The 1970s witnessed debates about new fascistic forms of capitalist counterrevolution among militant intellectuals across the world. This article briefly maps some of the Latin American debates over the analytical and political pertinence of the category of fascism as applied to the military dictatorships of that time. It explores competing ideas of dependent fascism, fascism as project, and the counterinsurgent state, while homing in on two crucial lessons of the debate: (1) the centrality accorded to fascism as a historically and geographically specific product of imperialist crises, and (2) the notion that the fascization of the state may serve a transitional function in accelerating and consolidating processes of capitalist restructuring.

There is only one thing which is free: prices. In our countries Adam Smith needs Mussolini. Freedom of investment, freedom of prices, free exchange rates: the freer the businesses, the more imprisoned are the people. The prosperity of a few is everyone else's curse. Who knows of wealth that is innocent? In times of crisis, don't the liberals become conservative, the conservatives fascist? In whose interests do the assassins of people and countries carry out their tasks?

—Eduardo Galeano, Days and Nights of Love and War (1978)

And we have been able to see in this unusual and unique process how this law of history is manifested—that the reactionaries, the exploiters in their desperation, supported fundamentally from the outside, generate and develop this political phenomenon, this reactionary current that is fascism.

And we say it with complete candor: that we have had the opportunity to learn and see fascism in action.

—Fidel Castro, “Speech at the Estadio Nacional” (1971)

The category of fascism is a category open to historicity.

—Agustín Cueva, “The External Sources of Fascism” (1978)

The ongoing debate about fascism's returns most often orbits around, and gets stuck in, the question of the analogies or disanalogies between the current faces of reaction and their interwar European precursors. And yet the second half of the twentieth century witnessed multiple, nationally or regionally specific debates about “new fascisms.” While in the immediate postwar period the concern was primarily with continuities (of juridical institutions, ideologies, and personnel), in the 1960s and 1970s attention turned to the possibility that fascism was being reinvented under radically different sociopolitical conditions and in forms that bore little surface similarity to its chief historical exemplars. At stake in debates in Western Europe was the emergence of new fascisms co-determined by the liberatory challenge posed by the “red decade” of social agitation (1968–1977), on the one hand, and by the consolidation of new patterns of capital accumulation and state power overseen by a hyper-repressive crisis-state (Negri 1980), on the other.1 The residual persistence and crisis of dictatorships with fascist characteristics in Greece, Portugal, and Spain also played its part (Poulantzas 1976).

In the United States, the novelty of an incipient fascism was also seen to graft itself onto the longue durée of racial fascism.2 The US left, spanning Marxist and Marxist-Leninist groupings, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and multiple liberation movements, also produced its own intense and fractious debate on the pertinence of fascism to the conjuncture of the late sixties and seventies. The question of repression, carcerality, and the transformations of the state were also at its center, as they were for European militants, but whereas Old World debates largely developed out of a sense of the revolutionary potentials of a workers’ and students’ movement that had recently demonstrated its combative, even proto-revolutionary capacities, the US discussion—when it didn't parrot Third International dogmas and seek to apply them unimaginatively to an American context3—was obliged to contend with the longue durée of white supremacy (of what Amiri Baraka reading Black Reconstruction called “racial fascism”) and the specific conjuncture of a repressive backlash against black insurgencies and political organizing.

It is in this context that a notion that had first been advanced to grasp the inception of Italian fascism in 1922 by the anarchist Luigi Fabbri, and was later employed by R. Palme Dutt in his Fascism and Social Revolution—preventive counterrevolution—was revived by Herbert Marcuse and Angela Y. Davis to account for the specificity of the temporality and violence of the US state and para-state response to emancipatory movements. At the limit, this appropriation of preventive counterrevolution to the racialized practices of class warfare and counterinsurgency that roiled US society under the baleful rubric of “law and order” moved talk of fascism away from an antonymic relation to liberalism and toward a perception of it as a moment within the self-reproduction of a kind of Herrenvolk liberal democracy.

Could the concept of fascism be stretched this far? In the 1970s US debate on fascism a note of caution was sounded in this regard by theorists and activists in the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO), who responded to what they perceived as a strategically and tactically dangerous inflation of fascism talk on the revolutionary left by stressing how the specific racial terms and history of capitalist rule in the US made fascism as an aberrant stratagem or exceptional state less likely in the US—not because of liberal antibodies but because of the normality of racialized violence to the reproduction of the US capitalist state. Positing—as authors ranging from Trotsky to Ernst Bloch or the Frankfurt School had already done, but against Third International dogmas—that fascism is defined by a relative autonomy vis-à-vis the dominant bourgeois order, Noel Ignatiev (2022: 162–63)—though not discounting the possibility that an intensification of socioeconomic crisis could spawn fascist movements among white workers—argued,

Everything in the U.S. must be viewed through the prism of the white supremacist contract on which bourgeois hegemony rests. Denial of rights to, and violence against, people of color is not fascism but the ordinary operation of bourgeois legality in the U.S. Indeed, this violence is premised not on the denial of bourgeois rights to the rest of the population but on the continuance of these rights. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan, resisting through the most savage violence even the slightest concession to people of color, have had as their aim not the destruction of unions, constitutional legality, etc. but their maintenance and strengthening for whites only. . . . There do exist fascist groups, and they have some base, but if fascism is understood as a movement, with some degree of autonomy directed against “ordinary” bourgeois rule, then it must be said that, excepting for a short period in the early 1930s, fascism has never been favored by the capitalist class in its dominant sectors. (This is not to deny growing pressure toward more right-wing, repressive policies within the existing institutional framework.) Why should the bourgeoisie favor fascism? Hasn't white supremacy served to maintain its rule so far?

A turn to fascism by US capital would be a sign of extreme weakness in this respect, a symptom of the severe dysfunction of the racial underpinnings of bourgeois hegemony American-style. As Don Hamerquist (1976: 6) observed in another STO pamphlet: “Since [a] serious revolutionary threat is a necessary factor to convince the ruling class of the necessity of fascism, it follows that . . . there is little likelihood that the ruling class will resort to fascism to ‘maintain social control’ over the working class as a whole while white supremacy is doing such an admirable job. To a large degree bourgeois democracy in this country is a white privilege.” While fascist movements, groups, and strategies could partake in a broader dynamic of preventive counterrevolution, approached from STO's theoretical prism, this should not be imagined in terms of a fascism entirely immanent to the state.4 As the group advanced in one of its theses on fascism: “Fascism, as has been pointed out, has its roots in official bourgeois race policies. In that sense it is complementary to official policy, reinforces it, etc. But at the same time it contradicts official policy and sets itself up as a genuine opposition and alternative to it. Fascism draws strength from the general direction of official policy, and from the inconsistency, incompleteness, and partial character of that policy. That is why it cannot be said that every blow against fascism weakens official bourgeois policy, or that every blow against official bourgeois policy weakens fascism” (Ignatin 1982). Does the bourgeois counterrevolution require the disruptive exceptionality of fascist solutions? Must fascism take the form of an autonomous movement (something denied by many theorists of “racial fascism” who would nevertheless concur with much of Ignatiev's delineation of the “white supremacist contract” [Toscano 2023b])? Is fascism something that can be spurred, instrumentalized, and domesticated by capital? These questions would beset much of the revolutionary left, in the US and beyond.

Yet the most wide-ranging and innovative debate on the US contribution to the forging of a “new fascism” arguably did not take place within the hegemon's borders, but among Marxist and radical left intellectuals in Latin America, responding to the installation of murderous US-backed military dictatorships in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and beyond. Where so many analyses of fascism remained content (as they still do) with treating fascism within the national frame that it itself privileges, the Latin American debate could not but draw on the insight that fascism was, as the Brazilian dependency theorist Theotônio dos Santos put it, “a counter-revolutionary form proper to the epoch of imperialism” (García et al. 1978) and that imperialism and its crises and transmutations provided an indispensable prism to render processes of fascization intelligible. Notwithstanding its European horizon, the work of Nicos Poulantzas could here serve as a reference point in its foregrounding of the “imperialist chain” as a crucial frame through which to grasp fascism's conjunctural specificity.5 As Poulantzas (2019: 17) advanced: “[Max] Horkheimer, reacting early against the whole conception of ‘totalitarianism,’ wrote: ‘Anyone who does not wish to discuss capitalism should also stay silent on the subject of fascism.’ Strictly speaking, this is incorrect: it is he who does not wish to discuss imperialism who should stay silent on the subject of fascism.”

I want to focus on the way in which the imperial framing of the Latin American counterrevolutions of the 1970s led to a range of different analytical and definitional takes on fascism, which stressed disanalogies with “classic” European fascism while seeking to discern the particularities of the new regimes. As an international reactionary political cycle spurs talk of fascism in the US, Latin America, and beyond, are there any methodological and political lessons to draw from the debates of the seventies?

In the Fascist Hothouse

I want to take as my entry point a 1978 seminar held in Mexico, “The External Sources of Fascism: Latin American Fascism and the Interests of Imperialism,” with the participation of the Ecuadorian Marxist thinker Agustin Cueva, the Brazilian dependency theorists Ruy Mauro Marini and Theotônio Dos Santos, moderated by the Chilean economist Pío García. Debates on fascism had been present in South America from the 1930s onward, reflecting both a possible interpretation of criollo forms of authoritarian mass politics (Péronismo in Argentina, Getulismo in Brazil, etc.) as well as the diasporic presence of European fascist movements and intellectuals (Trindade 1983; Finchelstein 2010). But the context for this debate was radically distinct, oriented as it was by the new military dictatorships that had implanted themselves throughout the continent (1964 in Brazil, 1966–1973 and then again in 1976 in Argentina, 1973 in both Chile and Uruguay), largely with the active support of the US state and its intelligence agencies, and with the express aim of snuffing out the revolutionary aspirations and strategic possibilities opened up by the 1959 Cuban revolution and reverberating across the hemisphere (Marchesi 2017: 135). The question of fascism and its pertinence to the conjuncture of mass popular movements, revolutionary horizons, and vicious counterrevolution and counterinsurgency, had occupied much of the Latin American left intelligentsia throughout the seventies, so that, while the dictatorships were still very much in power, by 1978 the discussion had attained a certain theoretical maturity and was capable of drawing some lessons from an extensive and tragic political experience. All four participants, it should be noted, were profoundly linked to the Unidad Popular moment in Chile: Cueva taught at the University of Concepción in the early seventies (he was in Chile during the Ecuadorian coup of 1972); dos Santos, in Chile as an exile from the Brazilian dictatorship, was the director of the Centro de Estudios Socio-Económicos (CESO) at the Universidad de Chile from 1972 and a member of Allende's Socialist Party (Kay 2019); Marini joined the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) on arriving in Chile in 1969, while also participating with dos Santos in CESO (Gutiérrez Yáñez 1997; Latimer 2022); García directed CESO from 1969 to 1971, when he went to work for the UP government.

García's (García et al. 1978) framing of the debate is methodologically interesting and astute, moving beyond the prima facie issue of whether some strain or subtype of fascism can adequately characterize the new faces of armed state power in Latin America (Cueva and Dos Santos think so; Marini demurs) to ask whether what is being addressed is primarily the novelty of regimes, namely, “determinate modes of articulating the exercise of power,” or state forms correlated with the reproduction of the conditions for continued capitalist accumulation. In other words, are the dictatorships indices of contingent, expedient shifts in the exercise of class power or symptoms of deeper and broader transformations in the articulation of state and capital? The fact that the state terror wielded by dictators and juntas may betoken more structural transformations need not suggest an endurance of the regimes themselves. García thus frames the question of Latin American fascism not just in terms of the way it was impelled and enabled by US imperialism but also stresses how, with the Carter administration, one could begin to discern pressures on these regimes to moderate their more flagrantly repressive traits, opening up the path toward “managed democracies” (democracias tuteladas). Though he does not formulate the question in terms of what would later be recognized as the nexus between state terror and neoliberalism in Latin America, García's question is farsighted: “What are the possibilities of endurance, of stability, of situations of transition in which the material and structural conditions that shaped the dictatorial regimes are not modified but maintained?” Very good, it turns out. Fascismo criollo or fascismo militar could appear in this light as a transitional and auxiliary form functional to destroying and disorganizing any resistance to profound structural transformations in social and economic power.6

In his contribution to the seminar, Cueva underscored this dimension, presenting Latin American fascism as a lever and accelerant for wide-ranging economic transformations that could only pass through a massive, terroristic, and exceptional application of concentrated class and state power. For Cueva, it was important to situate the emergence of fascistic military dictatorships in Latin America in the context of a worldwide, if nonhomogeneous, crisis of capital, which did not ultimately shake bourgeois hegemony in the Atlantic North but created ruptural (and sometimes revolutionary) situations in the “peripheries.” As he observed:

The order of the imperialist capitalist system generates situations in which the articulation and development of its contradictions is such that monopolist bourgeois domination can only be maintained through terrorism, which moreover serves as a valuable extra-economic lever for the re-composition of the mechanisms of capital accumulation, which have been seriously affected by the crisis. For this reason, the political war against popular sectors that primarily characterizes the initial phase of the bourgeois counterrevolution, is followed, in cases of real fascisation, by a veritable economic war against the great working masses. Once “order” is restored, one inevitably passes to a process of reconditioning the bases of “civil society.” (García et al. 1978; see also Cueva 1977)

For Cueva, there is no fascist economic model per se, rather fascism is to be understood as a political category. Fascist regimes draw their economic content and policy from monopoly capital. The form of fascist domination as it relates to that economic content is best understood as forcing through changes in the regime of accumulation and the intensity of exploitation which it does not itself dictate. For Cueva, “fascist terror makes it possible to accelerate the completion of a series of economic ‘tasks’ hitherto ‘obstructed’ by a determinate level of the class struggle, while, in an infernal vicious circle, said completion requires the maintenance of a good dose of terror” (García et al. 1978). Though Cueva does not make this resonance explicit, it is difficult not to hear echoes of Marx's observation in chapter 31 of Capital: Volume 1, according to which all the different moments and modalities of primitive accumulation (among which “the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins”) “all employ the power of the state, the concentrated and organized force of society, to hasten, as in a hothouse, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power” (Marx 1990: 915–16; see also Zavaleta Mercado 1979: 77).

While what is at stake for Cueva is an intra-capitalist transition, carried out against proletarian and peasant opposition, we can draw from this pairing and from Cueva's own analysis the notion of the fascization of Latin American states as the creation of a kind of neoliberal hothouse, incorporating a brutal lowering in wages verging on “absolute pauperisation,” a reordering of the bourgeois power bloc through centralization and concentration of economic power, a reorganization of internal markets (drawing popular classes into consumption while devastating health, housing, and education), and a transnationalization of Latin American economies, in which a fascist politics generates comparative advantage and the rise of a monopoly sector of the local bourgeoisie, whose autonomy, as Cueva wryly notes, “does not consist in the possibility of dying national flag in hand, but in that of establishing better relative conditions for extracting surplus-value from its proletariat” (García et al. 1978). Similarly, Cueva suggests that certain categories circulating in the debate on the nature of Latin American authoritarianism, such as the “national security state,” or the “bureaucratic-authoritarian state,”7 should be treated as forms of appearance of a more substantial phenomenon, which is that of the use of fascism as an accelerant for a consolidation of state monopoly capital—which, looking closer, seems better defined as a state for monopoly capital.

Marini (1973), who had participated in the MIR's internal discussions on fascism and had identified a fascist turn of the Chilean bourgeoisie in early 1973, covers much of the same political-economic phenomenology as Cueva but begins with a call for analytic precision, emphasizing the need to address the specificity of the ongoing Latin American counterrevolution without necessarily identifying it with other modalities of bourgeois counterrevolution, fascism included. Marini distinguishes three strands necessary to a comprehensive understanding of Latin American counterrevolutions: (1) the US strategy of counterinsurgency; (2) the recomposition of Latin American capitalist classes; and (3) mass movements. Inaugurated under Kennedy, and confronting anti-imperial and anti-colonial revolutions from Cuba to Algeria, Congo to Vietnam, the strategy of counterinsurgency gives rise to a doctrine based on the principles of annihilation, conquest of social bases, and institutionalization. Counterinsurgency, in applying a military logic to political contests, has a profound affinity with fascism grounded in the conviction that the enemy must not simply be defeated but extirpated. All struggle is reduced to the dimension of war. Like fascism, counterinsurgency also imagines social antagonism as the product of a subversion by an enemy that has infiltrated itself into the body politic; the revolutionary movement is a virus to be eliminated.

But, and here the parallel with fascism ends, counterinsurgency's violent project of social hygiene is ultimately imagined in a restorative guise, “it explicitly proposes to re-establish bourgeois democracy, after the exceptional phase represented by the period of war” (García et al. 1978). Like Cueva, Marini sees the dictatorships as anchored in a transformation of the local bourgeoisie and its integration into international circuits of capital, but adds to Cueva's characterization that this sees the termination of the widespread Latin American norm of a “populist state” and the creation of “a new state, which is fundamentally concerned with the interests of the monopolist fraction, national and foreign, and therefore establishes selective mechanisms to favour its accumulation.” But it is in terms of the third strand, that of (revolutionary) mass movements and the way they shape the counterrevolution, that Marini sees the most significant demarcation from the classical fascist pattern of counterrevolution, in ways that resonate in part with some of the arguments we encountered at the outset in Ignatiev and STO. While Marini acknowledges shoots of fascism in the periods of preparation for military coups, say, in the role of far-right militias in agitation and destabilization, he also stresses that the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie can never—in societies structured by hyper-exploitation and in the absence of an integrative populist design that could durably mobilize petty-bourgeois and worker sectors—win politically, but must ultimately resort to the concentrated terroristic force of the state. While it might draw some support and a lot of passivity and complicity from them, it is not petty-bourgeois masses but the officer class of the armed forces that is the crucial ally and spearhead of the counterrevolution.

For Marini, the monopolist bourgeoisie in Latin America simply cannot mobilize substantive social forces (as it did in Germany or Italy) to counter mass movements toward socialism (see also dos Santos 1977). This inability and unwillingness to constitute itself into a counterrevolutionary political force is also connected to the restorative horizon of the dictatorships, to an ideological discourse anchored around the defense of bourgeois democracy and not its supplanting by a new (fascist) form of the political. Not a fascist state then, but, for Marini, a counterinsurgency state, a partnership of the armed forces and monopoly capital (under US geopolitical tutelage), marked by a hypertrophy of executive power.8 Working with the distinction between state and regime with which García framed the seminar, Marini (García et al. 1978) will argue that

the counterinsurgency state is the corporative state of the monopolist bourgeoisie and the armed forces, independently of the form taken by this state, that is to say, independently of the extant political regime. This state presents formal likenesses with the fascist state, as with other types of capitalist state, but its specificity lies in its peculiar corporative essence and in the structure and functioning that are thereby generated. To call it fascist does not make us an advance one step in the understanding of its significance.9

And its regime can indeed change: as Marini notes, again echoing comments by Cueva on the Carter administration, theorists of US imperialism tasked with repairing the shortcomings of the counterinsurgency doctrine (e.g., Samuel Huntington and the Trilateral Commission) will then seek to “flexibilise” in the direction of “viable democracies” from which the threat of popular sovereignty and mass autonomy has been neutralized. The aim, Marini suggests, is a political “opening” that will retain the essence of the counterinsurgency state. This would also allow a more seamless adjustment of the political to the economic that dictatorships are ill-suited to reproduce. For, as Zavaleta Mercado (1979: 83) observed, under capital's preferred political regime, namely bourgeois democracy, “the mobility of the superstructure is a condition for politics not to deny the economy.”

Marini's fellow dependency theorist dos Santos (1977) will instead seek to retain the appellation of fascism for the Latin American dictatorships by treating fascism as mass movement as a secondary or inessential trait and employing a capacious definition of fascism as a regime of exception of big capital, responding to imperialist crisis and grounded on terror. For dos Santos, some quality of marginality or indeed “lateness” is definitional of fascism, which in its classical heartlands is marked by an accelerated centralization of capital and power, which combine with hypernationalism to try to beat back revolutionary threats.10 A crucial insight of dos Santos is that fascism must be understood as a fundamentally global phenomenon, manifesting in “international counterrevolutionary waves” whose spread and rhythm is connected to global crises and their uneven effects on the imperialist chain. While dos Santos is underwhelmingly general in his overall definition of fascism as “a general form of the state, characterized by regimes of exception that utilize terror,” he is more original and generative in his effort to distinguish interwar European fascism from its Latin American kin precisely in terms of the shaping effects of their articulation with imperialism. The centrality of inter-imperialist rivalries to the rise of Mussolini and Hitler here contrasts with the dependent role of Latin American social formations.

Framing the question of fascism in terms of its location and the strategies of monopolist capitalist classes and their shifting relationship to other social groups clarifies, for dos Santos, the very different role that the mobilization of the petty bourgeoisie plays in the Latin American dictatorships. It also tells us why it cannot be treated (contra Marini or Atilio Borón) as a defining characteristic of fascism (Borón 1977). If “classic” fascism could be seen as a petty-bourgeois movement to some extent opportunistically captured by big capital, the “new” fascism (and here dos Santos implicitly concurs with the likes of Glucksmann in Europe) tells us that the state now rots, like the proverbial fish, from the head down: “Today . . . big capital mobilises the petty bourgeoisie in a fascist direction, utilising it as a mass instrument; having carried out the objectives of the seizure of power and the destruction of liberal and popular oppositions, it is immediately demobilised” (García et al. 1978). In the end, such a state “cannot easily resort to corporate mediations, given that it has no real hope of organically subordinating the working class and even the petty bourgeoisie, groups that are generally dissatisfied with what is clearly the faithless and pro-monopoly character of fascist politics” (dos Santos, cited in Bichir 2022: 117).11 “Dependent fascism,” governed by “the pursuit of survival of powerful international and local capital” (Bichir 2022: 117; dos Santos 1977), thus differs from its classical forebear by a radically different handling of the national question (merely propagandistic, and only episodically expansionist), which is in turn dictated by the latter's relation to class composition. What Zavaleta Mercado termed the “tragic efficacy” of the European fascist connubium between monopoly capital and the national question is thus largely absent in the Latin American context. The dependent character of the dictatorships translates into both the incapacity of turning fascism into a mass movement and the undesirability of such an option. But this a phenomenon that, for dos Santos, harbors a number of contradictions. One is the potential boomerang effect of support for dependent fascisms on metropolitan democracies, manifesting for example as the temptation to reimport counterinsurgent practices to the core (something amply attested to for the US, with lasting aftereffects, in Grandin 2021). The other is generated by the promotion of states that are on one level internally “strong” (in terms of the repressive and infrastructural capacities required for transnational capital accumulation) but simultaneously stripped of autonomy and sovereignty on a global scale. It is here that for dos Santos the promotion of transitions to managed or viable democracies can be seen as an antidote to the possibility—later manifest in the Malvinas case for Argentina, and evident in the Brazilian dictatorship's expansionist designs and “preventive ideological war” along its frontiers (Schilling 1978)—of a destabilizing turn to aggressive military nationalism.

Theory in the Time of the Generals

This particularly rich debate among exiled militant intellectuals whose trajectories were especially shaped by the mass movements and counterrevolutionary dictatorships in Chile and Brazil drew on intense, sometimes polemical discussions crisscrossing the Latin American left in the 1970s and onward. In our own time, when the debate over fascism can seem mired in anachronistic national frames, rigid analogies, and theoretical timidity, they are a welcome model—notwithstanding their inevitable limitations and partialities—of committed and creative critique. From our own vantage point what appears particularly vital is the international dimension they accorded to the phenomenon of fascism, evidence yet again that cognitive mappings from a system's putative center or heartlands can sometimes be the least informed or informative. While cognizant that the reactualization of fascism in Latin America was a deliberate project of US empire (Zavaleta Mercado 1976; Hándal 1976; see also Grandin 2021), these thinkers did not treat the question of the “external sources” of fascism as one simply tied to foreign conspiracy or corporate plot, conscious as they were of the systemic pressures that made exceptional violence in times of crisis expedient for the interests and the survival of transnational monopoly capital. In this regard, while some stressed the strictly repressive dimension more than others, their critique of the dictatorships was not moralistic, aware instead that “the cruelty of the holders of power is but the aura of necessity that accompanies the cruelty or repressive concentration of a moment in the existence of the state” (Zavaleta Mercado 1979: 82). Attention to the international character of processes of fascization and their articulation with the syncopated times of global crisis also allowed Cueva, Marini, and dos Santos—their analytic differends notwithstanding—to demonstrate remarkable lucidity about the way in which these regimes could be impelled by internal contradictions and imperialist imperatives alike toward “transitions” to “guided” democracies that would retain many of the structuring features of state and class power that the dictatorships had forced through—something that became particularly evident in Chile's neoliberal trajectory (Dardot et al. 2021; Toscano 2023a; Dardot 2023). In brief, while not employing that terminology, their discussion of the fascistic traits (or absence thereof) of Latin American dictatorships identified many of the dynamics that would be at stake in analyses of the interface of neoliberal and authoritarianism to this very day—while not abandoning the Marxist heuristic that made shifting imperialist strategies (nationally and transnationally) intelligible.

The 1978 debate on fascism's “external sources” in Latin America is but a partial if important representation of a very extensive debate that was retrospectively mapped by the Brazilian political scientist Hélgio Trindade (1983) in a lucid and comprehensive article (see also Albistur 2018; Tzeiman 2019). Trindade notes the seemingly unruly fauna of definitional, categorizing proposals among both the advocates of fascism's relevance and its detractors: colonial-fascism (Jaguaribe 1967), dependent fascism (dos Santos 1977), atypical fascism,12 neofascism, sui generis fascism, but also counterproposals centered on the national-security state, the bureaucratic-authoritarian state, the military state, or the counterinsurgency state.

Trindade tries to impose some typological order on these debates by identifying three analytical trends. The first sees fascism as a potential, tendency, or project borne by the dictatorships, identifying in the Latin America of the 1970s an uneven if definite process of fascization. This perspective, shared by Cueva and Zavaleta Mercado, is compatible with a recognition of the important differences with interwar European fascism, not least as relates to the national question, class composition, and political mobilization. Zavaleta Mercado (1979: 85) in particular will identify Latin American fascism with an extrinsic project or social proposition unable to root itself into a power structure and averse to mass mobilization, whence its precarity and its tending toward a “conjuncture of dissolution.” The second position advances the idea of a new and special type of fascist state in Latin America, for instance in dos Santos's arguments about “dependent fascism.” This is also the Chilean writer Armando Cassigoli's “atypical fascism,” a fascism in the age of the internationalization of capital and the transnational corporation, a fascism whose ideology is not blood and soil autarky or neocolonial expansionism but the defense of the free world, the West, and capitalism as such. A third trend in those proposing the pertinence of fascism to Latin America, according to Trindade, would be that of a sui generis fascism understood in terms of a recomposition of class power reacting to the crisis of Latin American oligarchies, now compelled to ally themselves with the armed forces, technocratic strata, and sectors of the middle and working classes in a developmentalist restructuring of the state.13 Among the perspectives surveyed in Trindade's cartography of Latin American theories of fascism (and their critics), the most relevant to the present is perhaps that of a potential fascism or a fascism as project (rather than a mass movement or coherent restructuring of the state into a stable new form) advanced by Zavaleta Mercado. Precarious and conjunctural, the fascistic character of regimes responding from peripheral or subordinate positions to crises along the imperialist chain is nonetheless very real, and no warrant for complacency. Its analysis requires identifying the particular shapes taken by what Zavaleta Mercado calls “general national crises” and their double conditioning by the needs of capital concentration and the fate of intermediate classes—the two salient factors in fascist formations.

Though inevitably partial and impressionistic, I hope to have conveyed some sense in the foregoing pages of the conceptual and methodological vibrancy, variety, and vitality of the fascism debate in 1970s Latin America. If, as I've claimed elsewhere (Toscano 2023b), we would do well in our own times of counterrevolution-without-revolution to attend to the analyses of the “new fascism” that emerged in the wake of the explosions of the “world sixties,” rather than focusing exclusively on parallels with Weimar or the ventennio, we should also recognize that the theoretical ferment triggered by the implantation of new-type military dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and beyond is perhaps richer in insights and lessons than coeval discussions in the Atlantic North. As I've already intimated, two dimensions of the Latin American debate on fascism are particularly instructive for our own moment, not least as correctives to certain impoverishing analytical habits. The first is to take very seriously the insight that fascism is a product of the crisis and restructuring of capitalist imperialism; the second is to pose the question of the transitional valence of processes or projects of fascization, as accelerants of capitalist reordering and drivers of new moments and modalities of primitive accumulation.

And yet there is a prominent, even central dimension of the US debates on fascism across the same period that can bring out a manifest lacuna in the bulk of Latin American Marxist and dependentista perspectives on fascism, namely, the contextualization of Western hemisphere fascism in the longue durée of settler-colonial racial capitalism. The racialization of class exploitation and indigenous dispossession that dictatorial regimes accelerated and intensified—together with the fact that their fascist ideologies were subvariants of imperialist ideologies (Poulantzas 2019: 18)—is something barely alluded to in this literature on fascism, thereby occluding the distinct historicity of Latin American fascisms (or process of fascization). As Indigenous activists and intellectuals have forcefully demonstrated, we cannot separate the dictatorships’ violent consolidation of capitalist power and acceleration of dispossessive processes—the further ratcheting up of the baleful dialectic of exploitation, expropriation, and extraction—from their sometimes genocidal intensification of colonial racial capitalist logics.14 Pinochet's Chile was not just a laboratory for marketization at gunpoint; it was also a state that in 1979 legislated indigeneity out of existence in the Decreto Ley N° 2.568, which reads: “The divided lands will no longer be considered indigenous lands, and the people living on those lands will no longer be considered indigenous” (cited in Boccara 2002: 286).15 After all, the long-term consequences across Latin America of what Marx (1990: 915–16) in his discussion of primitive accumulation termed the “enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population,” as well as the history of chattel slavery in the continent, could not but make the inventions and repetitions of fascism in Latin America also racial and colonial, not as an inert legacy of bygone histories but as an ongoing and perpetually reinvented effect of ruling class efforts to resolve crises on the backs of racialized populations and to engage in acumulación originaria (the Spanish translation of ursprüngliche akkumulation) at the expense of pueblos originarios (first nations) and subalternized populations more generally. If crisis theory cannot but strive to be a theory of fascism's differences and repetitions, of periodic projects to save capitalism from capitalism16 by confecting a capitalism without capitalism, it cannot afford to think the temporality of crisis as punctual, circumscribed; it must be able to articulate the suddenness of catastrophe, or of an emancipatory anti-fascist Kairos, with the longue durée of race, colonialism, and so-called primitive accumulation.

When it comes to the forms taken by “new” fascisms, and the crises that birth them and which they purport to “fix,” it is worth heeding this piece of dialectical advice: “Instead of imagining the persistent reiteration of static relations, it might be more powerful to analyze relationship dynamics that extend beyond obvious conceptual or spatial boundaries, and then decide what a particular form, old or new, is made of, by trying make it into something else. . . . To do so is to wonder about a form's present, future-shaping design” (Gilmore 2022: 477). What is fascism's present form, and how is it designing its future and ours? This question, which so exerted militant intellectuals across the Americas in the 1970s, is once again with us. But crisis theory does not stand still, and the lessons we can draw from the past are lessons of method—how do we problematize new fascist forms?—not recipes for a response.

Notes

1

I tackle an Italian moment in a wide-ranging ideological debate over the existence of “new fascisms” in Toscano 2023c.

2

For a sustained treatment of racial fascism, framed by the writings of Angela Y. Davis and George Jackson on the new faces of US fascism in the late sixties and early seventies, see chapter 2 of Toscano 2023b.

3

As Noel Ignatiev quipped: “The Dutt, Togliatti and Dimitrov books represent, in a certain sense, an official blueprint of failure. Yet, a generation later, they are rediscovered and, what is more, enjoy a certain vogue. It is as if a doctor were to gain increased popularity owing to the fact that every one of his patients is known to have died directly following his treatment” (Ignatin 1982).

4

The notion of a fascism spawned from the entrails of the state and its repressive apparatus was advanced by André Glucksmann in the French context. See Glucksmann 1972. For a thematization of the centrality of repression, and of torture especially, to the military-police state under “underdeveloped fascism,” see Schilling 1970 (who writes of the Brazilian phenomenon as the fascism of a “privileged satellite” of imperial power).

5

As Poulantzas (2019: 22) summarizes: “Imperialism is a chain. A chain implies links. But here again it is not enough to speak of the weakest link. Discussion of the link in itself requires us to bring in the element of uneven development of the various national formations which constitute the chain. It is the very existence of this chain which gives a new meaning to the particular uneven development characteristic of imperialism.”

6

In his contribution to the seminar, dos Santos will refer to the work of the Soviet scholar Kiva Maidanik for the position that fascism can be broadly defined as a transitional regime on the way to state monopoly capitalism. Maidanik's arguments were published in the Moscow-based journal América Latina / Latinskaia Amerika, which published special issues on fascism in 1975 (no. 3) and 1976 (no. 1). For Soviet debates on Latin American regimes in the 1970s, see Hough 1981.

7

The notion of a bureaucratic-authoritarian state was formulated by the Argentinian political scientist Guillermo O'Donnell (O'Donnell 1988).

8

Marini's account resonates with Greg Grandin's (2021: 273) caustic history of Plan Colombia as yet another US-advanced regional plan “based on the hellish union of neoliberal economics and militarized security.”

9

While giving greater prominence to the international dimension of the dictatorships, Marini's conception of the counterinsurgency state shares with the Argentinian thinker Atilio Borón's notion of the military state a grounding conviction that fascism cannot exist without some kind of mass mobilization, and the suggestion that the latter was both structurally and conjuncturally impossible in Latin America, since the dictatorships were precisely aimed at intensifying dynamics of pauperization and hyperexploitation that would ravage not just campesinos and the working classes but also the bulk of the petty bourgeoisie. See Borón (1977) on the military state as Latin America's alternative to fascism, in which the Armed Forces take on the role of organic party of order of the monopolist bourgeoisie, amid the crisis of the populist hypothesis.

10

Fascism's “lateness” is also thematized in Zavaleta Mercado 1976.

11

The very notion of a dependent fascism is thus predicated on rejecting the suggestion, strongly stated by Ernesto Laclau (1977: 142), that fascism is by definition “a popular radical discourse, neutralized by the bourgeoisie.”

12

“Typical fascism is a counterrevolutionary movement asymptotic to socialism which is typically given in the epoch of inter-imperialist rivalries, between competing national monopoly capitalisms. Atypical fascism (or dependent fascism or fascism of dependency) is characteristic of the subsequent stage of capitalist accumulation . . . central transnational capitalism and its peripheric chain” (Cassigoli 1976 cited in Rama 1979: 172).

13

Trindade's sole exemplar of this strand is the Argentinian sociologist Marcos Kaplan Efron.

14

An Indigenous perspective also makes patently clear the glaring continuities between the nexus of repression and dispossession under the dictatorships and the actions of post-transition “democratic” governments that continue to favor the extractive and propertizing prerogatives of capital. From the vantage of Indigenous resistance these are transitions within a racial-colonial order, often deploying the same repressive and appropriative strategies and tactics (Pairican and Urrutia 2021).

15

See also Gastón Gordillo's (2016: 253) illuminating discussion of the Argentinian dictatorship of 1976–1983 as “the most violent embodiment yet of the project and affective dispositions of White Argentina” anchored in military terror and spatial practices of nationalist “cleansing” directed at “alien elements.”

16

“Capitalism saving capitalism from capitalism creates vulnerabilities and opportunities precisely because the intertwined imperatives of organized abandonment and organized violence are so thoroughly destabilizing. The motion affects everybody and everything” (Gilmore 2022: 306).

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