The theoretical models that classify neo-facism are many. This is a rough outline of 10 criteria used to comprehend “Bolsonarism’: (a) the social origins of its leaders; (b) the movement’s trajectory; (c) its social support base and the electoral dimensions of its audience; (d) what it stands for: its ideology; (e) its political project; (f) its position in regards to the political regime, or the relationship it has with government institutions, with Congress and the Armed Forces; (g) its relationship with the elite as well as the working class; (h) what type of party and movements are used as its instruments; (i) its international support and affiliations; (j) its sources of financing, or where its money comes from.
Taking these 10 criteria into account we are able to conclude:
1. Bolsonaro’s social background is the small plebeian bourgeoisie. The search for rapid social ascension via a career in the army was not uncommon for generations, especially among European descendants. It required an inferior performance at school than the medical, law or engineering careers at Public Universities (besides payment from the very start), but also offered stability, and wages that were comparatively higher than say, a P.E. teacher.
This class origin explains some of Bolsonaro’s obsessions: rancorous racism, paranoid misogyny, primitive homophobia, social resentment, fervent anti-communism, radical militarism, nostalgia for the countryside, messianic religious references, clamor for middle class American consumerism and aversion to intellectuals.
2. Bolsonaro’s trajectory over the last forty years, was one of an insubordinate and delirious army officer, then, a folkloric and marginalized corporate Congressman, belonging to the lowest echelons of “parliamentary clergy”. What has always made Bolsonarism stand out has been its unconditional defense of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), in particular, the terrorist methods used against a supposed socialist revolution.
Bolsonaro has always been mediocre, rash, out of place and silly. He has been present in politics for over 30 years, accruing 6 mandates as a Federal Congressman, thus, his current stance is no improvisation.
3. It is impossible to qualitatively understand his new role as president without analyzing the role of the Lava Jato Operation, and how the dominant class has appropriated the anti-corruption narrative.
Sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie have used this narrative in their efforts in the past, to overthrow Getúlio Vargas in 1954, to elect Jânio Quadros in 1960, to legitimize the military coup of 1964, to elect Fernando Collor in 1989, and in 2016 to enact Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment.
Bolsonaro left obscurity in the protests leading up to impeachment in 2015/16, when calls for the re-installment of the military dictatorship grew among thousands of the tens of millions that were out on the streets all over the country. Bolsonarism expresses the repudiation parts of the middle class have towards the social and democratic accomplishments of the 1988 Constitution.
4. Bolsonaro’s political project is a self created coup that would install a Napoleonic regime. Since March, when the impact of the pandemic began to be devastating, with a projected 100-200 thousand dead, this plan has been failing.
Though Bolsonaro has taken a step backwards, he has not been defeated. His strategy is the subversion of the hybrid semi presidential system that has been established over the last 35 years. Napoleonic, derived from Napoleon Bonaparte, signifies an authoritarian regime where the presidency elevates itself over all other institutions, like Congress and the Judiciary, gaining exceptional powers in the name of defending order and stability.
This is the importance of the slogan “Brazil above all”. Historically there have been different types of Napoleonic governments in poorer countries. Bolsonaro’s project, whose crutch is a mass counter-revolutionary movement, follows the authoritative plan, which depending on the socio-political nature of the class struggle, can acquire fascist formats.
5. Bolsonaro’s relationship with the armed forces and the police, and his constant clashes with Congress and the Supreme Court, confirm the Napoleonic tendencies. Bolsonaro isn’t some tropical Trump, merely an authoritative leader who can be easily neutralized by the ruling class.
Since taking over, he began amending the Constitution with things like social security reform, all with the Army’s backing. He takes a step forward, then one backwards, tests the waters, but never stops the offensive.
6. Bolsonaro has been cultivating a relationship with elite of the bourgeoisie with his nomination of Paulo Guedes as his finance super minister. This is an improvisation that is speeding up. The economic plan is ultra right wing, emphasizing indiscriminate privatizations, fiscal austerity and a direct assault on worker’s rights.
His strategy is to reposition Brazil on the world markets, siding with the USA against China. He is counting on American investments in Brazil in order to end stagnation.
7. This strategy is coherent with the plans of the most powerful within the bourgeoisie, but it cannot be implemented without social conflict seeing as to this day, there has been no historic defeat of the Brazilian working class.
Since 2015/16 – the process that started as an institutional coup that toppled the Dilma Rousseff government – is not an historic defeat. What we are going through is an unfavorable inversion of the social relation among forces: a political defeat that opened the door to a reactionary situation. However, we are not facing a counter revolution.
8. Bolsonaro does not lean on a combative fascist party. During the electoral process he used a rental political party which he later discarded. This organic deficiency was compensated by the radicalization into fascism of a mass political movement, which has its biggest following online. He may be able to construct a political party using his control over the State.
9. Underestimating Bolsonaro, or the ability of his movement to further articulate on the international stage would be a grave mistake. There is a far-right 'International' being built across the world, though still in embryonic form, it nevertheless has robust financial aid from large economic groups, who are responding to the United States’ project of fractured capitalism, intended to resist China’s quasi imperialist ascension.
10. The financial backing behind Bolsonaro’s electoral campaign, remains essentially unknown. However, the power of his presence on social media suggests that large business conglomerates are seriously involved.
Edited by: Leandro Melito