Marxism without utopia



Considerations on the book by Jacob Gorender

In many respects, Marxism without utopia it is a remarkable book. Unlike what is usual in the tradition of local Marxism, it does not seek to adapt the theories of Marx and his followers to the Brazilian specificity, nor to highlight the singularities of our social formation (a subject brilliantly addressed by Jacob Gorender in colonial slavery). It proposes nothing less than to update Marxism itself. Symptom of intellectual maturity (of the author and of Brazilian Marxism), but also of lucidity in the face of practical and theoretical impasses after the collapse of Eastern European socialism and the rise of neoliberalism.

The flexibility, implicit in the project to revise Marxist theses taking into account the current situation in the world, is at odds with the widespread dogmatism of left-wing theorists and militants and is unexpected (despite his heterodox trajectory) in a former member of the Central Committee of the Brazilian Communist Party. Nor is it common – at a time when short-term expectations prevail – the attitude of elaborating proposals that admittedly can only be implemented by future generations.

Finally, the reader will be surprised by the encyclopedic richness of the book. There are summarized, with clarity, didacticism and an amazing ability to highlight the essential: (i) contemporary discussions on themes such as the unfolding of capitalism in the XNUMXth century, (ii) the history of the Marxist tradition and of “real socialism”. ”; (iii) the so-called globalization and everything that affects the present and future of the world of work; (iv) the present situation of classes, parties and the State, as well as their mutual relations; (v) the debate about the pertinence of Marx's theory about the extraction of surplus value, the tendency to fall in the average rate of profit and the crises of overproduction; (vi) the question of transition and the characteristics of socialist society, etc.

The encyclopedic construction of the book enlightens us about the variant of Marxism taken up by Jacob Gorender. The organization of Marx's legacy as an open system, attentive to internal discussions in different fields of knowledge, was the strategy used by Friedrich Engels to update historical materialism after Marx's death. In this version, called “scientific socialism”, the science/utopia dichotomy present in the title and repeated throughout the book came to the fore.

As far as method is concerned, Jacob Gorender is closer to Eduard Bernstein, a disciple of Engels who, taking the association between Marxism and science to the letter, did not hesitate to adopt as a thread the thesis that “Marx deviated from the discipline science and yielded to utopian proclivities. The closeness between Eduard Bernstein and Jacob Gorender, however, is purely formal. As the convergence between theory and practice, method and politics is still just an ideal, Jacob Gorender was able to resume the motto from which Eduard Bernstein proceeded with the revision of Marxism and, at the same time, peremptorily reject the social-democratic reformism advocated by him . But that does not mean that he is immune, for example, to the methodological criticisms that György Lukács addressed to Eduard Bernstein in History and class consciousness, particularly the illusion that the simple selection of relevant facts no longer contains an interpretation.

For Jacob Gorender, the source of Marx's and Marxism's mistakes, a fundamental fact that impels him to revise this tradition, would be the finding that, contrary to what has always been assumed, “the proletariat is ontologically reformist”. To corroborate what he considers to be evidence, he resorts to the article “Marxist Century, American Century” by Giovanni Arrighi (in The illusion of development, Voices) which highlights the split of Marxism into reformist movements in the center and revolutionaries in the semi-periphery of capitalism.

However, what worries Giovanni Arrighi is not a definition of the ontological character of the working class, but above all the fact that the inequality of the interstate system (between the countries of the organic nucleus and the others) seems to have determined the action of the proletariat more strongly than the socialist goal. That is, the working class of the central nations strives to maintain the privileged position of their country, while the workers of the periphery (mistakenly) foresee in the revolution a means of reaching the standard of the central countries.

Faced with this dilemma, it is not enough to propose replacing the preponderant social force in the revolutionary process, as Jacob Gorender did when he bet his chips on intellectual wage earners (the so-called “white collars”). The existence of a hierarchically structured interstate system, immune to changes, has become an unavoidable issue for anyone wishing to propose changes in the way the world is organized, whether they are Marxists or not.

*Ricardo Musse He is a professor at the Department of Sociology at USP. Author, among other books, of Émile Durkheim: Social fact and division of labor (Attica).

Modified version of article published in Folha de S. Paul, on February 6, 2000 [].


Jacob Gorender. Marxism without utopia. São Paulo, Ática, 1999, 288 pages.

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