Thursday, November 08, 2018

a geneology of "the worse, the better"

The famous phrase, “the worse the better”, is often attributed to Lenin. Supposedly, this is Lenin’s addition to the black book of political strategy, and no doubt in Hell he is discussing it over chess with Old Nick Machiavelli himself.

As far as I can tell, however, the phrase appears in Lenin’s works as a quotation from Plekhanov. In Three Crises, writing in 1917, Lenin sets himself the task of analyzing the revolution thus far – after the fall of the Czar. He remarks that so far, the demonstration, as a political form, has accrued a peculiar importance. And he backs away from the situation to analyze it:
The last, and perhaps the most instructive, conclusion to be drawn from considering the events in their interconnection is that all three crises manifested some form of demonstration that is new in the history of our revolution, a demonstration of a more complicated type in which the movement proceeds in waves, a sudden drop following a rapid rise, revolution and counter-revolution becoming more acute, and the middle elements being eliminated for a more or less extensive period.
In all three crises, the movement took the form of a demonstration. An anti-government demonstration — that would be the most exact, formal description of events. But the fact of the matter is that it was not an ordinary demonstration; it was something considerably more than a demonstration, but less than a revolution. It was an outburst of revolution and counter-revolution together, a sharp, sometimes almost sudden elimination of the middle elements, while the proletarian and bourgeois elements made a stormy appearance.

As an aside: I think this is a very wonderful passage, which surely earned Nick Machiavelli’s other-world applause. It projects a light upon a feature that occurs consistently in our contemporary history, even if the various forms of demonstration are tied to class in more complex, that is, mediated ways than could be admitted by Lenin, that great simplifier. I am thinking of the #metoo movement, for instance. Here, again, what rose up traversed the class scale, mixing up an issue of gender with one of the workspace. I would call it an abuse of emotional labor, which is itself an exploitation founded on the body of the worker. The connecting links from the coerced smile to rape are both gendered and based in an economy of exploitation. But to return to the form of Lenin’s analysis… See the rest at Willett's

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