Tailism: a resurrected (Leninist) word for our time

I first encountered this term in the title of a recently discovered manuscript by Georg Lukács, A Defence of History and Class-Consciousness: Tailism and the Dialectic. Tailism? Is this some movement, following a certain ‘Tail’, or maybe a nickname, or some dude who is too interested in his own tail? No, it was coined by Lenin. He first used tailism (khvostism) to describe the ‘Economists’, those who argued that the communist party should not take the lead in a revolutionary situation, but should allow economic events – crises, strikes, unrest – to unfold on their own. The party would then pick up on the tail of these events. No way, argues Lenin; the party is the vanguard, educating, agitating, watching for opportunities. After that, anyone who slacked off was a tailist, if he or she wasn’t an opportunist.

Great bloody word; definitely needs to be recovered. In academic work, who would be a tailist? For starters, the one who never has an original idea, who harvests ideas from others – colleagues, students, friends – and then presents them as their own, maybe reworking them a bit before publishing. Of course, looking for any recognition of the source would be like looking for a virgin in the Vatican. Or it might be the encyclopaedist, fostered by academic institutions, especially those following in the German tradition. At least they are honest enough not to claim the ideas as their own, focusing on collecting the ideas of others, ordering and arranging them in very nice books – tailism.


7 thoughts on “Tailism: a resurrected (Leninist) word for our time

  1. To me academic ‘tailism’ fits those whose scholarship is directed by the whims of research bodies and other external funders.

    Those, for example, who miraculously woke on the morning of September 12, 2001 as experts on Islamic fundamentalism.

    (Also, doesn’t it say something about Marxism that the most apparent use for such a revolutionary descriptor is the internal politics of research universities?)

    1. Or the way everyone follows the latest government directive, eagerly trying to score highly in the ranking in order get a few crumbs.

      Point taken, VM, on the academic dimensions, but we could also look at Tunisia or Egypt …

      1. we could also look at Tunisia or Egypt …


        everyone follows the latest government directive

        Can the Egyptologists down the hall position their work on 2nd dynasty wall-rubbings into the ARC heading ‘Defending Australia’s Future’ now?

  2. Isn’t a blog defining tailism a form of tailism as you describe it?

    After that snipy comment of mine… a compliment: I enjoyed your blog. Clear, concise writing.

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