“I don’t resent people who work at Goldman Sachs! I don’t resent them for behaving bourgeois or being a part of the system because we’re all part of the system! I’m part of the system!,” Virgilio Urbina Lazardic, CC ’15, explains to me, though I am by no means the only person listening. “Abercrombie and Fitch!” he continues, standing and pointing to the small moose logo on the chest of his red coat, “Probably made in some gulag in Bangladesh, right?”
Virgilio — Vir-hee-li-o — is currently clarifying what he views as a mistaken conviction of modern leftism, the idea that people must live the revolution.
We are sitting at a table in the back corner of the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a place he considers “close to home, both physically and metaphorically.” And just twenty minutes into our conversation, Virgilio has already amassed a small audience of our fellow Tuesday morning pastry shop patrons who consistently glance our way each time his voice begins its distinct ascent.
Virgilio, it seems, is used to the attention. On a campus with a long history of leftism and radicalism, he has still made a name for himself as the most vocal proponent of Marxist socialism.
At his core Virgilio is an academic, intensely intellectual in a way that separates him from his activist comrades. Unlike many of the activists who dominate our university’s collective image of The Left, Virgilio fortifies his worldview — that decommodifying labor power, providing necessities like food and health care on a direct basis to meet human need, and reducing allegiances to nation-states will create a more emancipated society — through theory, cognition, and research.
“I dont think my Marxist aspirations inform the way I behave,” Virgilio says—a somewhat confusing confession from a man who sleeps next to a framed poster of Karl Marx. But Virgilio approaches the structural transformation of society in a more restrained manner than most. Rather than resent those who work at Goldman Sachs, for instance, Virgilio looks at the constraints placed on them by a capitalistic political or economic system that incentivizes such work.
Virgilio’s constant analysis and interrogation of the world around him—his habit of engaging in dialogue rather than dismissing those with whom he might disagree—has always distinguished him. Professor Axel Honneth, whose “European Social Thought” class Virgilio took as a first-year, recalls him even then as “an extremely impressive partner in discussion whose questions always gave debate new form, the type of student professors rarely encounter and never forget.”
Virgilio’s student persona, one that thrives off of discourse, is present outside the classroom as well. Formerly both an op-ed columnist and an Editorial Board member of the Columbia Spectator, Virgilio originally joined the paper not just because it was a source of news but, in his words, “a source of discussion.” More recently, he is a frequent contributor to Bored@Butler, a web forum he describes to me as “the collective toilet of the Columbia campus’ collective mind.”
Virgilio, on the surface, might appear to be a vessel of contradiction. But, peeling back the layers, the inconsistencies in his persona wane. What’s left is an approach to people, a “political mission” if you will, that when stripped down is actually quite simple:
“There was a Columbia Admirers post about me a while back that said, ‘Virgilio has the power to make people feel so wonderfully awkward,’ and that was probably the best compliment I’ve ever received. If the way I engage with people makes them feel awkward because it leads them to question themselves and how they’re living and how I live, then I’m so glad.”
— Jordana Narin