Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sylvain Lazarus on Revolution

"...revolution is the unheard-of experience that the end of the state is possible.  It is unheard-of because the state itself asserts its inalienable perpetuity..."

It's difficult to digest Sylvain Lazarus' short but theoretically sophisticated essay, "Lenin and the Party, 1902 to November 1917," in Lenin Reloaded:  Toward a Politics of Truth.  However, Zylvain Lazarus' brilliant little essay makes me think that I put far too little emphasis on analysis and far too much emphasis on description.  What does Lazarus have to say about the October Revolution?  I think Lazarus' main point is this:  that the truly revolutionary moment is over almost as soon as it begins.  The point is best illustrated by Lenin himself.  Who was Lenin?  There are many versions of Lenin, even in terms of his political philosophy. The principle versions of Lenin are these:  first, there is the Lenin who modified Marxism in an anticipation of radical freedom from bourgeois social control;  second, there is the Lenin who consolidated power by wedding the newly formed socialist state to the communist party;  and third, there was the Lenin who was incorporated into the Stalinist philosophical project, namely Marxist-Leninism.

The point here is that there is, at least, a before and after in any revolutionary moment.  Is it fair to analyze Lenin as a political thinker, or revolutionary politics in general, from the vantage point of 1918, 1924, or even 1938?  Perhaps not, or at least not entirely.  Lazarus reminds us that in the nineteenth century the very notion of politics implied revolution.  No where was this more true than in Russia.  To be political, was to be opposed to the Russian status quo, to the monarchy, to the state in general.  This Lenin's thinking prior to November, 1917, is truly revolutionary in the sense that it pushes us to be free, free of colonialism, class oppression, and tyranny in general.  But after the Bolshevik takeover, Lenin's thinking means something else entirely.  Although the Bolshevik Revolution invented new forms of state activity, including the soviets and the Communist Party, in power the Revolution was no longer, well, revolutionary.  In other words, before taking power, Leninism represented something brand new, something perhaps inherently better than world war and colonial exploitation;  but in power, Leninism became another expression of state activity, not quite as bad as the Marxist-Leninist variety, but certainly not revolutionary as we should really understand the term.

To sum up, as a category of analysis, revolution is something more than what the "revolutionaries" made of it.  It's that rare break in the continuity of the state, a promise of freedom that can't really be reduced to the actual events that unfold in its name.

1 comment:

  1. Since I am unable to get the book in question, is there a way for you to copy at least this essay from Lazarus, I would be very grateful?