Crisis in the Imperialist World Order

Revista Opera

11 min read

Domenico Losurdo on Catalonia, the Middle East, Russia and China

In September of 2017, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Brazilian publisher Editora Boitempo organized in São Paulo an international seminar entitled "1917: The Year That Shook the World."

The Brazilian magazine Revista Opera had the opportunity of interviewing Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo, one of the greatest living Western Marxist thinkers. Professor of the University of Urbino in Italy, Losurdo is the author of books like War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century, Liberalism: A Counter-History and Il linguaggio dell'impero [The Language of Empire].

We have translated both parts of the interview in full. In the first part of the interview, Professor Losurdo addresses the independence movement in Catalonia, fascism and China. In the second part, he grapples with the problems of balkanization and the Kurdish question in the Middle East, the restoration of capitalism in Russia, and the importance of China in global geopolitics. You can read both parts in Portuguese here [Part I] and here [Part 2].


PART I

Revista Opera
We thank you, sir, for once again taking the time to meet us. In a previous interview, you once spoke about the fact that capitalism has currently reached the level in which even our emotions are under control. Could you say more about this?

Domenico Losurdo
My initial point was the statement that we find in The German Ideology by Marx and Engels, which is that dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. In other words, the class that has a monopoly over material production also has a monopoly over the production of ideas, a point made in The German Ideology.

I said, and in fact, I have this opinion, that today it's necessary to understand as well that the dominant class has the potential to control even the production of our emotions. Before the neocolonial wars, against Yugoslavia, Iraq or any other small country, for example, we saw on television terrible images which were constructed with the purpose of demonstrating the enemy's cruelty. And in this case, we have—I usually use this expression—the terrorism of indignation. That indignation is provoked artificially to further the domination of the world. That is something new, something that wasn't really possible in the time of Marx and Engels, but nowadays this is how wars are prepared.

Revista Opera
Professor, in this sense, when we speak of this "emotions industry," we are speaking of the media. You mentioned television, but today we have many authors addressing the rise of the internet from a very optimistic point of view, of the role that it has in covering an emancipatory process, of the formation of identity that is contrary to capitalism. What do you make of this?

Domenico Losurdo
Well, that position is foolishly optimistic. It's clear that the invention of the press was substantially progressive. Clearly! Nevertheless, even the press is used against emancipation. Take radio—the invention of the radio was similar in this way. However, we can't understand Nazism and fascism, for example, without the use of the radio. The problem isn't the question of innovation; every invention can be used in one way or another. In other words, the internet can also be used as a tool in the preparation for war. Today, the United States criticizes Russia for using the internet to "destabilize American democracy." The internet doesn't mean eternal or universal peace─the internet can be used even in the context of geopolitical struggle.

Revista Opera
At this moment, people are paying special attention to the movement in Catalonia for independence. Do you have any opinion in relation to this movement?

Domenico Losurdo
What is my opinion on Catalonia?

Revista Opera
Yes, about the independence movement.

Domenico Losurdo
My opinion is this: I'm not saying that Catalonia is either right or wrong. First, an analysis: Catalonia isn't an oppressed nation. Catalonia is the wealthiest region of Spain. The Catalan language is respected and taught in Catalonia.

To understand Catalonia, we must consider other, similar phenomena. For example, in Italy, we have a secessionist movement in the north. The north of Italy isn't oppressed by the south—it's the wealthiest region of the country. What, then, explains the revolt of these regions? They say that they must pay for the south, that they must pay for those "semi-African" regions of Italy. In other words, in the north of Italy, you often see a racist ideology. The secessionist movements in Italy, in [Spain] and in Belgium occur in their wealthiest regions, and we can say─in my opinion─that the privileged class, in a country with great regional differences, could develop a struggle in defense of its privileges through secessionist movements. In other words, in a country like Italy, where regional differences are strong, the struggle against the welfare state can manifest itself as a struggle for secession. The destruction of the welfare state is carried out through the destruction of the nation-state.

Revista Opera
Still relating to Europe, we recently had the German elections [which took place on 24 September 2017 – Ed.] in which the far-right took an impressive share of the vote, I believe 13%, and today we have the idea that fascism can't be reborn. I would like for you to comment on the future of Europe.

Domenico Losurdo
I believe we have different situations. Of course, we must be worried about the rise of xenophobic movements, like in Germany for example. But I don't believe that we will have a repeat of the situation in Europe in the '30s, and I have a decisive argument for this: Today, Europe and the western world, in general, prepare their wars in the name of democracy. This situation is very different from that of classical fascism. The wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia, for example, were neocolonial wars, but they were prepared and carried out in the name of the defense and expansion of democracy.

Therefore, I don't believe we will have the rebirth of fascism in Europe in a classical sense. Even the major wars against China or against Russia are today planned in the name of democracy. Clearly, the situation is different in Ukraine—there, we have a long tradition, even after the end of the Second World War, of the West supporting the fascist movement to defeat the Soviet Union. And now we have the continuation of this against Russia, these fascist movements in Ukraine aren't new phenomena. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union was very respected in the world, and relying on neo-fascist movements wasn't a good idea─but now, against Russia, it is for the West. But even in this case, the West argues that Russia is a dictatorship and that these fascist movements are representatives of democracy.

Revista Opera
Given your intimate knowledge of Gramsci's work, it would be interesting for you to deal with counter-hegemony, for the ways to challenge, to struggle against the hegemonic order.

Domenico Losurdo
We don't have a single answer to this problem. In China, for example, the Communist Party insists that it's necessary to struggle against two forms of historical revisionism: the first, being the condemnation and demonization of the Mao era; and the second, the condemnation and demonization of Deng Xiaoping. Both forms of historical revisionism are instruments of imperialist and capitalist war, and we should take part in the defense of the People's Republic of China and the defense of Socialism in general. And it's clear that in every country, the communist party must participate in the social and political struggle and develop roots among the masses. There's no one correct answer, and therefore we need a communist party in every country.

With_President_of_China_Xi_Jinping_before_a_roundtable_meeting_of_leaders_during_the_Belt_and_Road_international_forum
Photo by the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office / Wikimedia Commons

PART II

Revista Opera
We dealt with the secession movements in Catalonia and Italy, but we also had a referendum in Iraq for the secession of the regional Kurdish government. And we see that there's tension in what we could call "global resistance" between self-determination and balkanization. What's your opinion on the Kurdish question in Iraq?

Domenico Losurdo
In this case, we have a third situation. The Kurds were for a long time an oppressed nation, but there are times in which an oppressed nation is used by imperialism to combat another oppressed nation. The classic historical example, if we consider the start of the Second World War: Hitler often spoke of the situation of the German minority in Czechoslovakia, and Hitler was right in the sense that this minority was discriminated against, that the government feared the activities of this minority. However, on the other side, that German minority was the instrument for Hitler to liquidate the Czechoslovak nation. And we have something similar today in the Middle East.

For some time now, conservative and neoconservative thinkers in the United States have spoken in favor of destroying the unity of Iraq, Syria and Libya. We had the destruction of an entire state in Libya, which today is no longer a state. That was the intention in Syria, and the same applies in Iraq. In all these cases, we find the aggressiveness of imperialism and colonialism, which isn't novel. In the case of the war against Vietnam, the United States and the CIA used a minority. Maybe that minority wasn't well treated, as it was suspected of having an alliance with the US. But the United States tried to use them. In theory, a struggle of this minority was a struggle for national liberation–but the reality was very different. The struggle of this minority was used by the US with an aim towards the oppression of the Vietnamese nation. And something similar is happening now in the Middle East; it's not by chance that Kurdish independence is defended with such vehemence by Israel.

In the Middle East, we have the attempted creation of a new Israel. Israel was an enclave against the Arab World, and now the US and Israel are trying to realize something similar with the Kurds. That doesn't mean to say that the Kurds don't have rights and that they haven't been oppressed for a long time, but now there's the danger of them becoming the instruments of American imperialism and Zionism. This is the danger—this the situation, unfortunately.

Revista Opera
As October marks the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I would like you to speak of that historic event, as well as of the figure of Stalin, having in mind that you dedicated an entire book to him.

Domenico Losurdo
I believe that the Bolsheviks made an error in describing the history of pre-socialist Russia as a history of constant expansionism. That isn't true, because while Tsarist Russia was for a long time an imperialist, expansionist power, at other times pre-socialist Russia was also oppressed. For example, for at least two centuries Russia was dominated by the Mongols. Later, it was invaded by the Teutonic Knights, and after that, it was invaded by Charles VII of Sweden, Napoleon, etc. At the start of the 17th century, Moscow was occupied by Polish troops. In other words, it's an error to treat Russia –and this error was already in Marx– as a permanently expansive power. In Russia, it's possible to find an oscillation: an expansionist power which in situations of crisis runs the risk of becoming a colony.

Years later, Khrushchev and the Trotskyites described the Soviet Union as a country that was for thirty years governed by a cruel and stupid dictator. The entire history of Russia and of the Soviet Union was destroyed. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Soviet people were without their identity—it was no longer possible to identify themselves in Russian history or in Soviet history because that history was described as one of uninterrupted crime. This was the condition for the restoration of capitalism in Russia! In this case, we have confirmation of the statement that Trotskyism is an integral part of anti-communism.

Revista Opera
In our last interview, you started speaking about China but you said that you wouldn't speak about China then. Can we speak about China today? [Laughs]

Domenico Losurdo
Well, I believe that China is a very encouraging example for the communist, progressive, and democratic movement. China continues to develop economically and technologically, and today perhaps the technological development is most important, because it means the loss, on the part of the West, of a technological monopoly. In this sense, the weapon of sanctions, so often used by the Western world and the United States, isn't as strong as it was in the past. Because we can take the example of Cuba: Yes, Cuba is blockaded, but, fortunately, it can have commercial relations with China and can import advanced technology.

The development of China signifies a moment of crisis in the imperialist world order. China can contribute, and effectively already is, to the democratization of the world order, and in this sense I'm optimistic─of course, we have the danger of war because imperialism isn't pleased with the technological development of China, and therefore one of our tasks in these times is the struggle for peace against the politics of imperialist war.

Revista Opera
And with regards to the DPRK, North Korea? Because we have the impression that the advances of imperialism against Korea are part of the advances against China.

Domenico Losurdo
We can criticize some aspects of North Korean foreign policy, but it's necessary to recognize this principal aspect: North Korea is under threat. And nuclear weapons can deter the imperialist threat. Of course, imperialism isn't only thinking about Korea, but also of China; it is an attempt to encircle China. The "pivot to Asia" started under Obama and Hillary Clinton, and that "pivot" continues and could be the preparation of a major war against China, but the development of China is very interesting and encouraging for the democratic movement in the world. I believe that the "One Belt One Road" initiative is a grandiose project, and not just for making possible the development of the world economy, but for making possible the democratization of international relations. In this sense, I believe we must explain this project in every country. Embrace it [Laughs]. Perhaps the Communist Party can organize something to explain this project. Our little Communist Party in Italy organized a meeting about "One Belt One Road"; perhaps that would be interesting for Brazil as well.

Revista Opera
Since the last interview that we did with you, a lot has changed in Brazil… for the worse. [Laughs]

Domenico Losurdo
Yes. [Laughs]

Revista Opera
Last time we spoke of a coup d'état, and now we speak in a context in which there are soldiers making pronunciamentos, in practice, about the intention to intervene in politics, for example. I'd like you to talk a little about the decay in the social and political situation in Brazil since your last visit.

Domenico Losurdo
I believe that the limitation of freedom, even of freedom of expression and thought, is a general phenomenon in the capitalist world today. And so, I said that although I don't believe that we are awaiting a new [wave] of classical fascism, we should also say that the limitation of freedom is a reality. We spoke of Ukraine; and in "democratic Ukraine," in the west of the country, the limitation of liberty is a very great danger, with the oppression of a national minority, anti-communist legislation… but even in Western Europe, we have had the limitation of freedom.

In a situation of permanent economic crisis, in a situation in which the danger of war grows, the ruling class feels the need to limit freedom: the freedom of the progressive movement and of left movements. In other words, I do not believe there will be a repeat of classical fascism, but we must note that this limitation of freedom is already a reality.


Revista Opera

Revista Opera is an independent publication founded in 2012 producing counter-hegemonic and left-wing journalism that sheds light on the day's most important events. As with Konkret Media, Revista Opera is an independent initiative, which means that we do not have the support of NGOs, institutes, think tanks, companies or parties. They depend on the contribution of their readers to maintain their publication going. You can find ways to support their work here.

Photo by the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office / Wikimedia Commons

Revista Opera

Revista Opera

Revista Opera is an independent publication founded in 2012 producing counter-hegemonic and left-wing journalism that sheds light on the day's most important events from a critical point of view

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