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Revolution at the Gates: Zizek on Lenin, the 1917 Writings
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This review is in response to Žižek's latest call for a return to Lenin (specifically the material collected in the introduction and afterword to Revolution at the Gates).
Zizek's exhortation is explicitly aimed not at resurrecting a mythical "lost" revolutionary past, to continue, as if without interruption, the legacy of Lenin the Soviet institution. Rather, Žižek instructs us to repeat the "revolutionary spark" of Lenin circa 1917, when the Bolsheviks recognized the unique Augenblick of their contingent geopolitical situation and seized the moment, thus reinventing the Marxist project. Žižek claims that the left is today at a crossroads similar (indeed, homologous) to that of Lenin just before the October revolution: imperialist war rages on, colonialism (whether disguised as "post" or not) is rampant, global ecological catastrophe looms...and the current political coordinates offer no viable solution to these disastrous conditions. In this sense, returning to Lenin means reclaiming the freedom to engage in politics that extend beyond the borders of the liberal parliamentary-democratic consensus in order to authentically address today's most pressing social and political concerns. I can but only enthusiastically agree with such a rejection of the prohibitions on thought imposed by "post-ideological" liberal-democratic hegemony.
Now, this is obviously merely scratching the surface of Žižek's argument, and for all the theoretical nuancing involved in delimiting it as a call to repeat the revolutionary impulse of Lenin in today's political constellation, calling for a "return to Lenin" most certainly brings up a host of questions and problems. One concern I find particularly nagging: does a return to Lenin, even in the form of a revolutionary impulse translated and retrofitted to today's political coordinates, consequently mean a return to the vanguard Party?
Apparently, for Žižek it does. He justifies this conclusion via a rather convincing detour that begins with claiming the right to a politics of truth to establish a partisan universality. He then goes through a Hegelian reading of materialism in which it is demonstrated that an "external" position of knowledge cannot possibly exist. This leads to a discussion of the modalities of knowledge (the four discourses) accordint to Lacan in order to show that the Party should be identified with the subject-supposed-to-know (homologous to the Analyst) which represents the form of the activity of the masses. Importantly, here "form" is to be understood as the "traumatic kernel of the Real" that compels everything around it to become engaged with it. To me this implies that the Party is ostensibly merely an organizing principle that "quilts" the activity of the revolutionary masses: it "poses" as a knowledgably distilled interpretation of the collective will, but this organizing and interpretative knowledge is in actuality merely supposed knowledge to which the rank and file respond and develop their own knowledge which thus truly directs the revolutionary movement.
As can be expected, this text is punctuated with typical Zizekian commentary on film, literature and current events, constituting a performative analysis (analysis in the clinical sense, that is) of current leftist political theory. If the reader is familiar with the workings of Zizek's oblique approach to criticism, this text is very fruitful indeed.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 27, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It's always fascinating why an intellectual might be drawn toward a persona, well here one of the greatest political strategists of the century, the last one. Lenin is not one one can warm up to with the vagaries of history for his succession the monstrous detour from Trotsky to Stalin.
Marx yes with his early philosophical searchings of humanism, creating a new science of historical man/woman, and then his work on capital exposing the whys and wherefors for greed, profit,work, distribution and circulation, even Wall Street Sharks find Marx interesting if detestable. But Lenin (so we are told) failed to ignite a revolution that sustained itself, and won, like it is a game of soccer!, the deep complexities of Mother Russia transforming itself after centuries of barbarism was more than formidable.

Lenin for Zizek represents a way out of the impasse of the present, the current digitalization and virtualization of reality of the consumer of the culture of un-change,(to have a revolution, you need a revolution) The neo-liberal order it is clear still requires escape valves the World Bank and the IMF, wars famines,death squads,corruption, massacres, poverty and environmental rape to sustain itself. For there is a man at the end still waiting for surplus value. Lenin's work represents a way out of the impasse of subjectivity of change. Now that deconstruction, and structuralisms, postmodernities vigours haven't produced tangible change we have returned to the Badiou-ian "truth-event" for which Lenin is a guide to action of sorts.

Lenin for Zizek was one who worked his way out of the impasse he always found himself in as best he could, where he bewildered many of this comrades adopting positions few could see the immediate results. Lenin as well had to fall backwards,while in power making compromises with the Western democracies who simply wanted a reversion to the Czar for starts,then as a pretext to steal Mother Russia for natural and strategic purposes, something a perennial pattern we find now within the Middle East. Also for the burgeoning years of the 20th Century how can we have a functioning communist state,that confiscated the property of the former ruling classes, this revolution stuff might spill over into other industrial powers as it almost did in Germany.
The tour de force here is Zizek's essay "Repeating Lenin", a turgid yet focused theoretical romp into Left iconic history, shibboleths with Hegel and Lacan by his side. Zizek for instance finds affinity with Adorno's "Negative Dialectics", as another impasse similar to Lenin's "Philosophical Notebooks" of 1915. Both found themselves working their way through a reality. With Lenin though he assumed completion, the seizure of power, whereas with Adorno he found no way out toward change; cultural political or otherwise.

Lenin's primary texts are here reproduced, ones Zizek found useful.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Zizek audaciously republishes Lenin's works which were penned on the eve of the Russian Revolution. He points out that this leader was alone among the revolutionaries of his time in being able to clearly identify the emergence of a revolutionary situation and then lead a revolutionary movement to seize upon it. Zizek calls on people to see the genius of Lenin and study his works, especially in these times of great tumult. He challenges people who want to change the world to go beyond activism against oppression, or mere reflections or descriptions of what is. His book is a plea for the necessity of studying, and the importance of developing, revolutionary theory* in order to transform the world with an alert, dreaming eye toward what could be. A better world is possible....

*I noticed with pleased surprise (given that Zizek is no Maoist) that Professor Zizek has written the preface of an exciting new book by Bob Avakian and Bill Martin called Marxism and the Call of the Future. But then it makes sense in light of Zizek's thirst for elevating the discourse of radical politics and philosophy.
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4 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
With 'Revolution at the Gates' Zizek affirms that he past his zenith nearly a decade ago.
Far from the rigour of 'Sublime Object,' this collation of half-ideas traces the impotent gestures of the proto-Left's most recent failures.
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