The place of the concept of fascism in the Marxist theory of the State



Considerations on the historical determinations of the fascist regime

I beg the reader's permission to begin with a metaphor. The concept is like the rooster crowing in João Cabral's poem – “A rooster alone does not weave a morning: he will always need other roosters”. Alone, the concept weaves nothing. Is nothing. Upstream, it assumes many others and points to distant foundations and assumptions; downstream, it indicates consequences that are its own and that only make sense in the body of the theory in which it is inserted; at its sides, others who also give it meaning. It is necessary to know, then, and recalling another poem by the same poet, to locate the small part that belongs to a certain concept in the immense estate of multiple concepts that form a theory.

And we have to indicate that small part or plot precisely. In the case of the Marxist concept of fascism, which is what interests us here, the latifundio is the Marxist theory of the bourgeois state. To get there, to the concept, let's take a tour that may seem too big, but which is necessary. In the first part of this path, we will have to repeat known theses, and we will repeat them, among other reasons, because the importance of these theses for the construction and understanding of the concept of fascism is often ignored.

We have already said: the object analyzed in this text is a concept. This is therefore a theoretical text. However, we add, its motivation is political and practical, given the fact that we are facing the neo-fascist government of Jair Bolsonaro, which has been threatening the implantation of a dictatorship in Brazil. As such a government harbors a fascist and a military group, both equally authoritarian, the definition of dictatorship and its different types – civil bureaucratic, military bureaucratic and fascist – acquired a sense of urgency in Brazil.


The concept and theory

Let us initially walk upstream of the concept. Fascism is a particular type of dictatorship. But what is a dictatorship? It is one of the two forms of State – the other is democracy – possible in different types of State – slave, feudal, bourgeois. There were feudal and slave dictatorships and democracies, just as there are bourgeois dictatorships and democracies today. And the state? In Marxist theory, as we all know, it is the institution that organizes the domination of a social class. The foundation of this theory of the State is, then, the thesis according to which society is a class society crossed by distributive class conflicts and, at the limit, by class struggle.

Let's go back. The State specifically organizes class domination, not just any kind of domination. Gender domination, to give a very important example, precedes the State – it was and is widely present in tribal societies, devoid of the State, as shown, among others, by the works of the French Marxist anthropologist Christophe Darmangeat (2015a; 2015b). Therefore, even though States can contribute to gender domination, and to date have contributed more than limited it, we can say that this type of domination does not require this institution. It is class domination, as Engels argued in his classic Origin of the family, private property and the state, which inevitably and unavoidably requires State action to maintain itself.

Perhaps this great scientific discovery by Engels has not been properly appreciated. Well then, we said that the historically existing States perform their function by organizing themselves in two ways: the dictatorial form and the democratic form. They are, so to speak, mere forms, because in essence every State is a dictatorship, that is, it exclusively represents, organizes and defends the general political interest of a single social class – the capitalist or bourgeois State maintains private ownership of the means of production and the general conditions of reproduction of salaried work and, which is only the other side of the same coin, prevents any process of socialization of the means of production.

What differentiates each of the mentioned forms? The procedure through which State decisions are produced. Let's clarify a starting point. Whether in one form or another, the content of the decision, the essence of the state, realizes and defends, as we said above, solely the general political interest of the ruling class. It is for this reason that Marxists, starting with Marx himself, maintain that every state is, in the broadest sense of the term, a (class) dictatorship. Well then, this class dictatorship takes on a democratic form when the ruling class has an organism of political representation that allows it to participate in an open, systematic and active way in the decision-making process; assumes a dictatorial form, when the State's permanent agents – bureaucrats in the case of the capitalist State – monopolize the decision-making process (Saes, 1987).

In the case of the capitalist State, the representative institution of the dominant class, Congress or Parliament, is obligated, since the capitalist type of State, contrary to pre-capitalist States, converts all individuals inhabiting a given territory into full subjects by law, this institution is obliged, we said, to open itself to the political representatives of the dominated classes. However, the originality of this State and the resulting originality of capitalist democracy – theoretically characterized in a pioneering way by Lenin (1980, p.176-189) – do not deny the bourgeois nature of either one or the other, since the structure and functioning of this representative institution, despite its heterogeneous class composition, preclude any policy of transition to socialism. In its own way, therefore, the modern parliament or congress also fits into the general definition of the democratic form of exploiting class states: a democratic form of state contains a representative institution for the ruling class, never, it should be noted, for the dominated class.

Let us complete the definition of democracy. In the capitalist State, this form of State gives rise to the formation of a political regime or particular political scene: freedom of thought, expression and association, political participation based on universal suffrage, etc. This political scene fulfills a double role: regulating the participation of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois political parties in the decision-making process and, not least, staging popular representation in the State, that is, creating the illusion that the interest general political interest of the working class can be contemplated by the State and also the illusion that its economic interests can be present in this institution in supposedly equal conditions to those enjoyed by the bourgeoisie.

Despite the risk that bourgeois democracy ends up deceiving and integrating workers and their political representatives into the capitalist order, this democracy, contrary to what happened with pre-capitalist democracies, which, due to the organizational characteristics of the slave-owning State and feudal, excluded the fundamental dominated class, this democracy, we said, can interest the workers. It can facilitate their independent organization and struggle, either for short-term economic objectives that the representative body of bourgeois democracy can, within certain limits, assimilate, or for the strategic objective of transitioning to socialism. The distinction between the democratic and the dictatorial form of the bourgeois state, into which the concept of fascism falls, is therefore important not only for political theory but also for the practical action of the working class.

Well then, in the same way that capitalist democracy can present itself under a presidential or parliamentary regime, each of them based either on two-party or multi-party systems of different types, characteristics that, all of them, will heavily influence the characteristics and dynamics of the political process, affecting the types of political crisis and the workers' struggle conditions, likewise, in the dictatorial form of the capitalist State, we find different political regimes, and they also influence, each one in its own way, in the dynamics of these dictatorships, as well as in those already alluded to conditions of workers' struggle. There are at least three regimes under which the dictatorial form of the capitalist State can appear: the dictatorship of the civil bureaucracy (Napoleão III, the Brazilian Estado Novo and others), the military dictatorship (Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s) and the fascist dictatorship (Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy and others).[I]

It should be clarified at this point that the institutional definitions of the State, democracy and dictatorship in the Marxist theory of the State are not institutionalist definitions, that is, they are not definitions derived from the institutionalist theory. The State institution is organized thanks to its own values ​​and norms, in a manner compatible with its social function – slave, feudal or bourgeois. Nicos Poulantzas (2019 [1968]) highlighted this functional relationship between the institution of the State and the interests of the ruling class in the different types of State, a topic on which we have already given some indications, but which will not be addressed here.

This being so, the state form and the political regime of a bourgeois state are, consequently, forms of state and bourgeois political regimes, that is to say, political institutions endowed with a class nature and therefore inseparable from the economy and society, and , moreover, as we will see later, the relationship between, on the one hand, such forms of State and political regimes and, on the other, the interests of different bourgeois fractions are not random relationships either. In the Marxist theory of the State, the institutional organization always contains an inescapable economic and social dimension.


The concept and the Latin American controversy

In the 1970s, Latin American Marxist intellectuals engaged in a rich debate on the nature of dictatorships in the Southern Cone of the American continent. The polar positions opposed those who considered such dictatorships fascist, such as Augustín Cueva and Theotônio dos Santos, and those who characterized them as military dictatorships, such as Atilio Boron, João Quartim de Moraes and others. This debate helped to bring to the fore and also to become the subject of the debate itself, the different theoretical conceptions of fascism that the litigants on both sides mobilized.[ii]

It is possible to verify, rereading this debate, that several authors disagree with the idea that we are developing in this text, an idea according to which it is necessary to define fascism as one of the possible dictatorial regimes in the capitalist State. They insist on the idea that the concept of fascism must include countless other determinations; to do otherwise would be to fall into the error of formalism. They argue that we should include in the definition of the concept of fascism the stage of capitalist development in which such dictatorship is inserted, the position that the social formation in which the dictatorship is organized occupies in the world economy and the bourgeois fraction that exercises political hegemony in this dictatorship.

Fascism would be a particular type of dictatorship that would occur in an initial and critical stage of imperialism, in the central countries and only in these countries and under the hegemony of a national, autonomous and imperialist big bourgeoisie. It refers to financial capital in Hilferding's sense, that is, to the fusion of industrial capital with banking capital, and concentrated, in the case of industry, in the branches of heavy industry - extractive industry, production of intermediate goods, such as steel, of equipment and machines, war material and others. This is the position defended by Atilio Boron in the aforementioned text. This author concludes that the dictatorships of the Southern Cone would not be fascist because one could not conceive the formation of a dictatorship of the fascist type in the aforementioned countries, since, being dependent countries, they would be – as in fact they are – devoid of a national and imperialist big bourgeoisie. .

Supporting the same thesis as Boron, but arguing differently, João Quartim de Moraes placed, and in our view correctly, the emphasis on the institutional organization of the dictatorial regime to define it as a military dictatorship, distinguishing it from the fascist dictatorship. I quote an excerpt from the article that the author initially published in the magazine Modern Times in 1971, which was later published in the Colombian magazine Ideology and Society in 1973. I use the still unpublished Brazilian translation by Cesar Mangolin for the quote below: “The military dictatorship in Brazil is often defined as fascist. […] There are certainly points in common between European fascism and the military regime installed in Brazil by the 1964 coup. Both are responsible for the terroristic and police-like transformation of the bourgeois state. […] Finally, both represent the autocratic and militaristic forms of the bourgeois state in the epoch of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. However, the differences between the two types of bourgeois autocracy are also very important. In Brazil, the regime does not have a mass party; nor did it give rise to the dialectical complement of such a party, namely the Chief, who may be called Duce, Führer or Caudillo. Indeed, it is the military apparatus as an institution that is in charge (aided, of course, by “technocrats” and bourgeois politicians) of managing the state apparatus and the public sector of the economy. Hence a double consequence: the Army plays, in its own way, the role of “political party of the bourgeoisie” and the Head of State exercises power as an expression of consensus among the senior officers of the armed forces. The proof is the way in which the different general-presidents of the South American military states are chosen, notably those of Brazil (the election of Garrastazu Médici by an “electoral college” composed, in the “first round”, of one hundred and seven generals and , in a second round, by ten generals belonging to the high command of the armed forces is the most recent and most expressive example)”. (Moraes, 1971)

For Atilio Boron and João Quartim de Moraes, therefore, the concept of dependent fascism with which Theotônio dos Santos (1977) intended to characterize military regimes, or the concept of “colonial-fascism”, used with the same purpose by Hélio Jaguaribe ( 1968), such concepts would obviously be unfounded. We agree with the conclusion of Boron and Moraes: such dictatorships were military dictatorships, different from fascist dictatorships. We disagree, however, with the argument presented by Boron, who mobilizes a concept of fascism saturated with economic, social and political determinations, underestimating the institutional and general aspect of this dictatorial regime that is highlighted by Moraes.

Fascism is a dictatorial regime. Now, it is an undeniable historical fact that, on the one hand, the same form of State, dictatorial or democratic, and the same dictatorial political regime, for example a military dictatorship, comprise power blocs with different compositions of classes and class fractions. and that, on the other hand, the hegemony of the same bourgeois fraction can be exercised through different forms of State and different dictatorial political regimes (Boito Jr., 2020).

Bourgeois democracy, where it came into being in the 1980th and early XNUMXth centuries, organized the hegemony of medium capital, but in the subsequent period this same form of State began to organize, in most capitalist countries, the hegemony of large capital. monopoly capital. Let's look at a Latin American example: the military dictatorship in Brazil was developmentalist, organizing an alliance in which the domestic big bourgeoisie maintained a position of strength vis-à-vis the international capital that allied with it (Evans, XNUMX), while in Chile and Argentina the same dictatorial regime was neoliberal, representing the hegemony of international capital and the associated bourgeoisie of these countries to the detriment of their internal bourgeoisies.

So we have developmentalist and neoliberal military dictatorships, just as we can have fascist dictatorships with interventionist or neoliberal economic policies. Those who maintain that the Bolsonaro government is not fascist because it is neoliberal are working in error. We should only incorporate fractional hegemony into the concept of fascism if there is an unambiguous relationship between, on the one hand, this economic and social dimension of bourgeois power (fractional hegemony) and the economic policy that expresses such hegemony and, on the other, the forms of State and political regimes, that is, the institutional organization of political power. It turns out that, although such a relationship is not random, it is not univocal either.

The relationship is not random because certain forms of State and political regimes may be more adequate than others for – given a certain historical period or conjuncture – the realization of power and hegemony of the capitalist class or of a certain fraction of this social class. This adequacy is a possibility and varies, within certain limits and, as just indicated, from one historical period to another. A fraction of the capitalist class whose interests allow an alliance with popular sectors and, even more, whose relative political weakness in relation to the other fractions of the same class require such an alliance, this bourgeois fraction will be able more easily, unlike the fractions whose interests make it difficult to form alliances downwards. and whose own strength can dispense with such alliances, open itself to a form of State and a political regime that favor the freely organized political participation of the popular classes.

However, what we are talking about here is trends and probabilities, and not, we repeat, an effective and univocal relationship between, on the one hand, the form of State and the political regime, and, on the other, the power bloc. Even bourgeois, bureaucratic or military dictatorial regimes can assume progressive characteristics – and in this case differently from what happens with the fascist dictatorship, which is born by definition of an anti-worker, anti-communist and conservative social movement in terms of customs. In bourgeois political revolutions, as in England, France and Brazil, military or militarized dictatorial governments played a progressive role – Cromwell, Napoleon, Deodoro and Floriano. The bureaucracy of the capitalist State is interested in the consolidation of this type of State because it is what allows, contrary to the feudal and slaveholding State, the affirmation and development of this bureaucracy.[iii]

Even after the consolidation of the bourgeois political revolution, in some dependent countries, the Armed Forces, concerned, as a segment of the social category of State, with national defense, acted to obtain capitalist modernization, that is, the development of values ​​and bourgeois norms of state organization and industrialization. This happened in countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Faced with the undeniable difference between the power blocs organized by the Brazilian, Argentine and Chilean dictatorships, defenders of the economic-social-political concept of fascism should argue, for consistency, that such cases could not be treated with the same concept – in this case, the concept of military dictatorship. Symptomatically, however, none of the critics of the use of the specifically political concept of a fascist dictatorial regime has, to the best of my knowledge, suggested such a hypothesis. In practice, therefore, everyone accepts a specifically political concept of military dictatorship.

And such theoretical incongruity is more general. All the authors I know who reject the concept of fascism for a country on the periphery, use, without presenting any theoretical justification, the concept of dictatorship to address both the European and imperialist fascism of the early twentieth century, as well as the dependent Latin-American military regimes. Americans at the end of that century. Why should hegemony in the power bloc be incorporated in the construction of the concept of fascism, but, strangely, such dimensions can be dispensed with when it comes to the concept of dictatorship and even the more specific concept of military dictatorship?

The problem goes further. Many of these authors move from ancient Greece and Rome to the present day, making use of the concepts of democracy and dictatorship – whose very terms, incidentally, come from Antiquity. Are these “substantivists” incurring in the “formalism” that they criticize so much? The truth is that the insistence on the need to “historically situate the analysis”, considering, in this case, the historical period of original fascism, its economy, its hegemonic fraction, etc., such insistence is in vain if criteria are not established on what to do what can and cannot be abstracted or retained in the elaboration of concepts. Each and every concept, by definition, abstracts, eliminates, purifies elements of historical reality. The question is to know which are and which are not legitimate abstractions and eliminations. It is there, and only there, that the productive epistemological discussion of the theme would begin.

But, we said: the fascist dictatorship, unlike the military dictatorship, did not acquire and cannot acquire, by definition, a progressive dimension. We have already indicated why: the fascist dictatorship is organized supported by a reactionary movement of the intermediate strata of capitalist society. The question now is the following: if that is so, some economic and social aspect must already enter the general definition of the fascist dictatorial regime. This is a complex point and we do not want to be exhaustive in examining it.

We have already argued that the institutional organization of the State, forms of State and political regimes, although it deserves a specific analysis of the values ​​that guide it and the norms that constitute it, this organization is not disconnected from the economy and society. However, what we have in the case of fascist-type dictatorship is a stronger relationship between political institution and economic and social function: if the democratic form comprises regimes and also governments with very varied relationships with the dominated classes and particularly with the working class, if something similar occurs, on a much smaller scale it is true, with the military dictatorship, in the case of fascism, the variation is even more restricted. It can support the hegemony of different fractions of the bourgeoisie, but it will always have an anti-working-class and anti-popular content. Your economic policy may vary much more than your social policy.[iv]

In the aforementioned debate on the nature of Latin American dictatorial regimes, other Marxist authors characterized them as fascists, conceiving a concept of fascism in which every bourgeois dictatorship would inevitably end up being considered a fascist dictatorship. A very different approach from the one pioneered by Palmiro Togliatti.

He insisted, in 1935, that it is necessary to always consider two aspects when analyzing fascism: a bourgeois, anti-worker dictatorship, but with the particularity of having a mass base. The first aspect alone would not suffice to characterize a fascist-type dictatorship, warned the Italian communist leader and intellectual.[v] Later on we will see that Togliatti's pioneering book, Lessons on Fascism (2019 [1970]), is a detailed demonstration of the provenance, theoretical strength and political importance of this conceptual definition that, at first glance, may seem banal: fascism is a mass reactionary dictatorial regime.

Well then, some authors who participated in the Latin American debate considered such distinctions unnecessary or of minor importance. Augustín Cueva (1977) described the Brazilian, Argentine, Uruguayan and Chilean dictatorships as fascist dictatorships, although Cueva himself stressed that they lacked an organized or mobilized mass base. Each and every reactionary dictatorship should therefore be qualified as a fascist dictatorship.

Theotônio dos Santos presented, in the first part of the article with which he intervened in the debate, mass support as an attribute of the concept of fascism, but, in the second part of the text, when he presented his concept of dependent fascism to characterize the southern dictatorships -americanas claimed, surprisingly, that this variant of fascism would dispense with such a social base of active support. He argued, moreover, that dependent fascism lacked mass support because dependent, underdeveloped and subordinated capitalism would have nothing to offer the petty bourgeoisie and the middle class. The author reveals, with this argument, that he is unaware of the real position of the petty bourgeoisie and the middle class in the face of the economic and social policy of the original fascism. It had a mass base, but it also “had nothing to offer” to such classes. They supported him for political and ideological reasons.[vi] The important thing is to retain the essential: from the definition from which we started, there is no fascism if there is no mass base. And that's why the Southern Cone dictatorships weren't fascist dictatorships.

A text by Florestan Fernandes, prepared for a conference at Harvard University in March 1971, sides with those who classify military dictatorships as fascist dictatorships. Like Theotônio dos Santos, he understands that fascism in Latin America is fascism without a mass base. Reflecting on the phenomenon that, for him, is fascism without a mass base, Florestan sheds light on the question that was also raised by Santos: why in Latin America prevailed, as a form of the State of exception throughout the XNUMXth century, the fascism without a mass base – we would say, the military dictatorship – and not the mobilizing configurations of fascism – we would say, fascism”tout court"?

Florestan's answer has nothing to do with Santos' allegation presented above. In Gramscian terms, which are not the terms used by Florestan, we could say: the pioneer of Brazilian sociology argued that the military dictatorship is the type of dictatorship characteristic of capitalist social formations with “weak civil society” and with “strong State”. This is a major issue in the political analysis of dictatorships.

I quote Florestan: “On the other hand, the lack of ideological elaboration and specific organizational techniques [of Latin American fascism, ABJ] is a product of the kind of control of economic, sociocultural and political forces achieved by the privileged, powerful and active minority through of class totalitarianism, because that minority can, thanks to the extreme concentration of wealth and power, use in a direct and permanent way the institutional violence objectified, legitimized and monopolized by the State. If the civil order is weak, as happens for different reasons in the countries taken as points of reference [Haiti, Paraguay and Brazil, ABJ] 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 functions 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 require it”. (Fernandes, 2015, p.41)

Florestan Fernandes (2015, p.49) speaks, then, of “a strong elitist predisposition to locate fascistization within the State”. The backwardness of bourgeois democracy in Latin America, which coexisted with State institutions and with policies of a much more authoritarian standard than European bourgeois democracies, would have dispensed, at least throughout the XNUMXth century, with the great deviation that the European bourgeoisie had to go through to implant a dictatorship: launch itself into the political operation, complex and not devoid of risks, of co-opting a movement that it, the bourgeoisie, did not control in order, through this detour, to restore its own power perceived as threatened.

It was necessary to face the labor movement in the typical terrain of that movement: the streets and mass organization. In Latin America in the 2015th century, with a State equipped and legitimated to authoritarianly confront the popular movement, which, in turn, was much weaker than the European workers' movement, the tortuous and unstable path that consisted of co-opting the fascist movement it would not have been necessary. Latin American democracies already contained “potential fascism” or “fascist components”, argues Florestan Fernandes (47, p.XNUMX), that is, and using our conceptualization, “dictatorial components”.

Here, we have a complex theoretical question: can a democratic form of state contain elements of the dictatorial form or vice versa, can a dictatorial form contain elements of the democratic form? We don't think so, but we're not going to elaborate on that point. We only advance that, according to us, a type of dictatorship, military for example, may contain, in its specific historical realization and not in its concept, elements of a fascist dictatorship and vice versa. However, political and institutional hybridity here takes place within the same form of State – the dictatorial form. Hybridity between forms of State, in principle, does not seem possible to me. I prefer to speak of backward bourgeois democracies for Latin American democracies and particularly for Brazilian democracy – authoritarian presidentialism, political action by the Armed Forces, lack of freedom of association, disrespect for the civil rights of the poor population, etc.

Let us add to Florestan's argument, and by way of conjecture, a consideration of the working classes. In Latin America, the intermediate layers – middle class, petty bourgeoisie – could not mimic, as they did in Europe, a mass workers' party that, in fact, did not exist. Of course, such observations must be nuanced as we move from one country to another and also from one period to another. Countries like Chile, Argentina and perhaps Bolivia, had a much more organized working class than the other Latin American countries, however, with the exception of Chile, these countries, although they had strong unions, did not even have communist or socialist parties. mass. We can ask ourselves: would Brazil in the XNUMXst century have changed this configuration and forced the bourgeoisie to resort to co-opting the fascist mass movement?

In the 2018 electoral process, this is exactly what happened and this is exactly what has happened, so far, in the Bolsonaro government. However, the last word will be up to the evolution of the Bolsonaro Government. We are witnessing the signs of some mutations. Many early Bolsonarist leaders and organizations are deserting. There are indications that the government is, more than purging the plebeian leaders of their mass base – a phenomenon known in every process in which fascism comes to power –, moving away from this base and demobilizing it. If in fact this tendency were to consolidate and prevail, this government would have only two options left: to adapt to bourgeois democracy or, given its fascist propensity for an authoritarian regime, the option of, needing and being able to carry out a coup d'état, to implant a military-type dictatorship.

At this point, the question arises: why is it important to distinguish the fascist dictatorship, a reactionary and bourgeois dictatorial regime, but with a mass base, from other types of dictatorship?

It is true that the fundamental distinction is not that between different political regimes of the same form of State, but that which exists between the two forms in which the class State can present itself – democratic or dictatorial. Moreover, it should be specified that only and only in the bourgeois State does the form of State, dictatorial or democratic, make any difference to the dominated class. In the slave-owning or feudal state, in which the mass of rural slaves or farmland serfs is necessarily excluded from legal political activity, the difference between the democratic form and the dictatorial form is of no interest to the direct producers.

But, in the bourgeois State, in which the democratic form must recognize civil and political rights to the working class, in this type of State, this distinction between dictatorship and democracy is of great interest to the workers and is the most important distinction and pregnant with consequences for their organization. and their struggle and on the political process as a whole. The democratic form requires the election of representatives who will effectively participate in the decision-making process and, for this reason, this democratic form unfolds, in the capitalist State that proclaims everyone as a full subject of rights, and only in the capitalist State, in a political scene that , to a greater or lesser extent, ensures, and must ensure, some freedom of organization for the fundamental dominated class. Particularity of bourgeois democracy arising from the characteristics of the capitalist type of State: not even at the height of the Roman Senate or the Assembly of Athenian democracy did these institutions give rise, or could give rise to, freedom of organization and political participation of rural slaves (Finley, 1983; Ste. Croix, 1981). Democracy, and especially bourgeois democracy, therefore differs greatly from the dictatorial form, but dictatorships are not all the same and such differences also matter.

The bureaucracy, civil or military, tends to organize a dictatorial power without mass political mobilization. Values ​​such as hierarchy, supposedly based on competence, discipline, authoritarian order and apoliticalism are part of the ideology of this social category of the capitalist State.[vii] Military dictatorships or civil bureaucracy tend towards a technocratic ideology that conceives the practice of government not as resulting from a conflict of interests and values ​​– that would be its perversion – but rather as a technical activity that would consist in finding the appropriate means to achieve objectives that would be the general objectives of society as a whole – the permanent national objectives, as taught by the military and similar in Moral and Civic Education courses at the time of the Brazilian military dictatorship. So no more political mobilization and the conflicts and divisions that it entails.

While it is true that the military coups were preceded by the mobilization of the middle class, and especially its upper fraction, the coup forces, once installed in power, relegated the middle classes to dispersion and demobilization. The cited article by Atilio Boron has an illuminating formulation on the subject: “¿How to forget that in the times of President Allende the middle strata were successfully mobilized in his protest against the popular government, and that they would not be able to constitute a fascist movement Did they demonstrate that in the texture of their reactionary politics there were strong fascist components that did not go unnoticed by observers at the time? The same could be said of certain movements that preceded the fall of Goulart in Brazil. Therefore, there are political and ideological reasons, as well as other reasons of economic nature, to think that certain layers of the petty bourgeoisie can feel powerfully captivated by the new dictatorships. However, such support has not acquired the modality or the extent that we find in European fascist regimes. In the Latin American cases, it is a sporadic consensus – usually in the phases that precede the demolition of bourgeois democracy – which then freezes and can no longer be revived in the moments after the establishment of the dictatorships. These have, in addition, an essentially demobilizing slant so pronounced that it even ends up condemning the limbo of civic nullity to the social groups that eventually could constitute themselves as sources of support for the government”. (Boron, 2003, p.76-77)

From the bureaucracy of the capitalist State originates an ideological effect of representation of the nation people due to the fact that such bureaucracy is formally open to the participation of individuals from all social classes through formally public competitions. The bureaucracy thus appears as a universalist institution, open to all and representing all (Poulantzas, 2019 [1968]). However, bureaucratic legitimation, which predominates in the dictatorships of the civil bureaucracy and the military bureaucracy, is a passive legitimation at the political level, devoid of the specifically political legitimation based on political parties and the electoral system, without organization and without mass mobilization. .

The fascist dictatorship, as we indicated when citing Togliatti, has an organized and mobilized mass base, and can resort, in addition to the passive legitimation linked to the mere existence of the bureaucracy of the capitalist State, to other forms of legitimation – plebiscitary and corporate.[viii] Due to this characteristic, this dictatorial political regime presents a particular institutional organization, a particular political dynamic, particular types of crisis and imposes specific constraints on the workers' struggle, constraints which, in turn, require specific methods of struggle from workers.


Particularities of the fascist-type dictatorship

The conditions of the political game, the dynamics of the political process and the activity and organization of state institutions vary according to the type of dictatorial regime – civil, military or fascist bureaucratic dictatorship. For those who mobilize Marxist theory of the state to analyze fascism, this is a vast unexplored building site. Here, we do not intend to examine this issue in depth, but only indicate some elements. In this examination, we want to highlight the greater importance, which in the eyes of the inattentive reader could go unnoticed, of the definition pioneered by Palmiro Togliatti: fascism is a mass reactionary bourgeois dictatorship.

Let us recall the more general definition that Marx gives of capital: capital is the value that is valued. It may also seem banal to many, but it was a safe guide for Marx to write three volumes that do nothing more than develop this simple and general idea. A correct definition, grouping together three or four words, which are actually three or four concepts, does not encompass the totality or the complexity of the phenomenon, and neither is or should be the purpose of a definition, but rather indicates its essence and provides a safe guide for your study. They are worth gold!

First, the mass base of the fascist dictatorial political regime makes it possible for such a regime to resort to mass mobilization against its opponents, be it the traditional right, or the labor and popular movement. This is an absent possibility in military dictatorship regimes.

Secondly, and this point concerns the labor and popular movement, the mass base of the fascist dictatorial political regime imposes a mass siege on the leaders of the parties and workers' associations. The fascist dictatorship is present in a capillary way in society as a whole, forcing socialists and communists to intervene, clandestinely, in the institutional spaces of fascism. The aforementioned book by Togliatti, Lessons on Fascism, is nothing less than the development of this analysis. In the first chapter of this work, Togliatti defined fascism, as we have seen, with the synthetic formula “mass reactionary dictatorship”; then, guided by this definition, he proceeded to develop, chapter by chapter, the impact of this dictatorship on the popular classes and how communists should act to resist fascism.

Without ruling out clandestine action, Togliatti insists on the need for communists to intervene in fascist organizations – fascist unions, leisure associations (the Dopolavoro) and others. Dispute the masses under the influence of fascism and within the fascist organizations themselves. It is a new type of political activity that Togliatti takes pains to discuss in detail throughout the book: why participate in fascist union assemblies, what tactics to apply in these assemblies, what calculated risks to take, what is the strategic objective in the union and in Dopolavoro, etc. Socialists, communists and democratic and popular activists are literally surrounded by the mass organizations of the fascist dictatorship.

Under a military dictatorship, the methods of struggle are different, because the institutional organization of the regime is different. There is an organizational gap between dictatorial power and the working classes. These, some more, some less, may be attracted by the dictatorial regime, but they will all be disorganized. Adherence, when it exists, is passive. We are working at the concept, theory level. Evidently, there are historical variations when considering concrete cases. In the Brazilian military regime, state unionism was maintained, inherited from the civil dictatorship of the Estado Novo, and there was, therefore, some organizational connection between the dictatorial power and the working class. But this union did not have, with the exception of some regions of great industrial concentration, an important base in the working class. Moreover, this working-class base was actually formed precisely during the crisis period of the military dictatorship, it is, in fact, an important element of the regime's crisis, indicating the incompatibility between one phenomenon – military dictatorship – and another – organized working-class base.

At the opening of this item, we also refer to the particularity of the dynamics of the political process in fascist dictatorships. Indeed, such regimes present, within themselves, specific conflicts. Robert Paxton (2004) rightly points out that it is an illusion to imagine that fascist governments were homogeneous governments. He insists on the thesis that they are heterogeneous governments that have always counted, in their team, with non-fascist forces belonging to the traditional right. Bringing this idea to the Marxist analysis of fascism, we must establish the following: the petty-bourgeois fascist movement only reaches government when it is politically co-opted by big capital. Thesis of greater importance: the fascist movement is a petty-bourgeois and middle-class movement, but the fascist government and dictatorship are bourgeois government and dictatorship, particularly of the big bourgeoisie.

Therefore, such a government must incorporate representatives of the bourgeoisie, that is, of the so-called traditional right. This fact sets up a first conflict that is characteristic and internal to fascism: the conflict between the fascist right and the non-fascist right necessarily incorporated into the government. Let us now focus our attention on the fascist camp. The Marxist scholars of fascism, who, incidentally, Paxton dismisses very lightly, these scholars highlighted the tense and violent process of conflicts between the plebeian base and the fascist movement's top leadership during the process of fascistization and even during the period of the already implanted fascist dictatorship . I won't go into details, I'll just point out that such conflicts, which led to persecution, expulsions and murders, are analyzed in the books of Togliatti, Guérin, Poulantzas and others.

The top of the movement decided to place itself at the service of big capital, but the plebeian base does not peacefully accept all the consequences of that decision. At each step of this integration of the top to the interests of big capital, conflicts can arise between it and the base of the movement. This is, then, a second conflict within fascism and characteristic of these governments and dictatorships. Such conflicts in the government between the traditional right and the fascists and, in the government's support base, between the summit and the base of the movement, intersect, generating complex situations and characteristic instabilities.

I will illustrate with the fascist government of Jair Bolsonaro, which is a fascist government operating in a bourgeois democracy – a situation that, by the way, is nothing new, since the Mussolini Government itself experienced the same between 1922 and 1924. the National Congress to approve the pension reform intended by big capital, but seen as secondary or even as something negative by activists from the Bolsonarist base, was heavily criticized for having led the government to practice the policy of “take it, give it away”. here”, when the fight against this “old policy” should be, for these activists, the government's priority objective. Bolsonaro tried to minimize the loss by outsourcing such reform, that is, delegating it to the National Congress. Even with this care, the negotiation was the reason for desertions in the social base of the movement.

Very important digital influencers and pioneers in support of Bolsonaro, such as Nando Moura, Marcelo Brigadeiro and Artur do Val – known as “Mamãe Falei”, walked away from the government and began to scathingly criticize it. This is a very important loss for neo-fascism and especially if we take into account the central role of social networks in the organization and mobilization of the Bolsonarist movement – ​​social networks are the substitute for the mass party that Bolsonaristas do not have. In other words, the negotiations with the traditional right, representative of big capital, had a negative impact on the relationship between the leadership and the base of the movement. The criticism that motivated such defection was, as we said, the fact that the government had “privileged the economy to the detriment of the fight against the 'old policy'”, in fact, the fight against liberal democracy. The same phenomenon occurred when Bolsonaro began his approach to the so-called “Centrão” to prevent a possible impeachment process.[ix]


Final considerations

The conceptualization of fascism as a bourgeois dictatorial regime based on an active mass and mainly petty bourgeois and middle class, such characterization has not yet been sufficiently explored by Marxist political theory. Nor were the complex relationships of this type of dictatorship with others explored. Nicos Poulantzas took up this work, whose foundations had been laid by Clara Zetkin, Leon Trotsky, Antonio Gramsci, Palmiro Togliatti, Daniel Guérin and others. Part of the non-Marxist bibliography produced in recent years can and should be used with great profit, although part of it does nothing more than break down doors that have already been opened by the authors mentioned above and, at the same time, seek to refute them in a superficial way.

A good example of this procedure is Robert Paxton. On the one hand, he discovered, exactly sixty-nine years after Togliatti and the Italian workers who followed Togliatti's course in Moscow, that fascist ideology is a heterogeneous whole, contradictory, etc.; he also discovered, thirty-four years after Poulantzas, that there is a process of fascistization. He did not indicate his intellectual debt, although he had read Poulantzas, and at the same time, he was quick to refute, in a light way, without precise reference to any Marxist work and with very weak arguments, the theses of the petty-bourgeois character of the fascist movement and the prioritization of the interests of big capital by the economic policy of fascism.

One last note. A bourgeois dictatorial form can change its political regime throughout its existence, as Poulantzas has already highlighted, and can also combine elements of one and another dictatorial regime. Most of the Marxist studies on the dictatorship of the Portuguese Estado Novo and the Francoist dictatorship in Spain espouse this idea. It remains the observation, even not examining it here.[X]

*Armando Boito is professor of political science at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of State, politics and social classes (Unesp).

Reduced version of the article published in the journal Marxist Criticism 53.



[I] Nicos Poulantzas (1970) calls the bourgeois dictatorial form a “capitalist state of exception” that is born in critical junctures of political crisis. He suggests, therefore, that the democratic form is the typical form of the capitalist state, but does not explain the reasons for this typicality. Nor will we examine this important and complex issue in this text.

[ii] A wide and diversified bibliography of this debate can be found in an important article by Atilio Boron (2003), written in the late 1970s and which was an important part of this debate. Helgio Trindade analyzed the Latin American debate on fascism in an article entitled “El tema del fascismo en América Latina” (1982).

[iii] Check out Boito Jr. (2007, p.63-89), chapter entitled “State and transition to capitalism: feudalism, absolutism and bourgeois political revolution”.

[iv] For the distinction between economic policy (measures focused on conflicts between bourgeois fractions), social policy (measures focused on the demands of the working classes) and foreign policy (measures focused on relations with other national states), as well as for the links between them, see Del Passo (2019), “The development of the poulantzian concept of hegemony”.

[v] “The second element consists of the character of the organizzazioni of fascism, the basis of the mass. Molte volta il termina fascism viene adoperato in imprecise mode, as a synonym for reazione, terrore ecc. Ciò non è giusto. Il fascism does not mean releasing the lotta contro la democrazia borghese, we cannot adoperare questa espressione releasing when siamo in presenza di questa lotta. We dobbiamo adoperarla releasing allor, when the lotta controls the working class if it sviluppa its a new base di pasta with piccolo-borghese character […]” (Togliatti, 2019 [1970], p.46). There is a sold-out Brazilian edition of this work published by Editora Temas de Ciências Humanas.

[vi] Nicos Poulantzas (1970) and Daniel Guérin (1965 [1936]) demonstrate this thesis. The original fascism, having organized the hegemony of big capital, stimulated the process of concentration and centralization of capital, which was also carried out at the expense of small and medium-sized companies. Check out Nicos Poulantzas particularly “La situation réelle de la petite bourgeoisie sous le fascisme” (1970, p.279-281) and Daniel Guérin particularly “Les sacrifiés: les classes moyennes” (1965 [1936], p.240-248).

[vii] Nicos Poulantzas (2019 [1968]) develops the concept of bureaucratism to designate the values ​​and norms that structure the organization of the State bureaucracy and affect the behavior of bureaucrats.

[viii] The main ideologist of Brazilian neo-fascism, Olavo de Carvalho, has insisted on the idea of ​​implementing what he calls a “plebiscitary democracy” in Brazil.

[ix] Watch the video recorded in mid-2019 that marks the breakup of youtuber Nando Moura with the Bolsonaro government. Available in: Accessed on: 0 Oct. 28. At the end of this video, Nando Moura lists laws, projects and initiatives that would have favored the PT and which neither the PSL nor Bolsonaro would have fought to stop or, when they fought, would not have done so consistently . The list follows because it is suggestive of the motivation of this secular wing of Bolsonarism: a) approved project of abuse of authority; b) appointment of a “PT” to the PGR; c) shutdown of Coaf; d) CPI of fake news; e) Lava Jato CPI; f) Law of fake news; g) STF inquiry against “slanderers”; h) annulment of Lava Jato sentences by the STF; i) approved project of the electoral and party fund; j) payment of lawyers from electoral funds; k) flexibility of donations to parties and l) restriction of analysis and inspection of electoral campaign accounts. Everything would be prepared for the PT to “restart its serve” because now, concludes Nando Moura, the PT's supporters would be armored.

[X] For the readers' information, I quote two texts with very useful information on the debate in Spanish historiography and political science regarding the nature of the Francoist dictatorship: Miguel Angel Esteban Navarro (1987, p.11-26); Ángel Rodríguez Gallardo (2008/2009, p.427-446).

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