In the subject Political Culture, my tenth grade son has been assigned to analyze the work of Karl Marx from the point of view of Lenin. The specific theme that Teo must develop with his team is referenced in an article Vladimir Illich titled Marxism and Revisionism, published more than a century ago.
The first problem to be overcome was to find the book, because in the school library the three volumes of the Selected Works of the Russian author had a long line of readers undertaking similar assignments. As I’ve lived in this 144-apartment building for 25 years, I more or less know who has books at home and, among them, who is likely to possess this kind of political literature.
It seemed that the eleven neighbors whose doors we knocked on had all agreed: “Me, I already go rid of that, nor do I agree with what’s in those books. Lenin, who agrees with him?” was more or less the common response. Finally I had to leave the neighborhood and cross the city to find a copy at the home of my friend, the blogger Dimas Castellanos.
With complete good faith I helped my son understand Lenin’s jargon, full of labels and epithets. We searched the encyclopedia for the names of almost all the thinkers mentioned and even dusted off Rodental’s old philosophical dictionary to “clarify” the concepts. At the end, a terrible question overshadowed the effort: How is it — in the light of the explosive concept — that the new elements of the revolutionary pantheon of our times are so far removed from the old doctrine? How would Lenin classify the revisionist Hugo Chavez with his unknown “Socialism of the 21st Century”? What would he say about the indigenous coca farmer Evo Morales, or about Correa’s Citizen’s Revolution? Even more, to what basement would he relegate the economic reforms of China or Vietnam?
Two possibilities: Either the revisionists won the battle, or the label did not have the eternal durability of philosophical category awarded to it by its creator. It will have to be dialectical, or better yet ambiguous, so that no one feels offended. As it’s never known with what one gains or loses, when I go to return to my friend Dimas Castellanos the book he lent me, I will put a cover over it, as we both are already too ideologically suspect to want to add more fuel to the fire.
14 February 2011