GALVANO DELLA VOLPE
By Claudia Fazio
BIOGRAPHY AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
ETHIC AND POLITIC
BIOGRAPHY AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
Galvano Della Volpe was born in Imola in 1895, he achieved his degree in Bologna in 1920 and died in Rome in 1968.
He was student of Rodolfo Mondolfo and received, in the twenty, the influence of Actualism of Gentile, to reach the communism of Marx in 1944.
He won the chair of History of Philosophy at University in Messina, where he stayed all the life long, not for his choice.
His practical influence, on politic of Communist Party, has always been poor, in contrast with the theoretic importance of his philosophical work.
He embodied, in the field of contemporary philosophy, the most coherent expression of scientific Marxism and anti-Hegelian.
Lucio Colletti, his student, affirmed that the Academic career of Della Volpe was boycotted by “Botteghe Oscure”.
Nobody ever called him again.
Colletti was witness of his last hopes, when he was imagining that Ugo Spirito would have called him in Rome for a chair of Aesthetics.
He did not have from his side the group of Communist Party.
As many of the Communist Academics, he had Fascist tendency.
The Comrades could rebuke him for an article of him about the aesthetic of tanks, on the page of Primato, the magazine of Bottai.
But the real fault was the interpretation of Marxism in a anti-Hegelian and anti-idealist way.
According to Colletti, he was an heretic.
He was the supporter of a Marx critical radical of Hegel, against the Italian tradition of continuity between Hegel and Marx and, on a national level, of the line that connected De Sanctis, Labriola, Croce, and Gramsci.
Nevertheless Galvano Della Volpe used to appear, in the fifty, even a supporter of orthodoxy of Togliatti, supporter of supremacy of politic on culture in a famous polemic with Norberto Bobbio, supporter, at the contrary, of the intellectual as provoker of doubts.
Far from the Marxist environment and even reviewer towards Stalinism, nevertheless in two of his significant texts of political philosophy, “Communist freedom” (1946) and “Rousseau and Marx” (1957), Della Volpe used to propose the freedom of man from the alienation through the Communist revolution.
For sure, he was a difficult thinker to collocate.
Della Volpe was a count, one of the three “red counts” of Romagna.
The other two: Luigi Dal Pane from Faenza (but he was “red” just when he was young) and teacher of Renato Zangheri and Antonio Graziadei from Imola, as Della Volpe.
Of noble birth thinker, of difficult writing and awful-natured, famous as a seducer, a philosopher head and a life lived outskirts from what it counts in the field of power.
Galvano Della Volpe has been the only theoretical of Marxism who created a school of which the features are still distinguishing.
He exerted a big charm on young students and he interweaved many personal relation with them, too.
Among his students, it is worth to remind: Nicolao Merker, Mario Rossi, Lucio Coletti, who used to keep Kant on the shields and Hegel under the feet.
Marx, defrosted from idealism of Hegel, suddenly obtained the level of social scientist.
This Marxist, not very well seen from PCI, was able to keep together many activities: Aesthetic and Philosophy, Politic, Materialism, Linguistic and, of course, good readings.
In writing, he was not supported by classical strength, the one, to understand, that Lukacs had.
His prose resulted twisted, but, after all, he was able to impose a style of thought that appeared not just in the books, but even through his teaching at University in Messina.
Who had the chance to meet him, said that he was a man gifted by an extraordinary intelligence and a certain aggressiveness mitigated by irony.
He did not regret human contact, idle walks and a stop in a bar or rather: the bar was a second home for him.
Beside theoretical studies inspired to Marxism (“The Communist freedom” 1940; “Logic as a positive science” 1950; “Rousseau and Marx” 1957), Galvano Della Volpe wrote important books about the history of philosophy: “The origin and shape of Hegelian dialectic”; “Hegel, romantic and mystical” (1933-1939) and about aesthetic (“The probable filmic”, 1954 and “Critic of taste”, 1966).
An exhaustive introduction to his thought is his book of John Frazer, “The thought of Galvano Della Volpe”, 1979.
In 1940 he was seduced by German tanks that invaded France and by the reality of the new Nazi order, but he soon changed his mind thanks to the entering communism, he approached Marx, defined from himself and from his disciples “Galilei of moral and social-historical world”. Therefore he turned from Fascist into Communist.
Galvano Della Volpe had a very peculiar position in the Marxist panorama of the first post war.
He was uncompromising towards the previous Italian philosophic culture, he was in touch with a pre-Leninist version of Marxism at beginning of Thirty, but he refused it during the years of research for new ways to exit the Actualism of Gentile. This research aimed at emphasizing of logical-materialistic aspects of philosophic thought, with a very hard critical about any shape of mysticism, romanticism, lay or Christian humanitarian, and a strong reference to the topics of work, technical, organization.
He had a good relationship with Rodolfo Mondolfo in Bologna, where he touched till 1938, when he passed to University in Messina.
The Marxist philosophy of Della Volpe, outcast in the next years, will appear in a strong way during the discussion between the Italian Marxists of the Fifty and the first Marxists of the Sixty.
The work of Della Volpe appears very complex and, sometimes, contradictory, articulated on a plurality of themes and disciplines (from history of philosophy to aesthetic, from political philosophy to moral).
Nevertheless his though is a constant elaboration of four main themes: Ethic, Aesthetic, Logic, Marxism.
Actually the intellectual itinerary of author of “The Communist freedom” was never linear.
ETHIC AND POLITIC
In the Fifty it was important the ethic-political reflection: in the essay of 1957 “Rousseau and Marx” we can assist to a different valuation of the role of political philosophy of Rousseau for the elaboration of a theory of Socialist democracy.
Della Volpe does not give up the previous critics towards Rousseau, therefore the French philosopher will always remain the theoretical of “love for himself” and “equality just formal”.
Now the Marxist philosopher sets in the foreground the theme of egalitarian freedom, that, meant as right of each of us in recognizing our own skills, includes the individualistic request of civilian freedom.
Della Volpe compares the theories of human emancipation of Rousseau and Marx:
- the theory of Rousseau brings back to the Platonic-Christian origins. With his typical style, broken, twisted and with frequent underlines, Della Volpe point out the contradiction that comes up in Rousseau between freedom of people and social equality, between individualistic petition and social petition. Rousseau, compared to the Platonic-Christian and justice naturalistic tradition, has the merit, according to Della Volpe, of having turned it lay. His limit is to favour the people that has his objective in a sort of spiritual narcissus or interior self contemplation.
- These ideological limits, that make class-conscious and bourgeois the Rousseau’ s conception, are outmoded by the Marx’ s theory of emancipation. This theory comes out in the early works (1843-47) of Marx favouring the ones strongly critical towards Hegel and still very close to “naturalism” and anti-Christianity of Feuerbach, Della Volpe will return back on them very often. These are works in which Marx, under influence of Feuerbach, point out the theme of human alienation and the abolition of this alienation through Communism.
Elaborating these thesis, Della Volpe observes that Hegel conceives of man as conscience of himself. The man becomes “abstraction of the man” against Marx who searches “the real man”, the man who is, first of all, nature, natural being, objective. Della Volpe insists on these topics and notices that in Marx the positive abolition of alienation, through the practical or Communist materialism, involves, as a result, the atheism, but not an abstract or dogmatic atheism. It is interesting to notice that the frequent referring to atheism as an essential character of materialistic Communism could not be agreed by Togliatti, who was committed in introducing, instead, a Communism open even to whom believes in God. Maybe it is excessive to point out the tending character gradualist and reformist where the theoretical-political research of Della Volpe reaches, but no doubts that the philosopher was committed, on this field, in a constant work of review that, in the future, brought him much far from his positions that he supported in his work above the Communist freedom of years Forty. The ways of thought that go in this direction are many: we can even think about the importance that Della Volpe gives to the theme of Bobbio and the liberal theme of the limits of government power; the insistence, as far as the Soviet Government is concerned, about the “Socialist legality”; recovery not just of Rousseau, but even of Kant, with his principle of considering “the man as a aim, never as a simple means”. But, above all, what it remains in Della Volpe political, the theoretical point of higher commitment, the research of an egalitarian freedom that overtakes, but preserving, the “negative freedoms” of liberalism.
A further essential component of Della Volpe’ s thought is the aesthetic problematic.
After the critic to romantic aesthetic in “The filmic likely and other works about aesthetic” (1954), Della Volpe lands to two important results: the dismissal of legitimacy of hierarchy of values among the arts and attribution of solid value of knowledge to art masterpieces, distinguishing them from value of knowledge of science just technically. With “Critical of taste” (1960) the notion of art as a knowledge is the basis of one of the most significant attempt for the foundation of a materialist-historical aesthetic. Refused the romantic aesthetic, according to Della Volpe the main problem is not about searching a non-existing speculate relationship between art and history or society, but it is about to pick the specific character of such interdependence as even the peculiarity that makes “the art masterpiece a big value even when the historical conditionings are disappeared”. The terms of science are unambiguous instead the terms of poetic speech can have many senses; between both it is placed the misunderstanding of terms of common language.
In his main work, “Logic a positive science” (1950), Della Volpe supports a “galileian Marxism”, able to be valid, in relation to the social-historical science, for that critical link between reason and experience theorized by the big historical anti-platonic tradition (Aristotle, Galilei, Hume). On the basis of an original early work of Marx, Della Volpe shows how the fracture of the young Marx about the conception of dialectic that was theorized by Hegel was previous respect the completion of his scientific work during maturity. On the top of his philosophic thought is the concept of “determinate abstraction”, that allow to isolate, from the continuum of historical shapes empirically present, some ideal elements able to develop, in relation with a determinate social experiment, a function of critical to the existence and to anticipate the historical tendencies. The determinate abstraction, in the terminology of Della Volpe, is the strict scientific abstraction, discovered and used by Marx in the field of political economy and, from him, already opposed to the speculative or generic abstraction. The correct scientific method appears as a circular movement from the concrete to the abstract and from this to the concrete again which means as a constant historical pointing of the abstractions or economic categories, of which the logical order is never the one chronological or empirical.
The speculative reflection of Galvano Della Volpe is even more precise in the essay “The Communist Freedom” (1946), in which he intends underline and discuss the deep difference between Communism and liberalism, against the many tendencies to mix liberalism and socialism (evident stab to Bobbio, more than to Gobetti). Even in this case, the ideas Della Volpe will crash into the politic of Togliatti of common points between liberalism and communism and it will constitute the referring point very important for the internal theoretical discussion of the communist party between end of Fifty and beginning of Sixty. Today Galvano Della Volpe is a philosopher nearly forgotten, he is the forgotten heretic. When he was alive, he was outcast. According to Croce he was one of the solid maker of philosophic titles for competition. According to the communists he was an heretic to keep apart. His crime was to desecrate the Diamat, that was the orthodox philosophy of Soviets. About Diamat the communist of his party, even burning incenses to Gramsci who was not well accepted in Russia, would prefer to fly over in order to not run into the bolts of mother church. In 1946 Della Volpe come out with “The communist freedom” that did a certain noise. The proposal of this essay is indeed inaccessible. Lucio Colletti, who was the best disciple of Della Volpe, but afterwards he went away from his positions, in 1997 he declared that “The communist freedom” as a work was not big thing and he could face up that essay just in 1981 assimilating it. There were a few pages, exactly three, of which he could not understand anything. It seems, according to Lucio Colletti, “The communist freedom” is a wrong book. Today it can be considered just an informative work. “The communist freedom”, that define such a society harmonic in a abstract way, made of empty deepness, today it appears as a floating cork on a world made of contrasts and lacerations which will never end. The starting point is always Rousseau, whom individualism founded on the concept of person, we know, is in contrast with the concept of social equality. Such are the ideological limits of Rousseau. Anyway, Marxism is a radical alternative, not a development respect that tradition. According to Della Volpe, against that tradition, and against Hegel, the methodological suppositions and the related critical premises of the theory of communism involve a general orientation which is the practical or historical materialism or communist materialism and a non-abstract atheism. Della Volpe focus on actual characters of the theoretical battle, referring to the problems of technical and work. It appears an a-critical exaltation about the soviet strakhanovism, about the virile character of communist freedom, about the relation between Americanism (Dewey) and communism. He point out the metaphysical and bourgeois limits of Dewey’ s thought, respect to which the Marxist thought shows his superiority. In the difficult history of Italian Marxism of post-war, that represents behind our shoulders a historical shut chapter, to which we should before or after dedicate a good reflection, the figure of Galvano Della Volpe occupies for sure a first level position. Even for who learned in the school of Della Volpe, the positions are completely different: on one side, Nicolao Merker invites to context at his time the author’ s thought of “Rousseau and Marx”, and he claims, within that horizon, all the value, Lucio Colletti does not ignore the merits, but underlines how Della Volpe did not push forward that critic of the dialectic component of Marxism that afterwards Colletti himself will make it radical, in an anti-Marxist way, starting from the Seventy. Actually, if we try to look in a critical way at the events chronologically still close, but that seem very far in the past, the balance we can obtain is clear: the attempt of Della Volpe, mainly, was rather audacious, but not without contradictions, trying to turn in a modern way the classical Marxist tradition, on any field of post-war discussion, from the epistemological one, to the aesthetical one, to the one of the political theory.
On the field of leading philosophic category, the twisting that Della Volpe imposes to the consolidated Marxist tradition is definitely radical. He is moved by the need to stimulate the Marxists towards a higher attention and an approach towards the modern science, the symbolic logic, Della Volpe proposes a substantial replacing of Marx’s thought respect to the classical polarity of philosophic tradition. In short, it is about marking in a strict way the split between the idealistic tradition of Plato’ s dialectic and Hegel’s dialectic, and to give back to Marxism a alternative conceptual genealogy, concentrated on positive of perceptible complex, and in this way materialistic: therefore the referring points become the anti-platonic critic of Aristotele, the anti-scholastic of Galilei, and some aspects of Hume’s and Kant’s thought. The traditional genealogy of Marxism comes out distraught, and with that it is rejected even the soviet dialect materialism of engelsian inspiration. Therefore Della Volpe leads a modernizing operation very understandable in his purposes. Anyway the foundations, which should support the whole structure, remain weak above all the critic that Della Volpe address to the Hegel’ s dialect. Not less interesting, and problematic at the same time, is the attempt for renewing the Marxist tradition that Della Volpe undertakes on the field of poetic theory. In his works that mark the main steps of this path, from the “Communist freedom” (1946) till the polemic of the Fifty with Bobbio, from the different edition of “Rousseau and Marx” till the last speeches of the Sixty, Della Volpe’s thought appears as in full activity, always committed in moving ahead the limits that the Marxist tradition used to point out as far as it concerns the reflection about the value of rights and about the value of freedom.