Skip to main content

Book review Lenin the mechanic to Zizek’s oily rag

Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating and Working Through
by VI Lenin, edited and introduced by Slavoj Zizek
(Verso, £12.99)

LIKE a football match, this is a book of two halves. In the first, Slavoj Zizek dribbles around ponderously and aimlessly, with trademark labyrinthine arguments and cross-reference overload — “[To] put it in Deleuzian terms,” “in the Kantian sense,” the “Lacanian ‘master-signifier,’” yadda, yadda, yadda.

In the second half, mercifully, there's a game-changing substitution. Zizek takes himself off and brings on Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who instantly assumes leadership.

Clarity, a sense of perspective and vision now restored to the proceedings, an appreciation of Lenin’s skill as an honest yet unflinching debater becomes easier to grasp and savour.

The texts on offer are from the last two years of Lenin’s life (1922-24) and, of those, two are of particular interest as they retain much contemporary relevance. They come from furnace of the revolution’s kitchen — the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) — whose heat many could not, and even today cannot, take.

The Letter to G Myasnikov deals eloquently with despondency in the face of the complexity of revolutionary progress, whereas the Eleventh Congress of the RCP(B) offers Lenin’s panoramic assessment of the first year of the New Economic Policy (NEP) following the end of the civil war. Its arguments are formidably incontrovertible.

Lenin's virtuosic reasoning, erudition, total focus on the matter at hand, faith in revolutionary endeavour and fellow communists and unassuming persona are all in abundant evidence here. 

It’s worth reflecting on Lenin’s burning question: “What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of the workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilisation in a different way from that of the west European countries?” (Our Revolution, 1923).

“Civilisation” is the operative word, as Lenin proposes an alteration of the entire existing frame of reference. Not for tinkerers this.

Witness of the times, poet Vladimir Mayakovsky sums up the impact of such works thus: “I knew a worker — he was illiterate/hadn’t even tasted/the alphabet’s salt,/yet he/had listened/to a speech by Lenin/and so/knew all.”

Words to remember, unlike Zizek's.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 10,84
We need:£ 7,616
8 Days remaining
Donate today