Lenin reader of Marx

Edvard Munch, Melancholia III, 1902


Presentation of the Brazilian edition of Gianni Fresu's book

Lenin reader of Marx, a work that Gianni Fresu published in Italy as a result of his doctoral studies carried out at the University of Urbino, and which now reaches the Brazilian reader, represents a high point in the attempt to revive Marxist culture in the Old Continent, which suffered a strong shock after the defeat of socialism in the East. And a highlight for at least two reasons.

Firstly because Gianni Fresu, author of no less than six books on various topics that touch on the history of the Italian labor movement, was himself part of the resistance to this disastrous process, which in the land of Antonio Gramsci materialized in the disintegration of the Italian Communist Party . In fact, the author integrated, shortly after the debacle of the powerful instrument of struggle that the Italian workers knew how to build, the movement that will give way to the Communist Refoundation, having remained there for around two decades with intense work in the area of ​​training, occupying the Regional Secretariat of Sardinia - Gramsci's homeland and Fresu himself ‒ and as a member of the National Political Committee.

The second concerns the political-intellectual environment that surrounded the creation of the thesis that later became a book. Urbino, city partisan, like many others who organized the guerrilla fight against the Nazi occupation - responsible for the liberation of the central-northern and northern regions of Italy, where the allies arrived after the victory of the brigades had already been confirmed partisans, with the decisive participation of communist forces ‒, was itself one of the nuclei from which the old PCI achieved consecutive administrative experiences after the Second World War and, not by chance, an important university center with a Hegelian-Marxist tradition. In fact, in Urbino they taught and researched important names dedicated to the study of Hegel and dialectics, such as Livio Sichirollo and Domenico Losurdo, the latter none other than the supervisor of the thesis that gave rise to the book.

In fact, there would be no better starting point than this to prepare a study around the thought of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the “greatest theorist in the philosophy of praxis”, as Antonio Gramsci said. A thought that was fundamentally developed as an exercise in political opposition to the harmful formulations of the Second International, which had allowed itself to distance itself from the Hegelian foundations of Marxism.

And this is the theme of the long first chapter, which covers in depth the debate about the weaknesses and revisions carried out by figures such as Wilhem Liebknecht, Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky. It is illustrative, for example, the recovery of Friedrich Engels' criticisms of the first of these characters, persuaded “of the ignorance and petulance of wanting to liquidate someone like Hegel”, associating him with the “royal-Prussian” State, and of wanting to imply to the public who thought so Engels.

In fact, it is the same Wilhem Liebknecht who will also distort the formulations of Marx's partner about the new value of propaganda work and parliamentary work, written as a preface to the work The Class Struggle in France, wanting to make it believe that Friedrich Engels had proclaimed the end of the era of revolutions, when it came to calling into question “the idea of ​​an unprepared insurrectionary assault”.

It is no coincidence that Eduard Bernstein came from this distortion, who also launched attacks on the Hegelian dialectic ‒ “a trap that would prevent any coherent understanding of reality” ‒, and transformed the struggle for social reforms from a means to the final objective of social democracy. It would be like saying that socialism, more than the product of a “qualitative leap” - as it appears in the formulations that Marx and Engels were able to develop based on Hegel’s reading of historical evolution[I] ‒, was nothing more than the simple result of an adaptation, an improvement of capitalism.

For Eduard Bernstein, once different improvements were achieved, in the example of the “improvement of the credit system”, the “birth of business organizations”, the “revolution of the transport, communications and information system”, and even the “consolidation of the middle classes ” and the “improvement of the economic conditions of the proletariat”, a stage would have been reached in which the “most acute contradictions” of capitalism would have been overcome, thus making the idea of ​​revolution outdated.

As Gianni Fresu highlighted, returning to the criticism that Rosa Luxemburg addressed to Bernstein, who for this purpose turned to the luminous idea of ​​the contradictions between productive forces and production relations present in Marx's famous preface,[ii] either “revisionism is right about capitalist development, and therefore the socialist transformation of society is nothing more than a utopia, or socialism is not a utopia, but in that case the theory of the means of adaptation cannot sustain it.” if.”

Here we are visibly faced with the effects that the influence of positivism and Darwinism left on Marxist elaborations in the first decades of the last century. And so it is no coincidence that Kautsky, with a background strongly marked by the influences of Darwin's book, after several confrontations with Bernstein's simplifications, will himself appear as the champion of revisionism, responsible for the most tragic turns of the socialist movement.

In this way, Gianni Fresu points out, he revealed that he did not have “the slightest knowledge of Hegel’s philosophy”, indulging in an idea of ​​Marxism as an “absolute conception of history”, where economics and history appear in a relationship without any contradiction.[iii] It is not surprising, therefore, that Karl Kautsky's criticism of the justification of colonialism to which Eduard Bernstein ‒ dedicated himself to the defense of a balance between the powers to sustain Germany's penetration in China ‒, later gave way to the defense of the credits of war for German intervention in the First World War, and this with arguments that did not disguise the chauvinism of the time: “Social democracy can be an instrument of peace, but not a means against war”.

It is understandable: hostage to an absolute idea of ​​history, his criticism of imperialism did not go beyond moral issues, even ignoring that the new colonialism was already based on the exports of capital, no longer of goods. In fact, it is also from this equivocal reading that Karl Kautsky will cling to the revisionist thesis of ultra-imperialism, according to which international domination was only a question of power, not an economic question, with war being the work of banking capital, but not of industrial capital, an element from which a stage of peaceful and democratic development could be forged.

And this is how we arrive at Karl Kautsky's exaltation of the parliamentary representative system, with which he opposed the “mass strike” theorized by Rosa Luxemburg - extended in time, and may involve several years and different forms of struggle, the general strike or from street barricades to peaceful wage struggles ‒, for him of only complementary importance.

While social democracy degenerates into positivism, revealing how much Marxism was lacking in theoretical formulations at the beginning of the 20th century, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin develops as a man of political action and theoretical elaboration. Contrary to readings that attempt to reduce their contributions to Philosophical Notebooks, most often aimed at targeting Marxism-Leninism, Gianni Fresu, starting from the studies of Luciano Gruppi, makes us see that Lenin's philosophical conceptions must be understood “in the set of his work”, as “they do not emerge only from the writings eminently philosophical, but also political writings”, where a rigorous “dialectic of the subject-object relationship, determined by the conscious intervention of the subject in the objective process”, becomes important.

In fact, the much-studied work on imperialism reveals this dimension of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's philosophical thought. It represents a complete break with mechanistic fatalism ‒ the mere result of the natural development of the productive forces ‒ and its total ignorance of Hegelian dialectics, insofar as it corresponds to the objective understanding of the actuality of the revolution. And it is here, highlights Gianni Fresu, that Lenin's superiority over Kautsky, hostage to absolutely unilateral and anti-dialectic formulations, should be noted.

But it is also from this dialectic that another essential point of the book that the reader has in hand emerges, which itself makes an enormous contribution to the critique of revisionism that today continues to threaten the vitality of Marxist thought. This is the theory of hegemony and the relationship between Lenin and Gramsci, often denied by liberal readings of the Sardinian communist. Valentino Gerratana had already added to the text of the critical edition of the Prison Notebooks many indications about this relationship, which only a reading of Gramsci distanced from notebooks may want to deny it.

In fact, Gramsci is explicit in his references to “the greatest theoretician in the philosophy of praxis”, who “contemporarily with Croce”, revalued, contrary to “various economistic tendencies”, “the front of cultural struggle”, thus building “ the doctrine of hegemony as a complement to the theory of State strength and as a current form of the doctrine of permanent revolution that existed back in 1848”.[iv] In the end, it is about understanding the economic as a sphere that only ultimately works as “the mainspring of history”, as Gramsci himself warned, noting an observation by Engels, not without immediately insisting that it is links directly to a passage in the aforementioned preface by Marx, precisely the one in which the “terrain of ideologies” is highlighted as the locus from which men “become aware of the conflicts that exist in the economic world” [v]:

“The transformation of the economic base alters, more or less quickly, the entire immense superstructure. When considering such changes, it is always necessary to distinguish between the material alteration – which can be proven in a scientifically rigorous way – of the economic conditions of production, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophical forms, in short, the ideological forms by which men become aware of this conflict, leading them to their ultimate consequences.”[vi]

And to demonstrate this relationship between Gramsci and Lenin, clearly based on a reading of Marx appropriate to the time, but also to the necessary spatial differentiations, Gianni Fresu recovers the report of the great Russian revolutionary on the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Russia , held in March 1918[vii]. He highlights that it is already possible to find the first sketch of the Gramscian category of hegemony and the entire problem of the difference between West and East that is its premise.

In fact, explains Fresu, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, following the Marxism that distinguishes him ‒ always supported by the “territorial historical context” of concrete social formations ‒, understands this problem from the reality of Russia itself, making clear the importance of the peasant question whether in 1905, in 1917 or in 1921, when he formulated the tactic of alliance with the agrarian petty bourgeoisie to make the New Economic Policy (NEP) viable. In all cases, it is about understanding and valuing the role of peasants in the socialist revolution, overcoming the mechanical evolutionism of social democracy, which limited this role to the bourgeois-democratic stage.

And here is a first rupture between Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, who curiously also expressed herself in the criticism of what the latter called the “ultracentralism” of the Bolshevik party – an assessment, concludes Gianni Fresu, that abstracts the adaptation of the new organizational form to their own conditions of the modern State and modern capitalist enterprise, with its broad development of administrative and bureaucratic apparatuses.

In fact, whether in the organizational question or in terms of class alliances, we are facing a Lenin for whom the Hegelian philosophy and the idea of ​​dialectical “overcoming” that demarcates it – an overcoming-conservation, an repeal – appears from a very early age and remains alive throughout her political activity. And this at a time when all the theoretical initiative belonged to the revisionists.

In fact, if we remember the attempts to liquidate the theoretical contributions of the great Bolshevik, often presented, as Fresu refers, as a doctrinaire, or even the “devil of the 20th century”, it is no small matter to highlight the leap that precisely the studies Hegelians became acquainted with the in-depth studies of the German thinker's texts to which Vladimir Ilyich Lenin dedicated himself during the years of the First World War. This is, as demonstrated by Domenico Losurdo's rigorous study, the best understanding of the problem of the Hegelian distinction between “the world of appearances” (Erscheinungswelt), that is, of “empirical immediacy” ‒ expression of “reactionary countertendencies” ‒ and reality in a strategic sense, “strong sense” (reality), expression of the relationship between the real and the rational, that is, of the “deepest demands of the spirit of the time”[viii]. A distinction clearly foreign to the Marxism of the Second International.

As you can see, there are many reasons for Brazilian activists and/or scholars in the field of political science to congratulate themselves on the publication of this important study by Gianni Fresu. If only because the national reality itself, having experienced a cycle of popular governments that has now been dramatically defeated, will certainly require a historical-theoretical assessment that will have much to gain if it knows how to turn around - always in the light of a rigorous “translation ”, a reflection that does not allow itself to be entangled in “mechanistic abstractionisms”[ix] ‒ to the debates that defined the history of Marxism in the transition from the II to the III International ‒ and to the role that “the greatest theoretician in the philosophy of praxis” played there.

* Marcos Aurélio da Silva Professor of Geography at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).


Gianni Fresu. Lenin reader of Marx. Dialectic and determinism in the history of the labor movement. Translation: Rita Coitinho. São Paulo, Anita Garibaldi, 2016, 272 pages. [https://amzn.to/48GSp0u]


[I] Losurdo, d. Hegel and the liberation of modernity. Napoli: La Scuola di Pitagora, 2011, pp. 294-5.

[ii] Marx, K. Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. 2 ed. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1983, p. 24.

[iii] It is interesting to note that for Gramsci, Marxism must be taken as “absolute historicism”. However, already a “new synthesis”, an “orthodoxy”, this is a legacy of Hegelianism, the “most important” element of the philosophical culture that Marx “incorporated”. Gramsci, A. Quaderni del Jail, vol 2, Turin: Einaudi, 1977, pp. 1434 et seq.

[iv] Gramsci, op. cit. P. 1235. In the note that the editor V. Gerratana adds to this passage, taken from the Notebook 10, the notebooks 4, 7 and a letter to his sister-in-law Tania from May 1932.

[v] Gramsci, op. cit., vol. 3, Notebook 13, P. 1592.

[vi]  Marx, op. cit. P. 25.

[vii] Lenin, V. I. VII Extraordinary Congress of the PCR (b). In: Selected Works. Moscow: Ed. Progresso; Lisbon: Ed. “Avante!”, 1981, pp. 495-512.

[viii] Losurdo, op. cit., pp. 94 et seq.

[ix] Gramsci, op. cit., Notebook 11, P. 1468 et seq.

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