No caricatures: the new far right party in Brazil

Miguel Borba de Sá looks at the prospects for far right politics in Brazil. Miguel is an International Relations lecturer and radical socialist militant from the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) based in Rio de Janeiro. He is a member of the Institute for Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone and the Jubilee South Americas network.

Protestors at the residence of Jair Bolsonaro. Image: Mídia NINJA

“The final result of the political crisis in Brazil is impossible to predict”. This platitude has been repeated by voices from both the right and the left of the political spectrum with equal frequency, showing how easy it is to avoid the task of critical analysis and formulation of tactics to intervene in reality through truisms like these. After all, all ‘political crises’ are, by definition, unpredictable in their results. On the other hand, to those who wish to transform the world, and are not satisfied with just explaining it a posteriori, it is mandatory to face the analytical challenge with courage, attempting to anticipate tendencies and scenarios, so the analysis can be useful to the social forces to which one is attached. Even under the risk of errors, which are most damaging to the struggles than to the author’s reputation, it is necessary to accept such responsibility in order to avoid turning the critical activity into mere abstract allegoric debates.

In Brazil’s case one such tendency or scenario that can be anticipated is the creation of a new right-wing party in the country. Not one more party within the already packed gallery of right-wing parties registered at the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE)[1], but a new party in the sense of representing something truly innovative: a radical right-wing party, modern, with intelligent leaders and public figures, not far-right caricatures, people more sophisticated and sanitised than, for instance, Dr. Enéas or Jair Bolsonaro. However, with the capacity to mobilise the same public that today has allowed itself to be captivated by the misogynist, racist, homophobic, elitist and anti-leftist clamour in vogue on the streets and social media.

An extreme-right which will be more ‘respectable’, or one which pretends to be, in such a way that an elector of Bolsonaro can think: these people don’t curse so much, but deep down inside they believe in the same things I do. To this party it will suffice to defend consistently the political values of the right, elaborating a reasonably coherent worldview around neoconservative feelings. Something similar to what is being represented by the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the National Front (FN) in France, or the United Kingdom Independent Party (Ukip) for their respective countries. In this sense, something that can no longer be denied is that there exists for such new political forces a previously formed audience which is quite receptive to those values in Brazil. And in moments of ‘crisis’, the lack of discourses and consistent organisation on the left tend to push more people to channel their discontent onto the very targets and scapegoats appointed by the neoconservatives’ hegemonic apparatuses. Bolsonaro is not solely responsible for inventing the extreme-right discourse in the country, nor could he have the power to make his hate speeches and attitudes disseminate so fast if there was not a series of ultra-conservative elements, in preeminent positions, already present within Brazilians common-sense.

There is a dangerous inversion of causality when we give all the credit (or blame) for the successes of the so-called new right to this former army captain. Perhaps he is also a product of the recent ascension of an alternative right (‘alt-right’) onto the mainstream of Brazilian political life. Hence, one can consider the hypothesis that Bolsonaro has so far acted more as a curbing element than as a driving force towards the consolidation of a strong extreme-right movement in the country, one that can become institutionalised in the form of a party and try to normalise itself within Brazil’s electoral menu. His clear intellectual limitations disqualify him for such a task. Being vulgar is not the same as being charismatic, at least not enough for reaching this position, which will demand, apart from charisma, also a degree of elegance and refinement in his political conduct. This future leadership needs to be someone who will try not only to captivate the proto-fascists, but also the anti-corruption, white, middle-class protesters. Such a figure can never emerge as a self-declared corrupt like Bolsonaro, Maluf or Temer. I see these characters as forming the pre-history of the new Brazilian extreme-right. If this prognosis is confirmed, then the face of a qualitatively superior right-wing power is still in emergence, even if advancing through fast and large steps.

The current problem, therefore, is not one of trying to guess which individual the right will promote for the upcoming political cycle. It equally matters little if the individual that the right will offer comes from within the establishment or is perceived to be an outsider. The important thing is the role, the program, and the function this new party will carry on: the offering of a moral and intellectual leadership to a growing public, consolidating the general rightward shift within Brazilian politics; and, in case of extreme crisis, present itself as an alternative for state power in order to run the “permanent and preventive counter-revolution” alluded by Florestan Fernandes, Ruy Mauro Marini and other authors, more cited than actually read.

Capital accumulation in Brazil can exist and prosper within different ideological and political arrangements. Nothing precludes a shift towards greater authoritarianism, police-surveillance, judiciary-based rule among others statist arrangements that conduct all of us into a permanent state of exception, as has always been the norm in the favelas. Those practices now run the risk of being ‘democratised’ to other actors and spaces of social life. But persecution will remain having, as always, home-address, skin colour, gender and political orientation: the novelty is that the black youth from shanty towns, women, LGBT groups, indigenous and maroon communities, will be joined by the leftist militancy, whether belonging to parties or social movements – or even teachers and moderate NGO staff – as targets. This is already registered in episodes that run the scale from daily bullying and intimidation all the way to extra-judicial killings and massacres, either by police or para-military forces – all normalised if not covered up by the mainstream press. New objects of legitimate violence, in name of the defence of the respectable society, of order and economic development.

At the end of the last military dictatorship in Brazil, politicians and intellectuals like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Celso Furtado, Georges Lavau and Alain Touraine tried to create a party that could represent in Latin America the ‘new French socialism’. Their intention was to organise a modern and pragmatic, social-democrat party, that could promote the interests of capital, while speaking to the growing workers’ and popular movements, that is, to the rising leftist audience of those times. Something which could, therefore, at the same time differentiate itself from the archaism of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party’s (PMDB) regional oligarchies, from the left populism of Rio de Janeiro’s governor Leonel Brizola’s Democratic Labour Party (PDT), from the ‘old socialism’ of communist parties and, especially, a formation aimed at avoiding that the popular-democratic program, sometimes radical, enacted by the nascent Workers Party (PT) could hegemonize the popular field, as indeed happened. While their attempt failed, Cardoso had managed to keep himself faithful to this strategy and, years later, he would form the Brazilian Social-Democratic Party (PSDB), by late 1980s.

Today, when the political audience is increasingly shifting to the right, or even to the extreme-right, it is likely that ruling class intellectuals of equal capacity, in coordination with apparatuses and leaders of the big monopolist business, will start to propose, finance and organise a modern reactionary party. The purpose for such a party will be to cohere the forces that have emerged out of the culture of right-wing social movements that already exist in Brazil. These have already been growing in scope over the last decades, deepening a programme, which distinguishes allies from adversaries, and consolidating into a discourse translates social antagonisms into diseases that require sanitary measures to be exterminated from the political scene.

Such a new party, whose emergence we would have to fight, will be radically neoliberal in its economic agenda, notwithstanding any radical departures from the political and cultural values of liberalism. While the electoral victory of any new right-wing force is unlikely in 2018, its mere existence can be viewed as a concrete result of the ‘political crisis’ which is unfolding. Social movements and the left have barely considered the tragedy of having a scenario of second-round elections between a cosmopolitan neoliberal candidate versus an elegant hater, who hails from the alt-right, while being discrete about his authoritarianism. (Lula can always lose ‘democratically’, it should be kept in mind). It may well be that while things might not materialize for 2018, it is unlikely that this would remain the case in elections from 2020 onwards. And it won’t be a mediocre ex-Captain that will lead the charge, but someone, if coming from the military world, who has the erudition and the capacity of an ex-general, brigadier or admiral. If not from the military, it is possible that this cadre-figure will be picked from the rankings of the judiciary system, the police, or, by the same token, they will be a former secretary or figure connected to the agenda of ‘public security’. To the neoliberal cosmopolitan right it will suffice for this person to have a market-friendly face, like Henrique Meirelles. Yet for those who adhere to new alt-right this figure will need to have the credentials in the world of state repression too.

This means that the left has to think a lot, before automatically betting on the electoral route as the only political practice to be prioritised. It is also something to reflect upon whenever anyone on the left cries for immediate direction elections (“Diretas Já!”) as the solution to the political crisis. Something to keep in mind whenever we, ourselves, have the instinct of calling for snap elections (on a presidential system) as if it were a panacea for all political evils we see growing in front of us.

[1] There are 35 political parties registered in Brazil, 25 of which are surely right-wingers. See

For the original Portuguese version, see:

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