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Lenin Reloaded is a rallying call by some of the world’s leading Marxist intellectuals for renewed attention to the significance of Vladimir Lenin. The volume’s editors explain that it was Lenin who made Karl Marx’s thought explicitly political, who extended it beyond the confines of Europe, who put it into practice. They contend that a focus on Lenin is urgently needed now, when global capitalism appears to be the only game in town, the liberal-democratic system seems to have been settled on as the optimal political organization of society, and it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than a modest change in the mode of production. Lenin retooled Marx’s thought for specific historical conditions in 1914, and Lenin Reloaded urges a reinvention of the revolutionary project for the present. Such a project would be Leninist in its commitment to action based on truth and its acceptance of the consequences that follow from action.
These essays, some of which are appearing in English for the first time, bring Lenin face-to-face with the problems of today, including war, imperialism, the imperative to build an intelligentsia of wage earners, the need to embrace the achievements of bourgeois society and modernity, and the widespread failure of social democracy. Lenin Reloaded demonstrates that truth and partisanship are not mutually exclusive as is often suggested. Quite the opposite—in the present, truth can be articulated only from a thoroughly partisan position.
Contributors. Kevin B. Anderson, Alain Badiou, Etienne Balibar, Daniel Bensaïd, Sebastian Budgen, Alex Callinicos, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Stathis Kouvelakis, Georges Labica, Sylvain Lazarus, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Lars T. Lih, Domenico Losurdo, Savas Michael-Matsas, Antonio Negri, Alan Shandro, Slavoj Žižek
One Divides Itself into Two
Today the political oeuvre of Lenin is entirely dominated by the canonical opposition between democracy and totalitarian dictatorship. But actually this discussion has already taken place. For it is precisely through the category of democracy that, from 1918 onward, the "western" Social Democrats led by Kautsky have tried to discredit not only the Bolshevik revolution in its historical becoming but also Lenin's political thought.
What particularly deserves our interest is the theoretical response by Lenin to this attack, contained above all in the pamphlet that Kautsky published in Vienna in 1918 under the title "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat" and to which Lenin responded in the famous text "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky."
Kautsky, in a way that is natural for a declared partisan of a representative and parliamentary political regime, stresses almost exclusively the right to vote. The interesting thing is that Lenin sees in this procedure the very essence of Kautsky's theoretical deviation. This is not at all because Lenin would think that it is a mistake to support the right to vote. No, Lenin thinks that it can be very useful, even necessary, to participate in the elections. He will vehemently repeat this against the absolute opponents of participation in parliamentary elections in his pamphlet on leftism. Lenin's criticism of Kautsky is much more subtle and interesting. If Kautsky had said, "I am opposed to the decision by Russian Bolsheviks to disenfranchise the reactionaries and the exploiters," he would have taken position on what Lenin calls "an essentially Russian question, and not the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat in general." He could have, and should have, called his booklet "Against the Bolsheviks." Things would have been politically clear. But this is not what Kautsky did. Kautsky wants to intervene in the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat in general and of democracy in general. The essence of his deviation is to have done this on the basis of a tactical and local decision in Russia. The essence of the deviation is always to argue on the basis of some tactical circumstances in order to deny the principles, to take the starting point in a secondary contradiction in order to make a revisionist statement on the principal conception of politics.
Let us have a closer look at the way Lenin proceeds. I quote:
In speaking about the franchise, Kautsky betrayed himself as an opponent of the Bolsheviks, who does not care a brass farthing for theory. For theory, i.e., the reasoning about the general (and not the nationally specific) class foundations of democracy and dictatorship, ought to deal not with a special question, such as the franchise, but with the general question of whether democracy can be preserved for the rich, for the exploiters in the historical period of the overthrow of the exploiters and the replacement of their state by the state of the exploited.
So theory is precisely what integrates in thought the moment of a question. The moment of the question of democracy is in no way defined by a tactical and localized decision, such as the disenfranchisement for the rich and the exploiters, a decision linked to the particularities of the Russian Revolution. That moment is defined by the general principle of victory: we find ourselves, Lenin says, in the moment of victorious revolutions, in the moment of the real collapse of the exploiters. This is no longer the moment of the Paris Commune, the moment of courage and of cruel defeat. A theoretician is someone who addresses the questions, for example, the question of democracy, from the inside of the determined moment. A renegade is someone who doesn't take the moment into account, someone who uses a particular vicissitude as an occasion for what is purely and simply his political resentment.
Here we can see clearly why Lenin is the political thinker who inaugurates the century. He turns victory, the real of the revolutionary politics, into an internal condition of the theory. Lenin thus determines the major political subjectivity of the century, at least until its last quarter.
The century, between 1917 and the end of the 1970s, is not at all a century of ideologies, of the imaginary or of utopias, as the liberals would have it today. Its subjective determination is Leninist. It is the passion of the real, of what is immediately practicable, here and now.
What does the century tell us about the century? In any case, that it is not a century of promises, but of accomplishment. It is a century of the act, of the effective, of the absolute present, and not a century of announcement and of future. The century is lived as the century of victories, after the millennium of attempts and failures. The cult of the sublime and vain attempt, and hence the ideological subjugation, is relegated by the players of the twentieth century to the preceding century, to the unhappy romanticism of the nineteenth century. The twentieth century says: the defeats are over, now it is time for victories! This victorious subjectivity survives all apparent defeats, being not empirical, but constitutive. Victory is the transcendental motive that organizes even the defeat. "Revolution" is one of the names of this motive. The October Revolution in 1917, then the Chinese and the Cuban Revolutions, and the victories by the Algerians or the Vietnamese in the struggles of national liberation, all these serve as the empirical proof of the motive and defeat the defeats; they compensate for the massacres of June 1848 or of the Paris Commune.
For Lenin, the instrument of victory is theoretical and practical lucidity, in view of a decisive confrontation, a final and total war. The fact that this war will be total means that victory is victorious indeed. The century therefore is the century of war. But saying this weaves together several ideas, which revolve around the question of the Two or the antagonistic division. The century said that its law is the Two, the antagonism, and in this sense the end of the Cold War (American imperialism versus the Socialist bloc), which is the last total figure of the Two, is also the end of the century. The Two, however, has to be declined according to three acceptations.
1. There is a central antagonism, two subjectivities, which are organized on planetary level in a mortal struggle. The century is the scene of that antagonism.
2. There is a no less violent antagonism between two different ways of considering and thinking this antagonism. It is the essence of the confrontation between Communism and Fascism. For the Communists the planetary confrontation in the last analysis is the confrontation between the classes. For the radical Fascists, it is the confrontation between nations and races. There is an interlocking here of an antagonistic thesis and of antagonistic theses on antagonism. This second division is essential, perhaps more so than the first one. In fact, there were certainly more anti-Fascists than Communists, and it is characteristic that the Second World War was about this derived opposition, and not about a unified conception of the antagonism, which has only led to a "cold" war, with the exception of the periphery (the Korean and Vietnam wars).
3. The century invokes, as the century of production through war, a definite unity. The antagonism will be overcome by the victory of one of the blocs over the other. One can also say that, in this sense, the century of the Two is animated by the radical desire for the One. What names the articulation of the antagonism and the violence of the One is the victory as the mark of the real.
Let me remark that this is not a dialectical scheme. Nothing lets us foresee a synthesis, an internal overcoming of the contradiction. On the contrary, everything points to the annihilation of one of the two terms. The century is a figure of non-dialectical juxtaposition of the Two and the One. The question here is to know what balance sheet the century draws of dialectical thinking. The driving element for the victorious outcome, is it the antagonism itself or the desire for the One? This is one of the major philosophical questions of Leninism. It revolves around what we understand, in dialectical thought, by the "unity of the opposites." This is the question that Mao and the Chinese Communists have worked the most on.
In China, around 1965, began what the local press, which is always inventive in naming conflicts, calls "a big class struggle in the field of philosophy." This struggle opposes those who think that the essence of dialectics is the genesis of the antagonism and that the just formula is "One divides itself into two"; and those who estimate that the essence of dialectics is the synthesis of the contradictory notions and that consequently the correct formula is "Two unite into one." This seeming scholasticism conceals an essential truth because it is about the identification of revolutionary subjectivity, its constituent desire. Is it the desire to divide, to wage war-or is it the desire for fusion, for unity, for peace? At that time in China all those who supported the maxim "One divides itself into two" were said to be on the left, and all those who supported "Two unite into one" were said to be "rightists." Why?
If the maxim of synthesis (two unite into one) taken as a subjective formula, as desire for the One, is rightist, it is because in the eyes of the Chinese revolutionaries it is entirely premature. The subject of this maxim has not gone through the Two until the end; it does not yet know what the completely victorious class war is. It follows that the One from which it nourishes the desire is not even thinkable, which is to say that under the cover of synthesis it makes an appeal to the ancient One. So this interpretation of dialectics is restorationist. Not to be a conservative, to be a revolutionary activist nowadays, means obligatorily to desire division. The question of the new immediately becomes the question of the creative division in the singularity of the situation.
In China the Cultural Revolution, especially during the years 1966 and 1967, opposes in an unimaginable fury and confusion the proponents of the One and the other version of the dialectical scheme. In reality, there are those who, like Mao, who in this period practically was a minority in the leadership of the party, thought that the socialist state should not be the polite police-like end of mass politics but, on the contrary, an incitement of its unleashing under the sign of progressing toward real Communism. And there are those, like Liu Shaoqi and above all Deng Xiaoping, who thought that economic management is the most important aspect, that mass mobilization is more harmful than necessary. School-age youth is the spearhead of the Maoistic line. The party cadres and a vast number of intellectual cadres oppose it more or less openly. The peasants remain in a state of expectancy. The workers, the decisive force, are torn apart in rival organizations so that at last, from 1967-68 onward, the state, which risks being torn away in the political hurricane, must let the army intervene. Then comes a long period of extremely complex and violent bureaucratic confrontations, which does not exclude some popular eruptions; this goes on until the death of Mao in 1976, which is quickly followed by a Thermidorian coup that brings Deng back into power.
Such political turmoil is so novel in its stakes and at the same time so obscure that many of the lessons it undoubtedly entails for the future of any politics of emancipation have not been drawn yet, even if it provided a decisive inspiration for French Maoism between 1967 and 1975-and French Maoism was the only innovative political tendency in France in the aftermath of May 1968. It is clear in any case that the Cultural Revolution marks the closure of a whole political sequence, in which the central object was the party and the major political concept was the concept of the proletariat. It marks the end of formal Leninism, which was in reality Stalin's creation. But maybe it is also what is most faithful to real Leninism.
Incidentally, there is a fashion today, among those willing to indulge in renewed servility toward imperialism and capitalism, to call this unprecedented episode a bestial and bloody power struggle, where Mao, finding himself in a minority in the Politburo, attempted by means fair or foul to regain the upper hand. To such people, we will first answer that to call this type of political episode a power struggle is ridiculously stating the obvious: the militants who took part in the Cultural Revolution constantly quoted Lenin when he said (perhaps not his best effort, but that is another question) that at bottom "the only problem is the problem of power." Mao's threatened position was explicitly at stake and had been declared as such by Mao himself. The "discoveries" of our Sinologists were simply immanent and explicit themes in the quasi-civil war that took place in China between 1965 and 1976, a war in which the truly revolutionary sequence (marked by the emergence of a new form of political thought) was only the initial segment (between 1965 and 1968). Besides, since when have our political philosophers considered as terrible the fact that a threatened political leader tries to regain his influence? Is this not what, day in and day out, they elaborate upon as the exquisite democratic essence of parliamentary politics? Next, we shall add that the meaning and importance of a struggle for power is judged by what is at stake, especially when the means of that struggle are the classic revolutionary means, in the sense that Mao said that the revolution is not "a formal dinner party." It involved an unprecedented mobilization of millions of young people and workers, an entirely unheard-of freedom of expression and of movement, gigantic demonstrations, political meetings in all places of work or study, simplistic and brutal discussions, public denunciations, a recurrent and anarchic use of violence, including armed violence, and so forth. And who could say today that Deng Xiaoping, whom the activists of the Cultural Revolution called "the second of the top leaders who, although members of the party, follow the capitalist path," did not indeed follow a line of development and social construction utterly opposed to Mao's line, which was collectivist and innovative? Did it not become apparent when, after Mao's death, he seized power in a bureaucratic coup that he encouraged in China, during the 1980s and up to his death, a form of neocapitalism of the wildest sort, utterly corrupt and all the more illegitimate as it nevertheless preserved the tyranny of the party? So there was indeed, on every question, and particularly the most important ones (the relationship between town and country, intellectual and manual labor, the party and the masses, and so forth) what the Chinese in their pithy language called "a struggle between the two classes, the two paths and the two lines."
Excerpted from Lenin Reloaded Copyright © 2007 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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