Lenin conference (2nd announcement)

Sebastian Budgen sebastian at SPAMamadeobordiga.u-net.com
Wed Dec 13 11:13:34 MST 2000



Dear Louis Proyect,

    please post this on the Marxism list.

Thanks

Sebastian Budgen

CONFERENCE
TOWARDS A POLITICS OF TRUTH: THE RETRIEVAL OF LENIN
http://www.kwinrw.de/lenin
lenin at kwinrw.de
100 years after What Is To Be Done?

Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut, Essen, February 2-4 2001
Confirmed Speakers: Alain Badiou, Daniel Bensaid, Alex Callinicos, Fredric
Jameson, Eustache Kouvelakis, Sylvain Lazarus, Domenico Losurdo, Toni Negri,
Robert Pfaller, Slavoj Zizek, Alenka Zupancic

Organising Committee: Sebastian Budgen, Eustache Kouvelakis, Slavoj Zizek

Kevin Anderson    THE REDISCOVERY AND PERSISTENCE OF THE DIALECTICS: IN
PHILOSOPHY AND WORLD POLITICS
Alain Badiou     LENINE ET LA PHILOSOPHIE
Daniel Bensaid     LE CONCEPT STRATEGIQUE DE LA CRISE CHEZ LENINE
Sebastian Budgen LENIN AGAINST THE LENINOLOGISTS
Alex Callinicos     LENIN, WEBER, AND THE POLITICS OF RESPONSIBILITY
Doug Henwood     DOES IT MEAN ANYTHING TO BE A LENINIST IN 2001?
Fredric Jameson     THE CONCEPT OF REVISIONISM
Eustache Kouvelakis LENINE, LECTEUR DE HEGEL (OU L'ANTI-PLEKHANOV)
Sylvian Lazarus     LENINE ET LA FORME PARTI, 1902 - NOVEMBRE 1917
Jean-Jacques Lecercle LENIN THE JUST, OR MARXISM RECYCLED
Domenico Losurdo CIVILISATION, BARBARISME, ET L'HISTOIRE MONDIALE CHEZ
LENINE
Antonio Negri     LE MAILLON LE PLUS FAIBLE DU CAPITALISME, C'EST SON
MAILLON LE PLUS FORT
Lars T. Lih         LENIN AND THE GREAT AWAKENING
Robert Pfaller     ASCETIC IDEALS AND REACTIONARY MASSES
Charity Scribner     THE COLLECTIVE
Alan Shandro     LENIN AND THE LOGIC OF HEGEMONY
Slavoj Zizek     THE CHOICE

Up to two or three decades ago, man¹s productive relationship with nature
and its resources was perceived as a constant, whereas theorists and
political activists were busy imagining alternative forms of the social
organisation of production and commerce. Today, nobody seriously considers
possible alternatives to capitalism any longer, whereas popular imagination
is persecuted by the visions of the forthcoming breakdown of nature, of the
end of all life on earth - it is easier to image the end of the world than a
far more modest change in the mode of production, as if liberal capitalism
is the Real that would somehow survive even under the conditions of a global
ecological catastrophe... This paradoxical fact tells us a lot about the new
Œpost-political¹ ideological consensus which is reigning today; its basic
premises are the acceptance of the global capitalism as the Œonly game in
town,¹ and of the liberal-democratic system as the finally found optimal
political organisation of society.

The two-party system, the predominant form of politics in our post-political
era, is the appearance of a choice where there is basically none. Both poles
converge on their economic policy (recall recent elevations of the Œtight
fiscal policy¹ as the key tenet of the modern Left), while their difference
is ultimately reduced to the opposed cultural attitudes: multiculturalist,
sexual etc. Œopenness¹ versus traditional values. This choice - Social
Democrat or Christian Democrat in Germany, Democrat or Republican in the USA
- cannot but remind us of our predicament when we want artificial sweetener
in an American cafeteria: the all-present alternative of Nutra-Sweet Equal
and High&Low, of blue and red small bags, where almost each person has
his/her preferences (avoid the red ones, they contain cancerous substances,
or vice-versa), where this ridiculous sticking to one¹s choice merely
accentuates the utter meaninglessness of the alternative. It is a well-known
fact that the ŒClose the door¹ button in most elevators is a totally
dysfunctional placebo, placed there just to give the individuals the
impression that they are somehow participating, contributing to the speed of
the elevator journey - when we push this button, the door closes in exactly
the same time as when we just pressed the floor button without Œspeeding up¹
the process by pressing also the ŒClose the door¹ button. This extreme case
of fake participation is an appropriate metaphor of the participation of
individuals in our Œpostmodern¹ political process.

The Œpostmodern Left¹ likes to designate itself as the Third Way, surpassing
the old Œideological¹ oppositions. There is a curious enigma in this
self-designation: which is the SECOND way? Did the notion of the Third Way
not emerge at the very moment when, at least in the developed West, all
other alternatives, from true conservatism to radical Social Democracy, lost
in the face of the triumphant onslaught of the global capitalism and its
notion of liberal democracy? Is therefore the true message of the notion of
the Third Way not simply that THERE IS NO SECOND WAY, no actual ALTERNATIVE
to the global capitalism, so that the Third Way brings us back to the FIRST
AND ONLY way - the Third Way is simply the global capitalism with a human
face, i.e. an attempt to minimise the human costs of the global capitalist
machinery, whose functioning is left undisturbed. The Third Way is simply
social democracy under the hegemony of liberal-democratic capitalism. i.e.
deprived of its minimal subversive sting) thus succeeds in excluding the
last reference to anti-capitalism and class struggle.

It is against this background that one should conceive of the rise of the
new populist Right in the last decade. This Right plays a key structural
role in the legitimacy of the new liberal-democratic tolerant
multiculturalist hegemony. They are the negative common denominator of the
entire centre-left liberal spectrum: they are the excluded ones who, through
this very exclusion (their unacceptability as the party of the government)
provide the negative legitimacy of the liberal hegemony, the proof of their
Œdemocratic¹ attitude. In this way, their existence displaces the TRUE focus
of the political struggle (which is, of course, the stifling of any Leftist
radical alternative) to the Œsolidarity¹ of the entire Œdemocratic¹ bloc
against the Rightist danger. It is absolutely crucial that the new Rightist
populists are the only Œserious¹ political force today which addresses the
people with the anti-capitalist rhetoric, although coated in
nationalist/racist/religious clothing (multinational corporations who
Œbetray¹ the common decent working people of our nation). The participation
in the government of the far Right is not the punishment for the Leftist
Œsectarianism¹ and Œnot coming to terms with new postmodern conditions¹ - it
is, on the contrary, the price the Left is paying for its renunciation of
any radical political project, for accepting market capitalism as Œthe only
game in town¹. In the populist new Right, the Third Way Left gets its own
message back in its inverted - true - form.

In today¹s political discourse, the term Œworker¹ disappeared from the
vocabulary, substituted and/or obliterated by Œimmigrants¹ (Algerians in
France, Turks in Germany, Mexicans in the USA) - in this way, the class
problematic of workers¹ exploitation is transformed into the
multiculturalist problematic of the Œintolerance of the Otherness,¹ as if we
exploit Turks, Arabs, etc., because we cannot come to terms with the
Œstranger in ourselves.¹ Although Francis Fukuyama¹s thesis on the Œend of
history¹ quickly and deservedly fell into disrepute, we still silently
presume that the liberal-democratic capitalist global order is somehow the
finally-found Œnatural¹ social regime, we still implicitly conceive
conflicts in the Third World countries as a subspecies of natural
catastrophes, as outbursts of quasi-natural violent passions, or as
conflicts based on the fanatic identification to one¹s ethnic roots (and
what is Œthe ethnic¹ here if not another codeword for nature?). For that
reason, when confronted with ethnic hatred and violence, one should reject
thoroughly the standard multiculturalist idea that, against ethnic
intolerance, one should learn to respect and live with the Otherness of the
Other, to develop tolerance for the different life-styles, etc. etc. - the
way to fight effectively the ethnic hatred is not through its immediate
counterpart, ethnic tolerance; on the contrary, what we need is EVEN MORE
HATRED, but the proper political hatred, the hatred directed at the common
political enemy.

This liberal-democratic hegemony is sustained by a kind of unwritten
Denkverbot (prohibition to think) similar to the infamous Berufsverbot
(prohibition of being employed by any state institution) from the late 60ies
in Germany - the moment one shows a minimal sign of engaging in political
projects that aim to seriously challenge the existing order, the answer is
immediately: ŒBenevolent as it is, this will necessarily end in a new
Gulag!¹ The Œreturn to ethics¹ in today¹s political philosophy shamefully
exploits the horrors of Gulag or Holocaust as the ultimate scare for
blackmailing us into renouncing all serious radical engagement. This way,
the conformist liberal scoundrels can find hypocritical satisfaction in
their defence of the existing order: they know there is corruption,
exploitation, etc., but every attempt to change things is denounced as
ethically dangerous and unacceptable, resuscitating the ghost of
Œtotalitarianism.¹

One would expect such a retreat from the liberal renegades; what is more
symptomatic is how even the self-proclaimed Œpost-Marxist¹ radicals
participate in this game. They accept the topic of the multiculturalist
tolerance towards the Other as the focus of the political struggle; they
endorse the gap between ethics and politics, relegating politics to the
domain of doxa, of pragmatic considerations and compromises which always and
by definition fall short of the unconditional ethical demand. The notion of
a politics which would not have been a series of mere pragmatic
interventions, but the politics of Truth, is dismissed as Œtotalitarian.¹
The breaking out of this deadlock, the reassertion of a politics of Truth
today, should take the form of a RETURN TO LENIN. Why Lenin, why not simply
Marx? Is the proper return not the return to origins proper?

ŒReturning to Marx¹ is already an academic fashion. Which Marx do we get in
these returns? On the one hand, the Cultural Studies Marx, the Marx of the
postmodern sophists, of the Messianic promise; on the other hand, the Marx
who foretold the dynamic of today¹s globalisation and is as such evoked even
on Wall Street. What these both Marxes have in common is the denial of
politics proper: the Œpostmodern¹ political thought precisely opposes itself
to Marxism, it is essentially post-Marxist. The reference to Lenin enables
us to avoid these two pitfalls; there are two features which distinguish his
intervention.

First, one cannot emphasise enough the fact of Lenin¹s externality with
regard to Marx: he was not a member of Marx¹s Œinner circle¹ of the
initiated, he never met either Marx or Engels; moreover, he came from a land
at the Eastern borders of ŒEuropean civilisation.¹ (This externality is part
of the standard Western racist argument against Lenin: he introduced into
Marxism the Russian-Asiatic despotic Œprinciple¹; in one remove further,
Russians themselves disown him, pointing towards his Tatar origins.) It is
only possible to retrieve the theory¹s original impulse from this external
position, in exactly the same way St Paul, who formulated the basic tenets
of Christianity, was not part of Christ¹s inner circle, and Lacan
accomplished his Œreturn to Freud¹ using as a leverage a totally distinct
theoretical tradition. (Freud was aware of this necessity, which is why he
put his trust in Jung as a non-Jew, an outsider - to break out of the Jewish
initiatic community. His choice was bad, because Jungian theory functioned
in itself as initiatic Wisdom; it was Lacan who succeeded where Jung
failed.) So, in the same way St Paul and Lacan reinscribe the original
teaching into a different context (St Paul reinterprets Christ¹s crucifixion
as his triumph; Lacan reads Freud through the mirror-stage Saussure), Lenin
violently displaces Marx, tears his theory out of its original context,
planting it in another historical moment, and thus effectively universalises
it.

Second, it is only through such a violent displacement that the Œoriginal¹
theory can be put to work, fulfilling its potential of political
intervention. It is significant that the work in which Lenin¹s unique  voice
was for the first time clearly heard is What Is To Be Done? - the text which
exhibits Lenin¹s unconditional will to intervene into the situation, not in
the pragmatic sense of Œadjusting the theory to the realistic claims through
necessary compromises,¹ but, on the contrary, in the sense of dispelling all
opportunistic compromises, of adopting the unequivocal radical position from
which it is only possible to intervene in such a way that our intervention
changes the co-ordinates of the situation. The contrast is here clear with
regard to today¹s Third Way Œpostpolitics,¹ which emphasises the need to
leave behind old ideological divisions and to confront new issues, armed
with the necessary expert knowledge and free deliberation that takes into
account concrete people¹s needs and demands. In a way which recalls Deng¹s
motto from the 60s ŒIt doesn¹t matter if a cat is red or white, what matters
is that it effectively catches mice,¹ the advocates of the Third Way like to
emphasise that one should without any prejudice take good ideas and apply
them, whatever their (ideological) origins. And what are these Œgood ideas¹?
The answer is, of course: ideas that work. It is here that we encounter the
gap that separates a political act proper from the Œadministration of social
matters¹ that remains within the framework of the existing socio-political
relations: the political act (intervention) proper is not simply something
that works well within the framework of the existing relations, but
something that changes the very framework that determines how things work.
To say that good ideas are Œideas that work¹ means that one in advance
accepts the (global capitalist) constellation that determines what works
(if, for example, one spends too much money on education or healthcare, that
Œdoesn¹t work,¹ since it infringes too much on the conditions of capitalist
profitability). One can also put it in terms of the well-known definition of
politics as the Œart of the possible¹: authentic politics is rather the
exact opposite, i.e. the art of the impossible - it changes the very
parameters of what is considered Œpossible¹ in the existing constellation.

As such, Lenin¹s politics is the true counterpoint not only to the Third Way
pragmatic opportunism, but also to the marginalist Leftist attitude of what
Lacan called le narcissisme de la chose perdue. What a true Leninist and a
political conservative have in common is the fact that they reject what one
could call liberal Leftist Œirresponsibility¹ (advocating grand projects of
solidarity, freedom, etc., yet ducking out when one has to pay the price for
it in the guise of concrete and often Œcruel¹ political measures): like an
authentic conservative, a true Leninist is not afraid to pass to the act, to
assume all the consequences, unpleasant as they may be, of realising his
political project. Kipling (whom Brecht admired very much) despised British
liberals who advocated freedom and justice, while silently counting on the
Conservatives to do the necessary dirty work for them; the same can be said
for the liberal Leftist¹s (or Œdemocratic Socialist¹s¹) relationship towards
Leninist Communists: liberal Leftists reject social democratic Œcompromise,¹
they want a true revolution, yet they shirk the actual price to be paid for
it and thus prefer to adopt the attitude of a Beautiful Soul and to keep
their hands clean. In contrast to this false liberal Leftist¹s position (who
want true democracy for the people, but without secret police to fight
counterrevolution, without their academic privileges being threatened...), a
Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming
the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it
actually means to take power and to exert it. Therein resided the greatness
of Lenin after the Bolsheviks took power: in contrast to hysterical
revolutionary fervour caught in the vicious cycle, the fervour of those who
prefer to stay in opposition and prefer (publicly or secretly) to avoid the
burden of taking things over, of accomplishing the shift from subversive
activity to responsibility for the smooth running of the social edifice, he
heroically embraced the heavy task of effectively running the State, of
making all the necessary compromises, but also the necessary harsh measures,
to assure that the Bolshevik power would not collapse.

The return to Lenin is the endeavour to retrieve the unique moment when a
thought already transposes itself into a collective organisation, but does
not yet fix itself into an Institution (the established Church, the IPA, the
Stalinist Party-State). It aims neither at nostalgically re-enacting the
Œgood old revolutionary times,¹ nor at the opportunistic-pragmatic
adjustment of the old program to Œnew conditions,¹ but at repeating, in the
present world-wide conditions, the Leninist gesture of initiating a
political project that would undermine the totality of the global
liberal-capitalist world order. One should approach this task in the spirit
mercilessly (self)critical attitude, with no a priori sectarian exclusions.








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