A Brazilian Chapter of Western Marxism

Image: Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Reconstructing the dialectic with Ruy Fausto

Brazilian Marxism still awaits the well-disposed citizen to reconstitute its history – or a well-nourished set of them, as this is not a matter for solo flight. It's not just a question of appetite. There are many circumstances that conspire against such an initiative. Among them, perhaps this is the most instructive: an eccentric look is needed that does not take the existence of Marxism in Brazil for granted. The dialectic can be everywhere, but the vision that manages to capture it is not congenital, it has to be accommodated like any perception, which adopts schemes that have nothing immediately.

In the case of Marxism, their flat application caused the known damage – the most notorious due to the “transposition of the slavery-feudalism-capitalism sequence to Brazil, a country that was born from the orbit of capital and whose social order, in the However, it differs a lot from the European one”. The unabused memory is of Roberto Schwarz whose greatest merit lies less in the mention of a disastrous quid pro quo, which has fallen into disuse for some time, than in the reckless suggestion of the false note that Marxism can sound among us when it does not allow itself to be reconstructed from local contradictions. It will not be excessive to attribute the penetration of this coup de vista to the training of an emeritus Machado, schooled by the kaleidoscope of successes and failures orchestrated by the notorious external influx, in fact the effect of the uneven and combined development of capitalism.

The sparse presence in the essays of Gérard Lebrun, a foreign intellectual and civilizing hero of São Paulo's philosophical culture for two decades, is also no accident (needless to say that the necessary allusion to the scope of municipal action of his influence does not hide any mockery, far from it , only registers the atomization of our philosophical life from birth), of thrusts that sometimes culminate in the extreme impression that Marxism in Brazil is an “out of place idea”. Curious intersection of disparate eccentricities that, however, suggest a more realistic chronicle of the adventures of Marxism in our country, which multiplies the terms of comparison, paying attention above all to the ideological geography of its diffusion, which closely follows the cleavage lines of the aforementioned development uneven.

Ruy Fausto's book Marx, logic and politics” (Brasiliense, 1983), is undoubtedly at the nerve center of this eventual balance of the local irradiation of the Marxist tradition: its genre is at the same time the background and form of such reconstitution.

Marxism has aged and yet remains unknown. This statement by Ruy Fausto demonstrates the paradoxical nature of the book: a fierce critique of Marxism inaugurated by the rediscovery of its logical principles, masked by the flood of so-called vulgar readings, or “understanding”, as the author prefers. The analysis of its limits is thus confused with the investigation of its foundations, another statement that the author also offers in a speculative key: the path of the foundation (Plot) is at the same time the way to the abyss (zu Grund gehen). But it is not yet this time that we will descend to the "bas-fonds” of Marxism in crisis. The volume in question is the first in a scheduled series of five. In it, the reader will be invited to go through just one stretch, steep and meandering, of that first path, falsely ascending.

A set of mostly polemical writings, despite harboring wide alternative developments, all of them remarkable, which the author, with undue modesty, considers only “materials for a reconstruction of the dialectic”. As a result, the limits indicated do not go beyond the preamble of the work, although they define its horizon: a relative mismatch between the analyzes of The capital in relation to the new realities of advanced capitalism; the immense false turning of world history, paralyzed before the threat of “generic death”; and above all the unexpected appearance of a sinister companion, real socialism. These are some of the constellations aligned by the author, before which the dialectic seems to falter. Temporary stumbling block, impermeability in fact?

Nothing prevents, some veteran heart will say, the entry into the scene of a new Marx, possibly collective, in conditions to determine the center of gravity of that unknown nebula. Ruy Fausto, however, is categorical: we know that there will be no new Marxisms. As he reserves the reasons for so much certainty for a later stage of his cyclopean exposition, he leaves the reader to himself, absorbed in meditation on the abyss that separates him from the good old days (1919) in which Lukács maintained with triumphant ease that a Marxist who self-respecting person can perfectly abandon the set of Marx's theses, analyzes and prognoses, perhaps contradicted by the course of the world, without being forced to renounce for a moment his Marxist orthodoxy.[1] A closed cycle?

This does not seem to be the first and strongest impression suggested by Ruy Fausto's “materials”. Are they not the scaffolding of a “reconstruction”? And how does this effort, renewed in each generation, differ from the old Lukacsian purpose of exhuming “orthodox Marxism”? These are questions of a short life and for the time being idle: once the opening is concluded, the range of great conjectures about the current bewilderment of Marxist culture closes and we move on to the agenda, where the cipoal of micrological analyzes awaits us, without which the so-called so-called big issues are nothing more than idle talk.

Position and assumption

Within the limited scope of this brief report, even a simple review of the nerve points around which the work is articulated (interversion and negation, contradiction and antinomy, judgment of reflection and inherence, etc.), all more or less magnetized by the fundamental distinction between “position” and “assumption”, whose combined movement is present in the smallest thematic cells of the book and which, duly decanted, announces a “logic of contradiction” capable of clarifying more than one mystery of dialectics. The most illustrious of them involves the Gordian knot of the “real abstraction”, an enigmatic formula denoting the presence of the universal in the reality instituted by the capitalist mode of production: Ruy Fausto unties it according to the lesson of the German-speaking Marxist tradition that dates back to the first Lukács essays.

If I remember this affiliation, it is to better describe the author's manifest sympathy for the great speculative machines set up by classical German philosophy, an affinity rooted in the conviction that the materialism of the new dialectic, by dismantling them, not only illuminated their abstruse mechanism but imprinted a new one on them. encouragement to the tradition whose cycle it came to complete. Prolonging it, Ruy Fausto also goes on to clarify the sensitive points of German Idealism while reconstructing the logical frame of the critique of political economy. The nerve of the book passes through this meeting of the waters.

I don't know if Ruy Fausto's analyzes will equally move philosophers, economists, epistemologists, etc. or, more precisely, the intellectual type sui generis, today on the verge of extinction thanks to the compartmentalization of knowledge in managed societies, required by the reading of The capital. I can only guarantee – if I may claim my status as a professor of the history of philosophy – to those who still care for this academic discipline, and in particular to readers of German classics, willing to patiently research the source formed by the immense network of their micro-analyses, who will find there a precious lode – explored precisely by the philosophers tributary to the aforementioned tradition – represented by a reasonable cast of material similes, all of them harvested from the basic reality of the new capitalist order, from the tenuous and distant logical structures armed by “idealism”, making it clear, once again, that the latter had his feet on the ground, more exactly, that the latter had his feet on the ground, more precisely, on the historical ground of the emerging bourgeois society. A work on the history of philosophy? Only circumstantially; in fact a book formed in your school; how, we shall see later.

An unusual book, an invitation to misunderstanding, what does its author want? Not so much. It is true that two souls animate it: one is convinced of the insufficiency of Marxism, while the other, recalcitrant, publishes essays written from the classical Marxist point of view, which, moreover, it is still a matter of reaching. Contradiction in this double perspective? Not yet, with or without quotation marks, because the second term is missing, that is, the promised volumes – for now juxtaposition, who knows a good “contradiction” to come, when exposition and criticism merge into a single discourse. A bifrontal project, therefore, of which the only visible face so far presents a familiar physiognomy. A hitherto unknown Marx disentangled from the texts finally read with the eyes of the reconstructed dialectic. We know the noble strain of this ambition.

Once again, Bento Prado Jr. would say, we come across an author convinced that Marxism does not have the philosophy it deserves: just as Sartre wanted to give an existential foundation to Marx's thought, Althusser, to base it on solid epistemological foundations, the latter Lukács, offering him an ontology of the social being, Habermas, returning him to the renewed tradition of Practical Reason, Ruy Fausto, we might add, seeks to restore him in a new “logical” key, without embargo making use of it to better open you the false bottom[2]. What is the reason for such and such persistent ambition, all the more surprising as Marx himself devoted rare lines and scarce minutes of attention (much less than Descartes to Metaphysics) to such a subject?

I wouldn't be able to say it precisely in a few words, or even in many. In any case, it seems difficult for me not to fall into temptation and stop accepting the cunning suggestion of Gérard Lebrun, asking my friend and master Ruy Fausto why so much and so long application in the “hunt for the real Marx” (since his care is not purely philological): he will reply, imagines Lebrun, I don't know if also induced by his Brazilian experience, that “Marx remains an unexplored continent, about which you know nothing. And, to build it up, he will grant you the primacy of his last find. He will tell you in what unprecedented ontological light the laws of the formation of surplus value finally take on their true meaning… Be charitable and avoid interrupting your friend: think that 'Marx' is, for him, the name of a myth that consoles him from Marxism existing". I pass on the barb, with the usual caveats.

On the other hand, it is not difficult to identify the genre to which Ruy Fausto's “materials” belong. When Lukács declared with the ease that was seen, that Marxism would survive all the denials that experience inflicted on him, since its truth was not limited to the theses that he might support, but resided in the original method that engendered them, he was in fact registering the end of a period, during which the theory, as in the times of its crystallization, still showed itself capable of expansion, incorporating new objects, such as “imperialism”, “financial capital”, etc.

It is quite true that this inventive taking flight close to the ground of the new antagonisms made “during” a certain doctrinal rigidity that was fed by the somewhat summary philosophy professed in the prefaces and introductions of classic works and whose original polemical intention had faded with time. We know how Lukács turned his back on that archaic dogmatism and the price he paid for reconnecting with what was best in the philosophical culture of modern times. But by shifting the center of gravity of Marx's thought from theses to method, Lukács also announced a new cycle of Marxist culture, that of the so-called "Western Marxism", from which History and class consciousness would be the first classic.

Since then, the Marxism whose existence Marxist intellectuals need no consolation has become an endless “Discourse on Method”, indefatigably occupied with Marx's own, closing the self-referential circuit of ebb tide. At the same time, analyzes of the real and disastrous course of the world dwindled – in fact, Marxism seemed to age, one more reason to scrutinize its method, restoring its disfigured orthodoxy. (The phenomenon was recently studied by Perry Anderson, whose sometimes very rapid reasons we do not need to follow). Whatever it may be, such a methodological obsession is not a mere matter of taste or a simple philosopher's turn, it rather reflects a historical atmosphere whose weight and nature remain to be determined.

It's useless to remember that Ruy Fausto knows all this better than I do. Among so many other things, he knows perfectly well that Marxism is above all a critical theory of capitalist society and not a philosophy of history or anything like that – at least it shouldn't be: and yet, as soon as we pronounce this pious vow, we return through the door of the back into the labyrinth of imaginary Marxisms. Nevertheless, his relentless search for the unknown Marx – more precisely, for the logical foundations of the critique of political economy – is still a matter of method. What remains for the time being the hidden face of his “materials”, the post-Marxist moment of his reconstruction of the dialectic: in it Marx will certainly return to the spotlight, but now as the name, not of a symbolic entity, which is never in the place where we look for it. , but of a formidable historical constellation crossed by the most disparate and intertwined social processes and movements of ideas, among them the singular ongoing adventure of our philosophical Marxism, of which Ruy Fausto's book is a notable episode.

The origins of rigor

This Brazilian chapter on “Western Marxism” is a typical work of philosophical essays from São Paulo. Some characteristic signs: its original language is French; his immediate interlocutors are also (Althusser, Castoriadis, etc.), although his preferences are German (Lukács, Adorno, etc.); its author reads The capital, mutatis mutandis, as Victor Goldschmidt (who he was a student of) read the Dialogues of Plato; a passionate zeal for the “technical” moment of philosophical problems and consequent confidence in the ant-like work of the specialist; a lofty idea of ​​philosophy as a “rigorous discourse” – in short, a legitimate and early son of the late Department of Philosophy on Rua Maria Antônia.

In it, believing himself the victim of a pleasant hallucination, Michel Foucault once thought he glimpsed a “French overseas department”, transplanted here by successive French philosophers on mission. There is no point in reopening the contention of cultural dependency at length, of which our local philosophical life is an integral part. Nor did I refer to details of his brief history in the timid intention of reducing Ruy Fausto's book to municipal proportions, but for the government of the reader interested in the chronicle of philosophical ideas and who does not disdain to consider them in their local refraction, also warning him that without taking this dimension into account, perhaps the best part of the real scope of the work is lost, which is that of a book born a classic and with the precocious appearance of a historical document.

Thus instructed, the reader will perhaps be able to appreciate more slowly the meticulous record, which he will find in Ruy Fausto's "materials", of one of the last great surprises of the French Ideology, Althusserianism, according to the author a rigorous attempt to think about Marxism - it is it is quite true that “from the categories of understanding” –, which until today has not been refuted. In his light accent, the word rigor says almost everything. Once again: the evocation of local color would suffer from incurable myopia, if it intended to triumph effortlessly by highlighting some more enjoyable trait of our condition as foreigners.

The ideal of rigor permeated the bunch of new ideas in the shadow of which we were all created. At the time of the founders, Mário de Andrade saluted him, praising the “schools that had the good sense to seek foreign teachers or even Brazilians educated in other lands”, which sooner or later would lead to a significant improvement in “technical intelligence” and the consequent formation of an enemy mentality to the “brightness of divination”. Soon after, João Cruz Costa supported him, recognizing in the “technical” teaching of philosophy an effective antidote against philoneism and the curious phenomenon that stems from the philosophical outbreaks that periodically plague us.

It will not be too much to ask of the most delicate and perhaps restless spirits in the face of the author's obsession with the idea of ​​rigor, which in fact culminates in a certain conception of dialectics "als strengh Wissenschaft” (Ruy Fausto does not literally speak of a “strict science”, but by sustaining with all the letters that it is necessary and possible to reconstruct the dialectic “as a rigorous theory”, he authorizes us to allude in passing, without any intention of “ philological rigor”, to a philosophical family elastic enough to shelter Plato and Husserl), who do not lose sight of the horizon suggested by that summary genealogy in case they decide to put to the test the Faustian notion of “precision” in philosophy. That said, it would seem less arbitrary to state that the old, fixed but indispensable idea of ​​rigor presided over the two-way reception of Althusserianism: on the side of “technical intelligence” it could even accelerate the outbreak of an ideology whose style spoke to the sensibility formed in the same school, against the grain, an invitation to ideological sobriety and debate among equals.

In parentheses: it goes without saying that I am referring only to the restricted scope of our minority and confined philosophical culture, where the filter of rigor counted for a lot; nevertheless, when one thinks of the local vogue of Althusserianism in the second half of the 1960s, one cannot discard the unexpected and paradoxical weight of the academic study of Marx’s writings, intensified by the aforementioned vogue, itself of a “scientific” nature – in the in the words of an observer of the period: “Leaving the classroom, the militants defended Marxist rigor against the commitments of their leaders”.

Returning to our author: this attachment, so to speak, infused with the philosophical requirements of rigor, explains to a reasonable extent Ruy Fausto's strange tenderness for an opponent who does not fail for a single moment to bring to the ropes a reckoning in part a result of the victim's manias. on which he hesitates to throw the last shovel of lime. The main one, as is well known, is that of epistemology (from the French tradition). Ruy Fausto prefers a related denomination – “logic” – and by specifying that Althusser's attempt took place within logic, “because it is about logic and nothing else”, sheds additional light on the content of the very title of his book. Whatever the name given to it, a strong style trait that came to find among us, so to speak, the subject that was looking for it as if it had been born within it.

A Marxist with an as yet undefined orientation who started to philosophize, in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the paced pace of the philological discipline that little by little took root in our little philosophical ghetto, sooner or later would retrace the steps he took on his own account. would lead him to the “Western Marxism” so succinctly presented in the lines above. The old essayism was languishing, the current proliferation of styles (or the lack thereof) had not yet prevailed: a certain intellectual taste formed in the regular exercise of a type of philosophical historiography that disdained the doctrinal discussion of great systems prevailed – an unforgivable lack of tact – in favor of the microscopic examination of the argumentative structures that order them.

A kind of provisional intellectual morality: philosophy itself would come with time, once the years of apprenticeship are over, but it is part of the spirit of the thing that this transition period lasts forever. (I don't believe that the long and meditated maturation of Ruy Fausto's writings – not by chance “materials” for a building to come – has nothing to do with the circumstance I have just mentioned). In short, among other things, a propaedeutic measure of unquestionable wisdom that had arrived in our land in the midst of French university philosophy at the time. And also of unquestionable opportunity.

In a nutshell: it suited that so-to-speak prophylactic discipline – the evil to be prevented was called dogmatism – to establish a historical vacuum around the texts to be explained. A violence that the state of philosophical studies in France perhaps justified, without prejudice to later elevating it to the status of principle. Now, in Brazil, this purpose changed direction and naturally came to give form and methodological citizenship to the short breath of our speculative life: here philosophical systems never ceased to hover in a relative ideological void, “leaves lost in the turmoil of our indifference” – malformation of our philosophical ingenuity that sad news has been heard since the days of Sylvio Romero. A bespoke “lag advantage” actually; we were Guéroultians without knowing it. Faced with so many castles of ideas with no obvious social connection, we spontaneously suspended judgment about their truth content, focusing instead on their internal architecture, if not their façade.

Just a few more words on a subject that would require a good number of them, after all a vanishing point of our training. Among the various mottos that could appear on the portico of our Academy of local interest, one of the most in line with the spirit that prevailed in it and still survives some more reluctant to get rid of that second nature, would be the following: of theory”. The phrase is by Kant and the reasons that allow us to decipher in it the regulatory idea of ​​the genre that we most assiduously cultivated – the history of philosophy – are exposed in the book by Gérard Lebrun [3] – one of the bibles of the generation of epigones to which I belong – a commentary on the third Kantian Critique that seemed to ennoble the lineage of our work a little grey.

More than just second-hand Guéroultians, we were distant heirs of the Kantian revolution that freed philosophical discourse from the burden of representation. An oblique consecration, in an elevated style, of what happened in a humble way in our ideological day-to-day life: the lack of a subject raised to the dignity of discursive autonomy and presented as a voluntarily conquered renunciation of the description of objects; our indifference to dogmatist that lost their footing here, metamorphosed with naturalness into an exclusive attachment to the architecture of ideas without territory; a liberation of the gaze that in fact led to nothing, to the despair of the religious spirits that abounded outside the walls, except for the predominant passion for “non-figurative” philosophies, which do not “strictly speak of anything”. Once again rigor and precision, but without any intention of science, accommodated to the happy nihilism in which the indifferentism born of the shy environment is resolved.

How we stay? If I am not mistaken in a position to trace the local revival of “Western Marxism”. The constant oscillation of the Marxist tradition between theory and criticism could find, as indeed it did, an unexpected ally in this singular frame of mind. Again I abbreviate and risk a guess. It is difficult to conceive of a Marx wholly alienated from the new track on which the Copernican revolution put modern philosophical prose. However, only a closer and less conventional examination of the overall evolution of the German Ideology could identify discrepancies and affinities along the zigzag curve where theory and criticism, science and reflection, traditional doctrine and “critical-practical activity”, etc. alternate in counterpoint. In any case, the least that can be said is that Lukács, by converting the nerve of Marxism into a question of method, connected it, after a long hibernation, to the branch inaugurated by “Criticism”, in the eyes of its author, a “ treatise on method” – as if something analogous to the Kantian turnaround had overtaken Marxism more than a century later, reviving, for better or for worse, the family ties with philosophical modernity.

In any case, “Western Marxism”, for the most diverse and disparate reasons, was confused with this gradual absorption of theory by method, a destiny prefigured by the Kantian metamorphosis of the philosophical gesture par excellence into a matter of method, in which the latter few replaced the positive knowledge whose establishment it was supposed to promote. It's hard to ponder what kind of mirage there is – arts of the demon of analogy – in this, who knows, just formal convergence. I am also aware that criticism, method and logic are not exactly the same thing, although they are equivalent according to the context, if only because the last two can distill a second-degree theory equally allergic to the unimpeded reflection required by the first. And so on.

“Obsessive Methodology”

Be that as it may, once the tradition of “Western Marxism” is captured through the prism of its most salient feature, particularly visible from our local point of view – the “obsessive methodology” that was spoken of, at the same time eclipse of theory as rational discourse about a particular domain of phenomena, and raising it to the square, evaporating as a result of the real object –, there was no way to annul the impression that we were facing a methodological “mania” among others, in every way similar to the one that Lebrun would later teach us to appreciate in the lineage of post-Kantians. The analogy – or optical illusion – stemmed from the same unusual set of circumstances that rooted this last tradition in our midst in the form of a simple historiographical discipline.

Putting it simply: what in Europe had perhaps been the oblique and problematic result of the ebb of the Revolution, reappeared among us, with the simple naturalness that was said, against the background of our permanent tactical retreat towards the difficulties of method – or explanation of concepts – which was once the trademark of the most remote and distinguished patron of our academic studies. It was enough to read the texts with criteria and feeling to find and renew the great themes of “Western Marxism”. If that is so, Gérard Lebrun's astonishment, correlative to the malicious observation referred to above, is surprising in the face of the historical vacuum in which a considerable portion of our Marxist “intelligentsia” gravitate: “they read and reread the classics of Marxism, scrutinize the most cannot the theory of value…”.

I notice it all the more surprising when Lebrun himself, back in the 1960s and for some reasons that we have already learned to recognize, identified in Althusser's recently published books what was most “innovative and rigorous” (again…) in contemporary Marxological literature, to end with an explicit homage to our “Western Marxism”, indicating the source of such innovation and rigor: “in France as in Brazil, it is agreed to study Marx in the way in which Guéroult comments on Descartes”.

Having said that, let us return, not without time, to our author. For the philosophical sensibility shaped in the circumstances just mentioned, schematizing to the extreme and conjecturing just as much, the Althusserian version of “Western Marxism” came in handy, even if one could reject all of its theses one by one – and how if you saw it, that wasn't what counted most. First of all, it was a “scholar”, however skilfully amalgamated with militant commitment, a precious barricade in moments of speculative predicament; moreover, of a predominant philosophical nature and in accordance with the French pattern of text explanation; it was not by chance that the tonic fell on the ostensive appreciation for the construction of concepts, as it was said at the time, that the high tide of the prevailing epistemological trend raised it to the status of a scientific finding. In every way a respectable maneuver, which Ruy Fausto refuses to consider outdated.

I resort once more to the revealing testimony of Gérard Lebrun: in the gray years when French communism did not very ardently encourage its militants to read The capital, Althusserianism finally came to satisfy the intellectual demand of a generation tired of knowing Marx by hearsay – “for this sole reason, no fashion was as estimable as that one”. (Nor did he feel so comfortable segregated in the “intellectual pockets” of the university, where, according to EP Thompson, the drama of “theoretical practice” unfolds.) Althusser did not have to sacrifice any of his Marxist-Leninist convictions, recalls Lebrun , “the important thing was that it intended to base them apoditically”, enthroning the dogma within the “limits of simple reason” – of “understanding”, would need Ruy Fausto, a correction that retains, however, the same project of “return to the thing itself” ”, that is, to the “text”, starting again from square one. Returning: the aforementioned peculiarity of our philosophical life offered this not inconsiderable compensation: it was possible to be Althusserian, or anti-Althusserian, without philoneism or pedantry, it was enough to follow the customs of the house.

No one is less impervious to experience than Ruy Fausto, I can assure you – another Lebrunian stab perhaps inspired by the idiosyncrasies of local Marxism. With regard to the most diverse and intricate questions, he usually philosophizes with the greatest freedom of scheme and formulas "prêt-à-porter”, picking up the problems, with incomparable verve and expertise, in their historically fair measure. A born essayist, one would say, listening to him – on top of being one of the funniest people I know. Friends of his know I don't exaggerate. I fear, however, that his writings do not faithfully reflect the author's intellectual personality. Misery of Theory? (This is how EP Thompson expresses himself regarding the real gaffe committed by Althusserianism in England, contrary to what happened here). But it would not make its effects felt if Ruy Fausto did not let himself be infected by Althusserian speech – as it turned out, a certain broader promiscuity from birth and time – manifested in the taste for the logical evaporation of notions and problems (starting with the phenomenon Althusser , something more than a logical fact) that simple common sense (in which, incidentally, Hegel, it is always good to remember, saw the embryo of the dialectic) would recommend not pulling it out of its original historical ground – I think, among other things, in the treatment “logical” reserved for Stalinism, in a time softened in an interview recently granted by the author, where he finally names a spade.

(It is not that he was unaware of the brute nature of Stalinism and the bureaucratic societies of the East, quite the contrary, when he wrote the pages I am referring to; it happens that Althusser's “logical” manner helped to disfigure the phenomenon in question, presented as a a false step, a slip outside the dialectic… – and there is no lack of those who maintain that the so-called “manner” had exactly this purpose). They are spheres of experience that do not form a system, a mismatch perhaps to be credited to the rather unbalanced formation of our insulated philosophical culture. Gérard Lebrun declares that he is currently impressed by the abstraction from which most of the Brazilian Marxist discourse suffers. I'm not saying no, but with regard to São Paulo's philosophical Marxism, which I know more closely, it's clear that as a former student of an institution that saw it born, I remind you again that the historical vacuum that impresses you so much continues , through undoubtedly unexpected paths, to the good news of the “autonomy of philosophical discourse”, announced, as I have already said, by successive French philosophers on mission.

Achieve scientific status

I leave it up to my elders to decide whether, in the very abbreviated genealogy of the genre to which Ruy Fausto's book belongs, it would be convenient to attribute an equal genetic load to the legendary “Marx seminar”, which I know only by hearsay. “At the end of the XNUMXs, a group of assistants from the University of São Paulo and more intellectually mature students dedicated themselves to the tedious task of reading that magnum opus in its entirety for years”, that is, The capital. These are the words of a veteran of the aforementioned seminar, from which one can deduce the existence of a phenomenon analogous to what occurred in our “French overseas department”: it read The capital, so to speak before la lettre. Spirit of the time? National idiosyncrasy? Gérard Lebrun seems to lean in the latter direction, even going so far as to say, recalling the misery of French Marxism during those same years of triumphant Stalinism, that he had to wait his first stay in Brazil, from 1960 onwards, to attend seminars on The capital.

These are time zone differences to consider. When the Althusserian vogue arrived in São Paulo, it bumped into a refractory group that had already come of age, it is true at the expense of Lukács (whose History and class consciousness it had just been translated into French), Sartre, etc.: that is, it had been preceded, and then superseded, by another, composite, home-made variant of 'Western Marxism'. However, they converged in more than one respect, starting with the most salient of them, again a matter of method. Both in France and in Brazil, above all, it was a question of conquering scientific respectability for Marxism with the mandarins of university culture, demonstrating through successful academic works that the “dialectical method is sustained as an alternative of knowledge”.

To do so – and now we return the word to Ruy Fausto – it was up to philosophical Marxism, a materialist discourse on method, to prove that “dialectical logic is not only an 'interesting thing', as everyone agrees to say in an indulgent way, but also a rigorous thing ”. Roberto Schwarz, as always with an eye on the national ideological comedy, once noticed that Marxism tends to be invariably overcome by the latest university rumour. Let us say, among other things, that “Western Marxism” is the first to contribute to such an intermittent eclipse, itself a recurring rumor (Althusserianism was one of its last outbreaks), a method rivaling the rest.

This circumstance – in which the original nature of the type of Marxism that remade new skin in our midst is expressed – perhaps explains in good part the preponderance of philosophical speculation in the famous seminar. “Interestingly”, observes the leap chronicler quoted above, “it was based on interpretations not based on economics and history, but on philosophy, that we sought elements for a dialectical analysis of real social processes”. But this is already another chapter of Brazilian “Western Marxism”.

The preparatory philosophical chapter that we summarized so quickly – and whose content Ruy Fausto's book is an exemplary testimony – had at least the great merit of removing from the path of a second generation of classic monographs on Brazil the harmful barrier of the old dogmatism, represented in this case by “dialectical materialism”. In two more frivolous words: the philosophical taste of the future authors of the new essay cycle was refined. (This is not all, just half the truth and a sure sign of a greater problem: it is known, for example, that a masterful work like Formation of contemporary Brazil, the first of a series to rediscover the spirit and letter of original Marxist thought “based on local contradictions”, was nevertheless accompanied in separate treatises, and not just as a point of honour, by a frame of loading where primacy prevailed. Diamat's disastrous schemes, just like the Russian Marxists at the turn of the century, recast the country's image from top to bottom in the shadow of a rudimentary metaphysics capable of scaring away less prejudiced spirits.

Congenital malformation? Dated mismatch? Counterproof, and variation, of Lukács' success in distinguishing the method from his doctrinal clots? These are questions that directly concern the historical matrix of dialectics, but which perhaps gain new light if considered from the angle of the Brazilian adventures of Marxism). Apparently, the purely negative age of local philosophical Marxism is considered closed, when criticism was the lieutenant of theory; one might fear that when he moves on to the positive exposition of the dialectic, as is announced, the ground will slip away from under his feet.

*Paulo Eduardo Arantes is a retired professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Formation and deconstruction: a visit to the Museum of French Ideology (Publisher 34).

Originally published in notebook feuilleton, from Folha de S. Paul, on June 19, 1983.


[1] Cf. Georg Lukacs. “What is orthodox Marxism”. In: History and class consciousness, P. 63-64. Sao Paulo, Martins Fontes, 2003.

[2] Cf. Bento Prado Jr. “Self-reflection, or interpretation without a subject? Habermas interpreter of Freud”. In: some essays, P. 13. Rio de Janeiro, Paz e Terra, 2000.

[3] Gerard Lebrun. Kant and the end of metaphysics. Sao Paulo, Martins Fontes, 2002.

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