Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Slavoj Zizek

Following are excerpts of an IPS discussion on this slovenly savant:


There was an interesting phenomenon in german newspapers this week: The Leftist Party "Die LINKE" started the discussion about Communism once again, and, while there were violent outbreaks at the site of the speech, and while the uproar by the Bourgois Upper Class was deafening ("GULAG! STALINISM! INSANITY!"), the discussion managed to get some attention at Prime Time in the Political Talk Shows. It was interesting to note that the audience was very divided about the subject, each fraction applauding only their own ambassadors. Still, this is an unprecedented event, and quite Extraordinary.

Also I'm half way through Zizek's "Living in the end Times". Once more it's a tour de force across psychoanalysis, Ontology and Politics. He gives an updated version of 21st century marxism, countering the most common misunderstandings and false associations that are still linked with the notion "communism". E.g. he does not abandon the "Class Struggle" approach, but rather links it to Ontology, basically saying that Class Struggle precedes society and is something like a 'given'. As far as I understand, this is.

Last, I found Big Z's use of the terms "Young Hegeliana" and "Old Hegelians" interesting. If I were asked to apply this concept to the Integral World, I'd say that KW obviously belongs to the Hegelian Right (or Old Hegelians), in line with Fukuyama and the NeoCons/NeoLibs. IOW: Conservative, rich and well-dressed. Zizek et al's Neo-Communism would then mark the other extreme, belonging to the Leftist "Young Hegelians". And so on and so on.


Here are links to a couple videos of Zizek discussing the ideas in the referenced book Living in the End Times: 1 & 2.

In the early part of video 1 he talks about the psychologizing of capitalism, i.e., rationalizing it as if we can control it with our positive attitudes. Very much like the criticism of positive psychology referenced earlier of which integral capitalism is but one example. Zizek is more in line with what Wilber was saying above, that the economic system is a major force in reversing that notion, that it is more in control of the individual than the other way around. So we end up justifying the system with how much good we can do with all that money. And believing that in our higher consciousness we can control it, tame it, just like good old Jack Abramoff and kennilinguists. You see, we meditate, we disidentify with our selves, and we become immune to such memetic, economic programming, we gain power over it with our special skills...so we can therefore partake of it, just the good parts...

Further into part 1 (15 - 20 minutes) he criticizes China's burgeoning capitalism on the one hand for being authoritarian, and that same authoritarianism in its State socialism, for neither are based on democracy.

Around 34 minutes in he criticizes a return to the old communism but then criticizes the left for its old forms too, including social democracy. He thinks only the radical left can revision the solution, but it must start anew and leave the old forms behind.

At around 45 minutes he says our future lies down the road of Italian politics, like Groucho Marx in Duck Soup in power. Grim indeed.


I have a rather strong resistance to the label, "communism," simply because it seems that wherever it has appeared on the ground, it has not been a successful system and has, more often than not, also been founded on (even contributed to) a great deal of human suffering. (I'm referring to self-described communist systems, not progressive social democracies such as those in Sweden or a few other European countries). In Nepal right now, the "Maoists" are committing regular atrocities against individuals in the name of a collective, idealized vision of the future (that appears more than willing to "break a few eggs" to make an omelet). I'm speaking from personal experience here, since my sister-in-law is a political asylum-seeker and her father was actually kidnapped and held hostage by violent Maoist thugs. I'm not saying capitalist democracies are without their own share of problems, and their own quite checkered histories, nor am I saying that I think the present system is "good enough" or needs to continue -- I agree with the call for a radical revisioning, and I also agree with a number of Marx's critiques of capitalist systems -- but when it comes to envisioning a way forward, "communism" is not an attractive alternative to me, at least not in any form that has manifested so far.


Agreed about the self-described communist States that have so far existed. So does Zizek. After finishing that first video I was disappointed though because while he maintains he's a radical communist he says he doesn't know what form that will take, only that it hasn't yet. I hope that he explores how this might manifest, at least in what directions, in his book.

As for democratic socialism and social democracy (similar but not the same), there we have examples of something that works right now, not completely or without problems, but addresses several of the disasters of capitalism.

We get a bit more clarity in this article, "Introduction: Zizek's communism and In Defense of Lost Causes" (International Journel of Zizek Studies, 4:2, 2010). I find it interesting the use of the word "terror" in this context:

"In place of the militant defense of human rights, passionate support for an extension of democracy and the multicultural politics of the struggle for recognition, Žižek advocates what he calls 'emancipatory terror' (IDLC, p. 164), strict egalitarian justice and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

"In IDLC, Žižek maintains that there is a progressive moment in the revolutionary terror of the French Revolution, in Stalin’s forced collectivizations, and in Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Žižek seems to approve the application of force, or 'terror,' in support of a policy of egalitarian justice, and he finds in forced collectivization a radical step forward on the path of industrialization. He locates in the popular impetus unleashed by the Cultural Revolution the embryonic form of a utopian political alternative. Žižek’s program of egalitarian communism is to be actualized by a group dictatorship that will represent the interests of the radically disenfranchised worldwide and will implement policies aiming at material equality in the context of ecological sustainability."

In the first video Zizek talks about the Right in America taking over this revolutionary spirit and rhetoric. Hence we get the Tea Party having such a big influence in the last election, and their generally violent rhetoric and imagery. This terrorizes politicians and corporate leaders, an actual armed rebellion. Hence with this latest shooting in Arizona the Left immediately and accurately points fingers at the Tea Party rhetoric, and Sara Palin, as inciting this type of violence. And yet this is what Zizek is criticizing in the Left, this reaction against the proletariat using their power in numbers to threaten a terrifying armed rebellion. And he thinks it is the radical Left that must enter this arena with exactly this type of threat, since the Right is only going to reinforce the corporate agenda and only the Left will fight for the people.

He is right about the Left being spineless, and he might also be right about something as drastic as the terror of an armed rebellion by the proletariat. I might be naive in still hoping for a semi-peaceful reform movement through democratic socialism. He certainly thinks so. In the Zizekian frame maybe the computer communism of Zeitgeist isn't too far off? (Check out this link for the new film release.)

I like the UK Telegraph's review of his book on end times, particularly this excerpt relevant to our recent discussions:

"Žižek’s point – which he surely shares with a long line of philosophical moralists, from St Augustine to Freud – is that it is our most 'natural' and 'caring' urges that can lead us either into the silliest fantasies (the sacred intensity' of The Sound of Music) or the horrors enacted by the likes of Fritzl [who raped his daughter and abused her children by him]."

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