Revolution is impossible. In the contemporary epoch of new media technologies, revolution in its traditional sense has become impossible. Cinema and television mobilize massive populations far more effectively than any “revolutionary situation”. The notion of the “revolutionary situation” comes from the rhetoric of a party that felt called upon to mobilize the masses as the fictitious subject of the historical process. The question of who plays the role of the revolution’s main protagonist in the end – the masses or the party – can only lead us astray. It introduces dialectics to something that leaves little room for their to-and-fro.
#6: Revolution or Resistance
One of the most tragic episodes in the history of resistance took place long before our time. It was described by Sophocles. The royal couple, condemned by oracular prophecy: the son will kill his father and marry his mother. To evade the will of the gods, they put the infant to death. But he survived. In his youth, he too visited the oracle, which revealed the will of the gods as the true source of his identity. Of course, he had to leave his foster parents, which he thought to be his own up until the oracle’s revelation. Everyone knows what happened next.
Until, the scene is vivid: Oepidus stands at the crossroads, trying desperately to choose the path that leads away. Even though he is under fate’s control completely, he still wants to hoodwink providence somehow, to resist, but his actions only help to seal his brutal fate, which has very little to do with anything like justice or freedom.
If the mind, while imagining non-existent things as present to it, is at the same time conscious that they do not really exist, this power of imagination must be set down to the efficacy of its nature, and not to a fault, especially if this faculty of imagination depend solely on its own nature–that is if this faculty of imagination be free.
(Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics, Prop. 17,https://www.msu.org/e&r/content_e&r/texts/spinoza/ethics_part2.html#text18)
Before how to resist before how to act we must deal today with how to think? This journal rightly asks that old question (or is it a statement?), What is to be Done? but can we really answer it today? After all, we cannot take for granted the very things trade unions, class solidarity, political possibility that Lenin built his argument upon. Instead, what we may require of ourselves is to imagine the non-existent things as present’ in the little space for the freedom of the imagination that is still available to us.
Speaking to a forum of left-wing activists, my friend Gaidar Dzhemal said that Islam was the banner under which the oppressed masses have resisted tyranny for over one and one half thousand years. You could say this, by the way, of any of other popular religion. Unexpectedly, a comment shot out from the audience: “That’s all good and well, but don’t you think it’s time to destroy this tyranny, instead of simply resisting it?”
Contrary to the expectations of Hegelian Marxism, social struggle does not follow any dialectic of progress, but always coagulates from scratch in discontinuous “events”. Such events, as in 1789, 1848, and 1917, do not elevate history to a “higher level”; instead, they “interrupt” its progress. As such, revolutions are extremely rare “historical finds”. At present, there is no revolutionary option. Furthermore, the 20th century has inevitably led to the experience that any attempt at establishing a different society will eventually mutate into a power-project, a rule of regime. Yet then again, this knowledge of radicalism should not lead to the kind of “pessimistic anthropologies” with which conservatives have always legitimized exploitation and oppression. Not in spite, but because of its tendency toward authoritarian ossification, real radicalism must always turn against itself. This turn against oneself does not only lead to a refusal of transcendence, but also attacks any form of rule (not of power). Thus, it refrains from connecting the critique of the totalitarian disfigurement of the revolution with an affirmation of the established order of things.