Antonio Gramsci
Translation: FLP
Editing: Roderic Day

The Judgment of Past Philosophies (1932)

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Q11 §18 (See also Q8 §232).

To judge the whole philosophical past as madness and folly is not only an anti-historical error, since it contains the anachronistic presumption that in the past they should have thought like today, but it is a truly genuine holdover from metaphysics, since it supposes a dogmatic thought valid at all times and in all countries, by whose standard one should judge all the past.

The method of anti-historicism is nothing but metaphysics. That past philosophical systems have been superseded does not negate the fact that they were historically valid and served a necessary function: their obsolescence should be considered from the point of view of the entire development of history and the real dialectic; that they deserved to perish is neither a moral judgment nor sound thinking issued from an “objective” point of view, but a dialectical-historical judgment. One can compare this with Engels’ presentation of the Hegelian proposition that “all that is rational is real and all that is real is rational,” a proposition which holds true for the past as well.

In Bukharin’s The ABC of Communism the past is judged as “irrational” and “monstrous,” and the history of philosophy becomes a historical treatise on teratology, since he starts from a metaphysical point of view. [1] Meanwhile, the Communist Manifesto offers the dying world the highest praise. [2]

If Bukharin’s way of judging the past is a theoretical error, if it is a deviation from Marxism, can his educational material have positive educational value? Will it inspire activity?

I don’t think so, because it reduces the task to asserting that one is a special person simply because they were born in the present time, and not in any one of past centuries. We might recall here the story of the French petit bourgeois who discovered the word “contemporary” and thought it made him sound fancy so he printed it on his business card. In every time there has been a past and a present, so “being of the present” is a boast only good for ridicule.

[1] Teratology is the study of malformations or serious deviations from the normal type in developing organisms. — R. D. 

[2] From the Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. […] [W]hat earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?” — R. D.