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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 Žižek 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.” Žižek 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.
“A return to Marx may be acceptable today ... But a repetition of Lenin? ... Perhaps Žižek’s return to Lenin is merely tactical, figurative even. He can’t be serious, can he? ... Žižek 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 offer 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!”