Bolsonaro's nationalism



Bolsonarist nationalism is a fascist-type nationalism that launches the accusation against the left that it divides and degenerates the homogeneous and healthy collective that would be the nation

On the occasion of the 7th of September, the democratic and popular field was once again faced with the question: is the Bolsonaro Government and the movement that supports it, in fact, nationalist? Some intellectuals and left-wing groups respond negatively to this question. They claim that Bolsonaro’s nationalism is empty, demagogic or that it would not be “true nationalism”. We don't think this is a correct way to look at the issue, and we'll try to explain why.

The doubt of some about Bolsonaro's nationalism is due, as is well known, to the fact that his government is submissive in terms of the economy and subservient to the United States in terms of foreign policy. Let us remember that he continued, in this matter, what had been started by the Temer Government: alignment with US policy for Latin America, denationalization of airports; sale of part of Petrobras; modification, at the request of international oil companies, of the pre-salt oil exploration regime; delivery of the Alcântara Base to the United States, etc.

But, here, an interesting fact can already be observed: the Temer Government was self-serving, just like Bolsonaro’s, but the first, unlike the second, did not boast a nationalist discourse. It discreetly practiced surrender, while the Bolsonaro government practices it by flaunting nationalism. And to think that this is precisely the president who saluted the American flag! We have something new there. Mere demagoguery to deceive the masses? We don't believe.

Bolsonaro's nationalism has its own substance and can rightly claim to be nationalist. This is not a usurping speech. Why? Because there are several types of nationalism and all of them, without exception, descend from a common stock. The common trunk is the idea of ​​nation that all nationalisms share, despite the fact that they can, in the struggle of ideas and in the practical struggle, place themselves in opposing camps.

What idea of ​​a nation is this? That of a collective of citizens, inhabitants of the same territory and who would be endowed with common values ​​and interests. This idea of ​​a community of interests and values ​​does not stem from the territory, a language or a common history. There are peoples who speak the same language and are organized in different nations, as there are nations whose population speaks different languages. Nor does it stem from cultural and psychological profiles that would encompass an entire “people”. This culturalist conception of people or nationality does not find empirical support in modern nations. What is the cultural trait or psychological profile that would characterize all Brazilians? Cordiality, extroversion and hospitality, as some still believe? If that were the case, Brazil would not have produced Bolsonarism.

In fact, the nation, as a political unit and as an idea, was a creation of bourgeois political revolutions. As? Carrying out two legal and political transformations that, combined, produced that result.

That revolution dissolved the old orders (on the one hand, free men, on the other, serfs or slaves) and estates (nobles and commoners) and implemented legal equality among citizens. This transformation paved the way for the second one, which consisted of liquidating the monopoly that the dominant class had on State posts – a monopoly that was made possible by the legally established reservation of such posts to the superior order (free men) or even just to the superior estate. of the higher order (nobles) – and replace it with the formal, legal opening of such posts to individuals from all social classes.

Worker, peasant, middle-class professional, industrialist or banker, nothing prevents – from a legal point of view – any of them from assuming any position in any of the branches of the State. In practice, the vast majority of leadership positions are held by individuals from bourgeois or wealthy families, but it would be a mistake to conclude from this that nothing has changed. The fact that such positions are legally accessible to individuals from working-class families and the fact that, although in the minority, individuals from the popular classes actually occupy high positions of command in the State, these facts produce fundamental ideological effects.

The result of the double transformation is as follows. Individuals become formally equal, and therefore potentially endowed with interests that would be common, and the State, which apparently welcomes everyone, can present itself as if it were the institution that represents everyone. Thus, the imaginary collective that we call “nation” is formed.

The collective is imaginary because these citizens living in the same territory are divided, since they espouse values ​​and have conflicting or contradictory interests: values ​​and interests of class, gender, race, etc. In such a situation, that is, in a scenario in which the vast majority sees itself as a member of the national collective and values ​​it, the tendency is for classes and other social segments, if they do not break with the nation's ideology, to try to twist it to put it at the service of their specific values ​​and interests. This is the way to present as universal values ​​and interests that, in fact, are particular – a path spontaneously sought by most ideologies.

In imperialist countries, the bourgeoisie, and the allies it manages to win over the dominated classes, will wield the idea of ​​national interests to legitimize imperialist policies that deny the oppressed peoples the right to national affirmation. It is nationalism denying nationalism. In dependent countries, the dominated classes can make use of the idea of ​​nation to legitimize an economic and political nationalism, aiming at the usufruct of the riches of the national territory by the great majority of its inhabitants and aiming at the necessary sovereignty of the national State to achieve the control of such riches. This will be a democratic and popular nationalism, opposed to the aforementioned imperialist nationalism.

Have more. A fascist government or regime will be able, as history aptly illustrates, to make use of the idea of ​​nation, that imaginary collective, homogeneous and legitimized by the great majority, to combat and criminalize the class struggle – that is to say: the struggle of the working class by socialism. Hitler and Mussolini were nationalists. in your book Lessons on Fascism, the Italian communist leader Palmiro Togliatti maintains that the most important ideological element of fascism is “exacerbated nationalism”.

The nationalism of the Bolsonaro government and Bolsonarism is a fascist type of nationalism. It consists of hurling against the movements of workers, women, blacks, against the indigenous and LGBT population the accusation that they are dividing and defiling the nation. The reasoning of Bolsonaristas – in fact, their instinctive procedure since the ideologue practices his ideology without knowing it – is this: the nation – in this case, Brazil – is a homogeneous collective and those who undermine, corrupt and threaten this homogeneity must be fought as criminals are fought. It is a retrograde and authoritarian nationalism.

Resorting to the imaginary national collective, they intend to universalize their pro-capitalist, racist and patriarchal ideology that would be, for Bolsonaristas, the attributes of Brazilian nationality. Deprived of a program to assert the Brazilian economy and the Brazilian State on the international stage, this nationalism is expressed, following the Trump Administration, in the discourse against globalism, against multilateral institutions, and in the mere fetish of national symbols – the yellow shirt, the flag etc. But Bolsonaro's nationalism is neither false nor demagogic, it is conservative, fascist, one of the possible variants of the national ideology.

The variants of the nationalist ideology are many and, although different and even antagonistic, descend from a common trunk. It is possible to make some generalizations that contribute to discerning such variants. In central countries, the national ideology is generally reactionary. The known response of European workers to this ideology was proletarian internationalism and the denial of national ties that would unite antagonistic classes.

In dependent countries, the idea of ​​nation still has a progressive role to play in the first phase of the revolutionary process in these countries. Both the tasks of this phase, and the forces that integrate it due to its economic and social insertion, induce the cohesion of the revolutionary movement with recourse to national ideology. This movement may speak on behalf of the “Brazilian people”, but the people here are defined politically and not culturally. The idea of ​​people and nation will express a political alliance of classes that will be able to bring together the popular classes – working class, peasantry, middle classes, marginal mass workers – and even bourgeois sectors, such as small and medium-sized companies. Thus, in such countries, we can find democratic and popular nationalism, although there is also room for fascist nationalism.

But revolutionaries in Africa, Asia and Latin America cannot forget that the nation is a creation of the bourgeoisie and that the aim of the socialist labor movement has always been to overcome national division. Such a division is, on the political and ideological level, a creation of bourgeois revolutions and a reality proper to capitalism. Overcoming capitalism implies overcoming the national state.

Admittedly, it would be an illusion to claim, here and now, a supranational and sovereign institution – if such an institution came to exist, it would be under the control of one or more imperialist powers. However, one cannot lose sight of the fact that, even today, burning problems facing humanity – let's mention only the environmental and climate crisis – cannot be resolved within the narrow limits imposed by national States.

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

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