Tag Archives: communism

Rage Without Theory: Egypt Is Not An Event

The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.

The enunciated desire for “democracy,” seen in the Egyptian protests, is surely a sign of the times. Although mobilized, the Egyptian people lack a unified interest, there is no common reason. Crying for “democracy,” is, by definition, the interests and reasons of the many.

Mubarak has resigned! The military will oversee Egypt through a “transition.” But a transition into what? Two possibilities are immanent on the horizon. The first is that the military refuses to give up the national authority bestowed upon it by the “international community.” The second, arguably more likely scenario, is that the party eventually “elected” will be a politico-theological aristocracy. A third, distant possibility: Egypt actually adopts the foreign discourse of liberal-democracy. However, all they know of “democracy” has either been distorted by their “democratically elected” former leader, or been stylized by Advertising Empires that promote democracy as “the best of all possible worlds.” But we know, however, it is not the best. It is merely the least worst.

For the Egyptian uprising to be an event, something like a communist language is necessary. Not necessarily capital “C” communism, but an abstract theoretical language that could easily name and then translate the Egyptian situation, its countable elements, and the proposed result of action (i.e. “utopia”). Communist revolutions were successful in the past by articulating a situation (the “class struggle”), naming its protagonists (the “proletariat”), naming its enemies (the “bourgeosie,” “kulaks,” “counter-revolutionaries,” etc.), and promising a “world to come.” This “world to come,” however, must always be recognized for what it is: a regime. And communist regimes have always been among the worst disasters (excepting, maybe, Cuba).

Here the problem is most clear: communist discourse, in its Marxian and Freudo-Marxian variations, is a dead language resource. Arab subjectivity does not appear to be compatible with or support communist forms of thought; though it is very easily adapted to fascism … Perhaps a left-leaning fascist populism is the best that can be hoped for.

It will be seen what direction Egypt heads toward. We all have front row seats in the theater that is all front rows: the screens of post-history flicker with images of Egypt’s uprising.

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green living : the rise of eco-fascism

a friend and i stumbled into something called “live green toronto festival.” aside from a stall selling locally produced honey, the festival is an example of how, since the apparent fall of communism, activist micro-movements replace actual socio-political engagement. did i say “activist!?” i meant venture capitalist; people were trying to sell me everything from electric “bikes” to low-flow toilets and asking me for a donation to some unknown cause (the organization is not a cause in itself, but looks for other causes to fund: summerhill).

the “eco” or “green” movement used to be immersed in the communist agenda, as was the struggle for equality among citizens regardless of their particular determinations (e.g. gay, woman, black, other ethnicity, etc.). now, however, we see the parasitic libido of late capitalism: it has latched onto the “green” and exploits it with the same aplomb as it does everything else, it is now just another one of Deleuze’s thousand plateaus. eco-fascism acquired all its radicals from the ranks of fallen communists, who in turn became new age obscurantists.

are you green? or are you flesh coloured? one of the immanent false divisions being made among us is along the lines of one’s “green-ness.” just as homosexuals have appropriated the colour pink, the green movement spurns any and all who are “different” from them. so, nowadays, in late capitalism, postmodern culture, one can be a green-pinko which inserts a simulacrum of difference into one’s phantasmatic social identity. difference based on race is the defining feature of fascism; by using colour as identification, the green movement is resurrecting the corpse of fascism in a kitsch mode (just like Baudrillard said!).

but what is it, really, to “be green?” some photographs of testimonials people wrote to show how green they are:

it seems very stupid that “green” has come to be associated with “CFL’s,” vegetarianism, bicycling, etc. the funniest thing is the “buy it to vote” image: the green movement is an extension of capital not a form of emancipatory politics. in a sense one shows one is green by the designer products one buys. forget treating the environment with respect, where’s my hybrid hummer?

islamo-fascism, pros and cons

is there an alternative to global capitalism other than islamo-fascism? the obvious answer would seem to be: “yes. it is communism.” however, if we look across the spectrum of nations that supposedly have a communist political practice, each of those nations is sliding – or has already slid into a socialist version of its communistic ideals.

militant islam, on one hand, is a viable alternative to capitalism. the leaders of islamo-fascist terrorist groups know how to gather the “rage potential” of people and mobilize it against “the enemy.” the problem with islamo-fascism, as it is with fascism proper, is that its execution requires the naming of an “enemy” and the utopian fantasy of that enemy’s elimination. most commonly, this enemy is named “jew” or “jewish.”

in addition to the problem of “the enemy” and its perpetuation through ideological manipulation, islamo-fascism does not consider progress (in terms of women’s rights, civil rights, property rights, etc.) a positive value; in fact, fascists are often opposed to liberty of any kind, unless it is authorized by the “führer.” not only are they opposed to liberty, but to all forms of art that do not conform to a specified archetype (see c.g. jung’s theories and his involvement with the national socialist party).

the wrongness of the ideological manipulation happening in islamo-fascist states happens on the level of “mis-education” of the young: in many of these places, hitler is praised as a hero. i am not saying that hitler does not have a place in history, but teaching children that he is a hero, is like saying che guevara was an educated, peace-loving man who was forced into killing and was ultimately martyred for the cause of communism. absolutely absurd; if anything, che was little more than castro’s dog.

so, while i do not support any of islamo-fascism’s political projects (the political projects being: the elimination of israel and jews as a race, religious indoctrination as opposed to secular education, the subordination of women, etc.), i do endorse the spirit it embodies: the spirit of anti-capitalism in the form of revolutionary terror. however, it is doubtful that the islamo-fascists see themselves as “revolutionaries;” they are, to all appearances, counter-revolutionary par excellence. if only there were “islamo-bolshevism” or some other neo-logism which would combine the attitude of a militant islamist with the vision of the communist idea. we quote kazantzakis: “today, mohammed is called lenin.”

one day this may come to be. until the rise of “islamo-bolshevism,” we can still at least be entertained by the spectacle of terror and the war against it.

or perhaps, “both are worse,” and global capitalism is the real answer to the deadlock of the left versus the right. if this is so, it will certainly be the greatest challenge ever for capitalism to overcome: after the “tragedy and farce” of the past decade, what emerges as “new wave capitalism” will be something like “the bible of hell / which the world shall have whether it wills or no” (blake).

zizek’s “first as tragedy, then as farce”

This book, if Zizek has his way, will be “the beginning of the beginning of the end.” Zizek moves in a new direction from his previous works, though his analysis of ideology is, as ever, spectacular. The new direction is one of apocalyptic fatalism, in which he evokes the concept of capital D Destiny in relation to “the idea of communism.” It is this new direction which undermines his otherwise pertinent and scathing analysis of 9/11, the global credit crunch, and the ideological movements that produced the “tragic” and “comic” events of this decade.

The main victim of the book is Francis Fukuyama’s idea, “the end of history.” Zizek writes,

It thus seems that Fukuyama’s utopia of the 1990’s had to die twice, since the collapse of the liberal-democratic political utopia on 9/11 did not affect the economic utopia of global market capitalism; if the 2008 financial meltdown has a historical meaning then, it is as a sign of the end of the economic face of Fukuyama’s dream (5).

The American empire, but not only the American empire, Zizek argues, is an empire of extremely refined cynicism, “an exact inversion of Marx’s formula: today, we only imagine that we do not ‘really believe’ in our ideology – in spite of this imaginary distance, we continue to practise it” (3). Indeed, this work is also a meditation on belief, beliefs, and believing in a world where there is no big other to guarantee that our lives and actions are meaningful because we are living in

The first socio-economic order which do-totalizes meaning: it is not global at the level of meaning (there is no global “capitalist world view,” no “capitalist civilization” proper; the fundamental lesson of globalization is precisely that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu and Buddhist) (25).

Consequently, we must not expect or relegate to the communist idea any of our own utopian desires that, somehow, an authentic communism will provide history with a meaning or offer us some kind of salvation.

The question of meaning is crucial in Zizek’s examination of capitalism today. This is precisely why resistance to capitalism (i.e. anti-capitalism) finds expression today in “Islamo-fascist” regimes, places where liberalism and democracy do not thrive. The problem with radical Islamic anti-capitalism is their agenda is anti-enlightenment (no women’s rights, no voting, no gay marriage, etc. – but no capitalism either!). What we have been seeing, in addition to the fundamentalist resistance to capital, is the emergence of “a ’socially responsible’ eco-capitalism … leaving these very capitalist relations intact” (34-5, italics his).

This “socialist-capitalism” is already operative in many parts of Asia, especially china. After the Berlin wall fell, and communism was officially dead, the remaining communist nations adopted (some form of) socialism:

Today, communism is to be opposed to socialism, which, in place of the egalitarian collective, offers an organic community (Nazism was national socialism, not national communism) … socialism is no longer to be conceived as the infamous ‘lower phase’ of communism, it is its true competitor, the greatest threat to it (95-6).

Now that democracy is haunting us after its second death, the choice, zizek says, is between authoritarian-socialist-capitalism (e.g. America, Italy, china, Iran, Russia, etc.) and communism proper.

In America, the bailout plan is “a ‘socialist’ measure whose primary aim is not to help the poor, but the rich, not those who borrow, but those who lend … socialism is bad – except when it serves to stabilize capitalism” (13). (See also, the dot com bubble.) This is a sign of America becoming more European, whereas Europeans are adopting an approach closer to the American dream: “we do, admittedly, live with a ridiculous nostalgia for glory (the glory of history and culture), but they live with the ridiculous illusion of performance” (Baudrillard, Cool Memories 5, p. 82). Berlusconi is doing to Italy today what the Bush years did to the United States, albeit in a more comical and methodical way; Berlusconi “is our own big kung fu panda … Berlusconi is what he appears to be, this appearance nonetheless remains deceptive” (51). The emergence of “capitalism with Asian values” will replace the liberal-democratic model of capital, which has recently been reduced to “a gesture meant to be refused” (135).

The only viable alternative is to put all of our (ideological-libidinal) eggs in the idea of communism. So, what does it mean “to practice communism” today? The true practice of a communist movement is not “asking the obvious question ‘is the idea of communism still pertinent today, can it still be used as a tool of analysis and political practise?'” (6). Rather, any who consider themselves communists “should ask the opposite question: ‘how does our predicament today look from the perspective of the communist idea?'” (6).

Our “predicament” is cultural (imaginary), economical (real), and political (symbolic). The cultural predicament is the question of “identity” and its role in “identity politics.” its ability to produce “difference” is seen in the escalating levels of nationalism, fanatic religiosity, and terrorism (school shooters, una-bombers, etc). It is also used “to obfuscate the true ethical dimension of our acts” (40). In order to combat the damage identity politics is capable of, zizek proposes that we adopt an “ethics of subtraction,” in which the private and particular nature of an individual is ignored in light of what he does (resorting to an “inner life” to justify criminal activity, for example). Zizek proposes the following:

Kant’s distinction between the public and private uses of reason can be of great help here; the key problem with forms of so-called “identity politics” is that they focus on “private” identities – the ultimate horizon is that of the tolerance and intermingling of such identities, and every universality, every feature that cuts across the entire field, is rejected as oppressive (44, see also the current debate on James Cameron’s film, avatar).

Economically, today’s predicament lies in Marx’s notions of production, property, and value. Marx did not anticipate anything like modern technological modes of production or how the idea of property would change along with those modes. “Intellectual property” introduces new territories for capitalism to colonize. The idea of “profiting” off of “intellectual property” or “immaterial work” is

The kind of work which directly produces social relations, one should not forget what this means within a commodity economy: namely, that new domains, hitherto excluded from the market, are now commodified … exploitation in the classical Marxist sense is no longer possible, which is why it has to be enforced more and more by direct legal measures, that is, by non-economic means … by the “becoming-rent of the profit” (145).

Value is no longer to be conceived only in (Marxist) terms of exchange, surplus, or use in the “postmodern phase” of capitalism. The determining factor of value in a commodity is the property of culture that the commodity confers upon the consumer. Cultural values are sought “to get the experience provided by them, we consume them in order to render our lives pleasurable and meaningful” (52), and their ability to include one in the participation of a “socially conscious consumerism,” which effectively masks economic exploitation and cynical political disengagement (instead of acting politically, I will buy this fair trade coffee, thereby doing my part). J.G. Ballard’s novel, Kingdom Come, set in a British suburb, is emblematic: with the lack of any political choice, the members of the community have resorted to brand loyalty – their politics comes in the form of designer products, anti-immigration populism, and soccer riots.

Today, instead of freedom and rights, we have “permissions masked as rights” (59) and a “society of choice” instead of freedom. Politics, as a procedure, is simply not as effective at mobilizing people as are commodities in a market economy. The political predicament is the status of the proletariat as such. Enmeshed in postmodern capitalism and cultural identity politics, two questions arise: where are we to locate the proletariat? And how are we to characterize the situation we are all facing to the extent that we are all, ultimately, the proletariat? Zizek answers that

The present conjuncture compels us to radicalize it [the proletariat] to an existential level well beyond Marx’s imagination. We need a more radical notion of the proletarian subject, a subject reduced to the evanescent point of the Cartesian cogito (92).

The obstacle to realizing this notion of the proletariat is

The guise of the “three main classes” in today’s developed societies, which are precisely not classes but three fractions of the working class: intellectual laborers, the old manual working class, and the outcasts … each fraction with its own “way of life” and ideology: the enlightened hedonism and liberal multiculturalism of the intellectual class; the populist fundamentalism of the old working class; more extreme and singular forms of the outcast … the gradual disintegration of social life proper, of a public space in which all three fractions could meet, and “identity” politics in all its forms is a supplement for this loss. Identity politics acquires a specific form within each fraction: multicultural identity politics among the intellectual class; regressive populist fundamentalism among the working class; semi-illegal groupings (criminal gangs, religious sects, etc.) among the outcasts. What they all share is recourse to a particular identity as a substitute for the missing universal public space (147).

The actual “universal public space” is the market economy, whereas politics is the enclosure of private interests from which the proletariat is excluded: “we are forced to live as if we were free ” (10, italics his, he quoted John Gray’s Straw Dogs). Zizek cites the example of Haiti as an example of our own situation:

Its slave plantations (mostly sugarcane) were not a remainder of premodern societies, but models of efficient capitalist production; the discipline to which slaves were submitted served as an example for the discipline to which wage-laborers were later submitted in capitalist metropolises. After the abolition of slavery, the new black Haiti government imposed “agrarian militarism” – in order not to disturb the production of sugarcane for export, ex-slaves were obliged to continue working at their plantations under the same owners, only now as technically “free” wage-laborers … this slavery in equality appeared in Haiti in its most radical form … the legal-ideological matrix of freedom-equality is not a mere “mask” concealing exploitation-domination, but the very form in which the latter is exercised (124-5, italics his).

So it is thus that politics, specifically liberal-democratic states, collude with capitalism and its agents to protect their interests, which means excluding the proletarian from the commons of the natural environment (natural resources), except in the form of a finished, branded product. Also, the proletariat’s environment, which is also common, is being poisoned by corporations who have state permission to pollute (carbon credit). Today, the state’s role is to exclude any who are not already members of the state; it is the role of communism to include any and all whom the state does not recognize, “those who are here are from here” (119).

Zizek’s solution to these problems is certainly radical, and is in strict opposition to “the academic leftists who expect a theoretician to tell them what to do … they await the answer from a theoretician” (88). The thing to do, and here is where zizek has the author’s full agreement and support, is

To stop the train of history which, left to its own course, leads to a precipice. (Communism is thus not the light at the end of the tunnel, that is, the happy final outcome of a long and arduous struggle – if anything, the light at the end of the tunnel rather that of another train approaching us at full speed.) This is what a proper political act would be today: not so much to unleash a new movement, as to interrupt the present predominant movement. An act of ‘divine violence’ would then mean pulling the emergency cord on the train of historical progress (149, italics his).

However, Zizek resorts to the idea of “destiny” in order to realize the project of communism. He also evokes the concept of an “inevitable catastrophe” (either biological, ecological, environmental, and / or technological), which we must accept as our destiny and mobilize against. Although his thesis on this topic, “at its most radical, freedom is the freedom to change one’s Destiny” (151), is interesting – it seems too apocalyptic, too fatalistic, to really be a solution to today’s dilemma.