Editors: Alla Ivanchikova and Robert Maclean.
This edited collection of essays seeks to answer the following question: what does “Lenin” and “Leninism” signify today? What is the future of Leninism? Why, after thirty years of iconoclasm (that involved the removal of statues of Lenin throughout the former socialist world), in spite of concerted efforts to demote, deconstruct, and discredit Leninist mode of thinking, does the specter of Lenin return to haunt our turbulent political present?
Testifying to the potential for the return of Leninism today are the critiques of the limits of horizontality and spontaneity (Nick Srnicek), the calls to return to the party form in political struggle (Jodi Dean), and the flaring up of imperialist wars and class warfare on previously unimaginable scale. In 2017, Slavoj Zizek (Lenin), Tariq Ali (The Dilemmas of Lenin), China Mieville (October), and Michael Hardt (“October! To Commemorate the Future”) among others, asserted the actuality of Lenin’s thought and the continued importance of the October revolution of 1917. Also in recent years we’ve seen a proliferation of studies of the Black Panther Party, as well as the international links that constituted the anticolonial world of the 20th century, that suggest an anti-imperialist Leninist legacy. Paradoxically, the specter of Lenin now also haunts the Left as a figure adopted by members of the ultra-right, such as Steve Bannon.
To many this return comes as a surprise. In 1989, scholars and cultural commentators largely agreed on what Ken Jowitt, in his eponymously titled essay, called “the Leninist extinction”: the complete and final eradication of Leninism as a political form or a mode of thinking in the post-Cold War world. Leninist regimes and the class-based, party-centered worldview they embodied, Jowitt argued, have been wiped out, like dinosaurs, disappearing almost overnight as a species. He suggested that the paleontological concept of mass extinction was the most applicable in describing this sudden and decisive global shift. How can we engage with and problematize the concept of “Leninist extinctions” today?
V.I. Lenin continues to be a divisive figure for the global Left. Franco Bifo Berardi wrote, in 2011: “I’m convinced that the twentieth century would have been a better century had Lenin not existed” (37). It is impressive that it is not Hitler, Mussolini, or Reagan that Berardi singles out as the 20th century chief culprit. For him, Lenin is a melancholic, exemplifying wounded masculinity confronted in the 20th century with the infinite power of capital, and emerging from that confrontation wounded and insecure. Can we reclaim the image of Lenin as future-oriented, flexible (despite the stereotype of the “rigid” Bolsheviks), as a figure of survival and persistence of the struggle for a just future, rather than a figure of melancholy and extinction?
We are also interested in the question of what Leninism and the Soviet Union mean historiographically after Lenin’s decline and death. For much of Leftist discourse, from “Left communists” to Trotskyists to (some) Maoists, the history of the Soviet Union after 1922-24 is one of absolute erasure. The Left can take no lesson from Leninism after Lenin; in “our” discourse, “Stalinism” is not a tragedy but a collapse into barbarism. This picture was already promulgated by many Trotskyists and anarchists of the 1930s. It was deliberately reinforced and financially supported by bourgeois governments (especially the U.S.) for whom manifesting an “anti-communist Left” was a crucial Cold War weapon.
Aiming to produce an interdisciplinary collection of essays, we invite political theorists, activists, cultural, and literary studies scholars, rhetoric scholars, and historians to assess the relevance of Lenin and his work today. Scholars may choose to engage with specific concepts, such as “spontaneity,” “vanguard,” “revolution,” “negation,” “revolutionary state,” “dual power,” address specific texts, such as “Revolution and State,” “Chto Delat?” etc, or talk about the ways in which Lenin can be adopted, adapted, and re-envisioned for our times.
The list of potential topics includes:
- Millennials’ Lenin. What part of Lenin’s legacy is of importance today? What would millenials’ Lenin look like?
- Lenin in literature and film. How do recent biographical and fictional works interpret Lenin’s life and legacy? What portrait do they create and to what ends? Consider, for instance, a Russian TV series, Revolution’s Demon, released on the 100th anniversary of the October revolution.
- Lenin & Gender. How do critiques of Leninist (or Marxist) “masculinism” relate to the foregrounding of gender equality, women’s liberation, and political rights for women as the most “basic” elements of revolutionary social transformation? How do these contradictions play out in specific cases (i.e. gender politics and vanguardism in the Black Panther Party, or social reproduction theory and the legacy of the wages for housework campaign)? How have Leninist movements taken up queer and trans critique/politics?
- Lenin & Black Liberation. How does an appreciation of Haywood, Cabral, Sankara, and other anti-colonial and anti-racist theorists and movements shape our notion or historical picture of Leninism?
- Marxism-Leninism & anti-colonial revolutions. What does Leninism mean amongst and in the wake of global anti-colonial revolutions of the 20th century? How can we trace the contradictions and international debates of socialist state support for anti-imperialism (e.g. Cuban intervention against Portuguese colonialism and U.S./South African neo-colonialism in the 1970s)?
- Right Wing Leninisms. What’s the relationship between Leninism and the political right, such as Bannon, NazBols, and other red-brown threads? How might we understand 20th-21st century fascism per se as a distorted inversion of Bolshevism, etc.?
- Revolution, spontaneity, and the vanguard. How does Lenin help us make sense of contemporary debates about spontaneity, organization, and leftist strategy?
- Rethinking the Party. Leninist doctrine allegedly privileges the professional, disciplined, revolutionary party. However, Lenin’s work is always addressed to the conjunctural complexities of formulating a correct party line. What are Leninist insights into the Party, its terminal crisis, its inescapability, and/or its various conjunctural formations?
- Leninism after Lenin. What happens to Leninism as it becomes codified into a revolutionary doctrine? What is the trajectory of Leninist movements internationally over the last century?
- Lenin and Philosophy: Noting Lenin’s divergence from and antagonism to philosophy as such was a crucial part of Althusser’s philosophical critique of the 1960s, does Leninism offer a vantage point on contemporary debates about ontology, “new” materialisms, etc.? Does Leninist “anti-philosophy” help re-open the question of philosophy’s Eurocentric limitations?
- Lenin and law
- Leninist Manifestos for the 21st century. We invite scholars and activists to take up “Lenin 2020” as an invitation to be programmatic or predictive. Where today or tomorrow will Leninism get taken up again?
Please send abstracts of 300-400 words by October 31, 2018.
Editors: Alla Ivanchikova and Robert Maclean.