The Suicide Party
No wonder that, when Bukharin and other accused insisted on their innocence, the Central Committee perceived this as an inadmissible tormenting of the Party by the accused: it is not the accused who is tormented by the Party, it is the Party leadership that is tormented by those who refuse to confess their crimes - and some members of the Central Committee even praised Stalin's "angelic patience" which allowed the accused to go on tormenting the Party for years, instead of fully acknowledging that they are scum, vipers to be exterminated: "Mezhlauk: I ought to tell you that we are not tormenting you.
On the contrary, you are tormenting us in the basest, most impermissible way. Voices: That's right!
That's right! Mezhlauk: You have been tormenting the party over many, many years, and it is only thanks to the angelic patience of Comrade Stalin that we have not torn you politically to pieces for your vile, terroristic work. There is no place for you either on the Central Committee or in the party.
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The only place for you is [ Isn't it true? For the Central Committee, the ultimate form of treason is this very sticking to the minimum of personal autonomy. What is interesting here is how subjective authenticity and the examination of objective facts are not opposed but put together, as the two sides of the same treacherous behaviour, both opposed to the Party ritual. And the ultimate proof that such disregard for the facts had a certain paradoxical ethical dignity is that we find it also in the opposite, "positive" case - say, of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who - although they WERE guilty of spying, as recent declassified documents demonstrate - heroically insisted on their innocence up to the death chamber, while fully aware that a confession would have spared their lives.
They were in a way "sincerely lying": although factually guilty, they were not guilty in a "deeper" sense - precisely in the sense in which the accused in the Stalinist trials was guilty even if factually innocent. Why do I fear for Bukharin?
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- Le temps dun silence (French Edition).
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Because he is a soft-hearted person. Whether this is good or bad I do not know, but in our present situation this soft-heartedness is not needed. It is a poor assistant and adviser in matters of policy because it, this soft-heartedness, may undermine not only the soft-hearted person himself but also the party's cause. Bukharin is a very soft-hearted person. And here, at this key point, it is crucial to resist the "humanist" temptation of opposing to this Stalinist ruthless self-instrumentalization any kind of "Bukharinian" natural goodness, of the tender understanding of and compassion with common human frailty, as if the problem with the Stalinist Communists resided in their ruthless, self-erasing, dedication to the Communist cause, which turned them into monstrous ethical automata and made them forget common human feelings and sympathies.
On the contrary, the problem with the Stalinist Communists was that they were NOT "pure" enough, and got caught in the perverse economy of duty: "I know this is heavy and can be painful, but what can I do, this is my duty You can, because you must!
- The Inclination to Destiny (The Course Books Book 4).
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Of course, his excuse to himself and to others is: "I myself find it hard to exert such pressure on the poor kids, but what can I do - it's my duty! What we encounter here is the properly perverse attitude of adopting the position of the pure instrument of the big Other's Will: it's not my responsibility, it's not me who is effectively doing it, I am merely an instrument of the higher Historical Necessity The obscene jouissance of this situation is generated by the fact that I conceive of myself as exculpated for what I am doing: isn't it nice to be able to inflict pain on others with the full awareness that I'm not responsible for it, that I merely fulfill the Other's Will This position of the sadist pervert provides the answer to the question: How can the subject be guilty when he merely realizes an "objective", externally imposed necessity?
By subjectively assuming this "objective necessity," i.
What, then, does this tell us about the respective status of coldness in Kant and in Sade? The conclusion to be drawn is not that Sade sticks to cruel coldness, while Kant somehow has to allow for human compassion, but quite the opposite: it is only the Kantian subject that is effectively thoroughly cold apathetic , while the sadist is not "cold" enough, his "apathy" is a fake, a lure concealing the all too passionate engagement on behalf of the Other's jouissance.
The Undefined Problem in the Fire Service: Dispatched to a Suicide
And, of course, the same goes for the passage from Lenin to Stalin: the revolutionary political counterpoint to Lacan's Kant avec Sade is undoubtedly Lenin avec Stalin, i. Lenin versus Stalin Let us make this point clear apropos of Lukacs' History and Class Consciousness, THE attempt to deploy the philosophical stance of the Leninist revolutionary practice.
Can Lukacs really be dismissed as the advocate of such a pseudo-Hegelian assertion of proletariat as the absolute Subject-Object of History? Let us focus on the concrete political background of History and Class Consciousness, in which Lukacs still speaks as a fully engaged revolutionary. To put it in somewhat rough and simplified terms, the choice, for the revolutionary forces in the Russia of , in the difficult situation in which the bourgeoisie was not able to bring to the end the democratic revolution, was the following one: - on the one hand, the Menshevik stance was that of the obedience to the logic of the "objective stages of development": first democratic revolution, then proletarian revolution.
In the whirlpool of , instead of capitalizing from the gradual disintegration of State apparatuses and building upon the widespread popular discontent and resistance against the Provisional Government, all radical parties should resist the temptation to push the moment too far and rather join forces with democratic bourgeois elements in order to first achieve the democratic revolution, waiting patiently for the "mature" revolutionary situation.
From this point, a socialist takeover in , when the situation was not yet "ripe," would trigger a regression to primitive terror Although this fear of the catastrophic terrorist consequences of a "premature" uprising may seem to augur the shadow of Stalinism, the ideology of Stalinism effectively marks a RETURN to this "objectivist" logic of the necessary stages of development. Such a notion still accepts the fundamental underlying objectivist "reified" logic of the "necessary stages of development," it merely allows for the different rhythm of its course in different concrete circumstances i.
As Lenin was keen in observing, the fact of colonialism and of the over-exploited masses in Asia, Africa and Latin America radically affects and "displaces" the "straight" class struggle in the developed capitalist countries - to speak about "class struggle" without taking into account colonialism is an empty abstraction which, translated into practical politics, can only result in condoning the "civilizing" role of colonialism and thus, by subordinating the anti-colonialist struggle of the Asian masses to the "true" class struggle in developed Western states, de facto accepting that bourgeoisie defines the terms of the class struggle Again, one can discern here the unexpected closeness to the Althusserian "overdetermination": there is no ultimate rule so that, with a reference to it, one can measure "exceptions" - in actual history, there are in a way only exceptions.
One is tempted to resort here to Lacanian terms: what is at stake in this alternative is the in existence of the "big Other": Mensheviks relied on the all-embracing foundation of the positive logic of historical development, while Bolsheviks Lenin, at least were aware that "the big Other doesn't exist" - a political intervention proper does not occur within the coordinates of some underlying global matrix, since what it achieves is precisely the "reshuffling" of this very global matrix. This, then, is the reason why Lukacs had such admiration for Lenin: his Lenin was the one who, apropos of the split in the Russian Social Democracy into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, when the two factions fought about a precise formulation of who can be a party member as defined in the party program, wrote: "Sometimes, the fate of the entire working class movement for long years to come can be decided by a word or two in the party program.
Say, for a long time, sexual libertarians thought that monogamic sexual repression is necessary for the survival of capitalism - now we know that capitalism can not only tolerate, but even actively incite and exploit forms of "perverse" sexuality, not to mention promiscuous indulgence in sexual pleasures. However, the conclusion to be drawn from it is NOT that capitalism has the endless ability to integrate and thus cut off the subversive edge of all particular demands - the question of timing, of "seizing the moment," is crucial here.
A certain particular demand possesses, in a certain moment, the global detonating power, it functions as a metaphoric stand-in for the global revolution: if we unconditionally insist on it, the system will explode; if, however, we wait too long, the metaphoric short-circuit between this particular demand and the global overthrow is dissolved, and the System can, with sneering hypocritical satisfaction, make the gesture of "You wanted this?
Here you have it! The art of what Lukacs called Augenblick the moment when, briefly, there is an opening for an ACT to intervene into a situation is the art of seizing the right moment, of aggravating the conflict BEFORE the System can accommodate itself to our demand. When the Discourse Implodes The key to the social dynamics of Stalinism resides in its exception: in the unique moment when, in the second half of , for a couple of months, its ritualistic discourse broke down. That is to say, till , purges and trials followed a pattern with clear rules, solidifying the nomenklatura, cementing its unity, providing an account of the causes of the failures in the guise of ritualized scapegoating there is famine, chaos in industry, etc.
Mass suicide - Wikipedia
However, with the highest point of the terror in the Fall of , the implicit discursive rules were broken by Stalin himself: in an all-against-all orgy of destruction, the nomenklatura, inclusive of its highest strata, started to devour and destroy itself - a process aptly designated as the "Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks" "The Storm of The Party Commits Suicide," as one of the subtitles of The Road to Terror reads - this period, "that of the 'blind terror,' marks the temporary eclipse of the discursive strategy. It is as if the Stalinists, prisoners of their fears and iron discipline, had decided that they could not rule any longer by rhetorical means.
Even the empty symbols of the enemies "Trotskytes" which, in each previous stage of the terror, were filled with new content, were now largely dropped - what remained was just the fluctuating targeting of new and new arbitrary groups: different "suspicious" nationalities Germans, Poles, Estonians Here, even the paranoiac reference to anti-Soviet conspiracy was instrumentalized with regard to meeting the quotas for liquidations - first there was the formal, a priori, act of determining quotas, and the ensuing fluctuating categorizations of the enemies English spies, Trotskytes, saboteurs It reflected not control of events but a recognition that the regime lacked regularized control mechanisms.
It was not policy but the failure of policy. It was a sign of failure to rule with anything but force. And what should be emphasized again and again, against the standard liberal demonizing vision of Stalin as a perverse Master systematically pursuing a diabolical plan of mass murder, is that this utmost brutal violent exercise of power as the power over life and death coincided with - or, rather, was the expression of, the mode of existence of - its exact opposite, the total incapacity to govern the country through "normal" authority and executive measures.
In the Stalinist terror, the Politburo acted in panic, trying desperately to master and regulate the events, to get the situation under control. This implicit acknowledgment of impotence is also the hidden truth of the divinization of the Stalinist Leader into a supreme Genius who can give advice on almost any topic, from how to repair a tractor to how to raise flowers: what this Leader's intervention into everyday life means is that things do not function at the utmost everyday level - what kind of country is this, in which the supreme Leader himself has to dispense advice about how to repair tractors?
It is here that we should recall Stalin's above-quoted condemnation of the accused individual's suicide as a plot to deal the last blow to the Party: perhaps, we should read the suicide of the Party itself in late in the opposite way, not as a "signal," but as an authentic act of the collective subject, beyond any instrumentality. In his analysis of the paranoia of the German judge Schreber, Freud reminds us that what we usually consider as madness the paranoiac scenario of the conspiracy against the subject is effectively already an attempt at recovery: after the complete psychotic breakdown, the paranoiac construct is an attempt of the subject to reestablish a kind of order in his universe, a frame of reference enabling him to acquire a "cognitive mapping.
However, the crucial point is that, although we are here reaching the limits of the Social, the level at which the social-symbolic link itself is approaching its self-destructive dissolution, this excess itself was nonetheless generated by a precise dynamic of the social struggle, by a series of shifting alignments and realignments between the very top of the regime Stalin and his narrow circle , the upper nomenklatura and the rank-and-file Party members: "Thus in and Stalin and the Politburo united with all levels of the nomenklatura elite to screen, or purge, a helpless rank and file.
The regional leaders then used those purges to consolidate their machines and expel 'inconvenient' people. This, in turn, brought about another alignment in , in which Stalin and the Moscow nomenklatura sided with the rank and file, who complained of repression by the regional elites.
In Stalin openly mobilized the 'party masses' against the nomenklatura as a whole; this provided an important strand in the Great Terror's destruction of the elite. But in the Politburo changed alignments and reinforced the authority of the regional nomenklatura as part of an attempt to restore order in the party during the terror. Since the upper nomenklatura at the same time retained its executive power also in the purges themselves, this set in motion a self-destructive vicious cycle in which virtually everyone was threatened of 82 district Party secretaries, 79 were shot.
Another aspect of the spiralling vicious cycle was the very fluctuations of the directives from the top as to the thoroughness of the purges: the top demanded harsh measures, while at the same time warning against excesses, so the executors were put in an untenable position - ultimately, whatever they did was wrong. If they did not arrest enough traitors and discover enough conspiracies, they were considered lenient and supporting counterrevolution; so, under this pressure, in order to meet the quota, as it were, they had to fabricate evidence and invent plots - thereby exposing themselves to the criticism that they are themselves saboteurs, destroying thousands of honest Communists on behalf of the foreign powers Stalin's strategy of addressing directly the party masses, co-opting their antibureucratic attitudes, was thus very risky: "This not only threatened to open elite politics to public scrutiny but also risked discrediting the entire Bolshevik regime, of which Stalin himself was a part.
For instance, the plot to assassinate Comrade Stalin? But I only give you until Monday. By that day you will without fail remember everything. You must recall every detail of the discussion regarding the plot against Stalin of which you were a witness. However, when he announced his name at the entrance and said that he came to see Zanchevsky, he was informed that "Zanchevsky isn't coming in today" - during this weekend, Zanchevsky himself was arrested as a spy. This overlapping becomes palpable in the highpoint of Stalinism, where the enemy is explicitly designated as non-human, as the excrement of humanity: the struggle of the Stalinist Party against the enemy becomes the struggle of humanity itself against the non-human excrement.
At a different level, the same goes for the Nazi anti-Semitism, which is why Jews are also denied the basic humanity. And, again, this radical level of confrontation should not seduce us into abandoning the concrete social analysis of the holocaust. The problem with the academic holocaust-industry is precisely the elevation of the holocaust into the metaphysical diabolical Evil, irrational, apolitical, incomprehensible, approachable only through respectful silence.
Holocaust is the ultimate traumatic point where the objectifying historical knowledge breaks down, where it has to acknowledge its worthlessness in front of a single witness, and, simultaneously, the point at which witnesses themselves had to concede that words fail them, that what they can share is ultimately only their silence as such. Holocaust is referred to as a mystery, the heart of darkness of our civilization; its enigma in advance negates all explanatory answers, defying knowledge and description, noncommunicable, lying outside historicization - it cannot be explained, visualized, represented, transmitted, since it marks the Void, the black hole, the end, the implosion, of the narrative universe.
Accordingly, any attempt to locate it in its context, to politicize it, equals the anti-Semitic negation of its uniqueness Here is one of the standard version of this exemption of the holocaust: "A great Hassidic Master, the Rabbi of Kotsk, used to say, 'There are truths which can be communicated by the word; there are deeper truths than can be transmitted only by silence; and, on another level, are those which cannot be expressed, not even by silence.
Here is the dilemma that confronts anyone who plunges into the concentration camp universe: How can one recount when - by the scale and weight of its horror - the event defies language? However, this very depoliticization of the holocaust, its elevation into the properly sublime Evil, the untouchable Exception out of reach of the "normal" political discourse, can also be a political act of utter cynical manipulation, a political intervention aiming at legitimizing a certain kind of hierarchical political relations.
Second, it disqualifies forms of the Third World violence for which Western states are co responsible as minor in comparison with the Absolute Evil of the holocaust. Third, it serves to cast a shadow on every radical political project, i. In Fascism, even in Nazi Germany, it was possible to survive, to maintain the appearance of a "normal" everyday life, if one did not involve oneself in any oppositional political activity and, of course, if one were not of Jewish origins In other words, the "irrationality" of Nazism was "condensed" in anti-Semitism, in its belief in the Jewish plot, while the Stalinist "irrationality" pervaded the entire social body.
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For that reason, Nazi police investigators were still looking for proofs and traces of actual activity against the regime, while Stalinist investigators were engaged in clear and unambiguous fabrications invented plots and sabotages, etc. However, this very violence inflicted by the Communist Power on its own members bears witness to the radical self-contradiction of the regime, i.
The Stalinist purges of high Party echelons relied on this fundamental betrayal: the accused were effectively guilty insofar as they, as the members of the new nomenklatura, betrayed the Revolution. The Stalinist terror is thus not simply the betrayal of the Revolution, i. As is well known, Stalin wisely recruited into the NKVD people of lower social origins who were thus able to act out their hatred of the nomenklatura by arresting and torturing high apparatchiks.
This inherent tension between the stability of the rule of the new nomenklatura and the perverted "return of the repressed" in the guise of the repeated purges of the ranks of the nomenklatura is at the very heart of the Stalinist phenomenon: purges are the very form in which the betrayed revolutionary heritage survives and haunts the regime. The dream of Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist presidential candidate in things would have turned out OK in the Soviet Union if only Stalin had lived at least 5 years longer and accomplished his final project of having done with cosmopolitanism and bringing about the reconciliation between the Russian state and the Orthodox Church - in other words, if only Stalin had realized his anti-Semitic purge Here, then, perhaps, the classic Trotsky's analysis of the Stalinist "Thermidor" is not fully adequate: the actual Thermidor happened only after Stalin's death or, rather, even after Khruschev's fall , with the Brezhnev years of "stagnation," when nomenklatura finally stabilized itself into a "new class.
On the other hand, Trotsky was right in his prediction from the 30ies that the Soviet regime can end only in two ways: either a worker's revolt against it, or the nomenklatura will no longer be satisfied with political power, but will convert itself into capitalists who directly own the means of production.
And, as The Road to Terror claims in its last paragraph, with a direct reference to Trotsky, 28 this second solution is what effectively happened: the new private owners of the means of production in ex-Socialist countries, especially in the Soviet Union, are in their large majority the members of the ex-nomenklatura, so one can say that the main event of the disintegration of "really existing Socialism" was the transformation of nomenklatura into a class of private owners.
However, the ultimate irony of it is that the two opposite outcomes predicted by Trotsky seem combined in a strange way: what enabled the nomenklatura to become the direct owner of the means of production was the resistance to its political rule whose key component, at least in some cases Solidarity in Poland , was the workers' revolt against the nomenklatura. As Alain Badiou pointed out, in spite of its horrors and failures, the "really existing Socialism" was the only political force that - for some decades, at least - seemed to pose an effective threat to the global rule of capitalism, really scaring its representatives, driving them into paranoiac reaction.
Since, today, capitalism defines and structures the totality of the human civilization, every "Communist" territory was and is - again, in spite of its horrors and failures - a kind of "liberated territory," as Fred Jameson put it apropos of Cuba. What we are dealing with here is the old structural notion of the gap between the Space and the positive content that fills it in: although, as to their positive content, the Communist regimes were mostly a dismal failure, generating terror and misery, they at the same time opened up a certain space, the space of utopian expectations which, among other things, enabled us to measure the failure of the really existing Socialism itself.
What the anti-Communist dissidents as a rule tend to overlook is that the very space from which they themselves criticized and denounced the everyday terror and misery was opened and sustained by the Communist breakthrough, by its attempt to escape the logic of the Capital. In short, when dissidents like Havel denounced the existing Communist regime on behalf of authentic human solidarity, they unknowingly, for the most part of it spoke from the place opened up by Communism itself - which is why they tend to be so disappointed when the "really existing capitalism" does not meet the high expectations of their anti-Communist struggle.
Perhaps, Vaclav Klaus, Havel's pragmatic double, was right when he dismissed Havel as a "socialist" The difficult task is thus to confront the radical ambiguity of the Stalinist ideology which, even at its most "totalitarian," still exudes an emancipatory potential. From my youth, I remember the memorable scene from a Soviet film about the civil war in , in which Bolsheviks organize the public trial of a mother with a young diseased son, who is discovered to be the spy for the counter-revolutionary White forces.
At the very beginning of the trial, an old Bolshevik strokes his long white mustache and says: "The sentence must be severe, but just!
While the surprised mother bursts out crying, unable to understand the court's benevolence, the old Bolshevik again strokes his mustaches and nods in consent: "Yes, this is a severe, but just sentence! However, no matter how manipulative this scene is, no matter how contradicted it was by the arbitrary harshness of the actual "revolutionary justice," it nonetheless provided the spectators with new ethical standards by which reality is to be measured - the shocking outcome of this exercise of the revolutionary justice, the unexpected resignification of "severity" into severity towards social circumstances and generosity towards people, cannot but produce a sublime effect.
In short, what we have here is an exemplary case of what Lacan called the "quilting point [point de capiton]," of an intervention that changes the coordinates of the very field of meaning: instead of pleading for generous tolerance against severe justice, the old Bolshevik redefines the meaning of "severe justice" itself in terms of excessive forgiveness and generosity. Even if this is a deceiving appearance, there is in a sense more truth in this appearance than in the harsh social reality that generated it. Notes 1. Arch Getty and Oleg V.