Marx tragic & Marx, philosopher of power

Image: Herr och Fru Purjo


Presentation of the reunion of two books by Carlos Henrique Escobar

Carlos Henrique Escobar (or Carlos Henrique de Escobar, according to some books and articles) was one of the most representative and prolific Brazilian intellectuals in the context that covers the late 1960s until the mid-1990s. philosophical and political, but also plays (Antigone-America, Ramon: The American Philotetus, The Cement Box, I Killed My Wife ( Althusser's Tragedy), Ana Clytemnestra, among others) and poetry books (Chão por Dentro, A Notícia da Ave, Chave das Águas).

Despite his vast production, in this XNUMXst century his name went to limbo, practically unknown by the new generations and being part of a list of Brazilian authors who lived through heaven and hell in the Brazilian intellectual field, such as Guerreiro Ramos, Nelson Werneck Sodré , Jacob Gorender, Álvaro Vieira Pinto, Manoel Maurício de Albuquerque, and even his political and intellectual foe José Guilherme Merquior, just to name a few.

Born in São Paulo in 1933, Escobar belongs to a generation of intellectuals who were present in the fight against the military dictatorship, most of which associated with Marxist thought. From this generation stand out the names of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, José Arthur Giannotti, Luís Pereira, Maurício Tragtenberg, Ruy Mauro Marini, Theotônio dos Santos, Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos, Leandro Konder, Luiz Werneck Vianna, Sérgio Paulo Rouanet. Added to these names are those of José Guilherme Merquior, Carlos Nelson Coutinho and João Quartim de Moraes, born in the early 1940s, but already in full intellectual activity in the late 1960s.

Escobar's intellectual trajectory can be defined as that of a “marginal”. Together with his brother, he lived on the street, and did not get to enter what we now call high school. His basically self-taught training was done in public libraries. He came to receive the title of “notorious knowledge” granted by UFRJ in 1986. Very young, at the age of 13, he joined the PCB and faced his first prison at the age of 15. His first work was written when he was 17 years old, the play Antigone-America. After moving away from the PCB due to political differences, Escobar married actress and theater producer Ruth Escobar in the late 1950s, and then they went to live for a time in France where he became a student of Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Upon returning to Brazil in the early 1960s, and already separated from Ruth Escobar, he moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1962 to attend a film course promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In his testimony given to me in 1992 when I did my research on the magazines Time Brazilian and Brazilian Civilization, Escobar told me that he lived in a hotel near the Central do Brasil and obtained a UNE card so that he could have lunch and dinner at the Restaurante Central dos Estudantes, also known as “Calabouço”.

In order to survive, and pay the bills, he gave philosophy courses to groups of students (among which Gilberto Velho, Octávio Velho, Moacir Palmeira and Yvonne Maggie participated), whose classes dealt with the work of Sartre. In 1969, Escobar joined the School of Communication at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (ECO-UFRJ), from which he left in 1976 and returned in 1986. In addition to |UFRJ, Escobar taught at the (Pontifical Catholic University (PUC- RJ), at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) and Faculdades Integradas Hélio Alonso (FACHA), in addition to teaching in several study groups and philosophy courses in extra-university spaces.

But his name marked the Brazilian intellectual scene when he began to disseminate and defend Louis Althusser's theses on Marx's work. He was, without a doubt, the pioneer in our social formation of Althusser's work, and around him the first generation of intellectuals identified with Althusser's positions of what would come to be called “Grupo Tempo Brasileiro” was formed.[I] The starting point is his article “De um marxismo com Marx” published in number 13/14 of the magazine Brazilian weather in 1966-67. In this article, Escobar summarized the main points addressed by Althusser published in Pour Marx e Lire le Capital, both published in 1965.

Escobar was in tune with the moment in which French Marxism was living, starting with the turnaround given by Althusser with his original reading of Marx's work. However, in this context, Althusser was identified by his critics as a “structuralist” author, and, in a way, Escobar helped to this association with the organization and translation of two books published by Zahar: the structuralist method from 1967 e Structuralism and Marxism of 1968. In addition, he published in the magazine Brazilian weather in number 15-16 of 1968 – entirely dedicated to the theme of French structuralism – his article “Response to Carpeux”, addressed to the text by literary critic Otto Maria Carpeaux “Structuralism is the opiate of literati” published in Brazilian Civilization Magazine no. 14. In this article, Carpeaux condemns the structuralist method of analysis, since, in his view, it is yet another foreign fad within the Brazilian intelligentsia that, not by chance, emerged after the 1964 coup and, thus, has an anti-Brazilian character. revolutionary and anti-historical:

This non-revolutionary and anti-historical despair is no longer limited to Europe. Since October 1962 – Affair from Cuba – invaded extra-European lefts. From April 1964, he infiltrated Brazil. He despairs of the possibility of making history and national existence. It appears as a stabilized structure the status quo social (a vestige of this resignation can be found in the work of Caio Prado Junior). The Brazilian people would have been and would be a people of fellahin, without history like the primitive peoples and even like the Indian tribes of the hinterland Brazilian, whose study was the breeding ground for structuralism by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Structuralism in Brazil means: going back to the origins. And the future, development, is erased.[ii]

Escobar's response was immediate to Carpeaux's text and, in several passages, there is an emotional and personal tone loaded with adjectives to the person of Carpeaux. The most significant passage of his long article – which is largely an explanatory summary of Lévi-Strauss's main concepts – is the conclusion. Escobar associates the concept of Revolution with that of science, demonstrating the influence of Althusser's theory on his work.

The Revolution – whether of a socialist or national liberation nature – will only materialize if science is the main instrument for analyzing reality, since only scientific instruments can break with the ideologies that cloud reality and, consequently, obliterate the development of the revolution : “Structuralism is not a “brand new key”, it has very little, if anything, to do with the “liberator”, it is situated in the epistemological problematic that the sciences in general (…) traverse; it cannot and should not be seen as an “ideology” – an “ideology” in fact that can only be explained from its methodological principles. It cannot be viewed from the outside, that is, assuming political events, facts and reasons external to science itself as its origin and foundation. Nothing is sadder out of respect for science and its problems than a frivolous article whose concern, if not the consequence, is to remove from studies (in this case, from method studies) the young people who, for better or worse, constitute our chances, even policies (or especially them). There is evidently a “political moment” for structuralism, and the revival of Marxism, the critique of ideologies, etc., prove how revolutionary and historic it is. (…)The revolution is also a possibility based on science, and applying this science is not applying what you don't have, or what you ideologically thought you had, but what we actually possess and are vigorously possessing. It is here that politics and science – implicated – constitute the reality of our contemporaneity. Latin America and Asia have a historical and specific relationship with reason – if we can say so. Reason, or science, being directly applied today, is particularly felt in its efficacy. It takes on all the fullness of its meaning, which is that of an instrument of liberation and of tactics (Debray). It is understandable that we do not shy away from addressing the issues head on. These same problems referring to our reality (Latin America) that practically and theoretically constitute, these days, our formation and our life. It doesn't seem honest to us to do it in passing and confusing them with the internal problems of science, as Carpeaux does, and as so many others do. A revolutionary is not a man who despises science, any more than science is a mystery and an impossibility for the people (Vietnam). What chance would we have against imperialism without it? Besides, it is not only to Carpeaux that we must say all this, but to those (reformists, humanists and liberals) who betrayed the revolution in practice and are trying today to betray science in Marxism . Those who establish themselves, as mandated by the bourgeoisie, the owners of knowledge – the literati”.[iii]

However, in his following works, Escobar increasingly tried to disassociate himself from the so-called French structuralism, as we can see in one of his main texts from the 1970s “The readings and practical-theoretical readings”, which is contained in the collection published by publisher Voices Epistemology and theory of science (1971), and whose target was Michel Foucault. This book is a milestone in the Brazilian Althusserian strand for being the first collective book that dealt with Althusser's work by containing articles by Eginardo Pires, Marco Aurélio Luz, Antônio Sérgio Mendonça and Cabral Bezerra Filho.[iv] Escobar's article would be republished twice: a summarized version in a collection organized by Sergio Paulo Rouanet The Man and the Speech (1971) published by Editora Tempo Brasileiro and totally dedicated to Foucault's thought, and in his book epistemology today (1975) published by Pallas publishing house.

The period between 1972 and 1975 was one of Escobar's most productive: four editions of the magazine Brazilian weather were organized by him (two dedicated to the issue of epistemology, (n°. 28a/1972 and 30-31/1973), one dedicated to institutions and discourses (n°. 35/1974), and another to histories and discourses (n°. 36-37/1974) In three of these editions, the following articles of his authorship were published: “A philosophy of discourses: a science of ideological discourses” (n°30-31), “Institutions and power ” (n°35) and “On the status of discourses in the unconscious and in history” (36-37), in addition to the article published in n° 28b/1972 “Reading de Saussure: semiological propositions”; four articles published by Voices Culture Magazine (another editorial space that published works by the so-called “Tempo Brasileiro” group): “A Psicanálise e a Ciência da História”, v. 6, 1971; “Ideological Aspects of Cybernetics as Philosophy”, v. 7, 1972; “Not to say that we do not speak of the Symbolic”, v. 6, 1973; “On the notion of work and language in psychoanalysis”, v. 6, 1973; organized the books Psychoanalysis and the science of history by Eldorado (1974) and Semiology and linguistics today by Pallas (1975), and wrote the books The sciences and philosophy by Imago (1975), Epistemology of science today by Pallas (1975), Discourses, institutions and history by Editora Rio (1975), and certainly his most original book from the first half of the 1970s Propositions for a semiology and a linguistics, released in 1972 by Rio.

This book by Escobar is a clear demonstration that the group from Brazilian weather was not limited to just disseminating and reproducing the Althusserian theses without developing or deepening them in relation to other scholars of the work of the French-Algerian thinker, as pointed out by Décio Saes in his study The impact of Althusserian theory on the history of Brazilian intellectual life,[v] which is undoubtedly the most systematic text on the reception of Althusser in Brazil. As observed by João Pedro de Souza Barros Santoro Luques in an unpublished article[vi] In this book there was a “development and deepening of Althusserian reflections on the issues of Ideological Instance and ideological class struggle. (…) Escobar proposes a rigorous theorization of what would be the instance of the ideological for Marxism, describing its substructures, thinking about the relationship between them and trying, with due rigor, to identify the place of psychoanalysis and semiology within the theoretical corpus of Marxism ”.

Perhaps Saes was unaware of this work by Escobar, since the distribution of this book released by a small publisher in Rio de Janeiro was certainly quite precarious in that context. Even so, there was silence regarding the contribution of this work in the field of Brazilian linguistics, such as the book edited by Lucília Maria Abrahão e Sousa and Dantiellli Assumpção Garcia, Read Althusser today, which, despite demarcating the importance of Althusser and Pêcheux in the field of linguistics in Brazil, and its dissemination and application by academics in the field of linguistics at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), there is not even a citation about this work pioneer of Escobar.

It fell to João Kogawa to fill this gap in our intellectual scenario by publishing his doctoral research Linguistics & Marxism: conditions of emergence for a French theory of discourse in Brazil published by UNIFESP in 2015. In this work, Kogawa not only shows us Escobar's pioneering spirit in publicizing Pêcheux in relation to this problem, but also in his advance towards semiology, which makes this work by Escobar represent the first major contribution of the Althusserian theses in our social formation.

Although he published only one book in the second half of the 1970s, Science of history and ideology, Published by Graal in 1979, it is certainly his best-known book. This book is a marvel of synthesis of the positions of the Althusserian school in the 1970s (marked by some rectifications) regarding the question of historical materialism, the concept of mode of production, ideological apparatuses, the concept of ideology, the capitalist State and of the revolutionary transition.

For this, Escobar mobilized, in addition to Althusser, other authors linked to this Marxist perspective, as well as other references that influenced or dialogued with Althusser, such as Balibar, Poulantzas, Terray, Pêcheux, Establet, Baudelot, Bettelheim, Karsz, Buci-Glucksman, Macciocchi, Marx, Bachelard, Canguilhem, Gramsci, Foucault and Marcuse. Despite its publication in 1979, the chapters are dated in 1975, autonomously organized among themselves, and presented in a still provisional way. Indeed, the book is a set of systematized and articulated notes around the ideological reproduction in social classes in the capitalist mode of production, and its discontinuity (or not) during the transition period in the dictatorship of the proletariat. The book was presented by historian Manoel Maurício de Albuquerque.

Still in 1979, Escobar published two controversial articles: one was published in the magazine Encounters with Brazilian Civilization no. 16 entitled “From the category of culture: from the cultural apparatus of the State” in open controversy with the positions of Ferreira Gullar, Roberto Schwarz, Luiz Costa Lima and Michel Foucault; the other was published in the magazine read books “About who is afraid of Louis Althusser?” which is a review of two books by Althusser: in favor of marx (Pour Marx) published by Zahar, and Positions 1 released by Grail. In this last article, the batteries were turned to the University of São Paulo (USP), the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP) and the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), represented by the figures of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Carlos Nelson Coutinho, Leandro Konder and, above all, José Arthur Giannotti.[vii]

In the 1980s, Escobar declined in terms of publications, despite his being a strong presence in the intellectual scene in Rio de Janeiro at debate tables at universities, cultural centers, on television, in addition to contributing texts and comments to the Notebook of Ideas from Jornal do Brasil. With regard to books, the following collections organized by him were published in 1984: Why Nietzsche? by Achiamé, and Michel Foucault: the dossier (the last interviews) by Taurus. It is noticeable, in that decade, the incorporation of other theoretical references by Escobar such as Deleuze, Foucault and, mainly Nietzsche, despite remaining in the field of Marxism. Distinctly from other intellectuals who migrated from Marxism to other theoretical perspectives, and rejecting Marxism, Escobar remained – and recognized himself – as a Marxist, and without denying his theoretical and political past.

Between 1991 and 2000, Escobar returned to book publishing. In 1991 he edited the collection Deleuze Dossier, published by Holon. His doctoral thesis defended in 1992 at ECO-UFRJ, under the supervision of Márcio Tavares D'Amaral, Tragic Marxism (The Marxism of Marx) was published in two parts by Taurus: the first in 1993 with the same title as his doctoral thesis, and the second in 1996 with the title Marx, philosopher of power. In 2000, published by 7 Letras publishing house, two voluminous books on Nietzsche: the first entitled Nietzsche (of the “companions) And the second Zarathustra (The body and people of tragedy). In addition to these books, Escobar also published two articles in academic journals: the first “Augusto Comte: a critical approach” in the magazine Logos of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) in 1999, and the second “Human rights with Marx” in the magazine Clinical psychology from PUC-RJ in 2008.

But what interests us here is to comment briefly, in this preface, on the two books tragic marx e Marx philosopher of power. His approach to Marx's work is, to say the least, peculiar and daring. First, Escobar brought Nietzsche's categories –based on Deleuze's interpretation – to analyze and affirmatively dialogue the work of Marx (and Engels). For this, he mobilized categories such as active forces, reactive forces, affirmative and negative values, potency and tragic. Second, Escobar carried out his doctoral thesis, and published these two books, in the midst of the emergence of the neoliberal rise and the crisis of socialist socialist formations in Eastern Europe, in a growing anti-Marxist wave, not only in the media spaces, but, above all, in the academic spaces where Marx's theoretical and political death was decreed. Escobar's audacity in dealing with key themes of Marxism is impressive in a context in which many intellectuals affiliated with this current of thought found themselves on the defensive, sometimes trying to adjust Marxism in the face of its crisis and rejecting its radical content, sometimes rejecting it almost completely. the work of Marx and Engels, not to mention Lenin, Mao Zedong and others.

Escobar's audacity was not restricted to this approach to Nietzsche's work, or to writing a thesis on Marx during this anti-Marxist tide, but in defending key concepts of Marxism that had already been discarded since the 1970s. analyzed in chapters) such as materialism and tragic philosophy (in Tragic Marx) and of the “dialectic” in Marx (in Marx, philosopher of power), Escobar addressed (and defended) questions concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat (Tragic Marx), and communism (in both books). It is important to emphasize that his approach to communism preceded, and much, the interventions of Badiou, Zizek, Negri, Hardt on this issue in recent years.

These two works by Escobar reaffirm what I said above about the originality of his work. Despite a relative departure from some of Althusser's theses defended by him in the past (such as the epistemological break in Marx's work), many aspects still remained in these two books. One of the most striking is the convergence with the positions of the last Althusser on the question of chance, of the materialism of the encounter. This “chance” between the two thinkers is quite interesting, given that Escobar arrived by other means and did not even have access to these new positions of Althusser that became better known from the book by Althusser co-authored with Fernanda Navarro, philosophy and marxism published in Mexico in the late 1980s, and with the posthumous publication of his memoirs The future lasts a long time and the fragments gathered in the text The materialism of the encounter.

For Escobar, this tragic materialist philosophy is based on chance where all radical and transformative political positions take the form of communism. As he states in Tragic Marx “it is not a question of the materialism of matter, but of chance, and only chance introduces us to materialist rigor, only it absolutely sanitizes us from all idealism”.[viii] Communism, on the other hand, “does not work with a prior nature but with chance (and the done), he is the radical creator of the new and thinks with transformations. the chance by done (it's the done as chance) destroys the ideas of nature and Being and establishes a ground not conceivable as irreversibility and events”.[ix]

According to Escobar, Marx's communism is the pulp of becoming, it is his political resolution as affirmation and multiplicity. This means that communism is not a utopian daydream, but is both creator and destroyer.[X] It is not about “overcoming capitalism”, but its discontinuity, its definitive rupture. As Escobar states “The thought of communism destroys singularly and multiple times –at any time or place- by ethically and tragically erasing everything that men and social history materialize as reactive values. He had done so by inaugurating the solar abundance of thought as new bodies and new solidarities”.[xi]

The tragic Marxism defended by Escobar refutes both the epistemological perspective, as well as the ontological one in Marx, the latter still very present in some Brazilian academic circles. According to Escobar, Marx will not think via generalities (ontological and epistemological), but through a becoming, itself qualified in the risks of evaluations, active and reactive, through which all his thinking is critical and all of it promise of “future” (communism). ). The Marxist “dialectic” is not an ontotheological idealism as in Hegel, or an epistemologism within the gnoseological tradition of the history of philosophy. For Escobar, Marx cannot place the question of becoming (and of chance) in “nature” as truth in itself or as “in itself” alienated in a true and spiritual process.

Marx assumes (even if subtly) the done and chance and makes reflections (of the problematic that his dialectic enacts) an entire ethics insofar as his evaluations come from the future (of communism) on reactive social formations.[xii] According to Escobar “Marx and Engels would insist on the notion of movement (of change and time) and would position themselves around in a materialism – materialism as a philosophy capable of thinking and undertaking the becoming and its affirmation – as opposed to an idealism as philosophies of the being and of the “true process”.[xiii] Therefore, the Marxist dialectic “is not a logical thought and does not have its quality and its role in this analytical tradition. Dialectics is a thought that demands – as an open problematic – the very impossibility of thinking without the future, that is, without politics. Dialectics is also not just the history of human history or reactive history, but as a thickening of the entire thinking of man. done as multiplicity.[xiv]

The invention of communism, therefore, is not mere formal bourgeois egalitarianism, but plural and multiple since there is no naturalization of the same, but multiple paths. Communism in Marx, for Escobar, appears as the liberation of potency (its tragic multiplicity). Communism is not “an advance” (in the Enlightenment sense) of capitalism (and its dialectical overcoming), but something other than the social, than social history, human culture or the ideal of rational addition.[xv] Nor would communism be the end of ideology (of “alienation”) and of politics (politics cannot be reduced to the State), only focusing on the “management of things”, a world without sociability, but rather the multiplication of new political practices and ideological out of step with bourgeois modernity.

As Escobar observes “the revolution for Marx kills and gives birth (like Dionísio), kills the reactive culture in all its extension and poses to us the question of not only imagining the new bodies and motives of the future, but of being already involved in its creation. This question, this subversion of nature and subjects, by the revolutionary process, was forgotten in the revolutionary progress in proportion as Enlightenment and humanism monopolized Marxism.”[xvi]

Hence the need for the transition phase to communism by the dictatorship of the proletariat (which for Escobar would not be defined as the “socialist” phase, since the term socialism would have been committed to the reformist aspects[xvii]). The dictatorship of the proletariat is defined as a place for the invention of singularities and multiplicities, and it shatters hierarchies, laws and the entire state apparatus.[xviii]

These are some of the elements covered by Escobar in his controversial book. In Marx, philosopher of power returns to many of these issues, and which complement the positions he takes in this volume. The two works complement each other forming a whole, and present an innovative reading of Marxism. We do not need to agree with all of Escobar's statements, but we are certainly not indifferent to his position and the line of demarcation established by him in his confrontation with the dogmatic, reductionist and reformist (humanist) views that predominate in Brazilian Marxism.

And, without a doubt, the publisher Ciência Revolucionarias managed to fill a gap in the intellectual production of Brazilian Marxism by republishing these two works, by breaking with the containment dikes and the silence established by some groups of intellectuals who control not only the academic space , but also the Brazilian publishing market focused on Marxism. Thus, he breaks with a “unique” and “official” reading of Marx and Engels by presenting us with an innovative and radical reading that only adds to the Marxist debate in our social formation.

* Luiz Eduardo Motta is a professor of political science at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of In favor of Althusser: revolution and rupture in Marxist theory (Countercurrent).



Carlos Henrique Escobar. Marx tragic & Marx, philosopher of power. São Paulo, Editora Ciência Revoluárias, 364 pages.



[I] On the “Grupo Tempo Brasileiro” see SAES, Décio “The impact of Althusserian theory on history in Brazilian intellectual life” in MORAES, João Quartim (org.) History of Marxism in Brazil, Campinas: Editora Unicamp, 2007; and MOTTA, Luiz Eduardo “The reception of Althusser in Brazil: the group of Brazilian Time Magazine” in MOTTA, Luiz Eduardo In favor of Althusser, São Paulo: Countercurrent, 2021.

[ii] CARPEAUX, Otto Maria “Structuralism is the Opium of Literates”, RCB nº 14, 1967, p 248.

[iii] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique “Answer to Carpeaux” in Brazilian weather No. 15/16, 1968, pp. 144-145.

[iv] In addition to the aforementioned names, Alberto Coelho de Souza, professor of philosophy at the IFCS-UFRJ, belonged to this group. Later, historian Manoel Maurício de Albuquerque (professor at IFCS-UFRJ, removed from AI-5) and Manoel Barros da Motta joined the group of Althusserians from Rio de Janeiro.

[v] SAES, Décio “The impact of Althusserian theory on the history of Brazilian intellectual life” in MORAES, João Quartim de History of Marxism in Brazil, vol. 3, Campinas: UNICAMP, 2007.

[vi] LUQUES, Joao Pedro de Souza Barros Santoro For a theory of the ideological: contributions by Carlos Henrique Escobar, unpublished, 2022.

[vii] I dealt with these two articles by Escobar in chapter VI (“The reception of Althusser in Brazil: the Tempo Brasileiro magazine group”) and in chapter VIII (“About 'Who is afraid of Louis Althusser?' by Carlos Henrique Escobar”) in the second (enlarged) edition of my book In favor of Althusser published by Contracurrent at the end of 2021.

[viii] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique tragic marx, P. 9.

[ix] Same, p. 12-13.

[X] Convergent with Escobar's positions, although he has other references, is Márcio Bilharinho Naves in his book Marx, science and revolution, particularly in its 7th chapter.

[xi] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique tragic marx, P. 27.

[xii] Cf. ditto, pp. 62-63.

[xiii] Cf. ditto p.94.

[xiv] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique, idem, p. 116-117.

[xv] Cf. ditto, p. 218-219.

[xvi] ESCOBAR, Carlos Henrique, idem, p. 235.

[xvii] On Escobar's position of differentiating the dictatorship of the proletariat from socialism in opposition to Balibar's thesis that identifies socialism with the dictatorship of the proletariat, see my article “About the problematic of the socialist transition: theoretical advances and setbacks in the experiences of so-called real socialism ” in PINHEIRO, Jair Marx: crisis and transition. São Paulo: Academic Culture, 2014.

Available in

[xviii] Cf. ditto, p. 266.

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