Brazilian proto-fascism

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By Rubens Pinto Lyra*

In his statements about the coronavirus, which are radically out of step with scientific evidence, the military president behaves like the fascists, who extract “a sadistic enjoyment” from his fundamentalism.

"There are people who only understand the ember when it enters the flesh". (Chico Buarque, in Fazenda Modelo)
"In times of horror, we choose monsters to protect us." (Mia Couto)

Nazism and fascism: what differentiates them

It is necessary, previously, to make clear the distinction between Nazism and Fascism. It would not fit here, for example, to refer to “proto-Nazism”. Indeed, there is a qualitative difference between Nazism and Fascism, even though both are dictatorships in the full sense of the term. Fascism was not a totalitarian regime since “the true objective of fascism was simply to seize power and give the “elite” the undisputed leadership of the country” (Hannah Arendt, The origins of totalitarianism).

Fascism did not intend to mold a single ideology for society as a whole. So much so that he managed to co-opt the Catholic Church in Italy, governing with its often enthusiastic support, while, under Hitler, religious practice suffered violent repression (cf. Laura Fermi, Mussolini). This excerpt from the reply of the Minister of the German Reich to the Bishop of Berlin, Dr. Konrad, Count of Presysing, is illustrative of the issue: “National Socialism reserves the exclusive right to instill its conception of the world within German territory, handing over to religious communities the domain of religion and metaphysics. These two planes must be separated from each other once and for all.” Indeed, “totalitarian domination is a type of regime that exists only by destroying the political domain of life. It is based on the experience of not belonging absolutely to the world, one of the most radical and desperate experiences of man” (Hannah Arendt).

Economic power and protofascism

Proto-fascism is called certain social, political and ideological aspects of Nazi-fascism, which may be present, partially or in full, depending on the political situation, including today, and in Brazil. It should be noted that Nazism in Germany, fascism in Italy and proto-fascism fueled by the extreme right government in Brazil only became a reality due to the decisive support – initially reticent, then enthusiastic – that they received from financial capital and politicians. who represent their interests, with the support of the military.

In all three cases, this support was won in a context of unprecedented political-ideological radicalization, when the economic and political elites of these countries understood that the “traditional” parties (center and right-wing liberals) might not be strong enough to avoid the triumph from the left. Leandro Konder, in his book Introduction to Fascism exposes the “intimate link” of Nazism with industrial and financial capital. And, also, the support given by them to Mussolini, preferring his dictatorship to a centrist government. This close connection with Nazism was also detailed by William L. Shirer, in his classic Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

In Brazil, already during the 2018 election campaign for the presidency of the Republic, the different linked factions of big capital did not hide their sympathy for the candidate defending the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985). During this campaign, at FIESP, newspapers reported: “Brazilian industry elite applauds Bolsonaro and boos Ciro for criticizing labor reform”. This support gained even more strength during the Bolsonaro government, as demonstrated by the warm welcome offered, at the same FIESP, to the Minister of Economy of that government, Paulo Guedes, who received a standing ovation from businessmen, who described him as a “hero”.

The conscious support given by big business to a government whose head had already made his visceral authoritarianism clear leads us to Hannah Arendt's conclusions about the lack of supposed “brainwashing” in the massive support given to Hitlerism. In fact, it cannot simply be attributed, in Italy, Germany and Brazil, to the lack of knowledge of what the respective saviors of the fatherland represent, in addition to the fact that they were invested in their respective offices according to the legal rite, legitimized by popular vote.

Undoubtedly, in Italy and Germany, the governments were strongly pressured by the Nazi-fascist mobilizations, but they could have resisted and it cannot be said that their methods, objectives and strategy were ignored. In Arendt's words: "this in no way weakened the support given by the masses to totalitarianism, which can be explained neither by ignorance nor by 'brainwashing'".

Fascism and proto-fascism: how are their ideas similar?

The analysis of the theses defended by proto-fascists in Europe, influenced by Nazism and especially by Italian fascism, is of great importance for us to understand their differences and similarities with the ideas embraced by the Brazilian extreme right. Proto-fascism presents different faces, all, however, related to fascism. But it does not, like this one, present a homogeneous theory, as is the case with Nazism and, to a certain extent, fascism.

It also does not have territorial expansion objectives (this is also a characteristic of Nazism) or persecution of races considered inferior, even though Tupiniquim proto-fascism has strong racist components. Here also, as in Nazi-fascism, there is no mass party, framed under rigid discipline, and trained to promote attacks on opponents.

Lastly, it is worth underlining the difference between the proclaimed objectives of the Nazi-fascists and those of the Brazilian demiurge. For Hitler, his role was to rebuild Germany's strength and prestige, making this nation hegemonic, through the liquidation of communism and territorial expansion, through the subjugation of races considered inferior, especially the Jews. The same goal as Mussolini in Italy, except for the racial issue.

The retired captain, on the other hand, shares a visceral anti-communism with the Nazi-fascists. But his rhetoric gives maximum emphasis to a conservative vision of the family and the homeland, which he intends to restore, associating it with the exaltation of religious values, which guarantees him a solid base of support, especially among evangelicals.

But let's go to the similarities. As Umberto Eco, a great Italian thinker and novelist, points out, proto-fascism “changed the open violence, characteristic of the followers of Hitler and Mussolini, for an aggressive rhetoric” (“Eternal Fascism”. In: five moral writings). Both inseparable from the leader's charisma. This is what happens in Brazil. Bolsonarism associates this rhetoric – which we illustrate with the threat made by the current military president to “shoot the guns” – with action at the institutional level, playing with this dubiousness with the aim of maintaining the loyalty of its militants and, at the same time, ensuring political support to govern.

Therefore, instead of acting with explicit violence, proto-fascists of different profiles choose to practice unacknowledged micro-violence. Foreseeing their aggravation of these, with the murder of Marielle and the election of Bolsonaro, Jean Willys, federal deputy elected by PSOL in Rio de Janeiro, threatened with death, preferred to self-exile in Germany. Exemplary, still in this regard, was the terrorist attack carried out against the production company Back door, recorded on video, for having associated Jesus Christ with homosexuality, the silence of Bolsonaro and the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Sérgio Moro, regarding the issue being significant.

In Brazil, the extreme right does not have organized militias, like the fascists, but it has a kind of virtual militia, true phalanxes that operate in social networks, notably through the marketing religious and political, manipulating the desires and needs of the unwary. It also does not have, like Goebbels in Germany, the state machine to spread untruths. But she uses the same method as the Nazi leader and the fascists: the massive propagation of lies. This, in the form of fake news, it happened, for example, in the presidential elections, with the systematic defamation of the candidate Fernando Haddad to, with its exhaustive repetition, try to pass them off as true.

Umberto Eco recalls that the proto-fascist ideology hates pluralism in politics, culture and literature. Thus “the proto-fascist is a conservative of traditional values, military ideals and machismo. He transfers his will to power to sexual matters, which implies disdain for women and an intolerant condemnation of non-conformist sexual habits such as homosexuality”.

In the Brazilian case, the defense of traditional values ​​is particularly relevant, manifesting itself in a ridiculous ultraconservatism, as evidenced by the unbelievable statements of Dante Mantovani, one of those chosen for the position of president of FUNARTE. For this leader, Terraplanista and student of Olavo de Carvalho, “rock activates drugs, which activates sex, which activates the abortion industry. This, in turn, feeds something much heavier which is Satanism. John Lennon himself said he made a deal with the devil”.

Against the obscurantist theses and the authoritarian and discriminatory behavior of the Bolsonaro government, almost 3.000 intellectuals and artists, headed by prominent personalities in this area, launched, in February 2020, a global petition. In this document, they request that the international community express public solidarity in the face of the Bolsonaro government's attempts to exert political pressure on artistic and cultural organizations and that human rights bodies and the international press shed light on what is happening in Brazil.

The obscurantist ideology of Bolsonaristas, if it does not consider, like the Nazis, a certain inferior race, has a conception that is close to this. Indeed, the far-right journalist, Sérgio Nascimento de Camargo, appointed by Bolsonaro to preside over the Palmares Foundation, aimed at promoting and rescuing black culture, considers that “slavery was horrible, but beneficial for the descendants of slaves. ” His views justifying slavery are in line with those of the “Prince” Federal Deputy Philippe de Orléans e Bragança (PSL-SP.) of whom Bolsonaro confesses to be a great admirer. This Deputy stated that “slavery is part of human nature”.

There is a notorious affinity between these conceptions and that of slave owners, who, during the abolitionist campaign, claimed not to feel enthusiasm for it because they knew “the country without preparation, without means of using an ignorant race and riddled with pernicious principles”. This same colonialist conception applies to the way Bolsonaro treats indigenous communities when he compares Indians who are not included in the market to “cave men”.

In the fascist state there was no place for individual freedoms and free expression of thought. In Brazil they are still in force, but the Tupiniquin proto-fascists are in a permanent campaign to liquidate them. In this regard, the personal contribution made by Bolsonaro should be highlighted. According to the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ), his rise to the Presidency increased attacks against the press by 54%, with more than half coming from the current president.

Another preferred target of Bolsonarists are public schools, with the proposal of Escola sem Partido, and teachers they consider leftist. To incriminate them, they defend the use of police practices, such as the recording of classes given by teachers considered 'socialists' and 'partisans'.

The proto-fascist ideology in Brazil is not associated, as in Nazism and Fascism, with a political party or based on a supposedly scientific text, as is the case with Nazism, whose Bible was Mein Kanpf. Bolsonaro is not even affiliated with a party. Its characteristic trait is the collage of ideas without theoretical consistency, but with rhetoric, intimidating or seductive, as the case may be. In the words of Jânio de Freitas: “The Bolsonaro government does not have a doctrine to direct it, not even a mockery, that gives it a physiognomy as a raison d’être and purpose. The average level of ignorance among those who inhabit it would not allow dealing with ideas, shallow as they were, nor with notions of a cultural order, simplistic though”.

In fascism, underlines Eco “irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for the sake of action. Action is good in itself. Therefore, it should be performed before and without any reflection”. As Mussolini himself said:L'azione ha seppellito la philosophie”. According to Leandro Konder, “fascism adopted the solution of a radical pragmatism, making use of a theory that emasculated theory in general”.

Bolsonaro's unbelievable words about the coronavirus, expressed on national television, refer to the aforementioned concepts. These words were qualified as “appalling”, “dishonest” and criminal” by the most representative entities in the health area and by medical societies, for minimizing the importance of this virus, by classifying it as a “little flu”, disdaining the measures adopted by the Ministry of Health. of his own government, such as social isolation.

This “radical pragmatism” also collides head-on with the World Health Organization (WHO), whose Director, Tedros Ghebreyesus, has described the coronavirus as an “enemy of humanity”, and is, moreover, radically out of step with the scientific evidence, unanimously proclaimed by the experts in the matter. Therefore, the military president behaves like the fascists, who extract from their fundamentalism, as Raimundo de Lima recalls, “a sadistic enjoyment of uneasiness among people, sowing confusion among them, making contradiction and paroxysm an undertaking with hypnotic effects”.

Another manifestation of proto-fascism is intolerance and persecution of those who are different, their ways of being, acting and thinking. He always tends to disqualify those who do not fit his ideological straitjacket. They use the same strategy of demoralization, claiming that universities are “a nest of communists”, a source of “hustle”, incompetence and low productivity”. This hostility towards the intellectual world and culture, points out Umberto Eco “has always been a symptom of fascism”.

The essential mission of the university contrasts with this rudimentary technical conception: that of contributing to the formation of a critical spirit capable of renewing existing social and cultural values. Exemplary, in this regard, was the statement by his former Minister of Education, Ricardo Vélez, on the role that the university has to play: forming “good employers and good employees.

In the same sense, Jair Bolsonaro disseminates military, or militarized, schools in Brazil, supposedly to improve their quality by “ensuring that the teacher can exercise his authority in the classroom”. Jânio de Freitas recalls, in this regard, the decisive role played by military schools in Germany, throughout the 1930s, in the infiltration of Nazism and the cult of the dictator.

Proto-fascists are agents of intrigue, of gossip invented to harm supposed opponents and enemies. This is precisely the case of the demiurge emerging from the polls. He always claimed that the stabbing he suffered was the result of a conspiracy from the left, despite the expert report accepted by the judge who examined the case attesting to the insanity of his aggressor. In the case of the Nazis, an example of this behavior was the dissemination of a fanciful theory, based on a supposed world conspiracy hatched by an alliance between the Jews and Soviet Russia, aimed at the destruction of Germany.

The Tupiniquim version of this theory translates into the extension, by Bolsonarism, of the concept of “communist” to almost all of its opponents who, supposedly, intend to change the green-yellow of the Brazilian flag for the color red, with the collaboration of the media, under the aegis of “cultural Marxism”.

We cannot fail to emphasize something that seems essential to us: the different aspects in which the ultraconservative ideology of the Bolsonaro government manifests itself are interconnected. They are subsumed under the understanding that the State must sponsor a revolution in the cultural area, in order to free it from the harmful influence of a supposed “cultural Marxism”, which made culture in Brazil “sick” and art “degenerate”.

In the words of Roberto Alvim, former Special Secretary for Culture of the federal government, when reproducing, adapted to the Brazilian reality, a speech by Joseph Goebbels, number 2 of the Nazi regime: “The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and will be national, endowed with capacity for emotional involvement and will also be imperative, since it is deeply linked to the aspirations of our people”. Positioning in line with the President's request to "make a culture that does not destroy, but saves our youth".

This “cultural revolution”, translated into a State policy, would “imperatively” rescue a conservative view of the family, patriotism and religion, invoking the “deep connection of God” with these supposed pillars of nationality. It is unequivocally a totalitarian conception, in which – unlike Nazi-fascism – Christian fundamentalism, especially Pentecostalism, plays an essential role.

Alvim’s performance at the head of his portfolio received wide praise from Bolsonaro, for whom he would be implementing a “real culture”. However, on the same day that he praised Alvim's performance, he was forced to dismiss him, under strong and unprecedented national and international pressure, coming mainly from the heads of the Brazilian Legislative and Judiciary powers, the OAB and the national and international Jewish community. . But no criticism was made of Alvim's performance and his political-ideological options at the head of his Secretariat.

Characteristics common to fascist or proto-fascist leaders

One way to shield the charismatic leader and his government, in Nazi-fascist regimes, as well as in Brazil, is to pretend that he was chosen by God to govern their countries. In Italy, even the Catholic Church nurtured this ideology. Shortly after the signing of the Lateran Treaty, Pope Pius XI commented, referring to Mussolini: “We were also favored with the one that Divine Providence placed in our path”. And from various parts of the country, echoing the speech of the Supreme Pontiff, it was said: this is the man of Providence.

In this way, the charismatic leader becomes considered a myth, or a superman, whose authority is unquestionable. Indeed, not infrequently the masses, in the course of history, helpless, subjected to economic recession, individual insecurity and disbelief in political leadership, felt the need to create a hero and attribute superhuman qualities to him. However, fascism and the extreme right that has an affinity with it, need to bring these alleged demigods closer to the common man. In the words of Laura Fermi: “The Duce, in 1992, mixed with the people and patted humble people on the back, helped a blacksmith saying that it had been his profession and that he liked manual work and that he was jealous of those who carried it out. He would appear among the reapers, wearing only a pair of old trousers, his bare torso gleaming in the sunlight.” With that, his popularity took a leap forward.

The Brazilian savior of the fatherland adopts the same strategy, supposedly anointed by God to save Brazil from corruption and the “communist threat”. He is spotted, in homemade clothes, eating a condensed milk sandwich, or cashing a check at an ATM and frequently stopping his entourage to greet his supporters.

Hitler, Mussolini, several tyrants and also Bolsonaro have one more characteristic that makes them appear: they elected the “communists” as a common enemy, attributing, in Brazil, this blemish to a good part of opponents, who have nothing to do with communists. Finally, fascist and proto-fascist leaders share an ingrained Manichaeism, as they understand that only those who share their ideals want the good of the country. The homeland, they believe, is only loved by them and their followers.

We cannot accept the trivialization of evil. “Eternal vigilance” is therefore conditio sine qua non to face it with chances of success. In the words of Umberto Eco: “proto-fascism can return under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to expose it and point out new occurrences every day, in all parts of the world. Freedom and liberation are an endless task.”

* Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at the Federal University of Paraíba.

Copyright by Rubens Pinto Lyra. All rights reserved.

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