Ruy Fausto: scope and limits of dialectics

Image: Severino Canepa

By Bento Prado Jr.*

Commentary on the second volume of Marx, Logic and Politics


Four years after the publication of the first, Ruy Fausto released the second volume of Marx, Logic and Politics in. Once again, the author brings together texts already published in Brazil and France, alongside unpublished texts, which constitute materials or beacons for an ongoing reflection on the reach or limits of Dialectics, mainly in its Marxian aspect.

The second volume did not take the form announced by the first (which provided for a thematic organization) and curiously resumes the zigzag structure of the previous writer: four essays, divided into three parts. Even the distribution of themes, in the three parts, seems to mirror, in this book, the structure of the other. The author explains the change of project by the “non-linear way in which the book was written”.

Without doubting the argument, it seems reasonable to me to imagine that the adaptation of the form to the content of the book required the maintenance of the first style. If, in dialectical thought, “the truth is the result”, as Hegel says, it is understandable that any hasty totalization blocks the free progress of a thought that cannot be unified except at the end of the work of reflection. The free play of different “materials” is a necessary condition for fulfilling this theoretical proposal. Dialectics has always been opposed to purely linear procedures, preferring steps zigzag or circularity.

against the current

As the first characterization of Ruy Fausto's book, we can say about it what Michael Löwy said about the previous book, in the pages of La Quinzaine Litteraire (June 1-15, 1987): “This volume therefore goes against the grain. Not because he refuses to criticize Marxism, but because he thinks that such a critique – necessary in many respects – is impossible from a theoretical point of view, if one does not go to the end of classical dialectical rationality”. Against current that is valid for both the Brazilian and French audiences, to which the book is addressed.

Much could be said about the style of this thought that insists on contradicting the general movement of intellectual fashions. We limit ourselves to indicating a sensitive point for the Brazilian reader and that concerns the question: “Is Marxism, alive or dead?”, recently reactivated. Ruy Fausto does not share a profile with either José Guilherme Merquior or Francisco de Oliveira. He would say, rather, that “Marxism is alive… and it is dead”, shocking common sense certainly, but also less worldly logicians. Contradiction? Yes, certainly, this is a contradiction. But isn't Dialectic precisely a discourse that embraces contradiction in its aspiration to truth?

But this first characterization is, let's face it, a bit abstract. Perhaps we could express it less vaguely by saying that for Ruy Fausto, a good connection with Marxism implies a minimum distance from it. The Dialectic certainly dies for those who distance themselves absolutely from its territory; but it also dies for those who immerse themselves in it ignoring their Other In a word: to found Dialectics is to delimit its field, or to unleash a Dialectic between Dialectics and Non-dialectics.

A Dialectic, in short, in which the Same does not dissolve its Other in its calm inner identity. Indeed, Dialectics was never the enemy of tension and difference, as indicated by Hegel's critique of the Romantics' night of identity. That the Dialectic has limits is nothing new, and this already in Hegel's absolute idealism, which, as Ruy Fausto observes, did not cancel the autonomy of the Understanding.

As well as for Marx (it is always Ruy Fausto who speaks) who, after submitting Political Economy to the critical-categorical work of Dialectics, reestablished, against it, the limits imposed by the demands of Understanding or Positivity. Check, in this regard, the book by Ruy Fausto, pages 168-174, which, if understood by the supporters of the audiovisual and populist Marxism that invaded our universities, could liberate them from the horror for Science that they share with the worst thinking of the Right, and has nothing to do with the Dialectical tradition.

Theory and practice

In this second attempt to describe the delimitation of Dialectic by Ruy Fausto, we are still in the middle of the stratosphere. The book, in fact, bears the subtitle “Logic and Politics” and, in it, a beacon that is not logical-speculative. It is true that, in the program at least, Ruy Fausto aspires to the reunification between Theory and Practice, whose absence in Western Marxism is lamented in an elegiac or nostalgic tone by Perry Anderson.

An essential piece of reasoning is the recent fate of capitalism and the so-called real socialism, which practically delimit the horizon of the Dialectic. On the one hand (a bit like Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason, although in a language drawn more from “Logic” than from Phenomenology of Spirit), if Marxism is not dead, it is because capitalism is not dead. On the other hand, all the more recent history of Economy, Society and Culture suspiciously affect the classical Dialectic between theory and practice. This is how, on page 166 of his book, Ruy Fausto makes us move from logic to politics, commenting on the re-elaboration of Hegelian logic within the post-facio of the “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”.

The text affirms the differences in the use of ontological proof in Hegel's “Logic” and in Marx's work: “The post-facio of the 'Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy' would even say that it is only through practice that this second transgression could operate; there where the concept as a concept would be powerless, practice, about whose miracles today we are much less optimistic (we underline, BP Jr.), would take his place, and practice would thus have the place that the ontological argument has in classical philosophy”.

This is an allusion to the limits historical-practical (or to the ground of experience, which is also another essential form of the foundation or horizon of the Dialectic) that remain determined in a consciously abstract way in these first two volumes. But, let us repeat, which indicate, in the future of the work, something like a telos that the reader must anticipate, under penalty of skipping the essential.

In a word, first of all it is necessary to understand the Dialectic (let us remember that understanding translates into begreifen, literally enveloping it on all sides, as when we hold a pebble in our fist, fingers closed like claws), circumscribing it within its logical and practical limits. One cannot criticize it without understanding it, nor understand it without criticizing it.

With this schematic description of Ruy Fausto's project, perhaps the statement that Marxism is both alive and dead, or that one cannot speak dialectically without also speaking from outside the dialectic, becomes less paradoxical. But the full understanding of these paradoxes or these “reflective judgments” is inseparable from the understanding of the matter they form, or the different contents of the essay.


I would certainly not be the best person to critically review Ruy Fausto's book. I lack, at least, the author's familiarity with Marx's work, with his posterity and with contemporary reflection on Political Economy. But Philosophy is not a matter for specialists and, therefore, it is necessary to transform destiny into virtue.

We leave aside, in this review, the first and third sections of the book, devoted respectively to the critique of the Marxist presentation of History (on the succession of modes of production) and to the elaboration of the concepts of Class and State in the critique of Political Economy. The second section, in fact, under the title of “Presupposition and position: dialectic of 'obscure' meanings” (in continuity with the second section of the first volume on “Real Abstraction and Contradiction”) of a more clearly “philosophical” nature seems to correspond to The keystone (as well as the foundation) of this building under construction.

It is clear that properly philosophical or speculative reasoning (in the positive sense attributed to this word in the Hegelian lexicon) is inseparable from the critique of capitalism. But it is also true that it is only at this level that the critique of capitalism can receive its properly theoretical truth. (This is a complicated relationship between a theory of Reason and the actual conditions they verify, and which is not far from that which links, in the “Science of Logic”, the purely logical development of the concept to the Notes – notes – that embody the concept in the less rarefied atmosphere of the History of Philosophy).

Logic and ontology

This is not an easy-to-read book: it is particularly bewildering (intentionally anachronistic and provocative) for the reader accustomed to the dominant language of contemporary philosophy. Starting with the meaning attributed to the word Logic: it is, in fact, a conception of logic in which it is immediately understood as ontology. The aim of the second section is, moreover, to define this conception of logic (or to show the actuality, with certain restrictions, of Hegelian logic) in counterpoint with formal logic and transcendental logic. Or, in other words, secure a place for the tradition of Dialectics, among the rival traditions of Analytical Philosophy and Phenomenology.

The task is to show that this way of “mixing” concept and object, language and world, corresponds to something other than a mere delusion (although Hegel spoke of the need to tune in to “the Dionysian delusion of Substance”).

A first justification for this procedure was already given in the first volume with the analysis of the notion of “real abstraction”. This is what appears in the criticism that Ruy Fausto makes, even in the first volume, of the criticism addressed by Cornelius Castoriadis (the “best critic of Marx”, according to RF) to the famous excerpt from O Capital on Aristotle and the concept of value. Simplifying to the extreme (or caricaturing) Ruy Fausto's analysis: the great interest of Marx's text is to indicate that Aristotle's apparent "blindness" is inexplicable in terms of a sociology of knowledge, or that it refers to a kind of objective invisibility of the determination of value in Greek society. In other words, the logical articulation of concepts is prepared by a kind of objective genesis or a real process that makes reality transparent or thinkable. There is no confusion between language and the world, but a necessary movement (or time) for the world to become sayable.

It is this constant back-and-forth between world and language, or between the sayable and the unspeakable, which is at the root of the proliferation of an entire system of conceptual oppositions, such as presupposition and position, clarity and obscurity, possibility and negation. This conceptual network is presented as an essential background for understanding the heart of Dialectic, that is, the thesis according to which Reason can and must accept contradiction, if it wants to adequately map Experience.

In a way, Hegel and Marx – in the analysis of the cultural world and of capitalism – carry out a logical-ontological conceptual work similar to that of Aristotle, when he engendered categories such as potency and act to make movement thinkable – a metaphysical condition for understanding Physics .

What is most interesting in Ruy Fausto's reasoning – as far as I can follow it – is the way in which he travels, not only between the Science of Logic and os floorplans ou The capital, but also by the metaphysical prehistory of the Dialectic.

the evil reader

The proofs of the existence of God in Saint Anselm, Descartes, Leibniz are in the background – and even in avant-scene – of the Hegelian recovery, against Kant, of the ontological proof, which illuminates the dialectic that Marx weaves between Value and Capital, or between Presupposition and Position, or even between object and himself made subject for himself (to use the enigmatic Hegelian language) .

History of Philosophy and Epistemology of Political Economy conspire in this exploration of the modalities of judgment, Judgment of reflection, of genesis, of becoming, such are the ways in which discourse is differentially articulated with a world of ways of constitution and, against Bertrand Russell, insists on talking about himself.

At this point, a malevolent reader might ask whether speculation (a positive one, as we have already seen) does not run the risk of becoming mere speculation. Or, more serious, if Ruy Fausto's reasoning does not turn out to be tautological, instead of allological, as the style of Dialectic would demand (allelogical is a neologism that I use here, although reversing the signs, reminding me of Schelling who, against the tradition of Euhemerism and its allegorical interpretation of Mythology, he asserted that the latter required a tautegorical interpretation).

Let me explain: this malevolent reader could say that little is gained when Hegelian Logic is sewn together with the Hegelian language used by Marx, especially in the floorplans. A journey that is not very dialectical, in fact, the one that takes me from the same to the same. This argument – ​​which may or may be false – does not lack some foundation. Is it not Marx himself who somewhere refers to the coquette or the flirtation to the Hegelian jargon to which he would have given in The capital? Marx's ironic observation that means, at least some distancing in relation to the Amazonian proliferation of the dialectical “Logos”. And which suggests that the Critique of Political Economy could have a presentation (presentation) in a jargon other than Hegelian.

Given this perspective, certainly naive, Ruy Fausto's company would be threatened with sterility. But this possibility did not escape the astuteness of my former teacher. In a recent interview, he touches on precisely this crucial point, warning that the reconstruction-delimitation of Dialectics would only be possible for those who could have one foot in the practice of the human sciences as they are produced today, keeping the other in the boat of Classical Dialectics.

It is, in fact, the second appendix of the third part of his book that appears as a demonstration of this thesis. In this appendix, Ruy Fausto carries out a particularly astute reading of an essay by our late and common friend Pierre Clastres. With the title “About modality in Pierre Clastres”, Ruy Fausto comments on chapter 11 of Society against the State. All the heavy artillery of dialectical logic is mobilized to explain Clastres' text and to find, in it, something similar to an “empirical” counterproof of Reason's style. The subject of Clastres' text is that of leadership among our indigenous ancestors: the paradox, for us, of a leadership without power, or of a society that organizes itself to prevent or prevent the birth of Separate Power (the State).

How can a society defend itself against what it does not know? Present, past and future prance around in the air and get confused, also confusing the reader trapped in the categories of Understanding. Ruy Fausto explores this very beautiful text, with the purpose of confirming the Presupposition-Position dialectic, or of showing (against Quine and the “powerful ontologies” of formal logic) the intelligibility of the notion of “objective possibility”. A notion that, if properly understood, would make the concepts of negation or negation of negation understandable and usable again.

By chance (or out of necessity, I don't know, I trip over modal logic in such a way), I devoted a few pages to this same text by Pierre Clastres in an exactly opposite direction to that of Ruy Fausto. For me, in the Preface to the Brazilian translation of test of Political Anthropology by this author (published after the translation of Society against the State), what interested me was to show precisely how Clastres' text was readable with categories that dispense with the recognition of the positivity of the negative. In parentheses, it must be said, for the sake of truth and bringing water to Ruy Fausto's mill more than mine, that Pierre Clastres was an obsessive reader of the Philosophy of law of Hegel.

At the time, I was thinking of (and quoting) Bergson and his beautiful critique of the idea of ​​Nothingness. In a word, the conflict between the two readings shows, at least, that Clastres' text can be translated into more than one jargon. or that there is not experimentum crucis conceptual, which allows me to safely choose a language as the universal horizon of Reason.

Why not explain Clastres in Lacanian or any other exotic language taught by the Berlitz Institute? My suspicion – with the reservations of my ignorance in the area in which Ruy Fausto is a master – is that his work is similar to that of Skinner, in terms of Science and Human Behavior, when he translates the content of Sociology and Economics into the language of operant theory. Only one translation trick, as M. Scriven characterizes Skinner's theoretical procedure.


The beautiful book by Ruy Fausto gives food for thought or, as the Germans would say, it is Denkwurdig. It allows, among other things, but perhaps against the author's intention, an interpretation of the Dialectic (also contrary to the last Lukács) that does not condemn it to the path of Aristotelian ontology. Ruy himself rightly insists that, for Hegel, the Dialectic cannot be applied.

Which reminds me of the conclusion of Gérard Lebrun's book on Hegel. Lebrun closes his book (La Patience du Concept) in the following terms: “Thus, tradition is exposed before us, with its concepts that can be manipulated and deformed according to the operator's discretion. She therefore has nothing to tell us. Why, then, listen to him? She does nothing but swallow. Once again, we have the freedom to work with the texts and play with their contents, without having to tune our ears. A philosopher – finally – does not propose rupture, evasion or conversion, nothing that resembles the great decisions in which we risk our happiness. There is nothing but an ascending wave that covers the 'well-known' meanings, nothing but an unhurried discourse, which constitutes nothing but itself”.

Georg Wilhem Friedrich-Hegel and Ludwig Wittgenstein? What is a final question, albeit tentative, addresses everyone and no one.

*Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of Error, Illusion, Madness (Publisher 34).

Article originally published in the newspaper FSPon November 28, 1987.


Ruy Fausto. Marx: logic and politics – Volume II. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1987.

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