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Back to Lenin? Bolshevism as Barbarism

Posted By Vladimir Tismaneanu On May 7, 2013 @ 12:45 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 38 Comments

It has become fashionable among leftist circles to invoke a return to Lenin, to radicalism, to utopia. Among those who advocate such imperative to “retest the communist hypothesis” one can count French philosopher Alain Badiou, a former admirer of the Khmer Rouges, and Slovene thinker, Slavoj Zizek, the new idol of Western university campuses, subject of documentary hagiographic movies, and prophet of a new phantasmagoric world revolution. Did the partisans of such positions ever stop to think how it would sound a call for “retesting the Nazi hypothesis”? One must be totally oblivious to history, an incurable cynic, in order to ignore the fact that Leninism, just like National-Socialism, means political terrorism, the apotheosis of fanatical partisanship, the boundless cult of violence and nihilism, etc. In short, Leninism presupposes all of what Polish poet Aleksander Wat called the destruction of the inner man. Leninism is theoretical and practical anti-humanism.

There have been conferences and symposia where Lenin is presented, in an academic context and without any trace of compassion for the millions of victims of “the great experiment,” as the philosopher of the break with an order putatively condemned by history. All in all, it is unsurprising that the prophets of violence worship Lenin. What is surprising is that intellectuals, who should have learnt from the catastrophes of the 20th century, are engaged in an endeavor driven by n programmatic irresponsibility. It is simply shocking that in countries where the Leninist model was implemented, one can still read and hear hymns honoring the architect of a criminal system.

Should we be amazed by all this? What could one expect from the epigones of Georg Lukacs, the Marxist philosopher who declared, in a 1970 dialogue with Italian sociologist Franco Ferraroti, that he preferred the worst form of socialisms to the best incarnation of capitalism. A perplexing statement, which was parodied by Leszek Kolakowski as follows: “This is why one can see endless crowds of people seeking asylum lining up in front of the embassies of Albania and not of those of Sweden.” Real history does not matter for such sectarians. What does matter is the dogma to which they are faithful in total disregard of reality. If facts stand in the way, they adopt a position mirroring the statement of one famous German philosopher: “Too bad for the facts!”  It is quite telltale that one of Hugo Chavez’s intellectual heroes was Istvan Meszaros, one of Lukacs’s former students who, unlike other Hungarian former neo-Marxists converted to liberalism (e.g. Agnes Heller and Janos Kis), has remained a  flaming Marxist, faithful to the dialectical sophistries of his mentor.

An excellent example of such world-view is a recent memoir by a Romanian Marxist intellectual, Ion Ianosi, who happened to be deeply involved for long stretches of time in the ideologization of the country’s culture during communism. The volume’s title is My International. Some critics glorify the book as testimony of heartfelt sincerity. What is missing in those more than 800 pages is an honest analysis of Bolshevism as justification of social genocide. Ion Ianosi seemingly excels on topics such as “Marx and Art”, “Lenin and Art”, pretty much the same fields for which his expertise was called upon during his activity within the Romanian communist party’s Agitprop. But Ianosi shies away from trying his expert pen on topics such as the crimes against humanity inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Even before the Bolsheviks’ coming into power, it was clear that Lenin was a fanatical propagandist, a utopian ideologue fixated on social purity and purification, an heir to Robespierre and St. Just, but no philosopher. Philosophy implies doubt and Lenin was the man without doubts. This does not mean that there were no honorable individuals who fell in the trap of Lenin’s and his followers’ metaphysical verbiage. The dean of Russian social-democracy, Georgi Plekhanov was right. Lenin was never a philosopher. What did he want, though? Maybe we should remember Louis Althusser’s (a French philosopher who exerted great influence over Badiou) idea: “Lenin did not found a new philosophy of praxis, but a new praxis of philosophy.” A praxis that resulted in mass murder.

Lenin was the practitioner of a simplistic, partisan, and exclusivist philosophy. He rejected emphatically any possibility for a middle path, of a tertium datur between what he called “bourgeois ideology” and the “proletarian” one. Lenin’s Manichaeism was inexorable. For Lenin and his followers, ideas were (are) always the manifestation of class interests. Greatly valued by many people of the Left, Nikolai Bukharin, Lenin’s favorite executed by Stalin, did not adopt a different approach, thus drawing Gramsci’s harsh critique. The latter, author of a Gnostic version of  revolutionary theory, was one of the very few Marxists able to take seriously the autonomy of superstructures and the role of historical will. This is the meaning of a notion essential for the Leninist conception about ideas, ideologies and philosophical consciousness: partiinost – partisanship, class position, militant commitment, total and abject subordination to the party line.

Leninism is a revolutionary doctrine that sanctifies political violence and condemns entire social categories to state-engineered extinction. It is a secular demonology constructing a cosmogony of exclusion rooted in the visceral contempt for the rule of law, legality, and the universality of human rights. “Back to Lenin” means a return to barbarism, blindness, and murder.    

Editor’s note: Don’t miss Vladimir Tismaneanu’s interview at Frontpage about his new book, The Devil in History, here.

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