In answering the question of “Reform or Revolution”, Rosa Luxemburg saw “the idea of transforming the sea of capitalist bitterness into a sweet socialist ocean by adding social-reformist lemonade bottle-by-bottle” as something both tasteless and fantastic. With her critique of Bernstein and the reformist fraction of Social Democracy in 1899/1900, Rosa Luxemburg opened a debate that eventually produced two political camps, each of which claimed the sole right of leading the working class. By today, the question “Reform or Revolution” almost sounds impious; both historical titans have shrunken and become touching old men.
#6: Revolution or Resistance
Since the 1960s, people have always asked the question whether Godard was a revolutionary pornographer or a pornographer of revolution. Just another Beatle (cf. Spectacular Society, chD 1)? A “Maoist liar”? (Debord). Or was Godard really the one of the greatest revolutionaries of the cinema? Don’t Godard’s early aesthetics provide ways of opening new understandings of what politics actually are? Was he able to codify and transport these new meanings, to encapsulate them within a cinematic anti-narrative made to survive the Thermidore?
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.