Bolsonaro's ancestors


The similarity and inspiration of the Brazilian green shirts and the Italian black shirts is evident. However, integralism is not a mere reproduction of fascism, reflecting the peculiar Brazilian conditions

By Bernardo Ricupero*

In 2016 we were surprised when crowds dressed in green and yellow occupied the streets of Brazilian cities to defend the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. They shouted slogans, such as: “our flag will never be red”; "the giant awoke"; “I want my country back”.

Where did this mass emerge that, in an apparently unprecedented way, was not ashamed to defend right-wing theses? The shock was perhaps particularly strong for those who grew up during the so-called transition, a period when the memory of our last dictatorship was still fresh and even a politician like Paulo Maluf felt the need to define himself as center-left.

There was no lack of people who noticed the similarities, even aesthetic ones, of the new Brazilian right with North American neoconservatism. Such coincidences are not mere chance because, as it was soon known, the Tupiniquins were inspired by the Yankees.

In this reference, perhaps one could ask whether in Brazil, as well as in the USA, a right-wing hegemony had been constituted. Even because the country of Morale Majority it is almost a finished example of how intellectual and moral direction can be established.

Indeed, after the end of World War II, when the orientation given by Franklin Roosevelt to the US government seemed to assume an air of near consensus, an unlikely alliance was forged between conservative intellectuals, defenders of the free market and traditionalist Christians. This kind of army of Brancaleone soon created magazines, founded think tanks, he worked in civil society until he elected, in 1980, Ronald Reagan president.

Since then, the right has been at the forefront of the American political-cultural debate, even when it is not in power. A sign of the new hegemony is that a statement like that of the literary critic Lionel Trilling that in his country “liberalism is not only the dominant intellectual tradition, but the only intellectual tradition” has ceased to make sense since it was uttered in 1950.

In Brazil, in contrast, the rise of the extreme right took place suddenly, perhaps in no more than five years, after the so-called Jornadas de Junho 2013. In this sense, there was not so much a slow process of constitution of hegemony, but a a kind of collapse of the regime established by the 1988 Constitution. It would be questionable, therefore, to consider that civil society is permeated by right-wing ideas.

On the other hand, the similarities between the discourse of the current Brazilian extreme right and the formulations of egresses of what is normally studied as a purely literary movement, the modernist group Verde-Amarelo [1]. Menotti del Picchia, Cassiano Ricardo and Plínio Salgado were collaborators of the Paulista Post Office, official organ of the Paulista Republican Party (PRP), and constituted one of the modernist factions when, from 1924, the movement ceased to be a “united front”.

In fact, the different modernist groups basically defined themselves in relation to each other, the green-yellows assuming most of their contours in contrast to Pau Brasil. In particular, they did not accept the “primitivism” favored by Oswald de Andrade, defending, in contrast, a “constructivist” project. However, I am particularly interested in how the members of Verde-Amarelo behaved after the 1930 Revolution, when strictly speaking the movement no longer existed as such and according to João Luiz Lafetá, there was a shift from the aesthetic project to the ideological project of modernism.

Plínio broke with the PRP and in 1932 founded the Brazilian Integralist Action (AIB), the first Brazilian mass party. Its founding document, the “October Manifesto”, opens with the proclamation: “God directs the destinies of peoples”. Also in traditionalist terms, it defends the family and turns against the immorality of customs, cosmopolitanism and communism, themes that have regained centrality in Brazil today. But it is equally against liberalism.

The document written by the Integralist leader is especially concerned with the social division, against which the Integral State, allegedly capable of guaranteeing harmony within society, would be positioned. In more specific terms, to combat disorder it would be necessary to guarantee the principle of authority, hierarchy and discipline. Following a common concern in the 1930s, he defends the organization of professional classes. In addition, he emphasizes the importance of the municipality. Faced with the dominant orientation in the country, he declares that the Integralists would deliberately prefer to be “outlawed from the false political life of the nation”.

In a broad sense, Pliny defends a society organized hierarchically and based on spiritual values. In specific terms, in the same way as a vast existing literature on the country, he sees Brazil divided in two: the false and cosmopolitan country of the coast, copy of Europe, and the real country of the Sertão, where the germs of nationality would be found. In this sense, paradoxically, Brazil would have been more Brazilian during the colony, when it was practically forgotten by the Portuguese metropolis.

However, when discussing integralism, usually the main concern is to understand its relation to fascism [2]. The similarity and even the inspiration of the Brazilian green shirts in the Italian black shirts is evident. However, integralism is not a mere reproduction of fascism, reflecting the peculiar Brazilian conditions. Even so, integralism and fascism did not fail to reflect the broader intellectual and political climate of the interwar period.

But it might be especially interesting to explore what remains of the formulations of another yellow-green writer with less obvious links to fascism, Cassiano Ricardo. Unlike Pliny, the author of Martim Cerere does not break with the PRP after the Revolution of 1930 [3]. He supported the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932 and became chief of staff for the governor of São Paulo, Armando Salles de Oliveira. In support of his campaign for the 1938 presidential election, which ended up not taking place due to the 1937 coup, he created the Bandeira movement, which brought together, in addition to former members of the Verde-Amarelo movement, writers such as Monteiro Lobato and Mário de Andrade.

However, Cassiano, like Menotti del Picchia, approached Getúlio Vargas with the Estado Novo. He writes a book, March to the West (1940), evocation of the president's speech delivered at 00.00:31 on December 1937, XNUMX, in which he proclaimed the need to integrate the different Brazilian regions into a centralized economy.

March to the West It is a very suggestive document. Starting with the fact that it is, as the author insisted on making clear, a reworking of the epic poem Martim Cerere (1928), written when the green-yellow writer was still linked to the PRP. The two texts narrate how the miscegenation between the white and the Indian – with a more discreet participation of the black – would have created a giant: the bandeirante. He would be the main responsible for what Brazil is.

The evocation of the São Paulo hero is part of a literature created from the Historical and Geographical Institute of São Paulo (IHGSP), founded in 1894, and the PRP, in which the bandeirante becomes a true myth. In the 1920s, with the publication of wills and inventories of old people from São Paulo on the initiative of the then president of São Paulo, Washington Luís, this quasi-genre gained momentum in the works of authors such as Afonso d'Escragnolle Taunay, Alfredo Ellis Junior and José de Alcântara Machado, even Plínio Salgando writing, already in 1934, a novel, The voice of the West, About the subject. In summary, the Bandeirante myth is related to a certain project of São Paulo hegemony.

The particular achievement of Cassiano Ricardo and, in deeper terms, of Getúlio Vargas is to incorporate the bandeirante myth into the ideological project of the Estado Novo, converting former enemies into allies of the strong government. Significantly, the yellow-green writer became, in 1941, editor of the daily Tomorrow, official body of the Estado Novo.

According to the book March to the West, Of the three groups that would form Brazilian society – the feudal and immobile sugar mills, the communist and indigenous nomads and the democratic and mobile bandeirante – it would be the last one that could create a nation. In other words, the Brazilian nation is basically identified with its territory. The flag chief would behave ruthlessly towards those under his command, but in fact he would not be “just the boss: he is the protector”.

After the XNUMXth century, other “flags” would have continued to occupy the immense territory of the country, with emphasis on coffee, not by chance, called “green gold”. More recently, the flag would indicate the lines that the modern State and more specifically the Estado Novo would follow: “safe command and fraternal solidarity of obedient individuals to the firm unity of command”.

More directly, as is common in the 1930s, Cassiano Ricardo makes a point of qualifying democracy. He rejects political democracy, supposedly little suited to Brazil, in favor of an alleged ethnic democracy, favored by the bandeirantes and from which a social democracy would emerge.

Bolsonaro has probably never read Plínio Salgado or Cassiano Ricardo. There are, moreover, several contrasting points between current and former cultists of “Big Brazil”. Starting with the attitude towards liberalism, viewed with distrust by the green-yellows and elevated to the status of main ally of the current president.

True, the two liberalisms are not exactly the same; hostility in the 1920s and 1930s was directed mainly against political liberalism, current sympathy is directed especially in favor of economic liberalism. Also, the God that Plínio Salgado and Cassiano Ricardo evoked is not exactly the same as that of Bolsonaro. Especially because in the last eighty years Brazil has changed from being an almost exclusively Catholic country to becoming an increasingly evangelical country.

However, the image of the nation favored by the green-yellows and Bolsonaro is surprisingly similar: a big Brazil, in which there is no real space for its inhabitants, particularly the weakest ones. In it, the march towards supposed greatness should not take into account what lies ahead, be it nature or the men and women who would hinder its course. The privileged locus to overcome such obstacles would be the “border”, the Amazon, in particular, being seen as a region to be explored by the agribusiness.

That is, the lack of awareness of repeating past elaborations is an indication of how strong they have become, having even penetrated common sense. Even if the formulas vary – Cassiano Ricardo spoke of “small property and big family”, whereas nowadays it is said, “Agro is tech, agro is pop, agro is everything” – the basic idea remains. In a few words, as it was also used to say in other times: “nobody holds this country”.

*Bernardo Ricupero He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at USP.


[1] Good studies on the Verde-Yellow movement that do not pay attention only to its literary dimension are Mônica Velloso (1993), Maria José Campos (2007) and Lorena Zem El-Dine (2017).

[2] In the 1970s, not by chance during the last Brazilian dictatorship, several important works on integralism appeared. Hélgio Trindade (1974) highlighted its similarity with fascism, while José Chasin (1978) emphasized its Brazilian specificity, Gilberto Vasconcelos (1979) dealt mainly with its “autonomistic utopia”, Ricardo Benzaquén de Araújo (1978) dealt with the internal logic of his thought and Marilena Chauí (1978) investigated the characteristics of his ideology.

[3] On Cassiano Ricardo, see especially Luiza Franco Moreira (2001).

Bibliographic references

ARAÚJO, Ricardo Benzaquen de. “Plinio's classifications: an analysis of Plínio Salgado between 1932 and 1938”. Political Science Magazine, v. 21, no. 3, 1978.

CAMPOS, Maria Jose. 2007. Modernist versions of the myth of racial democracy in motion: a study on the trajectories and works of Menotti del Picchia and Cassiano Ricardo until 1945. Thesis presented to the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology at the University of São Paulo, 2007.

CHASIN, Jose. Plínio Salgado's integralism. São Paulo: Livraria Editora Ciências Humanas, 1978.

CHAUÍ, Marilena. “Notes for a critique of the Brazilian Integralist Action”. In: CHAUÍ, Marilena; FRANCO, Maria Sylvia Carvalho. Ideology and Popular Mobilization. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1978.

EL-DINE, Lorena R. Zem. The soul and form of Brazil: São Paulo modernism in Verde-Yellow. Thesis presented to the Graduate Program in History of Science and Health, 2017.

LAFETA, John. 1930: criticism and modernism. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000.

MOREIRA, Luiza Franco. Boys, poets & heroes: aspects of Cassiano Ricardo from modernism to the Estado Novo. São Paulo: EDUSP, 2001.

TRINDADE, Hélgio. Integralism: Brazilian fascism in the 1930s. São Paulo: DIFEL, 1974.

VASCONCELOS, Gilberto. Curupira ideology. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1979.

VELLOSO, Monica. “The Green-Yellow Brazilianness: nationalism and regionalism from São Paulo”. Historical Studies, v. 6, no. 11, 1993.

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