The left is undergoing a shattering experience: the progressive movement is being compelled to reinvent its whole project. What tends to be forgotten, however, is that a similar experience gave birth to Leninism. Consider Lenin’s shock when, in the autumn of 1914, every European social democratic party except the Serbs’ followed the “patriotic line.” How difficult it must have been, at a time when military conflict had cut the European continent in half, not to take sides. Think how many supposedly independent-minded intellectuals, Freud included, succumbed, if only briefly, to the nationalist temptation.
In 1914, an entire world disappeared, taking with it not only the bourgeois faith in progress, but the socialist movement that accompanied it. Lenin (the Lenin of What Is to Be Done?) felt the ground fall away from beneath his feet—there was, in his desperate reaction, no sense of satisfaction, no desire to say, “I told you so.” At the same time, the catastrophe made possible the key Leninist Event: the overcoming of the evolutionary historicism of the Second International. The kernel of the Leninist “utopia”—the radical imperative to smash the bourgeois state and invent a new communal social form without a standing army, police force or bureaucracy, in which all could take part in the administration of social matters—arises directly from the ashes of 1914. It was not a theoretical project for some distant future: in October 1917, Lenin claimed that “we can at once set in motion a state apparatus consisting of 10 if not 20 million people.” What we should recognize is the “madness” (in the Kierkegaardian sense) of this utopia—in this context, Stalinism stands for a return to “common sense.” The explosive potential of State and Revolution cannot be overestimated: in its pages, as Neil Harding wrote in Leninism (1996), “the vocabulary and grammar of the Western tradition of politics was abruptly dispensed with.”
Slavoj Zizek, Seize the Day: Lenin's Legacy