Much discussion about fascism has been had lately. “What is fascism’s definition?” “Is [X] representative of it?” Discussions like those are appreciated, but there is a lack on a grasp of social, political and economical processes. Definitions are discussed; interpretations are made; individuals are judged. All ideologies, politically and socially determined, are not dependent on an individual’s whim: a concept can only be reflective of society if and only if it is derived from society itself—for the inverse relies on a method that abstracts the concept into the concrete.
The history of Brazil1 is one of violence: indigenous submission, conquest, extraction of natural resources; the introduction of slavery, torture, servitude; destruction, enslavement, and blood. From colonial times, when the Portuguese followed a policy of exploration—unlike the British and theirs of occupation—to the Empire, where the introduction of a mass contingent of slaves happened under the watchful eyes of the central capitalist powers. As such, it ensured the country would be engineered itself into a machine capable of producing, en masse, enormous quantities of primary commodities (sugar cane, coffee, et cetera) that secured, too, the continuous and profitable exploitation of wage labor being developed inside the central powers; coffee would enable the 12+ hours working days for the capitalists.
Through the outright alliance of a landed quasi-aristocrat class with merchant capital of surging capitalism, an interdependent relation would establish the platypus that is Brazil. This, indeed, must be explained. It was not only an imperialist whim that enslaved people. The constituted ruling class, born out of the conquest of land—families that would be owners of whole states—and the institutions often referred to as “plantations” (gigantic monoculture properties) implied a two-edged knife of both national and international ruling classes that did not see each other as ‘enemies,’ but close correspondents. This is an important aspect of Brazilian society: since the dawn of colonial times, the emergence of a class society was entirely intertwined with that of Portugal’s own social stratification. Independence in 1822 did not set up a new society; only a new form of government was imposed (from the colonial-metropolis relation, to the constitution of a Brazilian Empire ruled by a Portuguese royal family!). The apparently diffuse colonial self-governance imbued in such a ruling class, with its political and economical [national] powers, rendered the ‘progressive’ forces of capitalism useless. With such a ruling class, dependent upon an economical totality based off agrarian structures, the ‘development’ of the productive forces that capital propelled had to be nationally stopped. No such thing could be allowed, for it would mean the disposition of such a class back into darkness while capital would make society shift itself from one based on agricultural structures into an industrialized one.
Integralism must be understood under such a hyper-late capitalism. Fascism, perhaps if one assumes the similarities to the fascio as the way to define it, as its aesthetic imagery (the salutation, flag, clothing, et cetera). Its reenactment proposed itself as a populist variation of the internal struggle to class society through the introduction of a true meritocracy, where the ‘truly best’ would be seen as what they were. The ruling classes of the nation would be replaced by a more “able and ideologically definitive” organic structure of pure national strata. Their responsibility would lie in a direct struggle with modernity itself: capital, industry, urbanization, and both the rising Brazilian bourgeoisie and proletariat classes. At its core, the integralist ideology had an agrarian utopia: defense of traditional catholic spiritualism, anti-materialism, open opposition to liberal democracy, and belief in corporatism. First, let us consider its catholic foundation: already in its birth-place, the integralist movement delineates its reverence to the real Christian Legacy, fighting the “pagan tendencies” it saw within the Nazi-fascism of Europe; their political philosophy was but a “spiritual realization of the Church through a corporatist state”.
However, secondly, a corporatism entirely based on an alliance of a decentralized manufacturing mode of production guided by a centralized state. Such integral corporatist state arises as a way to “evangelize” the proletarian masses, through the destruction of what they saw as “Godless syndicalist organization”. Their theory did not seek a harmony between the classes, but instead it sought to be an instrument for its realization—realized only because of the imbued spiritualization of politics as such. Integralism appropriates Catholicism to its own ends, justifying its positions through a claim of divine “right and authority,” but always constrained within a certain historically determined national mode of actuality. In regards to “nationalism”:
Nationalism as an elemental political/ideological force capable of mobilizing (for better or worse) vast numbers of people, first appears with the bourgeoisie in its ascendancy. […] Thus, given its inescapably conflict-ridden structural setting, determined by the imperatives of capital-expansion, it can lead to the most extreme forms of destructive conflagration, as the annals of modem history – particularly in the twentieth century – testify.2
But—and here we must pay attention to the particularities of the formation of capital through the Colonial Way3—integralism was not determined by the “…imperatives of capital-expansion”: its own enemy was capital and capitalism proper. Nationalism, thus, was presented in such a fashion that its purpose was to defensively mobilize an agrarian working-class, singularly within the social totality determined through the inward ossification of agrarian[ism], against imperialism. Yes, integralism, for all of its rhetorical talking points and theorizations, was a reaction to imperialism, too: against “capital and socialism’s” expansive action. But the primacy of the former was, perhaps, indeed a primacy.
Philosophically, such an ideology relied entirely in upholding intuition as the only means to arrive at truth. Only through the suspension of “Reason” in favor of an instinctive actualization of a Divine will would the existing contradictions that hindered society, as they professed against the free reign of capital, be abolished. Intuition towards totality; instinctive action towards integration. An organic democracy would be their proposal—integration of all national social strata (hence the sigma as their symbol). Class conciliation would ensure, in their view, a natural tendency towards a perfect equilibrium of different social classes —of a ‘natural inequality’ so the earlier social totality, based on the powers of the plantation owning-class, would be re-constituted. Industrial capital was their enemy: the introduction of capitalism proper also meant the construction of the pathway to communism—a position shared by many fascist movements and parties; here would the precise conditioning of their rhetorical arsenal be found: integralism was to be seen as a synthesis and not an extremist, counter-revolutionary political position. Such an ideology would only be realized only through a ‘spiritual revolution.’ Unbridled materialism, put forward by the development of the capitalist mode of production, could only be counteracted upon with an immaterial revolution; the restoration of society (the social organism that permeates all social-beings) should be done from its spiritual dimension, subsuming the concrete materialism of capitalism (and of course of communism, in their view).
But here a differentiation must be made: their corporatism is different from the model put forward by fascism. For the latter, corporatism was meant to realize the potentiality of production through industrialization within its own society, but the former saw ‘corporatism’ as being inspired and reflected in the catholic inspiration of the medieval era. Such state organization was meant to create corporations with the goal to order the people’s moral, professional and political representation, but their purpose was clear: to restrain the development of the capitalist mode of production—to stop it from growing its ‘nefarious roots’ within society. Here, the specter of the Other takes the form of industrial capital (a foreign social order), and not a displaced subject that develops no roots whatsoever, forever floating within society as a ‘parasite.’ To integralist ideology, it was the foreign social and economic system which ought to be seen as the parasitic threat to itself. But let’s regress into a recollection on capital:
Capital is not simply a material entity. We must think of capital as a historically determinate way of controlling social metabolic reproduction. That is the fundamental meaning of capital. It penetrates everywhere. Of course, capital is also a material entity; gold, banking, price mechanisms, market mechanisms, etc.4
Their demand would be heavily implicated in the form of a need for a ‘strong’ state, representing a strong bourgeois demand for autocracy, given the atrophic developmental condition of capital in such a country. The “Colonial Way,” characteristic of the historical praxis of Brazil’s national colonial ruling class, would determine itself through the ideology of integralism in the form of a passive and conservative revolution of the production and social orders. Through its own ideological politicization of a non-defined class representation, the party was always-already accompanied by a national ruling class who could not, would not, and had not decide(d) itself. With such false politicizing of action within a romantic anti-industrial and anti-capitalist theory, the agrarian ruling classes were led to find such an insertion of their interests into the masses to be the ‘kick-start’ they needed to uphold their own class position as such. But the ‘organic’ development of international capital, the structural tendency within society itself, is to allow—through exploitation, private property and the market—a primitive accumulation of capital. The rising industrial bourgeoisie would have to meet with pure force—thus the need for this ideological apparatus—in the theory and praxis of integralism.
Ultimately, much is argued in regards to the essence of such a social model of politics and organization. Was it a form of fascism, painted with the greenness of Brazil? Here we must observe the history of fascism itself to draw conclusions. Michał Kalecki described that fascism concentrates, through its coalition with business industrial leaders, heavy investment and full employment on the armaments industry:
[…] ‘discipline in the factories’ and ‘political stability’ under full employment are maintained by the ‘new order’, which ranges from suppression of the trade unions to the concentration camp. Political pressure replaces the economic pressure of unemployment.5
German industrialization occurred in a late epoch, in comparison to the other central European countries. But even then, the remnants of the past feudal property of land were subsumed through the development of the industrial productive relations. The loosening of the Junker’s economical and political powers were made possible by the superimposition of the continuous development of industrial capital. Europe’s capitalism was already entering a ‘third industrial revolution’ in the 1950s, when Brazilian industrialization was being formally crystallized. The triad of late capitalist development (Germany, Italy, and Japan), with its fascistic passive revolution (revolution: conservative development of the forces of productions propelled by the marrying of state and private investments in the Armaments sector of the economy), demanded the concentration of capital in the armaments industry and its expansion—a condition which for Fascism was essential; a condition that would not be found in integralist ideology.
War was the goal of fascism because only through the engagement in ‘destructive creation’ would such a system be able to support itself. As such, fascism was a highly aggressive—in the expansionist sense—ideology and political movement with a definite state apparatus. But the same cannot be said about integralism6. The whole-hearted rejection of industry meant that, especially, the armaments sector of it would also be rejected. Their view on the matter of expansionism was not the same as it was for the fascists of Europe. To put it plainly: it was believed that Brazil’s population was ‘peaceful’ and ‘coherently’ developed as to not engage in senseless wars against its neighbors. However, a point of divergence must be taken into account: even the fascists, before declaring war, did not claim it to be their object. But one must analyze their actions and not their words: the re-armament of their respective countries—the full-out preparation for war and the conquest of small states—made the distinction clear.
Even then, through a historical analysis, we can see that integralism went on, during the 1930s, to support both Germany and Italy in their war of aggression. However, their position was not to engage the Allies, but to provide the necessary supplies to the Axis themselves. Getúlio Vargas, the then dictator of Brazil, used the war (and its prelude) as a means to ensure a position of demand for Brazil: the country would flirt with whomever provided the necessary financial investment in the development of the national Brazilian industrial sector—a move that hindered the integralists’ position of non-compliance. They would try to enact a coup d’état to depose Vargas and declare Brazil as a supplier and ally of the Axis. However, their attempt would result in a failure, turning Brazil itself against both integralism and fascism. There, it could be said that the particular similarities of both ideologies ‘integrated’ them into a single ideological and political category.
The particularities of both fascism and integralism are exactly what make them not the same.7 For their apparent aggression against Brazil’s government could only come about after reassign the hold of a rising national industrial bourgeoisie that had already grasped the economic potentiality inherent to its country. Integralism allied itself with fascism, as a way to gather support against the development of the productive forces pushed forward by industrialization—which had become Vargas’ (and the class he politically represented) plan for the economical and social “development” of Brazil. Identification to an ideal categorization to subsume such particularities is how Liberal ideology works—under a ‘Weberian’ lens. By this view, one must not consider those particularities, nor the singularities of these political movements; we must, instead, hold them under the same overarching banner—that of Totalitarianism. That is not to say that integralism did not drive towards totality; it did, but even then in a backwards direction, not towards the overcoming of class struggle provoked by the intensification of the production processes and the corresponding social relations. No, we must analyze history as history; it is through the complete analysis of concrete specifications that one is able to decide the exact place of such societal reality which perpetrated itself in a particular political organization:
[…] the concrete analysis of the concrete situation is not the opposite of ‘pure’ theory; on the contrary, it is the culmination of all genuine theory, its consummation, the point where it therefore breaks into practice.8
One cannot engage in social processes by “coming down” from an overarching abstract ‘idea’ to a relativized ‘concreteness’ of society itself. A method of analysis has to base itself on an objectivity of not only material social relations, but their subjective part. Contemporaneity has turned Fascism into a metaphysical category. All of human history can be superimposed with this category: “…the birth of fascism can be found within Plato’s writings.” Of course, such a place deprives the word of its own historical roots—of the social and political struggles it was defined by. Erasing history is a part-time job for liberal ideology: suspension of historical reality, with all of its weight, into an all-encompassing abstract ‘category.’ It turns history into a categorization of mere words, but words deprived of any theoretical and practical substance.
Integralism was anti-capitalist, in the most reactionary way, but in the exact meaning of the word: reaction counter-acting a trend, a process that appears to be developing, coming to be. It was also Romantic, in that it retained the past of Brazilian Colonial society as an “organic social body that was able to integrate all of its population.” It rejected liberal democracy and had a general disdain to Liberalism, as the political and economic ideology of capital. Such was the movement of integralism in Brazil. Its positions would combine a formulaic way to stand against the objectification of capitalist relations, in a society that did not abolish the structures of past colonial times embedded with subjugation, slavery and genocide.
Growth and expansion are inner necessities of the capitalist system of production and when the local limits are reached there is no other way out except by violently readjusting the existing relation of forces. The relative stability of the leading capitalist countries—Britain, France, and the United States—was in the past inseparable from their ability to export the aggressiveness and the violence internally generated by their systems. Their weaker partners— Germany, Italy, and others—afer the First World War found themselves in the middle of a grave social crisis and only the fascist promise of a radical readjustment of the established relation of forces could bring a temporary solution acceptable to the bourgeoisie, through diverting the pressures of internal aggressiveness and violence into the channels of a massive preparation for a new world war. The small capitalist countries, on the other hand, simply had to subordinate themselves to one of the great powers and follow the policies dictated by them, even at the price of chronic instability.9
And so it was. Integralism, the late reaction to a late capitalist development, was instituted as a sociopolitical movement with the pretension to engage the masses. But the impossibility to stop the development of the capitalist mode of production would ensure that it, as a force within society, would not be able to take the reigns of a platypus society—a society that carries the most advanced relations of production put forward by capital, while it retains the most retrograde and reactionary slavery-like and serf-like relations. This was the concern of integralism, and essentially the difference between it and the European fascist movement. Historical analysis of the inner processes of the becoming of capitalist society and its social reconstruction is a must. One should not forget that social processes within the bourgeois structures of liberal democracy are not bound by the same linear development or continuity. Brazil’s colonial history provided the birth place for a ideology that based itself on the vision of “turning back time itself”; the agrarianism in its core represented the wishful lusting of the ruling classes for the return of slavery. As an ideology, it posited the possibility for the lingering undemocratic vision of a national strata that relied entirely, too, on super-exploration of a working class subjectively and objectively violated through its historical existence. Its will was nothing more than to grip society into a totality of agrarianism. Fascism and integralism stand together but in opposite directions: forms of capital’s reenactment without the struggles such social metabolic development imposes on the structures of society itself.
- Theorizations on the socio-political-economic formations of Brazil—its historical and logical ways—are discussed in these books:
- PRADO JUNIOR, Caio. História econômica do Brasil [Economic History of Brazil]. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1985, the full text can be read here (accessed april/2017);
- RIBEIRO, Darcy. O povo brasileiro [The Brazilian People]. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1995, the full text can be read here (accessed april/2017);
- FERNANDES, Florestan. Capitalismo dependente e classes sociais na América Latina [Dependent Capitalism and Social Classes in Latin America]. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1972, the full text can be read here (accessed april/2017);
- OLIVEIRA, Francisco. Crítica à razão dualista/ O ornitorrinco [Criticism to a Dualistic Reason / The Platypus]. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2003;
- MANOEL CARDOSO DE MELLO, João. O capitalismo tardio [Late Capitalism]. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1982;
- CHASIN, José. A miséria brasileira [The Brazilian Misery]. Santo André: Estudos e Edições Ad Hominem, 2000.
- MÉSZÁROS, István. The Power of Ideology. London: Zed Books LTD, 2005, pp. 359.
- The “Colonial Way” is a category of analysis derived from the logic-historic development of capital within “former” colonial societies—particularly Brazil, in this case. “Classical way,” “the Prussian way,” “German misery,” “Passive revolution,” et cetera are categories of analysis that pertain, too, to the categories the “Colonial Way” pertains itself. A more thorough article shall be written on the subject.
- MÉSZÁROS, István. The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008, pp. 75.
- Cf. KALECKI, Michał. Political Aspects of Full Employment. 1943, pp. 4, the full text can be read here.
- Cf. CHASIN, José. O integralismo de Plínio Salgado [The Integralism of Plínio Salgado]. São Paulo: Livraria Editora Ciências Humanas, 1978. Chasin was very worried with the formation of all ideologies within Brazilian society, throughout the 20th century . His body of work, based on a Marxian and Lukácsian theoretical framework, dwells in the specificities of Brazilian society—its particularities with the development of hyper-late capital—grounded not only on a sociological and political analysis but also on a philosophical one as well.
- ______. O integralismo não é um fascismo [Integralism Is Not a Fascism]. Entrevista de J. Chasin a G. Bittencourt. Folha de S. Paulo, 25 dez. 1977.
- LUKÁCS, György. Imperialism: World War and Civil War. In: Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought, 1924, the full text can be read here.
- MÉSZÁROS, István. Marx’s Theory of Alienation. Merlin Press: London, 1970, pp. 310.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.