Michael Löwy's Enchanted Garden



Comments on Three Recent Books by Michael Löwy

In these times of pandemic, no less than three recent works by Michael Löwy were published in Brazil, attesting to the lucidity and willingness to debate this Marxist intellectual and militant – heterodox, as he insists on underlining – active since the early 1960s. Two books are co-authored.

The individual also reveals the collective disposition, as it is an expression of a lesser-known side of the author, who is not only a scholar, but also an activist of surrealism. Its about the glowing comet – published simultaneously in Brazil and France – which brings together a series of brief texts about that artistic and political movement, from the time of its creation to the present day. The most diverse aspects are commented on, bringing together characters and episodes united by the red thread of revolutionary romanticism, the “revolt against modern industrial/capitalist civilization in the name of certain social or cultural values ​​of the past”, not to return to it, but to build the future with “a spirit of radical and subversive emancipation” (Löwy, 2020, p. 33). A spirit present, for example, in the movements of 1968, the subject of a chapter, as well as the rebellious surrealists of the time in the United States. This was the case of Franklin Rosemont in Chicago, one of the surrealist capitals, like Paris and Prague, treated with special attention.

The book illuminates details about Marxists who had some affinity with surrealism, such as Benjamin, Mariátegui, Bloch and even Trotsky, co-author of the famous Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art, prepared in Mexico in partnership with André Breton, whose presence permeates the entire work. For example, in his unexpected revolutionary adventure in Haiti in 1946. The surrealist fascination with the “savage cultures” of indigenous America, Africa, Asia and Oceania appears throughout the book, as is the case in the chapter about the film. invention of the world, by Michel Zimbaca, and the text on Vincent Bounoure. They would be inspiring cultures to build societies free from the capitalist yoke.

By putting together the fragmented pieces in several chapters, readers can piece together the history of the Surrealist movement and its internal struggles that also involved the relationship with the broader political context. For example, several French Surrealists joined the Communist Party in the late 1920s, where Aragon would remain forever, helping to elaborate socialist realism, unlike Breton, Naville, Péret and others who left the Party and moved closer to Trotskyism. Not to mention those who broke away and then returned to the communist fold, like Paul Éluard.

Dozens of characters appear as supporting characters that help to understand the whole of the work. It takes on a special contour by highlighting, in a separate topic, the presence of surrealist women, such as Claude Cahun, Penolope Rosemont, Ody Saban and Beatriz Hauser, each treated in a separate chapter. The longest is dedicated to the figure of Cahun, “a non-Jewish Jew, androgynous woman, dissident Marxist, libertarian Trotskyist, lesbian surrealist, she is strictly unclassifiable” (Löwy, 2020, p. 183). She was involved, for example, in an episode of resistance during the Nazi occupation of France, whose account alone is worth reading the book.

Attached are explicit texts of surrealist militancy by Michael Löwy, editor of collective demonstrations for his Parisian group, contesting Jürgen Habermas's interpretation of the movement in the 1980s, criticizing the aseptic and depoliticized incorporation of surrealism by an exhibition at the Beaubourg center in 2002, in solidarity with the peoples of Oaxaca in Mexico in 2007 and 2010, and with Canadian indigenous people in defense of nature in 2020. The work is also valued for the numerous illustrations by Guy Girard, which include an original graphic plan, on sheets with white or black background.

Como the glowing comet it is a combination of texts that were originally separate, it is not uncommon for clarifications to appear that sound repetitive as a whole. Without this detracting from the work, several chapters reiterate, for example, the conception of romanticism, particularly of the revolutionary. Theme revisited centrally in Löwy's second book, recently released, written with his former writing partner on the subject, the American living in France Robert Sayre. Its about Romantic anti-capitalism and nature, in tune with the ecosocialism advocated a few years ago by Löwy (2014a), attesting to its openness to the new social struggles of the XNUMXst century.

Contrasting with the countless brief and militant chapters of the first book commented, Romantic anti-capitalism and nature presents a dense academic argument, concentrated in six chapters that focus on the contribution of several authors on the theme of the work. This does not deprive it of its political character – the anti-capitalist struggle is its own axis – while the explicitly militant character of the other book does not mean that it is devoid of academic value, particularly in terms of the analysis of the trajectory and surrealist activism of several characters.

the novelty of Romantic anti-capitalism and nature it is not in the analytical proposal of romanticism as a critic of capitalism, “against modernity”. After all, this controversial and original hypothesis had already been extensively explored by authors in previous works, such as revolt and melancholy (Löwy & Sayre, 1995). What justifies the new book is the emphasis on ecology, the central focus on the destruction of nature as a result of capitalist industrial civilization, criticized by the subjects in question.

They would have “romantic ecocriticism” in common, present for example in the work of William Bartram (1739-1823), a remote precursor of contemporary environmentalism in the United States. Another chapter was dedicated to the painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848), analyzed mainly by the paintings in the series The Course of Empire, considered his masterpiece. It would express “a strongly articulated romantic anti-capitalist critique of commercialism linked to imperial ambitions and war”, identified with the “wilderness region” (Löwy & Sayre, 2021, pp. 73-74). An “indignation with the devastations produced by capitalist industrial 'progress'” (Idem, p. 85).

In turn, William Morris (1834-1896) is analyzed as the producer of an “ecotopia” to overcome the opposition between countryside and city. The authors dialogue especially with the interpretations of Morris by two contemporary British Marxists, EP Thompson and Raymond Williams. The work of Williams (1921-1988) is itself the subject of a chapter, in which the Welshman's early option for a “green socialism” is pointed out.

Another heretical Marxist, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), has been studied as a critic of the “murder of Nature” and the ideology of progress. He would have prepared the ground for later radical ecological thinking, seeking a necessary revolution to “interrupt the race towards environmental catastrophe” (Löwy & Sayre, 2021, p. 134). The chapter is convincing, but perhaps minimizes Benjamin's classic texts that – as Löwy and Sayre themselves recognize – are less skeptical in relation to technological progress, as is the case of “The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility” and “The author as producer". Mutatis mutandis, this observation is valid for the other subjects analyzed, whose intellectual production is subject to different interpretations.

In the final chapter, Löwy and Sayre discuss the contribution of Canadian journalist Naomi Klein (1970- ), with openness to ecology especially in her last writings, involved for example with indigenous causes. They would signal the continuity of the romantic tradition of thought in our days, and formulated by a woman, with anti-capitalist tones, despite being alien to the Marxist tradition. The cases of Klein and the other authors analyzed would point to the elective affinity between romantic anti-capitalism and ecological awareness.

The translation of this book, like the others, allows fluent reading, despite some questionable options in the case of the latter, such as translating Marxist by marxian. For example, speaking of “Marxian intellectuals”, when the consolidated translation would be Marxist intellectuals. The term “Marxian” is acceptable to qualify specialists in Marx's thought, but the authors analyzed in the book are not only specialists, but also identified with the movements inspired by his ideas. Therefore, they are Marxists, as treated in the original work. Controversy is still the translation of Weltanshaung worldview, as the consolidated term in Portuguese is “world view”.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the historical fiction experiment in Marx in Paris, 1871, released at the same time in Portuguese, English and French (Löwy & Besancenot, 2021). A creative contribution to spreading the story and honoring the 150 years of the Commune. The German revolutionary could well have been in the French capital at the time, after all it's not that far from London, where he lived. This fantasy came true in the pen of Michael Löwy and Olivier Besancenot, in a make-believe that elects Jenny, the eldest daughter of the Moor, to be the narrator. One hell of a balcony.

The story remained secret, kept in an old trunk from which it was retrieved by a friend of the authors in Paris, a descendant of Marx. It was Jenny's unknown blue notebook, handwritten in Gothic German, which the authors would have translated and published. The world then learns that Jenny had convinced her father to visit the city of light with her in full revolutionary bloom. There lived an old boyfriend, Charles Longuet, commonard who would later become her husband. Jenny and Karl – with a false identity, disguised to deceive the police, with dyed hair and a trimmed beard – talk with Longuet and other combatants about the events and dilemmas of the Commune.

They meet several other participants, even the poet Arthur Rimbaud. Featured prominently are Léo Frankel, Eugène Varlin, Auguste Serrailler, Auguste Blanqui, who was in prison, and many more. Readers will discover the characters, the facts, the currents of the movement, the atmosphere in the streets, residences and public buildings of Paris taken over by the people, with the unprecedented presence of women. The exiled Russian Élisabeth Dmitrieff, a friend of the Marxes, and the legendary Frenchwoman Louise Michel, to whom they were introduced in Paris, are protagonists and exchange ideas with Karl and Jenny.

This feminist bias given by male writers – also present in the two other books reviewed here – does not cease to be an expressive response to the current growing and vibrant presence of women in the political and intellectual scene, which favors or even demands the historical gaze of their performance in the past fights. The quest to be in tune with the 2009st century is also revealed in the issue of nature preservation, going against the grain of the ideologies of progress typical of capitalism that also contaminate part of socialist proposals, according to Löwy's books. They bring their mark of personal contribution and also attest to the commitment to the collective work, either by the themes addressed, or by the very invoice of the works in partnership, one of them with an old academic colleague, another with a young politician from the French extreme left, also a partner. of previous works translated in Brazil (Löwy & Besancenot, 2016, XNUMX).

Being attentive to the new does not mean breaking with the past, in which Löwy and his partners select what they consider to be the best socialist traditions as inspiration to cultivate an “enchanted garden”, in order to escape the “steel cage” in which the Capitalism imprisons us. Thus, they use Max Weber's metaphors to carry out a radical critical analysis of the system based on Marx, the so-called Weberian Marxism that is often evoked by Michael Löwy (2014b), expressing ancient heterodox legacies of his sociological training at the University of São Paulo in the late 1950s. XNUMX.

*Marcelo Ridenti He is a professor at the Department of Sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The Secret of the American Ladies: Intellectuals, Internationalization, and Financing in the Cultural Cold War (unesp).

Originally published in Social Time, USP sociology journal, vol. 34, no.o 1.



Michael Lowy. The incandescent comet: romanticism, surrealism, subversion. Translation: Diego Cardoso and Elvio Fernandes. São Paulo, 100/Heads, 2020.

Michael Löwy & Robert Sayre. Romantic anti-capitalism and nature: the enchanted garden. Translation: Rogério Bettoni. São Paulo, Unesp, 2021.

Michael Löwy & Olivier Besancenot. Marx in Paris, 1871: Jenny Marx's Blue Notebook. Translation: Fabio Mascaro Dear. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2021.



Lowy, Michael. (2014a), What is ecosocialism? 2 ed. Sao Paulo, Cortez.

Lowy, Michael. (2014b), The steel cage: Max Weber and Weberian Marxism. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

Lowy, Michael. (2020), The incandescent comet: romanticism, surrealism, subversion. Translation by Artur Scavone. São Paulo, 100/Heads.

Löwy, Michael & Besancenot, Olivier. (2009), Che Guevara: a flame that keeps burning. Translation by Maria Leonor Loureiro. Sao Paulo, Ed. Unesp.

Löwy, Michael & Besancenot, Olivier. (2016), Revolutionary Affinities: Our Red and Black Stars. For a solidarity between Marxists and libertarians. Translation by João Alexandre Peschanski, Nair Fonseca. Sao Paulo, Ed. Unesp.

Löwy, Michael & Besancenot, Olivier. (2021), Marx in Paris, 1871: Jenny Marx's Blue Notebook. Translation by Fabio Mascaro Querido. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

Lowy, Michael & Sayre, Robert. (1995), Revolt and melancholy: romanticism against modernity. Translated by Guilherme JF Teixeira. Petrópolis, Voices [2 ed., São Paulo, Boitempo, 2015].

Lowy, Michael & Sayre, Robert. (2021), Romantic anti-capitalism and nature: the enchanted garden. Translation by Rogério Bettoni. Sao Paulo, Ed. Unesp.


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