This text is for those who weep for what is about to come. It was written for those who perceive the darkest of nights arriving with its violence, its scorn and its appetite for vengeance. Because in these moments only two alternatives seem possible: escape and melancholy. We know the mistakes we made, they were not few. We know the mistakes we repeated, they were also not few. And we even know the system we built to avoid a ruthless self-critique of our own mistakes and of the repetition of our mistakes. And let it be said one more time: they were not few.
But none of this can justify the clamp down that looms ahead, the gruesome carnival that approaches. Brazil is now a world laboratory of new forms of joining fascism and radical neoliberalism, propelled not only by state violence but also by the violence of groups and individuals moved by every form of resentment. A government of militias. As a laboratory, it will provide the model of what in the future may be applied in other countries, starting with the Latin American neighbors.
‘But this violence always existed for the most vulnerable and poor. You only write about it because it will now come to your group’. This is a sentence that is heard from time to time. In the place of immanent solidarity among those who fight, each one in each front, one hears the old wheel of guilt animated by an unconfessed relish for vengeance coming from those who should build indestructible alliances. ‘Now you too will feel it’. In these moments, one notes what once was perceived by Rousseau: the maxim of modern politics is that all should remain separate, that there should not exist common language, common enunciation, common strength. It is about ensuring that no one perceives the relentless web of solidarity that was weaved for decades in this country among all those who felt it was unbearable to live in a profoundly unequal society. In a society in which every condition of growth has the taste of something stolen, in which every smile seems an affront against those who submit themselves to the worst dispossession.
We must aim our weapons to the outside, because it is now that the great realignment starts now. ‘Where your greatest danger is, there also is your salvation’, Hölderlin will say. What is coming is our greatest danger, no one has the right to doubt it. Those who believe that the explosions of violence we see in the streets will pass, as it dissolved by the wind, only follow those who, facing the abyss, thought that could keep dancing the same dance as usual. No, this conflict that shapes peoples by fire, that makes division the necessary path for new agreements, will not pass until it reconstitutes our country. But it may reconstitute it, enabling us to dissolve the barriers among those who fight against dispossession and the multiple forms of authoritarianism and merge our arms in a new body of strength yet unseen. It may reconstitute it by the emergence, at last, of a compact political subject endowed with the radicality and resilience of what was forged by fire. And, for us, there is no other path for salvation.
This fight is a long time coming. One day it would take place and it was not possible for our country to go on any more without facing it in all its hardness. It would not be possible to effectively create an egalitarian, inclusive and profoundly free society without fearlessly confronting these discourses, subjects, and groups. It would arrive some day and fate had it that we should be the ones on the frontline at its most decisive moment. Fate had it that we should be the persons to fight this fight. There is no one else, we have nothing else. If we lose, it will be generations who will have to live with silence and defeat. But we have no parties, we have no trade unions, everything was burned in the fire of our own mistakes. It is true, we are alone. As always, it is before this helplessness that we can really create. Maybe we discover that the biggest creations are made like this, in the moment of greatest helplessness. Because we have nowhere to go back to. Our only possibility is to go forward.
Many have fought this fight with other intensities some have resisted, others won, others died. Because this country was built through the endless fight against those who now once again raise their heads. As Florestan Fernandes would say, this is the country of permanent counter-revolution. ‘Where did they come from?’, some ask. ‘How is it that people that grew up with me can now assume discourses of aggression that, when taken to the limit, are directed against me, against the form of life that is mine?’
Someone should, at these moments, speak of specters, speak of incarnation, speak of spirits that transmigrate. Much as it may look counter-intuitive, it would be a more analytical analysis. Because these discourses came from other times, these gestures are from other subjects, these affects crossed centuries. Woe to those who understood nothing about the contracted and multi-stratified time of politics. They know not who they speak to. They speak to slave-beating masters dressed like close relatives, they speak to indigenous genocidal explorers in big company executive clothes, they speak to torturers and body snatchers incarnated in taxi drivers. The real fights are always the fights between bodies and specters.
But such fights cannot be won if one only hears this contracting time coming in against us. Such fights are won when this contracted time starts to inhabit our speeches. When blacks who fought against their slavery speak the words of white university professors, when women who were beat up until they bled draw upon the gestures of laborers, when tortured militants inhabit the bodies of girls looking for the next rave, when assassinated trans folks resurrect with the wrath of striking workers. The real fights are always the fights between bodies and specters.
Let’s understand this. When politics reaches its foundational point, it shows what reveals the true nature of its conflicts. They are not conflicts over governance models or discussions about the nature of public policies. Because who really believes that those about to come have, in fact, enormous expertise and vision to create ‘more rational models’? Even their voters know that what really is at stake is the burst of a generalized revolt that, at the same time, prefers to preserve the illusion of being under a strong and protective hand.
These conflicts are also not about the fights against corruption and for security, as they are sold. This is an old strategy: to put people who spent years of their public life in corrupted parties without ever showing any kind of indignation, who praise corrupted regimes like the Brazilian military dictatorship, to play the role of the man who is incorruptible and outraged with corruption. Much despair is needed to take this farce seriously. Brazil has already seen it and will see it again. This is another old strategy: to frame those who incite violence and shoot against opponents as selling national unification. Brazil has already seen it, and will see it again.
In fact, the conflict we see is over forms of life. For some, a form of life based in racial equality, integral visibility of singularities and of the plasticity of social forms is an insult. It is like seeing from afar a party to which one was not invited. For them it is better to live with the reactionaries who fight for order, for the regularity of traditions, for the pretense naturality of forms. Maybe this explains a little why ‘gender’, ‘sexuality’ issues became such sensible points in an age in which we could expect free indifference in relation to them.
But if this conflict that tears apart contemporary societies in many places found one of its main battles in Brazil, it was not by chance. It would necessarily end up taking place in the country that most believed in conciliations and pacts made by force. Brazil delighted itself in the illusion of being able to eliminate the brutal negativity of the conflict that splits peoples in two. It believed it was able to exit a dictatorial period making conciliations and great pacts, without ever judging its crimes against humanity, without ever condemning torturers, body snatchers, murderers who operated with impunity the gears of the State and the army. Now, it sees them returning in a procession in which they close ranks with judges inebriated by their powers as building superintendents, by repentant ex-porn stars, by evangelicals with the blood of Christ in their eyes and rifles in their hands, with farmers making racist stand up comedies.
Brazil let the fascist sectors of its society inoculate the discourse that we were living in a war and, in a war, there is always excess from both sides. But no. The military dictatorship was not a war. It was the exercise of tyranny, a preventive coup against social transformations that accommodated in the restricted horizon of national developmentalism. But even this was inadmissible. To rise against tyranny is a greater right even within the liberal tradition. The right of resistance reminds us that every action against an illegal government is a legal action. The problem is that Brazilian liberals are not capable even of assuming the consequences of their own principles.
Anyway, some preferred not to call a spade a spade. They think that speaking about Brazilian fascism is inaccurate, counterproductive, mere rhetorical play. The same could be said about subjects who ignore the power of naming and fear that, with the right naming, the effective resonance between present and past will be revealed. But what we have before us is really the figure of this life that delights itself in this blend made by cult of force and cultivation of fear whose name will always be ‘fascism’.
Four elements define the fascist form of life and its pathologies. First, the cult of violence. Because it becomes necessary to believe that the impotence of ordinary life and of constant dispossession will be won through the individual force of someone who finally has the right to walk with a gun, to go to the streets with black shirts, of speaking whatever one wants without worrying about the ‘dictatorship of political correctness’. Fascism offers a certain form of freedom, it always built itself up from a vampirization of revolt. There is a brute anarchy, a carnival always liberated by fascism. But in this case, freedom transforms itself into a liberation of violence by those who cannot stand being violated anymore. Carnival here is not the reversion of order, but the conjugation of order and disorder: order dressed out with the fantasy of order. It is the ‘strong government’ that enables me to flay refugees, shoot ‘communists’, say to a woman ‘I don’t rape you only because you don’t deserve it’, brutalize any and every form of social relation. This will always be one of the worst effects of a fascist government: creating a society in its image and likeness. As Freud reminded us, it is not exactly the peoples who create their governments, it is the governments that create their peoples.
Second, there is no fascism without resurrection of the Nation-State in its paranoid version. Because someone has to take care of our borders, which are completely porous. Someone has to teach Civic and Moral Education to our children so they can be proud of this homeland built upon indigenous genocide and black slavery. Someone has to prevent the invasion of a new wave of refugees that come here bringing their crimes. The State-Nation reveals itself the last refuge of what is mine, of what is proper to me. It is my territory, my country, my language, my customs, my misery, my violence, my suffocation. The national community is the reverse of the common. It is nothing but the enlarged image of a property that appears as the basic expression of fear as the central political affect.
Third, fascism will always be solitary to the absolute insensibility regarding violence against classes that are vulnerable and historically marked by oppression. It is the implosion of the possibility of generic solidarity. This insensibility expresses the unconfessed desire that the structures of visibility in social life should not be transformed. It is about defining what can affect us, with which intensity, at which speed. For this purpose, it is necessary to manage the grammar of the visible, the form according to which existences are recognized. In social life, being recognized means existing, what is not recognized does not exist. But recognition does not only mean that what already exists is recognized. Every recognition is implicative, it demands that the one who recognizes also changes, for from now on they will inhabit a world with bodies that did not affected them previously, and this is what seems unbearable for some.
Finally, fascism will always be based in the deposition of popular power on behalf of a lawless leadership. It is the colonization of the anti-institutional desire by order itself. The anti-institutional desire, when really liberated, can create powers that come back to the hands of the people, democracies that abandon representation and transfer deliberation and management to the immanence of the people. But fascism turns this anti-institutionality into an outcry for the strong hand of government expressed in a leadership that seems to be above law, that seems to be able to guiltlessly do whatever it wants, to expose its worse feelings without worrying about their effects, to demonstrate its lowest desire for violence as an expression of a conquered freedom. For this reason, it is necessary that these leaders seem comical, that they be a blend of soldier and clown. Because only in this way, through ironization, that these propositions will be able to circulate with low friction. After all, one should not take seriously everything they say. But then who knows exactly what one must or must not take seriously? What is real and what is bravado? No one knows, besides them. This is called: blending order and disorder, law and anomy. This is fascism.
But it is certain that every fascist rise is built upon the ruins of a betrayed revolution. And we knew not how to go further, how not to accommodate ourselves with the small victories and the punctual adjustments. We believed that the people wanted a gradual and safe reformism. However, they wanted a country ‘different from all it is there’ and, for that, we had lost our answer. They demanded an absolute and incorruptible conscience of the commonwealth, and it was not this that took place. They wanted the effective force, the one that does not accommodate until it acts out, until it breaks the barriers. They didn’t find it in our side.
All of this is a fact, but what seems to be a defeat was only the general rehearsal. These will not be the first ruins of dreams. Many dreams already were transformed in ruins. But dreams know how to transform their own ruins in cathedrals. At this moment, the national fascism believes it will face free space and melancholic opponents. They were always wrong and will keep being wrong. Chance had that we were the last barrier. Because they will discover that this barrier is the most unsurmountable. They will discover that this barrier never trembles, that it will stand until the end. It is built upon desires, intelligence and the strength of those who will never let their lives be colonized by fear. And at the end, this barrier will be the first wall for the construction of a new country.
Vladimir Pinheiro Safatle is a philosopher and professor at University of São Paulo, lecturing and writing at the nexus of politics, critical theory, and psychoanalysis, especially the theory and practice of Lacan.
Translated by, Allan M. Hillani, who holds a Masters of Theory and Philosophy of Law (State University of Rio de Janeiro, UERJ) and is a PhD student of Philosophy (New School for Social Research). He is the author of Na urgência da catástrofe: violência e capitalismo (Gramma, 2018) and other writings on critical theory and political philosophy.