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July 06, 2011


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Issues around Russia during and post-USSR, in relation to arguing for socialism today are always vexing for me. How do you tell students or other interlocutors that the Soviet Union "wasn't all that bad" in a way that doesn't valourize or excuse away many of the horrifying policies and events, especially under Stalin? I remember watching a Bill Maher interview with Whoopie Goldberg who, apparently lived in East Berlin for a bit. She said she loved her time there, hanging out with all kinds of bohemian artist types. But when she was pressed to make a normative comment about the political system, she only had the ability to say "it wasn't all that bad." It was clear that, that she was completely uneasy making even this simple statement, and today this sort of position is largely prohibited by the progressive Left.

How do we go about distinguishing the Soviet Union's progressive social policies from the crimes? I know Zizek talks about this some, but I don't think I really understand his argument (something along the line of they're inextricably linked). It seems like the contemporary left wants to start something completely new and entirely disavow the history of the USSR, China, Yugoslavia, et al. This is clearly too easy a way out. I know you've posted something about this very question on this Blog, Jodi. I think I'll re-read it, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you might approach these issues with undergrads, for example, or just regular joes.

Jodi Dean

How about some talking points for use in the US. Here's the beginning of a list:

1. No political regime is faultless; that is, every regime enacts kinds of violence, particularly as it works to establish and strengthen itself. Does the violence of one period mean that the entire system is irreparably stained, corrupt, worthless? And who makes this call? If irreparably stained, does that not then mean that the only just alternative is complete erasure and starting again, surely itself a renewal of violence? The US is stained by constitutive violence--genocide of native people and slavery. .

2. Violence is part of revolution. If one thinks that this kind of violence is never justified, then one is dooming a people to the regime that they have instead of keeping open the possibility that we can create the regime that we want. Additionally,given the organized ferocity of capital and the state that supports it, one can expect that establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat will not be fast or easy.

3. What does it mean to avow a history? Particularly for the communist left today? Whose history? English language history of the USSR languished under the Cold War. This should be a stimulus to new work and research rather than to a reflex-like evocation of history as if this history were a bludgeon.

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