Topic(s): Lenin | Comments Off on Rene — Zizek — REPEATING LENIN

Slavoj Zizek
Lenin’s Choice
The first public reaction to the idea of reactualizing Lenin is, of course, an outburst of sarcastic laughter: Marx is OK, even on Wall Street, there are people who love him today – Marx the poet of commodities, who provided perfect descriptions of the capitalist dynamics, Marx of the Cultural Studies, who portrayed the alienation and reification of our daily lives -, but Lenin, no, you can’t be serious! The working class movement, revolutionary Party, and similar zombie-concepts? Doesn’t Lenin stand precisely for the FAILURE to put Marxism into practice, for the big catastrophe which left its mark on the entire XXth century world politics, for the Real Socialist experiment which culminated in an economically inefficient dictatorship? So, in the contemporary academic politics, the idea to deal with Lenin is accompanied by two qualifications: yes, why not, we live in a liberal democracy, there is freedom of thought… however, one should treat Lenin in an “objective critical and scientific way,” not in an attitude of nostalgic idolatry, and, furthermore, from the perspective firmly rooted in the democratic political order, within the horizon of human rights – therein resides the lesson painfully learned through the experience of the XXth century totalitarianisms.
What are we to say to this? Again, the problem resides in the implicit qualifications which can be easily discerned by the “concrete analysis of the concrete situation,” as Lenin himself would have put it. “Fidelity to the democratic consensus” means the acceptance of the present liberal-parlamentary consensus, which precludes any serious questioning of how this liberal-democratic order is complicit in the phenomena it officially condemns, and, of course, any serious attempt to imagine a society whose socio-political order would be different. In short, it means: say and write whatever you want – on condition that what you do does not effectively question or disturb the predominant political consensus. So everything is allowed, solicited even, as a critical topic: the prospects of a global ecological catastrophe, violations of human rights, sexism, homophobia, antifeminism, the growing violence not only in the far-away countries, but also in our megalopolises, the gap between the First and the Third World, between the rich and the poor, the shattering impact of the digitalization of our daily lives… there is nothing easier today than to get international, state or corporate funds for a multidisciplinary research into how to fight the new forms of ethnic, religious or sexist violence. The problem is that all this occurs against the background of a fundamental Denkverbot, the prohibition to think. Today’s liberal-democratic hegemony is sustained by a kind of unwritten Denkverbot similar to the infamous Berufsverbot in Germany of the late 60s – the moment one shows a minimal sign of engaging in political projects that aim to seriously challenge the existing order, the answer is immediately: “Benevolent as it is, this will necessarily end in a new Gulag!” The ideological function of the constant reference to the holocaust, gulag and the more recent Third World catastrophes is thus to serve as the support of this Denkverbot by constantly reminding us how things may have been much worse: “Just look around and see for yourself what will happen if we follow your radical notions!” And it is exactly the same thing that the demand for “scientific objectivity” means: the moment one seriously questions the existing liberal consensus, one is accused of abandoning scientific objectivity for the outdated ideological positions. This is the point on which one cannot and should not concede: today, the actual freedom of thought means the freedom to question the predominant liberal-democratic “post-ideological” consensus – or it means nothing.
Habermas designated the present era as that of the neue Undurchsichtlichkeit – the new opacity.1 More than ever, our daily experience is mystifying: modernization generates new obscurantisms, the reduction of freedom is presented to us as the arrival of new freedoms. In these circumstances, one should be especially careful not to confuse the ruling ideology with ideology which SEEMS to dominate. More then ever, one should bear in mind Walter Benjamin’s reminder that it is not enough to ask how a certain theory (or art) declares itself to stay with regard to social struggles – one should also ask how it effectively functions IN these very struggles. In sex, the effectively hegemonic attitude is not patriarchal repression, but free promiscuity; in art, provocations in the style of the notorious “Sensation” exhibitions ARE the norm, the example of the art fully integrated into the establishment.
One is therefore tempted to turn around Marx’s thesis 11: the first task today is precisely NOT to succumb to the temptation to act, to directly intervene and change things (which then inevitably ends in a cul de sac of debilitating impossibility: “what can one do against the global capital?”), but to question the hegemonic ideological coordinates. If, today, one follows a direct call to act, this act will not be performed in an empty space – it will be an act WITHIN the hegemonic ideological coordinates: those who “really want to do something to help people” get involved in (undoubtedly honorable) exploits like Medecins sans frontiere, Greenpeace, feminist and anti-racist campaigns, which are all not only tolerated, but even supported by the media, even if they seemingly enter the economic territory (say, denouncing and boycotting companies which do not respect ecological conditions or which use child labor) – they are tolerated and supported as long as they do not get too close to a certain limit. This kind of activity provides the perfect example of interpassivity2: of doing things not to achieve something, but to PREVENT from something really happening, really changing. All the frenetic humanitarian, politically correct, etc., activity fits the formula of “Let’s go on changing something all the time so that, globally, things will remain the same!”
Let us take two predominant topics of today’s American radical academia: postcolonial and queer (gay) studies. The problem of postcolonialism is undoubtedly crucial; however, “postcolonial studies” tend to translate it into the multiculturalist problematic of the colonized minorities’ “right to narrate” their victimizing experience, of the power mechanisms which repress “otherness,” so that, at the end of the day, we learn that the root of the postcolonial exploitation is our intolerance towards the Other, and, furthermore, that this intolerance itself is rooted in our intolerance towards the “Stranger in Ourselves,” in our inability to confront what we repressed in and of ourselves – the politico-economic struggle is thus imperceptibly transformed into a pseudo-psychoanalytic drama of the subject unable to confront its inner traumas… The true corruption of the American academia is not primarily financial, it is not only that they are able to buy many European critical intellectuals (myself included – up to a point), but conceptual: notions of the “European” critical theory are imperceptibly translated into the benign universe of the Cultural Studies chic.
My personal experience is that practically all of the “radical” academics silently count on the long-term stability of the American capitalist model, with the secure tenured position as their ultimate professional goal (a surprising number of them even play on the stock market). If there is a thing they are genuinely horrified of, it is a radical shattering of the (relatively) safe life environment of the “symbolic classes” in the developed Western societies. Their excessive Politically Correct zeal when dealing with sexism, racism, Third World sweatshops, etc., is thus ultimately a defense against their own innermost identification, a kind of compulsive ritual whose hidden logic is: “Let’s talk as much as possible about the necessity of a radical change to make it sure that nothing will really change!” Symptomatic is here the journal October: when you ask one of the editors to what the title refers, they will half-confidentially signal that it is, of course, THAT October – in this way, one can indulge in the jargonistic analyses of the modern art, with the hidden assurance that one is somehow retaining the link with the radical revolutionary past… With regard to this radical chic, the first gesture towards the Third Way ideologists and practitioners should be that of praise: they at least play their game in a straight way, and are honest in their acceptance of the global capitalist coordinates, in contrast to the pseudo-radical academic Leftists who adopt towards the Third Way the attitude of utter disdain, while their own radicality ultimately amounts to an empty gesture which obliges no one to anything determinate.
It is true that, today, it is the radical populist Right which is usually breaking the (still) predominant liberal-democratic consensus, gradually rendering acceptable the hitherto excluded topics (the partial justification of Fascism, the need to constrain abstract citizenship on behalf of ethnic identity, etc.). However, the hegemonic liberal democracy is using this fact to blackmail the Left radicals: “we shouldn’t play with fire: against the new Rightist onslaught, one should more than ever insist on the democratic consensus – any criticism of it willingly or unwillingly helps the new Right!” This is the key line of separation: one should reject this blackmail, taking the risk of disturbing the liberal consensus, up to questioning the very notion of democracy.
So how are we to respond to the eternal dilemma of the radical Left: should one strategical support center-Left figures like Bill Clinton against the conservatives, or should one adopt the stance of “it doesn’t matter, we shouldn’t get involved in these fights – in a way, it is even better if the Right is directly in power, since, in this way, it will be easier for the people to see the truth of the situation”? The answer is the variation of old Stalin’s answer to the question “Which deviation is worse, the Rightist or the Leftist one?”: THEY ARE BOTH WORSE. What one should do is to adopt the stance of the proper dialectical paradox: in principle, of course, one should be indifferent towards the struggle between the liberal and conservative pole of today’s official politics – however, one can only afford to be indifferent if the liberal option is in power. Otherwise, the price to be paid may appear much too high – recall the catastrophic consequences of the decision of the German Communist Party in the early 30s NOT to focus on the struggle against the Nazis, with the justification that the Nazi dictatorship is the last desperate stage of the capitalist domination, which will open eyes to the working class, shattering their belief in the “bourgeois” democratic institutions. Along these lines, Claude Lefort himself, whom no one can accuse of communist sympathies, recently made a crucial point in his answer to Francois Furet: today’s liberal consensus is the result of 150 years of the Leftist workers’ struggle and pressure upon the State, it incorporated demands which were 100 or even less years ago dismissed by liberals as horror.3 As a proof, one should just look at the list of the demands at the end of the Communist Manifesto: apart from 2 or 3 of them (which, of course, are the key one), all others are today part of the consensus (at least the disintegrating Welfare State one): the universal vote, the right to free education, universal healthcare and care for the retired, limitation of child labor…
Interpretation versus Formalization
So where are we to begin? In the present climate of the New Age obscurantism, it may appear attractive to reassert the lesson of Lenin’s Materialism and Empiriocriticism: in today’s popular reading of quantum physics, as in Lenin’s times, the doxa is that science itself finally overcame materialism – matter is supposed to “disappear,” to dissolve in the immaterial waves of energy fields.4 It is also true (as Lucio Colletti emphasized), that Lenin’s distinction between the philosophical and the scientific notion of matter, according to which, since the philosophical notion of matter as reality existing independently of mind precludes any intervention of philosophy into sciences, the very notion of “dialectics in/of nature” is thoroughly undermined. However… the “however” concerns the fact that, in Materialism and Empiriocriticism, there is NO PLACE FOR DIALECTICS, FOR HEGEL. What are Lenin’s basic theses? The rejection to reduce knowledge to phenomenalist or pragmatic instrumentalism (i.e., the assertion that, in scientific knowledge, we get to know the way things exist independently of our minds – the infamous “theory of reflection”), coupled with the insistence of the precarious nature of our knowledge (which is always limited, relative, and “reflects” external reality only in the infinite process of approximation). Does this not sound familiar? Is this, in the Anglo-Saxon tradition of analytical philosophy, not the basic position of Karl Popper, the archetypal anti-Hegelian? In his short article “Lenin and Popper,”5 Colletti recalls how, in a private letter from 1970, first published in Die Zeit, Popper effectively wrote: “Lenin’s book on empiriocriticism is, in my opinion, truly excellent.”6
This hard materialist core of Empiriocriticism persists in the Philosophical Note-Books from 1915, in spite of Lenin’s rediscovery of Hegel – why? In his Note-Books, Lenin is struggling with the same problem as Adorno in his “negative dialectics”: how to combine Hegel’s legacy of the critique of every immediacy, of the subjective mediation of all given objectivity, with the minimum of materialism that Adorno calls the “predominance of the objective” (this is the reason why Lenin still clings to the “theory of reflection” according to which the human thought mirrors objective reality).7 However, both Adorno and Lenin take here the wrong path: the way to assert materialism is not by way of clinging to the minimum of objective reality OUTSIDE the thought’s subjective mediation, but by insisting on the absolute INHERENCE of the external obstacle which prevents thought from attaining full identity with itself. The moment we concede on this point and externalize the obstacle, we regress to the pseudo-problematic of the thought asymptotically approaching the ever-elusive “objective reality,” never being able to grasp it in it infinite complexity.8 The problem with Lenin’s “theory of reflection” resides in its implicit idealism: its very compulsive insistence on the independent existence of the material reality outside consciousness is to be read as a symptomatic displacement, destined to conceal the key fact that the consciousness itself is implicitly posited as EXTERNAL to the reality it “reflects.” The very metaphor of the infinite approaching to the way things really are, to the objective truth, betrays this idealism: what this metaphor leaves out of consideration is the fact that the partiality (distortion) of the “subjective reflection” occurs precisely because the subject is INCLUDED in the process it reflects – only a consciousness observing the universe from without would see the whole of reality “the way it really is.”9
This, of course, in no way entails that the tracing of the difference between idealism and materialism is today not more crucial than ever: one should only proceed in a truly Leninist way, discerning – through the “concrete analysis of concrete circumstances” – WHERE this line of separation runs. One is thus tempted to claim that, even WITHIN the field of religion, the singular point of the emergence of materialism is signalled by Christ’s words on the cross “Father, why have you forsaken me?” – in this moment of total abandonment, the subject experiences and fully assumes the inexistence of the big Other. More generally, the line of division is that between the “idealist” Socratic-Gnostic tradition claiming that the truth is within us, just to be (re)discovered through an inner journey, and the Judeo-Christian “materialist” notion that truth can only emerge from an EXTERNAL traumatic encounter which shatters the subject’s balance. “Truth” requires an effort in which we have to fight our “spontaneous” tendency.
And what if we were to connect this notion of the truth emerging from an external encounter with the (in)famous Lenin’s notion, from What Is to Be Done?, of how the working class cannot achieve its adequate class consciousness “spontaneously,” through its own “organic” development, i.e. of how this truth has to be introduced into it from outside (by the Party intellectuals)? In quoting Kautsky at this place, Lenin makes a significant change in his paraphrase: while Kautsky speaks of how the non-working-class intellectuals, who are OUTSIDE THE CLASS STRUGGLE, should introduce SCIENCE (providing objective knowledge of history) to the working class, Lenin speaks of CONSCIOUSNESS which should be introduced from outside by intellectuals who are outside the ECONOMIC struggle, NOT outside the class struggle! Here is the passage from Kautsky which Lenin quotes approvingly –
“/…/ socialism and class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions. /…/ The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia /…/ Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without and not something that arose within it spontaneously.”10
– and here is Lenin’s paraphrase of it:
” /…/ all worship of the spontaneity of the working-class movement, all belittling of the role of ‘the conscious element,’ of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite independently of whether he who belittles that role desires it or not, a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon workers. /…/ the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course /…/ the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology /…/ for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism.”11
It may SOUND the same, but it’s NOT: in Kautsky, there is no space for politics proper, just the combination of the social (working class and its struggle, from which intellectuals are implicitly EXCLUDED) and the pure neutral classless, asubjective, knowledge of these intellectuals. In Lenin, on the contrary, “intellectuals” themselves are caught in the conflict of IDEOLOGIES (i.e. the ideological class struggle) which is unsurpassable. (It was already Marx who made this point, from his youth when he dreamt of the unity of German Idealist philosophy and the French revolutionary masses, to his insistence, in late years, that the leadership of the International should under no conditions be left to the English workers: although the most numerous and best organized, they – in contrast to German workers – lack theoretical stringency.)
The key question thus concerns the exact STATUS of this externality: is it simply the externality of an impartial “objective” scientist who, after studying history and establishing that, in the long run, the working class has a great future ahead, decides to join the winning side? So when Lenin says “The theory of Marx is all-powerful, because it is true,” everything depends on how we understand “truth” here: is it a neutral “objective knowledge,” or the truth of an engaged subject? Lenin’s wager – today, in our era of postmodern relativism, more actual than ever – is that universal truth and partisanship, the gesture of taking sides, are not only not mutually exclusive, but condition each other: in a concrete situation, its UNIVERSAL truth can only be articulated from a thoroughly PARTISAN position – truth is by definition one-sided. (This, of course, goes against the predominant doxa of compromise, of finding a middle path among the multitude of conflicting interests.) Why not, then, shamelessly and courageously ENDORSE the boring standard reproach according to which, Marxism is a “secularized religion,” with Lenin as the Messiah, etc.? Yes, assuming the proletarian standpoint IS EXACTLY like making a leap of faith and assuming a full subjective engagement for its Cause; yes, the “truth” of Marxism is perceptible only to those who accomplish this leap, NOT to any neutral observers. What the EXTERNALITY means here is that this truth is nonetheless UNIVERSAL, not just the “point-of-view” of a particular historical subject: “external” intellectuals are needed because the working class cannot immediately perceive ITS OWN PLACE within the social totality which enables it to accomplish its “mission” – this insight has to be mediated through an external element.
And why not link these two externalities (that of the traumatic experience of the divine Real, and that of the Party) to the third one, that of the ANALYST in the psychoanalytic cure? In all three cases, we are dealing with the same impossibility which bears witness to a materialist obstacle: it is not possible for the believer to “discover God in himself,” through self-immersion, by spontaneously realizing its own Self – God must intervene from outside, disturbing our balance; it is not possible for the working class to actualize spontaneously its historical mission – the Party must intervene from outside, shaking it out of its self-indulgent spontaneity; it is not possible for the patient/analyst to analyze himself – in contrast to the Gnostic self-immersion, in psychoanalysis, there is no self-analysis proper, analysis is only possible if a foreign kernel which gives body to the object-cause of the subject’s desire. Why, then, this impossibility? Precisely because neither of the three subjects (believer, proletarian, analyst) is a self-centered agent of self-mediation, but a decentered agent struggling with a foreign kernel. God, Analyst, Party – the three forms of the “subject supposed to know,” of the transferential object, which is why, in all three cases, one hears the claim “God/Analyst/ the Party is always right”; and, as it was clear already to Kierkegaard, the truth of this statement is always its negative – MAN is always wrong. This external element does not stand for objective knowledge, i.e. its externality is strictly INTERNAL: the need for the Party stems from the fact that the working class is never “fully itself.”
In his Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx already deploys something like the logic of hegemony: the emergence of a “universal class,” a particular class which imposes itself as universal, engendering global enthusiasm, standing for society AS SUCH against the ancien regime, anti-social crime AS SUCH (like bourgeoisie in the French revolution). After follows the disillusion so sarcastically described by Marx: the day after, the gap between universal and particular becomes visible again, capitalist vulgar profit as the actuality of universal freedom, etc. – For Marx, of course, the only universal class whose singularity (exclusion from society of property) guarantees its ACTUAL universality, is the proletariat. This is what Ernesto Laclau rejects in his logic of hegemony: for Laclau, the short-circuit between the Universal and the Particular is ALWAYS illusory, temporary, a kind of “transcendental paralogism.”12 However, is Marx’s proletariat really the negative of positive full essential humanity, or “only” the gap of universality AS SUCH, irrecoverable in any positivity?13 In Alain Badiou’s terms, proletariat is not another PARTICULAR class, but a SINGULARITY of the social structure, and AS SUCH the universal class, the non-class among the classes.
What is crucial here is the properly temporal-dialectical tension between the Universal and the Particular. When Marx says that, in Germany, because of the compromised pettiness of the bourgeoisie, it is too late for the partial bourgeois emancipation, and that, because of it, in Germany, the condition of every particular emancipation is the UNIVERSAL emancipation, one way to read this is to see in it the assertion of the universal “normal” paradigm and its exception: in the “normal” case, partial (false) bourgeois emancipation will be followed by the universal emancipation through the proletarian revolution, while in Germany, the “normal” order gets mixed up. There is, however, another, much more radical way to read it: the very German exception, the inability of its bourgeoisie to achieve partial emancipation, opens up the space for the possible UNIVERSAL emancipation. The dimension of universality thus emerges (only) where the “normal” order enchaining the succession of the particulars is perturbed. Because of this, there is no “normal” revolution, EACH revolutionary explosion is grounded in an exception, in a short-circuit of “too late” and “too early.” The French Revolution occurred because France was not able to follow the “normal” English path of capitalist development; the very “normal” English path resulted in the “unnatural” division of labor between the capitalists who hold socio-economic power and the aristocracy to which was left the political power.
One can also make the same point in the terms of the opposition between interpretation and formalization14: the external agent (Party, God, Analyst) is NOT the one who “understands us better than ourselves,” who can provide the true interpretation of what our acts and statements mean; it rather stands for the FORM of our activity. Say, Marx’s deployment of the commodity form in the Chapter 1 of Capital is NOT a “narrative,” a Vorstellung, but a Darstellung, the deployment of the inner structure of the universe of merchandises – the narrative is, on the contrary, the story of the “primitive accumulation,” the myth capitalism proposes about its own origins. (Along the same lines, Hegel’s Phenomenology – contrary to Rorty’s reading – does not propose a large narrative, but the FORM of subjectivity; as Hegel himself emphasizes in the Foreword, it focuses on the “formal aspect /das Formelle/.15 This is how one should approach the absence of large all-encompassing narratives today – recall Fredric Jameson’s supple description of the deadlock of the dialogue between the Western New Left and the Eastern European dissidents, of the absence of any common language between them:
“To put it briefly, the East wishes to talk in terms of power and oppression; the West in terms of culture and commodification. There are really no common denominators in this initial struggle for discursive rules, and what we end up with is the inevitable comedy of each side muttering irrelevant replies in its own favorite language.”16
Jameson at the same time insists that Marxism still provides the universal meta-language enabling us to situate and relate all other partial narrativizations/interpretations – is he simply inconsistent? Are there two Jamesons: one, postmodern, the theorist of the irreducible multiplicity of the narratives, the other, the more traditional partisan of the Marxist universal hermeneutics? The only way to save Jameson from this predicament is to insist that Marxism is here not the all-encompassing interpretive horizon, but the matrix which enables us to account for (to generate) the multiplicity of narratives and/or interpretations. It is also here that one should introduce the key dialectical distinction between the FOUNDING figure of a movement and the later figure who FORMALIZED this movement: ultimately, it was Lenin who effectively “formalized” Marx by way of defining the Party as the political form of its historical intervention, in the same way that St. Paul “formalized” Christ and Lacan “formalized” Freud.17
This formalization is strictly correlative to focusing on the Real of an antagonism: “class struggle” is not the last horizon of meaning, the last signified of all social phenomena, but the formal generative matrix of the different ideological horizons of understanding. That is to say, one should not confuse this properly dialectical notion of Form with the liberal-multiculturalist notion of Form as the neutral framework of the multitude of “narratives” – not only literature, but also politics, religion, science, they are all different narratives, stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and the ultimate goal of ethics is to guarantee the neutral space in which this multitude of narratives can peacefully coexist, in which everyone, from ethnic to sexual minorities, will have the right and possibility to tell his story. The properly dialectical notion of Form signals precisely the IMPOSSIBILITY of this liberal notion of Form: Form has nothing to do with “formalism,” with the idea of a neutral Form, independent of its contingent particular content; it rather stands for the traumatic kernel of the Real, for the antagonism, which “colors” the entire field in question. In this precise sense, class struggle is the Form of the Social: every social phenomenon is overdetermined by it, which means that it is not possible to remain neutral towards it.
Of Apes and Men
Lenin’s legacy to be reinvented today is the politics of truth. We live in the “postmodern” era in which truth-claims as such are dismissed as an expression of hidden power-mechanisms – as the reborn pseudo-Nietzscheans like to emphasize, truth is a lie which is most efficient in asserting our will to power. The very question, apropos of some statement, “Is it true?”, is supplanted by the question “Under what power conditions can this statement be uttered?”. What we get instead of the universal truth is the multitude of perspectives, or, as it is fashionable to put it today, of “narratives” – not only literature, but also politics, religion, science, they are all different narratives, stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and the ultimate goal of ethics is to guarantee the neutral space in which this multitude of narratives can peacefully coexist, in which everyone, from ethnic to sexual minorities, will have the right and possibility to tell his story. THE two philosophers of today’s global capitalism are the two great Left-liberal “progressives,” Richard Rorty and Peter Singer – honest in their consequent stance. Rorty defines the basic coordinates: the fundamental dimension of a human being is the ability to suffer, to experience pain and humiliation – consequently, since humans are symbolic animals, the fundamental right is the right to narrate one’s experience of suffering and humiliation.18 Singer then provides the Darwinian background.19
Singer – usually designated as a “social Darwinist with a collectivist socialist face” – starts innocently enough, trying to argue that people will be happier if they lead lives committed to ethics: a life spent trying to help others and reduce suffering is really the most moral and fulfilling one. He radicalizes and actualizes Jeremiah Bentham, the father of utilitarianism: the ultimate ethical criterion is not the dignity (rationality, soul) of man, but the ability to SUFFER, to experience pain, which man shares with animals. With inexorable radicality, Singer levels the animal/human divide: better kill an old suffering woman that healthy animals… Look an orangutan straight in the eye and what do you see? A none-too-distant cousin – a creature worthy of all the legal rights and privileges that humans enjoy. One should thus extend aspects of equality – the right to life, the protection of individual liberties, the prohibition of torture – at least to the nonhuman great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas).
Singer argues that “speciesism” (privileging the human species) is no different from racism: our perception of a difference between humans and (other) animals is no less illogical and unethical than our one-time perception of an ethical difference between, say, men and women, or blacks and whites. Intelligence is no basis for determining ethical stature: the lives of humans are not worth more than the lives of animals simply because they display more intelligence (if intelligence were a standard of judgment, Singer points out, we could perform medical experiments on the mentally retarded with moral impunity). Ultimately, all things being equal, an animal has as much interest in living as a human. Therefore, all things being equal, medical experimentation on animals is immoral: those who advocate such experiments claim that sacrificing the lives of 20 animals will save millions of human lives – however, what about sacrificing 20 humans to save millions of animals? As Singer’s critics like to point out, the horrifying extension of this principle is that the interests of 20 people outweighs the interests of one, which gives the green light to all sorts of human rights abuses.
Consequently, Singer argues that we can no longer rely on traditional ethics for answers to the dilemmas which our constellation imposes on ourselves; he proposes a new ethics meant to protect the quality, not the sanctity, of human life. As sharp boundaries disappear between life and death, between humans and animals, this new ethics casts doubt on the morality of animal research, while offering a sympathetic assessment of infanticide. When a baby is born with severe defects of the sort that always used to kill babies, are doctors and parents now morally obligated to use the latest technologies, regardless of cost? NO. When a pregnant woman loses all brain function, should doctors use new procedures to keep her body living until the baby can be born? NO. Can a doctor ethically help terminally ill patients to kill themselves? YES.
The first thing to discern here is the hidden utopian dimension of such a survivalist stance. The easiest way to detect ideological surplus-enjoyment in an ideological formation is to read it as a dream and analyze the displacement at work in it. Freud reports of a dream of one of his patients which consists of a simple scene: the patient is at a funeral of one of his relatives. The key to the dream (which repeats a real-life event from the previous day) is that, at this funeral, the patient unexpectedly encountered a woman, his old love towards whom he still felt very deeply – far from being a masochistic dream, this dream thus simply articulates the patient’s joy at meeting again his old love. Is the mechanism of displacement at work in this dream not strictly homologous to the one elaborated by Fredric Jameson apropos of a science-fiction film which takes place in California in near future, after a mysterious virus has very quickly killed a great majority of the population? When the film’s heroes wander in the empty shopping malls, with all the merchandises intact at their disposal, is this libidinal gain of having access to the material goods without the alienating market machinery not the true point of the film occluded by the displacement of the official focus of the narrative on the catastrophe caused by the virus? At an even more elementary level, is not one of the commonplaces of the sci-fi theory that the true point of the novels or movies about a global catastrophe resides in the sudden reassertion of social solidarity and the spirit of collaboration among the survivors? It is as if, in our society, global catastrophe is the price one has to pay for gaining access to solidary collaboration…
When my son was a small boy, his most cherished personal possession was a special large “survival knife” whose handle contained a compass, a sack of powder to disinfect water, a fishing hook and line, and other similar items – totally useless in our social reality, but perfectly fitting the survivalist fantasy of finding oneself alone in wild nature. It is this same fantasy which, perhaps, give the clue to the success of Joshua Piven’s and David Borgenicht’s surprise best-seller The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.20 Suffice it to mention two supreme examples from it: What to do if an alligator has its jaws closed on your limb? (Answer: you should tap or punch it on the snout, because alligators automatically react to it by opening their mouths.) What to do if you confront a lion which threatens to attack you? (Answer: try to make yourself appear bigger than you are by opening your coat wide.) The joke of the book thus consists in the discord between its enunciated content and its position of enunciation: the situations it describes are effectively serious and the solutions correct – the only problem is WHY IS THE AUTHOR TELLING US ALL THIS? WHO NEEDS THIS ADVICE?
The underlying irony is that, in our individualistic competitive society, the most useless advice concerns survival in extreme physical situations – what one effectively needs is the very opposite, the Dale Carnegie type of books which tell us how to win over (manipulate) other people: the situations rendered in The Worst-Case Scenario lack any symbolic dimension, they reduce us to pure survival machines. In short, The Worst-Case Scenario became a best-seller for the very same reason Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, the story (and the movie) about the struggle for survival of a fishing vessel caught in the “storm of the century” east of the Canadian coast in 1991, became one: they both stage the fantasy of the pure encounter with a natural threat in which the socio-symbolic dimension is suspended. In a way, The Perfect Storm even provides the secret utopian background of The Worst-Case Scenario: it is only in such extreme situations that an authentic intersubjective community, held together by solidarity, can emerge. Let us not forget that The Perfect Storm is ultimately the book about the solidarity of a small working class collective! The humorous appeal of The Worst-Case Scenario can thus be read as bearing witness to our utter alienation from nature, exemplified by the shortage of contact with “real life” dangers.
We all know the standard pragmatic-utilitarian criticism of the abstract humanist education: who needs philosophy, Latin quotes, classic literature – one should rather learn how to act and produce in real life… well, in The Worst-Case Scenario, we get such real life lessons, with the result that they uncannily resemble the useless classic humanist education. Recall the proverbial scenes of the drilling of young pupils, boring them to death by making them mechanically repeat some formulas (like the declination of the Latin verbs) – the Worst-Case Scenario counterpoint to it would have been the scene of forcing the small children in the elementary school to learn by heart the answers to the predicaments this book describes by repeating them mechanically after the teacher: “When the alligator bites your leg, you punch him on the nose with your hand! When the lion confronts you, you open your coat wide!”21
So, back to Singer, one cannot dismiss him as a monstrous exaggeration – what Adorno said about psychoanalysis (its truth resides in its very exaggerations)22 fully holds for Singer: he is so traumatic and intolerable because his scandalous “exaggerations” directly renders visible the truth of the so-called postmodern ethics. Is effectively not the ultimate horizon of the postmodern “identity politics” Darwinian – defending the right of some particular species of the humankind within the panoply of their proliferating multitude (gays with AIDS, black single mothers…)? The very opposition between “conservative” and “progressive” politics can be conceived of in the terms of Darwinism: ultimately, conservatives defend the right of those with might (their very success proves that they won in the struggle for survival), while progressives advocate the protection of endangered human species, i.e., of those losing the struggle for survival.23
One of the divisions in the chapter on Reason in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit speaks about “das geistige Tierreich” (the spiritual animal kingdom): the social world which lacks any spiritual substance, so that, in it, individuals effectively interact as “intelligent animals.” They use reason, but only in order to assert their individual interests, to manipulate others into serving their own pleasures.24 Is not a world in which the highest rights are human rights precisely such a “spiritual animal kingdom,” a universe? There is, however, a price to be paid for such liberation – in such a universe, human rights ultimately function as ANIMAL rights. This, then, is the ultimate truth of Singer: our universe of human right is the universe of animal rights.
The obvious counterargument is here: so what? Why should we not reduce humankind to its proper place, that of one of the animal species? What gets lost in this reduction? Jacques-Alain Miller, the main pupil of Jacques Lacan, once commented an uncanny laboratory experiment with rats25: in a labyrinthine set-up, a desired object (a piece of good food or a sexual partner) is first made easily accessible to a rat; then, the set-up is changed in such a way that the rat sees and thereby knows where the desired object is, but cannot gain access to it; in exchange for it, as a kind of consolation prize, a series of similar objects of inferior value is made easily accessible – how does the rat react to it? For some time, it tries to find its way to the “true” object; then, upon ascertaining that this object is definitely out of reach, the rat will renounce it and put up with some of the inferior substitute objects – in short, it will act as a “rational” subject of utilitarianism.
It is only now, however, that the true experiment begins: the scientists performed a surgical operation on the rat, messing about with its brain, doing things to it with laser beams about which, as Miller put it delicately, it is better to know nothing. So what happened when the operated rat was again let loose in the labyrinth, the one in which the “true” object is inaccessible? The rat insisted: it never became fully reconciled with the loss of the “true” object and resigned itself to one of the inferior substitutes, but repeatedly returned to it, attempted to reach it. In short, the rat in a sense was humanized; it assumed the tragic “human” relationship towards the unattainable absolute object which, on account of its very inaccessibility, forever captivates our desire. On the other hand, it is this very “conservative” fixation that pushes man to continuing renovation, since he never can fully integrate this excess into his life process. So we can see why did Freud use the term Todestrieb: the lesson of psychoanalysis is that humans are not simply alive; on the top of it, they are possessed by a strange drive to enjoy life in excess of the ordinary run of things – and “death” stands simply and precisely for the dimension beyond ordinary biological life.
This, then, is what gets lost in Singer’s “geistige Tierreich”: the Thing, something to which we are unconditionally attached irrespective of its positive qualities. In Singer’s universe, there is a place for mad cows, but no place for an Indian sacred cow. In, in other words, what gets lost here is simply the dimension of truth – NOT “objective truth” as the notion of reality from a point of view which somehow floats above the multitude of particular narratives, but truth as the Singular Universal.” When Lenin said “The theory of Marx is all-powerful, because it is true,” everything depends on how we understand “truth” here: is it a neutral “objective knowledge,” or the truth of an engaged subject? Lenin’s wager – today, in our era of postmodern relativism, more actual than ever – is that universal truth and partisanship, the gesture of taking sides, are not only not mutually exclusive, but condition each other: in a concrete situation, its UNIVERSAL truth can only be articulated from a thoroughly PARTISAN position – truth is by definition one-sided. This, of course, goes against the predominant doxa of compromise, of finding a middle path among the multitude of conflicting interests. If one does not specify the CRITERIA of the different, alternate, narrativization, then this endeavor courts the danger of endorsing, in the Politically Correct mood, ridiculous “narratives” like those about the supremacy of some aboriginal holistic wisdom, of dismissing science as just another narrative on a par with premodern superstitions. The Leninist narrative to the postmodern multiculturalist “right to narrate” should thus be an unashamed assertion of the right to truth. When, in the debacle of 1914, all European Social Democratic parties (with the honorable exception of the Russian Bolsheviks and the Serb Social Democrats) succumbed to the war fervor and voted for the military credits, Lenin’s thorough rejection of the “patriotic line,” in its very isolation from the predominant mood, designated the singular emergence of the truth of the entire situation.
In a closer analysis, one should exhibit how the cultural relativism of the “right-to-narrate” orientation contains its own apparent opposite, the fixation on the Real of some trauma which resists its narrativization. This properly dialectical tension sustains today’s the academic “holocaust industry.” My own ultimate experience of the holocaust-industry police occurred in 1997 at a round table in the Centre Pompidou in Paris: I was viciously attacked for an intervention in which (among other things) I claimed, against the neoconservatives deploring the decline of faith today, that the basic need of a normal human being is not to believe himself, but to have another subject who will believe for him, at his place – the reaction of one of the distinguished participants was that, by claiming this, I am ultimately endorsing the holocaust revisionism, justifying the claim that, since everything is a discursive construct, this includes also the holocaust, so it is meaningless to search for what really happened there… Apart from displaying a hypocritical paranoia, my critic was doubly wrong: first, the holocaust revisionists (to my knowledge) NEVER argue in the terms of the postmodern discursive constructionism, but in the terms of very empirical factual analysis: their claims range from the “fact” that there is no written document in which Hitler would have ordered the holocaust, to the weird mathematics of “taking into account the number of gas ovens in Auschwitz, it was not possible to burn so many corpses.” Furthermore, not only is the postmodern logic of “everything is a discursive construction, there are no direct firm facts” NEVER used to deflate the holocaust; in a paradox worth noting, it is precisely the postmodern discursive constructionists (like Lyotard) who tend to elevate the holocaust into the supreme ineffable metaphysical Evil – the holocaust serves them as the untouchable-sacred Real, as the negative of the contingent language games.26
The problem with those who perceive every comparison between the holocaust and other concentration camps and mass political crimes as an inadmissible relativization of the holocaust, is that they miss the point and display their own doubt: yes, the holocaust WAS unique, but the only way to establish this uniqueness is to compare it with other similar phenomena and thus demonstrate the limit of this comparison. If one does not risk this comparison, of one prohibits it, one gets caught in the Wittgensteinian paradox of prohibiting to speak about that about which we cannot speak: if we stick to the prohibition of the comparison, the gnawing suspicion emerges that, if we were to be allowed to compare the holocaust with other similar crimes, it would be deprived of its uniqueness…
Lenin As a Listener of Schubert
So how can the reference to Lenin deliver us from this stuff predicament? Some libertarian Leftists want to redeem – partially, at least – Lenin by opposing the “bad” Jacobin-elitist Lenin of What Is To Be Done?, relying on the Party as the professional intellectual elite which enlightens the working class from OUTSIDE, and the “good” Lenin of State and Revolution, who envisioned the prospect of abolishing the State, of the broad masses directly taking into their hands the administration of the public affairs. However, this opposition has its limits: the key premise of State and Revolution is that one cannot fully “democratize” the State, that State “as such,” in its very notion, is a dictatorship of one class over another; the logical conclusion from this premise is that, insofar as we still dwell within the domain of the State, we are legitimized to exercise full violent terror, since, within this domain, every democracy is a fake. So, since state is an instrument of oppression, it is not worth trying to improve its apparatuses, the protection of the legal order, elections, laws guaranteeing personal freedoms… – all this becomes irrelevant. The moment of truth in this reproach is that one cannot separate the unique constellation which enabled the revolutionary takeover in October 1917 from its later “Stalinist” turn: the very constellation that rendered the revolution possible (peasants’ dissatisfaction, a well-organized revolutionary elite, etc.) led to the “Stalinist” turn in its aftermath – therein resides the proper Leninist tragedy. Rosa Luxembourg’s famous alternative “socialism or barbarism” ended up as the ultimate infinite judgement, asserting the speculative identity of the two opposed terms: the “really existing” socialism WAS barbarism.27
In the diaries of Georgi Dimitroff, which were recently published in German,28 we get a unique glimpse into how Stalin was fully aware what brought him to power, giving an unexpected twist to his well-known slogan that “people (cadres) are our greatest wealth.” When, at a diner in November 1937, Dimitroff praises the “great luck” of the international workers, that they had such a genius as their leader, Stalin, Stalin answers: “… I do not agree with him. He even expressed himself in a non-Marxist way. /…/ Decisive are the middle cadres.”(7.11.37) He puts it in an even clearer way a paragraph earlier: “Why did we win over Trotsky and others? It is well known that, after Lenin, Trotsky was the most popular in our land. /…/ But we had the support of the middle cadres, and they explained our grasp of the situation to the masses … Trotsky did not pay any attention to these cadres.” Here Stalin spells out the secret of his rise to power: as a rather anonymous General Secretary, he nominated tens of thousands of cadres who owed their rise to him… This is why Stalin did not yet want Lenin dead in the early 1922, rejecting his demand to be given poison to end his life after the debilitating stroke: if Lenin were to die already in early 1922, the question of succession would not yet be resolved in Stalin’s favor, since Stalin as the general secretary did not yet penetrate enough the Party apparatus with his appointees – he needed another year or two, so that, when Lenin effectively dies, he could count on the support of thousands of mid-level cadres nominated by him to win over the big old names of the Bolshevik “aristocracy.”
Here are some details of the daily life of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the following years, which, in their very triviality, render palpable the gap from the Stalinist nomenklatura. When, in the evening of 24 October 1917, Lenin left his flat for the Smolny Institute to coordinate the revolutionary takeover, he took a tram and asked the conductress if there was any fighting going on in the center that day. In the years after the October Revolution, Lenin was mostly driving around in a car only with his faithful driver and bodyguard Gil; a couple of times they were shot at, stopped by the police and arrested (the policemen did not recognize Lenin), once, after visiting a school in suburbs, even robbed of the car and their guns by bandits posing as police, and then compelled to walk to the nearest police station. When, on 30 August 1918, Lenin was shot, this occurred while he got in a conversation with a couple of complaining women in front of a factory he just visited; the bleeding Lenin was driven by Gil to Kremlin, were there were no doctors, so his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya suggested someone should run out to the nearest grocer’s shop for a lemon… The standard meal in the Kremlin kantina in 1918 was buckwheat porridge and thin vegetable soup. So much about the privileges of nomenklatura!
Lenin’s slanderers like to evoke his famous paranoiac reaction at listening to Beethoven’s appasionata (he first started to cry, then claimed that a revolutionary cannot afford to let himself go to such sentiments, because they make him too weak, wanting to pat the enemies instead of mercilessly fighting them) as the proof of his cold self-control and cruelty – however, even at its own terms, is this accident effectively an argument AGAINST Lenin? Does it not rather bear witness to an extreme sensitivity for music that needs to be kept in check in order to continue the political struggle? Who of today’s cynical politicians still displays even a trace of such a sensitivity? Is not Lenin here at the very opposite of the high-ranked Nazis who, without any difficulty, combined such a sensitivity with the extreme cruelty in taking political decisions (suffice it to recall Heydrich, the holocaust architect, who, after a hard day’s work, always found time to play with his comrades Beethoven’s string quartets) – is not the proof of Lenin’s humanity that, in contrast to this supreme barbarism, which resides in the very unproblematic unity of high culture and political barbarism, he was still extremely sensitive to the irreducible antagonism between art in power struggle?
Furthermore, one is tempted to develop a Leninist theory of this high-cultured barbarism. Hans Hotter’s outstanding 1942 recording of Schubert’s Winterreise seems to call for an intentionally anachronistic reading: it is easy to imagine German officers and soldiers listening to this recording in the Stalingrad trenches in the cold Winter of 42/43. Does the topic of Winterreise not evoke a unique consonance with the historical moment? Was not the whole campaign to Stalingrad a gigantic Winterreise, where each German soldier can say for himself the very first lines of the cycle: “I came here a stranger, / As a stranger I depart”? Do the following lines not render their basic experience: “Now the world is so gloomy, / The road shrouded in snow. / I cannot choose the time / To begin my journey, / Must find my own way / In this darkness.”
Here we have the endless meaningless march: “It burns under both my feet, / Even though I walk on ice and snow; / I don’t want to catch my breath / Until I can no longer see the spires.” The dream of returning home in the Spring: “I dreamed of many-colored flowers, / The way they bloom in May; / I dreamed of green meadows, / Of merry bird calls.” The nervous waiting for the post: “From the highroad a posthorn sounds. / Why do you leap so high, my heart?” The shock of the morning artillery attack: “The cloud tatters flutter / Around in weary strife. / And fiery red flames / Dart around among them.” Utterly exhausted, the soldiers are refused even the solace of death: “I’m tired enough to drop, have taken mortal hurt. / Oh, merciless inn, you turn me away? / Well, onward then, still further, my loyal walking staff!”
What can one do in such a desperate situation, but to go on with heroic persistence, closing one’s ears to the complaint of the heart, assuming the heavy burden of fate in a world deserted by Gods? “If the snow flies in my face, / I shake it off again. / When my heart speaks in my breast, / I sing loudly and gaily. / I don’t hear what it says to me, / I have no ears to listen; / I don’t feel when it laments, / Complaining is for fools. / Happy through the world along / Facing wind and weather! / If there’s no God upon the earth, / Then we ourselves are Gods!”
The obvious counter-argument is that all this is merely a superficial parallel: even if there is an echo of the atmosphere and emotions, they are in each case embedded in an entirely different context: in Schubert, the narrator wanders around in Winter because the beloved has dropped him, while the German soldiers were on the way to Stalingrad because of Hitler’s military plans. However, it is precisely in this displacement that the elementary ideological operation consists: the way for a German soldier to be able to endure his situation was to avoid the reference to concrete social circumstances which would become visible through reflection (what the hell were they doing in Russia? what destruction did they bring to this country? what about killing the Jews?), and, instead, to indulge in the Romantic bemoaning of one’s miserable fate, as if the large historical catastrophe just materializes the trauma of a rejected lover. Is this not the supreme proof of the emotional abstraction, of Hegel’s idea that emotions are ABSTRACT, an escape from the concrete socio-political network accessible only to THINKING.
And one is tempted to make here a Leninist step further: in our reading of the Winterreise, we did not just link Schubert to a contingent later historical catastrophe, we did not just try to imagine how this song-cycle resonated to the embattled German soldiers in Stalingrad. What if the link to this catastrophe enables us to read what was wrong in the Schubertian Romantic position itself? What if the position of the Romantic tragic hero, narcissistically focused on his own suffering and despair, elevating them into a source of perverted pleasure, is already in itself a fake one, an ideological screen masking the true trauma of the larger historical reality? One should thus accomplish the properly Hegelian gesture of projecting the split between the authentic original and its later reading colored by contingent circumstances back into the authentic original itself: what at first appears the secondary distortion, a reading twisted by the contingent external circumstances, tells us something about what the authentic original itself not only represses, leaves out, but had the function to repress. Therein resides the Leninist answer to the famous passage from the Introduction to the Grundrisse manuscript, in which Marx mentions how easy it is to explain Homer’s poetry from its unique historical context – it is much more difficult to explain its universal appeal, i.e. why it continues to give us artistic pleasure long after its historical context disappeared29: this universal appeal is based in its very ideological function of enabling us to abstract from our concrete ideologico-political constellation by way of taking refuge in the “universal” (emotional) content. So, far from signalling some kind of trans-ideological heritage of the humankind, the universal attraction of Homer relies on the universalizing gesture of ideology.
“Entre nous: If they kill me…”
In what, then, resides Lenin’s greatness? Recall Lenin’s shock when, in the Fall of 1914, the Social Democratic parties adopted the “patriotic line” – Lenin even thought that the issue of Vorwarts, the daily newspaper of the German Social Democracy, which reported how Social Democrats in Reichstag voted for the military credits, was a forgery of the Russian secret police destined to deceive the Russian workers. In that era of the military conflict that cut in half the European continent, how difficult it was to reject the notion that one should take sides in this conflict, and to fight against the “patriotic fervor” in one’s own country! How many great minds (inclusive of Freud) succumbed to the nationalist temptation, even if only for a couple of weeks! This shock of 1914 was – in Badiou’s terms – a desastre, a catastrophe in which an entire world disappeared: not only the idyllic bourgeois faith in progress, but ALSO the socialist movement which accompanied it. Lenin himself (the Lenin of What Is to Be Done?) lost the ground under his feet – there is, in his desperate reaction, no satisfaction, no “I told you so!” THIS the moment of Verzweiflung, THIS catastrophe opened up the site for the Leninist event, for breaking the evolutionary historicism of the Second International – and only Lenin was the one at the level of this opening, the one to articulate the Truth of THIS catastrophe.30 Through this moment of despair, the Lenin who, through reading Hegel, was able to detect the unique chance for revolution, was born. His State and Revolution is strictly correlative to this shattering experience – Lenin’s full subjective engagement in it is clear from this famous letter to Kamenev from July 1917:
“Entre nous: If they kill me, I ask you to publish my notebook “Marxism & the State” (stuck in Stockholm). It is bound in a blue cover. It is a collection of all the quotations from Marx & Engels, likewise from Kautsky against Pannekoek. There is a series of remarks & notes, formulations. I think with a week’s work it could be published. I consider it imp. for not only Plekhanov but also Kautsky got it wrong. Condition: all this is entre nous.”31
The existential engagement is here extreme, and the kernel of the Leninist “utopia” arises out of the ashes of the catastrophe of 1914, in his settling of the accounts with the Second International orthodoxy: the radical imperative to smash the bourgeois state, which means the state AS SUCH, and to invent a new communal social form without a standing army, police or bureaucracy, in which all could take part in the administration of the social matters. This was for Lenin no theoretical project for some distant future – in October 1917, Lenin claimed that “we can at once set in motion a state apparatus constituting of ten if not twenty million people.”32 This urge of the moment is the true utopia. One cannot overestimate the explosive potential of The State and Revolution – in this book, “the vocabulary and grammar of the Western tradition of politics was abruptly dispensed with.”33 What then followed can be called, borrowing the title of Althusser’s text on Machiavelli, la solitude de Lenine: the time when he basically stood alone, struggling against the current in his own party. When, in his “April Theses” from 1917, Lenin discerned the Augenblick, the unique chance for a revolution, his proposals were first met with stupor or contempt by a large majority of his party colleagues. Within the Bolshevik party, no prominent leader supported his call to revolution, and Pravda took the extraordinary step of dissociating the party, and the editorial board as a whole, from Lenin’s “April Theses” – far from being an opportunist flattering and exploiting the prevailing mood of the populace, Lenin’s views were highly idiosyncratic. Bogdanov characterized “April Theses” as “the delirium of a madman,”34 and Nadezhda Krupskaya herself concluded that “I am afraid it looks as if Lenin has gone crazy.”35
“Lenin” is not the nostalgic name for old dogmatic certainty; quite on the contrary, to put it in Kierkegaard’s terms, THE Lenin which we want to retrieve is the Lenin-in-becoming, the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which old coordinates proved useless, and who was thus compelled to REINVENT Marxism – recall his acerb remark apropos of some new problem: “About this, Marx and Engels said not a word.” The idea is not to return to Lenin, but to REPEAT him in the Kierkegaardian sense: to retrieve the same impulse in today’s constellation. The return to Lenin aims neither at nostalgically reenacting the “good old revolutionary times,” nor at the opportunistic-pragmatic adjustment of the old program to “new conditions,” but at repeating, in the present world-wide conditions, the Leninist gesture of reinventing the revolutionary project in the conditions of imperialism and colonialism, more precisely: after the politico-ideological collapse of the long era of progressism in the catastrophe of 1914. Eric Hobsbawn defined the CONCEPT of the XXth century as the time between 1914, the end of the long peaceful expansion of capitalism, and 1990, the emergence of the new form of global capitalism after the collapse of the Really Existing Socialism. What Lenin did for 1914, we should do for 1990. “Lenin” stands for the compelling FREEDOM to suspend the stale existing (post)ideological coordinates, the debilitating Denkverbot in which we live – it simply means that we are allowed to think again.
One of the standard accusations against Lenin is that, insensible for the universal human dimension, he perceived all social events through the lenses of the class struggle, of “us against them.” However, are Lenin’s appeals against the patriotic fervor during the World War I not an exemplary case of practicing what Alain Badiou36 calls the universal function of “humanity,” which has nothing whatsoever to do with so-called “humanism.” This “humanity” is neither a notional abstraction, nor the pathetic imaginary assertion of the all-encompassing brotherh