Ruy Fausto: In memoriam



Intellectual and biographical profile of Ruy Fausto (1935-2020).

Ruy Fausto was undoubtedly one of the most important Brazilian intellectuals of our time. A brilliant interpreter of Marx's work, an authentic “Marxologist”, to use the term proposed by Maximilien Rubel. His most notable work is certainly the three-volume collection Marx: Logic and Politics [1]. This was also the theme of his doctoral thesis, under the guidance of Jean Tousssaint Desanti, defended in Paris in 1988. One of the specific contributions of the research was precisely this articulation between Marx's dialectical logic and politics, aspects generally separated in Marx's works. about the author ofThe capital.

In this vast work, which took decades to write, he tackled several other philosophical issues debated in Marxist literature: humanism and anti-humanism, historicism and anti-historicism, anthropologism and the critique of anthropologism. He sought to place himself, in these controversies, in a dialectical perspective, above rigid dualisms. The capital, of Marx, obviously occupies a central position in this reflection, not in an economicist approach, but from the point of view of dialectical logic. Along this path, Ruy Fausto gradually distanced himself from Marxism, but not from dialectics, which continues to inspire his methodology.

In addition to this immense “Marxological” work, which has no equivalent in Brazilian literature on Marx, Ruy Fausto has published several essays in Brazil in recent years: works on historiography, such as The cycle of totalitarianism (Perspectiva, 2019), and interventions in the political debate, such as Left Paths. Elements for a reconstruction (Companhia das Letras, 2017). He also participated in the founding of new political magazines with younger university students: February and most recently Pink. Ruy defined himself as an anti-totalitarian leftist intellectual, a specialist in Marx without being a Marxist.

Some personal observations

With the death of Ruy Fausto, I lose a very close friend: we had known each other for over sixty years. I met him for the first time in 1958, when he tried to recruit me into the Revolutionary Workers' Party, the (Trotskyist) POR, of which he was one of the main leaders: he almost managed… (I remained a “Luxembourgist”). In 1960, he invited me to accompany him on a meeting with Jean-Paul Sartre, then visiting Brazil with Simone de Beauvoir. With us was also Olavo, a POR worker. I no longer remember what the conversation was about, I think it was the Algerian revolution and, no doubt, the social situation in Brazil. In her memoirs, Simone de Beauvoir describes this encounter as follows: “Sartre received a visit from the Trotskyists. There were three: the leadership, the base and the dissidence…”.

At that time, we also met at the Seminary ofThe capital, with Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Paulo Singer. For the next four years (1961-64), we were both on scholarships in Paris, studying Marx. We were very close, saw each other almost every day and shared an anti-Stalinist view of Marxism. I stayed in Europe, but Ruy returned to Brazil and engaged in resistance to the military regime. When repression intensified in 1969, he was forced into exile – in Chile, like many other left-wing Brazilian intellectuals. Pinochet's military coup in 1973 surprised him in Santiago, forcing him to take the path of exile again, this time in Paris. I helped him to find a teaching position in the philosophy department at the University of Paris 8 (Vincennes), which at the time had a policy of welcoming refugees from Chile. Unfortunately, that university never gave him due recognition, and did not promote him to full professorship.

We continued to see each other, but at a greater distance, as a result of his distancing from Marxism. In 1986, his first important book was published in France, Marx: Logique et Politique. Recherches pour la reconstitution du sens de la dialectique (Publisud), with a preface by Jean-Toussaint Desanti. published in Fortnight Litteraire from June 1, 1987 a review of the book [2]. It was one of the few, if not the only one, published in France. Here is one of the passages from my article:

“What else could be said about Marx? – ask some tired minds. They forget, in this way, that Marx (as well as Plato, Hegel and Nietzsche) is that type of inexhaustible thinker, who raises, in each era, in each historical, political and cultural period, new interpretations and new criticisms or refutations. The originality of Fausto's book manifests itself on several levels: Firstly, in a position in relation to Marxism that rejects the usual solutions, that is, both the defense of an orthodoxy and false “overcomings”. This orientation allows him to show (especially from the writings of Castoriadis) that any criticism of The capital who does not take the dialectic seriously as a discourse of contradiction can only fail, falling short of Marx”.

In 1988, I was a member of the examining board for his thesis, supervised by Desanti, on logic and politics inThe capital from Marx. Consulting my notes on the defense, I find the following passage of my argument: “Ruy Fausto is persevering in his work. He has been studying Marx's writings for as long as I've known him: there are thirty years of work “assumed” in this thesis, in which those are “denied and conserved” – aufgehoben … The first thing that strikes you about your thesis is its coherence, despite the apparent dispersion of themes and writing carried out at different times. It is also a work distinguished by its originality, compared to the debates of contemporary Marxism: neither humanist nor anti-humanist, neither historicist nor anti-historicist… The thesis combines erudite knowledge of texts, logical rigor in demonstration and, at the same time, time, an openness to the most current social and political issues – dimensions that rarely go together!”.

I also, of course, formulated a number of criticisms: I reproach you, above all, for an excessively “objectivist” view of the dialectic, which underestimates the “practical-subjective” dimension and which, therefore, leans towards anti-historicism… small controversy regarding the translation of the Hegelo-Marxian concept of repeal: Ruy translated it as “suppression”, while I argued that it means at the same time suppression, conservation and elevation to a higher level. I couldn't convince him...

In the 1980s, Ruy resumed his post at the University of São Paulo and I began to visit Brazil regularly. However, we rarely met in São Paulo. Our meetings took place mainly in Paris, where he spent part of the year. He invited me to participate in his magazine February, but I wasn't entirely on board with the project; I was closer to the magazine October… Our disagreements also related to Latin America – I didn't share his allergy to Cuba and Hugo Chávez – and to Brazil, mainly regarding the MST, which I defended against their criticism.

Our last meeting took place a few months ago, when we exchanged our latest books and had a long conversation about Rosa Luxemburg – whom he admired, even with a certain reservation – and about Bolshevism – which he rejected en bloc – but also about the crisis of the left in Brazil, the PT and the rise of Bolsonaro. I had really enjoyed his controversy with Olavo de Carvalho. Your last email, a few weeks ago, was to invite me to participate in the magazine Pink. I replied that I would study the magazine's documents, but I was disappointed with the first issue, which did not contain anything about… Rosa Luxemburg.

Ruy was a brilliant, sagacious intellectual, with an immense philosophical and political culture, who vehemently defended his political ideas, his option for an “anti-totalitarian left”. He had a lot of humor, he loved to tell jokes and anecdotes. At the same time, he had something fragile about him, always anxious, worried, complaining about being the victim of plagiarism. His last fight, against Bolsonarism, shows that he did not lack courage and the strength of conviction. We'll miss you…

*Michael Lowy is director of research at Scientific Research National Center (France); author, among other books, of The theory of revolution in young Marx (Boitempo).

Translation: Ilan Lapyda

Originally published in the magazine  Brazil(s) [Online], 17 | 2020. []


[1] Ruy Fausto. Marx: Logic & Politics. Tome I (Brasiliense, 1983); Tome II (Brasiliense, 1987); volume III (Editora 34, 2002).

[2] Review recently republished on the website the earth is round [].


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