Revolution at the Gates
Zizek on Lenin: The 1917 Writings
Publication Date: June 17, 2004
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The idea of a Lenin renaissance might well provoke an outburst of sarcastic laughter. Marx is OK, but Lenin? Doesn’t he stand for the big catastrophe which left its mark on the entire twentieth-century?
Lenin, however, deserves wider consideration than this, and his writings of 1917 are testament to a formidable political figure. They reveal his ability to grasp the significance of an extraordinary moment in history. Everything is here, from Lenin-the-ingenious-revolutionary-strategist to Lenin-of-the-enacted-utopia. To use Kierkegaard’s phrase, what we can glimpse in these writings is Lenin-in-becoming: not yet Lenin-the-Soviet-institution, but Lenin thrown into an open, contingent situation.
In Revolution at the Gates, Slavoj iek locates the 1917 writings in their historical context, while his afterword tackles the key question of whether Lenin can be reinvented in our era of “cultural capitalism.” iek is convinced that, whatever the discussion—the forthcoming crisis of capitalism, the possibility of a redemptive violence, the falsity of liberal tolerance—Lenin’s time has come again.
Slavoj iek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. He is a professor at the European Graduate School, International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London, and a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His books include Living in the End Times, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, In Defense of Lost Causes, four volumes of the Essential iek, and many more.
“A return to Marx may be acceptable today ... But a repetition of Lenin? ... Perhaps iek’s return to Lenin is merely tactical, figurative even. He can’t be serious, can he? ... iek claims that Lenin’s act, ‘his choice,’ continues to speak to those of us on the left today. Faced with our current conceptual deadlock, we must have the courage, the nerve, to risk isolation, self-annihilation even, in order to ofeer a real alternative to the false oppositions recuperated by and churned out for our consumption by the image industry of late capitalism ... The postmodernists and liberal multiculturalists, today’s Bernsteins and Kautskys—our contemporary Plekhanovs and Martovs, beware!” —Bad Subjects