Only a few decades removed from military dictatorship, Brazil is on the verge of becoming a fascist state once again. On October 7, Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain under the old US-backed military regime, won 47% of the vote in the presidential election’s first round. Bolsonaro’s triumph, which was almost enough to win him the presidency outright, was the result of a number of factors.
First, Brazilian democracy is on life support, and arguably nonexistent. Since the parliamentary putsch of 2016, which removed president Dilma Rousseff from office on a budget technicality, the Right has only escalated its multitiered attacks on democratic society. As in Venezuela, their inability to implement their Wall Street-approved policies through electoral means has led it to abandon even the pretense of democracy. Nostalgia for the “law and order” of the dictatorship are common, as are calls for military intervention. Long afflicted with pervasive racism, sexism, and class inequality, Brazilian society itself has lurched further into a fascist fervor, bolstered by dismal economic conditions. This madness is exemplified by the brazen assassinations of people like Marielle Franco, the army occupation of Rio, and the bloody attacks of Bolsonaro’s supporters on women, leftists, journalists, and black and LGBTQ+ people. Lynching is becoming the order of the day.
Long afflicted with pervasive racism, sexism, and class inequality, Brazilian society itself has lurched further into a fascist fervor, bolstered by dismal economic conditions.
Second, the Brazilian left is in a crisis of its own. The Brazilian situation has demonstrated the enduring truth of George Jackson’s observation that fascism “emerged out of weakness in the preexisting economic arrangement and in the old left.” The dominant party, the Worker’s Party (or PT), is hobbled by a lack of leadership, an exaggerated reputation for corruption, and its inability to break with the prevailing logic of Brazilian capital. Its most prominent figure, two-term president Lula, was convicted and imprisoned on a ridiculous and evidence-free charge, most likely in coordination with the US government, and prevented from running for president in direct defiance of international and Brazilian law. While Lula posed no revolutionary threat to Brazilian or international capitalism, he was insufficiently committed to the hard-right, neoliberal agenda that the Brazilian ruling class and its foreign allies desire, and far too popular among the masses. His designated replacement, Fernando Haddad, is ill-equipped to combat, let alone defeat, this fascist resurgence, and trailing in the polls. The PT still enjoys a notable mass base, but the tide is against them, and the PT seems unwilling to move beyond the confines of electoral politics.
Lastly, we have the foreign element. The rapid rise of Bolsonaro and his party to the cusp of power would not have been possible without the aid of the United States. Steve Bannon, who has become something of a global fascist whisperer since leaving the Trump administration, appears to be a key figure in Bolsonaro’s campaign, offering him advice on social media and data manipulation. His influence, and perhaps the influence of organizations like the CIA, has helped Bolsonaro rise from a minor candidate to one who commands a decisive majority. To the shock of no one who’s ever read the Wall Street Journal, the Wall Street Journal has given its blessing to Bolsonaro, continuing its longstanding tradition of backing dictators to keep the Third World rabble in check. Even the less brazen organs of the US ruling class, like the New York Times, have enabled Bolsonaro’s campaign by framing him as little more than a crude populist, instead of calling a fascist spade a spade.
So who is Jair Bolsonaro? In the laziest corners of the English language press, it’s become something of a cliché to refer to Bolsonaro as Brazil’s Trump, or if you want to jab that racist button until it breaks, the Trump of the Tropics. While there are affinities between Agent Orange and Bolsonaro, Bolsonaro is a far more dangerous individual. Trump’s fascistic tendencies are tempered by his staggering incompetence, his pathetic, pathological need for money, approval, and the trappings of power (not uncommon among the newer generations of the Amerikan bourgeoise), and the relative strength of what passes for democracy in Amerika. In the United States ruling class, and even within the Trump regime itself, there are profound divisions about the direction to take the empire and the capitalist order. They have not yet united around full-fledged fascism as an ideology or organizing principle at home, although they have no reservations about facilitating it abroad.
Jair Bolsonaro is a different creature, more like Sisi in Egypt or Duterte in the Philippines. He is committed to violence as his primary political tool, and no stranger to using it himself. He can be clownish, but above all else, he is a killer- a mass killer in waiting. He is rabidly misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-trans, and racist. As a former soldier himself, he enjoys the support of the military command, which still hungers for the years of open rule. Unlike the US military complex, they make no bones about maintaining political neutrality, and frequently threaten to intervene in congressional affairs and judicial rulings. His running mate, Hamilton Mourao, is a serving general, and another defender of torture and dictatorship, and other generals fill out his campaign team. His presumptive finance minister is a University of Chicago graduate who served under the Pinochet regime in Chile.
Unlike Trump, Bolsonaro is supported by a strong majority, or at least a plurality of the public, chiefly the wealthier, whiter, and more evangelical parts, but also among many self-defined black and brown voters. Like the typical fascist leader, his class base combines the most reactionary elements of the bourgeoise and the petty bourgeoise with the least advanced sectors of the working class. He was not the initial favorite of the Brazilian bourgeoise, but it didn’t take long for them to overcome their mild discomfort, and rally round a man who routinely threatens to obliterate the Left and anyone else that stands in the way of their profit and rule. In this, they mirror their counterparts and masters up north. Recently, a Brazilian newspaper found that a group of businessmen have been working with the Bolsonaro campaign to flood WhatsApp and Facebook with sophisticated fake news ads, using an illegal slush fund. If Bolsonaro is found guilty, he could be theoretically disqualified from the election. Given the rampant corruption of the legal system, and the pending deadline of the election, this outcome is unlikely.
Brazil and the rest of the world are in dire straits, but as the old saying goes, we must hope for the best and prepare for the worst. This goes double in an age of worsening environmental catastrophe and a new fascist international that moves from strength to strength. As revolutionaries, we must equip ourselves with all of the physical and intellectual tools available to us-both those developed by tried and true methods in the past, and those still in their infancy today. These are the tools of revolutionary socialism, aka communism. We must extend our hands to our comrades and would-be-comrades in other countries-not to give them meaningless platitudes about solidarity, and certainly not as saviors on white horses, but as material accomplices in the struggle. We have to reignite the spirit and practice of principled socialist internationalism.
This will not be easy, nor will it always be pleasant. The fascists and the far right are better organized, better funded, and more entrenched in power than the revolutionary left. Honestly, they’re running circles around us. We have to accept this fact before we proceed further. For those of us accustomed to running unchallenged in little cliques, we will have to fully root out the backwards, chauvinist tendencies that still hobble the white and male dominated Left in the United States. If you think you know Brazil better than Brazilians, you’re wrong. If you believe that your presumed mastery of Marx, Lenin, Mao, or whoever else enables you to dictate the terms of struggle against real, flesh and blood and steel fascists, especially to Afro-Brazilians, Indigenous Brazilians, LGBTQ+ and left-wing working-class Brazilians, who are already suffering the brunt of the right-wing assault, you’re dead wrong.
But it is necessary. A fascist Brazil is not merely a threat to millions of Brazilians or even all of Latin America, as bad as that is. Given Brazil’s economic and geopolitical influence, and the growing links between far-right regimes and organizations the world, it is a threat to all of us. A fascist regime in Brazil will act as a lodestone for the anti-democratic Right worldwide, and try its best to export fascism throughout Latin America. It will be a primary ally for US imperialism and foreign corporations of all stripes and a vicious opponent for revolutionary-progressive movements in the region, which have been weakened by the failures of the “Pink Tide” and the eternal interference of the United States and its allies. It will be a profound threat to the health and future of this planet, which can scarcely afford more enemies than it already has.
These are the stakes. To combat fascism and imperialism in Brazil, we must combat fascism and imperialism at home. We must make ourselves useful to the struggling people of Brazil, build and strengthen alliances with their most advanced and trustworthy organizations, and do what we can to curb this dark tide. That is the road ahead of us. Let’s get to it.