Monday, April 27, 2009

Lenin's testament, or, When money will indeed be shit

[An homage to the Socialist Lavatory League]

Reading recently the late Georges Labica's defense of Lenin's utopian moment in the acts of the 1975 Cerisy colloquium on utopian discourse (quite a gem), I encountered this superb quotation from 'The Importance of Gold Now and After the Complete Victory of Socialism', a Pravda article from late 1921, where Lenin argues for the necessity of market "reformism" while keeping the horizon of real communism in full view:

When we are victorious on a world scale I think we shall use gold for the purpose of building public lavatories in the streets of some of the largest cities of the world. This would be the most “just” and most educational way of utilising gold for the benefit of these generations which have not forgotten how, for the sake of gold, ten million men were killed and thirty million maimed in the “great war for freedom”, the war of 1914-18, the war that was waged to decide the great question of which peace was the worst, that of Brest or that of Versailles; and how, for the sake of this same gold, they certainly intend to kill twenty million men and to maim sixty million in a war, say, in 1925, or 1928, between, say, Japan and the U.S.A., or between Britain and the U.S.A., or something like that. But however “just”, useful, or humane it would be to utilise gold for this purpose, we nevertheless say that we must work for another decade or two with the same intensity and with the same success as in the 1917-21 period, only in a much wider field, in order to reach this state.

In his Memoirs, Nikita Khruschev, recalling a dinner with American capitalists in New York, returns to Lenin's concrete and (e)sc(h)atological utopia, clearly rejoicing in the ease with which he can profane the yankee religion:

One old man, who was quite decrepit, but who was very wealthy and influential, as I was told, kept asking how much gold we produced and why we didn’t trade with America for gold. … I said: “Mr. So-and-So (I don’t remember his name), I will answer your question about gold. Are you familiar with the statement made at one time by our leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, that we should hold onto our gold for the time being? At a certain stage of development of human society [Lenin said] gold will lose its value, and therefore gold should be kept in reserve, to make public toilets out of. That’s what we’re keeping our gold for, and when the time comes and communist society has been established, gold will lose its value as a means of exchange, and then, to carry out Lenin’s testament, we will use gold to decorate the public toilets under communist society. That’s why we’re holding on to our gold.” (Nikita Khruschev, Memoirs of Nikita Khruschev, volume 3: Statesman [1953-1964], edited by Sergei Khruschev, Penn State Press, 2007, pp. 178-9.)

One possible definition of communism: that society which, by carrying out Lenin's testament, will both verify Freud's contention, in 'Character and Anal Eroticism', that money is shit*, and free us from the scatological neuroses of the value-form, as well as from the "retention" of gold.

* "In reality, wherever archaic modes of thought predominate or have persisted - in ancient civilizations, in myth, fairy-tale and superstition, in unconscious thoughts and dreams, and in the neuroses - money comes into the closest relation with excrement. We know how the money which the devil gives his paramours turns to excrement after his departure, and the devil is most certainly nothing more than a personification of the unconscious instinctual forces." (S. Freud)


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