Critchley and Lenin

In a letter [subscribers only] to Harper’s in response to their reprinting of Zizek’s infamous quasi-review of Infinitely Demanding, Simon Critchley assimilates Zizek to Lenin and argues that in Lenin’s State and Revolution, the real argumentative energy is directed against the anarchists, whom Lenin rightly recognizes as his most dangerous enemies.

I happen to be reading State and Revolution myself today, and Critchley’s interpretation of Lenin seems to me to be flatly false and unsupportable. Lenin’s true enemies in that text are the opportunist “Social-Democrats” who embrace the bourgeois state as an unsurpassable horizon — the anarchists are correct in their rejection of the state, but naive and utopian in their claim that the state can be abolished overnight. Lenin quotes Engels’ disputes with the anarchists at great length, but the goal is to distinguish a truly Marxian position from the opportunist position. (If anyone is singled out for extreme venom, it’s Kautsky, who is definitely not an anarchist.)

What, then, is the goal of Critchley’s appropriation of Lenin? My theory: it is an attempt to enhance the world-historical significance of his own position. He is debating not with Zizek, but with Lenin — and not only that, but Lenin recognizes Critchley’s anarchism as the ultimate enemy!

In reality, Critchley is, of course, merely debating with little old Zizek. Worse than that, it would appear that Critchley has not even gotten under Zizek’s skin as much as he’d like to think. After all, Zizek’s primary interlocutors on political questions are now, as they always have been, the post-Althusserians (Laclau, Badiou, et al.). Aside from this article, which has (characteristically) appeared in a few different iterations, the only engagement with Critchley that I know is in Parallax View, where (going from memory here) Critchley does not seem to be a central figure.

(This is not to say that I begrudge Critchley his opportunism in leveraging Zizek’s fame to get more publicity for his book, particularly in the letters column of a highly regarded American magazine.)

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