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Confessions of an Unrepentant Leninist

by Slavoj Zizek

The reactions to my Lenin-book for the most part move between the standard liberal anti-Communism – how do I dare to rehabilitate a mass murderer, etc. – and an apparently more friendly, but, with regard to its consequences, much more dangerous “friendly” reception, which performs a domestification of my theory, its transformation into “provocations” which are not really “meant seriously,” but aim at awakening us from the democratic-dogmatic slumber and thus contribute to the revitalization of democracy… This is how the establishment likes “subversive” theorists to be: turned into harmless gadflies who bite us and thus awaken us to inconsistencies and imperfection of our democratic enterprise – God forbid us to take their project seriously and try to LIVE them.

Both reactions are totally predictable and, as such, not very interesting. When, as a reply to my thesis on Lenin’s missed chances, I read: “Sure, he could have murdered whole Russian nation along with some neighbors”; when one reacts to my commentary on Lenin with “We could just as easy comment in such a way Mein Kampf”; then such style of critique cannot but remind me of my youth in Socialist Yugoslavia where I was unemployed for years and never allowed to teach, and where my reference to Freud and Lacan was greeted by exactly the same words as those of one of my critics: “It would be embarrassingly funny if it wasn’t dangerous.” All I can say to this is that I sincerely welcome the rejection of my book by people who are able to write such slanderous lies: if they were to display even a minimum of sympathy for my work, I would be morally deeply ashamed.

No wonder one of my critics positively refers to the “constitutional prohibition concerning praise for Communism”! A few days before the Czech municipal and Senate elections, on the 16th of October 2006, the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic banned the organization Communist Youth League (KSM). What was its "criminal idea" on account of which, according to the Ministry of the Interior, the KSM deserved to be banned? The fact that its program advocates the transformation of the private property of the means of production into social property, thereby running counter the Czech constitution… To claim that the demand for social ownership of the means of production is a crime is to say that modern left-wing thinking in its entirety has criminal roots – ultimately, it even means the Western social-democratic nationalizations were criminal.

This prohibition is part of the curious but symptomatic phenomenon of “belated anti-Communism” growing after 2000 in most of the Eastern European post-Communist countries (Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia…): the attempt to directly criminalize Communism, to put it at the same level as Fascism and Nazism (prohibiting the public display of its symbols, inclusive of the Red Star). It is easy to demonstrate that this “equality” is a fake: implicitly, Communism is elevated into the primary crime, with Fascism reduced to a kind of political copycat-murder, a reaction to and imitation of Communism.

So instead of worrying about my Leninism, it would be better for my critics to worry about real threats today. When, in December 2006, a group of Polish conservative-nationalist members of Parliament seriously proposed to proclaim Jesus Christ the king of Poland, they not only confused religious and political orders; much more, the logic of their proposal was deeply pagan – phenomena like these, if one wants to be pathetic, are the true threat to European Christian legacy.

The supreme irony here is that the Catholic Church itself is not often part of this threat. When, today, the Church presents itself as a beacon of the respect for freedom and human dignity, it is advisable to make a simple mental experiment. Till the early 1960s, the Church maintained the (in)famous index of works whose reading was prohibited to (ordinary) Catholics; one should only imagine how would the artistic and intellectual history of modern Europe look if we erase from it all works that, at one time or another, found themselves on this Index – a modern Europe without Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, not to mention the large majority of modern literary classics. So when recently proposals emerged from the Polish ministry of education to replace in the high school curriculum evolutionary theory with creationism, these proposals perfectly fitted the Church tradition.

Not that Slovenia, my country, is any better than Poland. Recently, a racist mob of »true« Slovenes stopped the car with the president of the republic who was on the way to visit a group of displaced Roma (Slovene citizens!) – they inspected the car and verbally mishandled the president, while the police stood by, doing nothing…

But to get to the main point: where do I stand with regard to Lenin and Stalin? Not only did I extensively analyze Stalinism; in my book on Lenin, I also explicitly pointed out how Stalinism was a consequence of Leninism – here is a clear passage: “one cannot separate the unique constellation which enabled the revolutionary takeover in October 1917 from its later "Stalinist" turn: the very constellation that rendered the revolution possible (peasants' dissatisfaction, a well-organized revolutionary elite, etc.) led to the "Stalinist" turn in its aftermath -therein resides the proper Leninist tragedy. Rosa Luxembourg's famous alternative "socialism or barbarism" ended up as the ultimate infinite judgment, asserting the speculative identity of the two opposed terms: the "really existing" socialism WAS barbarism.”

So when I claim that we should today “repeat Lenin,” I make it clear what I mean by it:

Consequently, to REPEAT Lenin does NOT mean a RETURN to Lenin -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.

In contrast to today’s anti-globalist dreamers, my stance is much more modest and – why not -pessimist: we effectively live in dark times for emancipatory politics. While one can discern the contours of the fateful limitation of the present global capitalist system, inclusive of its democratic form of political self-legitimization, while one can outline the self-destructive dynamics that propels its reproduction, and while one can perceive the insufficiency of all the forms of struggle at our disposal now, one cannot formulate a clear project of global change. So, contrary to the cheap “revolutionary” calls for a radical overthrow of capitalism and its democratic political form, my point is precisely that such calls, although necessary in the long run, are meaningless today.

What I am NOT ready to do, however, is to accept the standard “postmodern” political solution to turn defeat into a blessing in disguise, i.e., to abandon the horizon of radical change in favor of the prospect of multiple local “practices of resistance” – today, it is more crucial than ever to continue to question the very foundations of capitalism as a global system, to clearly articulate the limitation of the democratic political project.

This is why I would like to express my theoretical and political solidarity with the project of “Krytyka Polityczna,” and especially with Slawomir Sierakowski: I fully stand with them. Establishing links among similar groups in different European countries is one of the great political tasks of today’s Left.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology