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30 July

Call for Papers

Posted on July 30, 2014

Stalin: what does the name stand for?

The international journal of political thought and philosophy, Crisis and Critique, announces a call for papers for its seventh issue, which will be devoted to the topic: Stalin: what does the name stand for?

In his 1899 text on “Screen Memories”, Freud, under the same title, analyses a specific kind of memory-production. Often, in analysis, memories of painful and terrifying events function as a way to cover up an even more dreadful and awful trauma. Memories thereby do not only deceive, but are the very means for obfuscating a deception. The very things a patient knowingly remembers can, at the same time, serve as what obscures his or her relation to what ‘objectively’ happened. Screen memories are not simple delusion but they present memories that are generated in the very act of remembering, and are, in this very sense, fictional formations that do not disturb the causal chain of one’s history, and do not tackle the place of oneself as a subject. Yet, they nonetheless enable to ‘preserve’ an intensity of affects connected with a traumatic interruption (that as such might have been experience, or never experienced). “Screen memories” both “screen off” something real – by displacing it and transforming it into a ‘trauma’ that is bearable – and give the real a “screen”, because through the analysis of the patient’s screen memories, Freud believes, the real trauma can be accessed as also the real issue at stake, namely why the patient reacted to an event (which may have been no event at all) by constituting this specific screen memory.

Any screen memory, thus, implies that one always implicated in our own memories of our traumas, simply because we reconstruct them (and maybe without them having been traumas in the first place). Breaking the forward flow of history - for an ideal - for an image that restores its continuity and sense - and it endows this ideal substitute with the properties that would account for the traumatic effects of what took place - usually, a monstrous deformation of someone or something other to us, so that we can now causally explain, with recourse solely to some other’s “deviation” (an abusing nanny was the preferred example in Vienna at Freud time), what would otherwise have been a traumatic suspension of the very consistency of historical enchainments.

The international journal of political thought and philosophy Crisis and Critique announces a call for papers for its seventh issue devoted to the investigation of the screen memories linked to, arising from, and devoted to, the figure of Joseph Stalin – screen memories that have been inherited by the contemporary Left, which take the form of treating Stalin as tabooed topic, as truth of Lenin(ism – which the former invented), as paradigm of the failure of communism tout court. In short, we want to address the question: what is the meaning of “Stalin” today? What does it mean to consider him the ultimate evil? What to seek to redeem him?

What is the importance of such an investigation? Why should anyone be interested to ‘rethink’, to ‘reconsider’ “Stalin”? Is this not also a highly – or maybe even empty polemical – manoeuvre? Our wager is that one cannot let go of a phantasm if one does not also traverse it, and work through it. And, hence, the first question is if ‘Stalin’ and what this names stands for is today screen memory. But, there are some indications, since the expression “Stalinism” is completely identified with the terrible catastrophes of ‘real-existing’ communism, if one may risk this formulation. But, if Stalinism is directly identified with the corrupted, criminal core of the notion of communism, even those who wish to be communist will not be able to mourn our proper past, or re-imagine the future. First of all, without such a confrontation with the “real” in “really existing socialism”, communists will never be able to produce an adequate and ‘objective’ account of their own historical failures, that takes into account the truly tragic, disastrous and monstrous dimension the of ‘Russian experiment’ with the communist idea – this failure is certainly more fundamental than any liberal or conservative could imagine. But this could not only allow for radicalizing the critique of Stalinism, but could simultaneously break away with the simplistic image of the authoritarian ‘communist’ leaders that were from the very beginning conceptually “traitors of the people”. Without facing these issues, one will never be able to extract from these complex, rich, and contradictory, experiences that should be preserved and recuperated for today’s political imagination. It is, therefore, the task of “working through” the distortions, displacements and intensities which constitute for us today the “hard kernel” of what has become unthinkable in Leftist politics. This will finally allow us to separate those hopes and dreams that have proven themselves to be truly invalidated, and, therefore, should or could simply be mourned, and what aspects of political imagination, albeit still crucial and relevant, have become symptomatically unavailable, leaving us melancholically trapped in the constraints of the present.

At stake in this investigation is, therefore, the hypothesis that the phantasm of Stalinism continues to shape emancipatory thinking today, a limitation which interests both the “beautiful souls” - who want to be associated with the noble ideals of communism and socialism without having to associate themselves with the gruesome and precarious experiments which gave rise to such ideas - and the Right in general, insofar as this phantasm serves as the halting point of any theoretical or practical engagement with the field of mass mobilisation - after all, the equation “Stalin=Hitler” has expropriated the Left from some of its important inventions, such as the emancipatory role of discipline, the taste for anonymity and collective cohesion, the courage to re-imagine mankind, the emancipatory struggle for State-power and power in general etc. This last point - the reshaping of what we are allowed to think and where we should not thread at the risk of being considered genocide supporters - is so palpable that even such a critical study as the one Crisis and Critique now proposes as its seventh issue cannot do without a clear disclaimer, once more reiterating that we do not seek to redeem Joseph Stalin nor does the editorial board of the journal or any of its contributors support the horrors of the so called “Stalinist era”. Our interest is rather in finding out why this does not go without saying, and what is the ideological role of this inhibition limiting what we are allowed to learn, discard and recuperate of our own political history.

In this issue, we want to address questions such as (but not limited to):

  • What is the meaning of the name “Stalin” today?
  • What does it stand for in the ‘Left’ and in the ‘Right’?
  • Who are the precursors to Stalin? Robespierre maybe?
  • Why is what happened under Stalin unthinkable or claimed tobe so?
  • Why is there rarely an account of Stalinism in self-proclaimed emancipatory thought, critical theory, etc.?
  • Political invention: What were the actual experiments of the Soviet Union? What have we learned from them?
  • Historical analysis: Are there better categories for the structural analysis of the Soviet failure than the Trotskyist "betrayal"? What role does the theory of “betrayal” play in the omnipresent sectarianism of the Left today?
  • The Party-State: what was the relation between Party and State in the Soviet Union? Is it better described as the Party’s taking over of the State, the State taking over the Party or as their effective coincidence?
  • Totalitarianism: The distinction between monstrosities: how should Stalinism be distinguished from Nazism and Fascism in general? What are the political effects of producing equivalence between these terms?
  • Soviet philosophy: what should be recuperated of Soviet thinking today?
  • Mourning and Melancholia in the contemporary Left: what is the role of the Stalinist failure in the phantasms of the contemporary Left?
  • Customs and resistance: how should we understand the role of jokes in Soviet Union? Why do socialist regimes produce so many jokes about themselves, while fascist regimes do not?
  • Khrushchev Report: what’s its historical importance in the consolidation of the Stalinist era? How should the passage from Stalin to Khrushchev be understood?
  • What does “Stalinism” even mean? Is it even possible to be considered a Stalinist today?

Articles should be sent in English. The maximal length is 9000- 10,000 words. Submissions should be sent to:

[email protected]
The deadline for submission is 31st of December 2015.