Domenico Losurdo on anti-colonialism, revolution and US foreign policy
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 will be publishing all four parts of the interview in English for the first time. This week, we start with a translation of the first part in the series, 'The World living through struggle against the new colonial counter-revolution.' You can find the original in Portuguese here.
The Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest living western Marxist thinkers. Losurdo stands out as a communist thinker, scholar of Gramsci and Hegel, and polemicist in defense of the legacy of the communist movement in the form of actually existing socialism. He is an intellectual committed to the struggle against imperialism, this being the reference point of his work. He also wrote an extensive intellectual biography of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Visiting Brazil to launch his new book, War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century, the professor of the University of Urbino, in Italy, made himself available for an interview with the editor-chief of Revista Opera, Pedro Marin, and by the columnist André Ortega.
We’d like to thank you for taking your time to offer us this interview. We’d also like for you to start by speaking of the book that’s being launched in Brazil by Boitempo, War and Revolution.
This book isn't just being launched in Brazil, and it is an interpretation of the Twentieth Century. The title in English is War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century. I can only say a few things about its content, because the book is very long [laughs]. But I can say that the fundamental “content” of the Twentieth Century is the struggle between colonialism and anti-colonialism. It is clear that the anti-colonial parties were led by the Communist Party, but we can’t understand the essence of the Twentieth Century if we don’t consider the struggle between colonialism and anti-colonialism.
We saw, after the October Revolution, not only the development of the global anti-colonial revolution... before the October Revolution, all the world was the property of a few capitalist and imperialist powers. Africa was a colony, India was a colony, China a semi-colony, Indonesia was a colony, Latin America a semi-colony (thanks to the Monroe Doctrine), and that world was radically changed as a consequence of the October Revolution.
I argue that the fundamental essence is the struggle between colonialism and anti-colonialism in a deeper sense; if we consider the history of the Soviet Union and Soviet Russia, Hitler strove to carry out the realization of a “German Indies” in Eastern Europe. Hitler said: “We have our German ‘wild west’ in Eastern Europe,” in other words, the classic American wild west, where the whites decimated the natives, and where those that survived were destined to be turned into slaves at the service of the master class. And so in Eastern Europe the Bolsheviks, identified with the Jews, were destined to be exterminated. That was Hitler’s program.
I frequently cite Himmler, who was one of the leaders of the Third Reich, and we have secret conversations of the Nazis, closed to the public, where Himmler said: “Now that I speak only with Nazis, I can speak freely. Germany needs slaves”–in the literal meaning of the word—and says that they would find their slaves in Eastern Europe, particularly in the Soviet Union. In other words, the struggle of the Soviet Union was a struggle against the attempted colonization and enslavement of the peoples of the Soviet Union.
The essence of the Third Reich was the ambition to develop, radicalize and expand the colonial tradition. Therefore, Hitler’s failure to build in Eastern Europe the “German Indies” was the start of the liberation of the British Indies, as well. Later on we have the Chinese Revolution, which we can consider, perhaps, the greatest anti-colonial revolution in the history of the world. And now, the brief conclusion; the first colonial counter-revolution, Hitler’s colonial counter-revolution, is defeated. Now we see another attempt to develop a colonial counter-revolution immediately after the end of the Cold War. We see, for example, the philosopher Karl Popper, who was the official philosopher of the so-called “Open Society,” saying openly that the west “committed the mistake of freeing these nations too soon,” that the colonial nations weren’t sufficiently mature to be free.
And now the danger of a general war is the risk provoked by the effort, by the United States, to block the anti-colonial revolution and to construct a new colonial counter-revolution, and the risk of war, that is the U.S. against China, but we can even consider the position of Russia. In my books, I insist on a point that is perhaps neglected: the history of Russia in general—not of Soviet Russia but of Russia in general—is, on one side, that Russia was, in fact, an imperialist, expansionist power, but that’s only one aspect of the historical reality. For a long time Russia was in danger of becoming a colony.
We all know of the invasions by Hitler, Napoleon, Charles the XII, the Mongols. For example, if we consider the start of the seventeenth century, in Moscow power was exercised by the Polish. Immediately after the First World War, in other words, after the defeat of Czarist Russia, Russia was at risk of being Balkanized, of being transformed into a colony. I often quote Stalin, who said that for the West, Russia was like Central Africa, and that the West tried to make Russia enter that war in the name of capitalism and Western imperialism.
Immediately after the conclusion of the Cold War, which was a triumph for the West and for the United States, Russia was in danger of becoming a colony. The massive privatization of the economy wasn’t only a betrayal of the working classes of the Soviet Union and Russia, but also a betrayal of the Russian nation, because the perspective was that the west wanted to possess the immense energy resources in the country. The US was on the brink of possessing these immense energy resources.
Yeltsin was the “great champion” of that colonization of Russia by the west. Putin, obviously, isn’t a communist, but he wanted to avoid that colonization and sought to reaffirm Russian power over its energy resources. In other words, in this context, we speak of a struggle against the new colonial counter-revolution; we speak of a struggle between imperialist and colonialist powers, principally the U.S. on the one hand, and on the other we see China—the third world. And of this greater third world Russia is an integral part, because it was at risk of becoming a colony of the West. That's my philosophy of world history, so to speak.
You spoke of this colonial counter-revolution in the present...
It’s the second, maybe the third colonial counter-revolution…
How would you describe the position of imperialism in global politics today? That struggle against the colonial counter-revolution is a fundamental struggle, because we even have some thinkers and left academics that call themselves “post-colonialists,” who don’t give this type of attention to the question of imperialism because it’s outdated to them.
First, we can cite Lenin, who with a very clear vision made the distinction between classic colonialism and neocolonialism. He said, at the start of the Twentieth Century, that colonialism, in the classic sense of the term, is political annexation; in other words, that a country or people don’t have political independence, that it isn’t considered worthy to be independent. That is classical colonialism, with the political annexation of a country or a people by an imperialist, colonialist and capitalist power.
However, Lenin said as well that there’s another type of annexation, that is, economic annexation. That is neocolonialism. We have today an example of classic colonialism, that is the situation of Palestine. There we see classic colonialism. It’s clear, we see Israel expanding its settlements, expanding Israeli territory, and we see the Palestinian people like the natives of the American west: they are expropriated, deported and sometimes killed. This is classical colonialism.
But there exists another form of colonialism: neocolonialism. And these days I like to make two references. Mao [Tse-Tung], after taking power, said: “If we, the Chinese, continue on dependent on American flour for our bread, we will be a semi-colony of the U.S.”; that is, political independence will be only formal, without substance. And I cite another classic of anti-colonial revolution, Frantz Fanon, who was a great champion of the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria, and he said something very important: “When a colonial and imperialist power is forced to give independence to a people, this imperialist power says: ‘you want independence? Then take it and die of hunger.” Because the imperialists continue to have economic power, they can condemn a people to hunger, by means of blockades, embargoes, or underdevelopment.
Mao and Fanon are very different personalities, but both understood that the anti-colonial revolution has two stages: the first, the stage of military rebellion, the military revolution. The second: economic development. The so-called “Left” that didn’t understand this second stage is in no condition to understand the anti-colonial revolution. What we see now is the development of the third world, and that development isn’t only an economic event but also a major political event. The attempt by China, today, to break the West’s monopoly on high technology is the continuation of the anti-colonial revolution.
And I believe, in this sense I completely agree with you, that the Left that was able to understand the anti-colonial revolution when the United States bombarded Vietnam, but cannot understand imperialism's pretension to exercise economic power worldwide—that Left can’t understand the second stage of the anti-colonial revolution, which is conducted through economic and technologic development.
Also in relation to imperialism, some argue that the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. represents a turning point in the nature of American imperialism. What is your opinion?
A certain “left” speaks of Trump as a change, but that “left” also gives the impression that it considers Hillary Clinton a representative of the left, or of peace; that is completely wrong. Hillary Clinton isn’t better than Trump, and perhaps is worse. In other words, Trump, at least in words, expresses his intention to improve relations with Russia, and in the opposite direction, Hillary Clinton wants to heighten tensions with China and Russia.
To understand the profound division in the ruling class and within imperialism, maybe we should attempt another analysis. In the U.S. there’s a debate: is the United States in the position to fight Russia and China at the same time? Is it better for the U.S. to divide the China-Russia front? How can we divide that front? Maybe we can–and this is Trump’s position–make peace with Russia the better to fight China.
For the moment, American imperialism finds great consensus
Others hold out hope–and perhaps the illusion–that the United States can carry out régime change in Russia and, if they did so, China would remain totally isolated. In other words, there are different imperialist strategies. It has nothing to do with differences between “left” and “right,” or war, Trump, and peace, Hillary. That is totally ridiculous–Hillary Clinton is someone who made cruel wars in the US. For example, against Libya, she said she was very happy at the death of [Muammar] Gaddafi, despite the fact that his death was a violation of his human rights, and was a terrible act of torture. But I believe that Hillary Clinton would perhaps be the worst of the two.
At any rate, we can’t have any illusions with respect to American imperialism. We have differences, even great differences, in relation to strategy, but unfortunately so far I do not see a great movement for peace in the United States. A small example: Trump has been criticized for everything, he has been criticized and condemned for his attempt to improve relations with Russia, but no one has criticized or condemned him for the huge increase in the military budget. I believe that, sadly, for the moment, American imperialism finds great consensus.