Class struggle is back as the main determining factor of our political life – even if the stakes appear to be totally different, from humanitarian crises to ecological threats, class struggle lurks in the background and casts its ominous shadow-Slavoj Zizek, "Alt-right Trump supporters and left-wing Bernie Sanders fans should join together to defeat capitalism"
Sometimes, the best way to appreciate a piece of news is to read it alongside another piece of news – only such a confrontation enables us to discern the true stakes of a debate.
Let’s take reactions to one incisive text: in the summer of 2017, David Wallace-Wells published the essay titled “Uninhabitable Earth” which immediately became a legend. It clearly and systematically describes all the threats to our survival, from global warming to the prospect of a billion climate refugees, and wars and chaos all this will cause.
Rather than focusing on the predictable reactions to this text (accusations of scaremongering and so on), one should read it together with two facts linked to the situation it describes.
First, there is, of course, Trump’s outright denial of ecological threats; then, there is the obscene fact that billionaires (and millionaires) who otherwise support Trump are nonetheless getting ready for the apocalypse by investing into luxury underground shelters where they will be able to survive isolated for up to a year, provided with fresh vegetables, fitness centres, and everything else you could possibly imagine.
Another example is a text by Bernie Sanders and a piece of news about him which just hit the press. Recently, Sanders wrote an incisive comment on the Republican budget where the title tells it all: “The Republican budget is a gift to billionaires: it’s Robin Hood in reverse.” The text is clearly written, full of convincing facts and insights – so why didn’t it find more echo?
We should read it alongside the media report about the outrage which exploded when Sanders was announced as an opening night speaker at the upcoming Women’s Convention in Detroit. Critics claimed it was bad to let Sanders, a man, speak at a convention devoted to the political advancement of women’s rights. No matter that he was to be just one of the two men among 60 speakers, with no transgender speakers (a fact that was apparently accepted as unproblematic.)
Lurking beneath this outrage was, of course, the reaction of the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party to Sanders: its uneasiness with Sanders’s leftist critique of today’s global capitalism. When Sanders emphasises economic problems, he is accused of “vulgar” class reductionism.
So should we conclude from all this that our task is to depose Trump as soon as possible? When Dan Quayle, not exactly famous for his high IQ, was Vice President to Bush Senior, a joke was running around according to which the FBI had a secret order what to do if Bush dies: to kill Quayle immediately.
Let’s hope the FBI has the that same order for Mike Pence in the case of Trump’s death or impeachment – Pence is, if anything, much worse than Trump, a true Christian conservative.
What makes the Trump movement minimally interesting is its inconsistencies – recall that Steve Bannon not only opposes Trump’s tax plan but openly advocates raising taxes for the rich up to 40 per cent, plus argues saving banks with public money as “socialism for the rich” – surely not something Pence likes to hear.
Steve Bannon recently declared war, but against whom? Not against Democrats from Wall Street, not against liberal intellectuals or any other usual suspects but against the Republican Party establishment itself. After Trump fired him from the White House, he is fighting for Trump’s mission at its purest, even if it is sometimes against Trump himself – let’s not forget that Trump is basically destroying the Republican Party.
Bannon aims to lead a populist revolt of underprivileged people against the elites – he is taking Trump’s message of a government by and for the people more literally than Trump himself dares to do. That’s why Bannon is worth his weight in gold: he is a permanent reminder of the antagonism that cuts across the Republican Party.
The first conclusion we are compelled to draw from this strange predicament is that class struggle is back as the main determining factor of our political life – a determining factor in the good old Marxist sense of “determination in the last instance”: even if the stakes appear to be totally different, from humanitarian crises to ecological threats, class struggle lurks in the background and casts its ominous shadow.
The second conclusion is that class struggle is less and less directly transposed into the struggle between political parties, and more and more a struggle which takes place within each big political party.
In the US, class struggle cuts across the Republican Party (the Party establishment versus Bannon-like populists) and across the Democratic Party (the Clinton wing versus the Sanders movement).
We should, of course, never forget that Bannon is the beacon of the alt-right while Clinton supports many progressive causes like fights against racism and sexism. However, at the same time we should never forget that the LGBT+ struggle can also be coopted by the mainstream liberalism against “class essentialism” of the left.
The third conclusion thus concerns the left’s strategy in this complex situation. While any pact between Sanders and Bannon is excluded for obvious reasons, a key element of the left’s strategy should be to ruthlessly exploit division in the enemy camp and fight for Bannon followers.
To cut a long story short, there is no victory of the left without the broad alliance of all anti-establishment forces. One should never forget that our true enemy is the global capitalist establishment and not the new populist right which is merely a reaction to its impasses.
And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Sunday, November 26, 2017
It's Time to Organize the 2nd Stage of the Trump Revolution!
The Russian Revolution was a pair of revolutions in Russia in 1917 which dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the rise of the Soviet Union. The Russian Empire collapsed with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II and the old regime was replaced by a provisional government during the first revolution of February 1917 (March in the Gregorian calendar; the older Julian calendar was in use in Russia at the time). Alongside it arose grassroots community assemblies (called 'soviets') which contended for authority. In the second revolution that October, the Provisional Government was toppled and all power was given to the soviets.
The February Revolution (March 1917) was a revolution focused around Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), the capital of Russia at that time. In the chaos, members of the Imperial parliament (the Duma) assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government which was heavily dominated by the interests of large capitalists and the noble aristocracy. The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution, resulting in Nicholas's abdication. The soviets, which were dominated by soldiers and the urban industrial working class, initially permitted the Provisional Government to rule, but insisted on a prerogative to influence the government and control various militias. The February Revolution took place in the context of heavy military setbacks during the First World War (1914–18), which left much of the Russian Army in a state of mutiny.
A period of dual power ensued, during which the Provisional Government held state power while the national network of soviets, led by socialists, had the allegiance of the lower classes and, increasingly, the left-leaning urban middle class. During this chaotic period there were frequent mutinies, protests and many strikes. Many socialist political organizations were engaged in daily struggle and vied for influence within the Duma and the soviets, central among which were the Bolsheviks ("Ones of the Majority") led by Vladimir Lenin who campaigned for an immediate end to the war, land to the peasants, and bread to the workers. When the Provisional Government chose to continue fighting the war with Germany, the Bolsheviks and other socialist factions were able to exploit virtually universal disdain towards the war effort as justification to advance the revolution further. The Bolsheviks turned workers' militias under their control into the Red Guards (later the Red Army) over which they exerted substantial control.
In the October Revolution (November in the Gregorian calendar), the Bolsheviks led an armed insurrection by workers and soldiers in Petrograd that successfully overthrew the Provisional Government, transferring all its authority to the soviets with the capital being relocated to Moscow shortly thereafter. The Bolsheviks had secured a strong base of support within the soviets and, as the now supreme governing party, established a federal government dedicated to reorganizing the former empire into the world's first socialist republic, practicing soviet democracy on a national and international scale. The promise to end Russia’s participation in the First World War was honored promptly with the Bolshevik leaders signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918. To further secure the new state, the Cheka was established which functioned as a revolutionary security service that sought to weed out and punish those considered to be "enemies of the people" in campaigns consciously modeled on similar events during the French Revolution.
Soon after, civil war erupted among the "Reds" (Bolsheviks), the "Whites" (counter-revolutionaries), the independence movements and the non-Bolshevik socialists. It continued for several years, during which the Bolsheviks defeated both the Whites and all rival socialists and thereafter reconstituted themselves as the Communist Party. In this way, the Revolution paved the way for the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and Petrograd, there was also a visible movement in cities throughout the state, among national minorities throughout the empire and in the rural areas, where peasants took over and redistributed land.
Saturday, November 25, 2017
A View from 2002
If there is a consensus among (whatever remains of) today’s radical left, it is that, in order to resuscitate the radical political project, one should leave behind the Leninist legacy: the ruthless focusing on the class struggle, the party as the privileged form of organisation, the violent revolutionary seizure of power, the ensuing ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ ... are all these not ‘zombie-concepts’ to be abandoned if the left is to have any chance in the conditions of ‘post-industrial’ late capitalism?-Slavoj Žižek, "A Cyberspace Lenin: Why Not?"
The problem with this apparently convincing argument is that it endorses all too easily the inherited image of Lenin the wise revolutionary leader who, after formulating the basic co-ordinates of his thought and practice in What Is to Be Done?, just consistently and ruthlessly pursued them. What if there is another story about Lenin to be told? It is true that today’s left is undergoing a shattering experience of the end of an entire epoch of the progressive movement, the experience of which compels it to reinvent the very basic co-ordinates of its project – however, an exactly homologous experience was what gave birth to Leninism. Recall Lenin’s shock when, in the autumn of 1914, all European Social Democratic parties (with the honourable exception of the Russian Bolsheviks and the Serb Social Democrats) adopted the ‘patriotic line’ – Lenin even thought that the issue of Vorwärts, the daily newspaper of German Social Democracy, which reported how Social Democrats in the Reichstag had voted for the war credits, was a forgery of the Russian secret police designed to deceive the Russian workers. In that era of military conflict that cut the European continent in half, how difficult it was to reject the notion that one should take sides in this conflict, and to fight against the ‘patriotic fervour’ in one’s own country! How many great minds (including Freud) succumbed to the nationalist temptation, even if only for a couple of weeks! This shock of 1914 was – to put it in Alain Badiou’s terms – a désastre, a catastrophe in which an entire world disappeared: not only the idyllic bourgeois faith in progress, but also the socialist movement which accompanied it. Lenin himself (the Lenin of What Is to Be Done?) lost the ground under his feet – there is, in his desperate reaction, no satisfaction, no ‘I told you so!’ This moment of Verzweiflung, this catastrophe, opened up the site for the Leninist event, for breaking the evolutionary historicism of the Second International – and only Lenin was at the level of this opening, the one to articulate the truth of the catastrophe. This is the Lenin from which we still have something to learn. The greatness of Lenin was that, in this catastrophic situation, he wasn’t afraid to succeed – in contrast to the negative pathos discernible from Rosa Luxemburg to Adorno, for whom the ultimate authentic act is the admission of failure which brings the truth to light. In 1917, instead of waiting for the right moment of maturity, Lenin organised a pre-emptive strike. In 1920, as the leader of the party of the working class with no working class (most of it having been killed in the civil war), he went on organising a state, fully accepting the paradox of the party which has to organise, recreate even, its own base, its working class.
Nowhere is this greatness more palpable than in Lenin’s writings which cover the time span from February 1917, when the first revolution abolished Tsarism and installed a democratic regime, to the second revolution in October. In February, Lenin was a half-anonymous political émigré, stranded in Zurich, with no reliable contacts in Russia, mostly learning about events from the Swiss press. In October he led the first successful socialist revolution – so what happened in between? In February, Lenin immediately perceived the revolutionary chance, the result of unique contingent circumstances – if the moment was not seized, the chance for the revolution would be forfeited, perhaps for decades. In his stubborn insistence that one should take the risk and pass to the next stage, i.e. repeat the revolution, Lenin was alone, ridiculed by the majority of the central committee members of his own party, and the reading of Lenin’s texts from 1917 provides a unique glimpse into the obstinate, patient and often frustrating, revolutionary work through which Lenin imposed his vision. However, indispensable as Lenin’s personal intervention was, one should not modify the story of the October Revolution into that of the lone genius confronted with the disoriented masses and gradually imposing his vision. Lenin succeeded because his appeal, while bypassing the party nomenklatura, found an echo in what one is tempted to call revolutionary micropolitics: the incredible explosion of grassroots democracy, of local committees sprouting up all around Russia’s big cities and, while ignoring the authority of the ‘legitimate’ government, taking things into their hands. This is the untold story of the October Revolution.
The first thing to strike the eye of today’s reader is how directly readable Lenin’s texts from 1917 are. There is no need for long explanatory notes – even if the strange-sounding names are unknown to us, we immediately get what was at stake. From today’s distance the texts display an almost classical clarity of the contours of the struggle in which they participate. Lenin is fully aware of the paradox of the situation: in the spring of 1917, after the February Revolution which toppled the Tsarist regime, Russia was the most democratic country in the whole of Europe, with an unprecedented degree of mass mobilisation, freedom of organisation and freedom of the press – and yet this freedom rendered the situation non-transparent, thoroughly ambiguous. If there is a common thread that runs through all Lenin’s texts written ‘in between the two revolutions’ (the February one and the October one), it is his insistence on the gap which separates the ‘explicit’ formal contours of the political struggle between the multitude of parties and other political subjects from its actual social stakes (immediate peace, the distribution of land, and, of course, ‘all power to the soviets’, i.e. the dismantling of the existing state apparatus and its replacement with the new commune-like forms of social management).
This gap – the repetition of the gap between 1789 and 1793 in the French Revolution – is the very space of Lenin’s unique intervention: the fundamental lesson of revolutionary materialism is that revolution must strike twice, and for essential reasons. The gap is not simply the gap between form and content. What the ‘first revolution’ misses is not the content, but the form itself – it remains stuck in the old form, thinking that freedom and justice can be accomplished if we simply put to use the already existing state apparatus and its democratic mechanisms. What if the ‘good’ party wins the free elections and ‘legally’ implements socialist transformation? (The clearest expression of this illusion, bordering on the ridiculous, is Karl Kautsky’s thesis, formulated in the 1920s, that the logical political form of the first stage of socialism, of the passage from capitalism to socialism, is the parliamentary coalition of bourgeois and proletarian parties.) The parallel here is perfect with the era of early modernity, in which the opposition to the church’s ideological hegemony first articulated itself in the very form of another religious ideology, as a heresy. Along the same lines, the partisans of the ‘first revolution’ want to subvert the capitalist domination within the very political form of capitalist democracy. This is the Hegelian ‘negation of the negation’: first the old order is negated within its own ideologico-political form; then this form itself has to be negated. Those who oscillate, those who are afraid to make the second step of overcoming this form itself, are those who (to repeat Robespierre) want a ‘revolution without revolution’ – and Lenin displays all the strength of his ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ in discerning the different forms of this retreat.
In his writings of 1917 Lenin saves his utmost acerbic irony for those who engage in the endless search for some kind of ‘guarantee’ for the revolution. This guarantee assumes two main forms: either the reified notion of social necessity (one should not risk the revolution too early; one has to wait for the right moment, when the situation is ‘mature’ with regard to the laws of historical development: ‘it is too early for the socialist revolution – the working class is not yet mature’) or the normative (‘democratic’) legitimacy (‘the majority of the population is not on our side, so the revolution would not really be democratic’) – as Lenin repeatedly puts, as if, before the revolutionary agent risks the seizure of state power, it should get permission from some figure of the big Other (organise a referendum which will ascertain that the majority supports the revolution). With Lenin, as with Lacan, the point is that the revolution can only be authorised by itself: one should assume the revolutionary act is not covered by the big Other – the fear of taking power ‘prematurely’, the search for a guarantee, is the fear of the abyss of the act. Therein resides the ultimate dimension of what Lenin incessantly denounces as ‘opportunism’, and his wager is that ‘opportunism’ is a position which is in itself inherently false, masking fear to accomplish the act with the protective screen of ‘objective’ facts, laws or norms.
Lenin’s answer is not the reference to a different set of ‘objective facts’, but the repetition of the argument made a decade before by Rosa Luxemburg against Kautsky: those who wait for the objective conditions of the revolution to arrive will wait forever – such a position of the objective observer (and not of an engaged agent) is itself the main obstacle to the revolution. Lenin’s counter-argument against the formal-democratic critics of the second step is that this ‘pure democratic’ option itself is utopian: in the concrete Russian circumstances, the bourgeois-democratic state has no chances of surviving – the only ‘realistic’ way to protect the true gains of the February Revolution (freedom of organisation and the press, etc) is to move forward to the socialist revolution – otherwise the Tsarist reaction will win.
We have here two models, two incompatible logics, of the revolution: those who wait for the ripe teleological moment of the final crisis when revolution will explode ‘at its own proper time’ by the necessity of historical evolution; and those who are aware that revolution has no ‘proper time’, those who perceive the revolutionary chance as something that emerges and has to be seized in the very detours of ‘normal’ historical development. Lenin is not a voluntarist ‘subjectivist’ – what he insists on is that the exception (the extraordinary set of circumstances, like those in Russia in 1917) offers a way to undermine the norm itself. And is this line of argument, this fundamental stance, not more actual today than ever? Do we not also live in an era when the state and its apparatus, inclusive of its political agents, are simply less and less able to articulate the key issues (ecology, degrading healthcare, poverty, the role of multinational companies, etc.)? The only logical conclusion is that a new form of politicisation is urgent, which will directly ‘socialise’ these crucial issues. The illusion of 1917 that the pressing problems which faced Russia (peace, land distribution, etc.) could have been solved through ‘legal’ parliamentary means is the same as today’s illusion that, say, the ecological threat could be avoided by way of expanding the market logic to ecology (making the polluters pay the price for the damage they cause). However, how relevant are Lenin’s specific insights here? According to orthodox thinking, Lenin’s declining faith in the creative capacities of the masses in the years after the October Revolution led him to emphasise the role of science and the scientists, to rely on the authority of the expert. He hailed ‘the beginning of that very happy time when politics will recede into the background ... and engineers and agronomists will do most of the talking’.  Technocratic post-politics? Lenin’s ideas about how the road to socialism runs through the terrain of monopoly capitalism may appear dangerously naive today:Capitalism has created an accounting apparatus in the shape of the banks, syndicates, postal service, consumers’ societies, and office employees’ unions. Without big banks socialism would be impossible ... our task is here merely to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive ... This will be country-wide book-keeping, country-wide accounting of the production and distribution of goods; this will be, so to speak, something in the nature of the skeleton of socialist society. Are things really so unambiguous, however? What if one replaces the (obviously dated) example of the central bank with the world wide web, today’s perfect candidate for the General Intellect? Dorothy Sayers claimed that Aristotle’s Poetics is effectively the theory of detective novels before they were written – since the poor Aristotle didn’t yet know of the detective novel, he had to refer to the only examples at his disposal, the tragedies ... Along the same lines, Lenin was effectively developing the theory of the role of the world wide web, but, since the web was unknown to him, he had to refer to the unfortunate central banks. Consequently, can one also say that ‘without the world wide web socialism would be impossible ... our task here is merely to lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus, to make it even bigger, even more democratic, even more comprehensive’? In these conditions, one is tempted to resuscitate the old, opprobrious and half forgotten Marxian dialectics of the productive forces and the relations of production. It is already commonplace to claim that, ironically, it was these very dialectics which buried ‘really existing socialism’: socialism was not able to sustain the passage from industrial to post-industrial economy. One of the tragi-comic victims of the disintegration of socialism in ex-Yugoslavia was an old Communist apparatchik interviewed by Ljubljana student radio in 1988. Communists knew they were losing power, so they desperately tried to please everyone. When this old cadre was asked provocative questions about his sex life by the student reporters, he also desperately tried to prove that he was in touch with the young generation. Since, however, the only language he knew was wooden bureaucratese, the result was an uncanny obscene mixture – statements like, ‘Sexuality is an important component of my daily activity. Touching my wife between her thighs gives me great new incentives for my work of building socialism.’ And when one reads East German official documents from the 1970s and early 1980s, formulating their project of turning the GDR into a kind of Silicon Valley of the Eastern European Socialist bloc, one cannot avoid the impression of the same tragi-comic gap between form and content. While they were fully aware that digitalisation was the way of the future, they approached it in the terms of the old socialist logic of industrial central planning – their very words betrayed the fact that they were not getting what is effectively going on, the social consequences of digitalisation. However, does capitalism really provide the ‘natural’ frame of the relations of production for the digital universe? Is there not also an explosive potential for capitalism itself in the world wide web? Is not the lesson of the Microsoft monopoly precisely the Leninist one: instead of fighting its monopoly through the state apparatus (recall the court-ordered split of the Microsoft corporation), would it not be more ‘logical’ just to socialise it, rendering it freely accessible? Today one is thus tempted to paraphrase Lenin’s well-known motto, ‘Socialism = electrification + the power of the soviets’: ‘Socialism = free access to internet + the power of the soviets.’
Is this not the most radical expression of Marx’s notion of the general intellect regulating all social life in a transparent way, of the post-political world in which ‘administration of people’ is supplanted by ‘administration of things’? It is, of course, easy to play against this quote the tune of the ‘critique of instrumental reason’ and ‘administered world [verwaltete Welt]’. The ‘totalitarian’ potential is inscribed in this very form of total social control. It is easy to remark sarcastically how, in the Stalinist epoch, the apparatus of social administration effectively became ‘even bigger’. Furthermore, is this post-political vision not the very opposite of the Maoist notion of the eternity of the class struggle (‘everything is political’)?
In this context, the myth to be debunked is that of the diminishing role of the state. What we are witnessing today is the shift in its functions: while partially withdrawing from its welfare functions, the state is strengthening its apparatus in other domains of social regulation. In order to start a business now one has to rely on the state to guarantee not only law and order, but the entire infrastructure (access to water and energy, means of transportation, ecological criteria, international regulations, etc.), to an incomparably larger extent than 100 years ago. Last year’s electricity supply debacle in California makes this point palpable: for a couple of weeks in January and February 2001 the privatisation (‘deregulation’) of the electricity supply changed Southern California, one of the most highly developed ‘post-industrial’ landscapes in the entire world, into a Third World country with regular blackouts. Of course, the defenders of deregulation claimed that it was not thorough enough, thereby engaging in the old false syllogism of, ‘My fiancée is never late for the appointment, because the moment she is late, she is no longer my fiancée’: deregulation by definition works, so if it doesn’t work, it wasn’t truly deregulation ... Does the recent mad cow disease panic (which probably presages dozens of similar phenomena which await us in the near future) also not point towards the need for a strict state and global institutionalised control of agriculture?
So what about the basic reproach according to which Lenin is irrelevant for us today because he remained stuck within the horizon of industrial mass production (recall his celebration of Fordism)? How does the passage from factory production to ‘post-industrial’ production change these co-ordinates? How are we to situate not only the Third World manual labour sweatshops, but the digital sweatshops, like the one in Bangalore in which tens of thousands of Indians are programming software for Western corporations? Is it adequate to designate these Indians as the ‘intellectual proletariat’? Will they be the final revenge of the Third World? What are the consequences of the (for the conservative Germans, at least) unsettling fact that, after decades of importing hundreds of thousands of manual immigrant workers, Germany has now discovered that it needs at least tens of thousands of intellectual immigrant workers, mostly computer programmers? The disabling alternative of today’s Marxism is, what to do apropos of this growing importance of ‘immaterial production’ today (cyber-workers)? Do we insist that only those involved in ‘real’ material production are the working class, or do we accomplish the fateful step of accepting that the ‘symbolic workers’ are the (true) proletarians today? One should resist this step, because it obfuscates the division between immaterial and material production, the split in the working class between (as a rule geographically separated) cyber-workers and material workers (programmers in the US or India, the sweatshops in China or Indonesia).
Perhaps it is the figure of the unemployed who stands for the pure proletarian today: the unemployed’s substantial determination remains that of a worker, but they are prevented from actualising it or from renouncing it, so they remain suspended in the potentiality of workers who cannot work. Perhaps we are today in a sense ‘all jobless’ – jobs tend to be more and more based on short term contracts, so that the jobless state is the rule, the zero level, and the temporary job the exception. This, then, should also be the answer to the advocates of ‘post-industrial society’ whose message to workers is that their time is over, that their very existence is obsolete, and that all they can count on is purely humanitarian compassion – there is less and less place for workers in the universe of today’s capital, and one should draw the only consistent conclusion from this fact. If today’s ‘post-industrial’ society needs fewer and fewer workers to reproduce itself (20 percent of the workforce, on some accounts), then it is not workers who are in excess, but capital itself.
The key antagonism of the so called new (digital) industries is thus: how to maintain the form of (private) property, within which only the logic of profit can be maintained (see also the Napster problem, the free circulation of music)? And do the legal complications in biogenetics not point in the same direction? The key element of the new international trade agreements is the ‘protection of intellectual property’ – whenever, in a merger, a big Western company takes over a Third World company, the first thing they do is close down the research department. Phenomena emerge here which involve the notion of property in extraordinary dialectical paradoxes: in India, local communities suddenly discover that medical practices and materials they have been using for centuries are now owned by American companies, so they should be bought from them; with the biogenetic companies patenting genes, we are all discovering that parts of ourselves, our genetic components, are already copyrighted, owned by others.
However, the outcome of this crisis of private property of the means of production is by no means guaranteed – it is here that one should take into account the ultimate paradox of Stalinist society. Against the capitalism which is the class society, but in principle egalitarian, without direct hierarchical divisions, ‘mature’ Stalinism is a classless society articulated in precisely defined hierarchical groups (top nomenklatura, technical workers, army, etc.). What this means is that, already for Stalinism, the classic Marxist notion of the class struggle is no longer adequate to describe its hierarchy and domination – in the Soviet Union from the late 1920s onwards the key social division was not defined by property, but by direct access to power mechanisms and to privileged material and cultural conditions of life (food, accommodation, healthcare, freedom of travel, education). And perhaps the ultimate irony of history will be that, in the same way, Lenin’s vision of ‘central bank socialism’ can be properly read only retroactively, from today’s world wide web. The Soviet Union provided the first model of the developed ‘post-property’ society, of the true ‘late capitalism’ in which the ruling class will be defined by direct access to the (informational, administrative) means of social power and control and to other material and social privileges: the point will no longer be to own companies, but directly to run them, to have the right to use a private jet, to have access to top healthcare, etc. – privileges which will be acquired not by property, but by other mechanisms (educational, managerial, etc.).
This, then, is the forthcoming crisis which will offer the perspective of a new emancipatory struggle, of the thorough reinvention of the political – not the old Marxist choice between private property and its socialisation, but the choice between the hierarchical and egalitarian post-property society. Here the old Marxist thesis on how bourgeois freedom and equality are based on private property and market conditions acquires an unexpected twist: what market relations enable are (at least) ‘formal’ freedom and ‘legal’ equality – since social hierarchy can be sustained through property, there is no need for its direct political assertion. If, then, the role of private property is diminishing, the danger is that this gradual vanishing will create the need for some new (racist or expert-rule) form of hierarchy, directly founded on individuals’ properties, and thus cancelling even ‘formal’ bourgeois equality and freedom. In short, in so far as the determining factor of social power will be the inclusion/exclusion from the privileged set (of access to knowledge, control, etc.), we can expect the rise of the different modes of exclusion, up to direct racism. The first clear sign which points in this direction is the new alliance between politics (government) and natural sciences. In the newly emerging biopolitics, the government is instigating ‘embryo industry’, the control over our genetic legacy outside democratic control, justified by an offer no one can refuse: ‘Don’t you want to be cured of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s ...?’ However, while politicians are making such ‘scientific’ promises, scientists themselves remain deeply sceptical, often emphasising the need for decisions reached through a large social consensus.
The ultimate problem of genetic engineering does not reside in its unpredictable consequences (what if we create monsters – say, humans with no sense of moral responsibility?), but in the way biogenetic engineering fundamentally affects our notion of education: instead of educating a child to be a good musician, will it be possible to manipulate his genes so that he will be ‘spontaneously’ inclined towards music? Instead of instilling in him a sense of discipline, will it be possible to manipulate his genes so that he will ‘spontaneously’ tend to obey orders? The situation is here radically open – if two classes of people will gradually emerge, the ‘naturally born’ ones and the genetically manipulated ones, it is not even clear in advance which class will occupy the higher level in social hierarchy. Will the ‘naturals’ consider the manipulated ones as mere tools, not truly free beings, or will the much more perfect manipulated ones consider ‘naturals’ as belonging to a lower level of evolution?
The forthcoming struggle thus has no guaranteed outcome – it will confront us with an unheard-of urgency to act, since it will concern not only a new mode of production, but a radical rupture in what it means to be a human being. Today we can already discern the signs of a kind of general unease – recall the series of events usually listed under the name of ‘Seattle’. The ten-year honeymoon of triumphant global capitalism is over, the long overdue ‘seven year itch’ is here – witness the panicky reactions of the big media, which, from Time magazine to CNN, all of a sudden started to warn about Marxists manipulating the crowd of ‘honest’ protesters. The problem is now the strictly Leninist one – how to actualise the media’s accusations, how to invent the organisational structure which will confer on this unrest the form of the universal political demand. Otherwise the momentum will be lost, and what will remain is marginal disturbance, perhaps organised as a new Greenpeace, with a certain efficiency, but also strictly limited goals, marketing strategy, etc. In other words, the key ‘Leninist’ lesson today is that politics without the organisational form of the party is politics without politics, so the answer to those who want just the (quite adequately named) ‘new social movements’ is the same as the answer of the Jacobins to the Girondin compromisers: ‘You want revolution without a revolution!’ Today’s obstacle is that there seem to be only two ways open for socio-political engagement: either play the game of the system, engage in the ‘long march through the institutions’, or get active in new social movements, from feminism through ecology to anti-racism. And again the limit of these movements is that they are not political in the sense of the Universal Singular; they are ‘single-issue movements’ which lack the dimension of universality, ie they do not relate to the social totality.
The promise of the ‘Seattle’ movement resides in the fact that it is the very opposite of its usual media designation (the ‘anti-globalisation protest’); it is the first kernel of a new global movement, global with regard to its content (it aims at a global confrontation with today’s capitalism) as well as to its form (it is a global movement, involving a mobile international network, able to react from Seattle to Prague). It is more global than ‘global capitalism’, since it brings into the game its victims, i.e. those excluded by capitalist globalisation. Perhaps one should take the risk and apply Hegel’s old distinction between ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ universality here: the capitalist globalisation is ‘abstract’, focused on the speculative movement of capital, while the ‘Seattle’ movement stands for ‘concrete universality’, i.e. for the totality of global capitalism and its excluded dark side.
Here Lenin’s reproach to liberals is crucial: they only exploit the working classes’ discontent to strengthen their position vis-à-vis the conservatives, instead of identifying with it to the end.  Is this not also the case with today’s left liberals? They like to evoke racism, ecology, workers’ grievances, etc., to score points over the conservatives without endangering the system. Recall how, in Seattle, Bill Clinton himself deftly referred to the protesters on the streets outside, reminding the gathered leaders inside the guarded palaces that they should listen to the message of the demonstrators (the message which, of course, Clinton interpreted, depriving it of its subversive sting attributed to the dangerous extremists introducing chaos and violence into the majority of peaceful protesters). This Clintonesque stance later developed into an elaborated ‘carrot and stick’ strategy of containment: on the one hand, paranoia (the notion that there is a dark Marxist plot lurking behind); on the other hand, in Genoa, none other than Berlusconi provided food and shelter to the anti-globalisation demonstrators – on condition that they ‘behaved properly’ and didn’t disturb the official event. It’s the same with all new social movements, up to the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Systemic politics is always ready to ‘listen to their demands’, depriving them of their proper political sting. The true ‘third way’ we have to look for is this third way between institutionalised parliamentary politics and the new social movements.
As a sign of this emerging uneasiness and need for a true third way, it is interesting to see how, in a recent interview, even a conservative liberal like John le Carré had to admit that, as a consequence of the ‘love affair between Thatcher and Reagan’, in most of the developed Western countries and especially in the United Kingdom ‘the social infrastructure has practically stopped working’, which then leads him to make a direct plea for, at least, ‘renationalising the railways and water’.  We are effectively approaching a state in which (selective) private affluence is accompanied by the global (ecological, infrastructural) degradation which will soon start to affect us all: the quality of water is a problem not only in the UK – a recent survey showed that the entire basin out of which the Los Angeles area draws its water is already so affected by man-made toxic chemicals that it will soon be impossible to render it drinkable, even through the use of the most advanced filters. Le Carré formulated his fury at Blair for accepting the Thatcherite basic co-ordinates in very precise terms: ‘I thought last time, in 1997, that he was lying when he denied he was a socialist. The worst thing I can say about him is that he was telling the truth’.  More precisely, even if, in 1997, Blair was ‘subjectively’ lying, even if his secret agenda was to save whatever is possible of the socialist agenda, he was ‘objectively’ telling the truth: his (eventual) subjective socialist conviction was a self deception, an illusion which enabled him to fulfil his ‘objective’ role, that of finishing the Thatcherite ‘revolution’.
The ultimate answer to the reproach that the radical left’s proposals are utopian should thus be that today the true utopia is the belief that the present liberal-democratic capitalist consensus could go on indefinitely, without radical changes. We are thus back at the old 1968 motto ‘Soyons réalistes, demandons l’impossible!’ (‘Be realistic – demand the impossible!’): in order to be truly a ‘realist’, one must consider breaking out of the constraints of what appears ‘possible’ (or, as we usually term it, ‘feasible’). If there is a lesson to be learned from Silvio Berlusconi’s electoral victory in May 2001, it is that the true utopians are the Third Way leftists – why? The main temptation to be avoided apropos Berlusconi’s victory in Italy is to use it as a pretext for yet another exercise in the tradition of the conservative-leftist Kulturkritik (from Adorno to Virilio), which bemoans the stupidity of the manipulated masses, and the eclipse of the autonomous individual capable of critical reflection. This, however, does not mean that the consequences of this victory are to be underestimated. Hegel said that all historical events have to happen twice: Napoleon had to lose twice, etc. And it seems that Berlusconi also had to win the election twice for us to become aware of the full consequences of this event.
So what did Berlusconi achieve? His victory provides a sad lesson about the role of morality in politics: the ultimate outcome of the great moral-political catharsis – the anti-corruption campaign of ‘clean hands’ which, a decade ago, ruined Christian Democracy and with it the ideological polarity of Christian Democrats and Communists which dominated post-war Italian politics – is Berlusconi in power. It is something like Rupert Murdoch winning the British elections – a political movement run as a business-publicity enterprise. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is no longer a political party, but – as its name indicates – rather a sports fan club. If, in the good old Socialist countries, sport was directly politicised (recall the enormous investments that the GDR put into its top athletes), now politics itself is turned into a sports contest. And the parallel goes even further: if the Communist regimes were nationalising the industry, Berlusconi is in a way privatising the state itself. For this reason, all the worry of the leftists and liberal democrats about the danger of neo-fascism lurking beneath Berlusconi’s victory is misplaced and in a way much too optimistic: fascism is still a determinate political project, while, in the case of Berlusconi, there is ultimately nothing lurking beneath, no secret ideological project, just the sheer assurance that things will function, that we shall do it better. In short, Berlusconi is post-politics at its purest. The ultimate sign of ‘post-politics’ in all Western countries is the growth of a managerial approach to government. Government is reconceived as a managerial function, deprived of its properly political dimension.
The true stake of today’s political struggles is, which of the old two main parties, conservatives or the ‘moderate left’, will succeed in presenting itself as truly embodying the post-ideological spirit, against the other party dismissed as ‘still caught in the old ideological spectres’? If the 1980s belonged to the conservatives, the lesson of the 1990s seemed to be that, in our late capitalist societies, Third Way social democracy (or, even more pointedly, post-Communists in the ex-Socialist countries) effectively functions as the representative of capital as such, in general, against its particular factions represented by the different ‘conservative’ parties which, in order to present themselves as addressing the entire population, also try to satisfy the particular demands of the anti-capitalist strata (say, of the domestic ‘patriotic’ middle class workers threatened by the cheap labour of immigrants. Recall the CDU, which, against the Social Democratic proposal that Germany should import 50,000 Indian computer programmers, launched the infamous motto ‘Kinder statt Inder!’ – ‘Children instead of Indians!’) This economic constellation explains to a good degree how and why the Third Way social democrats can simultaneously stand for the interests of big capital and for multiculturalist tolerance which aims at protecting the interests of the foreign minorities.
The Third Way dream of the left was that the pact with the devil may work out: okay, no revolution, we accept capitalism as the only game in town, but at least we will be able to save some of the achievements of the welfare state, plus build a society tolerant towards sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities. If the trend announced by Berlusconi’s victory persists, a much darker prospect is discernible on the horizon: a world in which the unlimited rule of capital is not supplemented by left-liberal tolerance, but by the typical post-political mixture of pure publicity-seeking spectacle and Moral Majority concerns (remember that the Vatican gave its tacit support to Berlusconi). If there is a hidden ideological agenda of Berlusconi’s ‘post-politics’, it is, to put it bluntly, the disintegration of the fundamental post Second World War democratic pact. In recent years, there were already numerous signs of the post Second World War anti-fascist pact slowly cracking – from ‘revisionist’ historians to the New Right populists, so called ‘taboos’ are falling down. Paradoxically, those who undermine this pact refer to the very liberal universalised logic of victimisation: sure, there were victims of fascism, but what about other victims of the post Second World War expulsions? What about the Germans evicted from their homes in Czechoslovakia? Do they not also have some right to (financial) compensation?
The immediate future does not belong to outright rightist provocateurs like Le Pen or Pat Buchanan, but to people like Berlusconi and Haider, these advocates of global capital in the wolves’ clothes of populist nationalism. The struggle between them and the Third Way left is the struggle about who will be more effective in counteracting the excesses of global capitalism – Third Way multiculturalist tolerance or populist homophobia. Will this boring alternative be Europe’s answer to globalisation? Berlusconi is thus post-politics at its worst; even The Economist, the staunch voice of anti-left liberalism, was accused by Berlusconi of being part of a ‘communist plot’, when it asked some critical questions about how a person convicted of crimes could become the prime minister! What this means is that, for Berlusconi, all opposition to his post-politics is rooted in a ‘communist plot’. And in a way he is right – this is the only true opposition. All others – liberals or Third Way leftists – are basically playing the same game as him, only with different coating. And the hope must be that Berlusconi will also be right with regard to the second aspect of his paranoiac cognitive mapping – that his victory will give an impetus to the real radical left.
NotesAs published on marxists.org ( https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj2/2002/isj2-095/zizek.htm )
1. Quoted from N. Harding, Leninism (Durham 1996), p. 168.
2. Ibid., p. 146.
3. I owe this point to Alan Shandro’s contribution, Lenin and the Logic of Hegemony, at the symposium The Retrieval of Lenin, Essen, 2–4 February 2001.
4. John le Carré, My Vote? I Would Like to Punish Blair, interview with David Hare in The Daily Telegraph, 17 May 2001, p. 23.
Friday, November 24, 2017
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Once Upon a December....
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (Russian: Анастасия Николаевна Романова [Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova]; June 18 [O.S. June 5] 1901 – July 17, 1918) was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna.
Anastasia was the younger sister of Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, and Maria, and was the elder sister of Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia. She was murdered with her family in an extrajudicial killing by members of the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, at Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918.
Persistent rumors of her possible escape circulated after her death, fueled by the fact that the location of her burial was unknown during the decades of Communist rule. The mass grave near Yekaterinburg which held the remains of the Tsar, his wife, and three of their daughters was revealed in 1991, and the bodies of Alexei Nikolaevich and the remaining daughter—either Anastasia or her older sister Maria—were discovered in 2007. Her possible survival has been conclusively disproved. Forensic analysis and DNA testing confirmed that the remains are those of the imperial family, showing that all four grand duchesses were killed in 1918. Several women falsely claimed to have been Anastasia; the best known impostor is Anna Anderson. Anderson's body was cremated upon her death in 1984, but DNA testing in 1994 on available pieces of Anderson's tissue and hair showed no relation to the DNA of the Romanov family.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
He Who Laughs Last...
Sunday, November 19, 2017
“Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”― Robert Frost
Saturday, November 18, 2017
- Jorge Luis Borges
My father and he had one of those English friendships
which begins by avoiding the intimacies
and eventually eliminates speech altogether.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
We Can't Waits
Like so much in Singapore, admission to the Marina Bay's casino is hierarchical: Free for anyone with an international passport, costly for locals, off-limits to migrant workers altogether.- Alan Huffman
Monday, November 13, 2017
Perhaps the key achievement of Lenin was that he silently dropped the orthodox Marxist notion of revolution as a necessary step in historical progress. Instead he followed Louis Antoine Saint-Just’s insight that a revolutionary is like a seaman navigating in uncharted territories.- Slavoj Zizek, "The Rage Potential"
This was Lenin’s answer to the big problem of western Marxism: how is it that the working class does not constitute itself as a revolutionary agent? Western Marxism, at the time, was in a constant search for other social agents who could play the role of the revolutionary agent, as the understudy replacing the indisposed working class: third-world peasants, students and intellectuals; and the excluded … up to the refugees hailed today by some desperate leftists as “nomadic proletarians”.
This failure of the working class as the revolutionary subject is at the very core of the Bolshevik revolution: Lenin’s art was to detect the “rage potential” of the disappointed peasants. The October revolution won due to the slogan “land and peace,” addressed to the vast peasant majority, seizing the short moment of their radical dissatisfaction.
Against the current
Lenin was thinking along these lines already a decade before, which is why he was horrified at the prospect of the success of the Stolypin land reforms, which aimed at creating a new strong class of independent farmers – he wrote that if Stolypin succeeded, the chance for a revolution would be lost for decades. All successful socialist revolutions, from Cuba to Yugoslavia, followed this model, seizing the opportunity in an extreme critical situation, co-opting the national-liberation or other “rage capitals.”
The point is not just that revolution no longer rides the train of history, following its laws – the problem is a different one. It is as if there is a law of history, a more or less clear predominant main line of historical development, and that revolution can only occur in its interstices, “against the current.”
One often opposes here the “decisionist” Lenin of 1917 to the Lenin of the last years of his life, a more pragmatic and realist Lenin desperately trying to institutionalise revolution in a much more modest way. However, what the two stances share is the ruthless will to grab power and then to hold it.
Lenin’s focus on taking power did not just express his desire for power, it meant much more: his obsession (in a good sense of the term) with opening up a “liberated territory,” space controlled by emancipatory forces outside the global capitalist system.
This is why any poetry of permanent revolutionising was totally alien to Lenin – when, after the defeat of the expected all-European revolution in the early 1920s, some Bolsheviks thought it would be better to lose power than to stick to it in these conditions, Lenin was horrified by this idea.
On the other hand, there was much more “utopianism” in Lenin’s efforts to fill the free space outside the capitalist system with new content – the paradox is that he was a pragmatist in how to grab power, and a utopian in what to do with it.
And we are today in a similar predicament. While the leftist resistance against global capitalism fails again and again to undermine its advance, it remains strangely out of touch with many trends which clearly signal capitalism’s progressive disintegration. It is as if the two tendencies (resistance and self-disintegration) move at different levels and cannot meet, so that we get futile protests in parallel with immanent decay and no way to bring the two together in a coordinated act of capitalism’s emancipatory overcoming.
The true utopia
How did it come to this? While (most of) the left desperately tries to protect the old workers’ rights against the onslaught of global capitalism, it is almost exclusively the most “progressive” capitalists themselves (from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg) who talk about post-capitalism – as if the very topic of passage from capitalism as we know it to a new post-capitalist order is appropriated by capitalism.
Although Marx provided an unsurpassable analysis of the capitalist reproduction, his mistake was not just that he counted on the prospect of capitalism’s final breakdown, and therefore couldn’t grasp how capitalism came out of each crisis strengthened. There is a much more tragic mistake at work.
In the words of Wolfgang Streeck – Marxism was right about the “final crisis” of capitalism. We are clearly entering it today, but this crisis is just that – a prolonged process of decay and disintegration, with no easy Hegelian Aufhebung in sight, no agent to give this decay a positive twist and transform it into the passage to some higher level of social organisation.
In view of apocalyptic prospects of our near future, from ecological catastrophes to mass migrations, one should nonetheless follow Beckett’s line: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
The true utopia is the idea that, if we go on within the existing global capitalist system, we can save ourselves. So we need more than ever Lenin’s spirit of radicalism combined with ruthless pragmatism.
Maybe one should take the risk to repeat here a classic Soviet joke: in an official Moscow gallery, there is a painting displayed titled “Lenin is in Warsaw” that depicts Nadhezda Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, in her Kremlin room and engaged in wild sex with a young Komsomol member. A surprised visitor asks the guide: “But where is Lenin here?”, to which the guide calmly replies: “Lenin is in Warsaw.”
Let us imagine a similar exhibition in Moscow in 1980, with a picture with the same title depicting a group of top Soviet nomenklatura members debating the “danger” the Polish Solidarity movement presents to the interests of the Soviet Union. A surprised visitor asks the guide: “But where is Lenin?”, and the latter replies: “Lenin is in Warsaw.” In spite of Western interventions coordinated by the Pope and Reagan, etc, Lenin was in Warsaw in the 1970s and 1980s, his spirit was there in workers protests out of which solidarity grew.
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