I did not arrive in Petrograd until the night of April 3, and therefore at the meeting on April 4, I could, of course, deliver the report on the tasks of the revolutionary proletariat only on my own behalf, and with reservations as to insufficient preparation. The only thing I could do to make things easier for myself—and for honest opponents—was to prepare the theses in writing. I read them out, and gave the text to Comrade Tsereteli. I read them twice very slowly: first at a meeting of Bolsheviks and then at a meeting of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. I publish these personal theses of mine with only the briefest explanatory notes, which were developed in far greater detail in the report ... I attacked the Provisional Government for not having appointed an early date or any date at all, for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and for confining itself to promises. I argued that without the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies the convocation of the Constituent Assembly is not guaranteed and its success is impossible. And the view is attributed to me that I am opposed to the speedy convocation of the Constituent Assembly! I would call this “raving”, had not decades of political struggle taught me to regard honesty in opponents as a rare exception. Mr. Plekhanov in his paper called my speech “raving”. Very good, Mr. Plekhanov! But look how awkward, uncouth and slow-witted you are in your polemics. If I delivered a raving speech for two hours, how is it that an audience of hundreds tolerated this “raving”? Further, why does your paper devote a whole column to an account of the “raving”? Inconsistent, highly inconsistent!
- Lenin, "April Theses"
About a month ago, I went to a lecture given by Alain Badiou in New York. It was just after Obama's election, and Badiou (who was preceded by a horrifyingly incomprehensible Lacanian yenta) made a point of insisting that this triumph of democratic ideology was merely a "fact," not an "Event." An Event is something like an uncaused cause: it disturbs the familiar sequence of political "facts" and generates its own Truth. Badiou is a sentimental and ineffectual Marxist in the finest French tradition. Thus it is the various revolutions that are for him the most exemplary forms of Event. And of these, the most prominent is October--which, unlike May, enjoyed at least some sort of success.
But was October really an uncaused cause? Did it really erupt unannounced and unpredicted in the midst of a "normal" politics? This question has acquired a theoretical importance far out of proportion to its historical meaning. Zizek, who wants us to carpe the democratic-liberal diem, thinks that it was--that Lenin exerted a kind of Schmittian willpower in breaking the Russian status quo. Althusser, in describing overdetermination, seems to hold the opposite position. The resolution of this problem is infinitely deferred, since it is clear that history has little to do with it; the whole debate is simply an expression of the cowardice of cringing Western Marxists, who want to be reassured that a new Big Daddy Lenin could singlehandedly revive the flagging hope for revolution in the West.
Naturally, any movement away from seeing revolution as determined and towards Badiouian Event-ism is inherently a departure from orthodox Marxism. It is an understandable departure, for the opposite would have meant the paralysis of the German Twenties: the belief that the historical process would take care of capitalism all by itself and no individual agency was really necessary. The conciliatory dialectical cop-out solution was to identify the agency of the Party with the historical process itself; this was doubtless what Marx had actually believed, but it was too elegant for its own good and never quite resolved the underlying issues. (In fact, the parameters of this debate very much resemble classical arguments over Stoic determinism--there, the unsatisfactory solution was to identify the agency of God with the agency of Man as an inalienable part of the divine.)
What Zizek, Badiou, and their undead brethren really want is a mystical, apocalyptic experience. Even outside the inhospitable climate of Marxism, this poses a peculiar dilemma: when did October really start to take place? It did not start in October, because October was intimately linked to the failed Bonapartist Kornilov coup in August; it did not start in August, because the July Days had already prefigured and made realistic the possiblity of an armed uprising; and it did not start in July, because July would not have happened without the April Theses. The April Theses, however, were anything but historically uncaused. They were rooted in Lenin's intractable desire for personal authority, his compulsion to impose a sectarian individual will on the Party hierarchy, and his need to reestablish his credibility after his suspect sealed-train return from Germany. By substituting a Leninist/anarchist voluntarism for an orthodox Marxist passivity, the Badiou crowd only replaces social agency with individual agency (even if there had been many individuals). This can resolve into nothing other than the fascist (Schmittian) aestheticization of politics.
There is nothing in itself objectionable about this. But it does entail the recognition that the values in whose name Badiou always speaks (the old French lie of "equality," for instance) can in fact have nothing whatsoever to do with their model of Event or revolution. If (a big If) October was really an uncaused cause, Lenin's rejection of the status quo must have been a supreme act of individual sovereignty, which used such values only as a thin and disposable screen. October, like the fascist coups, could only ignore the present.