The decisive electoral victory of far-right Brazilian presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro startled politicians and analysts of the traditional parties of the left and right. The possible implications for the present and near future raises a number of fundamental questions whether it represents a ‘model’ for other countries or is the result of the specific circumstances of Brazil.
We shall proceed by outlining the socio-economic events and policies of Brazil which led up to rise of the highly authoritarian, neo-liberal Bolsonaro regime. We will then discuss if similar circumstances are emerging elsewhere and whether antiauthoritarian popular-democratic politics challenge the threat. We will conclude by evaluating the future of far-right regimes and their enemies.
Brazil :Two Decades of Military Rule and the Legacy of Impunity
Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship between April 1964 and March 15, 1985. Though the military formally withdrew from the regime it retained many powers and prerogatives, including impunity for the thousands of cases of arbitrary violations of human rights including torture and assassinations.
However, during the height of the so-called ‘economic miracle’ during the 1970’s, sectors of the middle class supported the rule by the triple alliance of private business, state enterprise elites and the military. Only when the regime faced a major crisis in the early 1980’s did the military give way to electoral politics. The authoritarian legacy remained embedded in the political culture of the military and its followers. With the deepening economic crises of neo-liberalism, the corruption of civic culture and the increase of crime during the second decade of the 21st century, a militarized political movement headed by Jair Bolsonaro came to the fore.
The Social Bases of the Authoritarian regime
Most commentators have emphasized the amorphous mass of voters’ discontent with political corruption as the basis for the rise of the right. Moralism and insecurity with street crime were cited as the driving force of rightwing extremism.
Yet powerful economic power elites played a decisive role in propelling Bolsonaro to power. While masses were in the street, the Brazilian National Agricultural Confederation, the Federation of Banks and other prominent elite associations provided the funds, the legitimacy and legislative muscle. Over 40% of the Senate and Congress was controlled by the ‘ruralist bloc’, which came out in favor of Bolsonaro. Many of the voters who previously supported ex-President Cardoso’s center-right candidate Geraldo Alickman defected to the authoritarian right reducing his estimated vote by half.
The judiciary, under the influence of the agro-business and banking elite exploited political corruption to discredit and prosecute the center-left and the traditional political parties, leading to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the arrest and prosecution of the leading left candidate Lula Da Silva.
From Authoritarianism to Fascism
Bolsonaro’s appeal to the elite is grounded in his program of savaging the working class: he promises to freeze public salaries for twenty years; lower pensions and increase retirement age up to twenty years; increase the role of the military and police in repressing strikes and land reform movements; end all restraints on pillaging the Amazon forest; lower taxes for the rich, deregulate the private economy and privatize the public sector.
In effect the Bolsonaro’s policies follow the script of a corporatist – neoliberal state: fascism with ‘free markets’. The pro-military policies are code words for mass repression; his pro-business strategy is disguised by an embrace of ‘family values’ and virulent hostility to working women, Afro-Brazilians, gays and indigenous people. His crusade against crime excludes bankers, landowners and industrialists who bribed politicians and congress- people – only the latter were prosecuted.
The Future of Neo-Liberal Fascism; Wave of the Future?
Will Bolsonaro’s version of neo-liberal fascism set the mark for other Latin American countries? Will his regime intervene and overthrow progressive countries? Will his victory in Brazil spur similar developments throughout the world?