There’s a really powerful piece by Pedro Rocha de Oliveira in Red Pepper placing Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to power in Brazil in socio-political context:
There have been hints of fresh horrors ahead during the presidential campaign. A young woman in Porto Alegre was punched and held by a group of men while one cut a swastika on her stomach with a knife. University students were beaten with iron bars while giving out fliers for Bolsonaro’s PT opponent Fernando Haddad. And as a trans woman was knifed to death, her killers cried out that, under a Bolsonaro presidency, there will be an open war against gays.
But what is really new in horrors such as these? The racists, chauvinists and homophobes doing this now have, for decades, been acting out their hatred in an environment in which economic inequality mingles with racism to create a very clear social divide between citizens and expendables. Examples abound. A few years back, in a middle-class Rio neighbourhood, a group of white people beat a young black man, stripped him and tied him by the neck to a street post with a bike chain after he allegedly tried to steal from someone; none of the aggressors was charged. Back in the 1990s, in Brasilia, a similar little group set fire to a Pataxó indigenous man who was sleeping rough at a bus stop. The perpetrators later said they thought he was ‘just a bum’; decades later, after dodging most of his prison sentence, one of them became a police constable.
Members of our judiciary mostly come from that same background and operate fully within it. So, in 2014, a judge made use of her discretionary powers to create an instrument by which every inhabitant of the Maré favela complex – home to hundreds of thousands of people – was deemed a suspect in a drug cartel investigation, authorising the police to enter any house without a warrant (not that they didn’t already do so whenever they wanted).
So the Bolsonaro phenomenon is really about broadening the spectrum of systematic, unaccountable social violence to include not only black people and the poor, but also the LGBT community and the left. Probably not since the 1920s and the 1930s in Brazil, when anarchists and fascists fought in the streets, did civilians feel culturally authorised to beat up someone because of their political beliefs.
What is really horrifying, then, is not that Bolsonaro is president, but that neo-fascists like him do not represent a break with the norm but a natural development of social conditions that are common in contemporary capitalism: long-lasting economic inequality, a culture of systematic state violence, strong-arm policing and unaccountable officials. Far from being some aberration, this seems increasingly to be the face of modern capitalism.
His argument resonates with Žižek’s recent contention that liberal responses to Trump’s rise obscure the underlying continuities with what has come before; the grotesque character of the neo-fascist leader dominates the imagination and hides the mundane reality that this is an intensification of existing tendencies rather than a break with them.