Academic journal article Capital & Class

Translating Passive Revolution in Brazil

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Translating Passive Revolution in Brazil

Article excerpt

Introduction

At the turn of the 20th century, there was quite a heated theoretical debate on the nature of the Russian social formation. Narodism defended the uniqueness of Russia and the Slavs, understanding that the people/nation, formed basically in the agrarian commune, had its own historical path and was impermeable to capitalism but very sensitive to agrarian socialism. The Marxist party was separated into two currents, the first of which, known as Menshevik, understood that Russia would follow the Occidental path and especially that of Germany in its historical development towards capitalism and in turn, when the conditions were ripe, towards socialism.

This universalist vision was contested by the Bolshevik faction, namely by Lenin, who pursued the particularity of social and state formation in Russian. For him, capitalism developed in Russia and fulfilled a progressive role; however, it had a particular constitution that did not identify with the Occidental path. Without an acknowledgment of the particularity of the Russian situation, it would not be possible to develop revolutionary political action. This Russian particularity indicated that the bourgeois revolution in Russia--in other words, the final abatement of feudalism and the absolutist state and the restoration of the fullest democracy--occurred through the victory of the working class backed by the peasants, precisely so that Russia would avoid following a road similar to that of Germany, where the bourgeoisie articulated with the feudal nobility and the Prussian state in order to lead to a non-revolutionary capitalist transformation (Lenin, 1980). Later, in the 1950s, Lukacs suggested that the Prussian road concept should be extended to the cultural and political world as a way of enlarging the explanatory power of this theoretical category (Lukacs, 1959).

In the 1920s, using a linguistic expression, Gramsci wondered if it were possible to translate the Leninian reading to the conditions of Italy. Actually, Gramsci recognised the need to carefully examine the particularity of bourgeois revolution and capitalism in Italy, so that it would be possible to seal the worker--peasant alliance and undertake revolutionary action. In his theoretical elaboration, advanced mainly in his writings from prison, Gramsci suggested that bourgeois revolution in Italy would have taken place in the form of a passive revolution, referring to the reaction of Italy's ruling classes to bourgeois revolution in France and to the pressure from subordinate layers for deep social changes in their own peninsula. In order to activate a revolutionary movement in Italy in the 20th century, where the nucleus was the working class backed by the rural population, it was necessary to know the reasons for passive revolution as well as how fascism gave it new life. The nucleus of Gramsci's research focused on the existing relationship between intellectuals and masses, the constitution of collective subjectivities, the permanent adaptation of power to time, especially the power of the Church, the continued proposal of the meridional question, and the characteristic mark of the intellectuals who are seduced by power (Gramsci, 1975).

These observations have a clear methodological character and may propose the eventual possibility of translating the particular problem of bourgeois revolution, under the form of passive revolution, to the reality of some regions in Latin America, such as Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Chile and Brazil (Morton, 2010a). One may note, then, that passive revolution becomes a theoretical category that demands further research of the particularity, of the concrete analysis of the concrete situation, rather than being an explanatory category in and of itself, or else there would be a relapse into an abstract universalism of little theoretical and practical usefulness. The same could be said of Lenin's formulation about the 'Prussian road', which emerges out of an analysis of the feudal latifundium transformation on large capitalist property in the process of bourgeois revolution in Germany. …

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