Repeating Lenin is not Returning to Lenin

So, while Žižek is arguing – quite correctly – that Lenin refuses the revisionist tendency to await for the ‘objective conditions’ to develop to a sufficient degree, that the ‘stages’ of social development unfold, that it is only with the say-so of these conditions, stages, laws that the process of revolution is justified; nevertheless, his challenge to opportunism (to use of good Leninist epithet) that revolution cannot rest upon the big Other, does not amount – as Žižek suggests – to the statement that the revolution must rest on nothing other than itself, the ‘abyss of the act’, to legitimate itself. Is this not effectively to substitute an ethics of the revolutionary event for a politics? By this move Žižek takes one step forward and two steps back.

Let us return in conclusion to Negri then, and his very own assertion that one should not return to but one should repeat Lenin. To repeat Lenin, then, is yes to affirm what might be termed the subjective moment of political struggle and analysis. But such a ‘moment’ cannot be condensed in the notion of the act, the moment of decision. As always, for Negri it is a question of class composition.19Negri writes:

…it is only within this subject that the real relations of forces can be assessed. The entire history of capital is, from this standpoint, the history of class struggles and struggles of the different political class compositions, and it is possible to read in the fabric of struggle the history of capital as its effect.20

No materialist conception of the subject can be given other than through the filter of class composition: it is only class composition that gives us the material and political complexity of the figure of the subject.21

The notion of class composition draws together two aspects: a technical aspect, which involves an analysis of the world of production, its transformation, and the effects upon the labouring subject including the development of a certain level of needs and desires. The second aspect, the political composition, concerns the ways that this first – at least partly technologically driven – aspect can be appropriated politically. We can – simplifying again – speak of the way the specifics of the objective dynamics of exploitation are appropriated subjectively, i.e. from the standpoint of the working class. Lenin’s great contribution was, for Negri, to ‘translate the real class composition, as determined specifically, in organisational terms’.22 But such a contribution rests on more than a political sensibility or ‘art of intervening’, as Žižek would have it.23 It means truly following through on, and precisely articulating what it means to recognise that ‘the economy is in itself political’.24 Thus, whereas for Negri as well as for Žižek, The State and Revolution is a core text, equally Negri places much greater emphasis on Lenin’s analysis of capitalist development and of imperialism in its relation to the composition of the class.25For it is precisely in the notion of class composition that economic and political questions can be seen to be most clearly intertwined.

-Matteo Mandarini, “Organising Communism”, Introduction to New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty by Guattari and Negri (reprint of “Communists Like Us”) p18-19.

***Note: Mandarini clearly argues that a key point of distinction between Negri and Guattari is Lenin.  See my following post “Lenin: Coming Between Guattari and Negri” to read about it.  {ac} i tend to agree with guattari’s “forget lenin”.

19.For a detailed discussion of the notion of ‘class composition’, see Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism, S. Wright, Pluto Press, London 2002, and my ‘Antagonism vs. Contradiction: Conflict and the Dynamics of Organisation in the Thought of Antonio Negri’ in Contemporary Organization Theory, ed. C. Jones and R. Munro, Blackwell, Oxford 2005, and in The Sociological Review, Oct. 2005, vol. 53, s.1.

20.Trentatre Lezioni su Lenin [1977], A. Negri, Manifestolibri, Roma 2004, p. 23 – my translation.

21.Dall’Operaio Massa all’Operaio Sociale, A. Negri, edited by P. Pozzi and R. Tommasini, Multhipla Edizioni, Milan 1979, p. 60 – my translation.

22.33 Lezioni, p. 23.

23.‘A Leninist Gesture Today’, S. Žižek, in Lenin Reloaded, p. 83.

24.‘A Leninist Gesture Today’, S. Žižek, in Lenin Reloaded, p. 91.

25.These aspects are central to Negri’s analysis in his book length study of Lenin, 33 Lezioni su Lenin, initially presented first as lectures over 35 years ago, and return in Negri’s discussion of Lenin more recently, such as in his 2001 piece, ‘What to do Today with What is to be Done?’ in Lenin Reloaded.


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