Questions about fascism, yesterday and today

Image: Thiago Kai


The themes of a cycle of debates, with the participation of foreign and Brazilian specialists

Discussions about fascism have gained new importance in recent years, both in debates in left-wing movements and organizations and in university circles. The reason is obvious to anyone who follows the scenario of the global and Brazilian crises. The rise of far-right groups and governments in countries with different political and economic conditions has led to the term fascism being widely used again.

However, despite the resumption of the term, many questions remain about its pertinence to understand and combat those groups and governments. Among these questions, it is possible to highlight the following: what are the similarities and differences between their current uses and the discussions that crossed the XNUMXth century, a period that witnessed the flourishing of movements and regimes more or less close to the Italian model, the origin of all of them ? Is this really an adequate term to understand what is happening? Would fascism be a movement and an ideology dated in time, that is, linked to the first half of the XNUMXth century? Or would we be facing renewed forms of its manifestations?

It is also possible to state with some degree of certainty that the term “fascism” is not consensual. If there is not much doubt in characterizing the movements and regimes led by Mussolini and Hitler with the expression, the same cannot be said about events in different places and periods. Can Franco's Spain between the 1930s and 1970s be considered an exemplary case of fascism as much as Japan in the 1930s? Would it be possible to characterize the military dictatorships in South America in the mid-twentieth century in the same way as the Greek regime at the same time?

In addition to these issues, much is discussed about neo-fascism, taking into account, above all, the similarities with the forms of mobilization of mostly petty-bourgeois groups and the current protests against corruption in PT governments and, more recently, the in favor of Jair Bolsonaro. Like their predecessors, Brazilian protesters aim for the political and physical elimination of their left-wing opponents. Despite this similarity, it is also possible to oppose the characterization of the most recent right-wing wave in Brazil as neo-fascist. After all, most of the supporters of the current president do not claim fascist heritage and do not use symbols like the fascia or swastikas. On the contrary, in revisionist statements that border on delirium, they claim that Nazism was leftist.

Still on the parallel between the historical situation of the first decades of the previous century and the current Brazilian political scenario, the meaning of the expression “fascism” is also disputed if we take into account an analysis of the form of government and the state, as well as its relationship with the way in which capital accumulation occurs in different historical periods. On the one hand, the German case was considered by many observers at the time as an example of active State intervention in the processes of accumulation and organization of the workforce in industrial plants, at the same time that the Nazi party was associated with large conglomerates. capitalists.

On the other hand, it is difficult to say that the Bolsonaro government values ​​an active intervention in the current economic crisis, given the fuel price policy that exclusively favors Petrobras shareholders and seeks to force its complete privatization. Of course, the horizon of accumulation has changed the attributions of the state, which now acts more strongly to ensure that the conditions of financialization can continue, at the same time reinforcing the precariousness of workers and their transformation into entrepreneurs of themselves. The link between the State and the Brazilian government and groups linked to banks and financial institutions does not fail to present a feature in common with the Nazi case. However, some see in national events a case of deepening authoritarian trends in Brazilian politics, or, in a different key, a simple regime of destruction of the institutional arrangements in Brazil established in the 1988 Constitution – which tried, with very timid steps, to build of a welfare state around here.

More recently, in recent years, the return of the expression “fascism” to the theoretical and political vocabulary has not been without controversy. Among the most significant is the opposition with another term dear to the contemporary debate, “populism”. More than a simple adjective that describes forms of political regime that are different from liberal representative democracies, the word populism seeks, for many, to capture the transformations of contemporary rights. Thus, “fascism” would be an adequate term to describe what happened between the first two world wars, but very inaccurate to understand a range of organizations and governments ranging from Donald Trump to Rodrigo Duterte, passing through names like Recep Erdogan and Viktor Orban.

Such would be the innovations represented by movements such as the Tea Party, the MBL and the movement 5 Stars that many authors prefer to use an even broader term than populism and fascism. It is common to find the expression “new rights” to emphasize ideas and practices that would not be found in the XNUMXth century. Following a trail opened by studies on (de)democratization processes, those governments and movements would also be described as “illiberal” – although this characterization misses the possible affinities between liberalisms and fascisms. At issue, therefore, are the very promises of liberal and representative democracy and its continued failures to do justice to a real process of democratizing the lives of the majority of people.

Undoubtedly, one of the areas for the dissemination of the “new rights” and neo-fascist movements is social networks. the disclosure of fake news and pages with conspiracy theories, which feed the paranoia and persecutory syndromes of many adherents of the extreme right, found not only a refuge on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp. These also fostered the very form of organization of intolerance groups that glorify violence and the use of firearms. However, we can say that the relationship between such groups and the contemporary means of communication and dissemination of information does not fail to present some similarities with the mobilization of radio and cinema operated by fascism. In particular, we can see how, in both historical moments, the content of the messages disseminated by authoritarian leaders present often crude distortions of reality, in addition to the clear mobilization of feelings of frustration and resentment with a social order marked by irrationality.

Contrary to what some leftist and anti-capitalist circles propagate, discussing fascism is indeed important. This is not a purely intellectual debate, as if knowing the traits of fascist movements and their relationship with capitalist society consisted only of a list of universal aspects to be applied to particular cases. The fight against groups and regimes that seek the extermination of fighters and organizations of workers and subordinates cannot be done without knowing the opponent. In particular, simple slogans against fascists and their alike do not lead to forms of organization of workers and subalterns that stand as an alternative to rebellion in favor of the bourgeois order. Anti-intellectualism is not just an alley for the radical transformation of our form of social organization. It is the very fertile soil in which fascism and its counterparts germinate and flourish.

*Vladimir Puzone he holds a PhD in sociology from USP. Author, among other books, of Perennial Capitalism: reflections on the stabilization of capitalism from the perspective of Lukács and Critical Theory (Avenue).


The debate cycle

The seminar, “Fascism: yesterday and today?”, intends to ask to what extent the category of “fascism” helps to understand the current moment. To advance the debate, four tables were organized that, throughout November, will bring together Brazilian and foreign guests.

The event has simultaneous translation and those who attend may request a certificate of participation as listeners. It is an initiative of the Center for Studies in Contemporary Culture (CEDEC), Center for Studies on Citizenship Rights (CENEDIC) – USP, Center for Marxist Studies (CEMARX) – UNICAMP and National Institute of Science and Technology for Studies on the United States (INCT – INEU) and is supported by the Graduate Program in Political Science (PPGCP) – USP and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES).

1st Table: 4/11 – Fascism: theory and history (
Dylan Riley (University of California – Berkeley); Gabriel Cohn (USP); mediation: Bernardo Ricupero (USP).

2a table: 18/11 (18h00) – The extreme right networks, the extreme right in the networks (
Letícia Cesarino (UFSC); Manuela Caiani (Superior Normal School – Florence); mediation: André Kaysel (UNICAMP).

3a table: 23/11 (18h00) – The name and the thing: fascism, populism, destruction? (
Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University – New York); Renato Lessa (PUC – RJ); mediation: Walquiria Leão Rego (UNICAMP)

4a table: 25/11 (18h00) – Can Bolsonarism be considered fascism? (
André Singer (USP); Armando Boito (UNICAMP); mediation: Paula Marcelino (USP).




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