Benny LÚvy 1977

Nothing New on the Eastern Front?


Source: Les Temps Modernes, No. 369, April 1977;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2009.


It was agreed upon: communism, critical, had torn the veil from the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Words, just words... Rights of man? Of the bourgeois, rather. But ever the realist, communism added, via the voice of Engels: “The proletarians take the bourgeoisie at their word.” And then they took it by the throat: “Are you going to spit it up, the thing?” (represented by the word). Of course they know that there is no thing; it’s nothing but a tactic. Perfected by Lenin and then become law: democracy (that thing-that-doesn’t-exist) is the obligatory passageway for the socialist revolution. This is truly the Eucharistic moment of proletarian policy: the conversion of the democratic revolution into the socialist revolution. In Russia the Bolsheviks had fought since 1905 for the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants;” they finally reached their goal in October 1917. What do you think they set up? The dictatorship of the proletariat. In China, during all the revolutionary wars the communists called for new democracy and established it at their support bases. When in October 1949 the entire territory was liberated, new democracy naturally became the dictatorship of the proletariat. Instantly, as if by magic. I ask myself why of all mysteries this mystery enchanted me for ten years. It’s no doubt because it brings together the most extreme realism and the most striking mysticism. Realism: once we “have” power we can do, if not whatever we like, at least change its name. Mysticism: the universal class guarantees us that by means of these ruses we will reach the kingdom of freedom. A classic logic of power is thus transfigured into a fascinating logic of might. In this transformed form it works wonders. And is worth a mass.

Once the dictatorship is established the Declaration of Rights, first fallen to the level of mere words, then becomes a “phrase” (the realm of the phrasemaker). Democracy, formal rights: enough talking. On to acts! On to dictatorship. All the rest is just shit. We know that in Lenin’s eyes the specialist of the phrase – the intellectual – “isn’t the brain of the nation, he’s its shit.”

And yet, here is the return of the, word setting the kingdom of the things ablaze like a forest fire: from Berlin to Moscow they are protesting in the name of the rights of man. On our side of Europe we seem to be embarrassed: in all decency, we can’t get excited about formal rights! So the clever ones, in order to escape their embarrassment, decide to see this as a tactical demand aimed at rallying the greatest number possible. But when the movement radicalizes itself it must confront the true problem, which we in the West have meditated on for almost two centuries: socialism. In other words: when it ends over there it begins anew. And nothing’s new on the Eastern front.

The oak and the calf

Since we here only fully understand politics and its art, let us first consider what is happening in the East from this point of view.

What, for us, is the principal tactical problem of the movement that grew out of May? That of finding a form of association that doesn’t resemble the statist form it opposes. Finding a way of acting that isn’t a replica of the actions of the Other. They are organized, so I organize myself; centralized? So I centralize myself. Invent, then, an irregular style that breaks with this redoubtable symmetry. Since the time of Babeuf’s conspiracy up till our ultra-leftism we have run up against this problem. How do they approach it in the East?

The movement attacks the party. Will it garb itself in the form of the party, return to the very source of the idea of the party: the conspiratorial sect? Most definitely not. On the contrary, one must head for the open seas, free oneself of the very principle of the party, invent here and now a space that the law of the party doesn’t regulate. Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia designates this space.

“The charter is neither an association nor an organization... The charter thus has as its object the constituting of a spontaneous solidarity deprived of all external constraint among all those who have understood the importance of the moral sense in the normal functioning of society... (while knowing that it is necessary to this end to suffer inconveniences, to risk not being understood and to even risk physical danger). (Patocka’s commentary in Le Monde, February 10, 1977).

In the East they know well the adversary’s form: all united by external constraint. Two people can only exchange under the vigilant gaze of a third.

Article 58 paragraph 10 of the 1926 Penal code of the USSR was aimed at “agitation containing a call to overthrow Soviet power.” Here, Solzhenitsyn said, “one could include a friendly (even conjugal) conversation. Paragraph 11 was quite unique: bare of any content of its own, it was nothing but an aggravating supplement that could be added to any of the preceding crimes if the acts had been prepared in an organized fashion, or if their authors had formed an organization. In fact, this paragraph was so broadly interpreted that there was no need for any organization at all. In my own case I felt the elegance of such applications of this paragraph. There were two of us who exchanged our thoughts in secret, that is, the embryo of an organization, that is, an organization.” (The Gulag archipelago, Vol. 1).

In France “a series of decrees from 1806-1812 made of the simple vagabond who had left the poor house a veritable outlaw. Any association of two vagabonds, unless they were husband and wife, father and son or mother and daughter, was considered a source of sedition, immediately judged before a summary tribunal and punished with deportation” (R. Cobb, Popular Protest in France).

Statolatry’s axiom is this: every reciprocity is constituted under the eye of a third (or: the regime of generalized squealing). Attacking the regime of the party is thus necessarily overthrowing this axiom and bringing to life a reciprocity that is blindingly obvious to a Third. In this sense the Charter invents an irradiating solidarity. Or: spreading by stepping away from a center, by radiating out.

From this flows the style of action. Not: organized-mass-action where the “mass” dissolves the personal so that the force of battalions marching in cadence be born (in serried ranks the enemy attacks us). But: action personal-communal action. One must have start from the place where subjection no longer has a hold, from what closes itself off from totalitarian penetration, from that “interior” as radical exteriority in relation to the statist sphere: “internal freedom.” We know how this idea was revived in the East: in the midst of the excreta of the Archipelago. There was mixed together everything that escaped from the norms of class theory: all classes, all the groups and individuals that weren’t “determined bearers of ideas determined” by the power structure. There this idea grew.

“We avoid terms like dissident. In general, we call this movement the resistance. We don’t call ourselves wrong thinkers (inakomysliachtchie, literally, those who think differently) because deep down we simply represent the people who think. There is no other thought over there: there is on one side non-thought and on the other people who think, who are called wrong-thinkers.” (Bukowsky, Le Monde, January 5, 1977). What is: insurrectional genesis of the Cogito. In the West it remains for us to discover that the latter can be revealed even when we are not installed in a stove.

“The reindeer bangs his head against the oak” (Russian proverb). Anti-totalitarian association produces personal action as multiple action. Amalrik alone at the gates of the ElysÚe Palace. Yes, the realists will say with irritation, but in order to bring down the oak, what is to be done? The apocalypse of an entire people, no doubt. But the essential thing is that these uprisings to come take on the color of actual acts.

“When a new stratum of men becomes conscious of the possibility of resistance, of a fight for their rights and a solution to their economic problems through these methods, then these problems will be at the center of attention. We can’t resolve these problems for them. I am not a worker, and Sakharov even less so. But I also think that our ‘union question’ will take on the same coloring as the fight for civic rights:"(Bukowsky). As Lenin said, and he knew what he was talking about in this regard: at the moment of the explosion it’s too late. And in fact, either the ear is already accustomed to polyphony, and the eye, despite the frightening chaos, is able to read the meaning of the actions of multiplicity, or else from the immense chorus there rises but one voice, and the Eye will soon meticulously order all reciprocities.

The political illusion.

What is essential in politics is that which isn’t political: the metapolitical space that renders it possible. All resistance fighters, whatever the basis for their ideas, designate them by the words “moral sentiment.” Morality as the unconditional, that which doesn’t bend according to opportunities, which isn’t reduced to the relation of forces. But this is not new, it will be objected: for Kant, too, true politics can’t advance without having first rendered homage to morality. Do we prefer to hear Pachukanis, a Soviet jurist who was highly thought of before being liquidated?

“When the living connection that ties the individual to the class is so strong that the borders of the self so to speak blur, and the class interest is effectively identified with personal interest, it then becomes absurd to speak of the fulfilling of a moral duty, the phenomenon of morality is completely absent.” (“The General Theory of Law and Marxism”). What destroys the strong souls of the East is the modern illusion: that everything is political and this is what is new. What is beginning to end: the everything-is-political. The everything-is-political that wants to leave nothing outside of its grasp. And certainly not he worthless things: hicks, moralists, poujadistes and ecologists, the apolitical. The everything-is-political which has infected even the least detail of existence, which won’t be happy until it’s dissolved the “private,” the intimate, the discreet. We now know better why: the everything-is-political that camouflages statolatry deep down has no worse enemy than these small reciprocities: loves, friendships that can be redoubtable dyads. The axiom of the despotic Third must sweep the field clean. The methods of the GPU in meeting this end are beginning to become known, but that of the theoretician? It can be identical in its form: it clears its field by defining the pertinent questions. For example, the human has become an impertinent question. As for the individual, he has become the simple “determined bearer of determined ideas.” (Krylenko, public accuser of the 20’s, reader of the Marx-of-Capital). Bearer, trager in German, until his deportation, where the “self is blurred.”

The everything-is-political, according to the best of Marxisms, constituted the place from which the state would find itself as a non-state. In fact, the non-state turned against the state, outside of the everything-is-political: in morality or “subjective rights” (formal recognition by state authority of certain limits, beyond which morality begins). For here is what the rights of man are, which were our departure point, which circumscribe “the demand for subjective public rights in their totality” according to E. Bloch’s expression (“Natural Law and Human Dignity”): a fluid zone, fleeing the statist. Freedom of circulation, Article Three of the Helsinki Agreement! But this is a formal condition so that a space can be deployed where the multiplicity of acts is not crushed under the Eye of the Third. Formal universality, the rights of man? No, the universal as a formal condition of pluralities.

Some become irritated upon hearing Bukowsky respond to the question, “What do you think of socialism with a human face?” by “Socialism? I don’t know; but a human face is enough for me.” They are willing to let go of “real socialism,” but not the idea of socialism. (Twenty years ago it was the contrary: even at Les Temps Modernes they wanted to take real socialism as the departure point and they left the idea of socialism to take care of itself). So be it. But in a word, what did socialism want? The free association of producers. But this point at least must be clear: we don’t yet know what a free association is. And so, we don’t know what socialism is. We only know that deep below the infrastructure of producers there is this persistent superstructure: the Eye in the grave. Well dug, my mole!