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Mainstream, VOL LX No 4, New Delhi, January 15, 2022

Letter Number 2 To Kanhaiya Kumar - Reformism or How To Delegitimize The Legacy Of Marxism | Murzban Jal

Friday 14 January 2022


by Murzban Jal

Philosophy comes into the world amid the loud cries of its enemies, who betray their inner infection by wild shouts for help against the fiery ardour of ideas. —Karl Marx, The Leading Article in No. 179 of the Kölnische Zeitung. 

Dear Ex-comrade Kanhaiya Kumar,

Extreme urgency has compelled me to write again to you, especially in view that you are to assist the battle against the BJP and the Dharam Sansad (Religious Parliament) recently held in Haridwar where calls were made for genocide against Muslims. And since you are going to do tukde tukde to the BJP along with your master, I am sure that you must have got on your faithful steed Dapple which the original Sancho Panza rode to assist your lord and master, the great Don Quixote himself, who is already strapped on his stallion Rozinante attacking windmills.

“Look yonder friend Sancho”, so the Don tells his squire Sancho, “there are at least thirty outrageous giants, whom I intend to encounter; and having deprived them of life, we will begin to enrich ourselves with their spoils: for they are lawful prize; and the extirpation of that cursed brood will be an acceptable service to Heaven.” [1] This is what the original Don said when he saw windmills and took them for giants. But why did the original Don do this and why must one tell you about the same? To understand this let us turn to the story of Don Quixote, the man of La Mancha.

For when certain gentlemen of the leisure class have nothing to do, they spend their time reading books of knight-errantry and doing so sell of all their property to be able to buy all possible books on knight-errantry. The original Don did just that. And when the era of knight-errantry seemed to be over, he took on this very same role. He then decided to find a horse and on finding an extremely starved old one, he imagined that this was the best horse that a knight could even have and he thus decided to travel all over the world in order to save humanity from total disaster. While the Don had a horse, albeit with bones sticking out, Sancho only had a donkey.

We thus look to you and the Don now bringing sense to the senseless world.

The Exit of the Reformist and the Return of the Revolutionary

Now that our ex-comrade is happy in being transfigured as a liberal and reformist we must talk, namely talk philosophy, specially the philosophy of Marx. There is a difference between serious politics based on rigorous philosophical thinking and media-driven spectacles, difference between thinking politics of the working classes and sponsored debates by the corporate media. Sponsored debates claim that they are ‘democratic’, so they also include liberals and Stalinists not to forget members of various Stalinist parties including student leaders and ex-student leaders turned reformist and liberal. For the sponsored debates there are only two alternatives—authoritarianism or liberal models of capitalism. Marxism is of course effaced away.

For the sponsored debates there is no alternative to capitalism. While authoritarianism claims that the nation needs to be disciplined, reformism claims that capitalism can be reformed and a benevolent form of capitalism—capitalism without its cronies—will make the nation prosper.

But beyond these sponsored debates where we are presented with ex-comrades becoming nationalists and liberals is that there is a Marxist Renaissance taking place internationally, a Renaissance that claims that the master text to be addressed is global capitalism that is essentially crisis ridden and violent. This Marxist Renaissance also claims that Stalinism was not merely an error, but a part of an international counterrevolution that actively sought to destroy the proletariat movement by replacing the spontaneous movement of the working class with a brutal nationalist bureaucracy that was completely intolerant to any criticism.

While this is the case, one of the great errors usually propagated by the Yankee model of liberalism (which the whole world has lapped down from the Pakistani mullahs and the Iranian Ayatollahs to the Indian saints) has been that Stalinism was essentially rooted in Marx’s own theoretical problematic and one cannot get a Marxism sans Stalinism and the counterrevolutionary crimes that it committed. Reformism is essentially trapped in this Yankee capitalism argument.

It is thus necessary to recall Erich Fromm’s reading of the revolutionary legacy that Western liberalism has so far manipulated:

The general habit of considering Stalinism and present-day Communism as identical with, or, at least a continuation of revolutionary Marxism has also led to an increasing misunderstanding of the personalities of great revolutionary figures: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Just as their theories are seen as related to those of Stalin and Khrushchev, the picture of the “revolutionary fanatic” is applied to them as it is applied to the vengeful killer Stalin, and to the opportunistic conservative Khrushchev. This distortion is a real loss for the present and the future. In whatever way one may disagree with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, there can be no doubt that as persons they represent a flowering of Western humanity. They were men with an uncompromising sense of truth, penetrating to the very essence of reality, and never taken in by the deceptive surface; of an unquenchable courage and integrity; of deep concern and devotion to humanity and its future; unselfish and with little vanity or lust for power. They were always stimulating, always alive, always themselves, and whatever they touched became alive. They represented Western tradition in its best features, its faith in reason and in the progress of humanity [2].

It seems that for the reformist who while throwing the red flag of revolution to wear the flag of liberalism, there is no history of Marxist philosophy and struggles. We must remind this liberal critic that his great hatred for Marxism gives way to a form of latent neo-Stalinism that advocates an affirmation of state politics, or “politics from above”, as against anti-state politics that Marx had passionately argued for. The liberal-reformist should have known of what Engels called Gemeinwesen, an open space that transcends the spaces of both civil society and the state. It must be argued that human freedom is available in this New Space discovered by Marx. He should also have known that Marxism is essentially a humanism and authentic libertarianism, where political freedom and human rights are placed at the centre of Marxism. And since one talks of Marxism as essentially anti-state, it is also necessary to talk of Marxist politics based on the young Marx’s idea of communism as humanism and naturalism (a form of “direct communism”) and Lenin’s praxis of insurrection as art. And that is why we insist that we offer another perspective for radical politics that transcends both liberalism as well as the politics offered by the organized left—led by the CPI (M).

On Three Types of Histories 

It was Louis Althusser who in his Lenin and Philosophy talked of Lenin bursting into laughter when after the aftermath of the crushed 1905 revolution, Maxim Gorky influenced by the strange doctrine of the “god-seekers” sought to have a “philosophical debate” with Lenin. Lenin’s laughter is not only a gesture, most certainly not an empty gesture, it is a philosophical one. I will pick up the argument of this philosophical laughter by differentiating three types of histories: (1) radical history, (2) neurotic history, and (3) inherited history. Radical history consists of the revolutionary subversion and overthrow of class histories, which necessarily includes intellectual history, especially the history of philosophies and sciences; whilst neurotic history is the history of both capitalism and the Stalinist variation of state capitalism. Inherited history, on the other hand, consists of both radicalism and neurosis. We live an inherited history. Slogan mongering, confusions and concealing facts are no substitutes for intellectual integrity.

Keeping these objections in mind it is necessary to talk of the serious character of Marxism. I will talk of not only the young Marx and his celebration of humanism, of Marx’s “union of free people” of Capital, of Lenin and his laughter to Gorky, of Freud on money as defecation and my transformation of this Freudian theme into the theme of the “state as both sham and defecation”, not to forget Raya Dunayevskaya and Slavoj Žižek’s reading of Lenin. I shall also talk of reading and understanding Marxism as a serious project, which requires much more talent than the one professed by our reformist. Firstly he does not seem to have read Marxism at all. Understanding Leninism and whether a critique of petty bourgeois parliamentary politics is possible is altogether another matter. Secondly even an elementary reading of Marx’s texts seems to escape the imagination of the reformist. All this prattling about of a new discourse of Congress as the savior of India is utter rubbish.

The reformist has no understanding what Marx said. For instance when the reformist now totally embraces the bourgeois state led by the Congress party, saying that Marx said anyhow one fine day that the state would automatically “wither away” and since it has not withered away, let it be noted that Marx never talked of the “withering of the state”. It is Engels who said it in his Anti-Dühring [3]. The reformist seems never to have read Marx even in the English, forget in German. If he had read Marxism seriously, he would have understood that Marx’s Aufhebung des Staates is different from Engels’ Abstrebendes Staates. Both emerge from different philosophical perspectives, despite the shared concerns that Marx and Engels had in common. What our reformist after joining the Congress party has silently said that “anyway one fine day the state will “wither away” and since it yet exists and has not yet “withered away”; let us partake in the fruits of the state governed by the Congress party”

It must be noted that we live in inherited history, a history where Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Lukács, Gramsci, Freud, Reich, Althusser, etc. speak. What liberalism and reformism does is that it pries Marxism out from this inherited history. It converts Marxism, especially the Leninist version, in the form of caricature. Marxism (as academic chanting of slogans) maybe ok, but Leninism is passé. Leninism can only be Stalinism. After all did not Stalin say so? And do not the liberals also say the same? Consider Žižek:

The first public reaction to the idea of reactualizing Lenin is, of course, an outburst of sarcastic laughter: Marx—okay, even on Wall Street they love him today—the poet of commodities, who provided perfect descriptions of capitalist dynamics, Marx of 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 that left its mark on twentieth-century world politics, for the real socialist experiment that culminated in an economically inefficient dictatorship? So, in contemporary academic politics, a proposal to deal with Lenin is twice qualified: 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 a 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 twentieth-century totalitarianisms....To repeat Lenin is to accept that Lenin is dead, that his particular solution failed, even failed monstrously, but that there was a utopian spark in it worth saving. To repeat Lenin means that one has to distinguish between what Lenin actually did and the field of possibilities that he opened up, the tension in Lenin between what he effectively did and another dimension one might call what was "in Lenin more than Lenin himself." [4]

That Lenin is dead (as per the liberals and the reformists) we all know, despite Stalin’s mummifying his thoughts. But there is another reading on the death of Lenin, a reading that we will claim that is distinct from that of Žižek. This is related to a number of themes on the different accounts of history—radical, neurotic and inherited. Lenin dies but appears again in the form of the specter that Marx had celebrated in The Manifesto of the Communist Party. This second Lenin haunts, and the haunting is terrible. Academics do not know what to do with it. They brush him aside from their amnesic memories. The Indian state, on the other hand, that cries out how the whole of India loves George Bush and sings the glories of colonial Britain, declares this Leninism as the single biggest internal security threat. But besides this radical evoking of Lenin, the Lenin that is declared a security threat, there is another evoking (especially by the Indian state), the evoking of liberal democracy that Francis Fukuyama made famous.

Just as messianic history ends somewhere (in late capitalism) and someplace (Washington D.C.), and just as imperialism appears once again in its terrible and brutal forms—with the breaking of all national boundaries and having a single state, as The Manifesto so prophetically declared—so too Lenin, along with Trotsky, Luxemburg and millions of poets and fighters of the international revolution appear once again. The liberals had once thought that these revolutionaries had officially been declared dead and buried with all due rites and ceremonies, but unfortunately for the liberals, all of them have appeared on the stage of world history once again. They are there in Tehran, in Islamabad, in North Africa and what the Yanks call the “Middle East”. But now they appear once again in Western Europe and to the great dismay of the Yanks they are seen also in Washington D.C. Earlier the White Guards in the form of Anton Denikin and Alexander Kolchak occupied the stage of history to fight the revolutionaries. Now one has to see who these Denikins and Kolchaks are.

I thus recall how history repeats itself not twice, but thrice: the first as tragedy, the second as farce and the third time as great joy. There is a sort of compulsion in living history that appears in these forms. The liberals can choose which type of history they want. The Denikins and Kolchaks cannot choose. They are there fighting under the flags of the neoliberal capitalism and fascism compelled under the burden of neurotic history to play out their counterrevolutionary roles.

One has the appearance once again of the neurotic’s compulsion to repeat. In history, or to be precise in capitalist history (despite the galloping changes), it is this law of historical repetitions that dominates. For the Marxist, one has to learn from these repetitions. For the neurotic, one embraces wholeheartedly this neurosis, and alongside Fukuyama celebrates the miraculous “end of history” and the messianic triumph of liberalism. But they do not know that after the cycle of the completion of tragic and farcical histories, there emerges joyous history.

Lenin’s Laughter as Authentic Philosophizing

Since it was Althusser who made famous Lenin’s laughter in Lenin and Philosophy one will have to go to this text. Unlike the reformist, our Althusser is a Leninist. Consider Althusser here:

I should then say that this science (historical materialism) cannot be a science like any other, a science for ’everyone’. Precisely because it reveals the mechanisms of class exploitation, repression and domination, in the economy, in politics and in ideology, it cannot be recognized by everyone. This science, which brings the social classes face to face with their truth, is unbearable for the bourgeoisie and its allies, who reject it and take refuge in their so-called ’social sciences’: it is only acceptable to the proletariat, whom it ’represents’ (Marx). That is why the proletariat has recognized it as its own property, and has set it to work in its practice: in the hands of the Workers’ Movement, Marxist science has become the theoretical weapon of the revolution. [5]

I am intentionally bringing in Althusser, since the reformist imagines that Marx was one dimensional talking of only and solely capitalism and its horrors and nothing else. Our reformist knows very well how to be as superficial as possible. In contrast, we will discover something much more important that what our liberal critic of Marx chooses. Our liberal critic thinks that Marxism-Leninism blinded us for a long time and the fight against authoritarianism must be led by the liberals. Of course one should also mention his fellow travelers like the multiple TV channels who inform us that all leftists are essentially terrorists and to save the great nation one has to join other political platforms of the “friends of the USA” so as not to disturb the global hegemony of the Yanks. What irritates our liberal (and ex-communist) is not merely the combative tone of Lenin and his scorn for pretenders. What primarily irritates the liberal is that Lenin continuously links his theory to praxis. As a public intellectual his theory is always praxis oriented: the praxis of proletarian democracy, humanism, and insurrection. His theorizing is a specific form of a practice of philosophy itself. What he tells the petty bourgeois professor is: “How do you practice your philosophy?” The liberal can never tolerate this. For all the liberal ranting of the rights of individuals, one finds nations destroyed by the same ranting liberals.

It is necessary thus to understand that the revolutionary “return to Lenin” is a return to Lenin in a “new way”. Returning to Lenin in a new way necessitates the understanding of the following: that humanism, radical inclusiveness and mass struggles all which form the basis of Lenin’s oeuvre (as against economism, trade unionism and parliamentary fetishism). From this New Humanism (or how to read Leninism as humanism) one makes an epistemic point: on how to read Lenin in the text of a radical absence, the absence of Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (for this text was unavailable to Lenin). Now it is well known that Marx talks of the human condition in this work, of how a section of humanity is reified into the worker, and how capital confronts the worker everywhere in a hostile way. It is also known that Marx says that it is capital that is personified having its own will, desire and consciousness, whilst humanity looses all these three. It is also known that Marx in the third volume of Capital calls capital (with its own consciousness) “Monsieur Capital” who does his macabre dance and ghost walk all over the world. [6]

 We must inform the reader that the scene is becoming rather theatrical and that a rational reading (governed by an instrumental reason) of Lenin (done by both the Stalinists and the liberals) will most certainly not work. Theorizing on Lenin is done amongst, not only the imperialist raids of Monsieur Capital and the ranting of the fascists and liberals, but also the laughter of Lenin. We go back to this celebrated laughter. Lenin laughs because he claims that Gorky (along with a ‘radical’ section of the Bolsheviks) has not understood the difference between “traditional philosophy” (philosophy as neurosis or saying the same things all over again, which is also philosophy as idealism that wants to prove the stupidity of materialism) and Marx’s different practice of philosophy. Now what is this different practice of philosophy? This different practice is the sublation-transcendence (Aufhebung) of philosophy by realizing it. We must note that we go far beyond Althusser’s reading.

We go beyond Althusser because we keep the theory of alienation central to Marxism, as against Althusser who thought it to be an idealist fantasy of the young and heady Marx who was as if drunk on the elixir of Hegel and Feuerbach. We know that Althusser involves an anti-Hegelian and anti-Feuerbachian reading of Marx. We, in contrast, involve a Hegelian and Feuerbachian reading that incorporates historicism and humanism in Marx’s philosophical and scientific discovery. It is necessary to note that Marxism is a unified science, a human natural science and that we need to go beyond the realm of “ideologies” for a new theater of action which we call “desireology”.

There is another fact, however yet couched in Althussereans language. Marx discovers a radically new galaxy of knowledge: the discovery of historical materialism, after the two other great scientific discoveries: mathematics and physics. We however go a little beyond Althusser. For Marx discovers not only the new continent of history, he also discovers this galaxy with the reservation of the alienated and despicable human condition concealed within this continent.

Reification and the Transformation of the Revolutionary into Sancho Panza 

So we have a second discovery. Marx discovers the triad of the reification of humanity when discovering the human condition. This is the scientific cell that Marx discovers. Whilst thinkers prior to Marx talked of certain aspects of reification, they did not know of this complete theoretical problematic. Marx’s different practice of philosophy—to sublate and realize philosophy both at the same time—is constituted in this problematic One practices philosophy in the world of human estrangement, in the world of neurosis, psychosis and liberalism. Now one knows that this philosophical tradition went from Lukács, Korsch and Hyppolite to the Frankfurt School. But the fundamental reification that forms the basis of not only radical theorizing, but also revolutionary praxis, seems to be missing from these renderings.

One also knows that Lenin never talked of this aspect of Marxism, since he did not encounter the main text (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) that announces the coming of this reification. In this case how could Lenin practice a Marxist philosophy when the scientific cell was absent from his vision? There is thus a silence, a void that one needs filling up. Lenin is silent on Marx and the question of philosophy that appears as the “estranged mind” (i.e. philosophy appearing as spurious and duplicate philosophy, or the refusal to think at all, especially the refusal to think about the most radical question: “How is free humanity possible?”). Yet Lenin goes through this silence and talks of philosophy that appears, if not as an estranged signifier, then as a false path, in fact the falsest of false paths. Lenin here takes Engels’ difference between idealism and materialism drawn from Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy and makes a difference between traditional philosophy as idealist chattering (wanting to announce the “death of materialism”) and dialectical materialism as a different practice of philosophy, where the philosopher is no longer the idealist and neurotic, but a public intellectual living in the world of real people, encountering their real desires.

However there is a paradox: neither does Lenin know of Marx’s theory of alienation (when he is laughing at Gorky), nor has he read Hegel’s Science of Logic which later in 1914 he places at the basis of Revolutionary Marxism. So is there an “epistemological break” in Lenin? How does one read Lenin through these paradoxes, silences and voids? One reads him as a communist militant, a humanist who is ever ready to learn from the world. Now it is this militancy that scares the liberal. Since philosophy is now no longer about chattering, since praxis defines Marxist philosophy, a new type of philosophizing appears. It is no longer the old question that haunts the liberal: “Your money or you life”, but something else. Here we recall Žižek once again: “This Leninist forced choice—not: “Your money or your life!” but “No critique or your life!” combined with his dismissive attitude toward the liberal notion of freedom, accounts for his bad reputation among liberals”. [7]

One knows that Lenin does have a militant and an anti-liberal worldview. This is well known. He is not interested in chattering about birds and bees, on how “matter has disappeared” and how Marx has become a high priest of total destruction, not to forget how liberalism is not to be seen as a social contract between capital and wage labour nor propagated as a panacea for all problems in the world. He wants (what one calls after the language of the existentialists) an “authenticity”. But anti-liberalism is not totalitarianism and anti-democracy. This forced choice enforced by liberalism: either liberalism or totalitarianism is the own cunning invention of liberalism itself. The liberals force their trash on the world. And we are to choose between their bizarre alternatives. They forget what Aufhebung as sublation-transcendence means, a sublation where one “lifts” reality to a “higher level”. They also forget that the “practice of philosophy” that the young Marx first announces in his Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature is the philosophy of praxis that poses the question: “How is free humanity possible?” It has to be authentic through and through, because human freedom is not a commodity that can be bought by any freebooting liberal and sold in the world market of finance capital.

So how is Leninism valid today in the world of not only multiple choices, but primarily of multiple insurrections, of Arab Springs, Occupy Wall Streets and Black Lives Matter? Firstly one has to remove the double blinders (Stalinist, liberal) that cover our eyes. One cannot have the Kautskyist-Stalinist rendering of revolutionary consciousness being the privilege of certain central committees (that the organized left swears by), as if the working class cannot acquire revolutionary consciousness by its own struggles. One cannot have what one calls after Lacan an “auratic presence”, where the fantasy of a Stalinist ‘revolution’ stages an imaginary scenario being actualized in the stage of an impossible scene: the impossibility of the success of socialism in one country, not to forget the impossibility that dictatorial state capitalism of the Stalinist variety can disguise itself as a form of ‘socialism’ for too long. We saw that the real Lenin departed from the scene of revolutionary history to let the spurious Lenin (the Lenin constructed in the factories of Stalinism and liberalism) walk the stage of history. We saw that internationalism, mass struggles and democracy were substituted with the fantasy of socialism in one country, political cowardice and state dictatorship.

In this case how does one understand the humanist Lenin, the Lenin who talked of Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata to Gorky even in the days of repression: “The Appassionata is the most beautiful thing I know; I could listen to it every day. What wonderful, almost superhuman music! I always think with pride—perhaps it is naïve of me—what marvelous things human beings can do” [8]. One also sees the details of this “other Lenin”, a Lenin that is invisible in the age of hyper-liberalism:

Let us just recall 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 separating them from the Stalinist nomenklatura. When, on 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 mostly drove 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 the suburbs, they were even robbed of the car and their guns by bandits posing as police and then compelled to walk to the nearest police station. When Lenin was shot on 30 August 1918, he was engaged in conversation with a couple of complaining women in front of a factory he just visited. Gil drove the bleeding Lenin to the Kremlin, where 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 cantina in 1918 was buckwheat porridge and thin vegetable soup. So much for the privileges of nomenklatura! [9]

There is also something more that one needs to learn:

In what, then, resides Lenin’s greatness? Recall Lenin’s shock when, in the fall of 1914, all European social democratic parties (with the honorable exception of the Russian Bolsheviks and the Serb Social Democrats) adopted the "patriotic line," succumbing to the war fervor and voting for military credits. Lenin even thought that the issue of Vorwarts, German Social Democracy’s daily newspaper, which reported how the social democrats in the Reichstag voted for military credits, was a trick by the Russian secret police destined to deceive the Russian workers. In that era of the military conflict that cut the European continent in half, 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 Alain Badiou’s terms, a desastre, a catastrophe in which an entire world disappeared, not only idyllic bourgeois progressism, faith in progress, but also the socialist movement that 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 the catastrophe that 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. 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, and Lenin’s full subjective engagement in it is clear from this famous letter to Kamenev:

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 important for not only Plekhanov, but also Kautsky got it wrong. Condition: all this is entre nous.

The existential engagement is extreme here, and the kernel of the Leninist utopia arises out of the ashes of the catastrophe of 1914, in his settling of accounts with the Second International orthodoxy. This includes the radical imperative to smash the bourgeois state, which means the state as such, and to invent a new commune 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." This urge of the moment is the true utopia. One cannot overestimate the explosive potential of State and Revolution, for in this book, "the vocabulary and grammar of the Western tradition of politics was abruptly dispensed with". 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 theses. Far from being opportunistic, flattering and exploiting the prevailing mood of the populace, Lenin’s views were highly idiosyncratic. Bogdanov characterized the April Theses as "the delirium of a madman," and Krupskaya herself concluded that "I am afraid it looks as if Lenin has gone crazy" [10].

Today’s Lenin is, to recall Žižek again, a “cyberspace Lenin” [11]. Yet this Lenin is not a “post-revolutionary” Lenin that the global culture industry would like to have, most certainly not the Jacobian-elitist Lenin who inserted a Kantian-Kautskyist problematic (of the working classes having no capacity to acquire revolutionary consciousness) into the working class movement. We know from recent research, not only from Žižek, but also from Lars Lih, especially from his book Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done?In Context that this formulation is historically inaccurate. Our Lenin (the Lenin drunk on revolutions) is the Lenin with the revolutionary party who incorporates Marx’s humanist idea of the working classes as having a species character, thus incorporating the revolutionary party acquiring this very species character. Lenin’s party then takes on the role of Marx’s “species being” (Gattungswesen). This humanist, species driven Lenin, is not the Lenin who preaches anti-spontaneity (the myth propagated by the organized Stalinist left), but the Lenin who celebrates spontaneity as the dialectics of “movement and self-movement”, what he himself calls, “arbitrary (independent), spontaneous, internally-necessary movement, (which is) “change”, “movement and vitality”, “the principle of all self-movement”, “impulse” (Trieb) to “movement” and to “activity”—(which is) the opposite to “dead Being”” [12]. Leninist humanity, in fact the vital humanity of the here and the now, which has the drive (Trieb) within it, is also the entire population that overthrows capitalism, and thus not only advocates, but practices real democracy. Desiring Lenin is the Lenin that teaches us how the state is the prison house that we need to storm and then smash. Our Lenin is a humanist that considers not only liberalism and the state as sham, but also the discourse propagated by the Second International and perfected by Stalin, the discourse of “iron laws that run independent of humanity” as a sham. Leninism thinks this dictatorship of iron laws as political cowardice, that the communist of the “iron laws” does not have the courage to take state power, thereby abolishing the state immediately. Recall Gramsci that this type of discourse is the philosophy (or rather ideology) of anti-praxis, and thus is a type of the worst form of theology. The reformist of course does not have any clue what theology is. He has never read Walter Benjamin, nor does he know of Ernst Bloc’s The Principle of Hope. He, of course, does not know that Marx talks of “the real corporeal human being” with its “real objective essential powers” as the real actor of history [13].

And since he does not understand that Revolutionary Marxism as humanism is necessarily anti-theological, he also does not know how one continuously reinvents oneself. Not only do we attack the dictatorship of “iron laws”, we also attack the complete discipline of ideology. We claim that ideology is a sham because it is case of disembodiment and the return of the repressed unconscious [14]. We call ideology, not this or that ideology, not liberal, socialist, conservative or fascist ideology, but ideology as such, a form of repression and a replay of the terrible sublime. We said that this terrible sublime may activate a form of praxis, but which becomes terrible itself. We saw that the Gulag was a consequence of this terrible sublime. We also said that Stalinism is the Ghost of the Revolution. Now we say that liberalism is the ghost who moves around. We talked of Freud and Lacan. We talked of Lukács and Žižek. But our liberal and ex-comrade saw the name of Marx, and out like the medieval knight of honour, the good Sancho Panza along with his ever better Don Quixote, the liberals par excellence, saw ghosts and attacked everything that came in their way. The good Sancho with the even better Don will never know that for Marx, the revolution is the “ontological essence of human passion” [15] and the celebration of “human essential powers” [16]. To be a Marxist one needs both authenticity as well as to have passion.

If the reformist who has thrown out the red flag of revolution to embrace the tricolor had even bothered to read Marx he would have found that there is something called rigorous discourse, and that one needs to read Marx (preferably in the original German), followed by a rigorous reading of the history of Marxist classics. Our liberal and ex-comrade had once the stage in which to speak, to speak about the human condition of gender equality and feminism not to forget of environmentalism and what Marx offers. Thus if one talks of an authenticity, one likewise says how inauthentic the liberal critic of Marx is, because not only are all his facts completely wrong, but also the sources of his information completely off target. And so if one mentions “traditional philosophy” (Sartre’s anti-Marxist philosophers who are evoking pre-Marxist arguments) [17], one also talks of its compelling neurotic character, for when one talks of the “new”, one finds the “old” returning not in new clothes, but in even older and more shabby garments. It is Lenin who understood this. He understands Gorky and laughs at his “philosophical offer” on how to understand this bizarre “old/new” philosophy that sections of the Bolsheviks had been fascinated with, a fascination when the czarist state had been unleashing all its state power against the 1905 revolution.

Lenin’s laughter signifies that these Bolsheviks (Lunacharsky, Bogdanov and Bazarov) who have invented the story that “matter has disappeared” are not authentic. They fear the revolution and are making up nursery tales of the birth of some new philosophy. Remember that in The Manifesto Marx says that the Powers of Old Europe are making up nursery tales (Märchen) that communists in the form of ghosts are haunting Christian Europe. Grandma’s bedtime fairy tales return once again.

We come back to our liberal’s claim that fascism and authoritarianism can be fought in the terms and conditions of the bourgeois state where democracy would be said to once more appear in this (un)happy land once Gandhi and the mighty army of the liberals appear on the scene of history. We link it with grandma’s nursery tale. For this tale, that one cannot transcend the capitalist state and that one must affirm it, is like the tale of the princess who waited for a frog, thinking that it would be a secret prince under the spell of a wicked witch, and in kissing the frog, it would automatically turn into a prince. The capitalist state is like the frog. It can never be transformed, despite the efforts of the grandmas and princesses, not to forget the Stalinists, Gandhians and the liberals.

Meanwhile the Dharam Sansads keep on taking place. On the horizon are seen the Don and his squire, the ever faithful Sancho. Lenin’s laughter is heard yet once again. For what now one sees is the masses of the popular classes who are neither interested in the Dharam Sansads, nor in the knight-errantry of Don Quixote. Are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza along with the professors of liberalism, reformism and the alchemical sciences listening to this laughter?

[1Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Edition, Ltd., 1993), p. 46.

[2Erich Fromm, ‘Trotsky’s Diary in Exile—1935’, in Science & Society, Vol. 66, No. 2, Summer (2002), pp. 271-2

[3Fredrick Engels, Anti-Dühring. Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), p. 341

[4Slavoj Žižek, ‘A Plea for Leninist Intolerance’, in Critical Inquiry, Winter(2002).

[5Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 7-8.

[6Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986), p. 830.

[7Žižek, op.cit.

[8See Georg,Lukács, Lenin. A Study on the Unity of his Thought, trans. Nicholas Jacobs (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1974), p. 94

[9Žižek, op. cit.

[10Žižek, op. cit. 2002


[12V.I. Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks. Lenin. Collected Works. Vol. 38 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981) p. 141

[13Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), pp. 135-6

[14See my ‘Leninism as Radical ‘Desireology’’, in Economic and Political Weekly, September 24, Vol. XLVI, No. 39 (2011), pp. 64-5

[15Karl Marx, op. cit., p. 120

[16Ibid, pp. 96, 111, 136

[17See Jean-Paul Sartre, Search for a Method (Vintage Books, 1963), trans., Hazel E. Barnes.

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