Our Electric Illuminations. Theorizing the Contemporary
“Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of all the country,” proclaimed Lenin at a 1920 party conference. In the midst of civil war violence and chaos, he put forward a vision of a distant future, where political and electric power is fused—where “the Russian proletarian state holds all the strings of the large-scale industrial machine.”
Yet this technosocial imagery does not just energize, but serves to redo the Soviet concept of political power. It ceases to be just something one takes and holds (an understanding to which Michel Foucault was later to object) and becomes, like electric power, something one makes and gives. From the first stations that powered the villages of central Russia to the gigantic hydroelectric dams that came to epitomize Soviet-style development worldwide, this productive and emanating electric power had generated some of the most vivid idioms of political power that gives. It disrupts the darkness of history with a Promethean gift of light. It generates the figure of the revolutionary giver: “Lenin’s light,” a nickname for the electric lightbulb in the Russian peasant vernacular.
It multiplies this figure into a trinity of the worker, party, and leader, as in this gift from workers to the Twelfth Party Congress: “‘We are here to present our labor,’ spoke the head of the workers’ delegation, ‘that is, this lamp, so as to illuminate the Congress . . . to illuminate our dear Valdimir Illyitch [Lenin] . . . and let our lamp, made by our calloused hands, be a beacon to all. Long live the World Revolution!”