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     May 23, 2012

The 'limitless horizon" of capitalism
By Claudio Gallo

TURIN - Costanzo Preve, 69, born of Italian parents and with an Armenian grandmother, never had it easy; he chose the path of uncompromising philosophy, away from academic circles and cultural fashions.

He graduated in Turin, but his intellectual journey was really accomplished later in Paris, with teachers like Jean Hyppolite, Louis Althusser, Jean Paul Sartre, Roger Garaudy and Gilbert Mury.

Nothing today seems less attractive to the literary salons than his critical thought that inextricably links two great German thinkers that the second part of the 20th century has definitely shelved: Karl Marx and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Unlike what most school textbooks continue to teach, in line with


Cold War communists, Preve argues that Marx never really committed "parricide", bringing Hegelian dialectic "down to earth", but instead he is essentially Hegel's pupil.

Preve interprets Marx as "a superfical materialist and a structural idealist". He stresses that, "crucial to Marx is the idea of universal history, seen as the drama and tragedy of human emancipation. While Hegel, wisely, maintained the historical balance in the relationship between past and present, Marx took the risk to talk about the future, characterizing it as communism. The relationship between Hegel and Marx is structural for me, something denied by most of the so-called Marxists who recognize an influence, but don't admit the idealistic character of Marx's philosophy.

"Quite another thing is Marxism, that is a systematized 'ism', but Marx never systematized his thought. It was produced in 20 years, 1875-1895, by [Friedrich] Engels and [Karl] Kautsky. The primal scene of Marxism, to use [Sigmund] Freud's language, is a form of leftist positivism inscribed in the progressive tradition of the Enlightenment."

Preve begun to recognize the historical failure of communism very early. He also has carved out for himself a role as critic of the "Bad Infinity" of neo-capitalist globalization, based on the Greek concept of limit, taken in the light of Hegelian-Marxian dialectics.

His freedom of thought, which cuts across his huge bibliography, also led him to a dialogue with an undefinable thinker with remote far-right roots such as Alain de Benoist, a choice that the sharp-eyed censors of the mainstream left did not like at all.

Claudio Gallo: Professor Preve, is it possible to say, according to your Marxian perspective, that globalization is the final stage of capitalism?

Costanzo Preve: This Final Stage obsession led to a lot of errors in the past, we must be careful to use that word. History categorically denies any diagnosis of Final Stages. Is globalization the Final Stage of capitalism? I really don't know, I would not use that expression. Unlike man, who passes from youth to maturity and then enters a final stage, history proceeds while the Earth keeps circling around the sun.

I would say that globalization is a new standard, a qualitative leap in the production of the capitalist world. The imperialism of the 19th century was also a kind of globalization: if one studies [Fernand] Braudel and [Immanuel] Wallerstein, one sees that world trades existed already in 1500, but even if Spanish, Portuguese, British and Dutch ships could reach every port, evidently that trend was not yet of the purely economic kind. Globalization is the logic of capitalist production at its purest.

CG: So historical development had to wait for modern technology?
CP: It lacked technology, sure, but perhaps above all, there were still large areas of the pre-capitalist world - community, slavery, feudal, aristocratic. So it is not just a problem of technology but of geographical saturation. Globalization is a capitalistic saturation of the whole world: I do not think that it's a final stage, but it certainly is a crucial moment in human history.

CG: In your review of the dialectical history of capitalism, you set capitalism as "limitless horizon" against "metron" - the Greek sense of limit and armony. What you suggest is a dialectic reappropriation of "limit" as opposed to the endless hunger, the unlimited desire of accumulation of globalization. Don't you think that this dialectical path, all inside Western culture, may sound extraneous to the Chinese or the Indian world?

CP: The Greek culture and then the Roman and Medieval Christian culture are internal to the Western world. Colonialism exported them militarily during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to areas outside Europe.

In Asia there were ancient civilizations with their own identity that developed along lines completely different to what we call Jewish-Christian civilization (the hyphen should be replaced with an "and", and should be added "and Greek, and Roman, etc").

The impressive success of capitalism in countries like China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, shows that we are not observing a Calvinist secularisation because this would make sense only inside a kind of Western history. In my opinion, it's rather a sign that capitalism has evoked deep dynamics that already existed in these cultures, even if main national traditions were completely different. I am convinced that globalization has produced a storm, an economic tsunami that maybe has not melted the world in a unique mould but has created a series of common problems that in the past centuries did not exist.

CG: Marxist theory rules that capitalism brings inside itself the contradictions that will lead to its overcoming. However, Marxist predictions never materialized and globalized capitalism (unlike states) apparently enjoys an excellent health.The working class, formerly considered as a possible engine for change, is in disarray: on which collective identity is still possible to establish an alternative to the world of the Megamachine, as Latouche defined it?

CP: Neo-capitalism carries many contradictions within itself. For example, it is incompatible with any form of Keynesianism. Coping with crisis a national state devalues its currency or depreciates its labor force. The case of Europe is crystal clear.

The Union was founded on a neoliberal model, certainly not social-democratic. That means balanced budgets and a fight against inflation as the main enemy. If a state loses control over the national currency and its depreciation, the only thing that can give a competitive advantage is devaluation of labor. We are in this situation and this is why I am against this Europe. I see no other alternatives to the future return of national currencies.

The euro was a historic mistake. Its apparent goal was to make Europe a competitive subject in globalization. As a result, however, the continent is not able any more to deal with globalization, but it's sucked to its most perverse logic: the devaluation of human work. Globalization has meant decentralization of production, labor flexibility, job insecurity and lack of future. The very fact that these things are proclamed only by marginalized forces such as Beppe Grillo in Italy or Marine Le Pen in France, means that the establishment - the left and the right - the ones that have access to the media, decided to support the euro, hiding the true consequences of this choice. That's why we live in a schizophrenia that is likely to worsen in the next years.

CG: A leit motiv of globalization is human rights; at first sight that appeared to be a positive form of universalization. In your book Ethical Bombing you attack the philosophy of human rights as "variable geometry".

CP: Human rights perform the same function of the "white man's burden" during the colonial era: to spread Western civilization against barbarism, through missionaries and gunboats. I consider the politics of human rights unconditionally negative.

Theoretically speaking, human rights derived from Natural Law, a theory already known by stoics and taken over by Christianity, which took its main form in 1500-1600 in the works of many thinkers.

The concept began to decline in 1800 with the advent of juridical positivism. The founder of modern political economy, David Hume, criticized the theory of natural rights. He claimed that there is no such a right, the only thing that exists is people's inclination to exchange.

Those who speak of human rights make a pointless exercise of metaphysics. Why these human rights that were destroyed on the dawn of English political economy are now recovered, especially after Nuremberg's Trial [of Nazis] , as a Western ideology of control?

Human rights is an ideology at variable geometry, because to decide what is human and what is not are the major economic oligarchies through their executives: university professors and journalists. The left has fully adopted the theory of human rights at variable geometry.

It is a theory that makes impossible any analysis of the structural, economic and social world. We are always faced with a dictator against whom there is a whole people in revolt, it may be [Slobodan] Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, [Muammar] Gaddafi and now [Syrian President Bashir al-]Assad.

So it is less and less impossible to analyze historical contradictions, social and religious reasons. To real people they artificially superimpose this view apparently of doing good but in reality evil-doing because it is the premise of a bloody military intervention.

We live in a pure Orwellian time: war is called peace, the Italian soldiers in Afghanistan are called peacekeeping troops but they are deployed against Taliban insurgents on behalf of US geostrategic interests. In reality, human rights politics makes its own goal impossible: a true universalization of humanitarian conditions of the world. It's the modern equivalent of Hitler's racial theory. I realize that this phrase may seem crazy, extreme and paradoxical, but I believe it is true.

CG: Is mainstream media just describing globalization, or rather, as Noam Chomsky puts it, playing an important ideological role in its support?

CP: Cicero wrote: I don't understand how haruspex [the Latin divinator] do not burst out laughing when we meet. I wonder why journalists don't do the same. Mainstream media are telling for over a year now that the Assad government is falling down, but Assad still clings to power, and among the opposition someone, maybe al-Qaeda or not, started to use bombs against civilians.

We have the paradox that our guys are the evil ones while their guys seem comparatively normal. The media have created a parallel universe to guide the real universe into the direction desired by oligarchies. Media have today the function the oratores, ie the priests, had during the Middle Ages.

Today the Church is a great social charity acting inside the crisis of the welfare state. The new clergy is composed of two categories: the secular, the university professors who are (I speak of social sciences, not about physics-chemistry-biology), with their weltanschaung, homogenized and politically correct.

There are of course important exceptions but they are not relevant. Then there is the regular clergy, ie the journalists. The society we live in is always tripartite: bellatores, oratores and laboratores. The first layer is the great financial oligarchy, in many aspects transnational, but substantially rooted nationally. Then there is the clergy, as we've just seen. And then an immense mass of workers that are internally divided, because obviously there is nothing in common among guaranteed workers in Europe and the great mass of Third World poor knocking at the gates of the US and Europe.

CG: It is now commonplace thinking that the center of world power is shifting towards the East. The [Barack] Obama administration is adjusting its strategic doctrine to confront China in the Pacific and Africa. Is it true that Europe's decline is inevitable?

CP: Before answering, let me say that despite its great international growth China is not a country wanting to export its own model: in Chinese culture there is no trace of the Protestant mission to bring the truth to others in a world where there are no borders but only frontiers.

The expansion of China in Africa is purely economic. Since Africa has ceased to be the backyard of France and England, Beijing is looking for raw materials in geostrategic competition with Washington. It's interesting in this perspective to see the position of Italy, which once a minor colonial power, has just made in Libya a war against its own interests.

The American interest in the East began to take shape with Word War II. The vast network of American military bases from the Atlantic to the Pacific shows that Washington remains anchored to the old scheme despite the decline of Europe. Indeed, Europe has committed suicide and no longer exists as a political actor. Europe lost in 1989, with the collapse of communism, a chance to gain its independence.

CG: Speaking recently on Europe's Day, the president of the European Council [Herman] Van Rompuy said that the United States of Europe will never exist ...

CP: The existence of the United States of Europe would entail the dismantling of US bases; how could there be in fact Athenian democracy with Spartan bases on the Acropolis? Europe decided to politically disappear as a consequence of the sense of guilt for the Holocaust.

The Holocaust religion (to be clear, I do not deny the Holocaust, I'm talking about its ideological dimension) has brought Europe into a state of permanent immaturity. The message is: if they left we Europeans alone we will surely return to commit horrible crimes, we cannot be left to ourselves, we need always someone to control us, because fascists or communists are always ready to materialize and take control. That "someone" is obviously the benevolent American empire.

Claudio Gallo is the World News editor of Italian daily La Stampa.

(Copyright 2012 Claudio Gallo.)


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