Monday, November 14, 2016

Cooks, Presidents, and the Ghost of Lenin

(Photo: Youtube|PaulJacobK)

On 7 November, my home country (Belarus) had a public holiday to celebrate the 99th anniversary of the October revolution (yes, the one when communists took over).

A hundred years later, the talk of the (Western) town is the growing divide between the ordinary people and elites, distrust and anger towards “experts” and their “expertise”, outrage with (in)actions of governments, and hubris and complacency of the elites isolated from the daily concerns of the ordinary people.

The results of the US elections made the talk even louder.

The world of 2016 is different from the world of 1917 in many fundamental ways. But public holidays do what they are supposed to do: make one think about specific events and personalities and connect them to the present.

Lenin is not particularly in fashion today. And I definitely do not belong to the rather small league of his remaining supporters. On the 7-November day-off however, whether you want it or not, he looms over the subconsciousness. I wouldn’t want to have him as my governor. But understanding his philosophy might turn useful.

I didn’t revisit his – prolific – writings and philosophy on the day. But when I was observing yet another debate on the dethroning of knowledge and “experts” by ordinary people, one iconic quote was annoyingly stuck in my head:

Every cook can govern the state”.

In fact, this is a misquote. Lenin said something different. He said that he is not a utopian. He knows that cooks and unskilled workers are not currently capable of participating in governance. But government should not be the business only of the rich and privileged.

“Every cook should learn how to govern the state”, Lenin concludes. All workers must be trained in governance affairs to be able to understand and participate in them. For Lenin, training and education, in today’s jargon – expertise, are key for those who want to be a meaningful part of governance structures, be it the office of the President, local council, or a referendum.

What I see across the world today is that both “the rich” and “the workers” are fascinated with the governing part. But many of them forget the “should learn how to” element.

I have mixed feelings about the Lenin’s statue in the main square of my home town. But I agree with Lenin on that one.

Alena Kudzko
Deputy Research Director
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

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