Communism, Brazil & Philosophy: an Interview with Olavo de Carvalho

Olavo de Carvalho, President of the Inter-American Institute was interviewed by the editors of the Polish website Wydawnictwo Podziemme on Communism, Philosophy, and Brazil.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: We would like to start with asking about the development of your political stance.  It appears that as a very young man you flirted with communism (forgive this odd English spelling but we refuse to bestow the honour of capital letters on names as odious as bolshevik, soviet or communist).  Then, disillusioned with politics, you immersed yourself in study of Philosophy and Art; and then again, in the early Nineties you turned to political subjects and thus found yourself threatened by lefties, which resulted in your leaving Brazil.  Could you elaborate on circumstances and reasons for these changes?

Olavo: Even though my experience as a leftist militant was quite brief, the story of my change of position has extended over many decades. At the beginning, what made me withdraw myself from among the communists was not any objection of a political, ideological, or even philosophical order. It was a simple moral reaction against the mean and ugly behavior that I saw disseminated among them as a general rule. Those people seemed to arrogate to themselves the right to commit all villainies, provided that they were not committed against the Communist Party. When I imagined Brazil being governed by those individuals, I realized that my country would be far worse off than it was under the military dictatorship. As far as it was possible to infer a collective political conduct from the individual behavior of leaders and activists, I realized that Brazil under the communists would be up to its neck in ignominy and all sorts of crime committed under “nice” pretexts. Forty years later, all this turned out to be widely confirmed: the Lula administration got to be the most corrupt ever seen in Brazilian history at a time when Brazil was bleeding with 50 thousand murders per year without federal authorities paying any attention to that issue: they are busy sucking up tax-money and siphoning off federal funds for their personal and party interests. As I was saying, at that point in my life, I withdrew myself from among the communists because their conduct made me feel shame for them, but I did not attempt to develop any theoretical explanation either for what they were doing or for what I was feeling. I simply turned my attention to subject-matters that seemed to me to be healthier and more promising, especially Greek philosophy, high literature, and the study of religions.

Many decades later, my old companions of militancy had managed to take over the whole cultural establishment and to conquer political power. The outcome of this had been the thorough destruction of high culture, the reduction of universities to centers for communist propaganda, and the country’s descent to levels of moral degradation which would have seemed unthinkable before. Since among writers and journalists nobody seemed to even take notice of this alarming state of affairs, I began to take notes on the intellectual and moral decay of the country and to read them to my pupils in the courses that I taught and at conferences that I spoke at several institutions. When I put together all these notes in a book published as The Collective Imbecile, the whole thing had a bomb-like effect: for the first time, reputations that had been so far taken as sacrosanct were treated in my book with all the sarcastic contempt that they really deserved. The reactions that followed the publication of my book widely confirmed what I had been saying of the whole situation. I had some oral and written debates with outraged critics, who came out of the discussions even more discredited than they already were. When my book Aristotle in a New Perspective was published, some academic intellectuals decided to make a show of knowledge which they really never had and to make themselves look good by having a public discussion with me about a philosopher whose work they were completely ignorant about. They did pretty bad in the debate, and thanks to this succès de scandale, I ended up being hired as a columnist by a number of major Brazilian newspapers and magazines that  were then looking for a right-wing voice, simply because they wanted to somewhat camouflage the leftist monopoly over their pages. I was not properly a right-winger but, in trying to clarify my points-of-view, I ended up drawing a kind of conservative political philosophy from my general philosophical opinions.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: You stated in one of your interviews that the communist movement had never been, and never really wanted to be, monolithic.  It is hard to disagree with this view; after all, Lenin spoke about different countries finding their own individual way to revolution.  But let’s focus on the dynamic relationship between our perceptions and the reality of communist operations.  For instance, it could be argued that during the momentous events of 1989-1991, the reverse was true.  Individual com-parties, although acting independently, appeared to act in unison in a highly coordinated manner.  At the same time, communism raised its ugly head in Latin America; whilst in Europe communists resurfaced as “democratic left”.  Does this not imply an almost monolithic unity of purpose?

Olavo: The communist movement has never had much of an ideological unity, at least in the West. The movement’s chief characteristic was precisely that of being able to organize people and groups of the most diverse orientations into well-coordinated strategic actions—the movement has managed to manipulate even the social-democratic left, which is avowedly anti-communist. This is partly explained by the strength of the historical continuity of the Communist Party, the only organization capable of pressing into its service all minor and more fragmented movements. However, this is also explained by a factor that I designate as the formal unity of the revolutionary movement since the eighteenth or even the seventeenth century. Behind all variety of currents that compose it, the world revolutionary movement is unified by a kind of shared logic, a set of formal principles that internally shape the revolutionary speech in all of its versions. In innumerable articles and lectures, I believe I have sufficiently explained this formal unity and the strength of the more or less unconscious automatism through which it imposes itself upon generation after generation of revolutionaries, even when they disagree with one another. I believe I have also made evident that this set of rules makes the revolutionary mentality, as a whole, into a phenomenon of intellectual pathology which is very similar to that which the French psychiatrist Paul Sérieux described in his 1910 book Les Folies Raisonnantes (The Reasoning Madnesses).

Wydawnictwo Podziemme:You often mention the name of Antonio Gramsci, undoubtedly, one of the most important communist theoreticians, who perhaps deserves the name of father of contemporary Bolshevism.  It might be difficult to make a direct link between Gramsci and the perestroika planners (apparently, Raisa Gorbacheva was a keen student of his writing, although it could be an apocryphal tale designed to boost her standing amongst the faithful).  Nevertheless, it seems that his ideals are present in the minds of European commissars as well as amongst American politicians.  Is it not the case though, that Gramsci’s thoughts found the most fertile ground in Latin America?

Olavo: You are right. Latin America was the only place where Antonio Gramsci’s strategy had been put into effect in a comprehensive and systematic manner for several decades until the expected results were achieved. In Brazil, for example, as early as the 1980’s, i.e. during the military dictatorship itself, the communists had already achieved complete cultural hegemony, a phenomenon to which the military did not pay much attention because they were exclusively obsessed with the “violent left.” When the military dictatorship came to an end, practically the whole country was already pro-communist without noticing it. That is to say, at that time, a group of communist and similar parties that gravitated around the Workers’ Party had already dominated the people’s imagination and the established cultural values in such a way that it would be no exaggeration to say that the strategic command of the revolution had already accomplished the Gramscian ideal of transforming itself into “an omnipresent and invisible authority of a categorical imperative, of a divine commandment.” When in the 2002 presidential election there was nothing but a simple contest for offices between four equally leftist candidates, and nobody in the media seemed to find anything odd about such phenomenon, this showed to what extent the hegemonic domination of people’s consciousness had rendered the public opinion docile to the leftist strategy.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: From afar, Brazil looks like a model achievement of “demo-bolshevism”, the version of bolshevism, which conquers and holds on to power through the use of democratic institutions (Gramscian “march through institutions” springs to mind again).  Strengthened by the stagecraft of democracy, this new bolshevism appears far more dangerous than the classic totalitarian version.  Thanks to some extraordinary spinning and brilliant propaganda techniques, the modern embodiment of bolshevism is hard to recognize even for seasoned political observers.  The world media described the Brazilian election as a runoff between the neoliberals (Dilma Rousseff) and the right wing (José Serra) when to our eyes these two look like dye-in-the-wool red party apparatchiks.  How do you see the current situation in Brazil?

Olavo: Substantive democracy requires much more than the mere existence of parties and free elections. Above all, it requires free circulation of information, which is impossible under Gramscian conditions of cultural hegemony. Just for you to be able to assess the difference between one thing and the other, suffice it to notice that in 2000, when I was hired to write for O Globo newspaper, one of the most prestigious of Brazil, my presence on the pages of that publication was regarded as something of an oddity because I was the only right-wing voice among hundreds of left-wing columnists. When I say “the only,” I am not speaking figuratively: “the only” has a merely arithmetic meaning in this sentence. “The only” really means “the single one”. And not only were my opinions in sharp contrast to those of all the other columnists, but, likewise, they were in contrast to the general tenor of the news, which emphasized facts that were most convenient to the left, and completely concealed everything that was of no interest to the leftist parties. For example, during 16 years, not only O Globo, but the whole of the Brazilian mainstream media, concealed from the public the existence of the São Paulo Forum, the strategic command of the Latin American communist revolution and the largest political organization that has ever existed in the continent. I, of course, spoke about it in my columns, but since no factual confirmation ever appeared on the news pages, it was easy for interested leftist leaders to deny even the mere existence of the Forum, which thus could grow up in silence until it managed to take over twelve countries. Then, sure of itself, the Forum publicly admitted its own existence, confirming everything that I had been saying about it, but doing so in such a tardy manner that it was no longer possible to attempt any reaction against the growing of that monster. The expression that you employ, “demo-bolshevism,” is perfect, for the prevailing communist forces managed to dominate the flux of information so efficiently that they even permitted themselves the luxury of having free elections, since voters were completely ignorant about the real political situation and, for this same reason, became perfectly harmless.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: In your Weapons of Freedom essay, you discuss two interesting and somehow correlated phenomena.  On the one hand, we constantly have to deal with old-fashioned, often inadequate concepts such as “national state”, “international relations”, “free trade”, “democracy”, “imperialism” or “class struggle”; on the other, we come across scientific methods of control and manipulation of human beings.  However, whilst the remnants of the free world struggle with outdated notions, they fall victim to the latest methods of social sciences; at the same time, the representatives of the new totalitarianism are very astute in dealing with both areas.  They tend to use both the obsolete concepts and most recent psychological discoveries with aplomb – to their own ends.  Is it possible that the traditionalist world of simple human dignity and decency is doomed when confronted by the bolshevik plague?

Olavo: If supporters of democracy and human dignity do not get urgently updated on opinion control and social engineering methods that are being used by totalitarian movements, the whole mankind will be at risk of falling under the dominion of a fierce and broad-grinned tyranny that will easily be taken as democracy. Both the social sciences and psychology have placed in the hands of the most cynical and ambitious men all the instruments they need to impose totalitarian power without the masses having the slightest inkling of what is really going on. Among the most important books for understanding this phenomenon are Pascal Bernardin’s Machiavel Pédagogue (Machiavel The Educator), Alexander Zinoviev’s The Reality of Communism, and Lee Penn’s False Dawn. There are many other equally good books, but the reading of these three is more than enough for you to grasp the range and the efficacy of the instruments to which I refer.

Wydawnictwo Podziemme: One of the commentators under your interview published on The New American site wrote in March this year: “Thank you Olavo for your clear vision and for state it outside our country (Brasil). I have a question though: how to build a new right from scratch? It will need not only knowledge but also an incredible strategic effort… […] I mean, I’m a father and a honest hard working citizen that want to do something at least to give my children some hope for the future. What would be a play for ordinary people like me on this matter?” Let us expand your compatriot’s question: what is to be done?

Olavo: Though many millennia-old, Sun Tzu’s formula is still valid: know your enemy better than he knows himself. Attack him at his blind spots. Bewilder him, intimidate him, and put him to flight. It is important to remember that I am not talking about fighting a battle of ideas, of doctrines, but about fighting a battle against concrete groups and individuals, a battle for power. And power, in the first place, does not mean holding elective offices. It means having dominion over people’s imagination and feelings. By discussing ideas with agents of totalitarianism, we do nothing but give them a dignity that they do not really have, and even if we defeat them in the realm of argumentation, we end up reinforcing the power they enjoy. What we need to do is to render visible all their inner ugliness, their intrinsically criminal mentality. As long as revolutionary mentality is accepted as one respectable opinion among others, we will make crime a normal, acceptable, and even prestigious behavior.


Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute. The original answers for the interview were translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota in November 2010.

2 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *