Friday, August 08, 2008

an historical novel

Writing The Historical Novel Lukacs describes the characteristics of great popular writers as commensurate with those of great political leaders, whose:

"genius manifests itself in the unusual rapidity with which they are able to perceive in quite small and insignificant reactions a change of mood, in the people or a class, and to generalise the connection between this mood and the objective course of events. This power of perception and generalisation forms the basis of what leaders customarily call "learning from the masses". Lenin in his pamphlet Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? describes a very instructive instance of of this interaction. After the suppression of the July rising of the Petrograd proletariat in 1917 Lenin is forced to live in illegality with a worker's family in the suburbs. He describes the preparation of the midday meal. "The wife brings in the bread. The husband says: "Look at this lovely bread. They don't dare give us bad bread now. We had almost forgotten that there was good bread to be had in Petrograd"," Lenin adds:

"I was amazed at this class estimate of the July days. My thoughts had revolved around the political significance of those events ... As a person who had never known want, I had never given a thought to bread...Thought follows an uncommonly complicated and intricate path to reach what is at the basis of everything, namely the class struggle for bread."

Here we can see such an interaction in wonderful plasticity. The Petrograd worker reacts with spontaneous class-consciousness to the events of the July days. Lenin learns from these reactions with the greatest sensitivity and turns them to account with remarkable speed and precision in the consolidation, substantiation and propagation of the correct political perspective."

I was going to put together some kind of historical argument as per why Lenin's role as an intellectual would be coherent in 1917, by Lukacs standards, but may not serve as the basis for a transhistorical theory of "the intellectual and masses". Evidently one of the premises in Lukacs' example is that the workers constitute a political force (collectively, piecemeal or mediated some way). Experience shows this is not always the case. Also, there's something strange in Lenin as democratic intellectual writing Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? We're perhaps obliged to see this as some kind of novel Lukacs wrote in which Lenin appears.

This isn't a very good analysis, but we could be back there again, tomorrow, with the worker's family, at the table, with Lenin making notes.

No comments: