Tag Archives: Less than Nothing

Žižek on Lenin’s Anxiety about Revolution

In Less Than Nothing, while talking about democracy and power with regard to its particular emptiness, Slavoj Žižek briefly mentions Lenin’s critique of relying upon a “big Other” for political decisions:

Does this not fit the general matrix of Kant’s solutions, where metaphysical propositions (God, immortality, etc.) are asserted, “under erasure,” as postulates? Consequently, would not the true task be precisely to get rid of the very mystique of the place of power? This is why, in his writings of 1917, Lenin reserves his most acerbic irony for those who engage in an endless search for some kind of “guarantee” for the revolution. This guarantee takes two main forms, in terms of either the reified notion of social Necessity (the revolution must not be risked too early; one has to wait for the right moment, when the situation is “mature” with regard to the laws of historical development) or the idea of normative (“democratic”) legitimacy (“the majority of the population is not on our side, so the revolution would not really be democratic”)—as if, before the revolutionary agents risk the seizure of state power, it should seek permission from some figure of the big Other […] (120).

While I know very little about the 1917 Revolution, I do remember having read that Lenin was concerned explicitly about the proper timing of the revolution. I’ve looked through a bunch of essays to try to find where I read this, but without success. I remember reading (or maybe even hearing) that Lenin thought that if he didn’t act at a certain time, the revolution might have to wait years until the possibility arose again. Similarly, I think Trotskyists considered the end of World War II as a missed opportunity for revolution. This may be missing Žižek’s point about politics and power, but it still seemed worth mentioning.