Re: [xmca] Right left and all around

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Thu Nov 22 2007 - 12:51:13 PST

  Zizek is the intellectual equivaent of a Viennese pastry: yummy but not very nutricious.
  As I was reading the article I kept wondering whether he would mention what's happening in Venezuela and south america generally which give the lie to everything he is saying and at the end he did but in a completely inadequate and clearly uninformed way.
  I have the advantage of being able to watch both Telesur (the Venezuelan state TV station) and Globovision (a private Venezuelan TV station) so I'm pretty well informed about what's going on there from both sides. Furthermore, 3 years ago I spent 3 weeks in Venezuela and was able to walk through the streets, talk to people and get a feeling for what was going on. I'm also in contact with people who travel there regularly as well as those who live there.
  Chavez is seriously pursuing two goals: the Bolviarian vision of a unified South and Central America and the creation of a socialist society in Venezuela. He is pursuing this through the provision of oil, the development of pipelines to Brazil and Cuba, as well as setting up telecommunications and financial institutions that function completely independently of the central countries of the globalized capitalist economy. Together with Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba firmly supporting this vision; Argentina and Ecuador support the development of a South American union that can break the historical subordination to US and European economic and political domination. Brazil (Lula being a wild card) and Chile are on the margins but not resisting. Colombia and Peru continue to suck on and welcome the IMF and World Bank penetration.
  Right and Left are categories within the system of capitalist politics. The real difference is socialism or capitalism. Zizek doesn't talk about this. He's become a super-star of bourgeois intellectuals and seems to have lost any connection, if he ever had one, with the world-historical pulse. I don't think he understands at all what's happening now in South America , without which understanding, he understands nothing.
  Fidel Castro kept burning a tiny ember of hope for the development of a humanist socialism for 10 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, against all odds and all the gusano Miami mafias, Chavez has taken that ember and started a bonfire. Zizek should stop playing punk rock and listen to some salsa or merengue instead, maybe visit a santeria priestess, or dance mambo naked beneath a Carribean moon.
  The only good thing about the US involvement in Iraq and Central Asia might be the space it has provided for the movement toward socialism in South and Central american countries. But the situation is growing very tense as the global capitalist elites begin to realize that what Chavez is doing is serious, that it does threaten their hegemony; and their opppostion, not just against Chavez but also Evo Morales, is increasing rapidly. . Colombia's president just terminated the Chavez mediation the FARC hostage issue and humanitarian intervention with wide spread international support -- surely under great pressure from the US who are most threatened by the growth of Chavez international stature. Similarly, the international capitalist media's (CNN, FOX, etc.) blow-up the event at the South American president's summit when the King of Spain, an anachronistic feudal parasite, told Chavez to shut up as the latter defended his denunciation of Aznar's participation in
 the attempted 2002 coup and called the former Spanish president a fascist, which is absolutely true insofar as he was a supporter of the fascist Franc..
  They're scared of Chavez and they should be, the same way vampires should be afraid of the rising sun. So when I read Zizek's question: "What should we say to someone like Chávez?" I just had to chuckle. What "we" is he talking about? Zizek is a bourgeois intellectual whose writings have absolutely no affect on the 2/3 of the world's population who suffer the effects of capitalist exploitation.. Chavez is one of nine children who grew up in a house with a dirt floor (I visited that house and talked to his grade school teachers) who has unified 24 political parties in Venezuela, something truly astonishing in Latin American politics; who has learned from the experiences of previous attempts to establish a socialist society, and who synthesized a coherent and strategic politics at both the national and the international level to create a space for the development of the dual vision I mentioned above.
  Left or right? Completely irrelevant. The question is: Socialism or Barbarism? Chavez, is showing that the hopes for socialism are not dead and that the "permanency" of the bourgeois capitalist state is in no way assured. Zizek should stop writing about this kind of stuff, he's starting to sound more and more like Oprah Winfrey.
Mike Cole <> wrote:
  Here is an interesting summary of the current situation with respect to
"left" and "right." I thought it worth reading.

LRB 15 November 2007
Resistance Is Surrender
Slavoj Zizek
One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is
indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points
of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after
being stabbed to death. Even Mao˙˙s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to
wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.
Today˙˙s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global
capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy. It might, for
example, accept the hegemony, but continue to fight for reform within its
rules (this is Third Way social democracy).
Or, it accepts that the hegemony is here to stay, but should nonetheless be
resisted from its ˙˙interstices˙˙.
Or, it accepts the futility of all struggle, since the hegemony is so
all-encompassing that nothing can really be done except wait for an outburst
of ˙˙divine violence˙˙ ˙˙ a revolutionary version of Heidegger˙˙s ˙˙only God
can save us.˙˙
Or, it recognises the temporary futility of the struggle. In today˙˙s
triumph of global capitalism, the argument goes, true resistance is not
possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global
working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state,
confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfil, and
otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the
work of criticism.
Or, it emphasises the fact that the problem is a more fundamental one, that
global capitalism is ultimately an effect of the underlying principles of
technology or ˙˙instrumental reason˙˙.
Or, it posits that one can undermine global capitalism and state power, not
by directly attacking them, but by refocusing the field of struggle on
everyday practices, where one can ˙˙build a new world˙˙; in this way, the
foundations of the power of capital and the state will be gradually
undermined, and, at some point, the state will collapse (the exemplar of
this approach is the Zapatista movement).
Or, it takes the ˙˙postmodern˙˙ route, shifting the accent from
anti-capitalist struggle to the multiple forms of politico-ideological
struggle for hegemony, emphasising the importance of discursive
Or, it wagers that one can repeat at the postmodern level the classical
Marxist gesture of enacting the ˙˙determinate negation˙˙ of capitalism: with
today˙˙s rise of ˙˙cognitive work˙˙, the contradiction between social
production and capitalist relations has become starker than ever, rendering
possible for the first time ˙˙absolute democracy˙˙ (this would be Hardt and
Negri˙˙s position).
These positions are not presented as a way of avoiding some ˙˙true˙˙ radical
Left politics ˙˙ what they are trying to get around is, indeed, the lack of
such a position. This defeat of the Left is not the whole story of the last
thirty years, however. There is another, no less surprising, lesson to be
learned from the Chinese Communists˙˙ presiding over arguably the most
explosive development of capitalism in history, and from the growth of West
European Third Way social democracy. It is, in short: we can do it better.
In the UK, the Thatcher revolution was, at the time, chaotic and impulsive,
marked by unpredictable contingencies. It was Tony Blair who was able to
institutionalise it, or, in Hegel˙˙s terms, to raise (what first appeared
as) a contingency, a historical accident, into a necessity. Thatcher wasn˙˙t
a Thatcherite, she was merely herself; it was Blair (more than Major) who
truly gave form to Thatcherism.
The response of some critics on the postmodern Left to this predicament is
to call for a new politics of resistance. Those who still insist on fighting
state power, let alone seizing it, are accused of remaining stuck within the
˙˙old paradigm˙˙: the task today, their critics say, is to resist state
power by withdrawing from its terrain and creating new spaces outside its
control. This is, of course, the obverse of accepting the triumph of
capitalism. The politics of resistance is nothing but the moralising
supplement to a Third Way Left.
Simon Critchley˙˙s recent book, Infinitely Demanding, is an almost perfect
embodiment of this position.[*] For Critchley, the liberal-democratic state
is here to stay. Attempts to abolish the state failed miserably;
consequently, the new politics has to be located at a distance from it:
anti-war movements, ecological organisations, groups protesting against
racist or sexist abuses, and other forms of local self-organisation. It must
be a politics of resistance to the state, of bombarding the state with
impossible demands, of denouncing the limitations of state mechanisms. The
main argument for conducting the politics of resistance at a distance from
the state hinges on the ethical dimension of the ˙˙infinitely demanding˙˙
call for justice: no state can heed this call, since its ultimate goal is
the ˙˙real-political˙˙ one of ensuring its own reproduction (its economic
growth, public safety, etc). ˙˙Of course,˙˙ Critchley writes,
history is habitually written by the people with the guns and sticks and one
cannot expect to defeat them with mocking satire and feather dusters. Yet,
as the history of ultra-leftist active nihilism eloquently shows, one is
lost the moment one picks up the guns and sticks. Anarchic political
resistance should not seek to mimic and mirror the archic violent
sovereignty it opposes.
So what should, say, the US Democrats do? Stop competing for state power and
withdraw to the interstices of the state, leaving state power to the
Republicans and start a campaign of anarchic resistance to it? And what
would Critchley do if he were facing an adversary like Hitler? Surely in
such a case one should ˙˙mimic and mirror the archic violent sovereignty˙˙
one opposes? Shouldn˙˙t the Left draw a distinction between the
circumstances in which one would resort to violence in confronting the
state, and those in which all one can and should do is use ˙˙mocking satire
and feather dusters˙˙? The ambiguity of Critchley˙˙s position resides in a
strange non sequitur: if the state is here to stay, if it is impossible to
abolish it (or capitalism), why retreat from it? Why not act with(in) the
state? Why not accept the basic premise of the Third Way? Why limit oneself
to a politics which, as Critchley puts it, ˙˙calls the state into question
and calls the established order to acc
ount, not in order to do away with the state, desirable though that might
well be in some utopian sense, but in order to better it or attenuate its
malicious effect˙˙?
These words simply demonstrate that today˙˙s liberal-democratic state and
the dream of an ˙˙infinitely demanding˙˙ anarchic politics exist in a
relationship of mutual parasitism: anarchic agents do the ethical thinking,
and the state does the work of running and regulating society. Critchley˙˙s
anarchic ethico-political agent acts like a superego, comfortably bombarding
the state with demands; and the more the state tries to satisfy these
demands, the more guilty it is seen to be. In compliance with this logic,
the anarchic agents focus their protest not on open dictatorships, but on
the hypocrisy of liberal democracies, who are accused of betraying their own
professed principles.
The big demonstrations in London and Washington against the US attack on
Iraq a few years ago offer an exemplary case of this strange symbiotic
relationship between power and resistance. Their paradoxical outcome was
that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls:
they made it clear that they don˙˙t agree with the government˙˙s policy on
Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did
the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq;
they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush˙˙s reaction to mass
demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ˙˙You see, this is
what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here ˙˙ protesting
against their government policy ˙˙ will be possible also in Iraq!˙˙
It is striking that the course on which Hugo Chávez has embarked since 2006
is the exact opposite of the one chosen by the postmodern Left: far from
resisting state power, he grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then
democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to
promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarising the barrios, and
organising the training of armed units there. And, the ultimate scare: now
that he is feeling the economic effects of capital˙˙s ˙˙resistance˙˙ to his
rule (temporary shortages of some goods in the state-subsidised
supermarkets), he has announced plans to consolidate the 24 parties that
support him into a single party. Even some of his allies are sceptical about
this move: will it come at the expense of the popular movements that have
given the Venezuelan revolution its élan? However, this choice, though
risky, should be fully endorsed: the task is to make the new party function
not as a typical state socialist (or Peronist)
party, but as a vehicle for the mobilisation of new forms of politics (like
the grass roots slum committees). What should we say to someone like Chávez?
˙˙No, do not grab state power, just withdraw, leave the state and the
current situation in place˙˙? Chávez is often dismissed as a clown ˙˙ but
wouldn˙˙t such a withdrawal just reduce him to a version of Subcomandante
Marcos, whom many Mexican leftists now refer to as ˙˙Subcomediante Marcos˙˙?
Today, it is the great capitalists ˙˙ Bill Gates, corporate polluters, fox
hunters ˙˙ who ˙˙resist˙˙ the state.
The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on
˙˙infinite˙˙ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know
that we know it, such an ˙˙infinitely demanding˙˙ attitude presents no
problem for those in power: ˙˙So wonderful that, with your critical demands,
you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in.
Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what
is possible.˙˙ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in
power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which
can˙˙t be met with the same excuse.
Verso, 168 pp., £17.99, May, 978 1 84467 121 2.
Slavoj ˙˙i˙˙ek is a dialectical-materialist philosopher and psychoanalyst.
He also co-directs the International Centre for Humanities at Birkbeck
College. The Parallax View appeared last year.
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Received on Thu Nov 22 12:53 PST 2007

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