The Algebra of Revolution

Revista Opera

3 min read


This past spring, left-wing Brazilian journal Revista Opera published a four-part interview with famed Italian Marxist thinker Domenico Losurdo. Losurdo took time from promoting the Portuguese release of his book, War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century, published in English by Verso Books, to discuss modern-day anti-colonialism, US foreign policy, revolution and Hegel.

With the permission of our colleagues at Revista Opera, we have published all four parts of the interview in English for the first time. We conclude with our translation of the final part in the series, 'Hegel Wrote the Algebra of the Revolution.' You can find the original in Portuguese here.

Revista Opera
Why is Hegel so important today? Why should Hegel be read today?

Domenico Losurdo
[laughs] Well, first we should recognize that Lenin, Togliatti, Gramsci, we can even add Mao Zedong: all of them read Hegel, directly or indirectly. Lenin wrote, "Without Hegel we can't understand the work of Marx," and he was right. We can say the same about Togliatti, who even translated some of Hegel's work. That great political leader! He obviously didn't have a lot of time available, yet he found time to translate Hegel.

On Hegel: Herzen, a revolutionary democrat of the 19th century who was deeply valued by Lenin, said that the logic of Hegel is the algebra of revolution. I don't have much time, perhaps I'd elaborate this in another interview or a course on Hegel, but Herzen was right: Hegel wrote the algebra of revolution.

For example: we can take the example of the French Revolution, which wasn't only a revolution in France, but a revolution in Saint-Domingue [Haiti], the revolution of black slaves against the slave-owners. It was a great historical crisis. How can we understand this great historical crisis? If we read the great liberal thinkers—Tocqueville, for example—how to explain a completely different revolution? Because in France we didn't just have a revolution, we had a counter-revolution as well, a new revolution, etc. In the vision of Tocqueville, it was to do with the "madness of the Jacobins"; he spoke of "madness." And today so many people speak of the "madness of the Bolsheviks," and today some people speak even of the "madness of Putin" [laughs], in other words, we have this psychopathological paradigm that says that historical crises can be explained by "madness."

Hegel was a great author who criticized that paradigm and dealt with objective contradictions. Only he was capable of explaining great historical crises, and even revolution. I gave another example; it's said that Hegel, in The Phenomenology of Spirit, says that the truth is in the totality. And when Hegel explains the different courses of the United States and France, of the first he gives the impression of a "peaceful development" while of France, the revolution, counter-revolution, and new revolution. If we read Tocqueville, he says that the Americans are a practical and moral people—despite slavery—while Hegel's response to this question is quite modern and surprising; he speaks of the western expansion, saying that the expansion of the whites in the west allowed the transformation of the proletariat into landowners.

These landowners, obviously, were the result of the expropriation, deportation and decimation of the natives. Hegel isn't an Idealist; that is a misconception. Toward history, Hegel isn't an Idealist, quite the contrary. If you read, for example, Hegel's Philosophy of History… the book starts with a chapter on the presupposition of geography in history, a materialist consideration.

Why did the rule of law develop well in England and the United States? Because even the geographic condition of these countries allowed a more secure development. In Russia or Soviet Russia, the geographic situation was very different. It had many dangers. Materialists have much to learn from Hegel.

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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