Chomsky: Bolsonaro Is Spreading Trump-Like Fear Of “Election Fraud” In Brazil

Noam Chomsky

Since 2019, Brazil finds itself in the midst of one of its most difficult periods since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, thanks to the inhumane policies of the Jair Bolsonaro regime which parallel those of Donald Trump’s administration. President Bolsonaro is an apologist for the brutal military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, and there is even the possibility that he may attempt to resort to the military guys who he thinks might back him up in the face of growing opposition to his handling of the pandemic.

Noam Chomsky has followed closely Brazilian and Latin American politics for many decades, and even visited Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in prison in 2018. In this interview, he discusses the factors that brought Bolsonaro to power, dissects his policies and compares them to the Trump regime, and assesses what the future may hold for the troubled nation.

C.J. Polychroniou: Jair Bolsonaro — an apologist for torture and dictatorship and part of the global trend towards authoritarianism that brought us Donald Trump — was sworn in as president of Brazil on January 1, 2019. Since that day, his administration has been pushing an agenda with disastrous consequences for democracy and the environment. I want to start by asking you of the conditions in Brazil that brought Bolsonaro to power, a development which coincided with the end of the “pink tide” that had swept across Latin America in the early 2000s.

Noam Chomsky: A lot is uncertain and documentation is slim, but the way it looks to me is basically like this.

With the fall of commodity prices a few years after Lula da Silva left office in 2010, the Brazilian right wing — with U.S. encouragement, if not direct support — recognized an opportunity to return the country to their hands and to reverse the welfare and inclusiveness programs they despised. They proceeded to carry out a systematic “soft coup.” One step was impeaching Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, in utterly corrupt and fraudulent proceedings. The next was to imprison Lula on corruption charges, preventing him from running in (and almost surely winning) the 2018 presidential election. That set the stage for Bolsonaro to be elected on a wave of an incredible campaign of lies, slanders and deceit that flooded the internet sites that most Brazilians use as a main source of “information.” There’s reason to suspect a significant U.S. hand.

The charges against Lula were withdrawn by the courts after they were completely discredited by Glenn Greenwald’s exposure of the shenanigans of the prosecution in connivance with “anti-corruption” (Car Wash) investigator Sergio Moro. Before the exposures, Moro had been appointed Minister of Justice and Public Security by Bolsonaro, perhaps a reward for his contributions to his election. Moro has largely disappeared from sight with the collapse of his image as the intrepid white knight who would save Brazil from corruption — while, probably not coincidentally, destroying major Brazilian businesses that were competitors to U.S. corporations (which are not exactly famous for their purity).

Though Moro’s targets were selective, much of what he revealed is credible — and not difficult to find in Latin America, where corruption is practically a way of life in the political and economic worlds. One can, however, debate whether it attains the level that is familiar in the West, where major financial institutions have been fined tens of billions of dollars, usually in settlements that avoid individual liability. One indication of what the scale might be was given by the London Economist, which found over 2000 corporate convictions from 2000-2014. That’s just “corporate America,” which has plenty of company elsewhere. Furthermore, the notion of “corruption” is deeply tainted by ideology. Much of the worst corruption is “legal,” as the legal system is designed under the heavy hand of private power.

Despite Moro’s own corruption, much of what he unearthed was real and had been for a long time. His main target, Lula’s Workers Party (PT), it appears, did not break this pattern. Partly for this reason, the PT lost an opportunity to introduce the kinds of lasting progressive changes that are badly needed to undermine the rule of Brazil’s rapacious and deeply racist traditional ruling classes.

Lula’s programs were designed so as not to infringe seriously on elite power, but they were nonetheless barely tolerated in these circles. Their flaw was that they were oriented towards the needs of those suffering bitterly in this highly inegalitarian society. The basic character of Lula’s programs was captured in a 2016 World Bank study of Brazil, which described his time in office as a “golden decade” in Brazil’s history. The Bank praised Lula’s “success in reducing poverty and inequality and its ability to create jobs. Innovative and effective policies to reduce poverty and ensure the inclusion of previously excluded groups have lifted millions of people out of poverty.” Furthermore, Brazil has also been assuming global responsibilities. It has been successful in pursuing economic prosperity while protecting its unique natural patrimony. Brazil has become one of the most important emerging new donors, with extensive engagements particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a leading player in international climate negotiations. Brazil’s development path over the past decade has shown that growth with shared prosperity, but balanced with respect for the environment, is possible. Brazilians are rightly proud of these internationally recognized achievements.

Some Brazilians. Not those who consider it their right to wield power in their own interest.

Brazil became an effective voice for the Global South in international affairs, not a welcome development in the eyes of Western leaders, and a particular irritant to the Obama-Biden-Clinton administration when Brazil’s foreign minister Celso Amorim came close to negotiating a settlement on Iran’s nuclear programs, undercutting Washington’s intent to run the show on its own terms.

The Bank report also concluded that with proper policies, the “golden decade” could have persisted after the collapse of commodity prices. That was not to be, however, as the soft coup proceeded. Some analysts have suggested that a crucial turning point was when Dilma announced that profits from newly discovered offshore oil reserves would be directed to education and welfare instead of the eager hands of international investors.

The PT had failed to sink social roots, to such an extent that beneficiaries of its policies were often unaware of their source, attributing the benefits to God or to luck. The corruption, failure of mobilization and lack of structural reform all contributed to Bolsonaro’s electoral victory.

Bolsonaro’s victory was welcomed with enthusiasm by international capital and finance. They were particularly impressed by Bolsonaro’s economic czar, ultra-loyal Chicago economist Paulo Guedes. His program was very simple: in his words, “Privatize Everything,” a bonanza for foreign investors. They were, however, disillusioned as Brazil collapsed during the Bolsonaro years and Guedes’s promises remained unfulfilled.

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Linda Bouws – Herinner de Holocaust met wereldwijde context. Het Parool, 15 juli 2021

Linda Bouws. Foto: Het Parool

Het nieuwe Nationaal Holocaust Museum moet meer bestrijken dan de vervolging van Joden in Europa, vindt Linda Bouws. Ze pleit voor een nieuwe herinneringscultuur.

In Amsterdam wil het Nationaal Holocaust Museum de geschiedenis van de Holocaust gaan vertellen. De opening is gepland in 2022. ‘De meeste mensen weten waar de Holocaust voor staat: voor de moord op zes miljoen Europese Joden, waaronder 104.000 uit Nederland. Met uw steun willen we het Nationaal Holocaust Museum tot de plek maken waar we dat wat nooit vergeten mag worden tonen aan de toekomstige generaties. Zo’n plek is nog steeds hard nodig in Nederland,’ aldus de initiatiefnemer op de site van het Joods Cultureel Kwartier.

Er gaat niet dagelijks een nieuw historisch museum open. Zeker in deze tijd is discussie over de doelstellingen en context van zo’n initiatief onvermijdelijk. Daarbij spelen vraagstukken van identiteit en inclusie een steeds belangrijker rol. Bij een beladen onderwerp als de Holocaust zal dat zeker niet beperkt blijven tot stemmen uit Nederland of Europa.

Zo is in Dubai onlangs de eerste Holocausttentoonstelling in de Verenigde Arabische Emiraten geopend in het museum Crossroads of Civilizations. Via persoonlijke getuigenissen wordt het verhaal verteld. Een klein gedeelte is gewijd aan Arabieren en moslims die Joden hielpen de Holocaust te overleven.

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An Interview With James Boyce: Agrarian Societies, Environmental Economics And Climate Change

C.J. Polychroniou interviews Professor Emeritus James K. Boyce about his career exploring agrarian societies, environmental economics and climate change.
This is part of PERI’s economist interview series, hosted by C.J. Polychroniou. It was first posted here.

C.J. Polychroniou: How did your interest in economics come about, and why did you choose to pursue graduate studies at Oxford University after having completed your undergraduate degree at Yale?

James K. Boyce: Midway through my college years I worked for two years on a land reform and rural development project in the Indian state of Bihar. I had taken introductory economics in my freshman year, but it was in Bihar that I really began to learn and think about how economies function and malfunction.

On returning to Yale I designed an independent major in Agricultural Development that included some more courses in economics. More importantly, I met my life partner, Betsy Hartmann, who had just come back from working in India, too. After graduating we returned to South Asia and lived for about a year in a village in Bangladesh. Our aim was to write a book that would give readers a window into the lives and perspectives of some of the world’s poorest people – an oral history of the present.

The book, A Quiet Violence, came out in 1983 after dozens of rejections from publishers. While we were completing it, we pieced together a living among other ways by teaching a Yale seminar on the political economy of world hunger. One book we used in the seminar was The Political Economy of Agrarian Change by Keith Griffin, an economist at Oxford. When I decided to go to grad school, I wrote to Keith and asked if he would consider working with me. He sent an encouraging reply, and that is the main reason I went to Oxford. It turned out to be a wonderful place to be. Keith was a splendid mentor, and I was also fortunate to study with Amartya Sen, who introduced me to the deep normative questions of value and distribution that lie at the heart of economic theory. I could not have had better teachers.

CJP: Your early research centered around food and development policy for mainly agrarian societies. What lessons have we learned about agrarian reform and economic growth in developing countries?

JB: In my dissertation I analyzed agricultural growth in Bangladesh and the neighboring Indian state of West Bengal, the two halves of Bengal that were partitioned in 1947 when India and Pakistan became independent nations. My central thesis was that water control – irrigation, drainage, and flood control – is the “leading input” in Asian rice agriculture, and that Bengal’s agrarian structure posed formidable obstacles to resolving the attendant problems of coordinated water management and collective action. The self-interest of the larger landowners who dominated rural society often undermined possibilities for improving agricultural performance. It is an example of what is sometimes called the “inefficiency of inequality.”

After receiving my doctorate, I embarked on a book about the Philippine economy in the Marcos era. The Philippines was the birthplace of the so-called “green revolution” in Asian rice agriculture, the introduction of highly fertilizer-responsive varieties that allowed major increases in output. In that country, too, agrarian inequality acted as a brake on growth and on the extent to which the growth that did occur improved the lives of the poor.

The Philippine experience stands in marked contrast to that of South Korea, which was poorer than the Philippines at the end of World War Two. Today South Korea’s per capita income is about ten times greater than that of the Philippines, and income inequality is far lower. The superior performance of South Korea in both respects can be traced above all to the fact that the country implemented a serious land-to-the-tiller agrarian reform shortly after the war, whereas the Philippines did not and still has not.

Thoroughgoing land reform was a key distinguishing feature in the postwar economic trajectories of East Asian countries more generally. China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan shared this experience in common despite their diverse political circumstances. Land reform ended the fateful dichotomy between ownership of the land and labor on it. In so doing, it unleashed broad-based growth not only in the agricultural sectors but in the economy as a whole.

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To A New Culture Of Remembrance

Joseph Sassoon Semah – Architectural model based on a mass grave of Jews in Baghdad – “Farhud” – the progrom against the Jews of Iraq on June 1-2 1941 – Kunstmuseum Den Haag

A new Nationaal Holocaust Museum is being built in Amsterdam to remember the history of the Holocaust. The opening is planned for 2022. An interesting initiative.

This is what the initiators said over their plan: ‘Most people know about the meaning of the Holocaust: the assassination of 6 million European Jews, of which 104.000 came from the Netherlands. With your  support we want to make the National Holocaust museum the place where we show future generations that this must never be forgotten. A place like this is still very necessary in the Netherlands’. This can be read on the Jewish Cultural Quarter website.

It doesn’t happen often that a new historical museum is opened. The most recent Dutch attempt to establish a Nationaal Historisch Museum initiated by Jan Marijnissen failed miserably.

Especially in this day and age, a discussion is inevitable about the objectives and context of such an initiative. Issues of identity and inclusion play an even more important role. With such a sensitive issue as that of the Holocaust, it will certainly not be limited to voices from the Netherlands or Europe.

Just recently the first Holocaust exhibition was opened in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai at the Crossroads of Civilisation Museum. Using personal testimonies the story of the Holocaust is told. A small part of the exhibition is dedicated to Arabs and Muslims who helped Jews survive the Holocaust. If they have devoted any attention to the Holocaust (Farhud) in the Middle East is currently unclear.

It will be inevitable for a museum that proposes to focus on future generations to be clear from the outset about the context of their museum-related activities. For example, you could add to the name Holocaust Museum: ‘The history of the Holocaust in the culture of the time and the worldwide meaning for the present’, or words with an equivalent meaning.

The Holocaust cannot be understood to be an exclusive definition of the assassination of 6 million European Jews. Hitler’s interest went beyond that of Europe. The Holocaust, albeit on a smaller scale, also took place in the Middle East. Jews in Iraq, Tunisia and Libya were persecuted and killed. In Bagdad during the Farhud on June 1st and 2nd 1941 there were around 200 victims and Jewish stores and houses were looted, destroyed and set fire to. The general presumption is, because of the later discovered mass graves, that the number of casualties was very much higher. The persecution of Jews increased after the founding of Israel in 1948. From 1950 until the seventies a huge exodus took place, mostly forced, from Arabic and South-African countries, often described as a Babylonian exile, meaning for so many the loss of a homeland, culture, traditions and stories.
Certainly in Europe, but also in the Middle-East there is a lack of knowledge and awareness of the injustice done to the Jews in the Middle-East, partly as a result of the Holocaust, after previously living harmoniously with Muslim communities in their residential and working environment.

Joseph Sassoon Semah – On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III – The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam

If the future Nationaal Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, a city with many cultures, wants to be interesting for future generations, then it is necessary to place the exhibitions in the context of diversity within Jewish culture of the time and the meaningfulness for the present. The National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam has the unique possibility of taking the initiative for a new future-proof Culture of Remembrance. This means that in programming and permanent exhibitions there should be a focus on Jews from all over the world and certainly those in the Middle East; their rich culture after the first exile from Jerusalem, with among others the Talmud Bavli, the centuries of peaceful and productive living with Muslims, the ‘Kristallnacht’ there, the second exile after the founding of Israel and the emerging Mizrahi Hebrew voice in the public domain, must not be forgotten, after being marginalized for so long.
Only then will justice be done to ‘diversity and inclusivity of the Jews’ and can the question ‘Are Jews white?’ perhaps be provided with a more balanced answer.

At the Kunstmuseum Den Haag there is the exhibition ‘On Friendship …..’ until the 29th of August 2021 of work by Joseph Sassoon Semah, the grandson of the last Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, Sassoon Kadoori (1886-1971). Metaphorically speaking it is a tribute to the lost culture in Iraq, and at the same time an invitation to a dialogue about different cultures. 36 architectural models of houses, synagogues and the mass grave of Farhud, and 86 drawings bring back to life the lost, integrated Jewish culture of Baghdad.

Linda Bouws, former director Felix Meritis Amsterdam, curator exhibition

Originally published (in Dutch) in Het Parool, July 15, 2021:

Translation: Jean Cameron – Amsterdam

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Radical Political Action Is Our Only Hope To Stop Criminal Negligence Of Climate Emergency

CJ Polychroniou

It can be done. It must be done. For there is no tomorrow if we fail to decarbonize and thus rescue the planet from a climate catastrophe.

Planet Earth is on fire because of global warming, yet there are still untold numbers of climate deniers in our midst, including over 130 elected officials in the U.S. Congress, and the global community’s response to the climate crisis continues to be not merely unacceptably slow, but borders on criminal negligence.

Economic, political, and even psychological factors are at play as to why humanity refuses to move away from a “business-as-usual” approach when it comes to taking the drastic but ultimately necessary steps needed to tame global warming, which are none other than complete independence from fossil fuels. Yet, we must direct immediately all political energy towards this goal, otherwise complete climate collapse with apocalyptic consequences is inevitable and irreversible. We know the facts and have the know-how to save the planet. Indeed, human activities are destroying planet Earth, but political action can stop the destruction before it’s all over.

The belief that human activity could change temperatures and somehow alter a local climate has been around since antiquity. Of course, ancient civilizations didn’t know anything about climate science. We first learned about Earth’s natural “greenhouse effect” sometime in the early 1820s, thanks to Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist who was the first person to recognize that the Earth’s atmosphere retains heat radiation. Then in the late 1850s the Irish scientist John Tyndall provided the explanation for the phenomenon of the “greenhouse effect” via his discovery that certain gases such as water vapor and carbon dioxide trap heat and warm the atmosphere. And in the late nineteenth century, the Swedish chemist/physicist Svante Arrhenius discovered that various human activities, including fossil fuel combustion, were contributing to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Moreover, Arrhenius was able to determine through a numerical computation that the temperature in Europe could be lowered by between 4 and 5 degrees Celsius if the levels of carbon dioxide were cut in half, and inversely, if levels of carbon dioxide were to be increased by 50 percent, there would be a warming of between 5 and 6 degrees Celsius.

Still, climatology did not emerge into a major scientific enterprise until after World War II, and it was only in the 1950s when researchers began measuring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, thanks to David Keeling, a pioneer in modern climate science.

Indicative perhaps of how slow politics and societies in general react to scientific discoveries, the cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and global warming does not emerge in public consciousness as a major issue—at least in the United States—until NASA scientist James Hansen’s seminal testimony in front of a U.S. Senate Committee on June 23, 1988. This was the first warning to the world at large that the age of global warming had arrived. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most authoritative voice on climate crisis, was also created in 1988, which, incidentally, was the hottest year on record since the beginning of the century. Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one, with 2020 being one of the hottest years on record. In fact, and while as of this writing the Pacific Midwest is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave, with hundreds of deaths, “there is a 90% likelihood of at least one year between 2021-2025 becoming the warmest on record,” according to the WMO Lead Centre for Annual-to Decadal Climate Prediction.

Yet, very little has been done since the late1980s to combat global warming. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and entered into effect in 2005, was the first legally binding agreement (pdf) on the climate crisis. But the treaty had severe limitations. First, it applied only to industrialized countries, requiring them to reduce greenhouse gases on average by 5 percent below the 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012. Major emitters like China and India were left out, and the treaty was never ratified by the United States. The Kyoto Protocol was obviously inadequate in addressing global warming, but it was reservedly hailed as a “reasonable first step” (pdf), which was really another way of saying that climate crisis was a problem to be solved by future generations.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement that was adopted by virtually every nation in 2015 seemed to offer greater hopes for combating global warming. The primary aim of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming in this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, the treaty not only allows individual countries to determine themselves their preferred course of action for reducing greenhouse gases, but it is not even legally binding. In sum, it is a treaty for combating global warming without any teeth. Hardly surprising, therefore, that a recent Nationally Determined Contributions synthesis report found that “current levels of climate ambition are not on track to meet our Paris Agreement goals.” The report corroborates the view of Princeton University environmental scientist Michael Oppenheimer who marked the progress made five years after the signing of the Paris Agreement in terms of the prospect of meeting a 2 degrees Celsius target with a grade of D or F.

The emissions reduction process is indeed moving at a very slow pace when we consider the fact that we need to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 in order to avoid the worse possible effects of global warming. The Covid-19 pandemic did produce a relatively sharp decline, approximately by 5.8 percent, in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. But this does not constitute a “success story” given that at some point more than half of the world economy had come to a forced standstill. Destroying economic activity is not the way to combat global warming. Moreover, as the pandemic experience has shown, even with more than half of the world economy in a lockdown, the reduction in carbon emissions was not as huge as one might have expected, and carbon emissions are now again on the rise. Demand for oil has surged even in the midst of new worries about Covid-19, a development which stresses the point rather forcefully of how addicted the world remains to the fossil fuel economy.

Nonetheless, all is not yet lost. The Green New Deal is gaining traction as more and more people become aware of the way that global warming plunders the planet and affects their very own existence. Green parties across Europe are making huge gains in local, national, and European parliament elections, all while grassroots responses to the climate crisis are growing worldwide and climate lawsuits are becoming a global trend themselves.  As a case in point, a Belgian court ruled recently that state authorities have shown negligence in tackling the climate crisis and “breached the European convention on human rights.” Germany’s highest court found that the country’s climate law is unconstitutional, a decision that has been heralded as a “historic” victory for youth. In the U.S. over fifty organizations have called for a Green New Deal plan for Pacific Northwest Forests as part of a response to the growing threat the climate crisis. And Robert Pollin, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has designed scores of commissioned state-level Green New Deals aiming towards a transition to a net-zero emissions economy.

But we are still at the beginning of the war against global warming and the fossil fuel economy and its allies. Powerful interests will continue to stand on the way to saving the planet as long as profits are to be made from any activities associated with fossil fuels. This includes not only the fossil fuel industry itself, which has spent many billions of dollars so far in the U.S. alone opposing clean energy policies and even undermining climate science, but other corporate and financial entities such as banks. Governments too. We need greater public mobilization to exert influence on policymakers. We need many more Sunrise Movements, strong coalitions among civil rights groups, environmental groups, and progressive political forces, and intensification of campaigns and protests against investment in fossil fuels.

It can be done. It must be done. For there is no tomorrow if we fail to decarbonize and thus rescue the planet from a climate catastrophe. Humans are responsible for the impending climate apocalypse, but we also have the power to stop it. All it takes is true commitment and concerted action.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.


C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change” and “Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors).

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The Differences Between Fascism And Trump(ism)

CJ Polychroniou

Trump’s policies were brutally neoliberal, racist, nativist, authoritarian, narcissistic — but fascist?

Donald Trump will go down in history as the president responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans due to the criminal negligence in his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and for pushing the world closer to a precipice with his denialism of our climate crisis; yet, he may ultimately be best remembered for having decidedly transform American political culture with the theatricality of his proto-fascist politics.

Trump emerged on the political scene at a time of increasing contradictions ­in the American system of economic organization and distribution, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, and growing divisions within society at large over race, ethnicity, and culture. While he had no previous political experience, his instincts told him that the route to power in a highly divided society was to double down on those divisions–a tactic that had been employed quite successfully in the past by various extreme political figures all over the world, including the likes of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolph Hitler in Germany, respectively.

Indeed, Trump’s stratagem of tapping into a huge reservoir of racism and nativism through the use of white identity politics and exploiting public discontent associated with America’s economic decline through a standard repertoire of ultranationalist rants and transparent scapegoatism was key to his rise in power. Moreover, rather than aiming to unify a divided country while holding the nation’s highest office, he continued to act more like the leader of a political party bent on cementing the ideological and cultural divisions in American society, all while implementing economic policies that would lead to further inequality and the expansion of the power of the plutocracy.

Trump’s transformation of American political culture consisted in the unleashing of dangerous forces–arch-enemies of the open and diverse society–that posed an internal threat to liberal democracy. His refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election, and subsequent attempts by him and his allies to overturn the election, was indeed the culmination of four years of proto-fascist political rhetoric and authoritarian grandstanding.

Subsequently, Trump’s politics has led many to conclude that the alleged billionaire entrepreneur is a fascist and that the United States was actually on the verge of becoming a fascist country during his four-year tenure in power. It is a belief that continues to hold sway over the minds of many progressives, especially since the GOP is officially now Trump’s party and Republicans are fighting as dirty as they can to return to power, with or without Trump at the helm.

However, as I will argue below, and without any intention of downplaying the dangers that Trump and Trumpism represent for a dysfunctional democracy like the one that prevails in the United States, this is a belief based on a misunderstanding of fascism both as a movement and as a regime. Fascism has specific politico-economic properties, even though there are some subtle differences between Italian fascism, German Nazism, and Spanish Francoism, and is defined by a unique philosophical worldview regarding the relationship between state and individual. Fascism is an extreme right-wing authoritarian form of government, but not all authoritarian governments qualify as fascist, and the term in connection with Trump is quite misleading. In fact, hardly any expert on fascism thinks that what Trump practiced fits with the political ideology behind fascism.

The differences between fascism and Trump(ism) are quite striking. Trump and the political movement that he created do share certain traits with fascism, such as reliance on hate, fear, and conspiracy theories, along with the rejection of reason, to deepen social divisions and to create a sense of an imminent collapse as part of a strategy whose aim is to change the political environment by bringing about a change in the existing balance of social forces. But these are tactics that have been widely used by authoritarian leaders and extreme populist movements throughout the modern era of politics. Moreover, while the characterizations of Trump as an authoritarian figure with an utterly narcissistic personality or as a dangerous con artist who manipulates people to believe in lies and “alternative facts” are totally, unmistakably true, the orange maniac is not an ideologue by any stretch of the imagination; instead, he will gladly say whatever he feels is necessary to please his base.

What is fascism?

First, fascism represents one form of “exceptional capitalist state,” as the Marxist political sociologist Nicos Poulantzas had argued, and reflects the breakdown of social order as a result of a severe capitalist crisis and the ensuing confrontation between different classes and ideological groups for political hegemony.

Fascism emerged in Europe during the interwar years (1919-1939) and was first established in Italy under Benito Mussolini (1922-1945) and then in Germany under Adolph Hitler (1933-1945). Italian fascism and German National Socialism represent “classical fascism” and rest on similar belief systems and regime properties, with one possible exception: the “biological” state did not figure as prominently in Italian fascism as it did under the Third Reich.

Fascism relies on paramilitary squads to spread terror and pursues relentless raids against socialists, communists, and other arch-enemies of fascism. This was typical of the role of Mussolini’s paramilitary squads, known as the “blackshirts,” whose activities covered all regions of the country, including the peninsula and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and constituted an integral component of the fascism’s march to power and the establishment of a dictatorship.

The Nazi rise to power followed a similar path. In 1921, Hitler formed the paramilitary organization Sturm Abteilung (SA), more commonly known as the “brownshirts.” The purpose of the “Sturm Unit” was none other than to intimidate political opponents. In 1925, Hitler established a sub-division of the SA, the Schutzstaffel (German for “Protective Echelon”), otherwise known as the SS, which served as Hitler’s personal bodyguards. The SS, Hitler’s “master race,” would eventually see its role and size expanded dramatically after 1929 when Heinrich Himmler was put in charge. By the start of World War II, the SS consisted of more than 250,000 members that had a hand on virtually all major Nazi activities, including running concentration camps.

Unless I am mistaken, there were no signs of “blackshirts” or “brownshirts” engaging in thuggish vigilantism before Trump’s rise to power.

Fascist political ideology is also unmistakably unique. Fascism strips away individual rights and glorifies the state. The organic state is typified by the fascist regime, which assigns the state complete control over every aspect of national life. For Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher and political theorist of Italian fascism, “state and individual are one,” while “the authority of the state is not subject to negotiation, or compromise, or to divide its terrain with other moral or religious principles that might interfere in consciousness.”

Fascism bans political opposition, ends constitutional rule, enforces censorship, and imprisons political opponents.

Indeed, as Benito Mussolini’s own formulation of fascism has it, “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

It is worth quoting at length the fascist conception of the state, as articulated once again by Mussolini himself:
Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity. It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts.

Totalitarianism and state terrorism are defining attributes of fascism. Trump’s administration, horrific as it was, exhibited no such features.

There are also striking differences between fascism and Trump(ism) when it comes to the economy.

Fascists do not oppose private property but believe in taming capitalism by forming a specific relationship between state and big business or monopoly capital, with the state having the upper hand. Mussolini identified the economics of fascism as “state capitalism.”  Fascism also intervenes in the overall workings of the economy through coordinated actions of some central planning board to attain a set of “fixed objectives,” even if those actions tended at times to involve “dis-organic intervention,” as Mussolini himself had once complained. Fascism also controls the monetary system, sets prices, and promotes large government projects and all sorts of public works as part of the pursuit of its alleged “full-employment” economy. Hitler’s autobahn construction (though plans for the autobahn date to the 1920s and construction had actually begun before Hitler came to power) was undertaken under that pretext. Nonetheless, it was rearmament that helped the Nazis achieve economic recovery in the 1930s.

Trump’s economic policies, on the other hand, were brutally neoliberal in origin and scope. The war alone that his administration launched on regulations clearly testifies to Trump’s commitment to free-market fundamentalism. As far as his opposition to “free trade” is concerned, it was initiated by his belief that other countries were bending the rules at the expense of the United States, not because he was in principle against the idea of “free trade.”

Trump’s policies sought to enhance even further the power of the plutocracy in the United States. And he accomplished this through the pursuit of extreme neoliberal policies, not through a corporatist model. On the other hand, to keep his fanatical base loyal, he employed a standard repertoire of proto-fascist rhetoric and challenged as far as he could the foundations of liberal democracy, which, according to his followers, had set rules that cater to the whims of the “detestable elite.”

In this manner, Trump was not alone. Virtually all authoritarian political figures out there today (Orban in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil, to name just a few) use similar tactics, exploit the vulnerabilities in the political culture in which they operate and exhibit disdain for the rule of law. Do they all, with Trump together,  belong to the fascist camp? Not unless the aim is to reduce fascism to a meaningless political ideology and forget the sickening atrocities committed by fascist regimes in the most murderous century in recorded history.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States.  He has published scores of  books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers, and popular news websites. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books;  Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors);  and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change, an  anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books (scheduled for publication in June 2021).

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