How do monsters live? A panorama of the far right

Historian analyses extremism in Latin America and Europe, and warns: the anti-fascist fight is an international fight

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
The defeat of far-right candidates such as Bolsonaro and Trump are uncapable to respond, alone, to the neofascism advancement in the world - Marcello Casal Jr/ Agência Brasil

When Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the 2022 Brazilian presidential elections, a kind of collective relief took not only Brazil, but also Latin America and even Europe. His predecessor had not only caused serious losses to the country – human and environmental ones – but had also drastically weakened the articulation of Latin American countries while frequently confronting European countries due to the criticism of the official policies of deforestation and illegal mining expansion. 

In the following months, the Electoral Justice condemned Jair Bolsonaro, who became ineligible, while the Federal Police and the National Congress Commission investigated his closest allies for the January 8 coup attempt. In addition to Donald Trump’s electoral defeat and his similar settling of accounts with US institutions, the neofascist wave that stormed the world seemed a short nightmare ready to end. Then, Argentina elected Javier Milei

It is symbolic that not only Jair Bolsonaro, but also Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán attended the Argentinian inauguration ceremony. The absence of any other G20 heads of state says a lot, too. Milei reminds us that the far-right threat is still alive, and part of this same far right forms what can be dubbed an “International of Evil”, an old dream and work of Trump’s former ideologist Steve Bannon

Panorama of Europe

Obviously, it is not a Latin American issue. In France, Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate from the National Rally party (Rassemblement National, in French), lost the presidential election to Emmanuel Macron. However, she got 42.4% of the votes, the best result for a far-right candidate in France since 1958.

The far-right party Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Itália, in Italian), or FdI, not only increased by six its support among voters, consequently getting most of the seats in the parliament, but also managed to elect Giorgia Meloni to the post of prime minister of the country. 

In Poland, the Confederation Liberty and Independence (Konfederacja Wolność i Niepodległość, in Polish) lost the government leadership. However, it kept the majority of seats in parliament. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, an anti-Islamic and anti-European Union politician, won the parliamentary election, winning 37 of the 150 seats in the parliament, not to mention that the possibility of Donald Trump returning to the White House is a real and probable threat.

How did we end up here?

In each episode seen in the above-mentioned countries, we asked ourselves: “How did we end up here?”, “How was it possible?" For me, there aren’t simple answers to any of these questions. On the contrary, we are dealing with a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that demands a deep analysis to comprehend its roots, operation and impacts.

In their many guises, there have been many labels to define these movements: conservative, populist, right-wing, etc. However, the term Neofascist seems appropriate when we consider that both their modern incarnations and the original movement have financial capital at their core, and a frustrated and angry middle class as their social base. But it can also infiltrate the popular sectors, thanks to the weaknesses of the left and people’s organizations.

Neoliberal offensive

As highlighted by Stefanie Ehmsen and Albert Scharenberg in a 2018 study for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the origin of the recent far-right advancements resulted from a neoliberal offensive that increased social inequality, worsened poverty due to austerity policies and changed the concept of “society” ideologically – in the best Thatcher fashion - therefore reducing it to a mere group of individuals.

Neoliberal policies have weakened the left because they have impoverished, fragmented and isolated its social basis – the workers. At the same time, they have promoted ultra-financialization, which has not only produced constant economic collapses, but also accelerated environmental destruction and expanded reductions in labor rights as a mechanism to compensate for the damage caused by their own irrationality.


To maintain a society 1% of super-rich, financial capital needs ever more repressive policies in order to sustain ever more austere policies. Therefore, neofascism is not a side-effect of neoliberalism but its next phase, something necessary to deepen and continue authoritarian policies in the economy or population’s rights.

There are other similarities between old and new fascism. Both advance by embracing the cult of action and refusing reason, which is elevated to health or climate denialism, meaning the refusal to think and reflect.

The fascist vocabulary is really poor. Their explanations for any situation are simple, precisely because they must omit, ignore and deny contradictions. For preventing these contradictions from producing a desegregating effect, it needs to build an identity that overcomes these contradictions. 

The "law-abiding citizen”

Obviously, the most common is national identity, which offers both the idea of being part of a “people” and having an enemy – anyone who does not come from this side of the border – immigrants or people from neighboring countries.

However, regarding Bolsonarism, the identity can also be the so-called “law-abiding citizen”, those who pay their taxes, but do not have good quality public services; those citizens who work while “parasites” receive governmental aid, people who have the right to defend their ideas and properties using guns if needed. 

Thus, the contemporary far right took from the original fascism the punitive and militaristic discourses – and it’s no wonder, in some cases, militias are formed around the far right; a social conservatism; anti-intellectualism, denialism and the fight against literate culture as elitist; anti-communism and anti-corruption.

See Donald Trump's recent speeches during the run-up to the elections, promising to punish all his enemies and "eradicate the communists, Marxists, fascists and thugs of the radical left who live like worms within the confines of our country, [people] who lie, steal and cheat in elections".

“Only the strongest survive”

The new characteristics the far right shows also deserve our attention. The old fascism, contemporary to the economic crises of the 20s and 30s, despised liberalism. The new fascism adores it.

Faced with the worsening political, economic and social crises of the last decade, the Neofascist refuses to realize that the origin of these crises lies in the parasitic and speculative logic of financial capital itself. On the contrary, its ideology believes that it is natural that “only the strongest survive".

Here, the image of the entrepreneur emerges, the self-made man, those who manage to survive alone or build their own wealth, a sophisticated propaganda to disguise workers without stable employment relationships, without rights and subjected to endless working hours.

Cultural industry

To do so, the cultural industry is fundamental. On the one hand, from Mad Max to The Walking Dead, Hollywood offers us apocalyptic dystopias on a daily basis, convincing us that it is more likely – and acceptable – that the world will end than the capitalist system. 

On the other hand, it elevates these young white heirs of the tech sector to the condition of deities. When the world’s two most important billionaires burn fossil fuel and millions of dollars to visit space for a couple of minutes while, on Earth, thousands were dying due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are led to believe that this is disruptive or bold, and not the complete disconnection with humanity that the 1% of super-rich people practice.

Big Techs

Indeed, there can be no neofascism without the hard work of big tech companies in censoring and directing content, modulating algorithms, and violating privacy and commercial laws. Silicon Valley provides both the ideological content and the structural apparatus needed for disseminating messages, building bubbles, surveilling and classifying "voters" and their behavior. 

Neofascists are not geniuses at empathy and propaganda. They are fueled by well-crafted strategies and thousands of data extracted from the constant use of social media platforms.

Religious fundamentalism

Finally, moral conservatism, part of the original fascism, is now enhanced with two dimensions. Firstly, religious fundamentalism. The Neoliberal offensive in Latin America has paved the way for the expansion of neo-Pentecostal churches. At the same time, more conservative sectors of the Catholic Church have thrived as an alternative to this "competition", as well as internally defeating progressive sectors of Liberation Theology, part of the protest movements of the 70s and 80s. 

Religious fundamentalism incorporates the entrepreneurial discourse, through Prosperity Theology, but also the punitive and pro-gun discourses, as a policy of alliance with these sectors. It coalesces its unity in the definition of the state as an enemy to be beaten, as well as for liberals and "anti-corruption", since the secularity of the state is considered an obstacle to their action.

Cultural war

The second dimension is the idea of “cultural war”, a term coined in the 1991 book “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America”, by James Davison Hunter. Hunter defends that topics such as abortion, gun possession, global warming, immigration, LGBT rights and the separation between the church and the state were transforming – and perverting – politics and the American countries.

The “cultural war” also plays a cohesion role in aggregating traditional conservative advocates and religious fundamentalists for obvious reasons, but also liberals, who reject the “costs” of minorities' access to the state. They claim that, when the rights of marginalized communities are guaranteed, there is a sabotage of meritocracy.

Recent research by American Compass about voters of the US Republican party revealed that traditional topics such as tax cuts, deregulation and free trade were supplanted by concerns about transgender activism (a concern of 69% of respondents), woke "corporations" (62%) - as defined by liberal and identity movements, illegal immigration (60%) and "racial" indoctrination (52%).

Acting as a network

This hegemony would not have been achieved in the United States or in other countries, were it not for the networking of various think tanks. In the Brazilian case, these private organizations, linked to the oil economy, have been financing the training of leaders and the construction of far-right movements and candidates since 2013, military institutes and a plethora of YouTubers and influencers on social media platforms

They are joined by local liberal institutes born in the 80s and whose greatest exponent is a video production company called Brasil Paralelo, dedicated to "rewriting" Brazil's history and advertising these versions on the internet. The production company is the country's largest advertiser on Meta.

Organized structures

It presents us with two conclusions. First, even presenting themselves as anti-system, almost spontaneous and born from people’s indignation, these far-right movements are actually well-organized and centralized structures with high financing.

The artisanal or simple aesthetics are part of the illusion that these are “spontaneous”, vast and largely participative movements. The "Hate Cabinet” actions, installed within the state apparatus during the Bolsonaro government, fed a gigantic group of websites, YouTube channels and message apps, besides giving cohesion to the discourse and unity to the actions. The structure for manufacturing fake news and sending messages was also called by him "his parallel intelligence".

The new right

Secondly, however much cohesion may emanate from the center of the Movement, we are not dealing with homogeneous and monolithic subjects. The American Compass survey divided the Republican voter into six distinct shades on a scale between the Old Right (more concerned with economic issues) and the New Right (focused on cultural issues), with a predominance of intermediate sectors, which bring together topics from both poles. In Brazil, researcher Isabel Kallil identified 16 classifications among Jair Bolsonaro's voters.

These data point to the fact that, in the face of diversity, it is possible to build tactics to detach and attract sectors currently being recruited by the extreme right to a progressive approach. But at the same time, they reveal the capacity of these movements to maintain the cohesion of a broad and heterogeneous field.


In the same way, the Neofascist movement feeds off the economic and ideological offensive together, but does not articulate itself cohesively in the international arena. In Latin America, US think tanks are more active. In recent years, the Spanish Vox party has started to seek alliances and support its Latin American counterparts. 

In Europe, former regional or neo-Nazi parties gained traction due to the wave, while in the East, the interests of economic groups and militias are invading the political arena. In addition, specific sectors of the far right have their own channels of articulation, such as the military, religious people and jurists.

Challenges the left face

If the ideological aspects have been given more prominence here than the electoral advances, that's because the former precedes the latter. And it is on this terrain that the left has been defeated before elections take place.

It is true that the neoliberal offensive has weakened left-wing organizations both materially (with the impoverishment and fragmentation of their social base) and ideologically. Having to deal with this scenario, many organizations have opted for defensive solutions, while others have moderated their discourses to the point where they have become so outdated that they no longer exist.

It is also true that, faced with the transformations in the world of work, many organizations were unable to prevent the dismantling of the previous structures of the welfare state – or of a minimal state presence, in the case of Latin American countries – but neither were they able to present collective programs and solutions that would protect or identify these new workers, who were abandoned to the fate of "entrepreneurship".

Many ignored the potential or threat of social media platforms and tried to occupy this space, always late or less efficient. Thus, many organizations abandoned the massive internal processes of popular education and political training and the challenge of projecting new leaders.

Facing the monsters 

First and foremost, the anti-fascist struggle must be an international struggle. Alliances between parties, trade unions, movements and all forms of organizations cannot be limited to their own borders. To stop the action of groups, we must also respond in groups. Our time has bequeathed us challenges that are not only structural, but also global ones. There are no individual solutions to the climate catastrophe, for instance, or to the migration tragedy. There are no national boundaries that are respected by the non-institutional apparatuses of fascism, such as big tech companies.

To confront the monsters of fascism, the left needs to find itself again. Faced with contemporary structural problems – the climate catastrophe, the migration catastrophe, and wars – the left must dare to propose equally structural solutions. Moderation and crisis management, as seen in Argentina, are insufficient to bring about real change.

Faced with dystopias, the left once again needs to offer a utopia that is powerfully more attractive than the charlatanism of the Mileis and Bolsonaros. We need to confront the resignation to the parallel universe of the 1% who are super-rich with the recovery of the ideals of equality, fraternity and solidarity.

We need this utopia to materialize in a political culture that expresses itself in art, militancy and the resumption of grassroots work and organization. To do so, we need to make the rooms comfortable to listen, get to know reality, reflect on it and propose changes.

Collective places

The fight against the far right does not take place "in the cold" and we can no longer believe that the frayed brakes of the institutions of Western democracy will be able to stop this march. This is a struggle, like cultural transformation, that can only take place "in the heat", in the heat of the streets and mass mobilizations.

That will only be possible if we build collective spaces between parties, unions and popular movements that are able to present a concrete program of structural transformations and reconnect with the crowds capable of producing mass struggles.


*Miguel Enrique Stedile holds a PhD and a Master's degree in History from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRG, in Portuguese). He coordinates the Josué de Castro Education Institute, in Rio Grande do Sul state, and is a member of Front - Institute of Contemporary Studies.
** This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily express the editorial line of  Brasil de Fato.

Edited by: Lucas Estanislau