Lenin Via Cavid: Towards a Communism of Other-Determination

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This essay reflects on postcolonial and recent Marxist scholarship by way of the work of the Azerbaijani playwright Hüseyn Cavid (1882–1941), who wrote some of the most untimely plays of the revolutionary period in the Caucasus. Thematizing revolutionary figures from the Islamic past, these works included among others the verse play Şeyx Sәnʿan (Sheik Senan), serialized between 1915 and 1916 and dramatizing the life of a legendary twelfth-century Sufi; a 1918 adaptation of Faust entitled İblis (The Devil); and a 1922 play entitled Peyğәmbәr (The Prophet) dramatizing the Prophet Muhammad's revelation and the spread of Islam. In a reading of Cavid in relation to V. I. Lenin's writings on the ‘East’, I argue that Cavid supplements Lenin, offering a kind of ‘revolutionary subject of the heart’ and an alternative to the Leninist revolutionary subject of self-determination generalized through the Caucasus in the early twentieth century. Where the Leninist imagination encountered its limit in grounding itself in the sovereign auto-generative subject of the European Enlightenment, I argue, and in positing a communist common as an amalgamation of autonomous discrete national units, Cavid's theatre, which I describe as ‘afformative’ (in Werner Hamacher's sense of that term, denoting an ‘event of forming, itself formless’), dramatized an irreducible other-determination, paving the way for another, unrealized heteronomous common and communism grounded in alterity. If the spectre of Soviet communism haunts our postcolonial, postcommunist present, I would suggest that this is precisely so that we might learn, from its heterogeneous, plurilingual legacy, how to imagine a new, unrealized communism grounded in alterity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)627-650
Number of pages24
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Anthropology


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