past and future

Image: Gabriela Palai


What is the difference between the historical experience of socialism and what I dreamed of?

“Time, if we can intuit this identity, is an illusion: the indifferentiation and inseparability of a moment from its apparent yesterday and another from its apparent today is enough to disintegrate it” (Jorge Luis Borges, history of eternity).

When asked about the function of the historian, many people, I believe, would not even know where to start: “guardian of traditions”, master of life or subject who warns us about such repetitions, always on the lookout for life in society. Meanwhile, several other citizens would be alien to the role of the historian, after all, all this happened so long ago, why would it be important?

In every story, even those that speak of the most distant past that one can imagine, there is much of the present, either in speech or in intentions. If the written word does not indicate deep meanings, passing through our eyes in just an inattentive reading, something of a minute or less, the meanings behind the grammatical semantics have a lot to show us. I would not say that they are “hidden in the open”, as this is not a story by Edgar Allan Poe, but it takes an attentive look, characteristic of the historian, to decipher the enigmas of what has already passed, even more so when we know the future of those who already came.

Past and future are two sides of the same coin, although countless historians will condemn anachronism and its variations, electing them the category of public enemy n°1 of any history committed to scientific data. We avoid them, of course, but we are anachronistic by nature, condemned to repeat facts and analyze situations whose conclusions we already expect, even if on a small scale. It is impossible to hide our feelings and even, why not, illusions about the past: many times, when we start a research, we expect a certain result (even though we swear by objectivity) and we end up with something unexpected, a surprise for everyone involved in those long months. of reading and contemplation. After all, we are human, we cannot eliminate traces of sentimentality from our mind; we can only control ourselves, demand greater objectivity from our writing, even if unconsciously, part of it is conditioned by our emotions.

Thus, history is born out of a contradiction between science and factual literature (many will say that we have overcome the second, but I disagree). Although the footnotes, the references organized down to the last hair and the files hold the key to any well-told story, there is still a lot of deduction involved in the process, due to the scholar's mania of extending some moments, suppressing some data ( to display them later); everything always in a subtle way.

If the historian is not a scientist, what is he? A mere storyteller, not to forgive the pun or something different, between the organization of facts and that sharp look, the desire for what unites us as human beings. As Bloch wonderfully defined, so that no one could doubt it anymore and only be able to quote: “Human facts are, by essence, very delicate phenomena, among which many escape mathematical measurement. To translate them well, therefore to penetrate them well... a great finesse of language, [a correct color in verbal tone] is necessary. Where calculation is impossible, it is necessary to suggest”.[I]

The scholar of the past, therefore, works “on the edges”, on the margins of what we call rational analysis, always ready to break the boundaries of the scientific and enter the field of imagination. This is not a suggestion that comes from the void, from unrealities or from the whims of the historian, but from indications that the documents themselves transmit to us. By “filling in” the gaps, we calculate the risks and enter a certain imaginary, taking into account the material conditions of what we study, because, as I will focus on in the next paragraphs, a dose of materialism is essential for a well-written History.

Among the most illustrious cases of mixing with literature, endowed with profound theoretical and documentary rigor, of course, we can mention Edward Palmer Thompson and CR James, because what would their books be without the poetic touch of their prose? It is through the beauty of the words, chosen and used with aesthetic rigor, that the message reaches us in its maximum form, ready to penetrate the hearts of those who will tell the new stories. They are unique texts insofar as their authors, willingly or not, have a strong connection with what they research, with the subjects they seek to decipher, even if they need to be scientific. Their visions of the present and why not, the dreams they have about the future, end up entering the way they research and describe the past. Every history, whether material or not, has much of the present.

In this way, analyzing the past becomes a very beautiful task, surrounded by rhetorical constructions and excessive idealism. We are guaranteeing that nothing will be eternal, on the contrary, institutions, governments, ideologies (these are more difficult) and dominant classes, from the passage of time, lose their places, because the historical process spares no one, even if the traces remain for those who like to look at this kind of thing. Even other scholars of the so-called human sciences guarantee this type of statement, demonstrating, whether in a research on cinema or in a text on the role of society in the constitution of individual morality, that the elements present themselves in constant shocks, in eternal change, guaranteeing new objects to be analyzed and new situations to be experienced, after all, before researchers, we are living beings, curious by nature.

The changes, however, are far from peaceful, even if gradual. The transition, by definition, presents shocks between the old subjects and the new ways of life, built from needs and concrete measures. “For there is no economic development that is not at the same time the development or change of a culture. And the development of social consciousness, like the development of a poet's mind, can never be ultimately planned.[ii] In this way, poles that are treated so differently by many historians, when together, reveal a lot about the look we should direct to the past and the factors behind the transformations that we struggle to understand.


real socialism

The capitalist era, whose direct consequence are the socialist experiences that occupy the subtitle of this essay, is even more complex, since the bourgeois era is marked by permanent agitation and a profound lack of security, through which, at the moment of its crystallization, the social relationships fade, becoming antiquated before they even have time to ossify.[iii] Thus, it is difficult to look for a definitive history, supported by indisputable facts, while the world unravels and remakes itself at every second, generating new challenges for those who are living it and involving future scholars in an interpretative haze, attractive and dangerous in the same measure. The historian must organize this agitation, restructure social relations and launch hypotheses about such scenarios.

On the other side of this historical work, there is dialectical materialism, also generated by its contradictions and fed by the elements that we lack as human beings. We are incomplete by nature: it is only fair that our history is also incomplete, full of gaps for the professional to understand. In the case of the study of the so-called “real socialism”, many times, the scholar, as well as common sense, is condemned to the eternal quarrel between the contradictions of real projects and the idealism of discourses. Socialism may even raise good questions, however, it has murdered millions, censored genius artists and isolated entire civilizations.

When raising these data, several analyzes forget the chaotic and bellicose scenario faced by the socialist countries, after all, the whole world has turned its cannons to the threats to the financial system. With that, any idealism or pacifism are mere rhetorical efforts, great for us, the intellectuals, but meaningless for the preservation of governments, ideologies and human lives, threatened by imminent external invasions (the Bay of Pigs in the Cuban case, for example, to name just one more well-known one).

It is not about defending any kind of experience or socialist discourse, hiding data, pain and corpses in the name of an argument. On the contrary, we are looking for a means of analyzing revolutions and processes that are so conflicting with the world around them and the agents within them, marking the history of the entire XNUMXth century and fundamental to the discussions that the XNUMXst century presents to us, imposing a increasingly predatory neoliberalism. The historian deals with material culture, facts, what happened in a given context.

The phrase may seem simplistic to anyone who has read so many books, however, when we talk about socialism, these elements end up marginalized, hostages of empty and ahistorical criticisms in essence, as they are unable to place certain situations in their respective concreteness. The universe around socialist experiences dialogues with them and they respond back, creating a relationship that is difficult for historians to unravel, no matter how good their intentions.

The subject, when reading about past realities, becomes frustrated with the relationships he himself created in his head, moving away from any splash of dialectical materialism and falling into the contradiction of only looking at the beginning of the process, taken by that passion revolutionary, responsible for the end of everything that is bad and absent from any concrete discourse about the new society to come. “Change is only consolidated on a more limited basis, but that is still real... It is absurd to want to compare the magical moment of the unison chorus in the course of the struggle against the old regime to be overthrown with the next phase, prosaic and difficult, of the new that needs to be built amid difficulties and contradictions of all kinds, including those derived from inexperience”.[iv]

Consequently, the socialism he dreamed of does not have any relations with real socialism and with that, the subject falls into depression, shaken by the world he swore to build, by condemning everything that came before. Again, as in the case of the historian, the subjectivities of something as complex as the human mind come into play, mixing with the desires of a political, rational factor connected to much greater elements than the crisis of conscience of just one person. It is in this clash between general and particular that historical materialism must be located, generating an analysis that accounts for the nuances and contradictions of human experience.

Thus, it is the historian's obligation to situate things in a concrete way, among the possibilities that are on his horizon, seeing the past as what happened, not what could have happened. Forecasts and alternatives, even if this hurts the dreamers and idealists (already mentioned before), are not part of the historiographic work. Chance yes, this is part of history, however much material conditions try to deny it at all times, imposing a certain exorbitant rationalism. Even so, this is not a clash, but a kind of symbiosis between the laws of chaos that govern what actually happens and the material manifestations of a given time, society or nation; putting all this together, we have the past, a heap of information and data that must be analyzed keeping in mind what was possible under such conditions, however bad they may be for those who still dare to dream.

As Benjamin's sixth thesis suggests: “To articulate the past historically does not mean to know it 'as it actually was'. It means appropriating a reminiscence, as it flashes at the moment of danger. It is up to historical materialism to fix an image of the past, as it appears, in the moment of danger, to the historical subject, without him being aware of it.[v]

Such an image is not crystal clear, it will not resolve all our doubts about the potentials of socialism in the past, present or future, but it is still the best we have, presenting itself as an aid to those who are willing to listen. other types of perspectives. From there, a movement, an ideology can be fed back to exhaustion, being built based on the dialogue between concrete beings, material to the bone and ready to listen to what time has to say to them.

In none of these times do we control conditions, being adrift, so to speak, of what material existence has to offer us and what we do with them, since, albeit in a limited way, human beings choose and control their own actions. . In the case of the historian, we want to control it doubly: as a little god who looks at what has already happened and attests the final word about it, without realizing that we are trying to replicate the process in our daily lives, however bizarre and frightening as such a practice may seem. For this reason, history is very dangerous, both for those who write it and for the societies around them, and can change fundamental traits of a country, an armed conflict or even the soul of those who seek to understand.

*Guilherme Colombara Rossatto is a history major at the University of São Paulo (USP).


[i] Bloch, Marc. Apology of History or The Craft of the Historian. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2002, pp. 54-55.

[ii] THOMPSON, EP Customs in Common: Studies on traditional popular culture. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998, p. 304.

[iii] ENGELS, Friedrich; MARX, Carl. Communist Party Manifesto. Porto Alegre: LEPM, 2001, p. 7.

[iv] LOSURDO, Domenico. Escape from History? The Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution as Seen Today. Rio de Janeiro: Revan, 2004, p. 73.

[v] BENJAMIN, Walter. Selected Works. Vol. 1. Magic and technique, art and politics. Essays on Literature and Cultural History. Foreword by Jeanne Marie Gagnebin. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1987, p. 223.


The A Terra é Redonda website exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.
Click here and find how 

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table