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Toni Negri, Preface to 33 Lessons on Lenin

Preface to 33 Lessons on Lenin Toni Negri

Preface To The Present (Spanish) Edition:

This book dates in its current form from 1972/73, although some of its parts were written (written partially) 10 years prior. By all means, however, the form in which these essays/texts are presented are definitive. In re-publishing these lessons I have not believed it necessary in modifying them in any aspect. Why? In their relative ingenuity they are constructive, creative and joyous.

How was this text born? How did the idea come to me to write it and why did I feel profoundly spurred to do it by my comrades at the time?

In the 1960’s, in the PCI, as well as in the very distant and far removed area in which I was a militant, Lenin was very much present in the movement. The discussion of his texts and the positioning of the movements with respect to the Leninist tradition was essential. Now, the Leninist camp differentiated/separated itself along very different and deep threads/lines. I do not believe to be mistaken in affirming that in Italy there were two main/principle currents of interpretation within the working class movement of the time. In the Togliattan majority within the PCI, the adhesion to orthodox Leninism presented itself as a strong philological fidelity as much as an opportunist one.

In that climate, Gramscianism was used as a reformist theory of social transformation while the Gramscian concept of hegemony was interpreted as a device/mechanism of consensus that was to replace the will of/to power and the Leninist prescription of the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Poor Gramsci, whom they betrayed twice, first as an authentic Leninist thinker and the second as an author of an improbable democratic theory of communism).

Secondly, in the period between the 60’s and 70’s there were other pseudo-Leninist groups present in the ideological market of the working class and proletarian movement. These were, above all, Marxist-Leninist groups, often organizational caricatures, symbolic rather than political, financial and appropriative rather than subversive and cooperative. In those groups and in that sensibility, the idea of Leninism was portrayed in the same broken and disfigured way as offered by Stalinism: Leninism signified the delegation of revolutionary political decision to a leader or a vanguard group; it signified the fetishism of authority and the exaltation of a dictatorial symbolism. In popular terms, in this ambience or environment, communism was represented as a church, or worse even, as a sect and on a occasion a vehicle for an unbridled populism.

On the other hand, on the international scene, beyond Italian borders, there existed and exist forces and programs which, with an importance well beyond the caricaturesque figures of the Italian discussion in the 70’s, proclaimed themselves Leninist and, during the Cold War, were opposed to the two superpowers of the time. For these forces there was no doubt that the USSR represented a betrayal to Marxism. What was important was the possibility of discerning and identifying a Leninist opposition to this betrayal of Marxism. Within these forces there was, in the first place, a current which greatly interested me: it was the bordiguistas, who polemicized -- in the name of a strong (determinist) objectivist materialism -- against Stalinist voluntarism. The bordiguists tried to reinterpret history as governed through insurrectional leaps, described by Leninism, using a theory of revolutionary cycles; although, in the first moment this theory appeared to remove the hope of revolution, in the second it determined that revolution was an event that was absolutely necessary.

In those years, in between the 60’s and 70’s, I had a few friends that were bordiguistas: in Italy some Cremonose comrades, in France Robert Paris and others. I had the impression that bordiguism gave an answer to a revolutionary instance that was both open and effective according to its double presentation as resistance and insurrection, as organization and event; I had the impression, therefore, that a theory of the subject (like the one I was elaborating at the time) could submit itself to this apparatus.

These theoretical alternatives to Leninism continue and are present today; you can read them, without great political density, in Alain Badiou, for example. There was, in addition, a second thread which interested me even more. A few comrades which spent their time between Europe and the USA had the opportunity of meeting the militants and theorists from Facing Reality. They proceeded from the rank and file (base) of the working class from that communist left which in the USA presented itself as Trotskyism; they had a strong subjectivist Leninist interpretation and subscribed to the critical Marxism of Dunayevskaia and tried to renew it. Their subjectivism was solidly linked/connected to the new working class of the New Deal and concretized itself in the constant investigation on the relation between the technical and political composition of industrial work. Thus, this was a high/developed/advanced subjectivism, open to the technological transformations in the organization of the labour force, to changes in sociological development and a lively imagination in regards to revolutionary transition.

Italian operaismo positioned itself in a different manner with respect to the international and national environment. Italian operaismo represented, at the same time, a completely revisionist position in regards to the Leninist hypothesis as well as a clear reinvigoration of his revolutionary project. From this point of view, Mario Tronti’s article ‘Lenin in England” was the beginning of our discourse. In that article, Tronti affirmed that, in the actuality of the 1960’s, the Leninist hypothesis had to deal with a radical transformation/change, with a rupture in the social composition of the proletariat: from which followed a necessary revision of the revolutionary project. In the journal Classe Operaia, at the beginning of that same decade, we all accepted this approach to the problem of Lenin: later on a few comrades reneged this path or entrusted this investigative project to oblivion…I was and continue to be convinced that we must renew this path the same way as we did then

In the lessons from the 60’s and 70’s that are to be republished in this volume, the first hypothesis (Lenin remains alive, because we are confronted with a new class reality), that is, the Trontian hypothesis, began to be reconsidered and reworked. Revolutionary revisionism (that is, the understanding of the change in the technical composition of the proletariat which requires and corresponds to a change in the political composition) is praised in the first place as an epistemological device and an instrument for the further organization of the revolutionary process. Of course, this is formed, produced and reconfigured through struggle, through victories, defeats, as well as, above all, ontological transformations of the subject which is its protagonist. Secondly, the crises of Marxism after 1956 (that is, after the publication of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the CPSU) was understood as a positive crises, constructive and creative.

Revolutions and their necessity, theories and their possibilities, interchanged their roles: today, theory extracts subjectivity and makes it ready for the present. This opened then, as it were, a strange type of ‘”patristic process”: this is to say that the renewal of Marxism ( as it happened to Christianity in the first centuries of its history) began to produce itself; from the ruins and mistakes, from the political clashes and the ontological re-articulation of the subject, there began, finally, to take shape a new ‘synthesis’ to come. Thirdly, the Leninist hypothesis of revolution seemed to us to go infinitely beyond and be much purer then the Stalinist Thermidor. Revolutionary terror is real, it determines a profound historical rupture/discontinuity, it destroys radically the reproduction of the dominant classes: however, it is always mystifying when, joined with this spiritual cleansing, it re-introduces dominant strata and new forms of control.

However, the Stalinist Thermidor does not correspond with a continuation of the Leninist revolution; in effect, we can only find the continuation of Leninism in the heterodoxies of the October Revolution….In literature and in the imaginary, Maiakowski, Bajtin and Lukacs are the heirs to Leninism…As in law it is Pashukanis…and in politics it is Mao. Read Die Massnahme by Brecht: there you will find, in the monstrosity of revolutionary terror, the vindication of the heterodox originality of the Leninist disposition…

Finally, understanding that after 1956 theory could reclaim its position which with the development of the class struggle had been given over to Stalinism, we rediscover in Leninism a productive matrix of new organizational forms, an ever powerful source when developing revolutionary force. At the beginning of the 70’s we were witnessing the passing of the hegemony of the mass worker and the hegemony of the external organization of knowledge in production to new forms of organization of the socialized worker and the internalization of intellectual production to labour-power.: there was no doubt that this process of the political transformation of subjectivity would not stop at that point. We knew; or better yet, we understood and perceived the dawn or beginning of these of these new organizational figures in practice and revolutionary theory. Lenin was for us a methodological exercise (ensayo metodolico) for an analysis of the transformation of the class struggle, he was a schiboleth, the password or master key of an ongoing revolutionary refounding through the revolutionary transformation of subjects.

I would just like to open up a parenthesis here in order to remember the climate, the places and the people which accompanied the work employed in the creation of these lessons on Lenin. As I mentioned, a few of these lessons (in particular those on the soviets) had been elaborated in article form at the beginning of the 60’s. Others- those that relate to Lenin and the theory of the party- had been presented before in a few university classes at La Sapienza in Rome. However, these lessons were exposed at the Insititute for Political Science of Padua, which I then led ( as a true “evil teacher”) in 33 sessions. I am very proud of my academic work: I would prepare these lessons, give them before a broad audience of students and they were also recorded. Then Gabriella and Elizabetta would type them out. I corrected the lessons and adapted them for publication during the summer of 1973. I taught the course on Lenin only in 1972-73: the ‘evil master’ did not repeat himself to his students…Every year a distinct course would be taught and the discussion in the seminars would contribute to determine the issues of study and to establish instructive/educational intervention points for the next year. Now, reconsidering it, I have to admit that such a seminar was completely unable to be integrated into the Italian university system: it was, in turn, a Leninist seminar.

In 1979 they put us all in prison. Nevertheless, you cannot imagine to what point and degree (until that moment) how subversive that institution was…Luciano Ferrari Bravo, Sandro Serafini, Sergio Bologna, Guido Biachini, Christian Marazzi, Maria Rosa dalla Costa, Lisa del Re, Ferruccio Gambino and many others that populate the intellectual chronicles of the last three decades that were part of that institution. Moreover, there also passed by numerous and important foreign friends and comrades : from Agnoli to Bruckner, from Harry Cleaver to John Merrington and Selma James; from Yan Moulier Boutang to Coriat and De Gaudemar…as well as the illustrious Italians, always in discord, but obliged to discussion, from Rossan Rossanda to Trentin and Carniti; as well the laboristas, from Guigni to Tarello and Ghezzi…, until the great Mancini, Giannini and Caffe. Also, the investigations by CNR, who in those years, between a restricted number of universities, flocked to our institute: we produced important works on pressing contemporary issues, from analysis of structures of centralization and the administrative proceedings of the European Community to the study and investigation on the transformation of work, between the factory and society, between immaterial labour and social labour. Conjointly, the institute led a pair of scientific collections at the Feltrinelli publishing house and various collections for Cleup. The hypothesis of a theoretical reinvention of communism and of an insurrectional overcoming of the structures/institutions of the State towards freedom, the Leninist hypothesis, travelled in a constant process of reactualization furrowing this sea of initiatives and concrete projects.

The institute was destroyed in a single blow by a repressive act orchestrated by a judge named Calogero and inspired by the hidden structures of the State, by Christian Democrats and the PCI: it consisted in defining the institute as the theoretical center of the Brigate Rossi. The heroic magistrate who concocted this theorem has built a great legal career; the infamous informers and provocateurs who fabricated evidence and took those professors from this institute to jail continue and are still members of the reformist left( as well as that left which calls itself revolutionary ) and, or, of course, on the right, the Padua teachers who supported the operation, generally inept in their work, carved out magnificent academic careers, but now no longer present (cowards!) their work in the April 7th affair as a point on their CV.( ingredient in their curricula.) Nevertheless, they could do it: the political class has not changed that much; their anti-communism has, in every sense, only multiplied, to the point that today it is not even necessary to legitimize infamy, as did a President of the Republic who approved two days later, on 9th of April of 1979, the preventive detentions of the 7th of April…

It is neither bitterness nor scandal that dictates these words. It has nothing to do with that but with the Leninist contempt for all those palace flies which, while declaring themselves socialists, serve the bosses. Nor is there space in this paper to discuss the sordid state of the Italian media of then (and of now?)…,, but there is no room here for scandal because infamy is useful and falsity is generously remunerated by the media bosses. The only room that is available here is the certainty and denouncing of the fact that the whole Italian left saw itself involved since then in the right’s corruption.

A good part of the thought, passions and people that undertook against these 33 Lessons on Lenin repressive action, destructive and reactionary have died or have fallen into oblivion. These lessons, on the contrary, are being republished. The process of political transition in which they deal around a new theory of organization of the exploited, between working class and new proletarian formations, between working class and post-modern multitude, have advanced considerably. Nonetheless, that is not all; it is not solely about the assertion that the Leninist epistemology has been imposed and that, therefore, the revolutionary handover of one subject to another in the historical process is readily perceptible and noticed by all, it is about, moreover, that this passage presents from now on the fabric(material) of a global revolution, of the multitude against Empire. Of course, many of the fundamental assumptions of these lessons and the conditions which sustained the reasoning in which they were set out have changed. And that matters! The subjective forces, imposing themselves within history, change our ways of knowing history; the real movement, the movement of reality(of the real) interprets that very same reality. Leninist abstraction has returned to charge/to ‘take’ reality because the Leninist utopia has returned to be an object of desire. It is quite fun to see that a few great bourgeois literati have recovered, in these times of transformation and transition of one epoch to another, the figure of St. Paul as a witness to the transition: we believe, only the figure of Lenin presents, for communism, the dimensions of the Pauline revolution.

Antonio Negri Roma, December of 2003 Translated by Guio Jacinto