The Centrist and the Fascist
A tale of gambling, compromise, and surrender.
By Matthew Barad, October 30, 2018
On Sunday night, Brazil elected a fascist. This is a man who has joked about rape, called for indigenous peoples to be killed, promoted the deforestation of the Amazon, and demanded that leftists be purged.
55% of Brazilians voted for him.
Balsonaro’s election has reignited fears about the global rise of fascism. I myself have written several pieces about Trump’s fascist tendencies and likely agenda. And though there is plenty of room to consider the causes behind fascism’s recent rise, and why right wing populism continues to gain traction, we need to understand that fascism doesn’t take power suddenly and without warning — rather, it is allowed to fester, and is even spurred on by those who have the power to stop it.
In Brazil, Balsonaro’s rise was made possible by a decades-long centrist war against the left. MBD (the largest centrist party in Brazil) allied itself with the nationalist right in order to indict the leaders of PT (democratic socialist party) on charges of corruption. Former PT President Luiz Lula, a metal worker who dedicated his life to the fight for justice, is sitting in prison after being convicted of corruption. Whether innocent or guilty, Lula remains the most popular politician in Brazil, and was clearly targeted by the center and right in order to weaken Brazil’s left.
In joining ranks with the nationalists and against Lula’s party, the MBD was making a simple bet. They believed that, by using the courts to take the PT out of power, they could secure themselves a position to implement a decidedly neoliberal agenda. They were wrong. In forcing the left out of power, and in preventing Lula from running for office, the MBD opened the doors to fascism.
Disgruntled by the inaction of their government and disheartened by gross political injustice, the people of Brazil had to choose between a malignant status quo or a drastic, terrifying change. MBD, like so many others, gambled everything on the assumption that fascism could never win. And as I said, they were terribly mistaken.
This is not only the story of Brazil, but of fascism everywhere. Every time an ultra-nationalist party manages to seize control, it is not because of the ignorance of the poor, nor the incompetence of the left. It is because the center sided with the fascist to defeat the left, and then surrendered to the monster they fostered.
In Germany, the rise of the Nazi party occurred because the centrist parties conspired to eliminate the socialist SDP. The small business owners (Burghers) in particular sided with the Nazis, not because they agreed with them on any specific policy positions, but because socialism threatened their property, whereas fascism only threatened their ethics. The conservative “old guard” of Weimar believed, like the MBD, that they could take power and rebuild the pre-war status quo, if only those damn leftists would disappear.
In Spain, the international community watched passively while the elected government of Spain was overthrown in a fascist coup. And though the fascist powers were quick to send troops and weapons to Franco and his forces, the “democratic” west looked unfavorably upon the leftism of the Republicans, and simply allowed their massacre. While American leftists died in trenches in Spain, American fascists sent tons of supplies to support Franco’s coup.
The international center, like in every other case, was more afraid of a leftist Spain than a fascist Spain. And so they compromised on their support for democracy and free determination, dooming Spain to half a century of brutal oppression.
And then came 2016, and America’s center made the same, age-old gamble. Facing a challenge from the left, Hillary Clinton and the DNC opted to double down on the centrist position, even attacking leftist ideas like single payer healthcare and universal college education in hopes of preventing Bernie’s rise. Though Sanders can hardly be called “far left,” through the warped hellscape of American politics, anyone opting against the starvation and suffering of the majority appears radical.
So the DNC did everything it could to not only defeat the challenge from the left, but to force that left out of politics all together. In what can only be described as a depressingly apt parallel to the Brazilian elections, this meant joining with the right to attack the most popular politician in America. And just as in Brazil, removing the left from politics did not hand the center four more years of status quo — it handed the country over to Donald Trump and his white nationalist supporters.
Whatever the reason, whether in defense of the ruling class, or out of a hidden hatred for the poor and nonwhite, the center always veers right — and it almost always backfires. Though the victories of Troudeau and Macron show that this strategy does sometimes work, the fates of Germany, of Spain, of America, and now of Brazil, tell us the cost of centrist gambling.
So if you’re a leftist, don’t trust the center. And if you’re a centrist, make peace with the fascism you beget.