Tag Archives: Vladimir Lenin

On an Interview with Eduardo Maura of Podemos

The Platypus Review recently published an an interview with Eduardo Maura, the spokesperson of Podemos.

Two major themes in Maura’s responses are tied up confusingly: democracy and identity. In answer to David Mountain’s request for Maura to specify what he means by “democracy,” Maura states: “Doing new politics means not addressing people in a finalistic way, e.g. ‘This is the goal: socialism, or a society not ruled by classes.’ It’s not like that. Identities are not shaped that way anymore.” The convergence of politics with identity here is striking. Is politics merely a mechanism for forming identities? Not only is there the implication that socialism is too antiquated for the character of identities today, but that today’s “identities” must fundamentally be more progressive than they once were. This is the unfortunate state of the present, in which the past is disdained. Socialism is presumed to be inadequate due to its inability to accept difference.

Bringing the topic of vocabulary or rhetoric into the accommodation of identities, Maura continues, “The language of ‘Left and right’ in Spain has become so discredited that you cannot possibly build upon it. […] But, the words that used to mean those things, like ‘socialism,’ the ‘Left,’ and even ‘communism’—the whole European tradition of making the rule of law and communism compatible, part of the same political project—none of that is now meant by these metaphors of Right and Left.” That Maura associates socialism with reformism is telling. Again he emphasizes the need for new words and their ability to bring democracy into society: “We have new metaphors to help build a better, more democratic society.” Does this mean anything other than the idea that we’d have democracy if only we invented new words for the same ideas?

The question of the distance between society and politics brings about the most symptomatic character of Maura’s, and Podemos’s, ideas. Maura states, “There is no logical transition from the social to the political. Everything is social and everything is political, in different ways, but no political articulation is derived from a social problem.” But why must it appear to Maura that the social and the political are completely separate? As Lenin points out in State and Revolution (1917), this thought-figure is “inseparably tied up with” “petty-bourgeois utopia[n]” thought that amounts to mere reformism, which will never overcome the contradictory mode of production.1

Maura confirms my guess concerning Podemos’s reformist character when he says, “So let’s stick to demands, more than to words. To put it more academically, let’s speak the language of hegemony, rather than the language of ideology.” This is an avowed renunciation of Leftist ideology, and an affirmation that politics might only be approached in the manner of Realpolitik, which forecloses the potential for change. It implies that Leftist ideology is impossible. The spokesperson of Podemos continues, “Moreover, the people have a plurality of demands, and this plurality cannot be deleted. It cannot be easily resolved. So, politics is about framing things. The way you put things, the way you build your position in a symbolic space.” This is a bold admission to opportunism that the interviewers are right to question further. What does this make Podemos if it sees politics as the striving for power through rhetorical flourishes?

One last motif in Maura’s remarks that I picked up on was the continual deference to the emotions or feelings of the people and even himself. I note this because it is made clear that Podemos seeks to channel emotions for the sake of electoral success: “This all [Podemos] allows people to feel part of a process that is greater than simply building a party, but amounts to building new prospects for change. That is something new in European politics” and “What we do [..] is to build a chain of equivalence between political demands and the actual feelings of the people[..]” Maura surprises us by saying that he did his Ph.D. on Walter Benjamin. It’s shocking because Maura finds nothing wrong with conceiving of politics as a frame in which the masses might feel themselves participating. One should remember Benjamin’s statement on Fascism in his most famous essay (and also his most misread essay!): “Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.”2 After reading that even Maura is “not a rational actor in the political field,” are we supposed to applaud this relegation of reason coupled with the use of aesthetics in place of politics?

1 V. I. Lenin, State and Revolution in Essential Works of Lenin, ed. Henry M. Christman (New York: Dover Publications, 1987), 287.
2 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

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.