Faced with the insurrection of the Black people in the USA, Trump immediately tried to find someone to blame and criminalize. The target chosen by the reactionary president are organizations calling themselves antifascist. In Brazil, the call for rallies against Bolsonaro by part of antifascist groups of the soccer fans, echoing the struggle in the US, have popularized the debate about fascism and antifascism. Even many social movements have adopted the antifascist symbols.

By Júlio Anselmo and Mandi Coelho

Whenever it appears, the struggle against fascism is essential. Fascism is certainly the worst enemy of workers, and it is important that workers be aware of who are and how their enemies work, to better fight against them. The social and political polarization in the world has of late grown deeper, due to the calamitous situation of global capitalism, which has grown worse with the pandemic, showing once again the cruel face of this exploiting, oppressive system. This also unveils and deepens the political struggles between the fractions of the social classes, between those who defends the interests of capital and of the workers.

What is fascism?

Fascism is a mass movement of sectors of the petty-bourgeoisie and unclassed sectors. It is the counterrevolution par excellence, which uses methods of civil war against the proletariat in order to impose a ferocious dictatorship to destroy the democratic freedoms and the workers’ organizations in the name of profit for the bourgeoisie. As Trotsky defined, “fascism is the most abominable and savage form of imperialism”.

There are many forms of bourgeois political domination. Bourgeois democracy is just one of them, as is military dictatorship, Bonapartism, and even absolutist monarchies. But whatever form its domination takes, its class character remains bourgeois and in service of capitalism. The form used in each timespan is always a consequence of class struggle, including the struggle between the fractions of the bourgeoisie, and the dynamic of capitalism itself, that, in order to save its profits, uses ever more violent ways of imposing its domination.

The proof that bourgeois democracy is always violent to some degree is that bourgeois democracy itself constantly represses workers, for example. It does this on a level and a degree quite different from that of a dictatorship or a fascist regime, but it does. Neither is the difference between these two regimes solely the level of repression. Evidently, this is part of our analysis; however, what differentiates one regime from another is the institution that sustains it and the process of class struggle amidst which it is.

In this sense, while all of them repress, a bourgeois democracy is quite different from a military or fascist dictatorship. It is different because the conditions we have to fight against capitalism and the bourgeoisie, in a closed regime, are the worst possible. That is why the struggle for democratic freedoms and against the installation of dictatorships, be they military or fascist, is so important: the point is how the proletariat will be able to fight. We could debate that it is also true that there is a process of diminishing democratic freedoms within bourgeois democracy itself, but that is a subject that we will not discuss here.

Them, is every bourgeois dictatorship or reaction a fascist one?

Trotsky gives us a good explanation about this, explaining what fascism is by examining the processes that led to the ascension of Mussolini in Italy in the ‘20s and Hitler’s Nazi government in ‘30s in Germany:

“At the moment that the “normal” police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium — the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat — all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy. From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years. And the fascist agency, by utilizing the petty bourgeoisie as a battering ram, by overwhelming all obstacles in its path, does a thorough job. After fascism is victorious, finance capital directly and immediately gathers into its hands, as in a vise of steel, all the organs and institutions of sovereignty, the executive administrative, and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions, and the co-operatives. When a state turns fascist, it does not mean only that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance the patterns set by Mussolini — the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role — but it means first of all for the most part that the workers’ organizations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism…”. (What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat. 1932)

Trotsky fights against those in the workers’ movement who said every form of bourgeois reaction, or every reactionary regime, was fascist. Stalinists, reformists, and a series of groups called any government or regime fascist without any criterion. This had serious consequences for the struggle against fascism. For example, in Germany Stalinists said social-democracy was actually “social-fascism”, that Brunning-Schleicher’s Bonapartist dictatorship was already fascist, disarming the fight against Hitler. There are countless other examples.

Thus, Trotsky distinguished between military dictatorships, Bonapartism, and other forms of bourgeois reaction from fascism, and the difference was essentially because fascism is a mass movement that openly uses methods of civil war. For example, on reaching power, fascism becomes a sort of Bonapartism. Or the relation between fascism and militarism, etc. However, while all these elements are related, it is important to know the difference, because it helps on the time we fight each of these enemies of the working class.

Ultra-right and fascism today

A growth of the ultra-right in a series of countries is part of our reality, especially on the electoral terrain, with important victories such as Trump in the USA, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Órban in Hungary and others. It is important to note that they are not a homogeneous political current, and these governments have many differences between them, but they are part of the same phenomenon, and there is an attempt to unify them internationally on the part of Steve Bannon and others.

Along with this phenomenon, and with it as its base, there is also a growth of openly fascist or proto-fascist groups in many parts of the world. They are usually quite tiny and without mass expression, except perhaps in Greece, where the Golden Dawn fascists had some weight in the last years, though they have suffered a humiliating defeat recently, shrinking a lot and opening space to other fascist groups.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro stands for a project of military dictatorship. This is the government with the most military members since the 1964 dictatorship. Members of the government, Bolsonaro himself and his sons unceasingly warn with the possibility of a “self-coup”, and lately there has been an authoritarian escalation by the government. This sector tries to organize a political group around the Alliance party, which the president launched. Bolsonaro is today a threat to the democratic freedoms, a reactionary government, and a dictatorship apologist, but does not have the features of fascism.

Are there proto-fascist groups in Brazil amidst the “Bolsonarists”? Of course, and the 300 of Brasilia might be their biggest expression; there are likely others underground. Nevertheless, they are tiny groups that try to grow with the government. Bolsonaro’s goal is a dictatorship supported by the Armed Forces.

Amidst Bolsonaro’s supporters, such as his voters, there is a little bit of everything. There are those who defend a military dictatorship, there are liberaloid sectors and fascist sectors as well. However, not all of his voters, nor his supports, stand for fascism and even those who want a dictatorship are only a small fraction, although they make a lot of noise.

Could this reality change? That is, can a fascist wing of Bolsonaro’s government become a mass movement? Alternatively, can Bolsonaro himself build a fascist movement in Brazil? No one knows. The class struggle will answer. Nevertheless, we must pay attention, defend the democratic freedoms, fight against fascist sprouts, and fight especially the Bolsonaro government and his project of a military dictatorship.

The combat against fascism and the Bolsonaro government

On the fascist Italy and Germany of the ‘30s, the workers’ movement used the tactics of the United Workers’ Front to fight against fascism. That is, mass movements, self-defense of the workers’ organizations, strikes, uniting all worker organizations for a single goal: defeating fascism.

There is no other combat method other than class struggle. Individual actions, isolated acts of heroism, vanguardism or ultra-leftism, do not help and cannot save the working class and the youth from their enemies. On the contrary, they help the reaction. Only with the struggle of millions was it ever possible to defeat fascism. Not fighting in order not to provoke the enemy is also useless. Our only way out is through strife

In Brazil, though there are no significant fascist groups, we must use this tactic against the Bolsonaro government and his plans for a military dictatorship. It is by bringing the government down, stopping any attack on the democratic freedoms, winning millions of workers over for our understanding of what this government is, and beating any coup attempt by Bolsonaro or the military, that we destroy these proto-fascist groups that we are seeing.

The limits of antifascism

Antifascism is a meaningless concept. It is a lot of things and nothing at the same time. For example, what is the strategy of antifascism? Bourgeois democracy, Bonapartism, workers’ democracy, socialism? It is impossible to know. There is no class or political strategy limit. Moreover, this is a problem, because antifascism ends up being used by bourgeois or reformist sectors to lock workers’ struggle in place and give it over to capitalist order.

If we know that fascism is the cruelest face of capitalist domination, and that, faced with the political and economic crisis, the bourgeoisie needs to use dictatorships, be they military or fascist, the only way of defeating bourgeois reaction and counterrevolution while at the same time stopping fascism from appearing is defeating capitalism. The only coherent path for the antifascist struggle is for it to fight against capitalism, for socialism.

In this sense, many so-called “leftwing” reformist organizations use the ‘antifascist’ term nefariously to defend spurious alliances with parts of the bourgeoisie to create electoral coalitions and governments, as if this helps the workers’ cause or hurts our enemies. On the contrary, it is the discredit and betrayal of so-called proletarian organizations, such as the PT, which ruled the country with the same measures as traditional right-wing parties, which helped Bolsonaro win over part of the disillusioned population. There is no solution within capitalism. Bolsonaro and his dictatorial plan is one of its facets, and the PT is the democratic, yet capitalist facet, which is also for the exploitation of the working class. We must unite all in this struggle in the streets, including the PT and all those who want to bring Bolsonaro down; but this united struggle must help us build a revolutionary socialist alternative.

[translated by Miki Sayoko]