“Fancy” Neo-Stalinism

Image: Oto Vale
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By BERNARDO VARGAFTIG*

A critique of Domenico Losurdo based on the recent apostasy of Caetano Veloso

A curious and revealing event is currently an object of public interest. Caetano Veloso, an artist of exceptional quality, told in an interview that he has evolved recently, abandoning what he described as vague liberalism and anti-communism.

Caetano attributed this ideological evolution to a very fruitful discussion with “a young man from Pernambuco, whose name is Jones Manoel”. “He (Jones Manuel) quoted an Italian author, called Domenico Losurdo, author of a counterhistory of liberalism, and who has a book on modern views of the critique of liberalism”.

Jones Manoel is a young historian, black, very well informed, youtuber, who declares himself a Marxist linked to the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB).

Just to remind the reader, I indicate that several groupings declare themselves to be continuators of the “Partidão”, founded as the Brazilian Communist Party in 1922 and adherent to the Communist International, founded by Lenin and Trotsky after the socialist revolution of October 1917.

During the beginnings of the crisis of Stalinism (around 1956) and the conflict between the Soviet Union sclerotic by its bureaucratization and revolutionary China, the “original” PCB suffered successive divisions that ended up resulting in an association that kept the name Communist Party Brazilian, two others being PPS and PC do B.

This is not the place to detail the respective motivations.

Suffice it to point out that these tendencies retain the traces of Stalinism.

This is no longer the extremely authoritarian tendency resulting from the seizure of power in the USSR by a privileged group that maintained it through terror, which many, like the PCB, currently reject, but a tendency that it defended and seeks to defend, a political line of taking the power by a polyclassist front, the Popular Front.

This is based on a Stalinist theory of alliance with the so-called progressive bourgeoisie, which would bring together bourgeoisie and working class, as if water and oil, working class and bourgeois class, had coincident or only weakly antagonistic interests.

And so, to make them compatible, all sorts of compromises are made, as the PT's most lulist tendencies have always done and continue to do. Defeat guaranteed.

Let's go back to Caetano and Jones. In their meeting on television (Mídia Ninja, Youtube – 6/01/20), both had an exemplary behavior, of intellectual honesty. Jones recounted his evolution over the last ten years, from an uninformed young man who, according to himself, was even unaware of the existence of a Fidel Castro, to a history professor, who defends his positions with knowledge of the facts and convinces interlocutors of their validity.

Caetano acknowledged, also simply, when talking to journalist Bial (Globo Play, Conversa com Bial, 4/09/20) that he changed his mind, having defended liberalism somewhat automatically, for what he called “hatred” of socialism.

He explains the influence of the meeting he had with Jones and, above all, his advice to read the Italian writer Domenico Losurdo, which, according to Caetano, he did with such satisfaction that he began to reject liberalism.

This is where interesting analysis and interpretation challenges begin.

Losurdo has been criticized, rightly in my opinion, for his extremely sectarian position regarding the left opposition, which Trotsky did not like to call “Trotskyism” and which many of us claim.

This is because we consider this trend to be one of the most consistent developments in Marxism.

Domenico Losurdo died in 2018 aged 77 and had a busy career.

I am not an expert on his life and work, but it so happens that long before his image and texts were used by the said heirs, I had read some of his books and a pamphlet (reproduced in annex).

He wrote important books on the history of European and North American liberalism, showing that his mentors theorized the most rigorous anti-egalitarianism, elections under a regime of legal or practical exclusion of native peoples and blacks and the poor.

With slavery, exploitation of workers, and large-scale commercial sailings, liberal colonial policy allowed for the early development of capitalism.

This is another discrediting aspect of so-called liberalism, studied to satisfaction by Losurdo.

It is not useless to remember that several tens of millions of inhabitants of present-day Mexico, Brazil and Peru were eliminated by the combined action of the massacres by the conquerors and the infections they transmitted; the same happened with the traffic of enslaved Africans.

The examples given by Losurdo of the extreme reactionism of so-called liberals, including people often praised, such as Toqueville, are edifying.

Like Caetano, I am convinced that reading these books on liberalism and Bonapartism is useful for historians and Marxists in general. They illustrate the history of capitalism in very convincing detail. That said, there are essential criticisms to be made of his more recent works, I will highlight three.

First, Losurdo wrote a book about the “cold war” and its consequences (Escape from History?, Rio de Janeiro, Revan, 2004, 2009), in which he insists on national confrontations, underestimating, in my view, the struggles of subordinate classes, which would be the obvious choice of a Marxist.

Next, your presentation of events that took place in the USSR is not Marxist either; his appreciation of Leninism would lead him, in the former USSR, if not to the shooting, at least to the gulag.

In fact, he refers, as if it were understood, to Lenin's dictatorship and its natural continuity with his heir, Stalin.

Underlying is the simplistic and, more than that, harmful explanation, which attributes the capitalist restoration not to the inevitable tendency of the bureaucracy that began its rise around 1924, the year of Lenin's death, but to an almost personal decision of inglorious characters, starting with the scapegoat Kruschev followed by the executioner Gorbachev.

A similar explanation, also neo-Stalinist but much more elaborate, was given by Keeran and Kenny (R. Keeran and T. Kenny, Le socialism trahi, Paris, Editions Delga, 2012).

This book, like the others, shows important editorial and bibliographical work, but an extraordinary Stalinist bias.

Not to recognize, even to combat it, the considerable contribution of Trotsky, is a total intellectual dishonesty.

Third, this intellectual dishonesty appears when Losurdo engaged in an absurd polemic with Jean-Jacques Marie, writer and Trotskyist activist and author of numerous quality books (see Losurdo's pamphlet at the end).

It begins with the usual slander against Trotsky, inventing, for example, a phantasmagoric attempt at a coup d'état that he would carry out in 1927.

Nobody ever heard about this alleged scam again, even after the capitalist restoration that made previously hidden archives accessible.

If indeed that had been his intention at a time when his reputation and authority were at their height, it would have been easy for him, but he understood well that this was not a question of a dispute between ambitious leaders and their followers, but of an original social development and perverse, the so-called bureaucratization, facilitated by the isolation of the USSR after the defeat of several revolutionary attempts in Europe, associated with internal difficulties – hunger, social inequality and revival of forms of property, civil war, beginning of repression.

Not even in Stalin's most fanciful accusations does this invention appear.

In reality, Stalin did kill more Soviet officers (35.000!) than the Nazis, including in 1937 Marshal Tukachevski.

Thus, Lossurdo abounds in the current slander of Stalinism, which seemed to be in the rubbish of history, but with more “delicacy”, sometimes justifying the slander by giving it a certain logic.

He defends neo-Stalinism and, more than that, evolves into a position that justifies and preaches capitalist restoration for the construction of a “strong state”, socialism in a single country, an absurd concept within a world market dominated by financial capital. .

In reality, Stalinism led to the capitalist restoration in Russia in 1991, which launched the ongoing counter-revolutionary era.

In his debate with Stalinism, Trotsky had foreseen that the dilemma of the Russian revolution would be its development and extension or capitalist restoration.

It was this one that dominated.

In addition, Losurdo relies on a concept close to some heralds of the extreme right, accusing the so-called “Western Marxism” of important deviations, involving Trotsky.

He claims to be right on the path of “Eastern Marxism” (which, by the way, does not exist), which led directly to capitalist restoration.

Differently from the East, Western Marxism would have lost its link with the global anti-colonialist revolution — the decisive turning point of the XNUMXth century — and ended up suffering a collapse.

Losurdo examines current figures, some Marxist, others less so, such as Slavoj Žižek, David Harvey, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri, as well as so-called classical thinkers, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, György Lukács, Herbert Marcuse, Louis Althusser, Ernst Bloch and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Evidently, Trotsky does not figure among his chosen ones, nor Trotskyist historians of recognized competence, such as Ernest Mandel, Pierre Broué, or his foe Jean-Jacques Marie.

Finally, in the presentation of a book by Losurdo, Editora Boitempo states, when summarizing it:

“With the onset of the Cold War, and then with the Khrushchev Report, Stalin became a 'monster', perhaps comparable only to Hitler. Anyone who wanted to identify this turning point as the moment of the definitive and final revelation of the identity of the Soviet leader would be short-sighted, easily setting aside the conflicts and interests at the origins of the turning point. The radical contrast between the different images of Stalin should lead the historian no longer to absolutize one of these images, but to problematize all of them. In this volume, Domenico Losurdo does just that, analyzing the tragedies of the XNUMXth century, drawing cross-sectoral comparisons, and deconstructing and contextualizing many of the accusations leveled at Stalin.”

An elegant defense of a “chic” neo-Stalinism, but a total abandonment of Marxism which, without being deterministic because it incorporates superstructural influence, clearly indicates that it is class analysis that makes it possible to understand social evolution (in this case, regression).

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that Losurdo's Marxism ceases when he examines the figure of Stalin and the political and social developments of the 1990s.

Had they been imagined in the times of the USSR, anyone who expressed such predictions, totally logical, of the inevitable disintegration of a society to such a bureaucratized point in confrontation with international capital, would be a victim of censorship and repression and Losurdo would denounce an invention, perhaps even Trotskyist…

He does not preach the return of Stalin – if conceivable – but a directly counterrevolutionary policy, mixed with ecological considerations out of its social context.

Losurdo completely abandons the Marxist analysis of the evolution of states, class interactions on a world level, which is striking when he accuses “Western Marxism”, as if the ideas of a few dozen Marxist intellectuals had the power to destroy “socialism”. in one country”.

I finish with the grotesque incident between Losurdo and Jean-Jacques Marie.

He had criticized a text by Losurdo and this criticism merited the delusional text by Losurdo, which I reproduce below, for information.

Despite all this, I still think that books like “The Counter-History of Liberalism” are positive, they unmask liberalism, this “western” one, in a forceful and very well documented way.

I regret that an author like Losurdo has entered the dead end of neo-Stalinism, instead of, with the same open-mindedness with which he declares to examine Christianity, examine the heirs of revolutionary Marxism, notably the writings of Trotsky, Broué, Mandel and too much.

As the historian Mário Maestri says, Losurdo became an enemy of the working class in its own trench, a supporter of Putin and the “Strong States”, which replace the attempt at “socialism in one country”.

To make me forgive my friends who would disagree with my benevolent analysis, I remember that Kautsky was a great socialist theoretician, but that Lenin deserved the qualifier of “traitor” for his late revisionist positions. This does not prevent us from reading it with profit.

*Bernardo Boris Vargaftig is a retired full professor at the Institute of Biological Sciences at USP.

Originally published on the website Viomundo

 

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