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Radical Doubt

Costanzo Preve was born in Valenza Po, a small town between Milan and Genoa in Northern Italy in April
1943.He studied philosophy in Paris, Berlin, and Athens, earning his degree in political science in Turin.
While studying in Paris he began a long association with Marxism influenced by the work of Louis
Althusser. In Berlin he took up the German Marxism of the Frankfurt School and then devoted himself to
studying Georg Lukács’ ontology of being.Upon returning to Italy in 1967 he passed his examinations
without formally enrolling in a university and embarked upon athirty-five year career teaching philosophy,
history, and French literature in Turin’s secondary schools.

He has traveled extensively throughout Europe, including the former socialist states, Egypt, and the
Middle East. He is fluent in five foreign languages, French, modern Greek, Spanish, English and German.
He supports committees in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Iraq. He publishes regularly in
Italian and in translation in various European scholarly journals.

Preve is a rigorously independent thinker who has been immersed in anticapitalist political theory and
practice for his entire life. He refuses to abandon the ideals of social justice and personal freedom despite
the tragic failure of real communism (1917-91). Accordingly,he questions the pseudo-scientific status of
Marxism and its ideological distortions of Karl Marx’s ideas. He criticizes former communists and fellow
travelers who now worship capitalism, and likewise others who have retreated into the nihilism of
academic posturing.The former, he claims, have joined the positivist counterrevolution that forces people
worldwide manu militari into the expanding sphere of global capitalism while stripping the toiling masses
of all dignity and freedom.He is nonetheless reluctant to dispute their belief in the inherent resiliency of
capitalism to overcome its many crises through technical fixes and reform.Instead, he calls for a deeper
critique of Marx’s theory of value as well as his notion that the proletariat and other salaried classes
would unite as a revolutionary subject.As for the generation of 1968 and their intellectual heirs, Preve
alludes to Freud, describing them as trapped within a permanent mourning ritual over the loss of an
impossibly utopian dream. 1968 signified the last great rebellion against capitalism to sweep the world. At
the time it represented a plurality of forces united in refusing to accept the inevitability of the prevailing
conditions of monopoly, oligarchy, and military repression. Not only did this rebellion fail to topple the
prevailing order, but it ended up reinforcing and rejuvenating the very principles of mass consumption and
alienation that it set out to defeat. Preve views this irony as a complex example of self-deception that
needs an historical accounting,just as it is equally necessary to reckon with the failure of ‘real
communism.’ Until we can accomplish this philosophical task, more self-deception is likely.

For example, he is strongly critical of recent attempts to project a revolt of the ‘multitudes’ because such
bromides do not meaningfully engage the past nor even begin to outline alternative social and economic
programs. They are not self-reflective and for that reason miss the goal of scientific dialectical reasoning.
For Preve the mistake is representativeofpostmodernism, which he compares to a diminishing ability for
assessing human potential.His response is to advocate a return to ontology as the only practical way of
gaining insight into the conditions and possibilities for social revolution. Postmodernists, by contrast,
compensate the loss ofdialectical momentum with an ideology of desire and fantasies oflimitless
satisfaction. The ideal of real social revolution is replaced by a theory (many theories, in fact) purchased
with the currency of an enforced morality called political correctness. Preve traces the roots of
postmodern nihilism in the youth rebellion whose partisans agreed long ago to the terms of their surrender.
They got their cake and now demand everyone partake of it. To spread this good fortune means
obliterating all social barriers and stigmas. But the same process also betrays a determinist gospel that for
all its ‘good’ consciousness turns out to be amodus operandi for imperialist globalization. The
contradictions of this mourning ritual, especially its convergence with the overt goals of multinational
corporations,are particularly evident in the current politics of global human rights.In this sense, Preve
criticizes the use of human rights doctrine (but not the principle of universal human rights) as the secret

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weapon of “post-bourgeois capitalism.”Human rights and life-style freedoms depend upon universal
tolerance, yet they go hand-in-hand with nearly universal neglect for real-life miseries of genocide and
planetary degradation.

For Preve the true problem lies within the dialectic, and the solution is a return to philosophy. Capital
preempts revolution by displacing the struggle from a consideration of what is possible to a focus upon
what is simply available. The corporate media circus ridicules serious questions about production, while
state monopoly of force defines all opponents as terrorists and menaces them with annihilation. What
emerges is the Subject’s reflection of a distracted self, Hegel’s “unhappy consciousness,” caught in a
matrix of things and unable to identify any goals independent of the concept of being able to possess
them.The contemporary idea of a ‘marketable identity’ clearly illustrates the extent of this ontological
distortion. It brackets ‘knowledge’ as a commodity relative to particular interests, making general truths,
or an appeal to universal reason, all but impractical. Conversely, the so-called revolutionary Subject,
comprising the proletariat and other salaried classes, fails to challenge the capitalist imperium because its
own methods are riddled with error and relativism – altogether human traits but, in this case, ones that
obscure self-recognition in both practice and ontological reflection.

How can there be revolutionary potential, Preve asks, without a profound reexamination of the failures
and crimes committed in the name of progress?Concerning the legacy of Marxism, he advocates a revival
of the Cartesian spirit of scientific inquiry, its method of radical doubt, and suggests there can be no
shibboleths immune to criticism. On questions of political democracy and individual freedom, he favors
not only further historical excavations but also a genuine multicultural analysis informed by the totality of
human experience. To facilitate this project might require jettisoning “communism” as a concept that has
been overdetermined by its 19thand 20thcentury specificity and substituting, at least provisionally, the
more inclusive notion of communitarianism.

Whatever the terminological choice, however, such utopian thinking needs grounding in reason, and this
implies a return to the classical ontology of being. Fichte and Hegel constructed a theoretical bridge to
span the philosophical distance from antiquity to modernity. Marx crossed it frequently in the beginning of
his career and then stopped when he immersed himself in analyzing the complex laws of capitalist
production. His successors unfortunately rarely used this route, preferring to accept without question his
thoroughly modern theories of value and proletarian universality and codifying them into a system of
political economy which Marx himself disowned. Preve believes in the necessity to review the meaning of
freedom and the possible avenues to its full expression in today’s world.His antecedents can be found in
the Frankfurt School, Lukács, and to a lesser extent Louis Althusser.

Another conclusion he has drawn from witnessing the burlesque of European politics, the drama of the
Cold War, and the tragedy of real communism is that the distinction between right-wing and left-wing is
no longer viable. This makes it possible for him to talk unpretentiously and intelligently with anyone. For
example, he recently began a dialogue with Alain de Benoit, one of the historic founders of the European
New Right.The important objective is to have a clear of idea of freedom – the human potentials it seeks to
develop and the forms of alienation it aims to negate.Only then can one begin the process of forging new
political alliances with those who share these goals. Accordingly, Preve opposes U.S. imperialism and
other manifestations of multinational capitalism. Though hardly a nationalist, he understands the values
inherent in particular historical and literary traditions, high culture but also low culture. For this reason
perhaps, his language is accessible and often amusing.“German philosophy is often dense and circular,” he
writes. “Reading just a few pages can make you want to run down to a pub and drown yourself in beer.”
His statements are straight and open because, in the words of one of his Italian colleagues, “he is not a
prima donna, or a frustrated social or intellectual climber. He's old, he's been attacked, ridiculed and
ignored for many years by many of his comrades, but he keeps thinking and writing, so that sometimes he
can be a little eccentric, a little of an oddball, but he's never arrogant, or mean, or snobbish.He can be
nutty, but never stupid.”

The reader will need to exert a small effort to follow his historical and discursive allusions, but I believe
that it will be a worthwhile and stimulating experience.

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Robert Dannin

April 2006


I am grateful to Roberto Buffagni who introduced me to Costanzo Preve’s work. Roberto is our
indispensable collaborator in this endeavor. He volunteered to edit my translation and thus provided
unusually perceptive insights into Preve’s thought. We share the opinion that there is a tremendous need
for popular discussion of the problems and ideas raised herein.

Eleven Questions for Costanzo Preve from Robert Dannin

Dannin: Among the conclusions of Il Bombardamento Etico you write that the global capitalist
system is rapidly approaching the limits of what is anthropologically tolerable (p. 162). What are
these limits? Can you identify any historical precedents to this crisis? Do we know more about
human nature now than 40 years ago when Marcuse issued a similar warning in One-Dimensional

Preve: Let me divide your question into three parts, first regarding the general philosophy of human
nature, then the erroneous way that Marxists have treated the issue of human nature for the past century,
and finally whether or not there are objective limits to the process of unrestrained capitalist manipulation,
beyond what you call the “anthropologically tolerable.”

Concerning human nature, both modern and postmodern studies approach this topic by distinguishing the
unique behavior of homo sapiens from that of other animals, particularly the higher order primates,
including gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Behaviorism and Freudian psychology are the two methods
of greatest value to the bourgeoisie in thinking about human nature in capitalist society. By contrast, the
ancient Greek philosophers did not compare human and animal behaviors, but conceived of humans as
metaphysically situated above the animal kingdom and beneath the realm of their deities. This concept, by
the way, was an important source of the psychological and philosophical richness in polytheism, ancient
Greek mythology, and drama. Judeo-Christian monotheism has substantially impoverished rather than
enriched that tradition.

I am very enthusiastic about the concept of human nature, especially as it has been developed in the work
of philosophers like Norman Geras or psychologists and linguists, such as Steven Pinker and Noam
Chomsky. Briefly, I think there are five complementary and interconnected ways to tackle this issue.
First, Aristotle was right to conclude that humans are at once social, political, and communitarian beings.
In using the term, politikòn zoon, he meant to characterize these three attributes as parts of an inseparable
whole. Only within the last three hundred years have they become detached from one another, thus
distorting the original intent of his formulation. Henceforth politics refers only to the sphere of political
representation as performed by specialized personnel, i.e. “the politicians”; the social became the
ensemble of sovereign individuals; and communitarian suggested a kind of remedy for excessive
individualism, as described, for example, by Alasdair MacIntyre and other Anglo-American thinkers of a
leftist bent. (By contrast the same term, communitarian,connotes rightist tendencies to most Europeans,
who understand it within the tradition of Teutonic chauvinism [Gemeinschaft] and its ultimate incarnation
in Hitler’s “popular community” [Volksgemeinschaft]). This original meaning needs to be distinguished
from its modern distortions.

Aristotle’s concept has been attacked by the proponents of Rational Choice Theory who try to disprove
his assumptions with the idea of homo economicus, based on analyzing the market behavior of individuals
in capitalist society. The philosophical foundations of their beliefs derive, in turn, from Hobbes’ concept

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of humans as “egotistical atoms”, or the wolf-man (homo homini lupus) who conductshimself in society in
the fashion of a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). This philosophical perspective
comprehends human nature in terms of its continuity with (and not its difference from) animal behaviour.
Thus human nature replicates and intensifies a pre-existing animal behavior.All the various
reconstructions of human nature in terms of aggression or territorial imperative (E.O.Wilson, Robert
Ardrey, etc.) descend from this outlook.

Secondly,Aristotle was equally right to insist that human beings are animals characterized by their triple
capacity for language, reason, and symbolic thinking (zoon logon echon).Like the translation for politics
in Ancient Greece, logos implied an inseparable unity of these terms. It even embraced a concept akin to
the principle of tao in China or dharma in India, meaning the animating spirit of the world itself. Modern
thought has sundered this unitary, enriched meaning of logos into separate terms along the lines of C. P.
Snow’s “two cultures” – humanism and science.Logos as reason gave rise to diverse notions such as
Descartes’ rationalism, Locke’s empiricism, Kant’s criticism, Hegel’s dialectical idealism, etc. Logos was
also interpreted according to various philosophies of language. When understood as scientific procedure
and calculations, itproduced epistemology.

Chomsky follows Aristotle by refusing to isolate innate linguistic capacity from the ability to conceive and
construct alternative social realities. The material presupposition for language is the individual and
collective labor necessary for reproducing the community. Here one finds the origins of both reason and
symbolism, or more precisely, artistic or philosophical creativity and symbolic thought. Symbolism is the
foundation of geometry, which humans use to build their environment and refashion nature to their own
ends. (In other words, Chomsky strives against the odds to maintain the multidimensionality of human
cognition. It might be productive in this regard to integrate his approach with the late Lukàcs’ ontology of

Thirdly, Hegel was correct in emphasizing that man is an animal with a deep-seated need for
recognition. By this observation he established the anthropological-philosophical basis of Marxism,
inasmuch as communism (in Marx’s original sense of the term) could be defined as the association of free
individuals in mutual recognition of one another. I know very well that real (historical) communism was
often guilty of exactly the contrary, but this argument is not sufficient to cause us to throw out the baby of
Marx’s original ideas with the dirty bathwater of degenerate 20th century communism.

Fourth, Marx correctly defined the human as a “universal being” (Gattungswesen) meaning that the
human is not an animal whose DNA leads him toward predetermined behaviour (such as ants, termites,
bees, etc.) but instead confers upon him/her the full range of artistic (romanticism, baroque, neoclassical,
postmodern, etc.) and social possibilities (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, communism, etc.). [Note:
Gattungswesen is a key concept in Marx’s early writings. Literally, it means “species-being” implying the
unique human ability to relate his thinking and worldly activity to the totality of the species, unlike
animals who belong to a species yet only act in accordance with programmed instinctive behavior. Proof
can be found in the fact that only humans can act collectively to alter nature (including their own nature).
In order to do so they must conceive of themselves as belonging to a whole that is more than simply the
sum of its parts.By contrast animals remain subject to nature; there is nothing about their activity that
supports the conclusion that they work consciously for the survival of their species. That they survive is a
consequence of their innate, unconscious drive to reproduce.]

Fifth and finally, Cassirer was right in saying that humans are also symbolic animals. They can
only live in the midst of a universe of symbols. Naturally my list is just a summary, and therefore
incomplete, but I believe essentially that without an adequate concept of human nature, it would be
impossible to understand society.

As for the traditional way Marxists have approached the theme of human nature, it can be likened to the
fool who cuts off his nose to spite his face.Marxists have heretofore reduced human nature to a simplistic
amalgamation of historical and social relations. This accords with their decidedly unimaginative and rather
superficial reading of the Theses on Feuerbach (on this point, see also Norman Geras). They leave hardly

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any theoretical space for an anthropological philosophy that rejects the wholesale reduction of human
nature to two purely fundamental dimensions, the social and the historical. Human nature is certainly
“historical” and “social” but is also an anthropological (cultural and biological) structure constituted as
the sum of sociality (Aristotle), reason and mathematics (Aristotle), the necessary recognition of otherness
(Hegel), universal being (Marx), and universal, symbolic creativity (Cassirer).

Also, confusion has reigned within the Marxist tradition concerning the difference between
philosophical and ideological space. Human nature, as a result, has been negated or reduced to economic
and sociological matters. This weak notion makes human nature purely incidental to an understanding of
material productive forces and how they develop. A properly constructed philosophical discourse not only
legitimises the theory of human nature but also casts it in a very important role.Ideological discourse, by
contrast, presupposes human nature to be immutable and thus excuses or justifies social inequalities. The
“noble lie” of Plato’s Republic expresses this notion explicitly, and it has been a recurring theme from
Aristotle’s slaves “by nature” to the positivist doctrines of social Darwinism. This reactionary, “rightwing”
ideological construct of an immutably predetermined human nature triggers a progressivist, “leftwing”,
ideological counterattack, which, engendering a mirror image of its twin, radically denies the very
existence of human nature. Hence, the communist utopias of the “new man”, which are an utterly
erroneous sort of science-fiction. These utopias are unreservedly wrong, for two sets of reasons. First, a
“new man” did not, does not, and will never exist. Second, “new man” utopias stem, as a theoretic fiction,
from two diametrically opposed, but secretly matching mindsets: that of bourgeois pessimists, like Aldous
Huxley; and that of Stalinist bureaucrats. The fact that sincere, courageous revolutionaries like Ernesto
“Che” Guevara believed in this sort of utopia doesn’t make it any more rational or plausible.

Finally, concerning the limits of what is anthropologically tolerable, you asked whether it was possible to
cite any historical precedents to this crisis.

We often use analogies to the historical past in order to explain our own existential circumstances, but this
is almost always deceiving. Martin Luther, for example, believed himself to be the reincarnation of Saint
Paul. In reality, however, he did not follow Corinthians (7:20-4) by preaching collective salvation for the
free and enslaved alike but instead promoted an ideological-religious doctrine of bourgeois individualism
(later perfected by Calvin). Trotsky tried to think about Stalin in terms of the French Revolution’s
Thermidor (1794), but this was a completely false analogy. Stalin, in my opinion, was not a
bureaucracy-prone counterrevolutionary, rather he was the exponent of a very real, historical revolution,
albeit one with a weak social and strategic basis. It was weak because it artificially – almost
schizophrenically – separated economic development, proletarian participation in the socialist state,
anddemocracy (or lack thereof). During the next fifty years (1935-85) this absence of democracy led the
new Soviet middle class (itself a product of Stalinist productivism) into confrontation and ultimately
rebellion against the socialist countries’ worn out, but still governing alliance of communist bureaucrats
and the working class. I abhor Stalinism, but my critique does not tow the Trotskyist party line. Trotsky
himself was a courageous, sincererevolutionary. All good faith notwithstanding, the Trotkskyist movement
was doomed from the outset to marginality and failure because it was inspired by an analysis of capitalism
and the socialist state that does not correspond to reality. This error determined the subsequent course of
Trotskyism in its entirety.By the same token, it is difficult to refer to any credible analogy to our
contemporary situation.Nevertheless I shall try.

It might be useful to think about Hegel’s reference to the spiritual impact of the Roman Empire.In The
Philosophy of History, he talks about Rome “breaking the heart of the world,” and in the process creating
“a world disoriented by God’s abandonment,” a world whose “misery” could be attributed to the fact that
man had become an atom deprived of his political freedom and recognized solely in terms of his private
possessions. Individual property, in other words, is the unique dimension of human life which society
cares for and pledges to guarantee. There is an obvious analogy here to the “ownership society” that Bush
and the neocons wish to impose on the rest of the world. Personal sovereignty has no meaning in this
world of individual proprietors dependent upon the mythical market yet helpless in the face of its
imperfections, corruptions, and unfreedom. What Hegel characterized as “God’s abandonment” obviously
signifies a world that lacks meaning. In Hegel’s language, atheism is indeed synonymous with

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philosophical and social meaninglessness. This, of course, has nothing to do with Spinoza’s atheism, which
denies the existence of an anthropomorphic or personalized divinity, conceived as the Great Engineer of
Intelligent Design or as the Cosmic Magistrate who sentences Bush to heaven and sends Bin Laden to

As for the limits of what is anthropologically tolerable, for over a century classical Marxism has been
locked into thinking about overcoming the capitalist mode of production through dialectical interplay
between the social nature of the productive forces and the private nature of social relations of production,
on the one hand; and the revolutionary conflict between the working classes (including salaried labor and
the industrial proletariat) and the bourgeoisie, on the other hand. In the wake of events over the past two
decades (1985-2005) it is difficult to take this schema seriously anymore. This suggests a scientific theory
in crisis, one that can no longer be modified, added to, or rectified to fit the facts.The situation, in my
opinion, calls for a radical paradigm change, what Kuhn calls a “scientific revolution.” This hasn’t
happened yet. Perhaps we’ll see it, perhaps not. Thus it is normal that during this “epistemological
interval” all bets are off as to the compatibility or incompatibility of capitalism and human nature. What
we know is that capitalist production intensifies the neurotic pace of labor to the point where it has
become a menace not only to our physical and psychological well-being, but also to the natural
environment. In this sense, we have not gone beyond the propositions made by Herbert Marcuse over
forty years ago, which remain, in my view, essentially correct. However, in the past forty years there were
two new phenomena which Marcuse could not have foreseen. The first was the collapse and dissolution of
real, historical communism (1917-1991). This collapse was not an explosion, nor a military defeat as was
the case for Nazism or Fascism, but an endogenous implosion.It has given capitalism an expanded social
and economic sphere of reproduction, and allows its ideology to refute all socialistic and communistic
ideals. Secondly, the extension of so-called globalization to encompass huge nations such as India and
China within the capitalist sphere ought to serve as a caution to those who ordinarily assume the existence
of limits. I am the first one who needs to speak with caution, since I proposed this concept. Ideas, like
wine, should be consumed in moderation.

2. Is capitalist globalization really another way of describing contemporary American imperialism?

I wouldn’t want to equate capitalist globalization to U.S. imperialism. Although they correspond and are
very much intertwined, they derive from different principles. We can clarify this position by looking at
three distinct phenomena – imperialism itself, the contemporary American empire, and so-called
“capitalist globalization.”Overusing the term “imperialism” begs controversy and invites potential
inaccuracies. One sacrifices its true meaning, for example, in applying it to historical personalities like
Cyrus the Great, Julius Cesar, Genghis Khan or Charles V.In fact, imperialism pertains specifically to a
period of prolonged crisis in late nineteenth century Europe, from the Great European Depression
(1873-93) to World War I (1914-18).It was during this time that imperialist policies replaced “free
exchange” of the preceding period. Also, bourgeois societies abandoned their progressive aspects in favor
of openly racist and reactionary ideologies, the most evident being anti-Semitism in Europe and racial
segregation in their overseas colonies. In the developed urban centers, the industrial proletariat was
increasingly integrated within bourgeois society. This process involved acquiescing to a definition of class
conflict in exclusively economic terms (economization) and also enjoining the ideology ofpatriotic
nationalism. Marxists have erroneously described this process as the formation of a “labor aristocracy” or
used the equally ideologicalphrase, bourgeoisification of the working class. World War I was indeed an
imperialist war, and Lenin correctly revised communist theory to state that the proletarian revolution was
beginning in the weakest link of the imperialist world order rather than, as Marx believed, in nations
where capitalism was most highly developed. World War II was only partially an imperialist war. Actually
it was three distinct conflicts in one: two of the imperialist type (Germany v. Great Britain, USA v. Japan)
and another war of genocide and colonial expansion (Hitler’s Germany v. Stalin’s USSR). The Cold War
era leading to the dissolution of the USSR (1945-91) could be characterized as a time of minor inter-
imperialist conflicts (for example, the competition between the USA, Great Britain and France over Egypt
in 1956) but it was generally dominated by the face-off between the USA and the USSR for global
geopolitical domination.

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Lenin’s analysis of imperialism as a structural feature of capitalist production is undeniably correct.

Imperialism is not simply epiphenomenal; where there is capitalism, there is bound to be imperialism.It is
important, however, to focus upon its particular spatial and temporal determinants.

As for contemporary American imperialism, although it certainly exists and competes with a few minor
actors such as Europe or Japan, perhaps India and China in years to come, just asserting its existence is
insufficient. The specific nature of Bush’s America is that while it pretends to be a new, transnational or
global empire, in reality it’s nothing of the sort. There is some truth to Slavoj Zizek’s description of the
U.S. as a traditional nation-state unscrupulously pursuing its self-interest, but this ignores important
ideological aspects of the new Imperial America. Notions such as “American Exceptionalism” or “The
City on a Hill” considered along with the cult of “Old Glory” reveal the significant influence of religion
upon imperial policies. Some people seem to think this applies only to the neocons, the “Trotskyists of
global capitalism,” but they are wrong. Look at Clinton, considered by many Europeans as a
representative of the center-left, and therefore a “good president.” Nonetheless, he talked about America
as “the one indispensable nation.” Politicians can be classified as hardliners and moderates, or hawks and
doves, but in the end it’s just a typical imperialist good cop-bad cop routine. The last European patriot
who radically refused to play along was Charles de Gaulle, who consequently paid the price of being
characterized as a fat-bellied, snail-eating “frog” by the Anglo-American press. According to these same
caricatures, the Italians and Greeks specialize in “big, fat weddings,” the Scots in fairy tales, while the
French are silly romantic lovers.

As for “globalization” I follow Descartes’ method of wholesale doubt.Does globalization really exist, or
not? About 80% of all professional economists say, yes. Among them, half agree that it’s good, while the
other half say it’s bad. Among the remaining 20% who don’t think it’s real, about 10% are Marxists who
say that it’s just plain old imperialism, whereas the rest are neoliberal fanatics and cheerleaders, who don’t
think it’s nearly as developed or extensive enough to merit that term … not yet, anyway. Of course these
are my observations from the facts. I don’t have the time to go into depth here, nor do I wish to overstep
my expertise; after all I’m a philosopher, not an economist.

It seems that we are facing a very specific form of globalization, at once imperialistic (due to the number
of nation-states involved in the struggle) and imperial (by way of USA’s preponderant military,
technological, and cultural-ideological powers). Globalization is alleged to be a factual depiction of the
current state of world affairs and is presented as undeniable, irreversible “like it or not.” Yet in reality
globalization is a political prescription deployed to further the interests of the ‘new world
order.’“Globalize, you rogue nations of the world, or else you’ll pay for it!”Globalization thus adds some
original touches while drawing upon elements of 19th century free trade (1815-73), the era of competitive
imperialism (1873-1914) and other factors including the policy of exporting freedom, democracy, and
especially “human rights.” These policies were derived from the ideological confrontation with 20th
century real communism. The imperialist use of “human rights” doctrine shows how the specific interests
of the USA as a nation-state have found unlikely allies among the European May ’68 generation.

Why the generation of May ’68?

I can only speak about Western European countries, and I don’t claim to have discovered the essential
truth about this generation. However, I would summarize “1968” as a kind of foundational myth,
specifically the foundational myth of postmodernity, which describes a symbolic struggle between two
metaphysical forces: Youth versus Power (more precisely, indeterminate Youth vs. indeterminate
Power).Under the guise of a return to an ever elusive – indeed decrepit and historically defeated –
communist utopia,this myth actually led to a radical modernization of capitalist culture. It produced, in
Freudian terms, a “fatherless society” of ultra-liberalized sex and other social relations in general. In
Europe, 1968 initiated the dissociation of bourgeois culture from capitalism. This process transformed
socially normative classes and castes into mere income levels or fractions. In other words, it was the
beginning of a stronger, post-bourgeois capitalism which abandoned its old cultural elitism as a way to
expand its social base by detaching the urban petit bourgeoisie from the working classes, who remained
bound by their traditional family and social norms. (I think Christopher Lasch perceived a similar trend in

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the U.S.) In Marx’s terminology, the urban petit bourgeoisie initiated a radical modernization of behavior
(open sexuality, consumption of narcotics and other stimulants, etc.) while experiencing this
transformation under a false consciousness, or the erroneous belief that they were participating in an
anticapitalist, communist-libertarian revolution.

From that point in time onwards, a new intellectual oligarchy gradually rose to power within the European
Left, by seizing control of the principal means of communications. Even today this same oligarchy firmly
controls the party apparatus, publishing companies, and most journalistic enterprises in Italy, France and
Germany. As long as they retain their positions, there can be no serious historical and political analysis of
the actual world situation. Illustrative of this deadlock is the image of George Bush and Bernard
Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders, hugging each other.In sum, the discussion of
globalization has hardly begun.

3. You have addressed a serious critique to the “no-global” crowd, especially the ideas expounded in
Negri’s book, Empire. Are they simply a by-product of errant postmodernism?

I first mentioned Negri’s book in reference to the ideological marketing of imperialist globalization.His
presumptions concerning a non-existent Empire are similar to those of Fukuyama’s fictive End of History
and Huntington’s mythical Clash of Civilizations.Like the ‘masterpieces’ of virtual reality that have
replaced the cinematic arts, these descriptions of inexistent realities target specific audiences. Huntington
aims to titillate the new anti-Muslim crusaders, Fukuyama appeals to innumerable little campus
Nietzsches, while Negri rallies the “no-global” crowd. As you indicate, this is doubtlessly a symptom of
“errant postmodernism.” To be a little more precise, I would call it the result of what happens when
Euro-Marxist ‘workerism’ (operaismo) is grafted onto the body of true postmodernism. A brief definition
of Negri’s ties to ‘workerism’ and its postmodern incarnation will help illustrate what I mean.

‘Workerism’ encompasses three different concepts – historical, theoretical, and political.

Historically, it grew out of the writings of Renato Panzieri from 1956 to 1964. He proposed a direct
rapport between Marxist militants and workers employed in Italy’s big assembly-line factories, thus
circumventing the Italian Communist Party whom he viewed as reformist, too moderate, and altogether
incapable of understandingthe new “objectively” revolutionary potential of the Fordist working class.
Theoretically,‘workerism’ credited capitalism with a tremendous, almost centralized, capacity for ensuring
its own reproduction, negating in the process Lenin’s theory of imperialism. Its proponents saw
technological innovation as a capitalist response to working class struggle, aimed at disrupting its
collective solidarity. ‘Workerism’ strongly opposed “thirdworldism” and discounted the esteem of many
militants for the anti-imperialist struggle in Latin America and Vietnam, for example. It upheld the
indispensable revolutionary role of the most highlydeveloped capitalist economies. It dismissed China and
Maoism, and denounced Trotskyism as an obsolescent heresy. ‘Workerists’ espoused hostility toward the
USSR and openly wished for its destruction along with other real communist countries. Politically,
‘workerism’ advocated “direct action” along the lines of early twentieth century Italian anarcho-
syndicalists. Negri lived through the entire historical evolution of this movement and actively participated
in its historical, theoretical and political activities until the 1970s.

Current definitions of postmodernism are largely unsatisfactory. First, the prefix post- is not a real
concept, just a clumsy term that betrays confusion. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the word
assumes a general agreement about the meaning of modern and modernism whereas, in fact, there is no
real consensus at all. For many people, the “modern” simply coincides with the development of capitalist
society. Marxists, on the other hand, often interpret modernism as a kind of work-in-progress, an
historical project that will never be complete until capitalist society is replaced by a kind of humanistic
socialism, altogether different from previous failures and crimes committed in the name of real
communism (1917-1991).Iprefer a more open or critical variant of this latter definition and see the
”modern” as an incomplete historical project. For this reason I don’t have much sympathy for the
postmodern idea.At the same time, I realize that it’s not simply a nefarious capitalist invention, but an
earnest attempt to characterize certain novel aspects of contemporary society.

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In this respect, David Harvey provides a reliable, albeit imperfect, working hypothesis when he defines
postmodernity as the era of flexible production (in contrast to Fordist or fixed production techniques) and
also as a period of transition from a worldview based on Time to one based on Space. This is an important
statement, because capitalist modernity was symbolically built on a metaphysics of Time, specifically a
narrative of Historical Progress. Even before that, the metaphysics of Time figured prominently during
Antiquity, the difference being that instead of a linear narrative, History was conceived, then, in cyclical
terms. The British philosopher, John Gray, recently pointed out that the ideology of progress is a fusion of
two formerly opposed elements, the Judeo-Christian concept of a messianic apotheosis for history, and the
19th century positivist idea of the ceaseless advance of scientific research and technological innovation.
(Gray’s Financial Faith contends that contemporary faith is actually based on the “messianic” promise of
money, with the concomitant transformation of religious participation into a sort of joint-stockholders
enterprise.) In each case, what matters most is the metaphysics of Time. As conceived in the bourgeois
world-view, Time is like Wittgenstein’s ladder: a disposable tool that can be discarded after one has used
it to reach paradise.

Capitalist globalization is a metaphorical equivalent of Wittgenstein’s ladder. It prescribes the

geographical extension of Western-style capitalist production over the entire planet, a real possibility now
that the bizarre accident called real communism has been overcome. I always distinguish real communism
(1917-1991) from Marx’s scientific-utopian communism. (Of course, my oxymoron is deliberate.) At this
point History can be integrally transformed into Geography, and Time becomes Space. History, of course,
has not terminated, as Fukuyama and his U.S. Department of State cronies once suggested, but it can be
portrayed, nonetheless, as having totally morphed into an ever-expanding geographical movement of
perpetually self-reproducing capital. Like Wittgenstein’s ladder, Time can be henceforth discarded since
we have reached the doorstep of infinite Space, the new frontier of capitalist globalization. As happens
with all ideologies, including this metaphysical, postmodern one of Capitalist Global Space (CGS), they
cannot exist without a solid material foundation, that is to say without the historical defeat of three
significant obstacles: a) the geopolitical system of real communist states, b) the attempt by non-aligned
Third World nations to determine their own post-colonial futures independently, c) the opposition of
organized labor (including the proletariat and other salaried classes) in the advanced industrial nations.

The postmodern worldview that has become gospel for most of the Western intelligentsia since 1985
could be interpreted as the blowback of the struggle for an impossible revolution. It’s a complex notion
whose definition invites multiple interpretations and controversy. TheFrench philosopher, Jean-Francois
Lyotard, considers postmodernism as the twilight of the great historical narrative of human emancipation.
The new popular narrative, he says, is based merely on performance and emphasizes technological
success and the management of social and financial risk. Other views of postmodernism include Frederick
Jameson’s idea that it is an ideology corresponding to the era of flexible production, and David Harvey’s
geographical paradigm, where it becomes a reflection of the process of Space overtaking Time as a more
functional, global measure of expanding capitalist production. The Frankfurt School (particularly Adorno,
but not Habermas) more or less rejects the term by identifying a period called “late modernism”
corresponding more or less to the development of “late capitalism.” I prefer this interpretation, because it
is less confusing and corresponds philosophically to my own concept of a post-bourgeois capitalism
(capitalism without the bourgeoisie).

Regarding Lyotard, it’s interesting to note his connection to “Socialism or Barbarism,” a messianic
Marxist movement of the 1960s. His subsequent ideas about postmodernism were informed by a kind of
collective mourning over the collapse of this communist-utopian myth. What he calls “postmodern
disenchantment” actually resembles Freud’s theory of “grief work.” With respect to the May ’68
generation, one could say that they had to abandon their Marxist-revolutionary illusions by performing a
type of grief work over their false consciousness. This was necessary in order to salvage the rewards of
modern social mores that came from their rebellion against patriarchal authority. In other words,
postmodernism is the consequence of confusion between a social revolution and the adolescent rebellion
of the May ‘68 generation.

Negri published Empire directly in English, the world-imperial language.I know him well enough to say

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that his English is certainly not good enough to have written it this way without the diligent assistance of
Michael Hardt, who is an exemplary product of the leftist postmodern American university. This campus
culture represents what you might call a type of “Marxist” resolution of the clash between the old
metaphysics of Time and the new metaphor of Space.They have simply reversed the terms; what was
once an apologetics for capitalist global domination now appears in the guise of dissent.

In order to understand this, it’s instructive to know a little something about Negri’s career as a theorist of
‘workerism’ and his philosophical and economic thinking. The Italian school of ‘workerism’ flourished
from 1956–64.Lest anyone be deceived, the name is inaccurate because flesh-and-blood workers had
nothing at all to do with this political current. It began as a legitimate, indeed worthwhile, movement
among some intellectuals who had tentative links to the unionized vanguard in Italy’s postwar industrial
plants. Their idea was to develop a political alternative to the Italian Communist Party (PCI) whose
leaders had already made clear their intentions to participate as junior partners in the ruling class
coalitions of the period.The PCI itself practiced an unprecedented sort of social-democratic Stalinism (or
Stalinist social-democracy, which amounts to the same) inasmuch as it combined a Stalinist internal
organization and Stalinist paranoid political style in party life with a typically social-democratic approach
to defending the interests of labor. In the ensuing decade (1968-78), the party went after a newly formed
social stratum, modern lower-middle class voters, and abdicated its traditional social-democratic &
Stalinist advocacy of working class interests in favor of a new “leftist” or “postmodern” image,
characterized, for example, by support for gay marriage and other lifestyle issues as opposed to defending
hard-won benefits, wages, and better working conditions. This was a detour taken almost universally by
leftist organizations throughout the West.

In its fundamental aspect, the ‘workerist’ theoretical paradigm transformed the working class into a kind
of Fichtean absolute self – an active creator of the world – for whom capital itself becomes just a residual
effect of its own productive activity.In other words,by its collective behavior, this Working Class/Fichtean
Self/Creator of the World shapes the very dynamic of all capitalistic relations. Consequently, the capitalist
competition between manufacturing and mercantile interests becomes a secondary phenomenon. For
Marx they were the very components of capital. To deny their primacy was consistent with the way the
‘workerist’ theoreticians interpreted the USSR as an example of state capitalism, while simultaneously
ignoring the absence, there, of any real Western-style markets. From this came the idea that the market
system could be transformed directly into communism without having to pass through a transitional,
socialist stage of development.Here, as in all messianic philosophies of history,the Fullness of Time is
reached, and in this apocalyptic culmination Capitalist Space can directly transfigure itself into
Communist Space. This summarizes the workerist beliefs. Just when the concretely existing working class
(organized labor, industrial proletariat, salaried workers, and part-timers) seems to have lost credibility as
a revolutionary subject of history, capable of leading the transition from capitalism into communism,
Negri’s theoretical model simply removes its very existence, and substitutes instead two very different
categories, the General Intellect (an idea from Marx’s Grundrisse that does not appear in Capital) and the
Multitude (taken from Spinoza, who used the term for a completely different purpose).

Negri’s brand of communism is therefore a fantasy land, a Disney-like Magic Kingdom that puts the cart
before the horse by removing all contradictions between labor and capital. To achieve theoretical
consistency, he borrows Marcuse’s ideas about the “end of utopia,” the end of material scarcity, and the
dawning of an age of collective production and egalitarian (communist) distribution in the sense of Marx’s
principles of political democracy and individual liberty.But Marcuse’s theses were founded on a critique
of classical German philosophy and related to a system of needs in the Epicurean sense. Negri, by
contrast, is not concerned with either anthropological needs or their limited nature (self-limitations) but
with an anthropology of desire according to Deleuze and Guattari. But desire, in this sense, bears no limits
whatsoever, and therefore corresponds with the limitless nature of capitalist production. As Marx wrote,
the capitalist’s wealth is “without measure” (metron). Negri’s communism for the multitude is thus a
communistic dream with no boundaries, a kind of anarchic expropriation of commodities without any
consideration given to how this will be mediated by labor.

The relative success of Negri’s dream is not happenstance. On the one hand, it results from the collapse of

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labor movements in the post-Fordist industrial centers of Italy, Europe, and North America. Fordist-type
production has, of course, been exported to the underdeveloped nations where wages are much lower. On
the other hand, I see it as a postmodern transposition of his communist reveries from History to
Geography. Negri’s “empire,” rather than connoting the USA’s military empire, actually turns out to be a
fantasy space where capitalist production is miraculously overthrown and refashioned into a utopian
consumer’s paradise. His vision is entirely consistent with the times and based on the erroneous idea of a
consumers’ revolt. Like Lincoln said, “You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool
some of the people all of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”

4. Another aspect of your recent work focuses on the futility of the left/right dichotomy as a guide to
contemporary social studies. You imply, furthermore, that political correctness is a reactionary doctrine
that prevents the emergence of novel forms of resistance. Many of your examples refer to Italian politics.
Can you clarify how this process contributed to Berlusconi’s rising to power?

Your question merges two issues that should be discussed separately. The Berlusconi problem doesn’t
really concern the general issues of political correctness or partisan politics. It’s really something that
should be viewed in a very specific historical context.

Berlusconi is a colorful personality and an international media phenomenon who has attracted a large
audience, not only in Italy, but throughout Western Europe and even the USA.His image ranges from that
of Uncle Scrooge to a sly Top Cat. He appeals irresistibly to racist stereotypes of the average, albeit
fictional, Italian “Joe” – someone with Mafia connections, a mustachioed Latin Lover, or a mandolin-
strumming Romeo. With the exception of a tiny elite who extol the virtues of Italian arts and letters, this
racist stereotype is alive and well. It transforms political struggle into an esthetic performance within a
wholly manipulated global media circus.In this context, even characterizations of Berlusconi as a populist
or a made-for-tv fascist are pure nonsense. It’s more accurate to view him as an unforeseen accident on
the highway of contemporary Italian history. I can show you why by briefly analyzing the decade in
politics from 1985–95.

This period represents the final act of Hobsbawm’s “short 20th century” (1914-1991) when Europe and
Japan were the scenes of a series of judicial coups d’état that destroyed the entrenched power of political
holdovers from the Keynesian era of direct state intervention in the economy. The goal was a neo-liberal
adaptation to the demands of the new global economy. By “judicial coups” I do not mean to suggest that
these individuals or their parties were innocent of some very real crimes and the widespread political
corruption of which they were accused. These were, however, permanent structural features and typical
behavior for actors in a capitalist society where the Mafia forcibly mediated between the political parties
and finance capital. Corruption of such great dimension is largely absent in the American and British
liberal models of capitalism. But in Italy, during the Keynesian period (1948-1982 ca.) there was a double
system of structural illegal “taxation” of our national wealth: from Rome southwards, a levy operated by
Mafia; from Rome northwards, a levy directly operated by the parasitic party system. After the implosion
of historical communism (1917-1992) and the fragmentation of URSS, i.e. after the end of the key
geopolitical role of Italy and of its governing parties in the Cold War, the economic and political costs of
this doubly illegal tax, levied on private and public wealth alike, became intolerable and untenable. Italy
could have never applied, with any hope of success, for full membership in the European Union (still in its
formative years) because France and Germany would have never accepted her; and I add, that they would
have been fully justified in rejecting us. Thus the magistrates, with the assent of some very powerful
economic actors, cleaned Italy’s house – a bit too zealously, however, since they ended up eliminating an
entire political class by prosecuting Italy’s two most important governing parties, Giulio Andreotti’s
Christian Democrats and Bettino Craxi’s Socialists. Both were certainly guilty of moral corruption, but
their real offences in this circumstance were standing for economic Keynesianism and electoral

Paradoxically, the only viable politicians left standing were the former Communists (PCI) who in a few
months recycled themselves into the Party of the Democratic Left. This process was identical to the
process occurring almost simultaneously in the former communist states of Eastern Europe, where former

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apparatchiks offered their services to the (mostly American) representatives of international finance
capital. In their servile zeal to assist the restructuring of local economies, these officials embodied
perfectly Nietzsche’s notion of the “Last Man.” Only their nihilism and a total absence of national
consciousness could have facilitated such an abject transformation from serving one dominant imperial
power (USSR) to another (USA). At this point Italy became the only country in the world where a
defeated political party ascended the heights of power thanks to a judicial coup effected in the name of
structural readjustment. There was nothing random at all, about this, and Berlusconi simply insinuated
himself into the resulting power vacuum, inheriting the votes of a gigantic pool of previously
unrepresented voters. For the sake of comparison, let’s say that American courts were to eliminate 95% of
the Republican politicians. The party would still possess an enormous popular and like-minded electorate,
that could pass over to someone like Schwarzenegger. (I deliberately cite the most grotesque and
ridiculous dumbbellpossible.)

Those who directed the extra-parliamentary coup known as Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) assumed that a
“leftist” politician, perhaps a recycled communist, would prevail in the short run and direct this rightwards
lurch.It’s difficult to explain why it didn’t happen precisely this way. In any case, Berlusconi was not an
ideal representative for the big industrial and financial corporations like FIAT. He was more closely
aligned with the wealthy Italian middle class: in other words, the small and medium capitalists and
alsoprofessionals and self employed workers. Although he remained ideologically close to Bush and the
neocon imperialists, his electorate would never have permitted him to introduce of Thatcherist or
Reaganite policies. That kind of reform would have entailed scalping the middle classes, something that
could happen only under the aegis of an alliance between corporate finance capital and organized labor.

Unless I am mistaken, the Berlusconi episode in Italian history has just about run its course.Although more
aesthetically acceptable, the Center-Left coalition led by Prodi is no less philo-American. They are
complete loyalists when it concerns the American “new world order” of pre-emptive military strikes
against rogue states and the exportation of “human rights.” This is very sad, and there’s no telling how far
the new leaders can go in scalping the middle classes. Only the near future will reveal the full potential of
this rather bizarre alliance between finance capital and the cynical, nihilistic ex-communists.

Regarding the Left/Right political dichotomy, I want to state first that my discourse about its obsolescence
and continued use as way of organizing symbolic identity in a moribund political system pertains
exclusively to European countries, not the rest of the world. In Latin American (Chavez’ Venezuela or
Morales’ Bolivia, for example) the dichotomy still has real political meaning, and has not yet become a
political deception. Also, the division between Democrats and Republicans in the USA does not coincide
with the European Left/Right dichotomy. Although American parties have historically different
constituencies, distinct ideologies, and separate financial resources, they nevertheless share the same
strategic political and military objectives. This is typically what always happens in imperial nation-states
(the optimates and populares, to cite just one other example from ancient Rome).In the Muslim world the
social function of the Left has been overtaken by religious-ideological tendencies that could (or eventually
will) be defined as Rightist from a Western perspective (for example, Ahmadinejad in Iran).The world is
much too complex to apply such a simple dichotomy everywhere, giving my comments substance only in
relation to a majority of countries in Europe where the real problem, as I see it, is no longer Marx’s
Left/Right dilemma but instead that of de Gaulle, the opposition between the defenders and adversaries of
Europe’s subservience to imperial America.

The European Left dates back at least two hundred years: to 1791, when the most radical French Deputies
seated themselves on the left side of the National Assembly chamber. This alignment was anything but
random, in the sense that the secular, horizontal symbolism (Left/Right) almost certainly replaced the
older religious, vertical symbolism that placed God above Mankind. During the classic bourgeois period
(1789–1914) the Left generally represented the interests of the urban working classes, craftsmen, poor
peasants and the democratic petty bourgeoisie. It was therefore normal that the nascent socialist and
communist movements lined up on the left, even though Marx during his lifetime faced greater challenges
from left-wing opponents (Proudhon, Mazzini, etc.) than fromthose situated truly on the right. Throughout
the second great industrial revolution and the Great European Depression (1873-95), the Left was a

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full-fledged participant in the imperialist system and also the agent for compromising organized labor’s
struggle into a merely economistic and ideological-nationalist platform. The Left bounced back after the
First World War, dividing into a social-democratic left and a communist left, both of whom were
eventually defeated by the neo-liberal reaction of the past two decades (1985-2005). Today Europeans
are affected by a major incongruity between political and economic facts of life, and their ideological and
symbolic perception of those realities. The absurdity of these divisions is worthy of Ionesco. We have
Anti-fascism without Fascism (dead since 1945) and Anti-communism without Communism (dead since
1991).This simulation suggests that presently we do not perceive clearly the lines of true political conflict,
though it is possible, if not probable, that they will soon become apparent.

However, the ideology of Political Correctness plays different roles in Europe and the USA. In the US it
reflects a very specific cultural schizophrenia, where the right-wing represents economic, military and
financial interests while the left (although currently out of power) stands for a limited or symbolic
sovereignty in the domain of feminist, gay, and other minority rights. Simultaneously, the PC movement
also suggests the expansion of capitalist relations of production and consumption which, having become
truly universal, can no longer tolerate the artificial limitations of racism or sexism.Anyone with cash
should be able to spend it freely whenever and wherever they want.In other words, the logic of Dixie and
the KKK is no longer valid in a Wal-Mart world.

In Europe, by contrast, the PC movement has a dedicated mission in transforming the demographically
large May ‘68 generation into full-fledged capitalism groupies. Those who at 20 or 30 years old were
preoccupied by socialist and libertarian dreams are now, at 50 or 60, totally reconciled to the corporatist
ideology in universities and the media, where they play a key role in manufacturing consensus for the
continued submission of Europe to the new imperialist American state.

I view Political Correctness as essentially the collective, ideological product of the May ‘68 generation. Its
principal function seems to be to suppress the growth of any intellectual or social force capable of
contributing to original interpretations of the actual situation in which we live. It’s impossible to predict
how long this will last.

5. Returning to your thesis in Il Bombardamento Etico, you suggest that a serious moral failure is
the continuing refusal by Western intellectuals to judge the crimes of Hiroshima alongside those of
Auschwitz. What does this have to do with genocide in places like East Timor, Rwanda, and Darfur?

This question touches on very delicate, yet important issues concerning the today’s ethics and culture. My
response has three parts. First I shall discuss the relation between Auschwitz and Hiroshima, then the
nature of reactions to the contemporary examples of genocide you mention, and finally the new ideology
of “human rights” which, as an object for military export, needs to be distinguished from the philosophical
principle of Universal Human Rights.

Concerning the relation between Auschwitz and Hiroshima, I personally reject to so-called theory of
Absolute Evil. Not because I seek to justify or relativize these unpardonable crimes, but because the
notion of Absolute Evil is a metaphysical concept that interferes with a clear understanding of the human
roots of these crimes. The doctrine of Absolute Evil lends metaphysical-transcendental support to the
construction of a new religion. This new religion, called “Shoah,” not to be confused with the very real
genocide of the Jewish people, appeals to those who don’t really have any religion at all. It transforms the
Jewish people into an international Levitical clergy for whom the Shoah functions as a substitute for the
Cross or the Crescent Moon. I hope that this obviously hard-line opinion will not be construed as crypto
anti-Semitism (Judeophobia, more precisely, because Arabs are Semites too). Nothing could be further
from the truth for someone like myself, who is inspired by the universal and rational qualities of the
philosophical discourses of Plato, Hegel, and Marx.

Auschwitz and Hiroshima therefore relate to a specific crisis in European and American culture that can
be described as the scandalous divorce between ethics and politics. Auschwitz stands as the most
notorious example of Ideological Slaughter. It was founded on the dual principle of the criminalization of
an entire social group – Jews, in the first instance, but also Gypsies, the disabled and other minorities –

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and the ideological mobilization necessary to convince people that they would somehow benefit from this
slaughter. It entailed an effort to win their consent for either passively witnessing or even participating in
this slaughter. Hiroshima, on the other hand, stands as the greatest example of Technological Slaughter. It
did not require the same massive indoctrination of hate, only the anonymous use of weapons of mass
destruction entrusted to specialists who professed no apparent ideology. Technological slaughter is
therefore easier to commit than ideological slaughter. In order to commit ideological slaughter, one must
absolve himself and all accomplices of any mutual responsibility (here I am thinking of Hannah Arendt’s
reflections on the Eichmann trial) while simultaneously promoting a paranoid hatred for others. This is not
an easy task. The human conscience usually rebels against murder, and almost always reacts negatively to
the extreme pressure of becoming an accomplice to such crimes. Technological slaughter, by contrast, is
anonymous and impersonalenough to be committed with much greater ease.

The fact that Western culture chose to criminalize Auschwitz, yet absolved itself of all responsibility for
Hiroshima, violates a deep-seated tradition that heretofore excluded civilian non-combatants – mainly
women, children, the old and infirm – as military targets during wartime. Throughout their various
histories, Western nations shared this ethical principle in common. They did not in fact always abide by it,
of course, but at the very least maintained it as a unifying ethical belief. Thus, Hiroshima signaled the end
of an era.To be consistent with Western tradition, it would have been necessary to condemn both
ideological and technological slaughter with equal vigor. This did not happen, because, on the one hand,
the US imperialist state would never consent to a judgment of its actions in Japan: and international
academicians, together with their colleagues in the worldwide media circus, remain almost entirely
dependent on the will of this imperial state. On the other hand, any indication, or even the slightest hint of
the comparability of the two phenomena, is politically incorrect and regarded suspiciously as crypto
anti-Semitism, as if to cast doubt upon the absolute sacredness and unique character of Absolute Evil as
defined by Western humanity. This irony has not been lost on the Irish philosopher, Desmond Fennell,
who interprets the ethics of Hiroshima to mean that we are now living in a period called The Post-Western

Concerning the second point, it is very important that mankind, or at least the ones who are conscious of
their humanity, continue to speak and act against the indiscriminate and general slaughter of civilians in
places like East Timor, Rwanda and Darfur.This raises a philosophical problem about so-called
Universalism, a principle to which I adhere, unlike some post-modern thinkers: for example, Richard
Rorty. According to him, it would be better to conclude that abhorrence towards injustice and the horrible
crimes it spawns is an exclusive characteristic of Westerners, specifically Anglo-American liberal
skeptics, whereas Arabs, Chinese, and Indians don’t have quite the same negative reaction when it comes
to the terrible injustice of wholesale murder. By contrast, the good old doctrine of Natural Law, which
remains best among the many defective solutions available in the philosophical marketplace, assumes that
universal principles apply to all of humanity and thus the whole world. Although theoretically, Marx
followed his mentor Hegel in opposition to natural law doctrine, in practice he incorporated its
universalistic principles in his anthropological concept of universal being (Gattungswesen).

The genocides of Armenians and Jews, and also the smaller scale but equally abhorrent and inexcusable
crimes against the peoples you mention, make it obvious that a positivistic view of law is not the solution.
A strictly positivist viewpoint attributes absolute sovereignty to each government over its territorial
nation, and this would include even the right to promote genocide within its borders. But human
sensibilities rebel against such an idea of absolute sovereignty, raising in turn the issue of the legitimacy of
foreign intervention. In this case, intervention in the affairs of a sovereign nation might be legally
illegitimate, yet morally necessary. Thus, the prospect of using external forces to stop or prevent acts of
genocide is an indispensable principle for international affairs. However, such intervention by diplomatic
and military means should always be above suspicion in terms of secondary motives and interests other
than rescuing the victims from death and suffering. This is the only really legitimate form of intervention,
and it presupposes the kind of neutral international organization discussed originally by Immanuel Kant in
his long-forgotten book, Perpetual Peace, written in 1795. I therefore believe in universal right to save
innocent people who are threatened on the basis of their race, ethnicity, or religion. It is a higher moral
principle, and ought to supercede the simplistic adherence to absolute national sovereignty.

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Although Kant proposed the creation of an International Tribunal to adjudicate conflicts between
sovereign states, he also warned against the rise of a worldwide empire capable of imposing “justice” by
force of arms. It would be the worst kind of tyranny possible, he thought, because it would negate the
principle of national sovereignty, the very basis upon which his social contract theory depended. By
contrast, Hegel considered contract theory to be utopian and powerless in the face of sovereign nations.
He believed that force was inevitable and never accepted the idea of an international tribunal. Nor did he
believe in natural right, and therefore he rejected the notion that human rights existed anterior to the
formation of the state. Marx (and Marxism) inherited from Hegel this prejudice against Natural Right and
the Social Contract. But his own theory is more of a universalism than materialism, in the sense that its is
based on the idea of mankind as a universal being (Gattungswesen) which directly informs the notion of
the workers, salaried labor and the proletariat as the Universal Class.

Neither Kant nor Marx explore the tragic implications of this irresolute puzzle regarding World
Government and Human Rights. Hegel is somewhat conscious of the implicit tragedy but fails to offer any
alternatives other than the vague dialectic of history that pushed forward according the logic of negation.
Personally, I accept with some reservations Kant’s contractual idea of a tribunal to regulate conflicts
among sovereign states, yet I also fear that any hypothetical World Sovereign Power, possessing a
Hobbesian monopoly on the use of violence to impose Human Rights (and necessarily someone’s
particular conception of those rights), would be very close to Vladimir Solovev’s Antichrist and the
dystopia of Huxley’s Brave New World. It bears mention furthermore that the idea of a planetary
universalism is most likely a product of Western thinking. It begins with Hellenistic stoicism, which
flourished within the cosmopolitan space of the Alexandrian Empire. Then it moves to the Pax Romana
(similar in a negative sense to Bush’s contemporary American Empire), the Christian ecumene, the
Enlightenment in its pretense to having discovered the common universal force of reason, then positivism,
and finally the two contemporary historical forms of universalism, Marxism (currently in retreat) and
capitalist globalization (currently on the rise). The so-called Left has migrated en masse from a defeated
Marxism toward the loose and partial variant of capitalist globalization contained in human rights ideology
and its pro-interventionist militarism.

But this leads to another problem, and also my third point. I am an unconditional partisan of the
philosophy of universal human rights, irrespective of whether it is based on either religion or philosophy.
At the same time, I categorically oppose the ideology of exporting these human rights by means of arms.
This is what I am referring to by the term Bombardamento Etico (Ethical Bombing) in the title of my
book. It is this dilemma which defines the tragedy of our world today. It cannot be resolved by logic or
discourse, only through the institution of a new international legal system based on democracy and
equality, one that is neither imperial nor unilateral.

Quite obviously, a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz would have been indifferent to the identity of his rescuers,
as long as they saved him from imminent death. It wouldn’t matter to him whether they belonged to a
legally sanctioned international peace-keeping force, or a national army pursuing a strategy of imperialist
domination under the banner either of the American “stars and stripes” or the Soviet “red star.” Bullets
and bombs kill irregardless of their place of origin or the ideology behind their use. Yet, today the issue
concerns precisely the existence of the American military superpower with aircraft carriers and bases
throughout the world that are used everywhere for political extortion (as they are still used in Europe
sixty-one years after the end of the war). This superpower has created a tragic situation in which the
philosophy of universal human rights conflicts directly with its distorted caricature (simulacra), the
ideology of exporting human rights by armed might.

In its original Greek meaning, tragedy refers to ahopeless situation where any decision is a bad one. The
question of human rights today is perhaps the most tragic of our times. On the one hand, people
throughout the world definitely need to be educated to respect human rights. Moreover, this education
ought to be philosophically anchored in a real universal dialogue without the obscene prejudice of
Western superiority, particularly its most despicable version which comes to us as a divine mandate issued
from Ronald Reagan’s “City on a Hill.”On the other hand, the total subservience of the United Nations to
the USA and its ignominious puppet regimes has led to a condition of rampant international illegality. It is

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not unlike situations in the historical past, when the 16th century Spanish conquistadores exported the
True God, or British colonizers of the Victorian era carried their Civilizing Mission as part of the “white
man’s burden” to all cornersof the world. Back then these ideologies were used to conceal naked
colonialist or imperialist aggression. Today it is exactly the same thing, except on a global scale, and thus
more dangerous.

6. The triumph of economic over political democracy has recently been enshrined into the Académie
Française in the person of René Girard who depicts human society as synonymous with the rituals of
scapegoating and murder. Accordingly, only markets and the mimetic activity which they foster can
effectively defer this violence. We should therefore celebrate globalization as an instance of human
progress instead of trying to knock it down. It’s no coincidence that this powerful ideology parallels the
resurgence of religion as a dominant social force. Your comments?

First, I will state my opinion about Girard’s anthropological hypothesis and then discuss how it has been
used as an ideological tool to legitimize the apparent (but really inexistent) eternal nature of the market
and commodity exchange. Finally, I will reflect on the last part of your question, what you term the
“resurgence of religion.”

I have known René Girard for many years, and have always been fascinated by his anthropological
hypothesis. I think it has the same remarkable quality as Freud’s hypothesis in Totem and Taboo (its
mythical form, not its radically different content). One can characterize both as particular reactions to the
prosaic nature of positivist science, and its historical manifestations in evolutionism and behavioral
psychology. Modern researchers in these latter traditions refuted all attempts using myth to explain social
relations. At first and for quite some time afterwards, they insisted upon implausible yet rigorously
“scientific” explanations of the historical and symbolic origins of social relations. Having realized the
failure of this rigorous scientism, they then fell back into the trap of myth-making themselves. It’s not as if
they reverted to pure and simple irrationality, but they became instead victims of the fallout from an
illusion that situated anthropology and the other social sciences in the same epistemological category as
physics, chemistry, and biology.

Girard’s hypothesis enters the picture as something akin to a modern myth, which I am in no position to
judge from a professional standpoint. It is altogether different, however, to discuss the initial reasons for
its success as well as its utility as a postmodern ideology. To begin with, Girard belongs to a long line of
philosophers who have asserted the alleged superiority of Christianity with respect to other monotheistic
religions, particularly Judaism and Islam. The usual way of proving this (grossly fictitious) “superiority”
follows the rationalist and dialectical interpretation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In this endeavor
Hegel’s method has never been equalled. Jewish and Islamic theologies both refute the idea that the divine
principle can be incarnated in a single, living being (Jesus of Nazareth).For them, Moses and Muhammad
are godly men, yet not divinity incarnate. Christianity, on the other hand, unconsciously realized that for
divinity to be real – a concrete universal principle, instead of just an abstract idea– it would have to be
self-incarnate. Hegel’s brilliance resides in his understanding the religious unconsciousness as a concept to
be superseded (aufhebung) by a truly conscious philosophy. He focused on the problem of translating
old-fashioned theology into modern, secular (philosophical) terms, and his project culminated, quite
logically, in the atheistic humanism of Feuerbach and Marx.

Today, amidst the traumatic human experiences of mass violence exemplified by Auschwitz and
Hiroshima, the historical context is much different than in Hegel’s time. It represents a challenge to
exorcise this violence. René Girard accepts the challenge, but avoids the dialectical-humanistic
interpretation of the incarnation. Instead he blazes a new trail through the interpretive ritual of
scapegoating. The relative success of his myth resides in its power to explain (or exorcise) the violence
which has become an everyday occurrence of our daily lives, especially in the USA where it has been
described “as American as apple pie.” Thus, Girard’s hypothesis fits the bill by responding to two distinct
problems, the Western superiority of Christianity and the exorcism of violence through ritualized sacrifice.

Another aspect of Girard’s thought, which you raise, is his view of the mimetic activity of market

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behavior as the only path of salvation from the legacy of human violence. Here, too, Girard positions
himself within a glorious, centuries-old tradition of apologetics for the market. As the economic historian
Albert Hirschman points out in The Passions and the Interests, Political Arguments for Capitalism
Before Its Triumph (1977), during the 18th century take-off in commodity production in parts if not
throughout the whole of Europe, the economic interests of merchants and capitalist entrepreneurs were
seen as less destructive, much less dangerous for society than were the passions of the feudal nobility and
their dependents. It was in this intellectual climate that Adam Smith’s philosophical mentor, David Hume,
introduced the notion that exchange was an instinctual human characteristic, an integral part of human
nature. This was a tremendous contribution to the triumph of the utilitarian paradigm of society – the
Social Contract – which, nevertheless, was still based on the primacy of Politics over the Economic. But
the absolute, metaphysical quality of this primacy was an intolerable notion for capitalism. The ideological
defenders of the principle of the mimetic activity of the market have not changed their strategy for the
past two hundred years. For them the market equals the pacific, sublimated, and only rational alternative
to violence (the enemy was feudal violence back then, communist violence now). It is necessarily founded
not simply in human nature (Hume, Smith, etc.) but also circumscribes man’s fate (Girard).

The facts themselves, however, invalidate these apologetics. Far from being a natural expression of
mankind, the market is largely an artificial creation, owing its proliferation to the very violence it purports
to negate. Girard’s hypothesis conflicts directly with the facts. Market monotheism, inasmuch as it is a
form of idolatry, has subjugated under its despotic rule nearly every other organized religion stemming
from the past three millennia of human history. The destruction of religion at the hands of the
Enlightenment might be described today as a decisive moment in a new religious cycle whose former
monotheistic divinity has not so much been eliminated as it has been radically redefined in conformity
with the absolutism of global capitalist production. The old authoritarian-patriarchal religion, which was
the object of Freud’s psychological criticism during the late bourgeois era, had to be liberalized because
capitalist consumerism cannot tolerate the interference of bourgeois traditions with the goal of unlimited
consumption. Marxism, I believe, mistakenly anticipated the progressive extinction of religion due to the
unfolding of science and social justice. This is just another example of the hasty and uncritical adoption of
19th century positivism into the canon. Personally, I am an atheist, in the Spinozan or Marxian sense that I
reject anthropomorphic religious conceptions, but I do consider the opposition of “the sacred” and “the
profane” to be an immutable quality of human nature. (Here one could saythat I am a “moderate”
structuralist.)This opens the way to a fascinating but very long discussion which, for reasons of space, we
cannot deal with here. However, it is an important topic for the future.

7. In your essay, “Invitation to a Radical Discussion of Marxism,” you advocate the application of
Cartesian radical doubt to Marx’s thought. This approach raises questions concerning 1) the
compatibility between human nature and communism; 2) the revolutionary potential of the working
class or proletariat; and 3) the collapse of historical communism in the 20th century. What can be
salvaged amidst these aberrations?

Descartes distinguished two forms of doubt, methodological skepticism and wholesale(or radical) doubt.
Methodological skepticism relates merely to the internal logic of scientific research, in the manner defined
by contemporary epistemologists from Lakatos and Popper to Thomas Kuhn. Wholesale doubt, on the
other hand, meant questioning the very reality of the external world, asking whether it was not in fact a
kind of a diabolical illusion. Only wholesale doubt constitutes the radical skepticism that has been
practiced by the great founders of scientific concepts and philosophical systems. Marx employed it very
rarely, his successors (Marxists) almost never, because they were infected by the false sense of certainty
created by a positivist conception of the world and the concomitantideologies of labor unions and socialist

Yet Plato was the first to give the world an example of how to apply the principle of wholesale doubt. It is
often assumed that the most radical and conclusive objections to his system of thought came from his
student, Aristotle, and then the Stoics, but this is not true. In his old age, Platowrote several dialogues,
called dialectics, in which he applied the method of wholesale doubt to the foundations of his own

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thinking.Some of this self-questioning is recognized by readers even today as the most intelligent and
deepest of all philosophical speculation. It is impossible to find a critique as honest and intelligent in the
entire history of Western philosophy. This is owing to the fact that Plato’s mentors were Socrates and
Pythagoras. From Pythagoras, who was not his direct teacher, Plato adopted the methods of geometry and
rigorous demonstration, while from Socrates he borrowed the dialogical method and also the admonition
that true knowledge consists in the renunciation of all pretensions to truly knowing.

Intellectuals in the Marxist tradition, who inherited a double dose illusion of certainty from Hegel’s
idealism and19th century positivism, never subjected their own conclusions to the platonic method of
wholesales doubt. Instead they were usually content with methodological skepticism. But Marxists should
have radically doubted at least three propositions, and before their opponents did so. There are obviously
many other problems withMarxism, so I am simplifying here, but three important questions they ought to
have raised were: 1) Is Communism – conceived as a politically self-governing and economically
self-managing society that assumes public ownership of the means of production, the withering away of
the Western monogamous family and the state – compatible not just with biologically and psychologically
defined aspects of human nature, but with human nature and culture as it has developed historically over
the millennia?2) Having attained a particular level of social and technological development, can capitalist
production develop these forces any further? Does capitalism have a limited potential comparable to the
historical limits of the Asiatic, slave-based, or feudal modes of production? Conversely, is capitalism
virtually unlimited in its capacity to develop the forces of production, obviously notwithstanding its
damaging effects on the external natural environment and internal human nature?3) Are we certain that
the working classes – unionized and salaried labor and the industrial proletariat – really are the
revolutionary subject? Are workers capable not only of rebelling, striking, and demanding a share of their
national income but also of guiding us toward an authentic social transition to a superior or communist
society? Or, in fact, is there no principal difference between the working classes and previous classes of
slaves or indentured serfs, who were structurally unable to overcome the modes of production based on
their exploitation?

The reluctance of Marxists to pursue a radical line of wholesale skepticism to these and other issues can
be explained in the terms of psychological repression, meaning a theoretical uncertainty concealed, albeit
imperfectly, within their own positivist hubris. This neurosis was tragicomic until 1991; it’s just comical
now that the remaining Marxist international is a small academic clique abiding by the university-decreed
division of labor (historians, economists, philosophers, psychologists, etc.) and a grotesque handful of
squabbling sects (Maoists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, workerists, Third Worldists, etc.). It would take
hundreds of pages to explain how their own arrogance did them in, but suffice to say that the principle of
systematic wholesale doubt should have been an indispensable component of the critical Marxist
approach. From the very beginning, this is what Marx intended, not the ideological ghosts of a pseudo-
science or a quasi-religion (Etienne Balibar’s term). There is a direct connection between the present
theoretical-political blindness and a refusal to undertake this radical approach. As a matter of fact, these
problems are two scenes in the same final act of the Marxist tragedy, whose players ignored all the
relevant cues. Only now that the curtain has fallen on the miserable history of 20th century real
communism, can we begin to write a Marxist history of Marxism.

I will try to begin by synthesizing a brief answer to the three radical doubts contained in yourquestion.

With respect to the compatibility between human nature and communism, the answer is quite simple; it all
depends on what we mean by “human nature” and “communism.” The response is negative according to
those who conceive human nature uniquely in terms of ethology or social biology (somewhat different
than sociobiology). On the other hand, a positive answer will come from those who understand that what
we inappropriately call human nature is actually a complex historical synthesis between a “first-order”
nature that can be perceived via biological and psychological means and a “second-order” nature whose
reality is more discernible through history. They know very well that humankind is the subject of a
constantly expanding process of growth and education, itself based on democracy, reciprocity, and
dialogue throughout the species. Their response is nonetheless qualified according to how we define
communism. If by this term we mean to describe an “organic” community like a monastery or military

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barracks, then communism really is incompatible with the social aspects of human nature. The tragicomic
failures in the construction of 20th century “real communism” prove this to be true. But it bears repeating
here and elsewhere that the concept of liberty, always defined in Marxism as a superstructural
characteristic, is in fact 100% anchored to the base (structure), defined as the dialectic obtaining between
the productive forces and the class-nature of the social relations of production.This statement is
philosophically-speaking somewhat idealistic, but becomes less outlandish if considered within the context
of social relations in all possible societies. Human societies – distinct from the quasi-societies of ants,
bees, etc. or the pseudo-communities of elephants and wolves – are structurally historical and universal.
Their universality is “generic” in the sense of a comprehensive anthropological repertoire of social
structures and behaviors that apply to the entire species whether in practice or in theory (Gattungwesen).
But human universality is also historical in the sense that we can explain the species only from a
perspective of the ongoing conflicts between individuals and groups residing at different levels of social
hierarchy. Such confrontations can be interrupted for several years or even a few decades by the
application of emergency measures. (I prefer the term emergency, as in the national emergency state, as
opposed to the tautological use of totalitarianism. All societies presuppose the reproduction of the totality
of their specific relations of production and their self- legitimizing ideologies.) However, it is impossible to
suspend or repress these confrontations permanently, because to do so produces entropy or implosion,
leading to general social collapse. Communism without liberty is thus incompatible with human nature.
The sooner everyone understands this, the better.

Secondly, I think that capitalism is perfectly capable of an unlimited development of productive forces,
and that Marx was entirely mistaken on this account. Understandably and eminently excusable,
nonetheless an error. Speaking of unlimited development, however, I refer exclusively to the economic
andsociological sense of the phrase, because as far as the global ecosystem is concerned, there are
ironclad limits to development. A hypothetical future socialist economy based on communitarian
consensus would doubtlessly focus on a strategy of managed, negative growth. In turn, this implies a
parallel social (anthropological) revolution that would necessarily eschew an authoritarian imposition of
asceticism or forced impoverishment. Any artificial scarcity would without doubt provoke an
individualistic-consumerist counterrevolution of the kind we’ve seen in China since 1976 or in the former
European socialist countries since 1989. For the moment, one cannot envision how this might happen or
its enabling cultural and economic forms.

The third doubt is perhaps the most controversial and reflects a century’s worth of Marxist debate.It needs
to be considered historically. It is common belief that in 1848, Marx thought that the proletariat
constituted the universal anticapitalist revolutionary Subject (it was the proletariat to whom he addressed
the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, Unite!”). And it’s also common belief that by 1867 he
specified the economic and social identity of the proletariat as the class of salaried employees, especially
industrial workers who could be politicized and unionized. Well, these common beliefs about Marx’s
persuasions about the revolutionary Subject are untrue. If you pay close attention to Marx’s mature
writings (after 1858) it becomes apparent that what he means by a revolutionary subject, capable of
carrying out a revolutionary transition between different modes of production, is not simply the working
class, defined as employees or “proletariat”, but Associated Workers Cooperatives, from the factory
managers down to the unskilled laborers. This implies unification of the entire panoply of mental skills
used in the capitalist production, a concept which the German-speaking Marx described by the English
term, General Intellect.

Even today this subject has failed to materialize. To radically doubt this idea one must ask, why has it not
yet appeared? Did Marx confound his utopian aspirations with an erroneous scientific prediction? Or, if it
hasn’t yet come together, then perhaps this will happen tomorrow? Iprefer to let this concept – the
General Intellect as revolutionary subject – stew in a broth of skepticism rather than attempt a hasty, even
if reassuring answer. If I had to venture a guess, it would be that this might happen in the future, but
certainly not according to the old deterministic, mechanistic teleology of the economics of productive
forces or even the class-conflict narrative. The proletariat’s anti-capitalist stance was evident only in the
first historical phase, when the working class was emerging from its roots in artisan labor and the
peasantry, who themselves possessed a natural communitarian solidarity. The second phase, as already

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indicated, was a process of co-opting anti-capitalist forces by economizing of the struggle – reducing it to
questions of wages and hours – and the nationalization of the masses.

Finally, I call your attention to the fact that real communism exploded into being in 1917 and ended by
imploding from 1989-91. I would thus prefer to avoid the term, aberration, because it implies a type of
moralization that does not contribute to a scientific or value-free explanation. I was quite familiar with the
Eastern European socialist regimes in the 1960s and 1970s, and entertained few illusions about popular
consensus to these regimes. Any consensus at all was entirely passive, compulsory perhaps. The new
middle class emerging from this society wanted nothing to do with reforming socialism by making it
democratic or self-managing. They simply wanted to restore capitalism, and not even along the lines of
Scandinavian social-democracy. Only the unadulterated form of Anglo-American neoliberalism would do.
Personally, I was hoping for a kind of magical, democratic self-reformist movement, and like many other
naïve Westerners, I mistook Gorbachev the Destroyer for a kind of saintly demiurge. The end result was
the current imperial geopolitical situation, that I consider to be worse than the preceding one.

A serious discussion of this matter requires further analysis. I am of the same mind as old Lukàcs, who in
1968 mumbled to his housekeeper: ‘We’ll have to start everything all over again, in another time and

8. The preceding question begs another one concerning Marx’s rupture with philosophy. His
infatuation for Scottish empiricism certainly seemed logical in respect to Capital’s quest for a
theory of value. Toward the end of his life, however, he was returning to world-narrativein the
Ethnographic Notebooks.But Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State resulted from
Engels’ glossing this research back into the utilitarian tradition. Was this oscillation between
idealism and positivism symptomatic of pre-existing tensions within Enlightenment thinking? If so,
how can the dilemma be resolved?

Karl Marx (1818-1883) had the mind of an explorer and trailblazer, and like his kindred creative spirits,
he was not, as a rule, interested in matters of systematizing or making his discoveries consistent. Geniuses
chart their own theoretical courses through a sea of contradictions, and leave to their successors the task
of producing a coherent system. (Although these ulterior systems can be codified to such a point that they
become the source of dogmatic certainty.)

The first consistent theoretical codification of Marx’s research, resulting in what was and is currently
called “Marxism,” was elaborated by Engels and Kautsky during a period of twenty years (1875-1895).
This was during the Second Industrial Revolution and the Great European Depression, which appeared to
followers of Marx as a period of tremendous revolutionary potential. A deep sense of historical and
political urgency permeated their work, because they believed the German working class to be the
exemplary revolutionary Subject and wished to arm it with a doctrine of theoretical tools to overcome
capitalism. The only problem was, that Marx had never really identified a concrete, historical class of any
particular nationality as the absolute bearer of a revolutionary consciousness. Instead he had formulated
the idea of “associated cooperative labor” (“general intellect”) and endowed it with the technical,
scientific and managerial competence necessary to act as the midwife for a communist society. For Engels
and especially Kautsky this meant squaring Marxist theory with historical reality, something that could
only be accomplished by reconfiguring the original conception of working class consciousness into the
existing framework of social-democratic political parties and labor unions. This theoretical shift was not so
much a misunderstanding of Marx’s original intent as it was a contingency of specific historical
circumstances in the absence of any class with even a vague resemblance to the elusive “associated
cooperative labor” or “the general intellect.” The German working class needed to think and speak the
same language of its adversary if it wanted to wage a successful class struggle against him. They used
what they had to work with, meaning the elements of bourgeois social-democracy including the positivist
scientific model that was the absolutely hegemonic model for fin de siècle culture.

The success of this model, described by Robert Brenner as “Smithian Marxism,” can be attributed wholly
to the historical conditions governing its elaboration. We can say that Engels and Kautsky accomplished

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their theoretical task with the utmost sincerity and the most genuine bona fides, immersed albeit in a state
of “necessary false consciousness.” Kautsky, it seems, believed that his absolute class consciousness
required simply an intellectual elaboration, but not a separate revolutionary vanguard. To make an
analogy with the dominant positivist-scientific paradigm – Newtonian absolute time and space – his
experiment ignored ‘messy’ reality and all external contaminants, such as the tendency for organized
labor to be easily swayed by economist logic and parliamentary spoils. By 1903 Lenin had realized this
error and offered a solution in What Is To Be Done? by introducing the concept of vanguard
consciousness. The workers’ vanguard or revolutionary political party was a direct reference to theory of
the Absolute. Originally formulated for the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the rising proletariat, Lenin
appropriated this model for the sake of communist revolution. To continue the analogy, one might
conclude that Lenin relativized the revolutionary potential of the working classes by introducing this new
variable to their struggle. It meant that the revolutionary character or maturity of the working classes was
no longer an historical absolute but a relative matter of the ongoing development of the vanguard
Communist Party. In this sense, Lenin could be described at the “Einstein of Marxism.” But his theory
stopped halfway, because he firmly believed in his own orthodoxy. In fact, he thought he was the first
orthodox Marxist, when in fact he was a hundred times more revisionist than even Bernstein.

In any case, Marx never assembled a coherent system. For this reason, the numerous schools of Marxism
had problems identifying the criteria necessary to evaluate and stabilize any of their pretensions to
orthodoxy. You positively cannot be orthodox to a theoretical corpus which his author never made
consistent. That’s why we are stuck with the dilemma of a Marx oscillating between idealism and
positivism.I doubt this conflict can be resolved; we can only clarify the theoretical elements that conflict
with each other.

There are certainly pre-existing tensions inherent to the Enlightenment, as you note. To discuss the matter
here would require too much space. It would be useful, however, to recapitulate the distinction between
Rousseau’s political utopia and Condorcet’s science of history and progress. The Enlightenment was itself
a cultural-dialectical phenomenon best reflected in the dialectic of the bourgeoisie (proto-bourgeoisie, to
be precise) who emerge in the midst of two distinct classes, the declining nobility and the rising
proletariat. Marx’s relationship to the Enlightenment’s cultural traditions is not so much with the
philosophes as with the German philosophical idealism of Fichte and Hegel. This is Marx’s philosophical

A brief parenthesis. My conception of Marx, the philosopher (not Marx the theoretician of the
dynamics of the capitalist mode of production) is that he was not a materialist but represented the third
and final phase of German idealism, following the path of Fichte and Hegel. Leaving asideMarx’s own
somewhat whimsical self-representation (which can’t really be used to resolve questions concerning the
nature of his disorganized philosophy) his so-called materialism is less than completely decisive. It is
relevant, perhaps, if one takes the term “matter” to be a synonym either for atheism or for the economic
base. In the former case it stands for the non-existence of the Judeo-Christian God, while the latter refers
to the material forces and relations of production as opposed to the superstructural elements.What his
philosophy really stands for, I think, is a universalistic idealismdedicated to the emancipation of humanity
from its state of alienation (Entfremdung).The concept of alienation is incompatible with materialism
because “matter”, by definition, is never estranged from itself. Only the Idea (in the sense given by Hegel,
not Locke) can become self-estranged or alienated. To clarify this point would require at least ten pages.

The philosophical enigma of Marx arises from the fact that he grafted the theory of alienation directly
onto the empirico-utilitarian labor theory of value (Hume, Smith, Ricardo, etc.). It would be fair to say
that Marx’s theory of alienation coincides with the theory of value; in other words, humanity is
historically alienated because the social links which govern our existence are based on exchange value. To
the Italian philosopher, Lucio Collettti, who began as a critical Marxist revolutionary and died as a
pro-Berlusconi parliamentarian, this revelation was a cue to abandon Marxism, which he declared to be an
irrational form of modern Neoplatonism. My view is completely the opposite. Marx’s philosophy has been
erroneously interpreted as a materialism, but in reality it is the third and final phase of classical German
idealism. (Schelling is a kind of pantheistic romantic, not a genuine historical idealist.)It is this very quality

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that makes his philosophy worthwhile and useful today. Though my point is already pretty clear,I will
emphasize the distinction another way. Marx’s philosophical depiction of communism as the conclusion of
history was a type of idealism, whereas the epistemological model he employed for his analysis of
capitalist relations of production was strongly influenced by positivist science. From a subjective
standpoint, Marx did not like positivism and considered it “vulgar.” Yet this did not prevent him from
elaborating a fundamentally positivistic theory about the future collapse of capitalism due to its internal
contradictions. No one, not even an undisputed genius like Marx, is ever free from the theoretical horizons
of their time.

The German term, Wissenschaft, is usually translated into English as science. The French use the same
word, science. Nevertheless, the three terms are hardly interchangeable, and to disregard their
incommensurability leads to serious misunderstanding. Wissenschaft signifies “philosophical science” in
the context of early 19th century idealism, specifically Hegel. The English science implies empiricism and
utilitarianism, eg. John Stuart Mill; while in French science is more properly linked to the rationalist
positivism of Auguste Comte. These three separate meanings (philosophical idealism, empirico-
utilitarianism, rationalist-positivism) lead to three distinct models of the scientific enterprise. Philosophical
idealism, for example, does not get into the business of predicting history or even the outcome of
historical processes. Hegel himself wrote, “When philosophy paints its grey on grey, then has a shape of
life grown old. By philosophy’s grey on grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of
Minerva spreads it wings only with the falling of the dusk.” The empirico-utilitarian model lends itself
most ably to economics. It was no coincidence that Smith and Ricardo were inspired by an economic
paradigm. Finally, the rationalist-positivist model is more suited to freewheeling, independent intellectuals
and their fellow-travelers, Louis Althusser for example.

Toward the end of his life, Marx did appear to be returning to world-historical narrative. One could draw
several conclusions from this. What Ibelieve is that, given his strong sense of self-criticism and lacking the
presumptions of an academic or bureaucrat, he was simply no longer certain of the validity of his
hypothesis concerning the evolution of capitalism. During the final decadeof his life (1873-1883) Marx
witnessed the initial phase of imperialist competition and the nationalistic cooptation of the working
masses. Tormented by his own physical condition and domestic problems too, he decided against
publishing the so-called second and third volumes of Capital. He could have had them published if he had
wanted to, so I don’t think this was an accident. Marx just didn’t want them published because he was no
longer sure about their content. It was Engels who transcribed and edited them in 1885 and 1894.

It’s impossible to prove this, so it will have to remain a hypothetical observation. But the conclusion I
would draw is the following: The return to a more narrative, thus less structural, conception of universal
history can only be explained as a symptom of the nausea Marx began to feel toward the excessive
economism attributed to his models between 1850 and 1870. He certainly didn’t abandon these models,
but it’s undeniable that not even one of his hypotheses was ever proven during his lifetime. The so-called
General Intellect never materialized, at least not in the sense which he intended. As a sober social
scientist, he simply dropped the term from his vocabulary. It never appears in his mature writings. The
real, existing working class (not its wishful, ideal, revolutionary doppelgänger) demonstrated an
unmistakable proclivity to acquiesce to the politico-electoral system of its time. Capital was beginning to
be read less as a work of critical political economy, yet more as a work of “leftist” political economy
(obviously not the same thing).

All of this, of course, doesn’t diminish my philosophical admiration for Marx; in fact it makes it greater,
indeed much greater. The personal tragedy of many of the highest caliber thinkers always follows the
same script: hand in hand with the growing maturity of his thought there grows within him an increasing
uncertainty about his own hypotheses. His successors were never up to the task of his courageous
self-criticism. Instead they sped along a blind alley, building a pseudo-science and a quasi-religion in the
process. It now becomes our job to find a way out this dead end.

9. Your interest in communitarianism is an implicit acknowledgement that Marx and his successors erred
by assigning a revolutionary role to the working classes. Do you mean that the proletariat could only ever

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retard or accelerate capitalist development but never move beyond it?

My short answer is: yes, I think that the proletariat can only retard or accelerate capitalist development
but never move beyond it. But my opinion has very little to do with either world history, which, being
very busy with greater tasks, cannot worry about it, or the century-old and inconclusive Marxist
discussion about the revolutionary subject. (There’s nothing accidental about this inconclusiveness, by the
way.) It’s useful, however, first to clarify the relevant terms and concepts and then open up an unbiased,
historical comparison of the major revolutions of the 20th century.

As to clarification, we often use working class, wage-labor, and proletariat interchangeably: but they are
not really synonyms. First, the working class is a sociological concept, whereas wage-labor designates an
economic concept, and proletariat signifies a philosophical idea. The working class connotes modern
industrial (or manual) labor that is currently in relative decline in relation to service and part-time labor
practices of the new flexible capitalist production. If the current trend continues, it’s likely that eventually
industrial workers will meet the same destiny as peasants: in other words, a sharp decline in their
demographic percentage relative to entire salaried population. Another factor is the worldwide variation in
wages and subsistence costs, or even the way subsistence can be defined. This creates tremendous
differentials for what we might call direct and indirect salaries, and the kinds of services they purchase. If
you compare direct and indirect salaries in the USA and in India, the differentials become astronomical,
and therefore seem to preclude any kind of international revolutionary solidarity. For the time being at
least, there are no perceptible indications of such unity.Finally, the proletariat was for Marx the class
inherently held “in chains.” For that reason it appeared to be the unique world-revolutionary subject who,
absolutely needing to liberate himself, would liberate all of humanity in the same process.

The Marxist tradition has often improperly conflated these three concepts, provoking much confusion. For
the most part, it results from an ideological use of these terms for the purpose of political mobilization.
This is certainly justifiable (I abhor theoretical snobbery) but it also conceals gaps in our understanding,
thus endlessly postponing their necessary clarification. But the time for clearing up all this theoretical and
political mess has definitely come. In Primo Levi’s words, ‘If not now, when?’

Moving from a semantic and conceptual clarification to an historical comparison of Marxist- (or Marxist-
Leninist) inspired revolutions, we can begin by indicating two distinct types of collective, revolutionary
subjectivities – class revolutionaries and communitarian revolutionaries. I realize that this is an artificial
division and, in fact, the two types are mutually interwoven. But I think it’s better for now to accept it as
an imperfect but useful schematic. For example, the Russian revolution definitely represented working
class revolutionaries in 1917, but the ensuing civil war (1918-1921) encompassed poor and middle
peasants who joined the Red Army en masse. The victorious Chinese revolution in 1949 was a form of
class revolution based on peasants. But the development of industry from 1950-1970 enlarged this base to
encompass the urban working class. LatinAmerican revolutions, on the other hand, were based mostly on
populist-communitarian interests: in Cuba, for example, or more recently in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Communitarianism issomewhat different between Europe and the US. In the U.S., communitarianism has
its roots in the foundation of the republic, a process inwhich the European state system played a
secondary role. The communitarianism currently in vogue academically (Sandel, Walzer, eg.) seems to be
a minor adjustment or reformist moderation of neoliberalindividualism. At least I don’t see it as either
original or prescriptive of genuine autonomy. Christopher Lasch, whom many Europeans consider a
communitarian,was for me a radical sociologist in the tradition of Veblen or C. Wright Mills. However, I
don’t know English that well and belong to the last European generation of the Francophone intelligentsia
educated before 1980. Today European scholars are largely Anglophone, and have undergone rapid
Americanization. It’s entirely possible that Iam mistaken on these points, since I’ve never lived, worked,
or taught in the USA. It just seems like there is a robust and progressive communitarian tradition there.

It’s not quite the same in Europe, where communitarian discourse has been clouded by Tönnies’ 19th
century opposition between society (Gesellschaft) and community (Gemeinschaft). Philosophically, this
was a false juxtaposition whose symbolic reference was the imperialist conflict between England

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(“society”) and Germany (“community”). This cultural distortion stood not only for imperialism but also
for latent anti-Semitism. Eventually it wound up in Hitler’s vocabulary as “the popular community”
(Volksgemeinschaft). For this reason Europeans remain suspicious of the word community.It still has
unpleasant, right-wing connotations and appears as a more or less hidden apologetics for the fascists and
Nazi communities of the 1920s and 1930s.

At the same time, the term community ought not be dismissed as solely a vessel filled with the symbolic
venom of reaction and organicism. Analysis of Marx’s own manuscripts shows a fusion of the terms, class
and community, in his thinking. It might be necessary to disinfect the term community from its racist, and
nationalistic contaminants in order to reappropriate its democratic, rational, cohesive, and its
internationalist (why not?) meaning.

In order to accomplish this in the near future we have to guard against promoting a dichotomy that
opposestheterms class and community. That would be tantamount to committing a postmodern error of
reviving the modern dichotomy between society versus community. It will take a long time and
considerable effort to eradicate the obscure semantics and errant ideologies that have accumulated over
two centuries. This process might be facilitated by enlarging the communitarian debate from the USA and
Europe, where it remains radioactive, to countries and regions where communitarian practices – be they
conservative or revolutionary – continue to flourish (sub-Saharan African, eg.) in the absence of so much
ideological and semantic baggage of misunderstandings and ambiguities.Perhaps this could also lead to
elaborating one positive aspect of capitalist globalization – the end of Eurocentrism and hysterical
Western narcissism, evil twins that have destroyed and ruined our revolutionary generations.

10. In his correspondence with Vera Zasulich, Marx acknowledged a specific communitarian model
(the Russian mir) and affirmed the possibility of using it (in the absence of an industrial proletariat)
to promote a great leap forward to communism. What is your position with regard to these
apparently contradictory utopian visions, the communist workers state versus communitarian

This will allow me to go deeper into the preceding theme of the commensurability between class and
communitarian models in Marx’s original conception of communism. We are now familiar with the
inauspicious historical results occasioned by Engels and Kautsky’s error in attributing an exclusively
classist character to his work in the course of systematizing it. Classism was problematic from the start,
due to the nature of modern industrial production. Within this specific process the collective quality of
labor is progressively incorporated into the machine itself. By the same token, the worker himself
becomes atomized and his labor reduced to a series of repetitive motions. As a political doctrine then,
classism can very easily develop into a form of anomie, or what I would call mass individualism. It
suffices to read Braverman on the relation between industrial labor and monopoly capital. Although his
analyses antedate the so-called informationrevolution, they leave no doubt as to the weak prospects for
any kind of automatic socialist solidarity arising from industrial production. I don’t mean to bash
“classism” here; that would be nonsense. However, just as criticizing Israel does not make one an
anti-Semite, I hope it will be obvious that by applying a critical optic to the illusion of class it is not my
intention to detract from two hundred years of working class or proletarian struggles. My goal is only to
emphasize that the two models – class and communitarian – are complementary tools for an effective
criticism of capitalism today.

Marx’s correspondence with Vera Zasulich is quite well-known to students of Marxism, yet they always
seem to ignore its potentially explosive side. In reality, Marx’s acknowledgement of the possibilities
inherent in the Russian communitarian model – collective property in the mir – for evolving into a form of
communism without transiting capitalism represented a true scientific revolution in terms of his own
system. In epistemological terms, this stands for the so-called exceptional case, which according to Kuhn
is always the point of departure in the development of scientific crisis and its resolution into a new

In other words, Marx’s implemented two distinct models, a structuralist model describing the internal rules

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necessary for the developing capitalist mode of production (obviously an abstraction without direct
correspondence to socio-historical reality) and a largely narrative model embracing numerous cultural
features which cannot be reduced to class relations.

Your question regards the compatibility between the utopian visions corresponding to these two distinct
models, the communist workers state and communitarian socialism.In order to respond, I first need to
make a brief digression concerning the scientific and utopian aspects of Marx’s thought. According to
Engels, Marx’s great historical achievement was the transformation of utopian socialism into a science.
This perception was grounded in Engels’ avid fascination with the mathematical and experimental models
of the natural sciences. Of course that was before contemporary physics entered its crisis period, followed
thirty years later by the elaboration of relativity theory and quantum mechanics.

In the utopian-scientific model, or if you will, the scientific-utopian model, both terms are soldered
together in such a way that it requires a mental abstraction (an artifice) to separate them. It obviously
represents an oxymoron, but one with tremendous heuristic value. Dialectical thought thrives on semantic
paradox, while those who reject them always tend to slip back into the reassuring illusions of good old

Marx’s utopianism is not directly related to the real historical experiments in socialist living founded by
Owen, Saint-Simon, and Fourier. Rather it is a continuation of Hegel’s idealist philosophy, which was a
true utopia based on the project of elevating real history to the level of rational philosophy. Marcuse
reaffirmed this goal in his indispensable book, Reason and Revolution (1941). Of course Hegel has “31
flavors” and there isn’t much space to discuss the various interpretations; but suffice to say that all of
them can be reduced to two fundamental perspectives. The first is genuine historical-realism, making
Hegel into the valedictorian a posteriori of historical events. The second is a utopian project which
upholds human rationality as the dynamic force guiding intellectual and moral reform. Both interpretations
are firmly rooted in Hegel’s writings.His independent-minded student, Karl Marx, adopted the second one
(the utopian project), but the Marxists who succeeded him opted for the first (historical realism) and
transformed it into a kind of historical justification(ism). Although this might appear to be a paradox, the
theoretical codification of Marx during the twenty years from 1875 to 1895 reflected genuine right-wing
Hegelianism. Those who continued the legacy of Left Hegelianism were the intellectual heretics and
communist dissenters such as Adorno, Bloch, Benjamin, Lukács, etc.

Marx’s communism thus remains a Hegelian utopia, as opposed to the utopian visions of Thomas More or
Gracchus Babeuf.At the same time Marx was a product of the same Enlightenment legacy that
transformed historical knowledge into the science exemplified in the works of Ferguson, Millar, and
Condorcet. Althusser went even further by claiming that Marx had virtually discovered the Continent of
History. (This was a slight exaggeration but well-stated with a Parisian flair for doing one’s utmost to
tweak the bourgeoisie.) Nonetheless, Althusser very accurately identified Marx’s role in constructing a
scientifically valid model of historical knowledge based upon four basic concepts: mode of production,
social forces of production, social relations of production, and ideology (representations of power and

If the essential component of utopia is hope, then for social science it is prediction. This distinction is
evident in comparing Ernst Bloch’s hopefulness (Hoffnung) to Max Weber’s predictability
(Berechenbarkeit). But in my opinion, the time when these principles could be held in a paralyzing
opposition to each other is already behind us. The communist workers state and communitarian socialism
must henceforth be contemplated together. The problems begin in trying to figure out exactly how to do
this. As Marx brilliantly observed, forecasting history is just as impossible as writing recipes for next
year’s restaurant menu. We can only seek to elaborate a few preliminary concepts.

In his 1917 utopian tract, State and Revolution, Lenin conceived the communist workers state in the most
transparent terms as an economically self-managed and politically self-governing entity. His formula
outlined a type of management simple enough for even a cook to be able to run the state. That is to say,
he likened the state to a domestic unit where the homemaker judiciously prioritizes spending in order to

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stay within the means of the family budget. (Essentials first, then necessities, desirable non-essentials, and
finally luxuries.) Everything – all productive labor, government activities, domestic transactions, etc. –
was to occur in plain sight. Lenin had few apprehensions concerning the visibility of private behavior, and
he was a stranger to liberal traditions of individualistic privacy. He also held a profound belief that the
working class, wage-laborers and the proletariat would derive a new unity from their education and shared
technological progress which they would, in turn, apply successfully to self-managedproduction units and
political self-government through a system of councils. According to the old formula, Soviets +
electrification = Socialism. 20th century history refuted these expectations. In fact, the phenomenon of
real communism (1917-1991) was subject to two distinct forms of structural critique – the liberal charge
of totalitarianism and the Trotskyite one of bureaucracy. Although history denied Lenin his aspirations, it
did not falsify (in Popper’s terms) the rational, moral, and social kernel of communitarian socialism. From
a long term historical perspective, the class-based model of a communist workers state ought to be seen as
an incomplete historical form of socialist communitarianism. In this context, history has not yet ended; the
social, moral, and political struggle for socialism remains on solid ground. On the other hand, I think that
all theories promoting a miraculous leap forward into communism have been invalidated definitively,
whether they resemble the formula practiced so tragically by Mao Zedung (1956-1976) or the comical
fantasy of Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring multitude proffered by Negri in his struggle against the Empire.
Communitarian socialism is a learning process. The mistakes, dead-ends, and absurdities are the price we

11. A constant theme in your work is the call for a return to classical German ontology, which you
characterize as a “philosophy of liberty.”Can you explain how Hegel’s Aufhebung translates into a
utopia of personal freedom?

Before Marx expounded on the principles of equality and solidarity, he was first devoted to thinking about
liberty. Naturally this was not liberty in the individualistic-possessive (liberal) tradition but in terms of
classical German philosophy, particularly Hegel. Hegel’s entire philosophy of history is based upon the
idea of liberty and its progressive extension from the single man (Eastern Antiquity) to the few
(Greco-Roman World) to the many (Christianity, especially Protestantism).

A close philological reading of Marx’s original works will verify my statement. It’s also true that Marx
never systematically organized his ideas on liberty.In the few places they are mentioned, however, there
can be no doubt concerning his intentions in. For example, the Grundrisse contains some relevant
passages defining precapitalist society as characterized by “personal dependencies,” capitalist society as
one of “personal independence,”and future communist society as a society of “individual liberty.” He
writes “individual liberty” not “collective equality.”There have even been some critics like the French
thinker, Louis Dumont, who accuse Marx not of excessive collectivism, rather for his excessive
individualism. I don’t agree with Dumont, but would advise anyone to seriously consider what he has to

Theoretically speaking, I take the position that in Marxist terms “liberty” fits into the base instead of the
superstructure. The term has many different facets– philosophical, historical, economic and social – that
would require hundreds of pages to describe. It’s important to note, however, that freedom of opinion,
expression, and political activity do not constitute the totality represented by liberty. They are only
products of an abstractionseparated from the total reproduction of the individual and the community. At
the same time, the notion ofliberty, derived from the Greek concept of isegoria – in other words, the
citizen’s (polites) right to express himself freely in the public assembly (ecclesia) – is not just a Western
idea but an anthropological statement about the social, rational, and universal orientations of human
nature toward recognition of others. This may sound like a somewhat evolutionistic vision, but I would
submit that it’s at least a beneficial use of evolutionism.

Above and beyond the social relations of production, which are one-hundred percent structural, exist
complex social relations that hold a community together and prevent its dissolution by explosion or
implosion. On the one hand, tribal social relations have subsisted for millennia based on myth, totem, or
magic. They certainly cannot be distinguished in terms of any freedom of expression. On the other hand,

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we are now living in a time of universal geography and culture, not to be confused with
economicglobalization. Thesecontemporary developments have laid the groundwork of a unified world
civilization for the first time in human history. At this point I cannot think of any modern (I repeat,
modern) not postmodern) social relations that cannot be characterized by the form of liberty which Rosa
Luxembourg called “the freedom to think differently.”

Until now Marxists have always demonstrated an irrational apprehension when it comes to openly
acknowledging this kind of freedom as a fundamental and necessary element of modern society. Why this
fear? A number of reasons come to mind. First, their polemics against liberalism and capitalism have
always portrayed this form of liberty as the legitimization of their alleged symbolic superiority while
simultaneously covering up the dirty facts of exploitation, colonialism, and imperialism.It also derives
from their fear of being called idealists or insufficiently materialist, as if the human body could be divided
into materialist organs (stomach, intestines) and idealistic organs (heart, brain).

Another motivation lies in their subjectively honest desire to join, at least symbolically, the proletariat’s
struggle against capitalist exploitation. This sentiment led them, in turn, to accept the absurd proposition
that free and open expression was only a form of petty bourgeois anarchism. While it’s true that petty
bourgeois anarchism still exists to a certain extent, this class has been largely subsumed into the new
global middle class and in the process purged of its “unhappy” communist consciousness as well as its
fascist dreams of omnipotence.At the same time, the fact that this anarchism exists does not mean that
constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression is necessarily an exclusive part of its doctrine. The idea
of liberty as a bourgeois privilege or an aspect of petty-bourgeois anarchism reflects the bureaucratic
ideology of real communist states, which divided their people between those who were faithful (good
people) and those who were dissident (bad people).We now know where this kind of thinking leads,

I advocate a return to classical German ontology; not because it’s perfect, but because it needs to be
worked on and modified, particularly in regard to some of its Eurocentric features. However, it remains
the best philosophical platform we have today. Whoever opposes the postmodern aberrations, yet looks
upon classical German philosophy with suspicion or contempt, will sooner or later be eaten by
postmodernism or its ugly twin, Bush’s religious fundamentalism, itself a strange type of Anglo-American
postmodern religion that substitutes ecstatic emotion for dialogical reason.

Many authoritative Marxist thinkers of the 20th century understood this, beginning with Lukács in one of
his late works, The Ontology of Social Being.Inevitably they stopped too soon, because it’s impossible to
transcend one own historical and symbolic horizons. But we have survived the flood. And like Noah
emerging from his Ark, having taken note of all the surviving species, we need to start thinking about the

Critical Bibliography

Costanzo Preve has published over two dozen books and more than a hundred articles in Italy and
Western Europe. Among his many publishers was the legendaryVangelista Editions which published the
memoirs of many communists spanning the period 1930-60. Although Preve had philosophical differences
when it came to controversial themes such as Stalin’s legacy and that of Togliatti in Italy, Vangelista
provided him with an important forum during the historical collapse of real communism from
1989-94.Later he collaborated on three important books with Gianfranco La Grassa who, along with
Charles Bettleheim in France, was one of Europe’s foremost exponents of Maoism. Published from
1994-94 Oltre la gabbia d’acciaio (“Beyond the Iron Cage”),La fine di una teoria (“The End of
Theory”),and Il teatro dell’assurdo (“Theater of the Absurd”) mark the beginning of Preve’s dissociation
from the classical Marxist model and a deepening of his critique of real communism thus setting the stage
for his more recent work.Since 1997 many of his articles have appeared first in Koiné,a journal issued by
CRT Editions which has published his recent books.

Below is arepresentativeselection of Preve’s major works followed by references to existing articles in

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English translation.

Selected Works

La filosophia imperfetta. Una proposta di ricostuzione del marxismo contemporaneo. Milano: Franco
Angeli, 1984. (A discussion of Lukacs’ ontology of social being.)

La passione durevole. Milano: Vengelista, 1989. (A reaffirmation of the author’s commitment to social
alternatives to capitalism.)

L’eguale libertà. Saggio sulla natra humana. Milano: Vangelista, 1994. (On the role offreedom in the
history and theory capitalist criticism.)

Il bombardamento etico. Pistoia: Editice CRT, 2000. (A radical critique of the ideological uses of human
rights law by contemporary American imperialism.)

Marx Inattuale. Eredità e Prospettiva. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2004. (Exposition and analysis of
Marx’s philosophical model.)

Il Popolo al Potere. Il Probleme della democrazia nei suoi aspetti sotirici e filosofici. Casalecchio (Bo):
Arianna, 2006. (Statement of Preve’s political philosophy.)

Elogia del Communitarismo. Napoli: Edizioni Controcorrente, 2006. (Exploration of the democratic
possibilities of communitarianism.)

Storia del marxismo. Napoli: Edizioni La Città de Sole, 2006. (Analytical history of Marx’s thought and
Marxism from 1840-1991.)

English Language Publications

“Notes on the Ontological Path of Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukács,” New German Critique, No. 45, Fall

“Viewing Lukács from the 1980s,” Journal of Modern History, No. 4, December 1987.

“The Dream and the Reality. The Spiritual Crisis of Western Marxism,” in Benjamin Page, Editor.
Marxism and Spirituality, An International Anthology. London: Berginand Garvey, 1993. Pp. 47-62.

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