Lenin and the Channel Tunnel

Ever more surprises in store: way before the befuddled Walter Benjamin began speculating about the dialectic of civilisation and barbarism, Lenin was offering a much sharper critique – via the Chunnel.

He begins by noting that England and France are the most ‘civilised’ countries in the world, with massive capital cities involved in voluminous trade.

And yet the richest, the most civilised and the freest countries in the world are now discussing, in fear and trepidation — by no means for the first time! — the ‘difficult’ question of whether a tunnel can be built under the English Channel.

Engineers have long been of the opinion that it can. The capitalists of Britain and France have mountains of money. Profit from capital invested in such an enterprise would be absolutely certain.

What, then, is holding the matter up?

Three interest groups seem to have good reason not to build a tunnel:

1. Britain is afraid of — invasion! A tunnel, you see, would, ‘if anything should happen’, facilitate the invasion of Britain by enemy troops. That is why the British military authorities have, not for the first time, wrecked the plan to build the tunnel.

2. Capitalism has brought about a situation in which the bourgeoisie, in order to hoodwink the workers, is compelled to frighten the British people with idiotic tales about ‘invasion’. Capitalism has brought about a situation in which a whole group of capitalists who stand to lose ‘good business’ through the digging of the tunnel are doing their utmost to wreck this plan and hold up technical progress.

3. The Britishers’ fear of the tunnel is fear of themselves. (Collected Works, vol. 19, pp. 388-9).

The conclusion: the proposed tunnel reveals the barbarism at the heart of ‘civilisation’, which is another way of talking about the dialectic of capitalism: immense enabling force, a huge leap forward, but then a massive brake on any further progress. In short: the best and worst of all possible worlds. His position? Build the fucking thing!

Does make you wonder what Lenin would think if he boarded the Eurostar today and belted through the chunnel – especially in light of his love of trains.


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