Friday, June 29, 2018

Domenico Losurdo, the Italian Marxist and Nietzsche scholar, died in Italy on the morning of Thursday, June 28.

Domenico Losurdo, the Italian Marxist and Nietzsche scholar, died in Italy on the morning of Thursday, June 28. 

Democracy and Class Struggle is appreciative of his intellectual contributions even if we have some criticisms of his views on the market and China.

Democracy and Class Struggle while having sharp disagreements with Domenico Losurdo on the Question of China and Chinese Revisionism Democracy and Class Struggle is  deeply appreciative of his historical studies on Liberalism and Fascism and Communism..

We have published much of his work here on Democracy and Class Struggle -there are links - we have few organic  intellectuals to use a Gramscian term and Losurdo was one of them despite some important errors - we will continue to build on the paths he opened up for us and turn then into highways of knowledge.


A popular understanding of history in today’s world involves blaming the most radical revolutionaries of France in the late 18th century and Russia in 1917 for many of the modern ills. 

This trend is espoused in intellectual and popular culture and is the foundation on which much of modern politics is based. For the wealthy and the currently powerful, it is a self-serving and incredibly useful understanding. 

Hence, any popular attempts to alter this view are ruthlessly belittled and denied. It was exactly this that took place in the 1960s and the 1970s when colonized peoples, young people, workers and others reconsidered their role in history and took to the streets, forever changing the political/cultural landscape we live in.

In the years since, however, it is the historical understanding that serves the powerful that has been on the ascendant. Most commonly known among historians as revisionism, this understanding not only blames revolutionary forces for humanity’s murderous excesses, it also urges a return to a semi-feudal situation that stratifies people in terms of class, race and gender, allowing different levels of economic and political freedom according to a hierarchy designed by those in power.

In effect, it wishes to legally create the political world already being formed economically through neoliberalism.

Revisionism is a liberal approach to history. 

It equates the colonialism, racism and anti-Semitism of Nazism with the anti-colonial, anti-racist and liberationist foundations of communism. 

In doing so, it also ignores essential indisputable facts of western capitalist development. Foremost among these denials are the role the African slave trade played in every European nation that was involved, its fundamental role (along with slavery itself) in the United States, and colonialism. 

By ignoring colonialism’s essential role—and because of the racism inherent in the revisionist analysis—wars against colonized peoples are not even considered wars. 

In other words, unless Europeans are dying on a massive scale, there is no war. This is especially the case in those situations (for example, the massacre by German settlers of the Herero and Nama peoples in southern Africa or the US in Grenada, Panama and the first Gulf War) where the number of dead at the hands of the victor far outweighs the number of the victorious army’s dead.

In the conduct of war, all governments involved are more alike than different, more genocidal than peace seeking, more authoritarian than rights protecting. Total war means total mobilization and imprisonment or even death to those who disagree. God forgive the soldier unwilling to participate: Losurdo writes of an Italian general during World War One who “carried out trench inspections with an execution squad in tow” to save time. The battle is the most important thing, after all. The unwilling cannon fodder had best be aware.

The end of the 1970s did not mean an end to the non-revisionist understanding of history made popular by the masses in the streets. It did, however, signal a renewed effort to stifle that particular strain. This was in line with the times. Thatcher and Reagan were presiding over neoliberal capitalism’s opening salvos on the Keynesian economic state and re-arming their already powerful militaries. 

The Soviet Union was heading towards a demise fostered by political and economic miscalculation intensified by a war against its 1917 revolution that began before the revolution had the means to solidify. 

In the face of the neoliberal attack, socialist and social democratic governments in Europe were beginning to become their opposite, remaining socialist or social democrat in name only. Ever since then, the Left has been either fighting to regain a sense of possibility or signing up with the neoliberal offensive pretending it can still be leftist while embracing monopoly capitalism’s most inhumane incarnation to date.

Domenic Losurdo is an Italian Marxist and philosopher. He is also one of today’s most acute critics of liberalism. 

His latest work to be translated into English, War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century, is an intellectual rebuke to the revisionist historians masquerading as objective arbiters of the past when in reality their words serve finance capital and its ravaging of the planet. 

Losurdo rejects the West’s portrayal of itself as civilized and humane in contrast to Russia and the East. 

Philosopher by philosopher, historian by historian, he dissects those western intellectuals’ attempts to mythologize these lies cleverly and decisively. 

Losurdo takes the attempts by various revisionist historians to blame the Bolsheviks and French Jacobins for the history of terror and turns them on their head. 

Instead, he writes, It is the reactionary and liberal capitalist regimes whose policies of total war and forced removal of populations (the Native Americans and the Africans, most notably) which created the reaction of the revolutionary governments. 

In other words, it was not the revolutionary forces as represented by the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks who brought mass murder, ethnic cleansing and slavery into this world, but the governments against which they revolted. 

Furthermore, Losurdo includes the phenomenon of twentieth-century fascism in the western colonial tradition. 

In other words, Hitler’s plans to colonize Eastern Europe were not outside of the West’s previous colonialist endeavor. 

In fact, as Losurdo repeatedly mentions, Hitler admired the totality of the American settlers’ eradication of the indigenous peoples whose land they stole and saw it as a model for his brand of fascism.

Losurdo argues that in the reactionary system there is no war but “racial” war. 

He cites the propaganda used by the capitalist nations to mobilize the citizens in their respective states, turning the twentieth century wars against communism into wars against foreign, “Asiatic,” even Jewish ideologies. 

One finds a similar scenario in the twenty-first century where wars against nations with large Muslim populations have become “racialized” wars against the Muslim world itself. 

As Losurdo makes clear, this racialization has helped create a mindset allowing for what he calls “the rehabilitation of colonialism.” 

In other words, the powers that be promote their self-serving idea that there are parts of the world—mostly non-white—that could benefit from being colonized by those powers. 

In what can only be described as an ironic instance, I heard this sentiment expressed by two African-American men in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park on September 11, 2001 while the smoke from the burning Twin Towers scraped the nostrils and throats of every one present.

War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century is a relentless document. 

It is dense and disconcerting. This is precisely why it should be considered one of the most important history books written since the events known as 9-11.

 After all, it was those events which took the revisionist project already underway since the late 1970s and put it into hyperdrive. 

By intention, there has not been a day of peace.


Democracy and Class Struggle has been investigating the work of the Italian Marxist intellectual Domenico Losurdo and we have been very impressed by his 

War and Revolution - Rethinking the 20th Century published in English in 2015 by Verso Press.

Losurdo criticizes the concept of totalitarianism, especially in the works of Hannah Arendt.

He argues that totalitarianism is a polysemic concept with origins in Christian theology, and that applying it to the political sphere requires an operation of abstract schematism which makes use of isolated elements of historical reality to place fascist regimes and the USSR in the dock together, serving the anti-communism of Cold War-era intellectuals rather than reflecting intellectual research.

Losurdo asserts that the origins of fascism and national socialism are to be found in what he views as colonialist and imperialist policies of the West.

He examines the intellectual and political positions of intellectuals on modernity. In his view, Kant and Hegel were the greatest thinkers of modernity, while Nietzsche was its greatest critic.

Source Wikipedia

We feel Domenico Losurdo is a very competent philosopher and historian but very weak on political economy hence his analysis of contemporary China is apologetic and pragmatic and Dengist and he has not understood or appreciated the revolution in thought brought about by the revolutionary practice and theory of Marxism Leninism Maoism which in our view incorporates the revolutionary Gramsci and his war of position in the West.

Our Democracy and Class Struggle position on China and political economy was published in 2012 as Marxism Against Market Socialism

Furthermore for someone like Domenico Losurdo who has seriously  studied Liberalism and Neo Liberalism he has failed to see its pernicious influence in China Today both as economics and Dengist ideology.

However our frank criticism of his revisionist political economy is also tempered by an appreciation of his philosophical and historical studies which are insightful.

Domenico Losurdo is not afraid to take on controversial subjects like Stalin and while his book on Stalin is not available in English it has been published in French and we are publishing a review by Blogger Roland Boer of Losurdo for comrades to gain an insight into Domenico Losurdo's positive work

Here is Roland Boer's review

Domenico Losurdo’s well-reasoned and elaborately researched book, Stalin: The History and Critique of a Black Legend, has not as yet been translated into English. Originally published in Italian in 2008, it has been translated into French, Spanish and German.[1]

Since I am most comfortable with French, I set out to read the 500+ page book – as bed-time reading.

But first, let me set the context for Losurdo’s philosophical project, which has been admirably outlined in a translation of a piece by Stefano Azzará.[2] This project has a few main features.

First, he has developed a systematic criticism of liberalism’s bloody, particularist, racist and supremacist origins.[3] In this ‘counter-history’, he argues that bourgeois democracy is by no means a natural outcome of liberalism, but rather the result of a continued struggle of the excluded from the limited realm of liberalism.

Further, and as part of his wider project, he has also explored the dialectical tension between universal claims and the limited particularisms from which they arise. In this light, he has explored the tensions and qualitative leaps in the German tradition of idealist philosophy, with a particular focus on Kant and Hegel.

Third, he applies this criticism to the Marxist tradition, which ran into significant trouble through its wildly universalist and utopian claims and the unexpected limitations that emerged during the constructions of socialism after the revolution.

Although he draws on Gramsci to argue for Marxism as a patient and pragmatic project in which everything will not be achieved in rush, he tellingly sees the example of China as an excellent example of what he means. Putting aside any pre-established blueprints for socialism, or indeed the ‘utopia-state of exception spiral’, it realises the gradual nature of project.

Not afraid to face the power of capitalism, as well as its many problems, it simultaneously – in a massive and sustained ‘New Economic Project’ that defies all orthodoxies – proceeds to construct a socialist constitutional state that is working towards a socialist market for the production and redistribution of wealth. Here is, then, Italy’s leading philosopher in the Marxist tradition vouching for a China that may well reconfigure and refound the Marxist tradition.

By now, Losurdo’s controversial and provoking theses should begin to be a little clearer. The Stalin book is yet another instance of his ability to take on unexpected and supposedly ‘dangerous’ topics and thoroughly recast one’s understanding. Is not Stalin, after all, the epitome of the paranoid dictator ruling by his personal whim and destroying millions of lives in the process? Is he not the mirror-image of Hitler and thereby a travesty of the Marxist tradition, as so many Marxists would have us believe? For Losurdo, this is an extraordinary caricature, so he sets out to explore how and why it developed and then to demolish it. This entails a complete reset of the mindset that unthinkingly condemns Stalin before any sustained analysis.

The book has eight chapters that are simultaneously philosophical and historical. Given the fact that it is not available in English, I outline the arguments of each chapter.

Introduction: The Turning Point in the History of Stalin.

This covers the period from the worldwide admiration and appreciation of Stalin’s pivotal role in the defeat of Hitler to the moment when Khrushchev’s ‘secret report’ was delivered. For the rest of the book, he juxtaposes these two images in constantly changing formats. One appreciates Stalin for what he actually did; the other condemns him for what he supposedly did.

  1. How to Send a God to Hell: The Khrushchev Report.
This chapter is a detailed criticism of the ‘secret report’, given by Khrushchev after Stalin’s death. This is a useful complement to Grover Furr’s Khrushchev Lied,[4] with a focus on the politically motivated distortions by Khrushchev, who depicted Stalin as a ‘capricious and degenerate human monster’, and created the myths of Stalin’s abject reactions to Hitler’s attack, his anti-semitism, the cultivation of his own personality cult and much more.
  1. Bolshevik Ideological Conflict in Relation to the Civil War.
This is a more philosophical chapter, dealing with what Losurdo calls the ‘dialectic of Saturn’. By this he means the pattern of conflict and struggle in which the way the Bolsheviks came to power continued to influence their dealings in power: ‘the history of Bolshevism turns itself against soviet power’. This revolutionary struggle continued, in relation to external and especially internal opponents. And so the means for resolving such a struggle became – internally – both purges and plots to overthrow the government. The Trotsky-Bukharin-Kamenev plot was therefore part of the internal logic of revolutionary power and very real. In this way may we understand the Red Terror, which is one aspect of what Losurdo calls three civil wars: the one against the international counterrevolution via the White armies; the second against the rich peasants (kulaks) during the collectivisation drive; the third against the internal plot of Trotsky and others.
  1. Between the Twentieth Century and the Longue Durée, Between the History of Marxism and the History of Russia: The Origins of ‘Stalinism’.
Again philosophical, this chapter argues for two main points. The first is that Russia was undergoing a long ‘time of troubles’ from the late nineteenth century. The state was gradually collapsing, social institutions were disintegrating and the economy was in free-fall. Continuous warfare played a role, from the Russo-Japanese War to the First World War. In this light, the major achievement of the communists was to reconstruct the state. Not just any state, but a strong socialist state. Needless to say, this required immense energy and not a little brilliance. At the centre was Stalin. Second, Losurdo develops his argument for the problematic nature of the communist universal. Bred out of the particularities of the Russian revolution and its situation, it developed an ‘ideal socialism’ that is still to come and to which one strives. This in turn produced the perpetual state of exception under which the Soviet Union found itself. For Losurdo, Stalin may have at times been subject to this universal ideal, but less so that others like Trotsky and Kautsky, who criticised Stalin for not living up to the ideal. Instead, Stalin’s various strategies, such as continuing the New Economic Project for a while, the collectivisation project, the restoration of the soviets, and the efforts to foster socialist democracy indicate a significant degree of practical concerns.
  1. The Complex and Contradictory Course of the Stalin Era.
As the title suggests, Losurdo continues his philosophical analysis of contradictions, now focusing on: socialist democracy and the Red Terror; bureaucracy and the ‘furious faith’ of the new socialist order; planned economy and the extraordinary flexibility of worker initiatives (so much so that the workers would have been regarded as unruly and undisciplined in capitalist industries); and the role of a ‘developmental dictatorship’ in contrast to totalitarianism. Of particular interest in this chapter is the systematic refutation of the alignment between Soviet Gulags and the Nazi ‘concentration camps’, in which the former sought to produce restored citizens, while the latter simply sought to destroy ‘sub-humans’. Here Losurdo begins a theme that becomes stronger as the book progresses, namely, that fascism is much closer to the liberal powers such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Much more is said on this connection.
  1. Repression of History and Construction of Mythology: Stalin and Hitler as Twin Monsters.
A long chapter, where Losurdo now begins to show how the ‘black legend’ of Stalin developed. A central feature, thanks to Hannah Arendt, is what Losurdo calls the reductio ad Hitlerum. Two key items are supposed to show the ‘elective affinity’ between Stalin and Hitler: the so-called ‘Holodomor’, the Ukrainian holocaust that is supposed to be similar to the Nazi holocaust, and Stalin’s anti-semitism. Here he shows that the Holodomor is a piece of historical fiction (developed above all by the old Cold War warrior, Robert Conquest) and that the famine was the result of the United Kingdom’s Russian Goods (Import Prohibition) Act 1933. On anti-semitism he spends a good deal of time, after which it is perfectly clear that Stalin was anything but. Stalin repeatedly condemned anti-semitism in no uncertain terms, to the point of being – one of the few in the world at the time – an enthusiastic supporter of the state of Israel. Even more, the establishment of the ‘affirmative action empire’ in the Soviet Union ensured that Jews, among many other ethnic groups, were protected and fostered under the law, so much so that a significant number held posts in the government apparatus. Also in this chapter is a further development of the close connections between Hitler and ‘Western liberalism’, especially in terms of anti-semitism. Churchill in particular was a bigoted racist and white supremacist, and Roosevelt was also sympathetic. Indeed, they and others contrived to turn, through ‘appeasement’, Hitler’s attention eastward, with the aim of using Hitler to destroy the USSR.
  1. Psychopathology, Morality and History in Reading the Stalin Era.
This chapter carries on the arguments of the previous chapter, especially in relation to the reductio ad Hitlerum, where Arendt once again comes in for some sustained criticism. It also deals with the common portrayal of Stalin’s paranoia, showing that the continued threats to the USSR – such as systemic sabotage and bombing of key industrial sites, spying, fostering coups, and simple economic sanctions – were hardly the products of a suspicious mind.
  1. The Image of Stalin Between History and Mythology.
This brief chapter continues to trace the way the myth of a brutal dictator developed. Not only is he interested in the polarisation of Stalin, but also in the contradictions of the myth as it has been perpetrated and repeated since the initial work of Trotsky, Khrushchev and Arendt. But this is not the first time such diabolisation had happened in relation to revolutions. Losurdo closes the chapter by showing how it also took place in relation to the French Revolution – especially The Terror and in relation to Robespierre – of the late eighteenth century.
  1. Diabolisation and Hagiography in Reading the Contemporary World.
Losurdo closes by showing how the process of diabolisation continues in relation to more recent communist revolutions: China, Cambodia, Haiti. Here the ideological warfare is coupled with brutal repressions, especially in Haiti, which was not large enough to resist the invasion of counterrevolutionary forces. China, however, was able to withstand the consistent raids and bombings that the United States undertook through its air bases on Taiwan, although it did suffer through what may be called an ‘economic atom bomb’.

The economic blockade of China was specifically designed to leave China – already with a destroyed economy from the Japanese invasion and a long revolutionary civil war – far behind economically. The cost was in millions of lives from starvation. Not without satisfaction does Losurdo note that China is overcoming the strenuous effects of the United States and its allies. In the end, however, the main purpose of this chapter is to focus on a favoured theme: the continued bloodthirstiness of ‘Western liberal’ powers.

What are we to make of Losurdo’s argument?

I was less taken with his efforts to show how close Nazism is to Western liberalism. This is a theme he has developed elsewhere, and while the points are often well made, they at times tended to dominate his argument. To counter a false image of Stalin by pointing out that the accusers were really the guilty ones is not always the best move to make.

However, Losurdo does offer some real strengths in his work, relating to Stalin at war (although others have already this argument for Stalin’s vital role), the reality of plots and threats to the government (in relation to purges and the Red Terror), the rebuilding of a strong state, Stalin’s consistent opposition to anti-semitism, and the ridiculousness of the image of Stalin of as a paranoid dictator ruling by means of his capricious bloodlust.

The complex task of unpicking the contradictions and fabrications of the ‘black legend’ is very well done, particularly via close analysis of Trotsky, Khrushchev, Arendt and Robert Conquest’s dreadful works. And I found his analysis of the dangers of an ideal, romanticised and universal communism very insightful.

However, I would have liked to see a more sustained analysis of the veneration of Stalin, apart from showing a longer history of such veneration in Russian history (Kerensky is offered as one of the more extreme examples of self-propelled adulation).

 Here the veneration of Lenin was more important, since Lenin’s heritage was the focus of struggles between Stalin and his opponents. I missed an examination of the social and economic role of such veneration, particularly in relation to economic and extra-economic compulsion.

Further, while I would have liked to see more of an exploration of Stalin’s faults along with his virtues, this is perhaps not the place for such an analysis. Instead, Losurdo’s brave book has another task: to counter a strong and long tradition of the diabolisation of Stalin on the Left.

Perhaps a careful analysis of Stalin’s real (and not mythical) faults and virtues is a task for the future.

[1] Italian: Stalin. Storia e critica di una leggenda nera (2008); French: Staline: Histoire et critique d’une légende noire (2009); Spanish: Stalin: historia y crítica de una leyenda negra (2011); German: Stalin: Geschichte und Kritik einer schwarzen Legende (2013).
[2] It may be found in a solitary blog post:
[3] This book has been translated into English as Liberalism: A Counter-History (Verso 2011).
[4] Grover Furr, Khrushchev Lied (Erythros, 2011).


Further Reading on Domenico Losurdo :

Heidegger's black notebooks aren't that surprising by Domenico Losurdo

Heidegger's black notebooks aren't that surprising by Domenico Losurdo

The scandal provoked by the publication of Martin Heidegger's notes and reflections between 1931 and 1941, currently underway in Germany, is truly stupefying. The philosopher's "black notebooks" (schwarze hefte) were so-named after the colour of their covers; and now we find out that they are black above all in their content.

But is this so surprising?

Yes, we do have the confirmation that immediately after Hitler's coming to power Heidegger signed up to the Nazi party, and that he did so nourishing excited hopes. His outlook in the first place concerned Germany: "the German people is now on the brink of rediscovering its own essence and making itself worthy of a great destiny."

After the country's defeat in the first world war, the German people were, he thought, going to experience a triumphal renaissance, saving the world from catastrophe and, above all, from Bolshevism.

For Heidegger, indeed, the promises of regeneration implicit within Nazism went well beyond German borders: it had been called upon to realise his longed-for "destruction of modernity", putting an end to the egalitarian massification which had, of course, seen its most ruinous expression in the October Revolution, but had begun long beforehand with the advent of liberalism and democracy.

And, if Heidegger's hatred for Soviet Russia was boundless, what reigned supreme was his low opinion for the Anglo-Saxon world.

Nazism constituted, or could constitute, a "new beginning" with respect to all this, a new beginning for culture and politics. The black notebooks are a testament to the almost messianic expectations that inspired the philosopher to join Hitler's party.

All this much is true. But it was already known to Heidegger scholars from a section of his 1935 Introduction to Metaphysics and its celebration of the "inner truth and greatness" of nazism.

Modernity is synonymous with subversion, since with its universalist ideologies (liberalism, democracy, communism) it destroys the communitarian and traditional bonds that unite the members of a given people and separates this same people from its territory and history. Inevitably, the critique of modernity ends up also concerning Jews.

The black notebooks confirm this: present in many countries and attached to urban rather than rural life, Jews are the incarnation of "rootlessness", "distance from the soil" and thus subversion. And again, this attitude is far from surprising to the Heidegger scholar: the 2 October 1929 letter in which the philosopher emphasises the need to oppose "growing Judaisation within German spiritual life", reinforcing this by rooting it in authentically German forces, is already well-known.

The black notebooks theorise in explicit fashion the importance of the "racial principle" and, even if in a contorted manner, justify the Third Reich's race laws.

Here, we do find undoubtedly new material (indeed, material of great interest) adding to what we knew already. But one already famous, perhaps infamous letter, should not be forgotten. It was Heidegger's wife who sent it on 29 April 1933, albeit with the agreement of her husband, who was at the time also the rector of the University of Freiburg. The recipient was the wife of Edmund Husserl, Heidegger's teacher.

This letter expressed his consent to the "hard new law, rational from Germans' point of view", which excluded Jews from university teaching, including Gerhart Husserl, son of the illustrious philosopher of the same name, who as a Jew was stripped of his civil law chair at the university, despite being a wounded veteran of the first world war. In this context, we must add also the testimony of Karl Jaspers, according to whom Heidegger drew attention to the "dangerous international association of Jewry" soon after the Nazi conquest of power.

The outcry over the black notebooks is thus unjustified, but it would be all the more unjustified to imagine a mythical, eternally irredeemable Germany, ignoring the historical context in which Heidegger's life and work were situated.

His Judeophobia came at a moment when across the west as a whole, on both sides of the Atlantic, there was a widespread view that the true culprits for the October Revolution were Jews.

Indeed, in 1920 car tycoon Henry Ford wrote that this event had a racial and not political origin, and, though making use of humanitarian and socialist language, it in fact expressed the Jewish race's aspiration for world domination.

It is worth noting that it was Ford's picture that had pride of place in Hitler's study and not Heidegger's: the origins of nazism and the ideological motives inspiring it were not exclusively German.

Secondly, as the black notebooks confirm, although Heidegger was a Nazi to the end this does not mean that nothing can be learned from him. Germany is the country that perhaps more than any other has had to struggle with imperial universalism, often the synonym of universal interventionism: leaving aside the ancient Romans and the expeditions of the Emperor Augustus, we ought to bear in mind that first Napoleon III in 1870-1 and then the entente powers in 1914-18 waged war in the name of the expansion of "civilisation" or "democracy", in each case in the name of "universal" values.

This explains the aggressive, reactionary anti-universalism in Germany that found its first expression in Nietzsche and then, above all, in Heidegger and Schmitt, both of whom supported the Third Reich.

This is a tragedy and an infamy that certainly leaves aggressive, reactionary anti-universalism with much to answer; but it does not in any way absolve western imperial universalism of its own responsibility and crimes.

 This piece was translated by David Broder


Further Reading

War and Revolution - Rethinking the 20th Century by Domenico Losurdo

Green Nazis Deep Ecology of Martin Heidigger

Critique of Alexandr Dugin a contemporary follower of Heidigger's thought

No comments: