Brazil: tragedy, farce and fascism

It seems incredible but Brazil is becoming a hotbed of fascism, something we thought was more of a European phenomenon. Michel Gherman, a member of the Far Right Observatory, a collaboration between academics from more than 10 Brazilian universities and from other countries, says that Bolsonaro’s election has created a “Disneyland of neo-Nazism in Brazil”, because those who defend him “begin to feel more at ease”.  It is true. After the end of the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s, the extreme right was ashamed of itself or remained silent. Now its demons are loose, attacking democracy, killing democrats, because it feels protected by the individual in the presidency and the police around him.

To understand some of the reasons for Brazil reaching this state of affairs, it is well worth reading the book Passengers of the Storm: Fascists and Denialists in the Present Time, by professors Francisco Carlos Teixeira da Silva and Karl Schuster Sousa Leão. Published by Cepe, the second largest publishing house in Brazil, we can learn about the history of fascism in Italy, Germany and Japan, which did not remain in the past, because fascisms (that’s right in the plural) work until today on the great masses with irrationality, lies, the implausible and fear, according to the authors. During the research in the book we come to the Brazil of 2022:

“The current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, corroborates the authorisation of the indiscriminate use of violence by constructing and using social devices as a tool and policy. When he uses social media to state that ‘reporters should really be beaten’, being replicated by his supporters, seconds later, with the statements ‘journalists should be beaten’ and ‘journalists deserve to be beaten, YES’, he instrumentalises politics through a personal, authoritarian, and charismatic abuse of power that aestheticises sociability with the normalisation of the use of force.”

As early as the election campaign of 2018, Bolsonaro declared, “Let’s shoot the petralhada”, petralhada being a reference to left-wing supporters.

And then came the assassinations.

On Sunday, 18 October 2018 in Salvador, capoeira master Moa do Katendê was killed with 12 stab wounds in the back after defending voting for the Workers’ Party (PT) and declaring himself opposed to Bolsonaro.

In 2019, 61-year-old Antônio Carlos Rodrigues Furtado died of cardiac arrest in Balneário Camboriú, Santa Catarina after being kicked and punched by Bolsonarist Fábio Leandro Schwindlein.

In July 2022, Marcelo Aloizio de Arruda, 50, was shot to death at his birthday party by federal criminal police officer Jorge Guaranho. A Bolsonarist, the killer invaded Marcelo’s private party – which had the PT as its theme and images of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – shouting “here is Bolsonaro”, shooting the host three times.

In early September, according to the Civil Police of Mato Grosso, Benedito dos Santos, a Lula voter, was killed by an attacker wielding an axe.

Before this wave of political crimes committed by Bolsonarists, Brazilian fascism presented both the stimulus and the approval for aggression against democracy. The book Passengers of the Storm says that in 2020 “35 per cent of officers and 41 per cent of military police soldiers throughout Brazil interact on social networks supporting President Jair Bolsonaro”. The authors go on to say, “Their positions in favour of the president, who for at least two years has openly discoursed against several governors, with the Northeast as a focus, make the issue even more politicised and instrumentalised.”

Karl Marx, in writing about the French coup of 1851, noted: “Hegel observes in one of his works that all the facts and characters of great importance in the history of the world occur, as it were, twice. But he forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

For Brazilians, we are now in the second phase of the tragic dictatorship that began in 1964. This is presented in two ways: the tragic destruction of lives by Covid, for which the president said he was not a mortician, and by the destruction of the Amazon.

In 2022, there is talk that garimpo (artisanal mining for precious commodities that is common in the Amazon and often illegal) has “lost its shame”. Under Bolsonaro’s barbarism, openly favourable to the interests of this illegal activity in the forest, the defenders of garimpo are circulating in the corridors of power in the Amazon’s capitals and in Brasilia, and intend to fly even higher: to occupy elective positions in the Legislative Assemblies and in the National Congress, in addition to the governors’ palaces.

Bolsonaro’s attacks on Brazil’s education system, the persecution of artists and the press are tragic but are farcical at the same time. Bolsonaro is ridiculed for being imbrochable, a man who never loses sexual potency, yet he revels in it and this shows in his shouting and speaking. We have reached the point where the animals speak. This is tragedy and farce in unity, the lowest and grossest comedy.

Bolsonaro, in one of his latest farces, has turned historian. He said, “I want to say that Brazilians have gone through difficult times, history shows us. 22, 65, 64, 16, 18, and now 22. History can repeat itself. Good has always won over evil”.

What are these dates he is referring to? It cannot be Modern Art Week because he doesn’t even know what that is. But how has good always triumphed over evil? With murder, torture and cold executions in the dictatorship? With wars and holocausts? Or with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or with the recent killings of Bruno and Dom in the Amazon? Or does good overcome evil when the forest is devastated? We understand the new language, an absolute inversion of values: good is evil, and evil must be the hope and struggle of the resistance.

For now, we can hope that this barbaric farce can be overcome. We, united, have the streetcar, the ship, the ship of future democracy, whose name is Lula, hopefully winner of the election’s first round. If it is not Lula, then we will sink in the darkness of Brazilian-style fascism.