Zizek on claiming 20th-century socialism as “one’s own”

I’m in the middle of an essay by Slavoj Zizek titled “Mao Zedong: The Marxist Lord of Misrule”, about the break in Marxist praxis betwen Lenin and Mao.  Its quite interesting and very readable (especially if you read it in Zizek’s voice, complete with the occasional stutter and spittle).  The first paragraph, I thought, does a great job of framing the need for Marxists to take seriously the legacies of the 20th century socialisms, rather than brushing them aside as “Stalinist” or whatever and distancing one’s own political project from them.

One of the most devious traps which lurk for Marxist theorists is the search for the moment of the Fall, when things took the wrong turn in the history of Marxism: was it already the late Engels with his more positivist-evolutionary understanding of historical materialism? Was it the revisionism AND the orthodoxy of the Second International? Was it Lenin? Or was it Marx himself in his late work, after he abandoned his youthful humanism (as some “humanist Marxists” claimed decades ago)? This entire topic has to be rejected: there is no opposition here, the Fall is to be inscribed into the very origins. (To put it even more pointedly, such a search for the intruder who infected the original model and set in motion its degeneration cannot but reproduce the logic of anti-Semitism.) What this means is that, even if – or, rather, especially if – one submits the Marxist past to a ruthless critique, one has first to acknowledge it as “one’s own”, taking full responsibility for it, not to comfortably get rid of the “bad” turn of the things by way of attributing it to a foreign intruder (the “bad” Engels who was too stupid to understand Marx’s dialectics, the “bad” Lenin who didn’t get the core of Marx’s theory, the “bad” Stalin who spoils the noble plans of the “good” Lenin, etc.).


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