Dominic Losurdo

Marina Gusmao, The colloquial dream. Digital illustration made under the sound of Mingus, A Colloquial Dream.


Philosopher of history, geographer of anti-colonialism

Domenico Losurdo, the eminent Italian philosopher who visited Brazil so many times and was widely published here, left us on the morning of June 28th. Alongside the tears for the loss of an intellectual of such magnitude, we must also congratulate ourselves on the enormous legacy that Losurdo leaves us through his many works. From them we can draw many lessons to read history and take a position in the debate of ideas that is destined to overcome this “big, terrible and complicated” world, as Gramsci used to say (Lettere dal carcere, 1926-1937. Org. AA Santucci, Palermo: Sellerio, 1996, p. 421). The same Gramsci who was one of Losurdo's main inspirations, and for which he provided a rigorous and highly interesting interpretation.

In fact, for Losurdo, the great author of Italian Marxism is, above all, the one aware that the “absorption of the vital part of Hegelianism” by historical materialism is “a historical process still in motion” (Q. 10 II, § 10, p. 1248)[1]. It is worth mentioning that Gramsci was always attentive to the category of “historical development”, as Alberto Burgio pointed out in a work dedicated to this theme (Gramsci Storico, Rome: Laterza, 2002), not by chance the first doctoral student of Losurdo. And here is a crucial starting point if one intends to understand the way in which, always exercising a demanding philology in the citation of Gramsci's texts, Losurdo presents a reading of the Italian communist very different from the one with which he was associated for a long time. Not a Gramsci apart from the Revolution of the Bolsheviks, but an author who identifies the “most advanced level achieved by Marxism” precisely in the “Russian revolutionary” process (Antonio Gramsci, from liberalism to critical communism. Trans. Teresa Ottoni. Rio de Janeiro: Revan, 2006, p. 273-4.). As you can see, there is nothing here to remember the reading that Norberto Bobbio presented of Gramsci at the well-known International Congress of Gramscian Studies, held in Cagliari in 1967: just a theorist of Western superstructures, basically an interpreter of civil society organizations , read without any relation to the history of class struggles.

Saying this does not mean that Gramsci does not offer elements for interpreting the West. It should be remembered that the terms East and West, North and South, despite references that “correspond to real facts”, are, in Gramsci, “historical-cultural” constructions, “superstructures”, which after all express “relationships between complexes of civilizations”. diverse", and notably "the point of view of the European educated classes", which "through their world hegemony made them accepted everywhere" (Q. 11, § 20, p. 1419-20). That is to say, they are in an imbricated connection in the process that sets human history in motion. And this is when history intervenes as a partner of geography in the reading with a strong Hegelian accent that Losurdo offers us Gramsci and historical materialism. Or, even better, this is when the philosophy of history intervenes in its geographical dimension, strictly speaking geopolitics, of a popular geopolitics.

It is an interpretative key that has the Gramscian category of translatability, but without dissociating it from that of catharsis, with which it maintains necessary relations. We are talking about the “superior elaboration of the structure into superstructure”, a process that coincides “with the chain of syntheses that result from the dialectical development” (Prison Quaderni. 10 II, § 10, p. 1248, p. 1244). And essential here is also the Hegelian category of Reality, as Losurdo presents it in Hegel, Marx and the Liberal Tradition (São Paulo: Unesp, 1998). It refers to the notion of reality in a strong, strategic sense, a reality in no way similar to the pure empiricism so characteristic of Hipolit Hipolititch, the folkloric history and geography teacher painted by Chekhov, who “only spoke what everyone already knew” (The Language Teacher. The murder and other stories. Trans. R. Figueiredo. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2002, p. 27). Although the empirical dimension of reality is not, in Hegel, a simple “non-being”, it is the Reality which figures as the central axis of the Hegelian philosophy that reaches Marx and Marxism. very present in Notebooks of Gramsci, even in the treatment of the geographical terms mentioned above (Q. 11, § 18, p. 1417; § 20, p. 1420), it is what makes it possible to observe the background trends of the historical process, that is, the relationship between the real and the rational, a relationship capable of expressing the ever greater realization of formal and real freedom, terms that are not antithetical in Hegel. And here is how Losurdo refers us to Engels who points out Hegel's affiliation to the banners of the French Revolution: “The French monarchy had become in 1789 so unreal, that is, so deprived of all necessity, so irrational, that it had to be destroyed for the great revolution, of which Hegel always speaks with the greatest enthusiasm. In this case, therefore, the monarchy was the unreal and the revolution the real” (Hegel, Marx and the liberal tradition. Op. cit., p. 61). The real that gains expression in the State as an ethical community, the State is not only concerned with property rights, but with the support of the well-being of individuals, the right to work, the right to life, that is to say, with freedom not only formal, but objective, real.

And here is the key that Losurdo offers us to read the Revolution of 1917, itself a progressive moment in history that starts from the successes of the process launched in 1789. Incidentally, the meaning of Losurdo's monumental research on Niestzche is now understood. The philosopher from Röcken (Saxony) is an acerbic critic of the “revolutionary cycle that goes from 1789 to 1848 and from the protosocialist movements to the Paris Commune”, as well as of the theoretical apparatus that emerged from this tradition: the category of “man as such”, of “historical progress”, of “égalité” (Nietzsche and the critique of modernity. São Paulo: Ideas and Letters, 2016, p. 49). In particular, for Nietzsche, the thesis of the “rationality of the real” would not represent anything other than the “cult of the numerical majority that is expressed in democracy and in the growing presence and pressure of the masses and the serfs” on social and political life, they that in this way they would be enjoying “unacceptable recognition in terms of the philosophy of history, thanks to a vision that excludes in advance any pretense of retreating below the results of the modern world” (passim, p. 27-28).

In fact, it is by updating, or even better, translating the many flags that found modernity in the cycle that opened in 1789, that the Revolution of 1917 found a (real and rational) solution to the great disorder to which tsarist Russia was subjected. And this not only with regard to the aforementioned catalog of human rights, but also and especially to that which constitutes the high point of these rights, namely, the right to peace: “the October Revolution is the first revolution that emerged in the lines of the fight against war, once again wielding the ideal of perpetual peace derived from the French Revolution” (A revolution, a nation and peace, Advanced Studies, no 62, Jan.-Apr., 2008, p. 16).

It is clearly the geopolitical dimension of the philosophy of history that is highly valued in Losurdo. But it is worth paying attention to the fact that this is a geopolitics with a completely different connotation than the classic extraction provided by the geographer Rudolf Kjellén. Rather, it refers to elaborations that depart from national liberation movements with a socialist matrix, as it developed after World War II in Communist Parties such as the USSR, China, Vietnam and even Italy (Abdel-Malek, A. Geopolitics and national movements: an essay on the dialects of imperialism. Antipode, 9(1), 1977), the latter visibly in the wake of Gramsci's reflections, which Notebooks always sought to associate the “complex problem of the relations of internal forces”, the “relations of international forces” and the “geopolitical position of the given country” (Q. 10, § 61, p. 1360). Thus, while for Hannah Arendt, the great exponent of twentieth-century liberal philosophy, “it is never the oppressed who open the way” (La lotta di class. A political and philosophical story, Rome-Bari: Laterza, 2013, p. 281), in Losurdo, as much as in Gramsci, emancipation starts from the subordinate condition. A process that is social, but also spatial, rigorously geographic. This is what can be concluded by observing Losurdo's thesis according to which Hegel's dialectic of master and slave, presented in chapter 4 of the Phenomenology of Spirit, is above all a dialectic that becomes aware of the anti-colonialist and anti-slavery struggle of the Jacobins Haitian blacksHegel and la liberta dei moderni. Vol. 2, Napoli: La scuola di Pitagora, 2011, p. 695). Strictly speaking, it is already a dimension of the struggle for peace.

And therein lies Losurdo's critique of the interpreters of bourgeois liberalism. Locke, the main one, always referred to as a shareholder in the colonization companies, but no less than Nietzsche, the philosopher who “justifies (or celebrates) the 'barbarity of means' employed by the conquerors 'in the Congo or wherever'” (Nietzsche and the critique of modernity. Op. cit., p. 78). Curiously, this is also, albeit without the reactionary overtones of liberalism, the fault of Western Marxism. It is the problem of colonialist or neocolonialist domination, with the geopolitical tensions inherent to them, that figures in the authors of this tradition as the great absentee, as he summarized in his last work (Il marxismo occidentale. Come nacque, come morì, come può rinascere. Bari-Rome: Laterza, 2017). These geopolitical tensions include World War II itself, which Losurdo reads moving away from the conventional periodization dear to Western historiography. In the wake of the readings made by the leaderships of the PCs that resisted the ignominious aggression, this is an episode that did not start only in September 1939, when the Reich invaded Poland, but already in the beginning of the 30s, when the aggression of Japan launched against Asia, later passing through the Italian-German intervention in Spain in 1936 and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 (Il marxismo occidentale. Op.cit., p. 51). In fact, since the First World War did not end with a peace treaty, which means that all heads of state were aware of the imminence of the resurgence of conflicts, this is a cycle that must be conceived from the second decade of the twentieth century (Stalin. Critical history of a black legend. Rio de Janeiro: Revan, 2010).

And what about the historical process that followed the victory over Nazi-Fascism? If the popular matrix geopolitics that starts from the victory of the USSR over the Reich gives meaning to the national liberation movements that will culminate in the decolonization processes, it is also what is mobilized to explain the cycle of emancipation and recognition that opens in Western democracies of post-World War II. And here again is opposition to the liberalism of our time and Western Marxism. If Hannah Arendt places all her hopes on technology as a way to achieve freedom, or Habermas prefers to speak of social pacification in the context of welfare state, Losurdo places the class struggle at the center of this debate, insisting, even on themes such as racism and women's emancipation, on the positive role played here by the 1917 Revolution and the anti-colonialist struggles that started from the South (La lotta di class. Op. cit.). And it wouldn't be too much to say that here, too, a Hegelian Gramsci appears as the main inspiration. Remember Gramsci's criticism of Croce, who sought to “write (conceive) a history of Europe in the XNUMXth century without organically dealing with the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars” (Q. 10 I, § 9, p. 1227). But also, if we remember that this was a process that did not always result in socialism, in the thesis according to which the “historical movement never goes back and there are no restorations 'in toto'” (Q. 13, § 26, p. 1619).

Certainly for Losurdo this is not a finished movement without contradictions. Despite the progressivity of the historical movement, also present, for example, in the rejection of identifying the European Union as an imperialist State (Is there any European imperialism? L'Ernesto Rivista, September, 2004), it is a process that has not yet been concluded, if only because it has before it the struggle against a necessitarist philosophy of history, the same one against which the Jacobin revolution and later historical materialism rose (Interview with SG Azzarà in: L'humanité commune: dialectique hégélienne, critique du liberalisme et reconstruction du materialisme historique chez Domenico Losurdo. Paris: Delga, 2012). That is to say, the philosophy supported by the planetary Empire of the USA, which presents itself with the colors of social Darwinism to proclaim itself as the “nation chosen by God” to be “the model for the world” (October Revolution and Democracy in the World, trans. MA da Silva, in: 100 years of the Russian Revolution. Legacies and lessons. São Paulo: FM Grabois and Anita Garibaldi, 2017). A song that originates from the Destiny Manifest, ideological record for the conquest of the West and the annihilation of the redskins, but which continues today with both the Clintons and Obama. But this movement is also unfinished because the process of historical development (and here again the relationship with Gramsci) is complex and subject to long periods of time, which is to say that struggles for emancipation must, against all impatience and dogmatism, conceive of it as a difficult and tortuous learning process.

And this is how the Chinese experience is placed before us, today's expression of a popular geopolitics, an anti-colonialist and national liberation geopolitics, which interested Losurdo so much. An experiment that he so often demarcated as an example of a socialist construction that has known how to distance itself from a messianic vision in order to position itself in the face of history itself (the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward) and the history of the international communist movement (the difficulty to organize a socialist state of law in the former USSR) with the demands of criticism and legitimacy. A process capable of conceiving historical development in a rigorously dialectical key, that is, as a AFHEBUNG, this central category of Hegelian philosophy that invites us to think about denial and the overthrow of the existing order as a simultaneous inheritance of the highest points of the denied and overthrown political and social order (Il marxismo occidentale. Op.cit., p. 28).

Such a rigorous, critical and at the same time highly sophisticated thought will undoubtedly be greatly missed in the struggle “for the cultural unification of the human race” to which Gramsci invited us (Q. 11, § 17, p. 1416). But as we said at the beginning of this text, this lack, and also the longing that it leaves in friends, colleagues, students and readers, can, at least in part, be filled with the dedicated study of the fertile and very broad work of historical-philosophical elaboration that this giant of the historical materialist tradition has left us.

Mimmo Losurdo, Gift!

* Marcos Aurélio da Silva is a professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina. PhD in Human Geography from FFLCH-USP, with a postdoctoral internship in Political Philosophy at the Università degli Studi di Urbino (Italy).

Originally published on the website of Mauricio Grabois Foundation and, in Italy, in Revista Marx Ventuno, vol. XXVI, 2018. Appears here in memory of the third year of the death of the great Italian philosopher.


[1] The quote from Gramsci's Cadernos do Cárcere is here taken from the Italian critical edition, prepared by the Gramsci Institute under the care of Valentino Gerratana and published by Einaudi in 1975. We will use the notation Q. for the number of the book referred to and § for the respective paragraph.




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