Fascism in Brazil and the emerging resistance

Fascism in Brazil and the emerging resistance

Demonstrators carry a banner that reads in Portuguese "Dictatorship never again," during a protest against Jair Bolsonaro, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

(AP/Andre Penner)

Brazil is experiencing its worst social, economic and political crisis in 30 years. And this may be just the beginning.

From the massive street protests in June 2013 to thecoup d’état orchestrated against President Dilma Roussef in August 2016 and the implementation of a socio-economic agenda characterised by authoritarianism and austerity, to the extremely violent presidential campaign of October 2018, the situation is a far cry from the prosperous early years of the 21st century. Even worse are the results of the presidential election, which have shocked even the most cynical among us.

On 28 October 2018, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party (PSL) was elected with 55.13 per cent of the vote, beating Worker’s Party candidate Fernando Haddad. Supported by a faction of the country’s traditional elites, including large-scale landowners, arms industry lobbies and powerful evangelical churches, Bolsonaro successfully deceived voters into believing that he was the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate, capable of solving the country’s problems of violence and corruption.

His victory has also brought to light the racist, sexist, homophobic and conservative tendencies of a significant portion of Brazilian society. Spurred by the visibility that feminist, black and LGBTI movements have achieved in recent years, this fringe sees in Bolsonaro the return to an authoritarian system composed solely of ‘good citizens’ maintaining the traditional social hierarchy.

Between the two rounds of the election, Brazil experienced a wave of hateful attacks directed at supporters of left-wing movements, gay people and journalists. More than a hundred incidents have been reported, including at least three homicides.

One of these was the murder of 63-year-old capoeira master Moa do Katendê, a militant anti-racist stabbed 12 times in the back by a supporter of Bolsonaro after revealing that he had voted for Haddad.

Bolsonaro and his party’s candidates have very clearly encouraged this hatred and violence. On 20 October, in a tirade against communists and leftists, the former army captain promised to rid Brazil of all radicals and activists: “We will ban these commie outlaws from our homeland. This will be a unprecedented cleansing in Brazil’s history.” Such speeches and provocations are a clear call on supporters to attack and even murder those who think differently than him: women and LGBTI activists, defenders of human rights, Afro-Brazilians and indigenous peoples, left-wing supporters and journalists.

An increase in political violence following the coup d’état

In a country marked by political violence since its inception, 2017 has seen an unprecedented return to the criminalisation of social movements and a sharp rise in the murder of human rights activists. According to the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders, 62 people working for human rights were murdered between January and September 2017.

The political elites in power since the 2016 coup d’état have shown themselves willing to resort to any measure in order to enact their agenda of uncompromising austerity. The Pau d’Arco massacre and the murder of Marielle Franco marked a particularly violent turn in the country. On 24 May 2017, in an operation against landless peasants occupying a farm in the state of Pará, 17 police officers entered the forest where the families were hiding and fired on them at close range, killing ten people.

The March 2018 murder of Marielle Franco, a black woman and left-wing member of the city council of Rio de Janeiro, following a campaign centred on defending the rights of black people, represented another turning point towards increasing brutality. It cleared the way for the current situation, in which any form of opposition can now be met with force and even murder that will go unpunished.

With Bolsonaro at the head of the Brazilian state, this hatred is likely to become institutionalised. Encouraged and legitimised by a president who doesn’t conceal his support for torture and summary execution, urban militias and those linked to large-scale landowners may decide to simply not wait for the state to take action. They may take Bolsonaro at his word and take it upon themselves to cleanse the country of those defined as “commies.”

An emerging resistance?

Despite the increasingly bleak political situation, activists, students, intellectuals and actors of civil society are organising to resist. Over the course of the campaign, social movements and left-wing parties pursued a strategy of actively denouncing the rise of fascism in Brazil. But their political action has largely been confined to criticising comments made by Bolsonaro, specifically their anti-democratic and violent nature.

While the Worker’s Party (PT) and the national trade union centre CUT Brazil attempted to fight against the fake news broadcast ad nauseam via social media, they were ill-prepared to cope with the mass wave of messages sent by robots and companies specialising in viral marketing, all funded by pro-Bolsonaro interests.

The traditional left failed to grasp and counter the disenchanted and vengeful nature of a segment of the electorate who were voting against the PT more than they were voting for Bolsonaro.

The PT’s strategy for the first round of the election – to present themselves as the victim of a large-scale plot by the elites – proved insufficient in convincing voters. Their strategy in the second round – a call for the urgent defence of a threatened democracy – came too late to stop a train that had already gone off the rails.

But beyond electoral strategies that were ill-prepared for the unprecedented nature of this election, new forms of resistance have emerged: academics have organised “open classes” and public debates beyond the walls of the universities, plays centred on national political life have been performed in public squares and anti-fascist rallies have been held in various cities, all signs of an awakening political consciousness. On election day, many voters went to the poll holding books by great Brazilian authors to show their commitment to education and culture.

But with all the forms of resistance seen in recent weeks, one in particular seems the most capable of confronting the fascist menace threatening Brazil: the active and ongoing resistance of women, particularly black women. Since 2013, various feminist collectives, the mothers of children killed by the police, and female college and university students have become fixtures on the Brazilian political scene and now constitute a broad front against fascism. These groups were responsible for the slogan “Not Him” under the hashtag #EleNão.

With massive rallies, meetings and self-defence workshops, these women have shown that the fight against the horrors of fascism will be to a large extent an intersectional feminist struggle.

By responding creatively to the urgent threat of a fascist, misogynistic and homophobic candidate ascending to the presidency, these women now constitute one of the most significant and valuable forces in the creation of a broad front capable of confronting the looming threat of fascism and providing a beacon of hope in a dark time that may be just beginning.

This story has been translated from French.