The Notion of the Revolutionary Crisis in Lenin (1968)


I. The Revolutionary Crisis

1. Attempts at a Definition

In sev­er­al places through­out his work, Lenin tries to define the notion of a “rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis,” espe­cial­ly in Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: An Infan­tile Dis­or­der and The Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al. How­ev­er, he out­lines a notion more than he estab­lish­es [fonder] a con­cept, as the descrip­tive cri­te­ria that he enu­mer­ates remain sub­jec­tive assess­ments.

These cri­te­ria are stat­ed most clear­ly in The Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al. First, Lenin tries to dis­cern the “symp­toms of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion”:

(1) when it is impos­si­ble for the rul­ing class­es to main­tain their rule with­out any change; when there is a cri­sis, in one form or anoth­er, among the “upper class­es,” a cri­sis in the pol­i­cy of the rul­ing class, lead­ing to a fis­sure through which the dis­con­tent and indig­na­tion of the oppressed class­es burst forth. For a rev­o­lu­tion to take place, it is usu­al­ly insuf­fi­cient for “the low­er class­es not to want” to live in the old way; it is also nec­es­sary that “the upper class­es should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suf­fer­ing and want of the oppressed class­es have grown more acute than usu­al; (3) when, as a con­se­quence of the above caus­es, there is a con­sid­er­able increase in the activ­i­ty of the mass­es…1

Lenin views “the total­i­ty of all these objec­tive changes” as the ele­ments of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion.2 This def­i­n­i­tion remains the­o­ret­i­cal­ly impre­cise, espe­cial­ly since these cri­te­ria can­not be con­sid­ered in iso­la­tion from one anoth­er but only in their inter­de­pen­dence. The “increase in the activ­i­ty of the mass­es” and the “cri­sis of the rul­ing class” rec­i­p­ro­cal­ly con­di­tion each oth­er. In Left-Wing Com­mu­nism, these main cri­te­ria under­go a notice­able shift, as there Lenin also stress­es the sup­port [ral­liement] of the mid­dle class­es for the pro­le­tar­i­an cause. Again, this sup­port can­not be under­stood as a phe­nom­e­non in itself, but only through its rela­tion to oth­er pre­req­ui­site phe­nom­e­na. The sup­port of the oth­er class­es is all the more res­olute when the pro­le­tari­at shows itself to be deter­mined in its strug­gle.

The Lenin­ist def­i­n­i­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion thus involves an inter­play of ele­ments which inter­act in com­plex and vari­able ways, and can­not eas­i­ly be ana­lyzed in a rig­or­ous and objec­tive man­ner. Trot­sky takes a sim­i­lar approach in his His­to­ry of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, such as when he takes up Lenin’s def­i­n­i­tion and explic­it­ly empha­sizes this dimen­sion of rec­i­p­ro­cal con­di­tion­ing:

That these premis­es con­di­tion each oth­er is obvi­ous. The more deci­sive­ly and con­fi­dent­ly the pro­le­tari­at acts, the bet­ter will it suc­ceed in bring­ing after it the inter­me­di­ate lay­er, the more iso­lat­ed will be the rul­ing class, and the more acute its demor­al­i­sa­tion. And, on the oth­er hand, a demor­al­i­sa­tion of the rulers will pour water into the mill of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary class.3

But if the analy­sis of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion always appears to be revis­able, then the inter­ven­tion of a decid­ing fac­tor would cor­rect the dan­gers of impre­ci­sion by uni­fy­ing the oth­er dis­parate fac­tors and ground­ing their inter­ac­tion. Trot­sky con­sid­ers the “rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty” as a decid­ing con­di­tion in the seizure of pow­er inso­far as it is a “tight­ly weld­ed and tem­pered van­guard of the class.”4 Lenin also sees the par­ty as what dif­fer­en­ti­ates a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion from a rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis.

it is not every rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion that gives rise to a rev­o­lu­tion; rev­o­lu­tion aris­es only out of a sit­u­a­tion in which the above-men­tioned objec­tive changes are accom­pa­nied by a sub­jec­tive change, name­ly, the abil­i­ty of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary class to take rev­o­lu­tion­ary mass action strong enough to break (or dis­lo­cate) the old gov­ern­ment, which nev­er, not even in a peri­od of cri­sis, “falls,” if it is not top­pled over.5

In this way, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion tran­scends the ten­ta­tive sta­tus of the dif­fer­ent con­di­tions of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis; it also links these con­di­tions togeth­er and uni­fies them. Their jux­ta­po­si­tion is abol­ished through this point of inter­sec­tion. The weak­ness of the rul­ing class­es, the impa­tience of the low­er class­es, the sup­port of the mid­dle class­es: all these fac­tors strength­en the par­ty. The nature of the cri­sis seems to reside in the fact that the unmea­sur­able diver­si­ty of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion is uni­fied by the orga­ni­za­tion that works with­in these con­di­tions. The nodal point of the cri­sis is no longer locat­ed in one par­tic­u­lar objec­tive ele­ment, but is trans­ferred with­in the orga­ni­za­tion-sub­ject that com­bines and incor­po­rates them.

2. What is the Object of the Crisis?

In order to over­come the inac­cu­ra­cies that mark any attempt at defin­ing the notion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, it is nec­es­sary to go beyond lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions. One must begin again on a the­o­ret­i­cal basis that is not found in these ini­tial def­i­n­i­tions and which alone can bring us to a true con­cept. First, in order to talk about a cri­sis, we need to know that there is one. Two lev­els of this ques­tion have to be dis­tin­guished, and con­fus­ing them only leads to fur­ther obsta­cles. More specif­i­cal­ly, there needs to be a the­o­ret­i­cal under­stand­ing of the cri­sis that is dis­tinct from its prac­ti­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions. If we con­sid­er the suc­ces­sion of modes of pro­duc­tion – under­stood as the­o­ret­i­cal­ly elab­o­rat­ed mod­els that sub­sume the diver­si­ty of social for­ma­tions – then the rup­ture between modes of pro­duc­tion can per­haps be under­stood as a cri­sis. But this brings us back to a prob­lem which is unsolv­able at the the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el; we can jux­ta­pose dif­fer­ent mod­els, but the tran­si­tion from one mode of pro­duc­tion to anoth­er can­not be deduced through log­ic, and a the­o­ry can­not be con­struct­ed out of a log­i­cal sequence with­out mak­ing a detour through pol­i­tics. The “pure” mode of pro­duc­tion – the one Marx derived from the his­tor­i­cal con­di­tions of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Eng­land – does not exist in real­i­ty. It is an abstract-for­mal object, an arche­type that does not cor­re­spond to any con­crete social for­ma­tion, and for good rea­son. Nicos Poulantzas, in his Polit­i­cal Pow­er and Social Class­es, con­sid­ers a social for­ma­tion as “the spe­cif­ic over­lap­ping of sev­er­al ‘pure’ modes of pro­duc­tion.” He also adds: “the social for­ma­tion itself con­sti­tutes a com­plex uni­ty in which a cer­tain mode of pro­duc­tion dom­i­nates the oth­ers which com­pose it.”6

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, then, is not the cri­sis of a mode of pro­duc­tion, because between modes of pro­duc­tion there is a trans­for­ma­tion, not a cri­sis. The cri­sis of a deter­mi­nant social for­ma­tion, which involves the real forces that bring to life and actu­al­ize the con­tra­dic­tions of a mode of pro­duc­tion (in Lenin’s words: “all his­to­ry is made up of the actions of indi­vid­u­als, who are undoubt­ed­ly active fig­ures”7), is the only type of cri­sis that can be ana­lyzed.

This is why Lenin defines the essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tics and dom­i­nant aspects of the cur­rent Russ­ian social for­ma­tion with such exact­ness. From the 1890s onwards, he devotes much time to care­ful research, com­pil­ing the most detailed sta­tis­tics on the zem­stvos. From these ear­ly works, he delin­eates the argu­ments that will anchor all the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal maneu­vers of his polit­i­cal prac­tice. The Devel­op­ment of Cap­i­tal­ism in Rus­sia is a prod­uct of this ardu­ous work, as its con­clu­sions will be the reli­able ref­er­ence points that Lenin refers to when faced with dif­fi­cult ques­tions.

In “What The ‘Friends of the Peo­ple’ Are,” writ­ten in 1894, the con­clu­sions of The Devel­op­ment were already being broached: “every­where in Rus­sia the exploita­tion of the work­ing peo­ple is by its nature cap­i­tal­is­tic.”8 He draws all the con­se­quences from this posi­tion, in par­tic­u­lar that it is impos­si­ble to “find in Rus­sia any branch of hand­i­craft indus­try, at all devel­oped, which is not orga­nized on cap­i­tal­ist lines.”9 From now on, these cer­tain­ties will serve to ground any polit­i­cal strat­e­gy: Russ­ian rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies will fight against a cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion (even if feu­dal rem­nants sur­vive in the coun­try­side). Lenin under­scores this argu­ment in the first point of the pro­gram declared at the RSDLP con­gress in 1902: “Com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion is ever more rapid­ly devel­op­ing in Rus­sia, the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion becom­ing increas­ing­ly dom­i­nant in it.”10

Lenin defined his oppo­nents in this man­ner from his ear­li­est polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences. This con­fronta­tion­al clar­i­ty always informed his ana­lyt­ic meth­ods and tac­ti­cal choic­es. As the Russ­ian rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies fought against cap­i­tal­ism, their strat­e­gy of alliance con­tained an under­stand­ing of the unequal devel­op­ment of the eco­nom­ic sec­tors with­in Russ­ian cap­i­tal­ism; but they nev­er for­got that the cri­sis they were work­ing towards was that of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem itself. It is these same analy­ses from the young Lenin that will sup­port the inter­pre­ta­tion of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion found in The Rene­gade Kaut­sky:

Things have turned out just as we said they would. The course tak­en by the rev­o­lu­tion has con­firmed the cor­rect­ness of our rea­son­ing. First, with the “whole” of the peas­ants against the monar­chy, against the landown­ers, against medieval­ism (and to that extent the rev­o­lu­tion remains bour­geois, bour­geois-demo­c­ra­t­ic). Then, with the poor peas­ants, with the semi-pro­le­tar­i­ans, with all the exploit­ed, against cap­i­tal­ism, includ­ing the rur­al rich, the kulaks, the prof­i­teers, and to that extent the rev­o­lu­tion becomes a social­ist one. To attempt to raise an arti­fi­cial Chi­nese Wall between the first and sec­ond, to sep­a­rate them by any­thing else than the degree of pre­pared­ness of the pro­le­tari­at and the degree of its uni­ty with the poor peas­ants, means to dis­tort Marx­ism dread­ful­ly, to vul­garise it, to sub­sti­tute lib­er­al­ism in its place.11

The path ahead is clear, giv­en that the objec­tive remains the over­throw of the form of cap­i­tal­ism already dom­i­nant with­in the Russ­ian social for­ma­tion; the Russ­ian Social-Democ­rats sought a tem­po­rary alliance with the peas­antry in order to destroy the ves­tiges of feu­dal­ism in agri­cul­ture. Lenin’s var­i­ous agri­cul­tur­al pro­grams made it imper­a­tive to deter­mine the cor­rect grounds for this rev­o­lu­tion­ary alliance. But the strug­gle against feu­dal­ism and autoc­ra­cy was only a spring­board for the anti-cap­i­tal­ist strug­gle, which remained the prin­ci­pal objec­tive.

In Cap­i­tal, Marx empha­sized that the cap­i­tal­ist process of pro­duc­tion, con­sid­ered in its con­ti­nu­ity as a process of repro­duc­tion, does not only pro­duce com­modi­ties or sur­plus val­ue; it pro­duces and repro­duces the cap­i­tal rela­tion itself: “on the one hand the cap­i­tal­ist, on the oth­er the wage labour­er.”12 The sys­tem that repro­duces itself also engen­ders its own crises; its con­tra­dic­tions pro­duce rup­tur­al points, which can become eco­nom­ic crises. How­ev­er, an eco­nom­ic cri­sis is not a rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis. It can be part of the self-reg­u­lat­ing mech­a­nisms of the sys­tem itself, only ful­fill­ing a “purg­ing” func­tion. After the cri­sis, with the stocks return­ing to pre­vi­ous lev­els and unprof­itable busi­ness­es elim­i­nat­ed, the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my starts up again with a clean slate. Georg Lukács is insis­tent on this dis­tinc­tion between rev­o­lu­tion­ary and eco­nom­ic crises: Only the con­scious­ness of the pro­le­tari­at can point to the way that leads out of the impasse of cap­i­tal­ism. As long as this con­scious­ness is lack­ing, the cri­sis remains per­ma­nent, it goes back to its start­ing-point, repeats the cycle.”13

The cri­sis of a social for­ma­tion, then, has an expand­ing, deep­en­ing func­tion. It is the tip­ping point where one can glimpse the struc­ture of a new sys­tem, but it can just as eas­i­ly be part of the self-reg­u­la­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. If the cri­sis is to become a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion, the empha­sis must be on the becom­ing: that is to say, it becomes sur­pass­able in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sense, where a sub­ject takes hold of the process of decon­struct­ing and recon­struct­ing a social for­ma­tion. Lukács again express­es this idea clear­ly, in response to the fatal­ists who pas­sive­ly wait for the final rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism:

It must not be for­got­ten, how­ev­er, that the dif­fer­ence between the peri­od in which the deci­sive bat­tles are fought and the fore­go­ing peri­od does not lie in the extent and the inten­si­ty of the bat­tles them­selves. These quan­ti­ta­tive changes are mere­ly symp­to­matic of the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences in qual­i­ty which dis­tin­guish these strug­gles from ear­li­er ones. At an ear­li­er stage, in the words of the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, even “the mas­sive sol­i­dar­i­ty of the work­ers was not yet the con­se­quence of their own uni­fi­ca­tion but mere­ly a con­se­quence of the uni­fi­ca­tion of the bour­geoisie.” Now, how­ev­er, the process by which the pro­le­tari­at becomes inde­pen­dent and “organ­is­es itself into a class” is repeat­ed and inten­si­fied until the time when the final cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism has been reached, the time when the deci­sion comes more and more with­in the grasp of the pro­le­tari­at.14

3. Who is the Subject of the Crisis?

The cri­sis that affects a deter­mi­nant social for­ma­tion does not become rev­o­lu­tion­ary until a sub­ject works towards its res­o­lu­tion; this is accom­plished through tak­ing on [atta­quer] the State. The State is the strate­gic tar­get, the con­nect­ing point [vérin] which main­tains the rela­tion between cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion and the forces of pro­duc­tion.

After hav­ing locat­ed the prin­ci­pal object of the cri­sis [the State], it still must be defeat­ed. The Marx­ist prob­lem­at­ic, reaf­firmed by many of its pro­po­nents, seems indis­putable on this point. It clear­ly dis­tin­guish­es between a the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject of the rev­o­lu­tion and a politi­co-his­tor­i­cal sub­ject. The the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject is the pro­le­tari­at inso­far as it is a class, and the polit­i­cal sub­ject is its van­guard orga­ni­za­tion inso­far as it incar­nates and rep­re­sents, not the pro­le­tari­at “in-itself” (as polit­i­cal­ly, eco­nom­i­cal­ly and ide­o­log­i­cal­ly dom­i­nat­ed) but “for-itself,” when it is con­scious of the process of pro­duc­tion in its total­i­ty and its own unique role in this process.

This point relates to one of the most force­ful argu­ments of What is to be Done?, where Lenin dis­tin­guish­es between dif­fer­ent forms of “spon­tane­ity.” He sees spon­tane­ity as “con­scious­ness in its embry­on­ic form,” but he also dif­fer­en­ti­ates between degrees of con­scious­ness, such as a direc­tion­less and sub­servient [asservie] spon­tane­ity and a spon­tane­ity freed and deep­ened by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary van­guard. He main­tains that con­scious­ness can only come to the work­ing class “from with­out,” from intel­lec­tu­als who bring them their under­stand­ing and acute knowl­edge of soci­ety and the process of pro­duc­tion. “The work­ing class, exclu­sive­ly by its own effort, is able to devel­op only trade-union con­scious­ness.”15

In the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, the two sub­jects are brought togeth­er: first, the the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject, because it is both the bear­er of a yet-to-come [encore à venir], and vital for the for­mu­la­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy; sec­ond, the polit­i­cal sub­ject, or the par­ty that takes up and elab­o­rates this strat­e­gy. Again, Lenin com­mits him­self to the twofold task of accu­rate­ly defin­ing the the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject of the com­ing rev­o­lu­tion and giv­ing it a polit­i­cal sub­ject capa­ble of accom­plish­ing this task.

In his ear­ly writ­ings, Lenin is con­stant­ly con­cerned with show­ing that the pro­le­tari­at is the social class most invest­ed with a rev­o­lu­tion­ary mis­sion. At the same time as he ana­lyzes the Russ­ian social for­ma­tion as cap­i­tal­ist, he declares the auton­o­my of the pro­le­tari­at as the only class capa­ble of resolv­ing the con­tra­dic­tions of soci­ety as a whole. He unwa­ver­ing­ly affirms the inde­pen­dent role of the pro­le­tari­at in its alliances and polit­i­cal ini­tia­tives. From 1894 onwards, he thinks that “none but a bour­geois could see only the sol­i­dar­i­ty of the inter­ests of the whole ‘peo­ple’ against medieval, feu­dal insti­tu­tions and for­get the pro­found and irrec­on­cil­able antag­o­nism between the bour­geoisie and the pro­le­tari­at with­in this ‘peo­ple.’”16 In the same work, Lenin advances the “fun­da­men­tal and prin­ci­pal the­sis” that “Rus­sia is a bour­geois soci­ety which has grown out of the feu­dal sys­tem, that its polit­i­cal form is a class state, and that the only way to end the exploita­tion of the work­ing peo­ple is through the class strug­gle of the pro­le­tari­at.”17 He clar­i­fies fur­ther: “the peri­od of Russia’s social devel­op­ment, when democ­ra­cy and social­ism were merged in one insep­a­ra­ble and indis­sol­u­ble whole… has gone, nev­er to return.”18

One year lat­er, in the “The Tasks of the Russ­ian Social-Democ­rats,” Lenin recalls that “only those fight­ers are strong who rely on the con­scious­ly rec­og­nized real inter­ests of cer­tain class­es,” urg­ing the Social-Democ­rats to remem­ber and “empha­size the inde­pen­dent class iden­ti­ty of the pro­le­tari­at, who tomor­row may find them­selves in oppo­si­tion to their allies of today.”19 He also returns to the point that “the merg­ing of the demo­c­ra­t­ic activ­i­ties of the work­ing class with the demo­c­ra­t­ic aspi­ra­tions of oth­er class­es and groups would weak­en the demo­c­ra­t­ic move­ment, would weak­en the polit­i­cal strug­gle.”20 Because of his pre­cise knowl­edge of his­tor­i­cal con­di­tions and the com­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, Lenin avoids all con­fu­sions on this point in The Devel­op­ment of Cap­i­tal­ism in Rus­sia, where he calls for the “sup­port for the peas­antry… inso­far as the peas­antry is capa­ble of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle against the sur­vivals of serf­dom in gen­er­al and against the autoc­ra­cy in par­tic­u­lar.”21 In the same work, he con­tin­ues:

Two basic forms of the class strug­gle are today inter­twined in the Russ­ian coun­try­side: 1) the strug­gle of the peas­antry against the priv­i­leged land­ed pro­pri­etors and against the rem­nants of serf­dom; 2) the strug­gle of the emer­gent rur­al pro­le­tari­at against the rur­al bour­geoisie. For Social-Democ­rats the sec­ond strug­gle, of course, is of greater impor­tance; but they must also indis­pens­ably sup­port the first strug­gle to the extent that it does not con­tra­dict the inter­ests of social devel­op­ment.22

This solid­ly ground­ed and patient­ly refined under­stand­ing of the Russ­ian social for­ma­tion and class struc­ture makes it pos­si­ble for Lenin to grasp the real forces at work in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis of 1917:

The spe­cif­ic fea­ture of the present sit­u­a­tion in Rus­sia is that the coun­try is pass­ing from the first stage of the rev­o­lu­tion – which, owing to the insuf­fi­cient class-con­scious­ness and organ­i­sa­tion of the pro­le­tari­at, placed pow­er in the hands of the bour­geoisie – to its sec­ond stage, which must place pow­er in the hands of the pro­le­tari­at and the poor­est sec­tions of the peas­ants.23

Hav­ing elu­ci­dat­ed the prob­lem of the the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject of the com­ing rev­o­lu­tion – not the peo­ple, not the peas­antry, but the pro­le­tari­at – Lenin focus­es all of his mil­i­tant ener­gy on mak­ing sure that the polit­i­cal sub­ject will be equal to its task. He tire­less­ly attempts to bring the pro­le­tar­i­an van­guard with­in the Social-Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty. It was not enough to the­o­ret­i­cal­ly give the pro­le­tari­at the lead­ing role in the rev­o­lu­tion (ahead of the pop­ulist cur­rents), as the ques­tion of emerg­ing from the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis vic­to­ri­ous­ly still remains. Even among those who rec­og­nize the proletariat’s lead­ing role, there is not a real under­stand­ing of the prac­ti­cal means by which the lat­ter can “become what it is” in real­i­ty: a class.

Against the Econ­o­mists, Lenin demon­strates that the pro­le­tari­at does not rise above the ter­rain of the eco­nom­ic strug­gle “spon­ta­neous­ly.” He posits that

The strug­gle of the work­ers becomes a class strug­gle only when all the fore­most rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the entire work­ing class of the whole coun­try are con­scious of them­selves as a sin­gle work­ing class and launch a strug­gle that is direct­ed, not against indi­vid­ual employ­ers, but against the entire class of cap­i­tal­ists and against the gov­ern­ment that sup­ports that class.24

Recall­ing the famous words of Marx, Lenin stress­es that a strug­gle only becomes polit­i­cal to the extent that it becomes a strug­gle between class­es. While he read­i­ly admits that the activ­i­ty of local Social-Demo­c­ra­t­ic cells forms the basis of all par­ty activ­i­ty, if this remains only the work of iso­lat­ed cells, it would not be prop­er­ly social-demo­c­ra­t­ic, “since it will not be the organ­i­sa­tion and lead­er­ship of the class strug­gle of the pro­le­tari­at.”25

Lenin always defends the same – the­o­ret­i­cal­ly jus­ti­fied – con­cept of the par­ty, whether it is against the Men­she­viks after 1904, against the par­ti­sans of the orga­ni­za­tion­al process, against the liq­ui­da­tion­ists after 1907. The par­ty is the instru­ment through which the con­scious ele­ments of the pro­le­tari­at reach the lev­el of polit­i­cal con­scious­ness and pre­pare for the con­fronta­tion with the cen­tral­ized bour­geois State, the key sup­port of the cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion. All the ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tles that Lenin engages in regard­ing the par­ty can be con­sid­ered as strug­gles over the shap­ing of the polit­i­cal sub­ject in prepa­ra­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis. The orga­ni­za­tion, con­ceived of as a his­tor­i­cal sub­ject, is thus not a pure form but a con­tent: the ves­sel of a col­lec­tive will, expressed through a the­o­ry that con­tin­u­al­ly renews itself in rela­tion to a polit­i­cal pro­gram of class strug­gle.

II. The Crisis as a Test of Truth

Of course, con­densed for­mu­las and slo­gans are sub­ject to all sorts of the­o­ret­i­cal mis­un­der­stand­ings and sim­plis­tic inter­pre­ta­tions. In an arti­cle on Engels, Lenin tries to sum­ma­rize Marx and Engels’s impor­tance in one phrase: “The ser­vices ren­dered by Marx and Engels to the work­ing class may be expressed in a few words thus: they taught the work­ing class to know itself and be con­scious of itself, and they sub­sti­tut­ed sci­ence for dreams.”26

A triv­ial sum­ma­ry could give rise to many unwar­rant­ed extrap­o­la­tions: on the one hand, the belief that the pro­le­tari­at can, on its own, become con­scious of its role through a pro­gres­sive process of self-eman­ci­pa­tion; on the oth­er, there is a slip­page towards sci­en­tism, i.e. the idea that Marx­ist the­o­ry is a sci­ence that speaks the Truth.

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis throws light on the “absolutes” and leads us toward them in a more ade­quate fash­ion. In the deci­sive moments of the cri­sis, we can glimpse the fugi­tive arrival of truth: “The expe­ri­ence of war, like the expe­ri­ence of any cri­sis in his­to­ry, of any great calami­ty and any sud­den turn in human life, stuns and breaks some peo­ple, but enlight­ens and tem­pers oth­ers.”27

1. For Organization

The par­ty-orga­ni­za­tion is not a pure crys­tal, just as the­o­ry is not a pure Sci­ence; in an inter­nal­iz­ing move­ment, the par­ty trans­lates with­in itself the con­tra­dic­tions of the sys­tem with which it is inter­twined. Rosa Lux­em­burg, in Marx­ism or Lenin­ism?, clear­ly iden­ti­fied the ori­gins of this occur­rence:

The inter­na­tion­al move­ment of the pro­le­tari­at toward its com­plete eman­ci­pa­tion is a process pecu­liar in the fol­low­ing respect. For the first time in the his­to­ry of civ­i­liza­tion, the peo­ple are express­ing their will con­scious­ly and in oppo­si­tion to all rul­ing class­es. But this will can only be sat­is­fied beyond the lim­its of the exist­ing sys­tem. Now the mass can only acquire and strength­en this will in the course of day-to-day strug­gle against the exist­ing social order – that is, with­in the lim­its of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. On the one hand, we have the mass; on the oth­er, its his­toric goal, locat­ed out­side of exist­ing soci­ety. On one hand, we have the day-to-day strug­gle; on the oth­er, the social rev­o­lu­tion. Such are the terms of the dialec­ti­cal con­tra­dic­tion through which the social­ist move­ment makes its way.28

Two rival cur­rents take shape with­in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion as a result of the redou­bling of this con­tra­dic­tion: one which main­tains its fideli­ty to the rev­o­lu­tion, anoth­er which is sus­cep­ti­ble to the dan­gers of oppor­tunism. The orga­ni­za­tion can­not com­plete­ly sep­a­rate itself from soci­ety; not only does it have to pre­pare itself for the assault [on the state], but it also must simul­ta­ne­ous­ly con­duct a per­ma­nent strug­gle against oppor­tunist devi­a­tions with­in its ranks.

Lenin and Lux­em­burg per­ceive the social caus­es of this oppor­tunism dif­fer­ent­ly, as each assigns greater influ­ence to a cer­tain fac­tor more than the oth­er, but their def­i­n­i­tions also over­lap at cer­tain points.

One should first con­sid­er legal par­lia­men­tar­i­an­ism and rel­a­tive­ly long peri­ods of sta­bil­i­ty as the caus­es of oppor­tunism. Togeth­er, these phe­nom­e­na pro­duce pro­fes­sion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the work­ing class who can become agents of the state and are vul­ner­a­ble to bour­geois inter­ests. These polit­i­cal per­son­nel in turn rely on the labor aris­toc­ra­cy and the pet­ty-bour­geoisie who ben­e­fit from the spoils of colo­nial rela­tions. Lenin sum­ma­rizes this point in The Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al, where he affirms that “Oppor­tunism has been nur­tured by legal­ism,” or “bour­geois legal­i­ty.”29

The sec­ond cause is more sub­tle, and is a mech­a­nism Lux­em­burg makes most appar­ent; it con­sists in the fact that oppor­tunism depends on the exis­tence of an orga­ni­za­tion. The spread of bour­geois val­ues and the preser­va­tion of grant­ed priv­i­leges is not enough to explain oppor­tunism: the defense of the orga­ni­za­tion is also a major part. These two sources inex­tri­ca­bly rein­force each oth­er. This occur­rence did not escape Lenin: “the great and strong par­ties were fright­ened by the prospect of their organ­i­sa­tions being dis­solved, their funds sequestered and their lead­ers arrest­ed by the gov­ern­ment.”30 The con­sti­tu­tion of a work­er bureau­cra­cy and orga­ni­za­tion­al con­ser­vatism are two ways in which the par­ty-orga­ni­za­tion man­i­fests the con­tra­dic­tions of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, affect­ing all mem­bers of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary ranks.

This prob­lem is at the root of all fail­ures, all betray­als by the work­ing-class par­ties, and all reformist ide­olo­gies. May ’68 in France was an illus­tra­tion of the way in which bour­geois ide­ol­o­gy and PCF ide­ol­o­gy are mutu­al­ly con­nect­ed, through the pas­sive accep­tance of an estab­lished order seen as unchange­able. The degen­er­a­tion of the work­ing-class par­ties can be viewed more or less in this way. Lenin always strives to deter­mine the errors which ren­der a par­ty irre­deemably lost: the social-chau­vin­ist sup­port for the war exhib­it­ed in 1914 marked for him the end of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al and the begin­ning of a fac­tion­al strug­gle. There is no par­ty that remains com­plete­ly free from the dan­ger of degen­er­a­tion.

The orga­ni­za­tion is thus nev­er a tem­pered sword; it must be defined in dif­fer­en­tial terms. Its deter­mi­nate impact is estab­lished through the inter­val it explores, the in-between that it mea­sures. More than being the direct expres­sion of a class, it is marked by a gap: the gap which sep­a­rates a class as the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject from its polit­i­cal spon­tane­ity, such as they appear with­in the cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion.

Lenin always held the view that social-democ­ra­cy is the merg­er of the work­ers’ move­ment and social­ism: “Iso­lat­ed from Social-Democ­ra­cy, the work­ing-class move­ment becomes pet­ty and inevitably becomes bour­geois.”31 We could add that when iso­lat­ed from work­ing class strug­gles, social-democ­ra­cy also becomes dis­ori­en­tat­ed and tends to degen­er­ate; it strength­ens itself on the “instincts” of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary class. The Par­ty forms a bridge between the embry­on­ic con­scious­ness of the pro­le­tari­at and the the­o­ret­i­cal role with which the lat­ter is invest­ed. It is the nec­es­sary medi­a­tion between the con­cept of the work­ing-class and its prac­ti­cal, alien­at­ed real­iza­tion in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. This is why:

The Party’s task is not to con­coct some fash­ion­able means of help­ing the work­ers, but to join up with the work­ers’ move­ment, to bring light into it, to assist the work­ers in the strug­gle they them­selves have already begun to wage… [to] devel­op the work­ers’ class-con­scious­ness.32

The task of the Par­ty is to hold togeth­er the two com­ple­men­tary poles that tear it apart: the the­o­ret­i­cal under­stand­ing of the process of pro­duc­tion and the role of the pro­le­tari­at, and the con­nec­tion with prac­ti­cal, every­day ques­tions of work­ing-class life. The Par­ty forges itself through this per­ma­nent ten­sion; it is between these two points that it for­mu­lates its strat­e­gy, by which the con­scious­ness of a dif­fer­ence and a gap [inter­val] becomes the indi­ca­tion of a new order to come. At the same time as being the vis­i­ble and “organ­ised incar­na­tion of their class con­scious­ness” (Lukács), the work­ing-class par­ty is the wit­ness to the gap that sep­a­rates the his­tor­i­cal role of the pro­le­tari­at and its con­scious­ness mys­ti­fied by the rul­ing ide­ol­o­gy.33

As the medi­a­tion between a sub­ject (the pro­le­tari­at) which is not yet con­scious of its his­tor­i­cal role and an object (cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion) that must be trans­formed by this sub­ject, the par­ty embod­ies and express­es the project of the work­ing class. Here, a phi­los­o­phy of the project is estab­lished, some­thing that pol­i­tics per­haps shares with sci­ence, since accord­ing to Bachelard, “above the sub­ject and beyond the object, mod­ern sci­ence is based on the project. In sci­en­tif­ic thought the subject’s medi­a­tion upon the object always takes the form of a project.34 This phi­los­o­phy of the project is also at the core of Sartre’s obser­va­tions in the Cri­tique of Dialec­ti­cal Rea­son: “The project, as the sub­jec­tive sur­pass­ing of objec­tiv­i­ty toward objec­tiv­i­ty, and stretched between the objec­tive con­di­tions of the envi­ron­ment and the objec­tive struc­tures of the field of pos­si­bles, rep­re­sents in itself the mov­ing uni­ty of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and objec­tiv­i­ty… Thus the sub­jec­tive con­tains with­in itself the objec­tive, which it denies and which it sur­pass­es toward a new objec­tiv­i­ty; and this new objec­tiv­i­ty by virtue of objec­ti­fi­ca­tion exter­nal­izes the inter­nal­i­ty of the project as an objec­ti­fied sub­jec­tiv­i­ty.”35

As a last exam­ple, Freud’s for­mu­la of Wo es War, soll ich wer­den con­tains the idea of a move­ment which car­ries a dis­fig­ured and alien­at­ed pro­le­tari­at toward its truth. In this move­ment, the par­ty rep­re­sents nei­ther the ego nor the id, but the medi­at­ing effort by which the pro­le­tari­at breaks away from its imme­di­a­cy to see its prop­er place in the total­i­ty of the social process through its rela­tions with oth­er class­es, and dis­cov­ers its his­tor­i­cal truth as a class. The work of the Par­ty resides in shed­ding this “trade union sec­re­tary ide­al for that of the ‘tri­bune of the peo­ple.’”36

Inso­far as, “syn­chron­i­cal­ly,” its pres­ence rep­re­sents a gap – a dis­con­ti­nu­ity between the pro­le­tari­at as it exists his­tor­i­cal­ly and its the­o­ret­i­cal role (its “mis­sion”) – the par­ty-orga­ni­za­tion restores a diachron­ic con­ti­nu­ity. The work­ing class, as the hid­den truth of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, car­ries social­ism beyond the mere­ly pos­si­ble. If, as for sci­ence, “what is pos­si­ble and what is [l’Être] are homo­ge­neous,” the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is to be under­stood through a dou­ble per­spec­tive: that of con­ti­nu­ity and dis­con­ti­nu­ity.37

But to define the par­ty in this way, as the project that syn­the­sizes and sur­pass­es the sub­jec­tive and the objec­tive when the will of its mil­i­tants becomes an objec­tive fac­tor of social devel­op­ment, is to define its con­tent as well as its func­tion: “When, in the pur­suit of a sin­gle aim and ani­mat­ed by a sin­gle will, mil­lions alter the forms of their com­mu­ni­ca­tion and their behav­iour, change the place and the mode of their activ­i­ties, change their tools and weapons in accor­dance with the chang­ing con­di­tions and the require­ments of the strug­gle – all this is gen­uine organ­i­sa­tion.”38 To know the func­tion of the van­guard orga­ni­za­tion is not to sim­ply jus­ti­fy its neces­si­ty but to rec­og­nize what type of orga­ni­za­tion it must be and which inter­nal rules must rigid­ly struc­ture it.39 The ensem­ble of these rules tend to make an orga­ni­za­tion coher­ent and homo­ge­neous; the famous for­mu­la of “demo­c­ra­t­ic cen­tral­ism” sum­ma­rizes and con­dens­es them. But to mere­ly list them resolves noth­ing. Demo­c­ra­t­ic cen­tral­ism indeed con­sti­tutes a con­tra­dic­tion in terms, an expres­sion of the organization’s con­tra­dic­to­ry posi­tion with the sys­tem it is sup­posed to destroy and over­come. Demo­c­ra­t­ic cen­tral­ism is the for­mu­la of a pro­vi­sion­al rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between oppo­sites, shap­ing mil­i­tant rev­o­lu­tion­ary spon­tane­ity into a demo­c­ra­t­ic form with­in the cen­tral­ized net­work of the orga­ni­za­tion. Cohe­sion nev­er comes with­out the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion encoun­ter­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. The cri­sis not only affects the sys­tem it under­mines, but also the orga­ni­za­tion: for the lat­ter it is the hour of its truth, the time for read­just­ments. The Bol­she­vik par­ty could not escape his­to­ry: the pub­lic arti­cles of Zinoviev and Kamenev against the insur­rec­tion led Lenin to demand their expul­sion in Sep­tem­ber 1917. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis works to reveal much for the orga­ni­za­tion: it shows its defects and delim­its the frac­tion of the par­ty capa­ble of con­clud­ing the cri­sis through the rev­o­lu­tion. It serves as the pat­tern on which the pro­vi­sion­al orga­ni­za­tion stands out and adjusts itself to its his­tor­i­cal task.

2. For Theory

Just as the orga­ni­za­tion is not pure steel, so the­o­ry is not pure sci­ence. In peri­ods of stag­na­tion, sci­en­tis­tic ten­den­cies dom­i­nate the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment. Korsch first made this remark and Althuss­er illus­trates it when he con­sid­ers the­o­ry as speak­ing the truth dis­tinct­ly, beyond the grasp of his­to­ry.

Lenin is more cau­tious when he reit­er­ates after the 1905 Rev­o­lu­tion that “prac­tice marched ahead of the­o­ry,”40 but he still stress­es else­where that “Marx­ism is all-pow­er­ful because it is true.” Start­ing from the premise that in the sci­ences where man is tak­en as object, my truth does not speak, at most it is heard, Lacan con­cludes that one can­not tell the truth about the truth. There is no meta­lan­guage which does not have its con­no­ta­tion.

The object of sci­ence is also its sub­ject, but it is “inter­nal­ly exclud­ed from its object.”41 In assum­ing the truth to be mute, Lacan right­ly ques­tions Lenin’s state­ment above: “how could the­o­riz­ing this [the omnipo­tence of Marx­ist the­o­ry] increase its pow­er?”42

Lacan thinks the rela­tion between knowl­edge and truth topo­log­i­cal­ly in the form of the Mobius strip, where the two terms inter­pen­e­trate one anoth­er to an indis­cernible degree. Truth speaks [par­le] through the­o­ry, but the­o­ry does not tell [dit] the truth. In a Lacan­ian vein, when Althuss­er escapes from his sci­en­tis­tic nos­tal­gia, he reach­es deep­er insights: “the truth of his­to­ry can­not be read in its man­i­fest dis­course, because the text of his­to­ry is not a text in which a voice (the Logos) speaks, but the inaudi­ble and illeg­i­ble nota­tion of the effects of a struc­ture of struc­tures.”43 But in the Lacan­ian entan­gle­ment of truth and knowl­edge, a dimen­sion is lost, with­out which the­o­ry would only be redun­dant, leav­ing no rea­son to the­o­rize truth in order to increase its pow­er. This third dimen­sion is ide­ol­o­gy. If truth speaks through knowl­edge, it also speaks through ide­ol­o­gy. On the Mobius strip, where, to recall the image, truth and ide­ol­o­gy run togeth­er, the­o­ry marks the point that can sketch their shared place. Just as orga­ni­za­tion is the mea­sure of the gap between the the­o­ret­i­cal stand­ing of the pro­le­tari­at and its empir­i­cal real­i­ty, so the­o­ry is the con­scious for­mu­la­tion and mea­sure of a truth which over­takes the voice and an ide­ol­o­gy which ren­ders it silent.

The­o­ry is thus with­in the order of “rel­a­tive truth” that Lenin bor­rows from Engels, speak­ing of the

con­tra­dic­tion … between the char­ac­ter of human thought, nec­es­sar­i­ly con­ceived as absolute, and its real­i­ty in indi­vid­ual human beings with their extreme­ly lim­it­ed thought. This is a con­tra­dic­tion which can only be solved in the infi­nite pro­gres­sion, or what is for us, at least from a prac­ti­cal stand­point, the end­less suc­ces­sion, of gen­er­a­tions of mankind. In this sense human thought is just as much sov­er­eign as not sov­er­eign, and its capac­i­ty for knowl­edge just as much unlim­it­ed as lim­it­ed. It is sov­er­eign and unlim­it­ed in its dis­po­si­tion (Anlage), its voca­tion, its pos­si­bil­i­ties and its his­tor­i­cal ulti­mate goal; it is not sov­er­eign and it is lim­it­ed in its indi­vid­ual expres­sion and in its real­i­sa­tion at each par­tic­u­lar moment.44

In respect to the­o­ry, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis func­tions as a cut [coup de ciseau], through which the not­ed dif­fer­ence between truth and ide­ol­o­gy is accen­tu­at­ed and real­ized through the frac­tur­ing of the Möbius strip, break­ing these terms apart. Knowl­edge pays the price, as its place is abol­ished by this divi­sion. What was the case for orga­ni­za­tion holds for the­o­ry as well: the cri­sis acts as a prac­ti­cal func­tor of truth, mark­ing the rup­tur­al point between a long-wind­ed sci­ence and a truth lib­er­at­ed from its silence.

Like the con­cep­tion of orga­ni­za­tion, the­o­ry is dif­fer­en­tial.

In a peri­od of cri­sis, It is also what makes pos­si­ble the over­com­ing of the con­ser­v­a­tive aspects of orga­ni­za­tion­al work. Only a com­plete igno­rance and a great the­o­ret­i­cal acu­ity would leave the orga­ni­za­tion open to the con­tin­gen­cies of his­to­ry. It is was because of this the­o­ret­i­cal acu­ity that Lenin knew to see the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis for what it was, while the old Bol­she­viks were blind to this fact.

From this par­al­lelism between the group­ing of class-par­ty-spon­tane­ity and the group­ing truth-the­o­ry-ide­ol­o­gy, there is the out­line of a homol­o­gy by which the par­ty is indeed the place of the­o­ry but not nec­es­sar­i­ly that of truth. Trot­sky did not under­stand this in his strug­gle against Stal­in, as he hes­i­tat­ed to put the place of truth out­side the par­ty (accord­ing to Mer­leau-Pon­ty), because he had learned that what was true could only be attrib­uted to the pro­le­tari­at and its van­guard orga­ni­za­tion.

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is the moment of truth for the par­ty-orga­ni­za­tion, when the lat­ter tends to cor­re­spond with the class which remains its hid­den truth; the same goes for the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis in rela­tion to the­o­ry, a sus­pend­ed moment that allows this hid­den truth to sud­den­ly irrupt into the realm of prac­tice.

The­o­ry is a pos­si­ble mea­sure of the gap between truth and ide­ol­o­gy, but it is not alone in hav­ing the abil­i­ty to recon­nect them. Ulti­mate­ly, a the­o­ry tak­en too seri­ous­ly can become a dan­ger, as it forces the flow of his­to­ry into neat cat­e­gories. This is why Lenin nev­er dis­card­ed the cor­rec­tive of the imag­i­na­tion, even if he approached every prob­lem from a the­o­ret­i­cal angle; he found in imag­i­na­tion anoth­er form of con­nec­tion, cer­tain­ly less ratio­nal than the the­o­ry which care­ful­ly man­ages it. But from ide­ol­o­gy to the truth, the imag­i­na­tive path inter­sects with sci­ence and reveals detours and short­cuts not view­able from a more rig­or­ous track.

“We should dream!”

Strange­ly, this is one of the con­clu­sions of What is to be Done?: “We should dream,” repeats Lenin.45 He sketch­es in a few lines the bizarre table of beards and mon­o­cles at the con­gress attack­ing him for pos­ing this appar­ent incon­gruity; he men­tions Mary­t­nov and Krichevsky, who respond with increduli­ty: “I ask, has a Marx­ist any right at all to dream?” He answers them with a long cita­tion from Pis­arev on the rich dialec­tic between dream and real­i­ty, and he con­cludes: “Of this kind of dream­ing there is unfor­tu­nate­ly too lit­tle in our move­ment.”46

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis brings his­tor­i­cal truth to life, while the imag­i­na­tion delin­eates a com­ple­men­tary mode of access to the­o­ry. This is not the least of Lenin’s denials of all stub­born sci­en­tism.

3. For the Social Formation

We have shown that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is a cri­sis of the social for­ma­tion, not the mode of pro­duc­tion, and that the con­tra­dic­to­ry struc­ture of the mode of pro­duc­tion forms the hid­den back­ground of this cri­sis. This is what Althuss­er express­es through the con­cept of Darstel­lung, “the effec­tiv­i­ty of an absent cause,” or again, through a metonymic causal­i­ty, “the very form of the inte­ri­or­i­ty of a struc­ture, as struc­ture, in its effects.”47

Lenin’s sec­ond cri­te­ri­on of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion shows what the cri­sis means in rela­tion to the social for­ma­tion. Through the ral­ly­ing of the mid­dle class stra­ta behind the pro­le­tari­at, the social for­ma­tion dimin­ish­es the over­lap between modes of pro­duc­tion of which the inter­me­di­ate stra­tum are a con­se­quence. In the cri­sis, the social for­ma­tion tends symp­to­mati­cal­ly towards the dom­i­nant mode of pro­duc­tion which con­sti­tutes its hid­den truth. Rosa Lux­em­burg argues in The Accu­mu­la­tion of Cap­i­tal that the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism puts into motion the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the inter­me­di­ate stra­ta. The more the ves­tiges of feu­dal­ism are elim­i­nat­ed, the more the social for­ma­tion tends toward the abstract cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion defined by Marx, and the more vio­lent this process becomes:

Broad­er and broad­er stra­ta sep­a­rate out from the – seem­ing­ly – sol­id edi­fice of bour­geois soci­ety; they then bring con­fu­sion into the ranks of the bour­geoisie, they unleash move­ments which do not them­selves pro­ceed in the direc­tion of social­ism but which through the vio­lence of the impact they make do has­ten the real­i­sa­tion of the pre­con­di­tions of social­ism: name­ly, the col­lapse of the bour­geoisie.48

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis accel­er­ates the process and height­ens its con­tra­dic­tions, leav­ing only the pro­le­tari­at against the bour­geoisie, wage labor against cap­i­tal, what Marx had the­o­ret­i­cal­ly dis­tin­guished as the two nec­es­sary and irre­ducibly antag­o­nis­tic poles of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion.

This is because through the rup­ture of the cri­sis, the social for­ma­tion – the site of an emer­gence of dual pow­er – tends to be reduced to its dom­i­nant mode of pro­duc­tion. After hav­ing rig­or­ous­ly stud­ied the lessons of 1905, Lenin inces­sant­ly repeat­ed in 1917 that the sovi­ets were “a new type of State.”49 He vig­or­ous­ly reproached Mar­tov for acknowl­edg­ing the coun­cils as organs of com­bat with­out see­ing their larg­er mis­sion, as a new type of State appa­ra­tus. Because it is the mode of pro­duc­tion itself which is affect­ed by the cri­sis, the rela­tions between the van­guard and the mass­es are trans­formed. The pro­le­tari­at rapid­ly attains a high­er degree of class con­scious­ness.

In the spe­cif­ic tem­po­ral­i­ty of the cri­sis, Lenin repeat­ed­ly insists that the mass­es learn more in a few hours than they would in twen­ty years. Their sub­servient and mys­ti­fied spon­tane­ity gives way to their rev­o­lu­tion­ary spon­tane­ity as a class, deep­ened by the work of the van­guard. The organs of this class, the “high­est form of the unit­ed front,”50 the sovi­ets, are the organs of pow­er of the pro­le­tar­i­an class. Lukács, com­ment­ing on Lenin against the ultra-left­ists, recalls the dif­fer­ence between par­ty and union, and that the coun­cils are a per­ma­nent class orga­ni­za­tion. Their con­crete pos­si­bil­i­ty goes beyond the frame of bour­geois soci­ety and their mere pres­ence already sig­ni­fies the real strug­gle for State pow­er, name­ly the civ­il war.

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is the priv­i­leged point of rup­ture where the pro­le­tari­at inter­venes with­in his­to­ry, where the mass­es “take hold of their own des­tiny” and play a lead­ing role. The par­ty now has an educa­tive task: to orga­nize the pro­le­tari­at against dis­or­ga­niz­ing forces (com­mer­cial pet­ty bour­geoisie, mar­gin­al recon­sti­tu­tion of a com­mod­i­ty econ­o­my) which under­mine it. But the lead­ing role remains with the class which main­tains itself through its own organs of pow­er.

The cri­sis can be con­ceived, like orga­ni­za­tion and the­o­ry, as a par­tic­u­lar rela­tion by which the social for­ma­tion is reduced to the mode of pro­duc­tion. We can recall the par­al­lelism of these rela­tions through the fol­low­ing table:


Social For­ma­tion Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cri­sis Mode of Pro­duc­tion
Sub­servient Spon­tane­ity Orga­ni­za­tion – Par­ty Class
Ide­ol­o­gy The­o­ry Truth


The cri­sis thus acts as a cat­a­lyst by which its foun­da­tion­al dif­fer­ences, its gaps are abol­ished: an embry­on­ic time [le temps d’un accouche­ment]. “It is the great sig­nif­i­cance of all crises,” said Lenin, “that they man­i­fest what is hid­den; they cast aside all that is con­ven­tion­al, super­fi­cial, or triv­ial; they sweep away the polit­i­cal lit­ter, and expose the real main­springs of the class strug­gle.”51

Only upon this dual basis, dis­closed by the sud­den irrup­tion of the latent process, can we account for the Marx­ist images and metaphors mak­ing ref­er­ence to the “occult works,” with Marx’s “old moles” remain­ing the most famous. It fol­lows that the per­cep­tion of soci­ety oscil­lates between two views. The first is descrip­tive: it reg­is­ters and keeps track of social events, such as com­par­ing com­pet­ing class demands and the elec­toral results of par­ties. The sec­ond is of a strate­gic order: it is not mere­ly con­fined to align­ing class­es side by side, it goes beyond their appear­ances to their deeply deci­sive con­flicts. “The key to class sta­tis­tics,” writes Glucks­mann, “lies in the class strug­gle, not vice ver­sa.”52

To take up an anal­o­gous dis­tinc­tion of Lenin’s: pol­i­tics is not a mat­ter of arith­metic but of alge­bra, a supe­ri­or form of math­e­mat­ics rather than an ele­men­tary one.53 The bureau­crats inces­sant­ly harp that three is bet­ter than two, but in their elec­toral­ist blind­ness, they do not see that

all the old forms of the social­ist move­ment have acquired a new con­tent, and, con­se­quent­ly, a new sym­bol, the “minus” sign, has appeared in front of all the fig­ures; our wiseacres, how­ev­er, have stub­born­ly con­tin­ued (and still con­tin­ue) to per­suade them­selves and oth­ers that “minus three” is more than “minus two.“54

This alge­bra­ic under­stand­ing of the class strug­gle, which alone opens the path to strat­e­gy, is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the polit­i­cal field. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis dis­tin­guish­es itself from the sim­ple “purga­tive” eco­nom­ic cri­sis of the sys­tem through pol­i­tics.

III - Revolutionary Crisis as Political Crisis

1. The Renunciation of Organization and the Forgetting of Politics

The sub­se­quent dis­cus­sions around the events of May ’68 often dwell on the prob­lem of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty. Most nov­el takes on this sub­ject pro­pose a par­ty of a new type, or sim­ply denounce the anachro­nism of a par­ty left based on the Bol­she­vik mod­el.

In fact, this is an old yet fun­da­men­tal prob­lem that has resur­faced under the guise of nov­el­ty and actu­al­i­ty. What do the inno­va­tors have to say today on the prob­lems of orga­ni­za­tion? Gorz, in an edi­to­r­i­al for Les Temps Mod­ernes from May-June 1968, deter­mines the sole func­tion of the par­ty appa­ra­tus to be to “coor­di­nate the activ­i­ties of local activists through a thread of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and news; elab­o­rat­ing gen­er­al per­spec­tives.” Glucks­mann, on the oth­er hand, breaks down the many func­tions of the par­ty (polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, the­o­ret­i­cal); he asserts that a rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment “does not need to be organ­ised as a sec­ond State appa­ra­tus; its task is not to direct but to co-ordi­nate these autonomous cen­tres into a net­work.”55 He rec­og­nizes that “cen­tres are nec­es­sary: not to ‘make’ a rev­o­lu­tion, but to co-ordi­nate it.”56 Even­tu­al­ly, it results in the roles of the lead­ers fad­ing in the course of the strug­gle, through the dis­cov­ery of “work-teams which bring togeth­er ‘spe­cial­ists’ capa­ble of defin­ing the most urgent tech­ni­cal tasks of the rev­o­lu­tion.”57

Some Maoist groups base their rejec­tion of a par­ty “of the Lenin­ist type” on the fact that the dom­i­nant ide­o­log­i­cal force at the glob­al lev­el is not that of the bour­geoisie but of the pro­le­tari­at, that the peri­od of the bourgeoisie’s encir­clement of the pro­le­tari­at has giv­en way to, in the epoch of “Mao Tse-Tung Thought,” the proletariat’s encir­clement of the bour­geoisie. Marx­ism would become the source of an ambi­ent ide­ol­o­gy, no longer need­ed to demar­cate and pro­tect the van­guard from bour­geois ide­ol­o­gy. Now there is only the soft debate between cur­rents that flow with­in pro­le­tar­i­an ide­ol­o­gy.

All these remarks and reflec­tions point to a prob­lem­at­ic that Rossana Rossan­da inter­prets most clear­ly: “The cen­ter of grav­i­ty dis­places polit­i­cal forces toward social forces.”58 The ori­gin of this prob­lem is found in Arthur Rosenberg’s the­ses that the the­o­ry of the par­ty is depen­dent on the state of devel­op­ment of the pro­le­tari­at.59 In the peri­od where the pro­le­tari­at was only weak­ly devel­oped, a group of intel­lec­tu­als found­ed con­spir­a­to­r­i­al orga­ni­za­tions that were the restric­tive bear­ers of the atro­phied class con­scious­ness of the pro­le­tari­at. Thus, for Marx and Engels, the par­ty was lim­it­ed to their two phys­i­cal per­sons. Lenin refor­mu­lates this mod­el for Rus­sia, where the pro­le­tari­at is still weak­ly devel­oped in 1907. But in a sub­se­quent stage, the pro­le­tari­at, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the peri­od of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al and in its devel­op­ment with­in indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ism, assim­i­lates Marx­ist the­o­ry. In a third and final peri­od, the edu­cat­ed pro­le­tari­at becomes a rev­o­lu­tion­ary class; the par­ty no longer has a lim­it­ed role of per­mis­sive lead­er­ship [direc­tion], or sim­ply inter­pret­ing the aspi­ra­tions of the pro­le­tari­at.

In sum, through the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of the pro­le­tari­at, the class in itself would become a class for itself, the the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject of the rev­o­lu­tion and its polit­i­cal sub­ject coin­cide. This the­sis aris­es from the Hegelian prob­lem­at­ic, of the in-itself and the for-itself, as fil­tered [trans­met­tre] through Lukács. This read­ing of Marx is what Poulantzas qual­i­fies as his­tori­co-genet­ic: an undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed mass at the start, the social class orga­nizes itself as a class in-itself in order to reach the lev­el of a class for-itself. This prob­lem­at­ic engen­ders a slip­page by which the class is con­ceived as the sub­ject of his­to­ry, “as the fac­tor of genet­ic pro­duc­tion and of trans­for­ma­tions of the struc­tures of a social for­ma­tion.”60 The pro­vi­sion­al role of the par­ty is over due to the self-devel­op­ment of the class-sub­ject of his­to­ry.

For, as Poulantzas reminds us: “if class is indeed a con­cept, it des­ig­nates the effect of an ensem­ble of giv­en struc­tures, an ensem­ble which deter­mines social rela­tions as class rela­tions.”61 In this prob­lem­at­ic, the order of the polit­i­cal and there­fore the par­ty is irre­ducible to the social. Class remains the the­o­ret­i­cal and not the polit­i­cal sub­ject of his­to­ry, and the medi­a­tion of the par­ty through which the for­mer ris­es to the polit­i­cal lev­el remains indis­pens­able.

All of Lenin’s efforts on the ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion are ded­i­cat­ed to avoid this spe­cif­ic con­fu­sion between par­ty and class. In What is to be Done?, he inces­sant­ly repeats that pure­ly work­er move­ment is inca­pable of elab­o­rat­ing its own ide­ol­o­gy, all “belit­tling” of social­ist ide­ol­o­gy involves a rein­force­ment of bour­geois ide­ol­o­gy, “that the spon­ta­neous devel­op­ment of the work­ing-class move­ment leads to its sub­or­di­na­tion to bour­geois ide­ol­o­gy,” that “the spon­ta­neous work­ing-class move­ment is trade-union­ism … and trade union­ism means the ide­o­log­i­cal enslave­ment of the work­ers by the bour­geoisie.”62

In One Step For­ward, Two Steps Back, Lenin’s debate with Mar­tov over para­graph I of the par­ty statutes has the clear and neat dis­tinc­tion between class and par­ty as a larg­er goal. The loose­ness of the cat­e­go­riza­tion or titles of par­ty mem­bers “intro­duces a dis­or­ga­niz­ing idea, the con­fus­ing of class and par­ty.”63 Sev­er­al pages lat­er, he resumes dis­cus­sion on Martov’s for­mu­la where­by the “the par­ty is the con­scious spokesman of an uncon­scious process.” He con­tin­ues:

for if “every strike” were not only a spon­ta­neous expres­sion of the pow­er­ful class instinct and of the class strug­gle which is lead­ing inevitably to the social rev­o­lu­tion, but a con­scious expres­sion of that process, then… our Par­ty would forth­with and at once embrace the whole work­ing class, and, con­se­quent­ly, would at once put an end to bour­geois soci­ety as a whole.64

It is only in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis that the par­ty begins to iden­ti­fy with the class, because it is then that the lat­ter reach­es the lev­el of the polit­i­cal strug­gle. The par­ty is the instru­ment by which the rev­o­lu­tion­ary class main­tains its pres­ence at this lev­el as a per­ma­nent threat to the bour­geois State. But the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, by open­ing the polit­i­cal field to the class in its mass­es, qual­i­ta­tive­ly trans­forms polit­i­cal life. This is why orga­ni­za­tions are seen in the cri­sis as cru­cibles of truth, and also why prac­tice takes prece­dence over the­o­ry:

His­to­ry as a whole, and the his­to­ry of rev­o­lu­tions in par­tic­u­lar, is always rich­er in con­tent, more var­ied, more mul­ti­form, more live­ly and inge­nious than is imag­ined by even the best par­ties, the most class-con­scious van­guards of the most advanced class­es. This can read­i­ly be under­stood, because even the finest of van­guards express the class-con­scious­ness, will, pas­sion and imag­i­na­tion of tens of thou­sands, where­as at moments of great upsurge and the exer­tion of all human capac­i­ties, rev­o­lu­tions are made by the class-con­scious­ness, will, pas­sion and imag­i­na­tion of tens of mil­lions, spurred on by a most acute strug­gle of class­es.65

The prin­ci­ples of a Lenin­ist pol­i­tics are estab­lished in this dialec­ti­cal rela­tion between par­ty and class, where nei­ther term can be reduced to the oth­er. Those who down­play the role of orga­ni­za­tion con­ceive of it in terms of spe­cif­ic con­junc­tures and def­i­nite tasks. Glucks­mann, for instance, dis­tin­guish­es between orga­ni­za­tion­al norms for peri­ods of legal­i­ty and for peri­ods of ille­gal­i­ty. Lenin has a dif­fer­ent con­cep­tion, one which deter­mines a set of invari­ant orga­ni­za­tion­al prin­ci­ples cor­rel­a­tive to the task of the par­ty: the strug­gle for the over­throw of the bour­geois State, the cor­ner­stone of the cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion. This fun­da­men­tal objec­tive also sit­u­ates the par­ty in the polit­i­cal sphere: as much as the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, the State is what is ulti­mate­ly at stake in the polit­i­cal strug­gle. It is upon this res­olute basis that the par­ty has a mar­gin of lee­way rel­a­tive to its imme­di­ate tasks; but what real­ly defines its func­tion is its fun­da­men­tal task. Lenin makes this dis­tinc­tion by dis­tin­guish­ing between “prin­ci­ples of orga­ni­za­tion” and the “sys­tem­at­ic orga­ni­za­tion.” As he fur­ther remarks, the spe­cif­ic con­di­tions of Rus­sia at the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry made the sys­tem­at­ic orga­ni­za­tion con­ceived around Iskra the mark of a “gap” in rela­tion to the prin­ci­ples of orga­ni­za­tion that it defined.

All of the revi­sions of Lenin’s prin­ci­ples in orga­ni­za­tion­al mat­ters fol­low, in one way or anoth­er, from a shift out­side of the polit­i­cal field; it is only with­in this field that the pro­tag­o­nists of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis can arm and pre­pare them­selves and can locate what is at stake, the State. Beyond the sim­plis­tic schema of con­scious­ness and uncon­scious­ness as respec­tive attrib­ut­es of class and par­ty, the Lenin­ist prob­lem­at­ic is more akin in com­plex­i­ty to the sec­ond Freudi­an topog­ra­phy intro­duced in Beyond the Plea­sure Prin­ci­ple, where the conscious/unconscious oppo­si­tion is sub­sti­tut­ed for that between the “coher­ent ego and the repressed”; in the lat­ter, the uncon­scious is an attribute which affects both terms.66 Thus, in the Lenin­ist prob­lem­at­ic of orga­ni­za­tion, there is no con­tin­u­ous path from the in-itself to the for-itself, from uncon­scious­ness to con­scious­ness. The par­ty is not a “mil­i­ta­rized” class, it remains plagued by uncer­tain­ties, the­o­ret­i­cal imma­tu­ri­ty, and a degree of uncon­scious­ness. But it express­es the fact that in a cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion, there can­not be a class for-itself as a real­i­ty, but only as a project through the medi­a­tion of the par­ty. Lukács com­ments on this point in his short work on Lenin: “it would be a total­ly unhis­tor­i­cal illu­sion, to con­clude that a cor­rect pro­le­tar­i­an class-con­scious­ness – ade­quate to the proletariat’s lead­ing role – can grad­u­al­ly devel­op on its own, with­out both fric­tions and set­backs, as though the pro­le­tari­at could grad­u­al­ly evolve ide­o­log­i­cal­ly into the rev­o­lu­tion­ary voca­tion appro­pri­ate to its class.67 This is also the rea­son why the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis for Rosa Lux­em­burg nev­er occurs too ear­ly, and con­se­quent­ly is always too ear­ly. Nev­er too ear­ly, because its eco­nom­ic premis­es and the exis­tence of the pro­le­tari­at are nec­es­sar­i­ly unit­ed; always too ear­ly because its polit­i­cal premise – the ful­ly con­scious pro­le­tari­at – is nev­er met. It then fol­lows that the van­guard par­ty can be pre­pared to over­throw the bour­geois State, but it is nev­er pre­pared enough to fol­low through in the after­math of the cri­sis, for the dom­i­na­tion of the pro­le­tari­at as a class (dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at, pro­le­tar­i­an democ­ra­cy): while Marx­ism pre­pares the par­ty for the first moment, it only offers a glimpse of the sec­ond, where pow­er remains an empir­i­cal prob­lem. There is the idea that there exists no pure sep­a­ra­tion between the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion and social­ism. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is thus both in its place and an arbi­trary time: it cuts through the cen­ter of a social for­ma­tion that has not com­plete­ly exhaust­ed the resources of cap­i­tal­ism when it turns towards social­ism, the con­di­tions of which are not all met. Here lies the ori­gin of Trot­sky and Mao’s prag­ma­tism and a first answer to Kautsky’s fatal­ism, where we learn that one can only learn to ride once seat­ed firm­ly in the sad­dle.

2. The Crisis and the Specificity of Politics

The orga­ni­za­tion that syn­the­sizes the dialec­ti­cal rela­tions between sub­ject and object through its project forms the medi­a­tion through which the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is resolved at its real lev­el, that is, pol­i­tics: “The most pur­pose­ful, most com­pre­hen­sive and spe­cif­ic expres­sion of the polit­i­cal strug­gle of class­es is the strug­gle of par­ties. The non-par­ty prin­ci­ple means indif­fer­ence to the strug­gle of par­ties.”68

But what exact­ly is this polit­i­cal strug­gle that Lenin always returns to? Before defin­ing it pos­i­tive­ly, he is adamant about what it is not: “it would be inex­act to say that the real­iza­tion of polit­i­cal free­dom is as nec­es­sary for the pro­le­tari­at as an increase in wages…” Its neces­si­ty is of anoth­er order, one “much more com­pli­cat­ed and dif­fi­cult.”69 This is the alge­bra­ic ter­rain that appears else­where. Lenin always strug­gles against the reduc­tion of the polit­i­cal to the eco­nom­ic sphere, any and all diminu­tions of the class strug­gle. He fights the mem­bers of Rabocha­ia mysl for whom “pol­i­tics always obe­di­ent­ly fol­lows eco­nom­ics,” and he cas­ti­gates Rabochee delo for pro­claim­ing that the “eco­nom­ic strug­gle is insep­a­ra­ble from the polit­i­cal strug­gle.”70

But out­side of these warn­ings, Lenin dis­cuss­es pol­i­tics more than he defines it. Poulantzas endeav­ors to define pol­i­tics by its object (“the con­junc­ture”)71, its prod­uct (the trans­for­ma­tion of the uni­ty of the social for­ma­tion), and above its strate­gic objec­tive: the State is the nodal point which main­tains the con­flict­ual equi­lib­ri­um of the var­i­ous modes of pro­duc­tion com­bined with­in a social for­ma­tion. It is “cohe­sive fac­tor of this com­plex over­lap­ping of var­i­ous modes of pro­duc­tion,” between which it neu­tral­izes any “true rela­tions of forces.”72

The State, as the site that ties togeth­er the uni­ty of the social for­ma­tion, is also the place where the “rup­tur­al sit­u­a­tion of this uni­ty can be deci­phered”73: the dual­i­ty of pow­er which is the deci­sive fac­tor of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, through which the pro­le­tari­at builds itself up as a hold­er of pow­er and endeav­ors to break the bour­geois State. This is what caus­es the sim­ple eco­nom­ic cri­sis to trans­form into a rev­o­lu­tion­ary one: because it affects the State and through the State all the juridi­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal bases of soci­ety, the cri­sis, “as a cri­tique, in words and deeds, of the super­struc­tures,” becomes a total cri­sis and shakes soci­ety from its eco­nom­ic foun­da­tions to its super­struc­tures.74

This speci­fici­ty of the polit­i­cal, which is the site of the emer­gence of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, makes it pos­si­ble to define the role of the polit­i­cal sub­ject as break­ing with all rigid eco­nom­ic deter­min­ism. Lenin is atten­tive to the orig­i­nal roles cer­tain polit­i­cal forces can play, with­out a com­mon mea­sure among their real social con­tent. This role does not depend on the stra­ta they rep­re­sent, but more on the place they occu­py in the spe­cif­ic struc­tura­tion of the polit­i­cal field: all sim­pli­fied mech­a­nisms are reject­ed. In this way we can under­stand, in accor­dance with Lenin­ist ortho­doxy and devoid of soci­o­log­i­cal extrap­o­la­tions, the role the stu­dents played in the cri­sis of May ‘68 in France. Lenin was always very sen­si­tive to the con­se­quences of the speci­fici­ty of the polit­i­cal. For exam­ple, in an arti­cle enti­tled “Tasks of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Youth,” he not­ed: “The class divi­sion is, of course, the ulti­mate basis of the polit­i­cal group­ing; in the final analy­sis, of course, it always deter­mines that group­ing. This ‘final analy­sis’ is arrived at only by polit­i­cal strug­gle.”75

If the polit­i­cal sub­ject is indeed deter­mined in the last instance by the econ­o­my, only fatal­ism can result. To the con­trary, the ini­tia­tive of the sub­ject helps to trig­ger the cri­sis, whose out­come depends on the part that sub­ject plays with­in it. The cor­re­spond­ing les­son is that the wealth of pol­i­tics foils all plans, as its com­plex­i­ty caus­es the trig­ger­ing or pre­text of the cri­sis to not always – or almost nev­er – occur as one would have expect­ed it to have “log­i­cal­ly.” This is why the par­ty, armed with polit­i­cal under­stand­ing, must be vig­i­lant to the hori­zon of the social whole [ensem­ble]:

We do not and can­not know which spark – of the innu­mer­able sparks that are fly­ing about in all coun­tries as a result of the world eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal cri­sis – will kin­dle the con­fla­gra­tion, in the sense of rais­ing up the mass­es; we must, there­fore, with our new and com­mu­nist prin­ci­ples, set to work to stir up all and sundry, even the old­est, musti­est and seem­ing­ly hope­less spheres, for oth­er­wise we shall not be able to cope with our tasks, shall not be com­pre­hen­sive­ly pre­pared, shall not be in pos­ses­sion of all the weapons …76

And again: “Com­mu­nism is emerg­ing in pos­i­tive­ly every sphere of pub­lic life … If spe­cial efforts are made to block one of the chan­nels, the ‘con­ta­gion’ will find anoth­er one, some­times very unex­pect­ed­ly.”77

These detours, these sud­den and unex­pect­ed upsurges – which can take the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion unawares and make it a vic­tim of its blind­ness, its dog­mas, its prej­u­dices – con­sti­tute the very par­tic­u­lar­i­ty [le bien pro­pre] of pol­i­tics as the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis slow­ly makes its way to the sur­face, unex­pect­ed­ly. May in France high­light­ed the spe­cif­ic struc­tura­tion of the polit­i­cal field, giv­ing pol­i­tics a dis­alien­at­ed, freed image, appear­ing attrac­tive to all those who had seen it as aus­tere and unwieldy. Muti­lat­ed by the tra­di­tion­al par­ties, torn apart by union strug­gles over imme­di­ate demands and par­lia­men­tary strug­gles, con­fined by oth­ers to the sin­gle form of anti-impe­ri­al­ism, each had used up what had been suit­able to them; pol­i­tics was pil­laged, noth­ing more than a sad chess­board. Nan­terre was enough to put the puz­zle back togeth­er and return to pol­i­tics its total­iz­ing func­tion, through which the cri­sis can break and under­mine the con­tra­dic­to­ry assem­blage of con­tra­dic­tions. When pol­i­tics is in sham­bles, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis breaks down, its gaps sealed and its fronts con­trolled; it can play its full role only on the polit­i­cal ter­rain, where the con­tra­dic­tions of the cri­sis are brought togeth­er.

3. Proletarian Strategy and Bourgeois Strategy During the Crisis

The forms of the bourgeoisie’s polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion are sec­ondary in rela­tion to the forms of its eco­nom­ic dom­i­na­tion. It is on this lev­el that the econ­o­my is strate­gi­cal­ly sit­u­at­ed. Lenin insists on the very rel­a­tive impor­tance of polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion for the bour­geoisie: “eco­nom­ic dom­i­na­tion is every­thing to the bour­geoisie, and the form of polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion is of very lit­tle impor­tance; the bour­geoisie can rule just as well under a repub­lic.”78 Pro­long­ing the eco­nom­ic strug­gle means fight­ing the bour­geoisie on its own ter­rain. This why Lenin repeats sev­er­al times in What is to Be Done? that the “Trade-union­ist pol­i­tics of the work­ing class is pre­cise­ly bour­geois pol­i­tics of the work­ing class.”79

The polit­i­cal ter­rain, on the oth­er hand, is the strate­gic space of the pro­le­tari­at, under­stood as the class that can over­throw the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. The polit­i­cal struc­tures con­cen­trate and repro­duce all the forms of exploita­tion of the pro­le­tari­at, who is the dom­i­nat­ed class in every sphere (eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, ide­o­log­i­cal). The bour­geoisie already held eco­nom­ic pow­er at the time of its own polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion.

This is the source of the orig­i­nal­i­ty of the pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion as pro­claimed in the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo:

All the pre­ced­ing class­es that got the upper hand sought to for­ti­fy their already acquired sta­tus by sub­ject­ing soci­ety at large to their con­di­tions of appro­pri­a­tion. The pro­le­tar­i­ans can­not become mas­ters of the pro­duc­tive forces of soci­ety, except by abol­ish­ing their own pre­vi­ous mode of appro­pri­a­tion, and there­by also every oth­er pre­vi­ous mode of appro­pri­a­tion.80

This is why, while the goal of the bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion is to put polit­i­cal pow­er in the ser­vice of eco­nom­ic pow­er, the pro­le­tar­i­an rev­o­lu­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by putting pol­i­tics “in com­mand.” Mau­rice Gode­lier goes in the same direc­tion when he asserts from a math­e­mat­i­cal point of view that free per­fect com­pe­ti­tion and a per­fect sys­tem of plan­ning are equal. It is not only eco­nom­ic ratio­nal­i­ty that is lead­ing the proletariat’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle, but a ratio­nal­i­ty, needs, and objec­tives that are of a dif­fer­ent order: the order of pol­i­tics. This is not the con­tra­dic­tion inter­nal to the econ­o­my that under­mines the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion in a deci­sive man­ner, but an inter­struc­tur­al con­tra­dic­tion that pro­duces dis­tor­tions between the polit­i­cal and the eco­nom­ic.

Know­ing that the out­come of the cri­sis depends on its actions, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty gives itself the means to accom­plish the task. While the onset of the cri­sis can­not be deter­mined with any cer­tain­ty – the orga­ni­za­tion plays a role with­out con­trol­ling all the giv­en facts – its out­come must be decid­ed. The antag­o­nis­tic forces are on alert and observ­ing each oth­er. From now on, those who know how to choose their weapons and prop­er ter­rain will pre­vail. Assess­ing the sit­u­a­tion to see if the rup­tur­al moment has been reached, set­ting the date of the insur­rec­tion; these are the final actions and deci­sive expe­ri­ences that force the orga­ni­za­tion to prove its own cohe­sion and its uni­ty.

On Sep­tem­ber 29, 1917, Lenin calls out the warn­ing: “The cri­sis has matured.”81 On Octo­ber 24th, he sends a let­ter to mem­bers of the cen­tral com­mit­tee: “to delay the upris­ing would be fatal … this very evening, this very night, arrest the gov­ern­ment… His­to­ry will not for­give rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies for pro­cras­ti­nat­ing.”82 The next day, the insur­rec­tion is vic­to­ri­ous.

While the exact date of the rev­o­lu­tion can­not be set, the insur­rec­tion must be made in the light of the­o­ry. Lenin stressed this point to the Bol­she­viks after the 1905 Rev­o­lu­tion. But the­o­ry stops at the thresh­old of insur­rec­tion, which is an art, the last – prac­ti­cal – test of truth [épreuve de vérité] encoun­tered dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis.

IV. The Inaugural Crisis of What Revolution?

1. What Revolutionary Crisis?

The cri­sis that Lenin pre­pared for was the cri­sis of a cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion; it was of the polit­i­cal order and could only be resolved by a polit­i­cal sub­ject. But what rev­o­lu­tion was this the cri­sis of?

Beyond the knowl­edge of the social for­ma­tion that he con­front­ed, Lenin focused from his very first writ­ings on defin­ing the lev­el of struc­tura­tion of the sys­tem he was bat­tling. Already in “What the ‘Friends of the Peo­ple’ Are” (from 1894) he under­stands, with Marx, “the entan­gle­ment of all peo­ple in the net of the world mar­ket, and with this the inter­na­tion­al char­ac­ter of the cap­i­tal­is­tic regime.”83 Here one finds the real lev­el of struc­tura­tion of a sys­tem, a sys­tem of which the Russ­ian social for­ma­tion is only a part of.

This sys­temic lev­el of struc­tura­tion cor­re­sponds to the par­tic­u­lar lev­el of struc­tura­tion of the the­o­ret­i­cal sub­ject. This does not mean a nation­al pro­le­tari­at, but a glob­al pro­le­tari­at. The strat­e­gy it assumes is also an inter­na­tion­al one: “A strict­ly pro­le­tar­i­an pro­gramme and strict­ly pro­le­tar­i­an tac­tics are the pro­gramme and the tac­tics of inter­na­tion­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary Social-Democ­ra­cy.”84

Just as the nation­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy finds its man­i­fes­ta­tion in the orga­ni­za­tion, so the inter­na­tion­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy finds its appa­ra­tus and man­i­fes­ta­tion in the inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion: “The Inter­na­tion­al con­sists in the com­ing togeth­er (first ide­o­log­i­cal­ly, then in due time orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly as well) of peo­ple who, in these grave days, are capa­ble of defend­ing social­ist inter­na­tion­al­ism in deed.”85 And after his return to Rus­sia in 1917, Lenin advanced the cre­ation of “a new Inter­na­tion­al” (in the April The­ses) as one of the Bol­she­viks’ prin­ci­pal tasks.86

The exis­tence of such an inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion is not reducible to the sum of its indi­vid­ual sec­tions, as it qual­i­ta­tive­ly trans­forms these sec­tions and estab­lish­es them as the polit­i­cal sub­ject of the world rev­o­lu­tion. In the pro­gram he wrote for the RSDLP in 1902, Lenin argues in the­sis XI that “the devel­op­ment of inter­na­tion­al exchange and of pro­duc­tion for the world mar­ket has estab­lished such close ties among all nations of the civilised world, that the present-day work­ing-class move­ment had to become, and has long become, an inter­na­tion­al move­ment. That is why Russ­ian Social-Democ­ra­cy regards itself as one of the detach­ments of the world army of the pro­le­tari­at, as part of inter­na­tion­al Social-Democ­ra­cy.”87 In this prob­lem­at­ic of the inter­na­tion­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion, the intel­lec­tu­als of the feu­dal coun­tries could become com­mu­nists if they adhere to the strat­e­gy and rules [la dis­ci­pline] of the Inter­na­tion­al. At the Sec­ond All-Rus­sia Con­gress of Com­mu­nist Orga­ni­za­tion of the Peo­ples of the East (1919), Lenin asserts to the rep­re­sen­ta­tives from coun­tries where the pro­le­tari­at hard­ly exist­ed in even an embry­on­ic state that “Thanks to the com­mu­nist organ­i­sa­tions in the East, of which you here are the rep­re­sen­ta­tives, you have con­tact with the advanced rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­le­tari­at.”88

Because of this con­cep­tion of the inter­na­tion­al char­ac­ter of cap­i­tal­ism in the impe­ri­al­ist epoch and the inter­na­tion­al lev­el of the struc­tura­tion of the cor­re­spond­ing the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal sub­jects, Lenin saw the rev­o­lu­tion as a glob­al process of which all rev­o­lu­tion­ary crises only rep­re­sent a moment, affect­ing “the weak­est link in the chain.” This is why the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion was not to be enclosed with­in its nation­al bor­ders, but was to be only the bridge­head of the rev­o­lu­tion.

In the epoch of the “actu­al­i­ty of the rev­o­lu­tion,” all rev­o­lu­tion­ary crises are moments of the world rev­o­lu­tion.

2. Beyond the Crisis

The his­tor­i­cal artic­u­la­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is always read­able through the dou­ble aspects of con­ti­nu­ity and dis­con­ti­nu­ity. One could say that it accen­tu­ates a dis­con­ti­nu­ity in the struc­ture of modes of pro­duc­tion but it remains the chan­nel of a con­ti­nu­ity, to the extent that the ele­ments of the orig­i­nal social for­ma­tion are re-artic­u­lat­ed – after the rev­o­lu­tion – in the fol­low­ing social for­ma­tion. Log­i­cal­ly, this must be admit­ted.

Just as there are many modes of pro­duc­tion that over­lap in the cap­i­tal­ist social for­ma­tion, so are there many co-exist­ing and entan­gled modes of pro­duc­tion with­in the social­ist social for­ma­tion that is typ­i­cal for the tran­si­tion­al phase.

Lenin is par­tic­u­lar­ly aware of this sit­u­a­tion and the result­ing prob­lems:

There can be no doubt that between cap­i­tal­ism and com­mu­nism there lies a def­i­nite tran­si­tion peri­od which must com­bine the fea­tures and prop­er­ties of both these forms of social econ­o­my. This tran­si­tion peri­od has to be a peri­od of strug­gle between dying cap­i­tal­ism and nascent com­mu­nism – or, in oth­er words, between cap­i­tal­ism which has been defeat­ed but not destroyed and com­mu­nism which has been born but is still very fee­ble.89

In Left-Wing Com­mu­nism, Lenin insists many times over on the dai­ly, mul­ti­ple attacks the bour­geoisie will car­ry out on the dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at, espe­cial­ly the part of the bour­geoisie that reforms itself in the sec­tors of small-pro­duc­tion and whose resis­tance is “increased ten­fold by their over­throw.”90 He also asserts that “it is a thou­sand times eas­i­er to van­quish the cen­tral­ized big bour­geoisie than to ‘van­quish’ the mil­lions upon mil­lions of pet­ty pro­pri­etors; how­ev­er, through their ordi­nary, every­day, imper­cep­ti­ble, elu­sive and demor­al­iz­ing activ­i­ties, they pro­duce the very results which the bour­geoisie need and which tend to restore the bour­geoisie.”91

The strug­gle between the pro­le­tari­at and the bour­geoisie is thus not com­plete­ly over after the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis; the sole cri­te­ri­on which marks the suc­cess of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis, and in fact a his­tor­i­cal thresh­old, is the con­quest of polit­i­cal pow­er by the pro­le­tari­at and main­tain­ing the posi­tion of pol­i­tics as “in com­mand.”

Only a vic­to­ri­ous and inter­na­tion­al rev­o­lu­tion can defin­i­tive­ly ensure the tri­umph of the pro­le­tari­at.

It is impor­tant to note on this point that pro­le­tar­i­an pow­er can delib­er­ate­ly give back com­mand to the econ­o­my and thus lose ground to the bour­geoisie. Stal­in­ist poli­cies demon­strate that in the con­struc­tion of social­ism in one coun­try, the encour­age­ment of eco­nom­ic com­pe­ti­tion as the pri­ma­ry objec­tive in a world where impe­ri­al­ism remains the dom­i­nant struc­ture is also to encour­age the vital neces­si­ty of find­ing mar­kets, as well as the restora­tion of prof­its and prof­itabil­i­ty, in order to main­tain the com­pet­i­tive capac­i­ty of the nation­al econ­o­my with­in the larg­er inter­na­tion­al econ­o­my. As long as the rev­o­lu­tion has not tri­umphed inter­na­tion­al­ly, this only rein­states the eco­nom­ic cri­te­ria of the bour­geoisie and tries to fight a bat­tle on their own ground, instead of deep­en­ing the rev­o­lu­tion against any periph­er­al resur­gence of the mar­ket econ­o­my and bour­geois ide­ol­o­gy.

Conclusion: The Revolutionary Crisis as Criterion for Periodization

1. Continuity and Discontinuity

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis appears as the nodal point in the inter­na­tion­al class strug­gle. In this way, the cri­sis opens up a peri­odiza­tion that fol­lows the tra­di­tion­al con­cept of his­to­ry, a result that Marx’s own con­cepts can­not over­come. Bal­ibar indi­cates that this con­cept of peri­odiza­tion is the con­cept of the dis­con­tin­u­ous with­in the con­tin­u­ous, by which they illu­mi­nate and expli­cate them­selves through the oth­er, just as for Bachelard the par­ti­cle and the wave (dis­con­tin­u­ous and con­tin­u­ous) “are dif­fer­ent moments of the math­ema­ti­za­tion of expe­ri­ence… the wave reg­u­lat­ing the prob­a­bil­i­ty of the pres­ence of par­ti­cles.” The rev­o­lu­tion­ary sit­u­a­tion engen­dered by the con­tra­dic­tions of the social for­ma­tion reg­u­lates the prob­a­bil­i­ty of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis; a cri­sis intro­duces dis­con­ti­nu­ity with­in con­ti­nu­ity and can accen­tu­ate the devel­op­men­tal rhythms of social for­ma­tions.

2. Diachrony and Synchrony

In his arti­cle on his­to­ry and struc­ture, Greimas stress­es the dif­fi­cul­ty of inte­grat­ing tem­po­ral dimen­sions in rel­a­tive con­sid­er­a­tion to the mode of exis­tence of struc­tures of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion; he attrib­ut­es this dif­fi­cul­ty to the non-per­ti­nence of the Saus­suri­an dichoto­my of diachrony and syn­chrony, the chron­ic axis being log­i­cal­ly pri­or to these two com­ple­men­tary aspects of tem­po­ral­i­ty.92 But this com­mon axis cut­ting through diachrony and syn­chrony is not enough to put them in rela­tion. Only speech, as a repet­i­tive action of the sub­ject upon lan­guage (syn­chrony), can show the path of trans­for­ma­tion. This sug­gests a pos­si­ble solu­tion but it is not elab­o­rat­ed fur­ther.

Thus for the artic­u­la­tion between con­ti­nu­ity and dis­con­ti­nu­ity, and thus for the artic­u­la­tion between syn­chrony and diachrony, all solu­tions lead back to the poor­ly defined medi­a­tion of the sub­ject. Gus­tave Guil­laume extracts an “even­tal dura­tion” from a uni­ver­sal dura­tion through the inter­ven­tion of an “oper­a­tional time,” the present: this is the time of the sub­ject.93 The present is then the point of over­lap and fusion of the past and the future, “the image of the oper­a­tion by which, inces­sant­ly, a por­tion of the future is resolved in a por­tion of the past.”94 The rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis is also, in this way, the present where the dual deter­mi­na­tion of his­to­ry exhausts itself.

3. History and Structure

As Greimas remarks, a sin­gle dura­tion does not seem to be able to serve as a reli­able bridge between his­to­ry and struc­ture. More­over, mod­ern epis­te­mol­o­gy has shown that time acts more through rep­e­ti­tion than dura­tion, and that the agent of trans­for­ma­tion is “the action of rhythm upon the struc­ture.”95

Lenin searched in this way for the prac­ti­cal solu­tion to the prob­lems of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis. The mer­it of return­ing to his work is his recog­ni­tion of the impor­tance of the polit­i­cal order, in the man­ner of Marx, in order to form the polit­i­cal sub­ject of this cri­sis. Also, to his cred­it, Lenin under­stood the cri­sis as the sharp thread upon which noth­ing can per­ma­nent­ly stay, as the rare instance where prac­tice becomes the truth of the the­o­ry it advances, where the work­ing class final­ly plays the his­tor­i­cal role tem­porar­i­ly bequeathed to the inter­me­di­ate par­ty. Final­ly, it returns the unique priv­i­lege to have made the pri­ma­ry fact of his­to­ry the result of the con­scious will of men. Marx had announced this new era where men, armed with the­o­ry and orga­ni­za­tion, were no longer sat­is­fied with a sub­or­di­nate role: they were only sat­is­fied with the con­tin­u­a­tion and com­ple­tion of a cho­sen project. Lenin opens it by vic­to­ri­ous­ly decid­ing the cri­sis of 1917.

Yet, the image of the cri­sis as a razor blade that sharp­ens the truth, under the con­densed mate­r­i­al of steel, demon­strates the func­tion of the cri­sis with­out allow­ing a glimpse of its nature. Bal­ibar states this prob­lem:

The “tran­si­tion” from one mode of pro­duc­tion to anoth­er can there­fore nev­er appear in our under­stand­ing as an irra­tional hia­tus between two “peri­ods” which are sub­ject to the func­tion­ing of a struc­ture, i.e., which have their spec­i­fied con­cept. The tran­si­tion can­not be a moment of destruc­tura­tion, how­ev­er brief. It is itself a move­ment sub­ject to a struc­ture which has to be dis­cov­ered.96

Under this tran­si­tion, Marx pos­es the invari­ant struc­ture of the unin­ter­rupt­ed process of repro­duc­tion, which takes a par­tic­u­lar form in each mode of pro­duc­tion, as an obvi­ous fact. In this way, the tran­si­tion can­not be reduced to a “qual­i­ta­tive leap”; hav­ing dis­tin­guished, with­in the con­cept of repro­duc­tion, the con­tin­u­ous repro­duc­tion of com­modi­ties and the repro­duc­tion of social rela­tions, and the con­di­tions of the per­pet­u­a­tion of the sys­tem as a whole (which are specif­i­cal­ly abol­ished in the cri­sis), Marx gives a par­tial solu­tion with­out allow­ing for a real con­clu­sion. The split­ting of the con­cept of repro­duc­tion can­not be a sub­sti­tute for the con­struc­tion of a con­cept of tran­si­tion.

The the­o­ry and laws of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis are not ade­quate­ly defined when put in the terms of an inau­gur­al rup­ture of a new order, with the glob­al pro­le­tari­at as its sub­ject. At the thresh­old of this prob­lem the Lenin­ist notion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis breaks down, at the very thresh­old of its own con­cept.

Mémoire de maîtrise (Phi­los­o­phy), under the super­vi­sion of Hen­ri Lefeb­vre, 1968

The orig­i­nal ver­sion of this text can be found at Le site de Daniel Ben­saïd.

– Trans­lat­ed by Patrick King

  1. V.I. Lenin, “The Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol­ume 21: August 1914-Decem­ber 1915 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1964), 213-214. 

  2. Ibid., 214 

  3. Leon Trot­sky, His­to­ry of the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, trans. Max East­man (New York: Pathfind­er Press, 1980), 1022-1023. 

  4. Ibid., 1023. 

  5. Lenin, “Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 21, 214. 

  6. Nicos Poulantzas, Polit­i­cal Pow­er and Social Class­es, trans. Tim­o­thy O’Hagan (New York: Ver­so, 1978) 15. 

  7. V.I. Lenin, “What the Friends of the Peo­ple Are and How They Fight the Social-Democ­rats,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 1: 1893-1894 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1972), 159.  

  8. Ibid., 269. 

  9. Ibid., 218. 

  10. V.I. Lenin, “Draft Pro­gramme of the Russ­ian Social-Demo­c­ra­t­ic Labor Par­ty,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 6: Jan­u­ary 1902-August 1903 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1964), 27. 

  11. V.I. Lenin, “The Pro­le­tar­i­an Rev­o­lu­tion and the Rene­gade Kaut­sky,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 28: July 1918-March 1919 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1965), 300. 

  12. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (Lon­don: Pen­guin, 1976), 724. 

  13. Georg Lukács, His­to­ry and Class Con­scious­ness, trans. Rod­ney Liv­ing­stone (Boston: MIT Press, 1971), 76. 

  14. Ibid., 313. 

  15. V.I. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 5: May 1901-Feb­ru­ary 1902 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1961), 375. 

  16. Lenin, “What The ‘Friends of the Peo­ple’ Are,” 252. 

  17. Ibid., 267-268. 

  18. Ibid., 271. 

  19. V.I. Lenin Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 2: 1895-1897 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1972), 335. 

  20. Ibid., 336. 

  21. V.I. Lenin, Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 4: 1898-1901 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1960), 242. 

  22. Ibid., 251. 

  23. V.I. Lenin, “The Tasks of the Pro­le­tari­at in the Present Rev­o­lu­tion,Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 24: April-June 1917 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1964), 22. 

  24. Lenin, “ Our Imme­di­ate Task,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 4, 215. 

  25. Ibid., 218. 

  26. Lenin, “Fred­er­ick Engels,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 2, 20. 

  27. Lenin, “Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 21, 216. 

  28. Rosa Lux­em­burg, “Orga­ni­za­tion­al Ques­tions of Russ­ian Democ­ra­cy [Lenin­ism or Marx­ism],” 1904. 

  29. Lenin, “Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 21, 247. 

  30. Ibid., 255. 

  31. Lenin, “The Urgent Tasks of Our Move­ment,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 4, 368. 

  32. Lenin, “Draft and Expla­na­tion of a Pro­gramme for the Social-Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 2, 112. 

  33. Lukács, His­to­ry and Class Con­scious­ness, 42. 

  34. Gas­ton Bachelard, The New Sci­en­tif­ic Spir­it, trans. Arthur Gold­ham­mer (Boston: Bea­con Press, 1984), 11-12. 

  35. Jean-Paul Sartre, Search for a Method, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Vin­tage, 1968), 97-98. 

  36. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 5, 423. 

  37. Bachelard, 58. 

  38. Lenin, “Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tion­al,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 21, 253. 

  39. See for exam­ple, V.I. Lenin “One Step For­ward, Two Steps Back (The Cri­sis in Our Par­ty),” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 7: Sep­tem­ber 1903-Decem­ber 1904 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1961), 201-423. 

  40. V.I. Lenin, “Lessons of the Moscow Upris­ing,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 11: June 1906-Jan­u­ary 1907 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1972), 173. 

  41. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Nor­ton, 2006), 731. 

  42. Ibid., 738. 

  43. Louis Althuss­er and Éti­enne Bal­ibar, Read­ing Cap­i­tal, trans. Ben Brew­ster (New York: New Left Books, 1970), 17. 

  44. V.I. Lenin, “Mate­ri­al­ism and Empirio-Crit­i­cism,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 14: 1908 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1962), 134. 

  45. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 5, 509. 

  46. Ibid., 510. 

  47. Althuss­er and Bal­ibar, 188, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  48. Lukács, His­to­ry and Class Con­scious­ness, 289. 

  49. Lenin, “The Tasks of the Pro­le­tari­at in Our Rev­o­lu­tion,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 24, 67. 

  50. Leon Trot­sky, What Next? Vital Ques­tions for the Ger­man Pro­le­tari­at, Part 2

  51. Lenin, “Lessons of the Cri­sis,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 24, 213. 

  52. Andre Glucks­mann, “Strat­e­gy and Rev­o­lu­tion in France 1968: An Intro­duc­tion,” New Left Review (I) 51 (1968): 67-121, 83. 

  53. Translator’s note: Recall­ing Lenin’s famous phrase in Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: “But pol­i­tics is more like alge­bra than ele­men­tary arith­metic, and still high­er than ele­men­tary math­e­mat­ics.” The French trans­la­tion reads: “Or, la poli­tique ressem­ble plus à l’algèbre qu’à l’arithmétique, et encore plus aux math­é­ma­tiques supérieures qu’aux math­é­ma­tiques élé­men­taires.” Bensaïd’s allu­sion here is thus not a direct quote. 

  54. V.I. Lenin, “Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: An Infan­tile Dis­or­der,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 31: April-Decem­ber 1920 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1966), 102. 

  55. Glucks­mann, 111. 

  56. Ibid., 113 

  57. Ibid., 114. 

  58. Rossana Rossan­da, “Les étu­di­ants comme sujet poli­tique,” Les Temps mod­ernes (August 1968): 2. 

  59. Alfred Rosen­berg, A His­to­ry of Bol­she­vism (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1933), 57-58ff. 

  60. Poulantzas, Polit­i­cal Pow­er and Social Class­es, 60. 

  61. Ibid., 68. 

  62. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 5, 384. 

  63. Lenin, “One Step For­ward, Two Steps Back,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 7, 265. 

  64. Ibid., 273. 

  65. Lenin, “Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: An Infan­tile Dis­or­der,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 31, 95-96. 

  66. See Sig­mund Freud, Beyond the Plea­sure Prin­ci­ple, trans. James Stra­chey (New York: Nor­ton, 1961), 20. 

  67. Georg Lukács, Lenin: A Study on the Uni­ty of His Thought, 1924 

  68. V.I. Lenin, “The Social­ist Par­ty and Non-Par­ty Revi­sion­ism,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 10: Novem­ber 1905-June 1906 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1962), 79. 

  69. V.I. Lenin, “The Imme­di­ate Tasks of the Sovi­et Gov­ern­ment,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 27: Feb­ru­ary-July 1918 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1965), 245. 

  70. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 5, 387. 

  71. Poulantzas, Polit­i­cal Pow­er and Social Class­es, 41-43. 

  72. Ibid., 47. 

  73. Ibid., 49. 

  74. Hen­ri Lefeb­vre, “L’irruption de Nan­terre au som­met.” L’Homme et la société, 8.8 (1968), 49-99, 58. 

  75. Lenin, “The Tasks of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Youth,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 7, 46. 

  76. Lenin, “Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: An Infan­tile Dis­or­der,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 31, 99-100. 

  77. Ibid., 101. 

  78. V.I. Lenin, “From a Publicist’s Diary,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 26: Sep­tem­ber 1917-Feb­ru­ary 1918 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1964), 53. 

  79. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 5, 426. 

  80. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, 1848. 

  81. Lenin, “The Cri­sis Has Matured,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 26, 82. 

  82. Lenin, “Let­ter to Cen­tral Com­mit­tee Mem­bers,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 26, 84-85. 

  83. Lenin, “Karl Marx: A Brief Bio­graph­i­cal Sketch With an Expo­si­tion of Marx­ism,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 21, 65. 

  84. V. I. Lenin, “A New Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Work­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tion,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 8: Jan­u­ary-July 1905 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1965), 505. 

  85. Lenin, “Dead Chau­vin­ism and Liv­ing Social­ism,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 21, 99. 

  86. Lenin, “The Tasks of the Pro­le­tari­at in the Present Rev­o­lu­tion,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 24, 24. 

  87. Lenin, “Mate­r­i­al for the Prepa­ra­tion of the Pro­gramme of the R.S.D.L.P.,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 6, 27. 

  88. V.I. Lenin, “Address to the Sec­ond All-Rus­sia Con­gress of Com­mu­nist Orga­ni­za­tions of The Peo­ples of the East,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 30, Sep­tem­ber 1919-April 1920 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1965), 161. 

  89. Lenin, “Eco­nom­ics and Pol­i­tics in the Era of the Dic­ta­tor­ship of the Pro­le­tari­at,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 30, 107. 

  90. Lenin, “Left-Wing Com­mu­nism,” Col­lect­ed Works, Vol. 31, 24. 

  91. Ibid., 45. 

  92. Cf. A.J. Greimas, “His­toire et Struc­ture,” in Du Sens: Essais Sémi­o­tiques (Paris: Seuil, 1970). 

  93. Gus­tave Guil­laume, Lan­gage et sci­ence du lan­gage (Paris: Nizet, 1964). 

  94. Ibid., 199: Guil­laume also describes the present as a “trans­ver­sal cut” between two “con­tours” of time. 

  95. Translator’s Note: The ref­er­ence is unmarked in the orig­i­nal text, but is attrib­uted to Greimas in Une Lente Impa­tience, Bensaïd’s mem­oir: “Greimas pro­posed view­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of lan­guage as the result of the action of rhythm on struc­ture, or of speech on lan­guage, thus open­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of diachron­ic breach­es in syn­chron­ic immo­bil­i­ty.” Daniel Ben­saïd, An Impa­tient Life: A Mem­oir, trans. David Fern­bach (New York: Ver­so, 2014), 82. It could also equal­ly apply to Althuss­er, who remarked in the chap­ter on his­tor­i­cal time in Lire le Cap­i­tal that there is no such thing as con­cepts such as class strug­gle in gen­er­al, only var­i­ous antag­o­nis­tic engage­ments between the class­es with­in the dif­fer­ent prac­tices that com­pose a social for­ma­tion. There are a vari­ety of class strug­gles tak­ing place simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with­in a soci­ety, each with their own rhythms and tem­pos, their own spe­cif­ic sets of con­tra­dic­tions, their own his­to­ries. These prac­tices effec­tive­ly react back upon and deter­mine the struc­tur­al fac­tor, the social whole. Each prac­tice or struc­tur­al instance in a social for­ma­tion, then, is to be known accord­ing to its pecu­liar char­ac­ter and unique rhythm, and every struc­ture of a social whole is seen to have its own his­to­ry. See Althuss­er and Bal­ibar, 100. On sim­i­lar themes in rela­tion to struc­tural­ism in 1960s French phi­los­o­phy, see also the clas­sic arti­cle by Jacques-Alain Miller from the Cahiers pour l’analyse, “Action of the Struc­ture,” trans. Chris­t­ian Ker­slake and Peter Hall­ward, in Con­cept and Form, Vol. 1, ed. Peter Hall­ward and Knox Peden (New York: Ver­so, 2012), 69-84. 

  96. Althuss­er and Bal­ibar, 273. 

Author of the article

was a philosopher and a founding member of the Ligue communiste revolutionnaire. He was the author of books spanning a number of topics, including Marxism, Walter Benjamin, the French Revolution, and Joan of Arc.