The diversity of the universal: On the dialectic of a totalising proletarian culture

Fredric Jameson used to argue for what may be called a dialectic of totalisation. In some cases, a universal master narrative actually fosters a diversity of voices, which in some way gain the possibility to speak. Jameson was countering the postmodern ban on master narratives, but I am interested in another dimension of this dialectic, which relates to Stalin. I am working on a detailed argument concerning Stalin and anti-colonialism, as a development from his extensive formulations of the ‘national question’ in the USSR. In the midst of my study, I came across this intriguing observation, in response to Kautsky’s argument for a universal proletarian language:

Until now what has happened has been that the socialist revolution has not diminished but rather increased the number of languages; for, by stirring up the lowest sections of humanity and pushing them on to the political arena, it awakens to new life a number of hitherto unknown or little-known nationalities. Who could have imagined that the old, tsarist Russia consisted of not less than fifty nations and national groups? The October Revolution, however, by breaking the old chains and bringing a number of forgotten peoples and nationalities on to the scene, gave them new life and a new development (Works volume 7, p. 141).

He goes on to weaken his insight a little, suggesting some mutual benefit between proletarian culture and local cultures. But he tries to get across the point that the process is dialectical, with each side, or, rather, many sides engaging in the process. More to the point, some forms of the universal, in this case the proletarian universal, actually enable diversity rather than stifling it. Of course, if you no longer buy into the universal in question and opt for another, such as when an enemy appears on the doorstep, then you fall outside the process.

Stalin and minorities 01a

Stalin and minorities 02a


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