “authoritarian and bureaucratic colonialism, radically Catholic and anti-egalitarian”, combined with “bonds of lace cuffs, the brother of inhuman black slavery”.[vii] The urbanization process did not dissolve its strength and impact, nor was the Republic, proclaimed in 1889, able to neutralize its effects. Limited access to full citizenship – despite what the legal texts say – reproduces the preeminence of personal relationships to the detriment of impersonal legal codes.

Gender discrimination persists, evidenced in high rates of domestic violence and rape[viii]. Advances towards the emancipation of women are very recent, dating back to the 1970s, with the exception of the right to vote, assured since 1934. Professional and income inequalities, limited access to the highest levels of social prestige and remuneration, criminalization of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy attest to the violent subordination of the “second half of heaven”.

Anti-communism has a long history in the country. He was present in the years that saw the outbreak of the Soviet revolution. It would be resumed with immense emphasis after the revolutionary insurrection led by the communists, which took place in November 1935, serving, a little later, as the main pretext for the 1937 coup, which established the dictatorship of the Estado Novo, between 1937-1945.

As a specter, it would condition Brazilian society in the 1950s and, in particular, in the context that preceded the civil-military coup of 1964, when, once again, it would be a central banner for the unification of the coup forces, remaining alive throughout the dictatorship, until 1979. During all these years, mobilized by the Catholic Church, conservative forces – and sometimes even leftist parties – would permanently use communism as a scarecrow, an immediate, threatening danger, endangering institutions and the validity of the “Christian civilization” in the country[ix].

Under these conditions, democratic institutions could not even be consolidated. A republic proclaimed through a coup d'état, the permanent monitoring of the political regime by the military, the elitist selectivity in the attribution of citizenship, the sobbing and limited extension of civil, political and social rights, the main economic leaps registered under the domination of dictatorial regimes (1937/1945 and 1964/1979), all of this left deep marks on the political tendencies of the right and left. The recognition of broad rights only dates from the last years of the 1988th century (XNUMX Constitution), but many legal provisions exist only on paper.

The combination of these aspects over the long term structured a society marked by inequalities, hierarchy, violence, intolerance and discrimination (L. Schwarcz, 2019 and H.Starling, 2019).

However, it was notable how wide circles – politicians and intellectuals – tended to underestimate the strength of these traditions and to consider Brazilian democracy as “consolidated”. A typical case of political and historical blindness.

It has never been as urgent as today to overcome this misunderstanding.

Several historians, since the early years of this century, have called attention to the “complex relationships” that were established between dictatorships and society, showing how those were not just a product of the will of the dominant classes and repression, (except for the fundamental role of the latter), but they relied, under the hegemony of large financial capital, on cross-cutting support at all levels of society. Effectively, around the two dictatorial regimes that were imposed in the country in the 1937th century (1945-1964; 1979-XNUMX[X]), it was often possible to build a significant social consensus, which offers subsidies for understanding the almost peaceful establishment of both and the equally peaceful processes of their overcoming. Important research has demonstrated the adequacy of this interpretation[xi].

Considering authoritarian traditions to understand the current rise of the extreme right should not, however, lead to its absolutization[xii]. Despite these traditions, significant majorities elected the center-left sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994/2002), the labor leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2002/2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2010/2016), former president of the republic, to the presidency of the republic. - militant of the fight against the dictatorship. In other words: authoritarian traditions condition options but do not automatically determine them. As the Israeli intellectual, Amoz Oz liked to say: “the past belongs to us, we do not belong to the past”. Traditions, however powerful, cannot drive politics out of history. Long duration does not exclude evaluation of medium and short duration. It is now time to analyze the latter.

The medium duration: the great conjuncture 1988/2018

It has become common to call the period that began with the approval of the 1988 Constitution as the “new republic”[xiii]. According to supporters of the denomination, it would have entered into a crisis with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, in 2016, and was definitively buried with the election of Jair Bolsonaro, in 2018[xiv] (A. Alonso, 2019 and E. Solano, 2019).

Whether you accept the periodization or not, the fact is that the great conjuncture between 1988 and 2018 offers an interesting platform to evaluate the circumstances and options that led to the radical loss of prestige of a political system that seemed so promising at the end of the XNUMXth century . This is an important reflection, since the victory of the extreme right and of Jair Bolsonaro is closely linked to the demoralization of the current political system.

Among other aspects, what marks the trajectory of the new republic, from a political point of view, except for the years chaired by Collor de Mello[xv] is the pre-eminence of the polarization between the Brazilian Social-Democracy Party/PSDB and the Workers Party/PT[xvi]. The two parties embodied the reformist aspirations towards building a democratic and less unequal society.

The visibility, prestige and power acquired by them corresponded to policies that defended the interests of the great majority. Among many others, inflation control, undertaken in the years of the PSDB government and income distribution policies and affirmative calls against racism, implemented in the years of the PT government, in particular in Lula’s terms (2002/2010) . They had a positive impact on reducing poverty rates, but did not change the pattern of social inequalities that remained or even increased. However, the reformist impetus of the two parties cooled down, becoming, in both cases, a “soft reformism” (A. Singer, 2012).

Part of this process was the lack of appreciation for an activist policy of memory, capable of raising social and political debates about the dictatorial period, characteristics and legacies, as well as the absence of a broad social debate on human rights and the vehement condemnation of crimes against humanity, committed by the Brazilian State during the dictatorships of the 2019th century (D. Aarão Reis, XNUMXa). An inventory of the scars left by the dictatorship has ceased to be carried out, with obvious damage to citizen awareness.[xvii].

When they lost the elections to the PT, in 2002, the PSDB and its leader, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, already registered considerable wear and tear. Alliances considered unprincipled with notoriously conservative and corrupt parties and groups had eroded its reformist and innovative aura. Nothing, however, that threatened its position as an irreplaceable pole in institutional political struggles.

As for the PT, already in Lula's first government, corruption scandals and especially the abandonment of more consistent reformist proposals began to undermine its prestige and call into question the political commitments of the party and the president. However, doubts seemed to be overcome with Lula's reelection (2006), and throughout his second term (2006/2010), when the country experienced moments of intense social and political euphoria, which would be confirmed with the election of Dilma Rousseff ( 2010). A new republic seemed safe and not a few celebrated the consolidation of democracy in Brazil, internationally endorsed with the approval of the country to host the World Cup (2014) and the Summer Olympics (2016).

As of 2010, however, the impacts of the great global economic crisis of 2008 began to be felt, which were very underestimated and, therefore, poorly mitigated or controlled. In a context of worsening contradictions, social demands exploded on several levels: for employment; for quality public services; by anti-corruption policies, whose existence became a national issue after successive scandals involving businessmen and politicians; by positive policies in relation to security, which, in cities, became a major issue for all social classes.

The great demonstrations of 2013, politically plural, revealed a deep dissatisfaction and distrust in relation to political parties and leaders, expressed by crowds in the streets and public squares.

However, in the face of this set of challenges, PT and PSDB proved incapable of offering constructive and credible proposals. Entangled in their quarrels and power games, having lost their original reformist vocation, it was as if they were distanced from society, with no connection with the problems that tormented the common people. The idea began to emerge that the political system was no longer functioning satisfactorily. Flat broke-bankrupt? Some were starting to say it was rotten.

It was in an atmosphere of exasperation of contradictions, favorable conditions for the emergence of leaders salvationists, outsiders supposed or real, that the 2018 election year opened[xviii]. However, all the conditions that would lead to Jair Bolsonaro's victory were not yet in place.

They happened in the election campaign, in the short duration. That is why it is so important to analyze this temporality. Otherwise, as has already been said, politics would be expelled from history.

The 2018 election campaign: the short duration

The analysis of the electoral campaign, in the temporality of the short duration, is essential for understanding the rise of the extreme right to the government by vote.

In polls conducted on August 22, less than two months before the first round, Bolsonaro still held 22% of the voting intentions, and few believed he was capable of reaching much higher levels. Almost three weeks later, on September 10, he gained just 2 more points, reaching 24% of the voting intentions.[xx]. In other words, despite the authoritarian traditions and the wear and tear of the political system, there was still no certainty, quite the contrary, regarding the success of the far-right Salvationist candidacy.

What circumstances and choices led to your victory?

On the one hand, the democratic left underestimated its growth potential. They failed to unite, dispersing into rival candidacies. In addition, the PT refused to assess the fundamental anti-PT wave that permeated society, very strong among the middle classes, but also reaching popular layers. Thus, he ruled out the possibility of supporting a candidate from another party. And it kept Lula's (anti) candidacy in a suicidal movement for a long and precious time, illegal insofar as he had been condemned in second instance by the Justice[xx].

When the party finally decided to formally support the candidacy of former Minister of Education and former mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, it did so with reservations, presenting him as if he were Lula's pawn. Hampered by the mistakes and inconsequences of the PT and Lula, who always refused to produce any kind of self-criticism, Haddad was unable to present proposals to neutralize or contain large-scale corruption and insecurity in large cities, two major themes of the electoral campaign, explored crudely but effectively by the far-right candidate. Between the two rounds, Haddad recovered ground, cultivated his own personality, formulating objective and convincing proposals, but there was no political time to reverse the unfavorable results.

As for the PSDB, it sank with the candidacy of Geraldo Alckmin, former governor of São Paulo and one of the party's most important leaders. Assembling a powerful party front, with substantial financial resources, it brought together many forces from the center and from the democratic right. It was thought that the dispute would tend to be, once again, between him and the PT candidate[xxx]. However, in large contingents of the electorate, the perception prevailed that, to defeat the PT, Bolsonaro had better conditions than Alckmin. There was, therefore, in the last three weeks of the campaign, a massive transit of votes for the extreme right candidate, guaranteeing his victory.

The winner did not just benefit from the opponent's mistakes. From its most radical bases, in the armed forces and police[xxiii], knew how to build surprising and diversified alliances. He chose as his economy minister a businessman linked to financial speculation who opened the doors for him to an alliance with financial capital. In the field of economics, he also structured support among businessmen linked to the export of agricultural products, the so-called agribusiness, and with miners and loggers committed to the devastation of forests and the opening of agricultural frontiers.

Defining Judge Sergio Moro as Minister of Justice, he gained the trust of all those who considered corruption and security to be major national problems.[xxiii]. Exploring a conservative agenda from the point of view of customs, he wove ties with the evangelical churches, with growing strength in the country[xxv]. Such alliances would be strengthened by the ruralist, arms and religious parliamentary groups, known as the BBB (of the ox, of the bullet and of the bible), forming effective support in the electoral campaign.

It would still remain to mention two important references: the attack suffered by Bolsonaro, on September 6, 2018, which allowed him to distance himself from debates where his performances did not favor him.[xxiv] and the organization and intense exploitation of a sophisticated communications network, professionally activating the so-called social media, either to spread positive propaganda or to spread false information (fakenews).

As always, mistakes (by opponents) were combined with successes that benefited the victorious candidate.

The elucidation of the reasons for the victory of the extreme right and of Jair Bolsonaro thus involves understanding the international context, of which it is the Brazilian expression, and the articulation of three temporalities: the authoritarian traditions of the right in the long term; the erosion of the political system in the medium term; and the mistakes (of the opponents) and successes (own) of the electoral campaign, in the short duration[xxv].

It is now time to better discuss the character of this victory and the government led by Jair Bolsonaro since January 1, 2019.

The character of the Brazilian extreme right

Jair Bolsonaro's victory, as already mentioned, raised an atmosphere of great perplexity. As is usual, the first explanations and interpretations sought parallels or sources in the past to understand the phenomenon.

Some claimed that Brazil had gone back to the 1960s and was on the verge of a coup d'état, as in 1964. Others preferred to see similarities with the situation that led to the enactment of Institutional Act No. 5, edited in December 1968, which radicalized the then existing dictatorship[xxviii]. In a foray into the more distant past, the experiences of the Brazilian integralist movement in the 1930s, the dictatorship of the Estado Novo were invoked and, on a more general level, associations – controversial – with Italian fascism and even with German Nazism, were formulated. as will be seen later.

Such interpretations deserve discussion. However, as I am convinced that the current rise of the extreme right in Brazil constitutes an original movement and still has an unconsolidated profile, it is necessary, first of all, to describe the phenomenon in order to better capture its specificity and undertake, if possible, its conceptualization. .

As outlined in the analysis of the electoral campaign, Jair Bolsonaro's victory was due to the articulation of a heterogeneous front that can be presented in the form of circles, hierarchical according to loyalty to Bolsonaro.

Um first circle – strong core and bastion of far-right thinking – is made up of officers of the armed forces, in particular the army, plus officers and non-commissioned officers of the Military Police, active and reserve[xxviii]. Jair Bolsonaro, through a long parliamentary career, projected himself not only as a representative of the corporate interests of these people, but also as one of the only politicians, and with great audacity, to rescue in a positive way the experience of the dictatorship, including its violent methods of torture and kill opponents.

The agenda for the defense of conservative customs is another important reference to make these bases loyal to Bolsonaro, since, in common, they cultivate the concept of cultural war or hybrid war, to be waged against agents – institutions and parties – accused of promoting the destruction of traditions, established morals, good customs and political and ethical traditions of the nation. Important ingredients in this perspective are the criticisms of globalism, the weakening of states and national cultures, and the new methods – covert and camouflaged – through which new and old lefts operate in their permanent struggle for control of society and power. Such references cannot be exclusively or mainly attributed to Olavo de Carvalho, whose caricatures should not serve to cover up more consistent formulation nuclei, which have elaborated such ideas for many years within, and protected by, institutional structures of the armed forces.

It was within the General Staff of the Army that a team was formed, still in the 1980s, duly authorized by the Minister of Arms, General Leonidas Gonçalves, who formulated a voluminous book, with a rescue of the dictatorship in a positive key, emphasizing the role of the military as guardians of the republic and the successive threats undertaken by the left towards the dissolution of Brazilian nationality. The text, entitled Orvil (anagram of a book) was only published later (L. Maciel and JC do Nascimento, 2012), but has since become a reference for the military and civilian extreme right.[xxix].

Um second circle, not least, is made up of popular sectors of the middle class, some with professional affinities (small entrepreneurs, truck drivers, taxi drivers, etc.), articulated by the new social media (whatsapp, facebook, twitter, youtube, blogs, etc.), largely financed by Bolsonarist entrepreneurs. Far-right shared values ​​include, among others, the use of violence to kill common criminals, social conservatism, hatred of identity struggles, etc.

They have been important in street actions and intimidation of opponents, but their internal levels of organization are still precarious. This second circle could also include the militias. Composed of former members of the military police, in addition to common criminals, they have been gaining strength over the current century in some large cities. They dispute space with factions of common criminals in the control of illegal and semi-legal activities and extort communities of different types, peripheral to big cities, selling protection in exchange for security. Despite their autonomy as criminal organizations, they appear as a potential and fearsome armed arm, eventually available to terrorize and kill opponents.[xxx].

Evangelical churches constitute a third circle. They are not monolithically structured, but the vast majority actively supported Bolsonaro's candidacy.[xxxii]. There is also an emphasis on customs. In general, evangelicals believe in the values ​​of work, asceticism, self-effort, mutual help and abhor identity struggles, drug use and the behavioral revolution that is an aspect of ongoing civilizational transformations. Backed by growing social support, strong parliamentary caucuses (the Bible caucus) and powerful media, they have become a respectable political force in the country.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that they would be docile allies, as there are contradictions between the values ​​cultivated by evangelicals and certain aspects of the Bolsonarist creed, such as resorting to violence (a good bandit is a dead bandit), the consequent conciliation with the militias, rejected, and the liberation of games of chance, which they execrate.

Num fourth circle, there are vast sectors of the affluent middle classes (liberal professionals, higher standard wage earners, etc.), mainly in the south and southeast of the country. Disorganized, they unified around Bolsonaro less because of the sharing of ideological values ​​and more because of the fight against corruption and anti-PTism. The appointment of Judge Sergio Moro to the position of Minister of Justice enshrined the adherence of these social strata to Bolsonaro, but his recent resignation, on April 24, and his complaints against Bolsonaro's conciliation with corruption, shook the confidence of these bases.[xxxi].

Num fifth circle, finally, there are important sectors of the Brazilian ruling classes, from internationalized financial capital to agribusiness, whose proposals are usually conveyed by the major media. They don't have a vote, but they have resources that condition votes. At first, they viewed the extreme right with distrust, preferring a center or center-right candidate to defeat PTism. In this sense, they bet their chips on the PSDB and its candidate, Geraldo Alckmin.

In view of the failure of the latter, however, they migrated en masse to the Bolsonaro candidacy, hoping to control and tame his extremism. The choice of Paulo Guedes as Minister of Finance, a man committed to ultra-liberal programs and reforms, contributed to the support of these people.

In closing, it is worth emphasizing the potential social support available to Bolsonaro among the popular classes, which, in part, is ensured by the grassroots work of evangelicals, notoriously branched out, in a capillary way, in the poorest communities in the country. His communication skills, aided by professional work in social media, are second only to Lula's. Obscene gestures and words, which shock the elite and literate layers of the country, are often seen as expressions of courage and authenticity, scarce qualities among professional politicians. Don't forget Bolsonaro's expressive votes in large urban centers and state capitals. Even in the Northeast region, which remained largely loyal to the PT and Lula, Bolsonaro won in large cities considered to have a long left-wing tradition, such as Recife, the capital of Pernambuco.

The multiplicity and plurality of support bases that ensured the extreme right's victory demonstrate its profoundly heterogeneous character. Remember that Bolsonaro's victory was not only a surprise for his opponents, but also for him and his faithful supporters.

A political front formed in a hurry, without clear proposals for a series of fundamental problems of the country (education, health, public transport, security, etc.), supported by simplistic, saving ideas, which ignored – and ignore – the complexity of the issues with which he would have to deal with if the candidate were suffocated. Improvisation is evident in the exchange of ministers, with twelve of them having already been replaced in just a year and a half of government, in addition to dozens of replacements in secondary, but important, levels[xxxii].

Despite high-sounding statements – and serial bravado – that marked a first phase of the Government, until June 2020, the government and the extreme right were not able to generate a coherent doctrine so far. His formulations would be in a gaseous state, if the metaphor were allowed, which accounts for the various improvisations and compromises, barely covered by a strident and powerful propaganda. It is a political force whose conceptions are still being formed, like a nebula, hence the difficulties in conceptualizing it, although its authoritarian and anti-democratic purposes are quite clear – and dangerous.

Such purposes have authoritarian roots in the Brazilian past. However, the current extreme right is quite different from the references that supported the dictatorships of the past. And the approximation that is made between the current situation and the integralist experience of the 1930s and, in particular, with the experience of fascism is also questionable.

On the one hand, the international circumstances that gave rise to dictatorships and historical fascism (and integralism) have qualitatively different characteristics from the current ones. Dictatorships expressed well-defined class alliances and clear projects of authoritarian modernization. This is not the case with the current extreme right.[xxxv].

As for integralism and fascism, a more complex analysis would be in order.[xxxiv].

If we think about historical fascism, there is no theoretical consistency in identifying it with the current Brazilian extreme right. Fascism was characterized by proposals for cultural regeneration, integration and organic framing of society, intensive and aggressive mobilization of the population. It triggered an exacerbated, military, violent and expansionist nationalism and aimed at building a project for the renewal of society, typical of the revolutionary right. Now, this set of characteristics and references is not found in Bolsonarism[xxxiv].

From the point of view of the debate regarding the political adequacy and effectiveness of the use of the term, we prefer to undertake it in the next item, aimed at studying the alternatives available to deal with the extreme right.

Democracy against the extreme right. Challenges & Alternatives

The analysis of Bolsonarism has become more complex due to events that have unfolded since June 2020.

Until then, the government maintained a belligerent rhetoric, supporting extremist groups that stood out for their confrontational rhetoric and that openly demanded, sometimes with the presence and encouragement of the president himself, the closure of the institutions of representative democracy, that is, a coup of state in the Latin American tradition of the 1960s/1970s.

With the growth of tensions, associated with the crisis generated by the covid-19 virus pandemic, extremely poorly managed by Bolsonaro, the resignation of the Minister of Justice in April 2020, and several corruption scandals, involving faithful allies and even their own children under Bolsonaro, the government has suffered profound wear and tear. Having been supported by 57,8 million votes (55,13% of valid votes), confidence indices dropped sharply, as shown by surveys carried out in May and June 2020, standing at around 30%[xxxviii].

From then on, there was a notable and surprising turnaround.

Bolsonaro abandoned the extremist groups that isolated themselves and are now facing complicated legal proceedings. He has also suspended the usual strident rhetoric, with paranoid undertones, and successfully devoted himself to building a broad political base with diverse parties undermined by multiple accusations of involvement in corruption. In the same movement, he defined a pattern of stable and friendly relations with leaders of the National Congress and the Federal Supreme Court, until then daily hostile.[xxxviii].

Buoyed by the positive impact of the emergency aid approved by Congress, but which has been attributed to the president by the beneficiaries, and despite the wear and tear among those who voted for him thinking about the fight against corruption, Bolsonaro has again seen substantial growth in popular approval ratings according to polls held last September[xxxix].

Opinions and analyzes are now divided regarding the direction of Bolsonarism and the government of Jair Bolsonaro. Would we be witnessing an episodic, “tactical” retreat, or would it be a matter of defining new directions? Is the president afraid that the lawsuits against his children could reach a point of no return? Reaching him through an impeachment process, with dubious results? What would have made Bolsonaro give up the endless bravado and threats? Would the top brass of the Armed Forces have advised against militaristic and dictatorial adventures? Would the president have concluded that, among the ruling classes themselves, there was no room, at least in current circumstances, for authoritarian outbreaks? Was he, after all, domesticated within the framework of institutional parameters? Another, greater unknown, completes the picture of doubts: the orthodox neoliberal guidelines, led by the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, would be maintained at all costs or would inclinations for national-statist policies prevail, giving the State a decisive role in the recovery of the economy ?

The future of the government remains undecided. The crusade against corruption, after the resignation of the Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro, last April, is no longer a priority, to say the least. The neoliberal proposal to reorganize the economy is also in question. The Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, champion of this perspective, despite his efforts, has still not managed to deflate the national-statist tendencies defended by several ministers[xl]. A large part of the media, in favor of neoliberal measures and policies, hesitates to believe in the strength of the position of the Minister of Economy and is not sure that he will win in the clashes against the national-statists embedded in the government.

Campaigns with a view to municipal elections, considering the exceptionality of the pandemic, have been running normally, promoting a “naturalization” letter from the Bolsonaro government. As for the glaring mistakes made by the president in dealing with the pandemic, the fatigue that takes hold of large sectors of the population, due to the rigors of the pandemic, tends to neutralize, at least in part, the wear and tear suffered in the first months by the president's denialist purposes. .

In this context, the leftist forces, in general, remain without clear proposals and without the capacity for intervention and mobilization. References to a possible impeachment, however improbable, disappeared. It's as if on the political stage, instead of two strengths, two weaknesses are confronting each other. The extreme right does not have the capacity – not yet – to defeat Congress and the judiciary or to threaten, at least in the short term, democratic institutions. But these institutions also fail to remove Bolsonaro.

How to glimpse and propose alternatives?

Among those who observe the Brazilian political scene, there is a consensus that the majority of votes obtained by Bolsonaro in the October 2018 elections was due much more to anti-PTism than to the enthusiasm aroused by the proposals and characteristics of the victorious candidate.

Voting or rallying around Bolsonaro, many expected that, after the victory, there would be a rapid domestication of the president. An unrealized expectation, even after the aforementioned turnaround. If it is true that the provocations and bravado have diminished in intensity, there are few who imagine that he would have abandoned authoritarian proposals and perspectives. Instead of a frontal blow, one cannot rule out, depending on the circumstances, the hypothesis of a strategy of progressive erosion of the democratic margins, a corrosion of institutions from within, keeping them, at the limit, as if they were husks devoid of content, in a style similar to that undertaken by V. Orbán in Hungary[xi].

The fact is that, once threatened, the democratic center and right-wing political forces, hegemonic in Parliament and the Judiciary, reacted, setting limits to Bolsonaro's dictatorial pretensions. Chavista tendencies and methods, of progressive weakening of democratic institutions, attributed by the right to PT and Lula, would be, in practice, adopted by Bolsonaro[xliii]. In protest, manifestos by intellectuals, jurists and liberal professionals, published by the press, asserted themselves in defense of democratic institutions. Panelaços against Bolsonaro, in several cities, showed an increase in dissatisfaction.

The balance of forces is reiterated: between the extreme right, led by Bolsonaro and the democratic right/centre, represented by parliamentary leaders and ministers of the Federal Supreme Court. Neither side is able to defeat the other.

The threat to democracy posed by the far right remains real. It is true that the president has lost ground among the middle classes who voted for him, imagining him as a champion in the fight against corruption. However, the progress registered in broad social sectors due to the emergency aid granted may inspire authoritarian adventures with popular support, which would not be unprecedented in the history of Brazil[xiii].

If the government maintains the neoliberal orientation promised during the electoral campaign, it will be very difficult to increase or maintain substantial popular support. An inflection towards a national-statist policy, combined with welfare policies, would create more favorable conditions for the support of popular layers[xiv].

The new fact is that the democratic lefts are beginning to emerge from the torpor that has characterized them since the 2018 electoral defeat. Among them, it is worth distinguishing the actions undertaken by the State lefts and the social lefts.

The conceptualization has been defended by Carlos Vainer, a professor linked to the Institute of Research and Urban and Regional Planning/IPPUR/UFRJ). The left of the State would be represented by political parties or other associations that dispute institutional spaces, and rhythm their movements according to the electoral calendars. The social left, on the other hand, would be made up of leaders who operate in the social fabric, articulating and organizing movements that unfold at the base of society.

The experience of PT governments has shown that there is no “Chinese wall” between these two types of left: many representatives of important social movements were aspirated by advisory bodies or councils, abandoning or leaving social activism in the background. Even a traditional social movement, such as the Landless Workers Movement/MST, allowed itself to be co-opted, to a certain extent, by the nods and promises of PT governments.

These lefts, always plural, are not destined to remain disjointed and/or separated. In Brazil today, however, within the framework of new republic, a great distance has been established between them, insofar as the former – the left of the State – have been aspired by the institutional heights of political struggles, clearly moving away from the dynamics, aspirations and movements that unfold at the foundations of society, where the social lefts work[xlv].

The State lefts do not seem sensitive to a self-critical process. They continue to ruminate criticisms and resentments related to the past of recent defeats. As a whole, in the municipal elections of November 2020, they lost a good chance to appear united, with an alternative proposal to Bolsonarist authoritarianism, politicizing local choices. On the contrary, they split and followed the localist dynamics of municipal elections.

Thus, they contributed, involuntarily, to “naturalize” Bolsonarism and to disarm society for possible authoritarian outbreaks. For his part, the President, with few exceptions, chose to remain “neutral” in relation to candidacies for mayoralty in Brazilian cities. However, in the cities where he expressed support, his candidates do not appear as favorites, showing that the “Bolsonarist wave” of 2018 finds it difficult to repeat itself. The aforementioned “tie” of weaknesses is reproduced in the electoral context.

As for the social left, they show greater dynamics. In several cities, they take initiatives to defend themselves against the effects of the pandemic, organizing their own health services, playing roles that would belong to the State, but which are not assumed by it due to negligence or incompetence. On the streets, despite the bans imposed by the pandemic, they promoted demonstrations, disputing public spaces with extreme right-wing groups. In social media, actions of different types are swarming – debates, lectures, lives. Intellectuals and artists formulate common platforms, sign manifestos and speak out in defense of democracy[xlv]. It is quite likely that, once the effects of the pandemic have disappeared or attenuated, important social movements will emerge, giving rise to demands for better living conditions, decent public services, basic income for all, reduction of social inequalities, etc.

It is about guaranteeing the existing democratic margins, gathering around them, without exclusions, all those who are willing to fight for their preservation. The idea of ​​building this movement around an anti-fascist platform can be problematic. In addition to the already mentioned theoretical inconsistency, one wonders whether the broad majorities even know what the term fascism means. On the other hand, and more importantly, a popular democratic front should emerge as an alternative – positive and constructive – and not just form on the basis of anti, behold, such fronts – negative – tend to miss the essential: which democracy is being talked about, which democracy needs to be built[xlv].

However, it is necessary to go beyond defending only the existing democratic margins – restricted and limited. In this sense, it is up to the democratic lefts – from the State and social – to reinvent themselves and get closer: the priority is to invest in activating street movements, recovering muscle in the social fabric, rebuilding forces that they already had, but lost them, and without the which will not be able to return to the proscenium, today occupied by the extreme right and the democratic right and centre.

On a more general level, the democratic left needs to formulate a program for the democratization of democracy, an indispensable condition for people to become interested in – and to protect, at the limit, to be willing to save – the threatened democratic regime.

A complex set of challenges. That they are capable of arousing, as suggested by S. Zizek, the courage of hopelessness[xlviii]. It is on this type of courage that the fate of democracy in Brazil will depend. [xlix]

*Daniel Aaron Reis is a professor of Contemporary History at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of The Revolution that changed the world – Russia, 1917 (Companhia das Letras)

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Notes


[I] For the debate on the right-left dyad and its extreme manifestations, cf. N. Bobbio, 1995 and K. Soper, 1999.

[ii] The same happened with the authoritarian socialist states that either disintegrated (Soviet area) or opted for association with international capital, reiterating themselves as despotic states, where there is no free expression of thought and any type of autonomous organization of the popular classes (China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea).

[iii] Many prefer to call it right-wing populism (S. Torney, 2019)

[iv]Note that right-wing authoritarian proposals and despotic socialist alternatives feed back at the expense of democratic institutions.

[v] Political leaders and scholars have characterized this process as the resurgence of fascism. The debate on the issue will be developed in item 3 of this article.

[vi] For structural racism in Brazil, in its various aspects, cf. https://www.geledes.org.br/entenda-o-que-e-racismo-estrutural/. Consulted on 20/10/2020

[vii] Cf. Roberto DaMatta, chronicle published in O Globo, June 10, 2020, p. 3

[viii] For the cartography of rapes in Brazil, cf. https://outraspalavras.net/crise-brasileira/surpreendente-cartografia-dos-estupros-no-brasil/. Consulted on 20/10/2020. For domestic violence, cf. https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2020/09/22/violencia-domestica-atinge-mais-de-82-mil-mulheres-este-ano-em-minas-gerais. Consulted on 20/10/2020

[ix] Cf. Rodrigo Patto Sa Motta, 2002

[X] Between 1937 and 1945, the Estado Novo dictatorship, led by G. Vargas; between 1964 and 1979, the civil-military dictatorship, presided over by five successive generals.

[xi] Among others, I would mention Daniel Aarão Reis, Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta and Marcelo Ridenti, 2014; Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta, 2002 and 2014; Denise Rollemberg, 2008, 2010, 2010a; Lucia Grinberg, 2009; Janaína Cordeiro, 2015; Gustavo Ferreira, 2015; Tatyana Maia, 2012; Paulo Cesar Gomes, 2019; Livia Magalhães, 2014.

[xii] In the 1970s, it became common to analyze Latin American dictatorships as an immediate expression of iberian traditions. The concept weakened with the democratization processes that took place in the…Iberian peninsula, (J. Linz and A. Stepan, 1978 and J. Linz, 2000)

[xiii] In their aspiration for better times, Brazilians tend to use – and abuse – the adjective new to designate changes that would overcome the ills of the past. The call new republic evidences the reiteration of the resource, although in its structure and dynamics the marks of the old, continuation with the past.

[xiv] In the interpretation of petistas, lulistas and other left-wing groups, the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff was a coup parliamentary, camouflaged, effected inside of democratic institutions themselves. It is curious that these forces, since 1988, resorted several times to the impeachment, without the essentially authoritarian mechanism appearing questionable to them.

[xv] In the first direct elections for the presidency of the republic, in 1989, the winner, in the second round, was Fernando Collor de Mello, a representative of conservative forces that sought neoliberal policies. His government, however, was short (1990-1992), having been removed from power by an impeachment process supported by a broad social and political front.

[xvi] The PT was founded on February 10, 1980, in the wake of major social movements; and the PSDB emerged as part of the work to draft the new Constitution, on June 25, 1988.

[xvii] The National Truth Commission, organized on November 18, 2011, more than thirty years after the end of the dictatorship, even carried out a positive work, but failed to change the framework of social silence about the crimes and legacies of the dictatorship.

[xviii] the hope in saviors of the homeland It has a long tradition in the country. Getúlio Vargas, Jânio Quadros, Fernando Collor, Lula himself, each in his own way, all signed up for this record of saving alternatives to an enforced system.

[xx] See https://g1.globo.com/politica/eleicoes/2018/noticia/2018/10/04/pesquisa-datafolha-para-presidente-bolsonaro-35-haddad-22-ciro-11-alckmin-8-marina-4.ghtmlAccessed on June 24, 2020. The presidential elections were held in two rounds: October 7 and 28, 2018.

[xx] Law No. 135, of May 5, 2010, known as the Clean Record Law, prohibits the candidacy of politicians convicted in second instance. The irony is that it was enacted by Lula himself, when he was in his second term.

[xxx] Since 1994, in six successive presidential elections, the two most voted candidates were presented by the PSDB and the PT.

[xxiii] Since 1992, in seven successive terms, Jair Bolsonaro has been elected to the Chamber of Deputies, defending corporatist interests of the armed forces and police and emphasizing the positive rescue of the dictatorial regime.

[xxiii] The judge projected himself as a national champion in the defense of morality. due to its leading role in the processes that uncovered spectacular cases of corruption and ended up sending to jail, among many others, former President Lula himself.

[xxv] The national census, carried out in 2000, verified the existence of 26,2 million people who declared themselves to be evangelicals, equivalent to 15,4% of the population. In 2010, the number jumped to 42,3 million, 22% of the population. The IBGE then calculated that there would be 14 evangelical churches. consulted on https://www.google.com/search?q=propor%C3%A7%C3%A3o+das+igrejas+evangelicas+no+brasil&oq=propor%C3%A7%C3%A3o+das+igrejas+evangelicas+no+brasil&aqs=chrome..69i57j33.12849j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[xxiv] Bolsonaro had a meager participation in debates prior to the attack, which saved him from new meetings, preserving him from inevitable wear and tear.

[xxv] For an analysis of the presence of the political right in Brazil, cf. André Kaysel and alii, 2015. For an interpretation of Jair Bolsonaro's electoral victory, cf. Jairo Nicholas, 2020

[xxviii] The legal diplomas issued within the framework of the state of exception established in 1964 were named by the authors themselves as institutional acts or complementary acts. There were 17 institutional acts and 104 complementary acts. The most drastic and violent was the AI-5.

[xxviii] It would be unreasonable to say that all of these officials are Bolsonaro supporters, but it is undeniable that, as a whole, they constitute an important support base for the current president.

[xxix]For extreme right-wing military bases, cf. Bolsonaro and the armed world in Brazil. Debate between Luiz Eduardo Soares and Piero Lerner: https://youtu.be/IKbCnZ4IN44. For the conceptions of culture war, cf. JC by C. Rocha, 2020

[xxx] The murder of councilwoman Marielle Franco, from PSOL-RJ, perpetrated on March 14, 2018, was work of militiamen. It should be noted that, in some regions, the militias allied themselves with drug trafficking, distributing their “businesses” according to common interests. For the growing strength of militias and articulation with drug trafficking cf. https://www.terra.com.br/noticias/brasil/cidades/milicias-ja-dominam-57-do-territorio-do-rio-de-janeiro,9de0cb4bf14230e2f647f0698dd39063nmg1mv1q.html. Consulted on 22/10/2020

[xxxii] Among them, some leaders who are in the field of the left stand out. On the other hand, the evangelical vote can evolve according to circumstances, the faithful not being mere sheep in the hands of your shepherds. Cf. BA Cowan, 2014. The literature on evangelicals has grown in proportion to their importance in society and politics in the country. Cf., among others, cited by the referred author: S. Baptista, 2009 and MN Cunha, 2007

[xxxi] The prestige of Sergio Moro and the Curitiba prosecutors was seriously affected by the Intercept's revelations, which revealed countless illegal and immoral dealings and procedures undertaken by them. Cf. https://theintercept.com/2020/01/20/linha-do-tempo-vaza-jato/, consulted on 22/10/2020

[xxxii] Cf. A high turnover government. High rank has an exchange every three days. In O Globo, August 27, 2020, p. 10.

[xxxv] Consider that many political forces characterized the dictatorship established in 1964, and also the Estado Novo, as fascists. It was more of a political struggle device than a proper concept. Over time, such denominations lost their validity.

[xxxiv] For the integralist movement, cf. H. Trindade, 1979 and L. Gonçalves, 2018. The presence of nostalgic centers of fascism and Nazism within the far-right nationalist reaction in various parts of the world has led many to present this new and specific phenomenon as a resurgence of the fascism/Nazism of the 1930s. This is what tended to happen in Brazil as well, in particular after the fulminant rise of the extreme right. For the specificity of fascism, which has an abundant bibliography, cf. Emilio Gentile, 2005, especially Part II (pp. 169-375) and Robert Paxton, 2007, particularly chapters 7 and 8 (pp. 283-361). For a synthesis of the specificity of fascism, according to Paxton, cf. pp 358-361. Cf. still the classical studies of Renzo Felice, 1977; and ZeevSternhell, 1994. For state corporatism, the inspiring doctrine of the Estado Novo cf. Antonio Costa Pinto, 2014. For the vast literature on Nazism, cf. I. Kershaw, 2010 and 2015 and R. Gelatelly, 2011. For the Marxist point of view, cf. N. Poulantzas, 1978.

[xxxiv]A pertinent critique of Bolsonarism, as an excluding policy, distinct from the essentially integrating character of fascism, was elaborated by R. Lessa, 2020. It is important to emphasize interpretations that attribute to fascism a broader, more elastic meaning, not exactly emphasizing the experience history, but a complex of authoritarian and intolerant values. Cf. U. Eco, 1995

[xxxviii] Surveys carried out between May 7 and 10, 2020 indicated growth in rejection of the government, reaching a level of 43,4% (bad or terrible government). Approval ratings dropped to 32%. Cf. https://noticias.uol.com.br/politica/ultimas-noticias/2020/05/12/cntmda-avaliacao-negativa-de-governo-bolsonaro-chega-a-434.htm, consulted on June 26, 2020. Such results were confirmed in new research, published on June 26, 2020.

[xxxviii]For the characterization of Bolsonaro's paranoia and that of some of his assistants, cf. the transcript of the meeting held by the council of ministers, chaired by Bolsonaro himself, on April 22, 2020: http://estaticog1.globo.com/2020/05/22/laudo_digitalizado.Filmed and recorded, the content of the meeting was released by decision of the Justice, showing Bolsonaro and several of his supporters taken by a delirium of siege typical of paranoid people (they persecute, but feel persecuted). I wrote a chronicle about it: A Government in Underpants, published on June 13, 2020, in O Globo, p. 3. Paulo Sternick, psychoanalyst, on June 21, in the same newspaper, p. 3, would consider the President's death drive.

[xxxix]It should be noted that the aid, of R$600,00 per month, expected to last 3 months, was proposed by the government at just R$200,00. In debates in Congress, it increased to R$500,00, later being fixed at R$600,00 by Bolsonaro himself. Reduced to BRL 300,00, the aid was maintained until the end of 2020. The aid has been helping tens of millions of people and its impact was decisive in preventing the worsening of the economic crisis and in giving rise to the migration of many sectors of the poverty and misery for the so-called class C, that is, a kind of lower middle class. For Bolsonaro's acceptance among the popular classes, cf. Surveys carried out last September: https://g1.globo.com/jornal-nacional/noticia/2020/09/24/pesquisa-ibope-governo-bolsonaro-e-aprovado-por-40percent-e-reprovado-por-29percent.ghtml. Consulted on 22/10/2020.

[xl] Such trends became evident after the release of the April 22 ministerial meeting. They are defended by the generals who advise Bolsonaro, such as Gen. Braga Netto, and also by the ministers of regional development, Rogério Marinho and of Infrastructure, Tarcísio de Freitas, cf. note 44

[xi] Note that V. Orbán was one of the few international leaders to personally attend Bolsonaro's inauguration in January 2019.

[xliii]ElioGaspari, in his column at Globo, on June 10, 2020, p. 3, recorded reflections by political leaders (Joice Hasselmann, former leader of the PSL, the governing party in the Chamber of Deputies) and intellectuals (José Arthur Giannotti, sympathetic to the PSDB, and Denis Lerner Rosenfeld, from the democratic right) who expressed alarm at their authoritarian procedures, classified as right-wing chavismo.

[xiii] In addition to the approval of 40%, who considered the government “great and good”, Bolsonaro still has 29% who considered the government “regular”. Furthermore, remember the capillary – and popular – strength of evangelicals.

[xiv] According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics / IBGE, the country today, at the end of October 2020, has 14 million unemployed. In the current context, there is doubt about the possibility of massive international investments, leaving, therefore, state investments, combined with industrial sectors of intense use of labor, such as civil construction. Ironically, something very similar to what was done by PT governments.

[xlv] Cf. intervention by Carlos Vainer in the broadcast Rebeldes, always, in three parts, from the following links: https://youtu.be/qXH0-HddWs0; https://youtu.be/CjqIGm7EwaY; https://youtu.be/24BejEGfwmQ.

[xlv] They achieved great repercussion, manifestos signed by left and center intellectuals and democratic right: “We are together”; “Enough” (jurists); “We are 70%” and “As long as there is racism, there will be no democracy”.

[xlv] It should be noted, however, that several popular manifestations and articulations have identified themselves as antifascists. Thus, the hypothesis that this terminology asserts itself and generalizes cannot be excluded.

[xlviii]S. Zizek, 2017

[xlix] This text updates and deepens issues conveyed by an article entitled: “The Brazilian extreme right: an authoritarian political conception in formation”, published in the Anuario de laEscuela de História, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina, at the end of October 2020. Mention A first version was also published, entitled: “Notes for the understanding of Bolsonarismo”, published in April 2020 in Journal of Ibero-American Studies, v. 46, No. 1/2020, Tribune Section. History Magazine of the School of Humanities of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul PUC/RGS, Brazil (Cf. D. Aarão Reis, 2020). For the present re-elaboration, suggestions from Angela Castro Gomes, Janaína Cordeiro, Marcelo Ridenti, Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta and Vladimir Palmeira contributed, although, in no way, they can be held responsible for eventual inaccuracies and evaluation errors that remain in the article.

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