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5.0 out of 5 stars Theoretical shot in the arm for a stagnant Left, October 3, 2003
This review is from: Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917 (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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