Re: [xmca] Right left and all around

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Thu Nov 22 2007 - 13:31:11 PST

Hi Paul--

Perhaps I should not have circulated that note to XMCA. I did not mean to
stir up another argument here over whether Chavez is a good guy or a bad guy
or on what side of history.
I did think that the general point that there appears to be no coherent
response to the contemporary ascendancy of post-Soviet capitalism and
arguments of what is accomplished by
different reactions to the situation (different "restistances") was thought

I was actually thinking of it personally in terms of the severe threat to
the idea of public education in California that I grew up with. The document
came to me from a colleague in Communication
who is sitting with me on a committee to look seriously at having to finance
projects we care about, including first class education, ourselves. As a
critical Communication Department that mucks
in current cultural practices, how do we deal with the globalized, hyper
capitalist lifeworld in a manner that would allow us to pursue actively our
theories of how to avert cataclysmic conflict?

I have zero professional competencies to try to answer that question in
general. Which is why it was probably a mistake to post it -- an invitation
to argue beyond the possibilities of finding a common ground on which to
address the problems. I hope our small projects and academic discussions in
this network will help us to act more intelligently both locally and
globally. The two are, after
all, a dialectic unity, are they not?

Of course, folks will take the conversation where they can|want.

On Nov 22, 2007 12:51 PM, Paul Dillon <> wrote:

> mike,
> 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.
> Paul
> Mike Cole <> wrote:
> Here is an interesting summary of the current situation with respect to
> "left" and "right." I thought it worth reading.
> mike
> --
> 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
> re-articulation.
> 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.
> Note
> 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.
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> ---------------------------------
> Get easy, one-click access to your favorites. Make Yahoo! your homepage.
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list
Received on Thu Nov 22 13:32 PST 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Dec 11 2007 - 10:18:41 PST