about fascism

Pablo Picasso, Woman crying, 1937


When fascism advances part of us dies. Defeating him means surviving in physical, political, social and cultural existence.

“If history has a meaning, it is because it can serve as a lesson for the present” (Nicos Poulantzas, fascism and dictatorship).



In October 2022, the march on Rome will be 100 years old. Fascism once again threatens to deflect the course of history. In Brazil, the defeat of Jair Bolsonaro will not stop this process yet. It will be the first battle of a long war. Shows deeply rooted in part of society, 58 million votes in 2nd. turn and mobilized social force. Neither the crime against humanity perpetrated during the pandemic, which accounts for 11% of all deaths from covid in a country with 3% of the world's population, nor the open corruption, nor the psychopathic personality of Jair Bolsonaro, devoid of any trace of moral sense, mean that fascism will disappear.

It is a worldwide phenomenon. Trump, Orban, Meloni, Le Pen are solid social forces that, with the exception of the last one, are or have been in power. The bitch that is always in heat is a perfect metaphor for fascism in bourgeois society. The conditions that generate it stem from the structure of capitalism.

Not identifying the nature of the enemy is an advantage given to him. There is a bibliography of fascism that confuses concept with description. They say what fascism is like, not what fascism is. To say that water is colorless is part of knowledge, but it does not say what water is. In the same way, saying that fascism is intolerance, racism, dehumanization of part of society is correct as a description, but still does not say what it is. The Neapolitan philosopher Vico taught that only History can be a real science because, being a human creation, we are able to understand its meaning or purpose (we do not know the meaning of nature, or if there is one, because it is not our work). The concept of fascism requires investigating its historicity.

Umberto Eco spoke of an “eternal fascism”, found throughout history: cult of tradition in Hellenism, reaction to the French Revolution, rejection of modernity, irrationalism, fear of difference, racism, search for consensus, social resentment, nationalism, elitism, heroism, machismo, populism, lack of individual rights. It remains to be understood why all this amalgamated singularly and at the same time, from the first post-war period, as a tremendous social and political force.

Each of the phenomena Umberto Eco refers to requires historicity. Aggregating Hellenism and reaction to the French Revolution under one generic category adds nothing to knowledge of these facts and knowledge of Fascism. The persecution of Jews in the Inquisition was one thing, in Nazism another, the night of Saint Bartholomew one, the night of crystals another. Without historicity we have a confused hodgepodge of diverse phenomena.

In the conception of Robert Paxton (what is fascism?) Fascism stems from an overwhelming sense of crisis that cannot be resolved by traditional solutions; the primacy of the group, whose duties supersede any right; the conviction that the group is a victim, which justifies moral or legal anomie in relation to internal or external enemies; refusal of liberalism, fear of class conflict and foreign influence; the quest for community purity through violence; authority of male chiefs in which one of them is the supreme leader who leads the group to its historical destiny; the Darwinian right of the fittest.

There are several problems there, even if it is a good description of the phenomena that fascism makes emerge. “Group” is an abstraction. It has no meaning as a dialectical and sociological category. It is not about “fear” of the class struggle. On the contrary, fascism is an extreme manifestation of the class struggle. The “group”, which is easily and empirically verifiable, is located precisely in the petty bourgeoisie, old and new – the middle class.[I]

Freudian analyzes also make use of the expression “group”, a wild card for those who do not face the issue through a class bias. Tales Ab' Saber, in an article published on the website the earth is round, says: “Anyone who has read Freud thinking about groups knows how the leader, who is in the place of the “ideal of the self”, one of the dimensions of the “superego”, has the power of hypnotism over the massive group he dominates”. Tales Ab'Sáber claims that Freud is hated by conventional political scientists who disdain the psychic nature of fascism. In fact, good political scientists see the class dimension of fascism. Why does it originate in a certain section of bourgeois society? Any Freudian conception of fascism needs to face this question.[ii]

But in the field of dialectical materialism there were also serious difficulties. O Comintern Stalinism, after abandoning what was once called “the long night of social-fascism” (social-democracy insanely understood as an auxiliary line or left wing of fascism) maintained the concept of “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist and more imperialists of finance capital”, Stalin-Dimitrov formula approved in the 3rd. Congress, 1935. The power of finance capital captured the masses through demagoguery (Dimitrov). If that were all there would be no domination of a new type.

In Italian and German fascism one could see the hegemony of financial capital, but the concept of the International was atrociously simplistic. The power of the ruling classes is not something equivalent to the Platonic demiurge, capable of rigorously shaping experience, or that of a deus ex machina which arbitrarily resolves the plot. The concept of Comintern expressed a mechanical, economicist relationship, without any trace of dialectical analysis that could establish why bourgeois society generates fascism, why it emerges from its bowels like the Alien of the eighth passenger. It ignores the complex political and social process that is at its base and that cannot be resolved by the simple concept of demagoguery.



Only through categories of historical and dialectical materialism do we find answers to “what is fascism” that are not exhausted in the description of the phenomenon or in abstractions such as “group”. In bourgeois society, mass movements were those of the workers, those of the democratic petty bourgeoisie, those oppressed by capitalism: the spring of the peoples in 1848, the Paris Commune, the countless revolutionary or demanding movements of workers' organizations in the course of the XNUMXth century and XNUMXth century. Fascism is the opposite phenomenon: mass movement for the preservation of bourgeois society, with a nucleus in the middle class, ideologically directed towards the social, political, legal and physical exclusion of a certain portion of society.

It is a break with classical bourgeois ideology. I return to pre-capitalist and pre-enlightenment ideological forms, now at the service of preserving bourgeois society. At the 18 Brumaire of Louis Napoleon Marx describes the beginning of this process: “The bourgeoisie had the correct notion that all the weapons it had forged against feudalism were beginning to be turned against itself, that all the training resources it had produced were rebelling against its own identity. civilization, that all the gods it had created apostatized from it. It understood that all so-called civil liberties and all progressive bodies were attacking and threatening its class domination at the same time at the social bottom and at the political top, i.e., that they had become socialist.

Among others, weapons that the bourgeoisie had forged against feudalism were the flags of freedom and equality that, logically, are only conceived as totality, inclusion. Representative political forms, Parliament, public liberties. The roots of Bonapartism are in the “conflict between the political form and the social content of the domination of the bourgeoisie”, in the expression of Herbert Marcuse.[iii]

The serious economic and social crises resulting from the imperialist war led to a revolutionary wave: Bolshevik Russia, Hungary, Germany, Italy. The reaction to it, fascism, starts from the rupture with the classic bourgeois ideology at the point where the Bonapartism that Marx analyzed had left it and carries this rupture to the last consequences by a updating of pre-capitalist and pre-enlightenment ideological forms. The Bonapartist rupture that was basically political in form became also social and cultural.

John Cammett, who was the great promoter of Gramsci in the US, precisely synthesized the Marxist theories on fascism: (1) reactionary movement of the industrial bourgeoisie and landlords; (2) expression of 3th century imperialism; (4) essentially petty bourgeois movement in its origins; (20) irrational movement expressing a crisis of western civilization. He added that most Marxist analyzes rest on the first two, that there was good study of the third in the XNUMXs, and that the fourth is often characteristic of liberal scholarship, but "fascism is certainly all of these things."

If you exhaust the concept of fascism in mere class domination, you don't have anything new and you don't have a specific concept. It is always a middle-class movement in its origins that, reaching power or still as a movement, establishes a political link with the dominant classes or fraction thereof, without prejudice to some autonomy. When in power, it subordinates itself to the interests of the dominant classes or a fraction of them.

Do not inform the Enlarged Plenum of the Comintern, 1923, Clara Zetkin [iv] analyzes the outbreak of fascism in Italy as a new type of reaction, no longer the well-known repression against leftist organizations and workers. It was different, for example, from Horty's terror in Hungary, Zetkin said. In Hungary, revenge was carried out by a caste of feudal officials who executed 5 people. But fascism did not rest on a small caste: "it takes the form of a broad-based mass movement, composed not only of the petty bourgeoisie and small peasants, but also of unenlightened proletarian forces."

The war, continued Zetkin, had destroyed the capitalist economy, provoked the impoverishment of the proletariat, the proletarianization of the petty and medium bourgeois masses. Reformism or the lack of daring on the part of union leaders, the lack of proper leadership by leftist parties threw them into the arms of fascism. “By the thousands they joined fascism. It became an asylum for all the politically displaced, socially uprooted and disillusioned”. They adopted the idea of ​​a nation and a State that would be above the differences between parties and classes.

For the bourgeoisie, Zetkin asserted, it was about rebuilding the capitalist economy and maintaining its class domination, exploitation and oppression of workers. The state had lost financial capacity and moral authority. The bourgeoisie needed an extralegal and paramilitary instrument of force, which was offered by the heterogeneous agglomeration that constitutes the fascist mob. Fascism had two essential traits: a fraudulent revolutionary program, which connected itself in an extremely clever way with the moods, interests and needs of broad social strata, and violence and terror.

No artigo The Monkey People, January 1921, published in the New Order, Gramsci said that “fascism was the last representation offered by the urban petty bourgeoisie in the theater of national political life”.[v] The decomposition of the petty bourgeoisie had begun in the last decade of the XNUMXth century. With the development of large-scale industry and finance capital, it had become a pure political class specializing in parliamentary cretinism. He clung to Parliament, which became a nest of quackery and scandal, a means of parasitism.

The petty bourgeoisie, continued Gramsci, seeing itself far from recovering a productive function, tried in every way to preserve a position of historical initiative, imitating the workers when going out into the streets. It was a projection of Kipling's jungle, the ape people, who believed themselves superior to other jungle peoples, "possessing all the intelligence, all the historical intuition, all the revolutionary spirit, all the wisdom of government". He thought he had put an end to the class struggle, had taken the leadership of the workers and peasants, had replaced the idea of ​​socialism with a “strange and fantastic ideological mixture of nationalist imperialism, true revolutionism and national syndicalism”.

The action of the petty bourgeoisie officially converted into fascism with consequences for the stability of the State: corrupting and ruining parliament, the army, the police, the judiciary.[vi] Proprietors believed they could better defend themselves against the offensive of the revolutionary class “by abandoning their state institutions to the hysterical whims of the ape people, the petty bourgeoisie”.

In conclusion, Gramsci said that the petty bourgeoisie definitively showed its true nature as a slave to capitalism, large landed property and the counterrevolution. It had replaced the "authority" of law with private violence.

Nas Lessons on Fascism Palmiro Togliatti reproduces a statistic from the III Congress of the National Fascist Party (November 1921) that reveals the class composition of the members. It is visible that the qualifications do not exactly have methodological rigor (possibly declared by the affiliates themselves), but they are quite indicative. Among the 151 members were 14 merchants, 4 industrialists, 18 landowners, 21 students and teachers, 10 self-employed, 7 civil servants, 15 office workers, 25 laborers and sailors, 27 workers agricultural.

The denomination “agricultural worker”, the largest number, according to Togliatti, included the small and medium rural bourgeoisie, especially from Emilia “which in the first moment were its [fascism’s] main mass base” [vii]. Togliatti questions the number of 25 workers and sailors, but "certainly did not determine the character of the party". Even admitting this number as correct, it constituted 16,5% of the affiliates. It was a representative party of the big and small bourgeoisie – merchants, industrialists, landowners, students (who, of course, were not the children of workers), teachers, self-employed, civil servants, office workers. The petty bourgeoisie accounted for the mass character.

In a letter to a co-religionist, dated 1931, which asked him what fascism was, after all, and how to differentiate it from other repressive regimes under capitalism, Trotsky said that not all forms of counterrevolutionary dictatorships were fascist. O Comintern he considered the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930) in Spain fascist. Was not. The fascist movement in Italy had been a mass movement, plebeian in origin, under the direction and financed by big capitalists. It arose from the petty bourgeoisie and included proletarian masses as well.

Primo de Rivera, on the other hand, was a high-ranking military man and seized power with the help of military forces and the state apparatus. In Germany the movement was analogous to that of Italy, mass movement with the demagogic use of socialist ideas, necessary for the creation of a mass movement. The new middle class – state employees, private employees – could make up this mass base.

In an illuminating text by Ernest Mandel (The theory of fascism in Leon Trotsky) we have: “Such a mass movement can only be built on the basis of the petty bourgeoisie, the third social class of society, which, in capitalist society, is at the bottom of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. If this petty bourgeoisie is hit hard by the structural crisis of mature capitalism, so as to fall into despair (inflation, bankruptcy of small companies, massive unemployment of graduates, technicians and employees of the upper categories, etc.), it will emerge, at least in a part of this class, a typically petty-bourgeois movement, a mixture of ideological reminiscences and psychological rancor, which combines extreme nationalism and violent anti-capitalist demagoguery, at least in words, a profound hostility towards the organized labor movement ("neither Marxism, nor communism”). Since this movement, which was recruited essentially among the declassed elements of the petty bourgeoisie, resorted to physical violence against wage earners, and their actions and organizations, a fascist movement was born. After a phase of independent development, necessary to achieve mass influence and start mass actions, the financial and political support of important sectors of monopoly capital then becomes indispensable in order to achieve the seizure of power”.



Angelo Tasca, in Birth and advent of fascism, transcribes a letter written by a student to a left-wing newspaper in the midst of black biennium, the fascist terror of 1920 – 1921 that brought Mussolini to power. He was a typical member of squadra d'azione, fascist militia. It crudely exposes the barbarism driven by “prejudices, hatreds, interests, motives that arm the arms of the fascist leader when he is not simply a mercenary or bandit” (Tasca). What was – what is – fascist ideology is there in all its rawness. It shows a feeling of a pre-capitalist caste in the middle of capitalism that becomes hatred: “With us are the army officers who supply us with arms and ammunition. We are powerfully and intelligently organized. We have informants among our ranks and that is why we can better plan our actions without serious risks. We make the police disarm them before they come to you, not out of fear, because we are pitied, but because our blood is precious and cannot be spilled against the abject and vile mob. Italy cannot be Bolshevik. It is not an industrial country. Workers must conform to work in the field. We will put their organizations to exploit the hydraulic forces and the others we will send to the countryside to cultivate the marshy regions where malaria rages; and thus, while enriching the country, the rain will fall on its revolutionary boils. It is time to end this luxury of peasants who dress their daughters in silk, better dressed than the most illustrious ladies of the bourgeoisie. If there were a truly capable and faithful man among you, we would not take long to imprison him and (why not?) eliminate him, since the end justifies the means”.

The middle class is affected by the development of capitalism itself and its crises. The concentration of capital suffocates the former petty bourgeoisie. The new petty bourgeoisie is dependent on the big bourgeoisie, its wage earner or service provider, a condition that puts it in a situation of instability and insecurity. However, both are ideologically tied to bourgeois society, project themselves into the imagination of the big bourgeoisie, yearn to rise to it. Their feeling of superiority in relation to the workers is nourished by pre-capitalist ideological leftovers: the worker is inferior in the order of things.

Gravely affected by the social structure it wants to preserve, the middle class becomes entangled in a contradiction that can never be rationally resolved. This results in two vectors that drive its reactionary portion: anti-communism and the fixation on subjects of imputability that fulfill the ideological function of absolving capitalism, since overcoming it is absolutely outside its ideological horizon. Myths, superstitions, prejudices, irrational beliefs emerge as truths in this process.

They are scarecrows that protect capitalism: it is not capitalism, but the bad capitalists, among them the Jews, but also all Jews, particularly in Germany with a strong anti-Semitic tradition. The "unclean races". A pattern is forged, a social, ethnic, political “normal” and what is outside of it is disease or crime that account for social ills. It becomes the target of the hatred by which the middle class of low moral and cognitive extraction gives vent to its resentment. Enemies of “healthy and normal” society are dehumanized and thus can be excluded legally, politically and physically. Moral anomie is established.



In the first months of the Mussolini government the promise of legal protection for the 8-hour day was completely disfigured by hundreds of exceptions and extinguished for railway workers, postal, communications and transport workers. The promise of a minimum wage resulted in wage reductions of 20 to 30% on average, reaching 60% in some cases. Social protection policies for the elderly, infirm and sick abolished; budget cuts for employment agencies and support for the unemployed; public companies handed over to private administrators; the manufacture of matches, which was a state monopoly, passed to private investors, as well as postal deliveries, telephone industries, radio, telegraphs and railways; the tax reform that would be aimed at progressively taxing capital eliminated taxes on luxury goods, cars, carriages and an expansion of indirect taxes was planned; the requirement that securities bear the name of the holders was revoked, making life easier for tax evaders (data contained in the aforementioned report by Clara Zetkin in the Comintern.

Hitler became chancellor on January 30, 1933. Éric Vuillard described in the agenda the meeting of February 20, 1933, in a room in the Reichstag, between Goering, president of the Reichstag, Hitler and “twenty-four gentlemen”: “Goering then went around the table, with a word to each one, holding each hand with an indulgent appeal. But the President of the Reichstag didn't just come to welcome them, he growled a few words of welcome and then evoked the upcoming elections on March 5th. The twenty-four sphinxes listen attentively. The upcoming election campaign is decisive, declares the president of the Reichstag, it is necessary to put an end to the instability of the regime; economic activity requires calm and firmness. The twenty-four gentlemen religiously shake their heads (…) And, if the Nazi party gets a majority, adds Goering, these elections will be the last ones for the next ten years; and even – he adds with a laugh – for a hundred years. A movement of approval ran through the room.

Hitler enters the room and speaks for half an hour. “The core of the proposal boiled down to this: it was necessary to put an end to a weak regime, remove the communist threat, suppress unions and allow each boss to be a Führer in his company”. Hitler retires and the twenty-four lords make the money flow. “They are not called Schnitzler, nor Witzleben, nor Schhmitt, nor Finck, nor Rosterg, nor Heubel, as the birth certificate incites us to believe. They call themselves BASF, Bayer, Agfa, Opel, IG Farben, Siemens, Allianz, Telefunken. It is by these names that we know them.”

The first months of Mussolini's government and the scene described by Vuillard illustrate and synthesize the meaning of fascism: an ultra-reactionary movement, originating in the middle class, wins the State and offers it to the bourgeoisie according to a Bonapartist model taken to the last consequences.



To what extent is this situation reproduced in Brazil in the 12st century? On June 2013, XNUMX Arnaldo Jabor, who appeared daily on the National Journal In pamphleteering inserts ridiculing what did not seem right-wing enough, he dealt with the manifestations of the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL) then in progress: “in the end, everything is an immense political ignorance. It's stupidity mixed with an aimless grudge. They [the protesters] are the violent caricature of the caricature of a 1950s socialism that the old left still defends here”.

Jabor's speech was a harbinger of what would become the political climate in the following years. The opponent was not someone who had a different view of the world, who could be respected and with whom one could debate. Vulgar language made the opponent an underqualified and harmful being. From there onlookers could take a small step to turn him into an enemy to be destroyed. Insults abounded in a 1-minute comment: ignorant, dumb, violent, caricatured, spiteful.

Jabor's opinion in the June 17 edition of the National Journal however, it underwent a strange metamorphosis: “a youth that had been silent since 1992 woke up, opened (sic) their eyes and saw (sic) that we have democracy, but an inoperative republic. Young people woke up because no one can stand a republic paralyzed by partisan or private interests any longer. If all goes well, we are living a beautiful and new historical moment. Young people will have taught us a lesson”.

In five days, what was “immense political ignorance”, “dumbness”, became the prelude to a “beautiful and new” historical moment. Note the phrase “republic paralyzed by partisan interests”. A republic without parties? Vague, it provided a bias for those who did not appreciate liberal political forms.

Em Lulism in crisis André Singer tells of his perplexity when faced with the enigmatic cover of Veja after the tumultuous demonstrations of June 13. When commenting on the statement according to which on the “weekend of the 15th and 16th of June” there was “an ostensible change of approach in the media (both in the mass media and in social networks)”,[viii] Singer remembers that cover with the title “A revolt of young people” and the intriguing subtitle: “After the ticket prices, what about corruption and criminality?” The article was critical, characterizing the demonstrators as “upper-middle-class left-wing young people who had never ridden a bus”, but there was a strange contraband (considering the meaning of the text): it concluded that, despite everything, it was necessary to listen to them because “ the underlying reason was disbelief in representation, including parties and politicians”.[ix] As for the subtitle, “corruption and criminality”, there was nothing in the text. Singer concludes: “I was left (and still am when reviewing the edition, five years later) with the feeling that there was, on that cover, a password, more than a mere exposition”.

June 2013 was not an event. They were distinct manifestations of political and social forces that contingencies made occupy the same time and space. Something as if the Central do Brasil rally and the 1964 Marcha da Família had merged on the same day and in the same streets. The progressive movement led by MPL youth and a spontaneous and disorganized mass of the proto-fascist middle class whose presence was detected by sectors of the ruling classes, which began to nurture it. The metamorphosis in Jabor's comments and the "password" in Veja to which Singer alludes.

Datafolha research on the March 2016 demonstration in favor of the impeachment of Dilma Roussef, 500 thousand people on Avenida Paulista, found that 57% were men, average age 45,5 years, 77% had higher education, 82% belonged to the population economically active, 77% were white, 1 in 3 protesters earned more than 10 minimum wages. The Dilma government was bad or terrible for 98% and 79% had voted for Aécio Neves. 96% thought that the coercive conduct of Lula determined by Sergio Moro was correct. The class character was evident: male, white, with higher education and high income. Although whites made up 46% of the population, in the act they made up more than two-thirds of the demonstrators. As befits societies that have known slavery, ethnicity and social class keep correspondence. White bourgeoisie and middle class, predominantly black workers.

Since then, class hatred, hatred of workers, intolerance of difference, racism, machismo, sexism, the concept of an excluding nation by part of society, rejection of liberal political forms has been seen. Jair Bolsonaro's leadership organized these elements in the consciousness of the middle-class mass and its proto-fascism became full-blown fascism. The big bourgeoisie abandons its representatives and ideologues (The PSDB. See once again the 18th of brumaire, by Marx) and supports Bolsonaro's fascism in 2018. The classic formula of fascism: alliance between reactionary middle class and ruling classes. Part of the ruling classes today see Bolsonaro as dysfunctional. Portion persists in fascism.

When fascism advances part of us dies. Defeating him means surviving in physical, political, social and cultural existence. Therefore, what Lula's victory represents at this moment is a lot, but there will always be the eighth passenger in the entrails of bourgeois society. Gramsci said that history teaches but needs disciples. For the rest of our lives there will be the task of anti-fascism; but for there to never be fascism again, humanity must free itself from capitalism.

*Marcio Sotelo Felipe is a lawyer, former Attorney General of the State of São Paulo, postgraduate in Philosophy and General Theory of Law from the University of São Paulo.


[I] For the concepts of old and new petty bourgeoisie v. Poulantzas, Fascism and Dictatorship. The former is made up of small entrepreneurs, merchants or industrialists, family businesses or businesses that employ little labor. The new one is made up of wage earners in the process of production and circulation of capital, banks, insurance, publicity, civil servants. The distinction, as Poulantzas notes, had already been mentioned by Lenin.

[ii] Rubens Casara in Bolsonaro the myth and the symptom works with psychoanalytical categories but also focuses on the role of the middle class in important aspects for understanding fascism in Brazil at this time.

[iii] Preface to 18th of brumaire, edition of Boitempo Editorial.

[iv] Zetkin, Clara. How fascism is born and dies. São Paulo: Literary Autonomy, 2019

[v] Gramsci, Antonio. About fascism. Org. Enzo Santerelli. Mexico DF: Ediciones Era, 1979

[vi] The phrase is perfect for post-2013 Brazil.

[vii] Id.ib. irregular pagination

[viii] The phrases in quotation marks were taken by Singer in The fight against the rise, Elena Judensnauder et all. ID ib.

[ix] ID ib..

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