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Zizek on the Two Totalitarianisms

Slovenian Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Zizek is a personal favorite. I am currently reading, among many things, his long essay called “Lenin’s Choice” in Revolution at the Gates, a collection of Lenin’s writings from 1917 that Zizek edited. His article, “The Two Totalitarianisms” from the London Review of Books is a year old, but I find it fascinating and worthy of attention. Here is an excerpt:

Till now, to put it straightforwardly, Stalinism hasn’t been rejected in the same way as Nazism. We are fully aware of its monstrous aspects, but still find Ostalgie acceptable: you can make Goodbye Lenin!, but Goodbye Hitler! is unthinkable. Why? To take another example: in Germany, many CDs featuring old East German Revolutionary and Party songs, from ‘Stalin, Freund, Genosse’ to ‘Die Partei hat immer Recht’, are easy to find. You would have to look rather harder for a collection of Nazi songs. Even at this anecdotal level, the difference between the Nazi and Stalinist universes is clear, just as it is when we recall that in the Stalinist show trials, the accused had publicly to confess his crimes and give an account of how he came to commit them, whereas the Nazis would never have required a Jew to confess that he was involved in a Jewish plot against the German nation. The reason is clear. Stalinism conceived itself as part of the Enlightenment tradition, according to which, truth being accessible to any rational man, no matter how depraved, everyone must be regarded as responsible for his crimes. But for the Nazis the guilt of the Jews was a fact of their biological constitution: there was no need to prove they were guilty, since they were guilty by virtue of being Jews.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, except to say that in my opinion, Zizek is absolutely correct to state: “We should also admit that we still lack a satisfactory theory of Stalinism. It is, in this respect, a scandal that the Frankfurt School failed to produce a systematic and thorough analysis of the phenomenon.” Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, Slavoj, this won’t happen until people begin to see Stalinism as more than just gulags and mass shootings. It was that, for sure, but it was more. Hence the reason a film like Goodbye Lenin! can be see with loving nostalgia, while Goodbye Hitler! would be immediately and rightly denounced as apostasy.

By the way, I would also like to point out that Zizek has an article in the most recent issue of the London Review of Books called “Nobody has to be Vile.” This time he denounces the ideological phenomena of the “liberal communists.” Also worth a read.

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