Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 31, 2011

Is democracy the enemy? A reply to Zizek

Filed under: democracy,Lenin,socialism — louisproyect @ 6:27 pm

Although the content of Slavoj Žižek’s blog post in the London Review (Democracy is the enemy) is not so nearly as bad as the title, it still betrays the same kind of misunderstanding of the relationship between democracy and socialism that I addressed in my critique of “The Idea of Communism” conference held a couple of weeks ago in NY:

Indeed, part of Zizek’s talk this morning dealt with exactly this question, scoffing at those leftists who care about which judge will be elected. He reminded the audience that Marx believed that it was only through seizing state power and abolishing capitalist property relations that true freedom could be achieved. That of course would be news to Marx scholars like August Nimtz, whose “Marx and Engels: their contribution to the democratic breakthrough” revealed their commitment to what Zizek writes off. The book includes this epigraph that obviously Zizek would regard as liberal mush:

The movement of the proletarians has developed itself with such astonishing rapidity, that in another year or two we shall be able to muster a glorious array of working Democrats and Communists — for in this country Democracy and Communism are, as far as the working classes are concerned, quite synonymous.

–Frederick Engels, “The Late Butchery at Leipzig.-The German Working Men’s Movement

To start with, the title is an obvious attempt to jar the liberal sensibilities of the London Review’s readers. As a perennial Katzenjammer Kid of academic Marxism, Zizek relishes these types of formulations. It goes hand in hand with his embrace of Lenin, who unlike Gramsci or Walter Benjamin et al, will never be invoked at a Modern Language Association keynote address.

The first part of Zizek’s article actually makes some good points at the expense of the atrocious Anne Applebaum, a neoconservative at the Washington Post:

The protests on Wall Street and at St Paul’s Cathedral are similar, Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post, ‘in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions’. ‘Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square,’ she went on, ‘to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions.’

‘Global’ activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout: ‘We need to have a process!’ Well, they already have a process: it’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.

So, Applebaum’s argument appears to be that since the global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to manage it will accelerate the decline of democracy. What, then, are we supposed to do? Continue engaging, it seems, in a political system which, according to her own account, cannot do the job.

Back in 2003 I had an occasion to write Ms. Applebaum one of my patented Lazlo Toth type letters:

My dear Anne Applebaum,

I realize that you have a lot invested career-path-wise in flogging Communism and might get carried away on occasion like a bull at the sight of a red cape. However, your review of Robert Harvey’s “Comrades: the Rise and Fall of World Communism” in the London Telegraph seems to detach itself from the planet and fly off into the stratosphere. You start off:

“Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Ceausescu, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Salvador Allende, Mengistu, Castro, Kim Il-sung: the list of murderous communist leaders is long, diverse and profoundly multicultural.”

I wasn’t aware that Salvador Allende was a murderer, or a communist. Is this your own heterodox interpretation or something that the neo-McCarthyite movement has cooked up while I wasn’t paying attention? I honestly can’t keep track of all the nutty things coming out of the Weekly Standard, the NY Post editorial page and David Horowitz’s website nowadays. It is like trying to keep track of car commercials during a football game. Can you refer me to an article that makes the case that Allende was rounding up free-market ideologues and throwing them into concentration camps or cutting off their noses? In sorry times such as these, a good laugh always helps.

I remember her rising to the bait and replying to me, but I can’t exactly remember what she said. Anyhow, I’m happy that Zizek took her on.

However, I am not so happy with his take on Marxism and democracy:

Here, Marx’s key insight remains as pertinent today as it ever was: the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere – i.e. in such things as free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, respect for human rights. Real freedom resides in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed in order to make improvements is not political reform, but a change in the social relations of production. We do not vote concerning who owns what, or about the relations between workers in a factory. Such things are left to processes outside the sphere of the political, and it is an illusion that one can change them by ‘extending’ democracy: say, by setting up ‘democratic’ banks under the people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of such democratic devices as legal rights etc. They have a positive role to play, of course, but it must be borne in mind that democratic mechanisms are part of a bourgeois-state apparatus that is designed to ensure the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. Badiou was right to say that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything of the kind, but democracy: it is the ‘democratic illusion’, the acceptance of democratic mechanisms as the only legitimate means of change, which prevents a genuine transformation in capitalist relations.

The thing that bothers me the most is that for all of Zizek’s constant references to himself as a kind of diehard Marxist-Leninist, as well as all of his academic credentials, you can never find him referencing what Marx or Lenin ever wrote about democracy. I am especially troubled by his claim that “Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of such democratic devices as legal rights etc.”

Did you ever consider why Lenin decided to get a law degree? It was in order to discover loopholes in the Czarist legal codes to help workers win the right to strike or to organize. Back in 1970 when I was in the Boston branch of the Socialist Workers Party, a debate broke out in the branch between the majority led by Peter Camejo and a minority led by Larry Trainor, an old-timer from the James P. Cannon generation, over whether we should support the Shea Bill, described at the time by the Harvard Crimson:

The law, often known as the Shea Bill after its sponsor in the Massachusetts legislature, Rep. H. James Shea. Jr. (D-Newton), authorizes Massachusetts residents to refuse combat duty in wars Congress has not declared. Furthermore, it instructs Massachusetts Attorney General Robert Quinn to defend and assist servicemen who refuse to fight on these constitutional grounds.

The minority made arguments similar to Zizek’s, accusing the majority of fostering “a democratic illusion” in a parliamentary system stacked against the working class. By urging a vote for the Shea Bill, we were supposedly building confidence in the capitalist state and undermining the anti-war movement, as if we urged a vote for Gene McCarthy or George McGovern. I have vivid memories of Peter getting up to explain how Lenin used to study the Czarist legal codes late into the evening to figure out a way to use the laws against the system. That was the way most of us in the SWP thought about such matters in the days before the group turned into something similar to the De Leonite Socialist Labor Party that like Zizek is all too fond of drawing distinctions between the communist goal of the future and just about every reform that is worth struggling for.

You can get a good idea of Lenin’s approach to these matters in his 1899 article “Factory Courts” that urged the creation of joint employer-worker bodies that would “examine cases and disputes arising in connection with the terms of hire, with the fixing of rates of pay for ordinary work and overtime, with the discharge of workers in violation of rules, with payments for damage to material, with unfair imposition of fines, etc., etc.” Such bodies were fairly common in Western Europe at the time and would obviously never affect what Zizek called “the social relations of production”. That being the case, why did Lenin urge their introduction into Russia? He explained:

The first advantage of the factory court is that it is much more accessible to the workers. To present a petition to an ordinary court, one has to submit it in writing (which often requires the employment of a solicitor); stamp duty has to be paid; there are long waiting periods; the plaintiff has to appear in court, which takes him and the witnesses away from their work; then comes a further period of waiting until the case goes to a higher court to be retried after an appeal by dissatisfied litigants. Is it any wonder that workers do not willingly resort to the ordinary courts? Factory courts, on the contrary, consist of employers and workers elected as judges. It is not at all difficult for a worker to make a verbal complaint to one of his fellow workers whom he has himself elected. Sessions of factory courts are usually   held on holidays or, in general, at times when the workers are free and do not have to interrupt their work. Cases are handled much more expeditiously by factory courts.

After enumerating other advantages, Lenin concludes with the most salient point:

Finally, there is one other benefit accruing from factory courts that must be mentioned: they get factory owners, directors, and foremen into the habit of treating workers decently, of treating them as equal citizens and not as slaves. Every worker knows that factory owners and foremen all too often permit themselves to treat workers in a disgracefully insulting manner, to rail at them, etc. It is difficult for a worker to complain against this attitude; it can be rebuffed only when the workers are sufficiently developed and are able to give support to their comrade.

The above paragraph is about as “Leninist” as you can get. Unlike Zizek’s Lenin, who comes across as a podium-pounding preacher for “communism”, Lenin’s focus was on organizing workers so that they gain self-confidence in struggle, achieving victory by victory until they have enough of a sense of their own right to become a ruling class. When that day arrives, you will see the greatest flowering of democracy possible.

That being said, Lenin also believed in the need to expand bourgeois democracy. Why? It was a way for workers to press their own demands within the system. To sneer at workers running their own candidates, etc. is not only a slap in the face to what Lenin stood for, but Marx and Engels as well.

In 1847 Engels wrote an article titled “The Principles of Communism” that, among other things, answered the question “What is the attitude of the communists to the other political parties of our time?” It stated:

In England, France, and Belgium, where the bourgeoisie rules, the communists still have a common interest with the various democratic parties, an interest which is all the greater the more closely the socialistic measures they champion approach the aims of the communists – that is, the more clearly and definitely they represent the interests of the proletariat and the more they depend on the proletariat for support. In England, for example, the working-class Chartists are infinitely closer to the communists than the democratic petty bourgeoisie or the so-called Radicals.

I was also intrigued to see Engels urge communists to “continually support the radical liberal party, taking care to avoid the self-deceptions of the bourgeoisie and not fall for the enticing promises of benefits which a victory for the bourgeoisie would allegedly bring to the proletariat.”

One can only assume that Engels probably would have urged leftists in the U.S. to support our own “radical liberal party”—the Greens before the Democrats took over, or the Nader-Camejo campaign in 2004. Given the lack of motion in the working class, such formations are the only instruments existing today that can pose an alternative to the two-party system and even elect men and women to local office. Furthermore, if the Green Party hadn’t been sabotaged by the Demogreens, it is conceivable that as it gathered more and more momentum, it might have even elected people to Congress.

Can you imagine the impact Peter Camejo would have had if he had been elected to Congress? With only a Bernie Sanders there to pose as an “independent” critic of capitalist misrule, there’s not much of an alternative to conventional liberal politics.

Someone like Camejo would have used every opportunity to denounce the system from within, in the spirit of what Lenin urged “left Communists” (Zizek’s forerunners) in his famous article on Left-Wing Communism, the Infantile Disorder:

Even if only a fairly large minority of the industrial workers, and not “millions” and “legions”, follow the lead of the Catholic clergy—and a similar minority of rural workers follow the landowners and kulaks (Grossbauern)—it undoubtedly signifies that parliamentarianism in Germany has not yet politically outlived itself, that participation in parliamentary elections and in the struggle on the parliamentary rostrum is obligatory on the party of the revolutionary proletariat specifically for the purpose of educating the backward strata of its own class, and for the purpose of awakening and enlightening the undeveloped, downtrodden and ignorant rural masses. Whilst you lack the strength to do away with bourgeois parliaments and every other type of reactionary institution, you must work within them because it is there that you will still find workers who are duped by the priests and stultified by the conditions of rural life; otherwise you risk turning into nothing but windbags.

Windbags, indeed.


  1. In times when working people are taking the political initiative (and there are reasons to believe that OWS represents, a germinal attempt to radically change U.S. society, regardless of how tentative it may seem at this point), you would have *never* caught Lenin lecturing people about the political opportunities afforded to them by parliamentary bourgeois democracy.

    In times of political turmoil, when working people were trying to consciously reign in on history (rather than adapting to very adverse political conditions), that Lenin would become more “radical” or “utopian” (as, e.g. State and Revolution, has been deemed by some). But that is the right thing to do! It is in times of crisis, when people must free their political and social imagination and trust themselves, believe firmly that the world can be changed for good. You want to us to free our imagination from the constraints of political inertia and prolonged conformity with the status quo. That is the opportunity that a crisis of large magnitude affords to us.

    You won’t find a single line written by Lenin in the winter 1905 or in the spring or summer or fall of 1917 in which he tells people to note the many ways to use the opportunities that the czar’s legal code provided. No, at those times, he would blasting the status quo wholesale! Lenin’s critique of left-wing communism was written in 1920, at a time when the revolutions in Europe were ebbing, and the ultra-leftists had not yet registered the shift, and — consequently — continued to behave as if they were in the upswing of a world revolution. If the conditions change, people have to change their approach.

    I’ll tell you what I believe is your fatal weakness as a political commentator, Louis. You start with your likes and dislikes. You dislike Zizek and feel to need to dress him down. You don’t care to reflect on whether he is actually sounding the right note at this point of the song. But timing is of the essence, as lawyers say.

    Comment by Julio Huato — October 31, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  2. [Corrected version of my comment:]

    In times when working people are taking the political initiative (and there are reasons to believe that OWS represents, a germinal attempt to radically change U.S. society, regardless of how tentative it may seem at this point), you would have *never* caught Lenin lecturing people about the political opportunities afforded to them by parliamentary bourgeois democracy.

    It was in times of political turmoil, when working people were trying to consciously reign in on history (rather than adapting to very adverse political conditions), that Lenin would sound more “radical” or “utopian” (as, e.g. State and Revolution, has been deemed by some). But that was and is the right thing to do! It is in times of crisis, when people must free their political and social imagination and trust themselves, believe firmly that the world can be changed for good. In fact, that’s when we are in the best position to free our minds from the constraints of political inertia and prolonged conformity with the status quo. That is the opportunity that a crisis of large magnitude affords to us.

    You won’t find a single line written by Lenin in the winter 1905 or in the spring or summer or fall of 1917 in which he tells people to note the many ways to use the opportunities that the czar’s legal code provided. No, at those times, he would blasting the status quo wholesale! Lenin’s critique of left-wing communism was written in 1920, at a time when the revolutions in Europe were ebbing, and the ultra-leftists had not yet registered the shift, and — consequently — continued to behave as if they were in the upswing of a world revolution. If the conditions change, people have to change their approach.

    I’ll tell you what I believe is your fatal weakness as a political commentator, Louis. You start with your likes and dislikes. You dislike Zizek and feel to need to dress him down. You don’t care to reflect on whether he is actually sounding the right note at this point of the song. But timing is of the essence, as lawyers say.

    Comment by Julio Huato — October 31, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  3. It goes without saying that Lenin himself and most of those who have positioned himself as his heirs was and are capable of adopting a position at one time that he/they–at least in all appearance–contradicted at another. So the fact that at one particular time, or at several times, Lenin may have been in favor of “bourgeois democratic” reforms in no way precludes his being dead set against the same kind of thing both earlier and later.

    Doesn’t Alexander Rabinowitch argue that within the space of a single year, the Bolsheviks transformed themselves into a legitimately democratic mass political party, and from there equally rapidly began to develop the insistence on “absolute centralisation and rigorous discipline of the proletariat” (from “Left-wing Communism”) that led to what any bourgeois democrat would have to regard as the undemocratic Soviet state, with its endless, dramatic, bewildering, and lethal shifts in party line?

    The question is what “democratic” means here. Are we seeing mere opportunism and cynicism combined with a dictatorial, not to say neurotic, aversion to “spontaneity” as a bourgeois anticommunist like Adam Ulam might suggest? Should we understand that there is an actual dialectic in nature that causes the “objective” meanings of key words to reverse themselves as history progresses, and that Lenin, the supreme scientist, always knew the correct dialectical interpretation of any given set of historical circumstances?

    Or is there some basic (I won’t say “common-sense”) procedural meaning of “democracy” that can advance through all the reversals of history and still retain a core “permanent” meaning such as is understood by, for example, Occupy Wall Street (or the original Soviets, or even the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R. before Lenin issued the “temporary” ban on factions that lasted until 1989)? If there is, what are the larger implications of this for unrepentant Marxists?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — October 31, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

  4. Holy shit Joe! You’re invoking the “hue & cry” over Lenin’s “temporary” ban on factions that supposedly lasted until Yeltsin (!) for chrissake, as some kind of mystery (like a gap in evolutionary theory to Creation Scientists) in Bolshevik party protocols?

    The problem is yours is a threadbare analysis devoid of the historical reality of a victorious proletarian revolution in a backward country encircled by abject malice & reaction. One needs only to look at the bans on factions & the decrees of Abe Lincoln circa 1863 to realize where Lenin was coming from, so I suggest you read this: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1920/terrcomm/index.htm
    written at the height of the Russian Civil War.

    There was of course a “Hue & Cry Over Kronstadt” that made it’s mark but if the Bolshevik response to that tragedy was insufficient then you can absorb the subsequent 20 years of sophisticated railings against Lenin here:


    After the collapse of the Soviets there was another analysis here:


    The problem with all historical analyses that begin with the formula that Bolshevism leads to Stalin ism is that they discount the role of the sociology of world historic reaction encircling a beleaguered workers’ state.

    So for example I used to tell my Soc 101 students lets pretend that we’re so disgusted with this University System that we all made a solemn pact to overthrow this system and we pro-ceded in earnest by ousting the officials and we took over the campus with a set of demands & our own rostrum of democratic protocols. Next thing we know is our well guarded campus is besieged by National Guardsman armed to the teeth, surrounding us and cutting off our supplies of food & water. On the one hand our solidarity is challenged and strengthened, on the other hand weaker members are compelled to defect. The defections lead to our strengthening of security, which quickly resembles a police state.

    So the question becomes is revolution equal to a police state, or is the reaction to revolution responsible for the police state?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 1, 2011 @ 2:08 am

  5. Zizek confuses me. The discussion of democracy and freedom may come across as a good thing, but freedom for whom?

    The odds are most certainly stacked against the proletariat, so democracy and freedom are an illusion because it only applies to ruling class and not the entire society as whole.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 1, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Isn’t the point of OWS and similar movements is that the so-called “democratic” institutions of “the West” are not actually democratic at all, that they therefore are no different in essence from the Egyptian regime – naturally, as that regime was and is materially backed by the same so-called “democratic” institutions.

    In relation to this analysis, Zizek merely appears a fool.

    Comment by Matt — November 1, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

  7. Zizek is a Marxist troll. It’s best not to feed him.

    Comment by Binh — November 1, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

  8. Holy moley, Karl! You have completely misunderstood my post.

    First, I’m not presenting a finished analysis at all, threadbare or otherwise, but rather asking a perfectly serious question: what is the meaning of “democracy” to an “Unrepentant Marxist” in the age of Zizek and OWS.

    This question is particularly pressing when someone like Zizek says that “democracy is the enemy” and someone like Louis P. denies that as he has done here, citing Lenin across such a wide range of dates encompassing strikingly different political situations.

    For the record, I am in general as skeptical as it is possible to be about American democracy and American bourgeois “morality” and the whole farrago of “self-evident” horseshit that causes the equivalent of Mad Cow Disease whenever Americans attempt to discuss politics. Nothing makes me crazier than, for example, the likes of Glenn Greenwald flirting brilliantly with the Left, only to stumble drooling into the wasteland of libertarianism at the last moment.

    I am asking, chiefly because Proyect brings it up, what the core meaning of “democracy” might be when the term is used to cover such a wide range of phenomena as, e.g., Rabinowitch’s “genuinely democratic mass political party” of early 1917, and the “rigidly centralized” Party of 1920, which doesn’t seem to fit a “democratic mass political” definition of democracy. What lessons should we/may we draw for the present, in response to Zizek?

    This question is neither Socratic nor prosecutorial. I was hoping Louis P. would have a good answer since he brought it up.

    As to the Lenin’s ‘ban on factions that supposedly lasted until Yeltsin’, the point is parenthetical and relatively unimportant. Was there no such ban? Wonderful! In what sense then, does Lenin present a democratic example to follow here and now, in contradiction to Zizek?

    If you disagree with Proyect’s defense of democracy linked to “reformism,” etc. via Lenin, please jump on his ass, not mine. I am merely interested in understanding his point a little better.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — November 1, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

  9. It is interesting that no one has expressly commented upon the connection that Louis draws between Lenin and Peter Camejo. Personally, I see no reason why people cannot simultaneously challenge the existing social order from within and without even if I am part of the “without” camp these days. That’s pretty much what Camejo attempted to do. Certainly, there is no justification to malign those who sincerely attempt to confront the system from within, even if you aren’t very enthusiastic about the prospects for success. I always thought of Camejo and his work positively, if only because, as alluded to by Lenin, he reached some people that otherwise couldn’t be reached through direct action. The problem is, in the absence of Camejo, there are few, if any, people willing to do it from within and possess the skills to do so. Instead, we have a faux socialist like Bernie Saunders. Given the energized participation of young people in OWS, we may see the emergence of an inside/outside approach of this kind. Karl Liebnicht is a good example of someone who stood his ground while working within the electoral process until he was kicked out of it, regardless of what you think of the Spartacists.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 1, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

  10. Amidst the largely anachronous pedantry of this post, one unassailable observation comes through: Anne Applebaum is indeed atrocius.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 2, 2011 @ 1:35 am

  11. I think you meant anachronious. That is generally the spelling that accompanies atrocius.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 2, 2011 @ 1:38 am

  12. Good God, Louis: the man’s talking about bourgeois democracy (that sphere which doesn’t dare go past the door marked “No admittance except on business!”)! Do you think he’s calling for personal dictatorships of enlightened despots or something?

    Comment by Todd — November 2, 2011 @ 2:02 am

  13. [Karl Liebnicht is a good example of someone who stood his ground while working within the electoral process until he was kicked out of it, regardless of what you think of the Spartacists.]


    It’s a good point Richard, and the same could be said about Eugene V. Debs here in America who also “stood his ground while working within the electoral process until he was kicked out of it.”

    I doubt you’ll find anybody on this forum ready to besmirch the names of Sparts like Karl L. and Rosa L. The only Sparts that might get critiqued are the modern ones who obstain from mass anti-Gulf war demos as “reformist”.

    The fact that OWS is leading to the first general strike tomorrow in Oakland and possibly New York is proof positive to skeptics insisting on a platform of “formal demands” that they’re irrelevant at this stage since the logic of the occupy movement itself objectively expresses the demands of the working class.

    Tonight on Current TV’s “Countdown” an attractive young woman from Occupy Oakland expressed the movement’s sentiments quite articulately. She said what the mayor says is “irrelevant because the problem is capitalism, the system whereby the labor of the 99% enriches the 1% and that the general strike will be withholding that labor.” (That’s not an exact quote but close since I’m going by memory and there’s no youtube posting of her statement yet.)

    Joe Vaughn: The question of Democracy is intertwined with the question of morality and is therefore not a static principle but rather one rooted in material conditions, in other words, so-called “common sense” does not apply.

    The best Marxist text that articulates this thesis was written by Trotsky just before the breakout of WWII, which he predicted would result in the domination of the USA over the world, and science is essentially predicated on predictive success:


    Here’s an excerpt:

    “The Crisis in Democratic Morality:

    In order to guarantee the triumph of their interests in big questions, the ruling classes are constrained to make concessions on secondary questions, naturally only so long as these concessions are reconciled in the bookkeeping. During the epoch of capitalistic upsurge especially in the last few decades before the World War these concessions, at least in relation to the top layers of the proletariat, were of a completely genuine nature. Industry at that time expanded almost uninterruptedly. The prosperity of the civilized nations, partially, too, that of the toiling masses increased. Democracy appeared solid. Workers’ organizations grew. At the same time reformist tendencies deepened. The relations between the classes softened, at least outwardly. Thus certain elementary moral precepts in social relations were established along with the norms of democracy and the habits of class collaboration. The impression was created of an ever more free, more just, and more humane society. The rising line of progress seemed infinite to “common sense.’

    Instead, however, war broke out with a train of convulsions, crises, catastrophes, epidemics, and bestiality. The economic life of mankind landed in an impasse. The class antagonisms became sharp and naked. The safety valves of democracy began to explode one after the other. The elementary moral precepts seemed even more fragile than the democratic institutions and reformist illusions. Mendacity, slander, bribery, venality, coercion, murder grew to unprecedented dimensions. To a stunned simpleton all these vexations seem a temporary result of war. Actually they are manifestations of imperialist decline. The decay of capitalism denotes the decay of contemporary society with its right and its morals.

    The “synthesis” of imperialist turpitude is fascism directly begotten of the bankruptcy of bourgeois democracy before the problems of the imperialist epoch. Remnants of democracy continue still to exist only in the rich capitalist aristocracies: for each “democrat” in England, France, Holland, Belgium there is a certain number of colonial slaves; “60 Families” dominate the democracy of the United States, and so forth. Moreover, shoots of fascism grow rapidly in all democracies. Stalinism in its turn is the product of imperialist pressure upon a backward and isolated workers” state, a symmetrical complement in its own genre to fascism.

    While idealistic Philistines – anarchists of course occupy first place tirelessly unmask Marxist “amoralism” in their press, the American trusts, according to John L. Lewis (CIO) are spending not less than $80,000,000 a year on the practical struggle against revolutionary “demoralization”, that is, espionage, bribery of workers, frame-ups, and dark-alley murders. The categorical imperative sometimes chooses circuitous ways for its triumph!

    Let us note in justice that the most sincere and at the same time the most limited petty bourgeois moralists still live even today in the idealized memories of yesterday and hope for its return. They do not understand that morality is a function of the class struggle; that democratic morality corresponds to the epoch of liberal and progressive capitalism; that the sharpening of the class struggle in passing through its latest phase definitively and irrevocably destroyed this morality; that in its place came the morality of fascism on one side, on the other the morality of proletarian revolution.

    “Common Sense”

    Democracy and “generally recognized” morality are not the only victims of imperialism. The third suffering martyr is “universal” common sense. This lowest form of the intellect is not only necessary under all conditions but under certain conditions is also adequate. Common sense’s basic capital consists of the elementary conclusions of universal experience: not to put one’s fingers in fire, whenever possible to proceed along a straight line, not to tease vicious dogs … and so forth and so on. Under a stable social milieu common sense is adequate for bargaining, healing, writing articles, leading trade unions, voting in parliament, marrying and reproducing the race. But when that same common sense attempts to go beyond its valid limits into the arena of more complex generalizations, it is exposed as just a clot of prejudices of a definite class and a definite epoch. No more than a simple capitalist crisis brings common sense to an impasse; and before such catastrophes as revolution, counter-revolution and war, common sense proves a perfect fool. In order to realize the catastrophic transgressions against the “normal” course of events higher qualities of intellect are necessary, philosophically expressed as yet only by dialectic materialism.

    Max Eastman, who successfully attempts to endow “common sense” with a most attractive literary style, has fashioned out of the struggle against dialectics nothing less than a profession for himself. Eastman seriously takes the conservative banalities of common sense wedded to good style as “the science of revolution”. Supporting the reactionary snobs of Common Sense, he expounds to mankind with inimitable assurance that if Trotsky had been guided not by Marxist doctrine but by common sense then he would not have lost power. That inner dialectic which until now has appeared in the inevitable succession of determined stages in all revolutions does not exist for Eastman. Reaction displacing revolution, to him, is determined through insufficient respect for common sense. Eastman does not understand that it is Stalin who in a historical sense fell victim to common sense, that is, its inadequacy, since that power which he possesses serves ends hostile to Bolshevism. Marxist doctrine, on the other hand, permitted us to tear away in time from the Thermidorian bureaucracy and to continue to serve the ends of international socialism.

    Every science, and in that sense also the “science of revolution” is controlled by experience. Since Eastman well knows how to maintain revolutionary power under the condition of world counter-revolution, then he also knows, we may hope, how to conquer power. It would be very desirable that he finally disclose his secrets. Best of all that it be done in the form of a draft program for a revolutionary party under the title: How to Conquer and Hold Power. We fear, however, that it is precisely common sense which will urge Eastman to refrain from such a risky undertaking. And this time common sense will be right.

    Marxist doctrine, which Eastman, alas, never understood, permitted us to foresee the inevitability under certain historic conditions of the Soviet Thermidor with all its coil of crimes. That same doctrine long ago predicted the inevitability of the downfall of bourgeois democracy and its morality. However the doctrinaires of “common sense” were caught unaware by fascism and Stalinism. Common sense operates on invariable magnitudes in a world where only change is invariable. Dialectics, on the contrary, takes all phenomena, institutions, and norms in their rise, development and decay. The dialectical consideration of morals as a subservient and transient product of the class struggle seems to common sense an “amoralism”. But there is nothing more flat, stale, self-satisfied and cynical than the moral rules of common sense!”

    It’s now necessary to refer to the same author 18 years prior:


    “The Imperialist Transformation of Democracy:

    It is not for nothing that the word “democracy” has a double meaning in the political vocabulary. On the one hand, it means a state system founded on universal suffrage and the other attributes of formal “popular government.” On the other hand, by the word “democracy” is understood the mass of the people itself, in so far as it leads a political existence. In the second sense, as in the first, the meaning of democracy rises above class distinctions. This peculiarity of terminology has its profound political significance. Democracy as a political system is the more perfect and unshakable the greater is the part played in the life of the country by the intermediate and less differentiated mass of the population – the lower middle class of the town and the country. Democracy achieved its highest expression in the nineteenth century in Switzerland and the United States of North America. On the other side of the ocean the democratic organization of power in a federal republic was based on the agrarian democracy of the farmers. In the small Helvetian Republic, the lower middle classes of the towns and the rich peasantry constituted the basis of the conservative democracy of the united cantons.

    Born of the struggle of the Third Estate against the powers of feudalism, the democratic State very soon becomes the weapon of defence against the class antagonisms generated within bourgeois society. Bourgeois society succeeds in this the more, the wider beneath it is the layer of the lower middle class, the greater is the importance of the latter in the economic life of the country, and the less advanced, consequently, is the development of class antagonism. However, the intermediate classes become ever more and more helplessly behind historical development, and, thereby, become ever more and more incapable of speaking in the name of the nation. True, the lower middle class doctrinaires (Bernstein and Company) used to demonstrate with satisfaction that the disappearance of the middle classes was not taking place with that swiftness that was expected by the Marxian school. And, in reality, one might agree that, numerically, the middle-class elements in the town, and especially in the country, still maintain an extremely prominent position. But the chief meaning of evolution has shown itself in the decline in importance on the part of the middle classes from the point of view of production: the amount of values which this class brings to the general income of the nation has fallen incomparably more rapidly than the numerical strength of the middle classes. Correspondingly, falls their social, political, and cultural importance. Historical development has been relying more and more, not on these conservative elements inherited from the past, but on the polar classes of society – i.e., the capitalist bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

    The more the middle classes lost their social importance, the less they proved capable of playing the part of an authoritative arbitral judge in the historical conflict between capital and labor. Yet the very considerable numerical proportion of the town middle classes, and still more of the peasantry, continues to find direct expression in the electoral statistics of parliamentarism. The formal equality of all citizens as electors thereby only gives more open indication of the incapacity of democratic parliamentarism to settle the root questions of historical evolution. An “equal” vote for the proletariat, the peasant, and the manager of a trust formally placed the peasant in the position of a mediator between the two antagonists; but, in reality, the peasantry, socially and culturally backward and politically helpless, has in all countries always provided support for the most reactionary, filibustering, and mercenary parties which, in the long run, always supported capital against labor.

    Absolutely contrary to all the prophecies of Bernstein, Sombart, Tugan-Baranovsky, and others, the continued existence of the middle classes has not softened, but has rendered to the last degree acute, the revolutionary crisis of bourgeois society. If the proletarianization of the lower middle classes and the peasantry had been proceeding in a chemically purified form, the peaceful conquest of power by the proletariat through the democratic parliamentary apparatus would have been much more probable than we can imagine at present. Just the fact that was seized upon by the partisans of the lower middle class – its longevity – has proved fatal even for the external forms of political democracy, now that capitalism has undermined its essential foundations. Occupying in parliamentary politics a place which it has lost in production, the middle class has finally compromised parliamentarism and has transformed it into an institution of confused chatter and legislative obstruction. From this fact alone, there grew up before the proletariat the problem of seizing the apparatus of state power as such, independently of the middle class, and even against it – not against its interests, but against its stupidity and its policy, impossible to follow in its helpless contortions.

    “Imperialism,” wrote Marx of the Empire of Napoleon III, “is the most prostituted, and, at the same time, perfected form of the state which the bourgeoisie, having attained its fullest development, transforms into a weapon for the enslavement of labor by capital.” This definition has a wider significance than for the French Empire alone, and includes the latest form of imperialism, born of the world conflict between the national capitalisms of the great powers. In the economic sphere, imperialism pre-supposed the final collapse of the rule of the middle class; in the political sphere, it signified the complete destruction of democracy by means of an internal molecular transformation, and a universal subordination of all democracy’s resources to its own ends. Seizing upon all countries, independently of their previous political history, imperialism showed that all political prejudices were foreign to it, and that it was equally ready and capable of making use, after their transformation and subjection, of the monarchy of Nicholas Romanoff or Wilhelm Hohenzollern, of the presidential autocracy of the United States of North America, and of the helplessness of a few hundred chocolate legislators in the French parliament. The last great slaughter – the bloody font in which the bourgeois world attempted to be re-baptised – presented to us a picture, unparalleled in history, of the mobilization of all state forms, systems of government, political tendencies, religious, and schools of philosophy, in the service of imperialism. Even many of those pedants who slept through the preparatory period of imperialist development during the last decades, and continued to maintain a traditional attitude towards ideas of democracy and universal suffrage, began to feel during the war that their accustomed ideas had become fraught with some new meaning. Absolutism, parliamentary monarchy, democracy – in the presence of imperialism (and, consequently, in the presence of the revolution rising to take its place), all the state forms of bourgeois supremacy, from Russian Tsarism to North American quasi-democratic federalism, have been given equal rights, bound up in such combinations as to supplement one another in an indivisible whole. Imperialism succeeded by means of all the resources it had at its disposal, including parliamentarism, irrespective of the electoral arithmetic of voting, to subordinate for its own purposes at the critical moment the lower middle classes of the towns and country and even the upper layers of the proletariat. The national idea, under the watchword of which the Third Estate rose to power, found in the imperialist war its re-birth in the watchword of national defence. With unexpected clearness, national ideology flamed up for the last time at the expense of class ideology. The collapse of imperialist illusions, not only amongst the vanquished, but – after a certain delay – amongst the victorious also, finally laid low what was once national democracy, and, with it, its main weapon, the democratic parliament. The flabbiness, rottenness, and helplessness of the middle classes and their parties everywhere became evident with terrifying clearness. In all countries the question of the control of the State assumed first-class importance as a question of an open measuring of forces between the capitalist clique, openly or secretly supreme and disposing of hundreds of thousands of mobilized and hardened officers, devoid of all scruple, and the revolting, revolutionary proletariat; while the intermediate classes were living in a state of terror, confusion, and prostration. Under such conditions, what pitiful nonsense are speeches about the peaceful conquest of power by the proletariat by means of democratic parliamentarism!

    The scheme of the political situation on a world scale is quite clear. The bourgeoisie, which has brought the nations, exhausted and bleeding to death, to the brink of destruction – particularly the victorious bourgeoisie – has displayed its complete inability to bring them out of their terrible situation, and, thereby, its incompatibility with the future development of humanity. All the intermediate political groups, including here first and foremost the social-patriotic parties, are rotting alive. The proletariat they have deceived is turning against them more and more every day, and is becoming strengthened in its revolutionary convictions as the only power that can save the peoples from savagery and destruction. However, history has not at all secured, just at this moment, a formal parliamentary majority on the side of the party of the social revolution. In other words, history has not transformed the nation into a debating society solemnly voting the transition to the social revolution by a majority of votes. On the contrary, the violent revolution has become a necessity precisely because the imminent requirements of history are helpless to find a road through the apparatus of parliamentary democracy. The capitalist bourgeois calculates: “while, I have in my hands lands, factories, workshops, banks; while I possess newspapers, universities, schools; while – and this most important of all – I retain control of the army: the apparatus of democracy, however, you reconstruct it, will remain obedient to my will. I subordinate to my interests spiritually the stupid, conservative, characterless lower middle class, just as it is subjected to me materially. I oppress, and will oppress, its imagination by the gigantic scale of my buildings, my transactions, my plans, and my crimes. For moments when it is dissatisfied and murmurs, I have created scores of safety-valves and lightning-conductors. At the right moment I will bring into existence opposition parties, which will disappear to-morrow, but which to-day accomplish their mission by affording the possibility of the lower middle class expressing their indignation without hurt therefrom for capitalism. I shall hold the masses of the people, under cover of compulsory general education, on the verge of complete ignorance, giving them no opportunity of rising above the level which my experts in spiritual slavery consider safe. I will corrupt, deceive, and terrorize the more privileged or the more backward of the proletariat itself. By means of these measures I shall not allow the vanguard of the working class to gain the ear of the majority of the working class, while the necessary weapons of mastery and terrorism remain in my hands.”

    To this the revolutionary proletarian replies: “Consequently, the first condition of salvation is to tear the weapons of domination out of the hands of the bourgeoisie. It is hopeless to think of a peaceful arrival to power while the bourgeoisie retains in its hands all the apparatus of power. Three times over hopeless is the idea of coming to power by the path which the bourgeoisie itself indicates and, at the same time, barricades – the path of parliamentary democracy. There is only one way: to seize power, taking away from the bourgeoisie the material apparatus of government. Independently of the superficial balance of forces in parliament, I shall take over for social administration the chief forces and resources of production. I shall free the mind of the lower middle class from their capitalist hypnosis. I shall show them in practice what is the meaning of Socialist production. Then even the most backward, the most ignorant, or most terrorized sections of the nation will support me, and willingly and intelligently will join in the work of social construction.”

    When the Russian Soviet Government dissolved the Constituent Assembly, that fact seemed to the leading Social-Democrats of Western Europe, if not the beginning of the end of the world, at all events a rude and arbitrary break with all the previous developments of Socialism. In reality, it was only the inevitable outcome of the new position resulting from imperialism and the war. If Russian Communism was the first to enter the path of casting up theoretical and practical accounts, this was due to the same historical reasons which forced the Russian proletariat to be the first to enter the path of the struggle for power.

    All that has happened since then in Europe bears witness to the fact that we drew the right conclusion. To imagine that democracy can be restored in its general purity means that one is living in a pitiful, reactionary utopia.

    The Metaphysics of Democracy

    Feeling the historical ground shaking under his feet on the question of democracy, Kautsky crosses to the ground of metaphysics. Instead of inquiring into what is, he deliberates about what ought to be.

    The principles of democracy – the sovereignty of the people, universal and equal suffrage, personal liberties – appear, as presented to him, in a halo of moral duty. They are turned from their historical meaning and presented as unalterable and sacred things-in-themselves. This metaphysical fall from grace is not accidental. It is instructive that the late Plekhanov, a merciless enemy of Kantism at the best period of his activity, attempted at the end of his life, when the wave of patriotism had washed over him, to clutch at the straw of the categorical imperative.

    That real democracy with which the German people is now making practical acquaintance Kautsky confronts with a kind of ideal democracy, as he would confront a common phenomenon with the thing-in-itself. Kautsky indicates with certitude not one country in which democracy is really capable of guaranteeing a painless transition to Socialism. But he does know, and firmly, that such democracy ought to exist. The present German National Assembly, that organ of helplessness, reactionary malice, and degraded solicitations, is confronted by Kautsky with a different, real, true National Assembly, which possesses all virtues – excepting the small virtue of reality.

    The doctrine of formal democracy is not scientific Socialism, but the theory of so-called natural law. The essence of the latter consists in the recognition of eternal and unchanging standards of law, which among different peoples and at different periods find a different, more or less limited and distorted expression. The natural law of the latest history – i.e., as it emerged from the Middle Ages – included first of all a protest against class privileges, the abuse of despotic legislation, and the other “artificial” products of feudal positive law. The theoreticians of the, as yet, weak Third Estate expressed its class interests in a few ideal standards, which later on developed into the teaching of democracy, acquiring at the same time an individualist character. The individual is absolute; all persons have the right of expressing their thoughts in speech and print; every man must enjoy equal electoral rights. As a battle cry against feudalism, the demand for democracy had a progressive character. As time went on, however, the metaphysics of natural law (the theory of formal democracy) began to show its reactionary side – the establishment of an ideal standard to control the real demands of the laboring masses and the revolutionary parties.

    If we look back to the historical sequence of world concepts, the theory of natural law will prove to be a paraphrase of Christian spiritualism freed from its crude mysticism. The Gospels proclaimed to the slave that he had just the same soul as the slave-owner, and in this way established the equality of all men before the heavenly tribunal. In reality, the slave remained a slave, and obedience became for him a religious duty. In the teaching of Christianity, the slave found an expression for his own ignorant protest against his degraded condition. Side by side with the protest was also the consolation. Christianity told him:– ”You have an immortal soul, although you resemble a pack-horse.” Here sounded the note of indignation. But the same Christianity said:– ”Although you are like a pack-horse, yet your immortal soul has in store for it an eternal reward.” Here is the voice of consolation. These two notes were found in historical Christianity in different proportions at different periods and amongst different classes. But as a whole, Christianity, like all other religions, became a method of deadening the consciousness of the oppressed masses.

    Natural law, which developed into the theory of democracy, said to the worker: “all men are equal before the law, independently of their origin, their property, and their position; every man has an equal right in determining the fate of the people.” This ideal criterion revolutionized the consciousness of the masses in so far as it was a condemnation of absolutism, aristocratic privileges, and the property qualification. But the longer it went on, the more if sent the consciousness to sleep, legalizing poverty, slavery and degradation: for how could one revolt against slavery when every man has an equal right in determining the fate of the nation?

    Rothschild, who has coined the blood and tears of the world into the gold napoleons of his income, has one vote at the parliamentary elections. The ignorant tiller of the soil who cannot sign his name, sleeps all his life without taking his clothes off, and wanders through society like an underground mole, plays his part, however, as a trustee of the nation’s sovereignty, and is equal to Rothschild in the courts and at the elections. In the real conditions of life, in the economic process, in social relations, in their way of life, people became more and more unequal; dazzling luxury was accumulated at one pole, poverty and hopelessness at the other. But in the sphere of the legal edifice of the State, these glaring contradictions disappeared, and there penetrated thither only unsubstantial legal shadows. The landlord, the laborer, the capitalist, the proletarian, the minister, the bootblack – all are equal as “citizens” and as “legislators.” The mystic equality of Christianity has taken one step down from the heavens in the shape of the “natural,” “legal” equality of democracy. But it has not yet reached earth, where lie the economic foundations of society. For the ignorant day-laborer, who all his life remains a beast of burden in the service of the bourgeoisie, the ideal right to influence the fate of the nations by means of the parliamentary elections remained little more real than the palace which he was promised in the kingdom of heaven.

    In the practical interests of the development of the working class, the Socialist Party took its stand at a certain period on the path of parliamentarism. But this did not mean in the slightest that it accepted in principle the metaphysical theory of democracy, based on extra-historical, super-class rights. The proletarian doctrines examined democracy as the instrument of bourgeois society entirely adapted to the problems and requirements of the ruling classes; but as bourgeois society lived by the labor of the proletariat and could not deny it the legalization of a certain part of its class struggle without destroying itself, this gave the Socialist Party the possibility of utilizing, at a certain period, and within certain limits, the mechanism of democracy, without taking an oath to do so as an unshakable principle.

    The root problem of the party, at all periods of its struggle, was to create the conditions for real, economic, living equality for mankind as members of a united human commonwealth. It was just for this reason that the theoreticians of the proletariat had to expose the metaphysics of democracy as a philosophic mask for political mystification.

    The democratic party at the period of its revolutionary enthusiasm, when exposing the enslaving and stupefying lie of church dogma, preached to the masses:– ”You are lulled to sleep by promises of eternal bliss at the end of your life, while here you have no rights and you are bound with the chains of tyranny.” The Socialist Party, a few decades later, said to the same masses with no less right:– ”You are lulled to sleep with the fiction of civic equality and political rights, but you are deprived of the possibility of realizing those rights. Conditional and shadowy legal equality has been transformed into the convicts’ chain with which each of you is fastened to the chariot of capitalism.”

    In the name of its fundamental task, the Socialist Party mobilized the masses on the parliamentary ground as well as on others; but nowhere and at no time did any party bind itself to bring the masses to Socialism only through the gates of democracy. In adapting ourselves to the parliamentary regime, we stopped at a theoretical exposure of democracy, because we were still too weak to overcome it in practice. But the path of Socialist ideas which is visible through all deviations, and even betrayals, foreshadows no other outcome but this: to throw democracy aside and replace it by the mechanism of the proletariat, at the moment when the latter is strong enough to carry out such a task.

    We shall bring one piece of evidence, albeit a sufficiently striking one. “Parliamentarism,” wrote Paul Lafargue in the Russian review, Sozialdemokrat, in 1888, “is a system of government in which the people acquires the illusion that it is controlling the forces of the country itself, when, in reality, the actual power is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie – and not even of the whole bourgeoisie, but only of certain sections of that class. In the first period of its supremacy the bourgeoisie does not understand, or, more correctly, does not feel, the necessity for making the people believe in the illusion of self-government. Hence it was that all the parliamentary countries of Europe began with a limited franchise. Everywhere the right of influencing the policy of the country by means of the election of deputies belonged at first only to more or less large property holders, and was only gradually extended to less substantial citizens, until finally in some countries it became from a privilege the universal right of all and sundry.

    “In bourgeois society, the more considerable becomes the amount of social wealth, the smaller becomes the number of individuals by whom it is appropriated. The same takes place with power: in proportion as the mass of citizens who possess political rights increases, and the number of elected ruler’s increases, the actual power is concentrated and becomes the monopoly of a smaller and smaller group of individuals.” Such is the secret of the majority.

    For the Marxist, Lafargue, parliamentarism remains as long as the supremacy of the bourgeoisie remains. “On the day,” writes Lafargue, “when the proletariat of Europe and America seizes the State, it will have to organize a revolutionary government, and govern society as a dictatorship, until the bourgeoisie has disappeared as a class.”

    Kautsky in his time knew this Marxist estimate of parliamentarism, and more than once repeated it himself, although with no such Gallic sharpness and lucidity. The theoretical apostasy of Kautsky lies just in this point: having recognized the principle of democracy as absolute and eternal, he has stepped back from materialist dialectics to natural law. That which was exposed by Marxism as the passing mechanism of the bourgeoisie, and was subjected only to temporary utilization with the object of preparing the proletarian revolution, has been newly sanctified by Kautsky as the supreme principle standing above classes, and unconditionally subordinating to itself the methods of the proletarian struggle. The counterrevolutionary degeneration of parliamentarism finds its most perfect expression in the deification of democracy by the decaying theoreticians of the Second International.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 2, 2011 @ 2:18 am

  14. Nice save! The pedantry is now up-to-date.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 2, 2011 @ 2:22 am

  15. Yes Boris, while it may indeed be pedantry it’s certainly not lifeless, which Zizek’s Leninism devoid of Trotsky most certainly is.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 2, 2011 @ 2:54 am

  16. I found your post very illuminating, Karl. I was involved in a different, less weighty exchange (see Nos. 10 and 11). Sorry for the confusion.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 2, 2011 @ 3:07 am

  17. Yes, Boris, I understood your distinction which is why I incorporated the original critique of Zizek in my last reply, and while I’m guessing even Lou would concede to a certain degree of pedantry in some of his posts, they aren’t on average lifeless insofar as this subject in particular is an important topic that warrants thorough vetting.

    The fact is Trotsky’s insights (as distinct from movements in his name — to say nothing of Lenin’s) remain exceptionally powerful today partly because like today, Trotsky was rarely conscious of a time in his life that capitalism wasn’t in crisis.

    Like the Titanic into an iceberg capitalism in his day was beset by seemingly intractable crises, careening from one man made catastrophe to the next, so about 90% of his prolific writings read as if they were written yesterday, particularly in the context of the OWS movement, which breathes a definite new life into his profound literary & theoretical legacy insofar as no academic (let alone socialist) has yet analyzed the collapse of the Soviets from the perspective of Trotsky’s unique social science backed by the irrefragability of predictive success, the very hallmark of science, nevermind the difficulty of truisms in the social sciences, which necessarily retain a certain indeterminacy that some would argue is due to the “free will” of a tailless ape that (with what others might argue) has but 2 BB’s in his head that are both fighting each other. Trotsky shows that neither interpretation is accurate but rather consciousness & history are dialectically intertwined and that the future of human civilization can be reduced to two simple choices — imperatives really: Socialism or Barbarism.

    This is the objective course that goes without saying in the OWS movement which is humanity’s last best hope to avoid irreversible ruin. The ingeniousness of the spontaneous & leaderless masses, particularly the youth without which revolution is inconceivable, have yet to be fully commended for their astute & technologically sophisticated anarchist sensibilities, but will soon be tested in battles from which the anarchist individualism of laptops, smart phones & “apps” will be severely tested, particularly since Trotsky’s most erudite contribution to political science is that genuine fascism, (not the liberal notion of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Rielly & Dubya but) in the real naziesque sense of term, is unthinkable without a proletarian based mass movement that has the potential to threaten bourgeois power.

    Trotsky would advise that today there is such a movement and that therefore today there is such a danger.

    It’s not for nothing since 911 a Trillion dollars of today’s debt (meaning working class sweat) was doled out without scrutiny to “homeland security” which is essentially to be used for bourgeois security, the defense of the bosses, bankers & landlords — the parasitic speculators that occupy the 1%.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 2, 2011 @ 5:23 am

  18. It should be added that anybody whose watched the excellent documentary “Berkeley in the 60’s” (which is undoubtedly available on youtube) should note that once then Governor of CA. Ronald Reagan smashed the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (which has many historical analogies with OWS) with police roundups, Huey helicopters, tear gas and billy clubs — if it wasn’t for the political acumen of the Trotskyists in the SWP who articulated the crimes of Uncle Sam in Indochina, then that youth movement, also with profound anarchist sensibilities, would have vanished like mist before sunrise.

    So while Trotskyist political formations have rightly been berated for their ineffectiveness & sectarianism it should be noted that in the almost 70 years since his cowardly murder he inspired a grouping (the SWP) that organized almost single handedly a sea change in history, the victory of the Vietnamese by amassing such large protests that the conscript troops themselves were demoralized to the point of being a totally ineffective fighting force.

    It’s no accident that quickly thereafter the imperialist bourgeoisie forever abandoned the conscript army employing instead the current armed forces which objectively can only be described as a “mercenary army”.

    The point is this. When certain critics say what the hell did Trotsky contribute after his death (that is, the last half of the 20th century) but to befuddle class struggle with sectarianism on the left (a legit charge to be sure) — the answer is that he inspired an organization (the SWP) that captured the imagination of an anti-war movement that forever changed bourgeois politics and still today informs the OWS movement in the politics of peaceful, well marshalled mass marches.

    This is to say nothing of the prolific literature he contributed to revolutionary thinking that still informs our opinions on what is to be done today.

    Thus to get back to the initial topic at hand, that is, what does Zizek mean when he says that “Democracy is the enemy” — I’m guessing that deconstructed it means that he’s ultimately a reactionary agent provocatueur likely in the pay, directly or indirectly, of the CIA, akin to Alex Jones on the other side of the coin.

    While I’ll concede that I may be misreading Zizek (and possibly Alex Jones) I won’t cede an inch to Trotsky’s analysis of where we’ve come from and where we’re going, that is, what our choices are going forward.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 2, 2011 @ 6:35 am

  19. SZ isn’ty criticising Applebaum, he is using her as his surrogate, authority with whose analysis he concurs and who allows him to introduce the vision of the occupiers as “an hysterical wife” as he portrayed the altermondialists of a decade ago. He clarifies his approbation of Applebaum’s analysis in a longer presentation of the same material here:

    There is no lack of anti-capitalism today. We are even witnessing an overload of the critique of the hours of capitalism. Books, newspaper, in-depth investigations, TV reports. You know, you cannot open a newspaper without reading this company is polluting environment, corrupted bankers continue to get fat bonuses while their banks are saved by public money, sweatshops in the third world where children work over time and so on.

    There is, however, a catch to all this overflow of critique of capitalism. What is, as a rule, not in question in this critique is the democratic, liberal political frame of fighting against these excesses. The explicit or implicit goal is to democratize capitalism. By this it’s meant not to think deeply about our democracy, but simply to extend our standard notion of politics, party politics, representative democracy into more interventionist one. Extend democratic control of economy through the pressure of the public media, parliamentary inquiry, harsher laws, honest police investigations, and so on. But never questioning the democratic institutional framework of our state of law. This remains the sacred cow even when we are dealing with the most radical forms of this, I call it, ethical anti-capitalism — Seattle movement, Porto Allegre, and so on. I think they’re moralism, like greedy bankers, dishonest companies, is a sign of their weakness.

    It is here that Marxist key insight remains valid today, I claim, more than ever. For Marx, and this is for me the true lesson of Wall Street protests, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper: Does a country has free elections? Are the judges independent? Is the press free from hidden pressures? Are human rights respected? And the similar list of questions, different independent Western institutions apply when they want to pronounce a judgment on a country.

    The key to actual freedom rather resides in the apolitical, what appears to be apolitical. Network of social relations. From the market to the family where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not political reform but a change in apolitical social relations of production.

    So Anne Applebaum is right. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory and so on. All this is left to process outside the political sphere proper. And it is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by simply extending our parliamentary democracy into this sphere, for example, by organizing democratic banks under people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of legal rights. Such democratic procedures, of course, can play a very positive role. No matter how radical their anti-capitalism is, the solution they seek resides in applying representative democratic mechanisms but again, and Applebaum is right, they live out of control; the economic sphere proper and so on.

    In this sense only, don’t misunderstand here, I think that Alain Badiou was right in his claim that today — it sounds terrible — the name of the enemy, he wrote once, is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything similar, the name of the enemy today is democracy. Now you will say, “ha ha, now we got you, totalitarian!” or whatever. No no no, I claim, what he only wanted to say is that our too blind attachment to formal democratic party state mechanism prevents our approaching a true problem. So again, I think what Applebaum accepts as the fact, “We can’t do anything, that’s it”. This precisely I claim is the starting point of the deep dissatisfaction which exploded in all anti-Wall Street protests. This precisely they feel that we have certain political multi-party system, obviously we are witnessing dangerous, even catastrophic phenomena in economy, and it’s obviously that this type of democratic system, the way it is now, cannot do the work; because it implies precisely this duality which is very nicely emphasized in Applebaum, between political sphere where we are all free but we have to follow the procedures, proper democratic procedures and so on, and economics sphere of private relations, whatever, which is left out. It is obvious that the urgent task today is precisely to find a way to control or to regulate — I don’t like the word ‘control’ here — precisely that sphere without of course returning to old 20th century totalitarian notions and practices.

    So I think what Applebaum is complaining about, “Oh these protests are not clearly formulated, they don’t know what they want.” Let’s return briefly to psychoanalysis. This is a typical dialogue between a patriarchal husband and a hysterical wife, you know. The wife complains, of course in a confused way, and the standard male chauvinist answer is, “say clearly what do you want?”

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 2, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  20. Richard, Camejo has been on my mind a lot lately. OWS is accomplishing and fleshing out a lot of his ideas. I thought about writing something about it or incorporating that stuff into a future piece. Camejo is a great example of someone who rejected “Leninism” but remained a Bolshevik at heart, so to speak, which is mostly where I’m at these days.

    Comment by Binh — November 2, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  21. alphonsevanworden wrote:

    “SZ isn’ty criticising Applebaum, he is using her as his surrogate, authority with whose analysis he concurs”

    wow. I’d thought I’d seen some bad misreadings of Zizek, but this one takes the cake.

    Where on Earth do you see this approval of Applebaum in the text?

    Comment by Todd — November 2, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

  22. “So Anne Applebaum is right.”

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 2, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

  23. Honestly, Zizek is torturing language to sound uber provocative but what he is arguing is quite trivial and I don’t think anybody here actually disagrees with him.

    Short translation: the basic feature of Liberalism, which is the ideology of capitalism, is the carving up of separate spheres of life: politics, economics, culture, religion, and then developing social mechanisms that claim to separate them. The church is separate from the state which is separate from the economic sphere which is separate from the realm of culture and ideas, etc.. “politics” in the liberal sense, is the domain of parties, which fight over public power, and represent citizens as equals who cooperate on making state decisions.

    Zizek is arguing that one has to escape the illusion of the existence of these separate spheres in order to a) seriously critique capitalism, b) replace it with something else.


    Comment by Evildoer — November 2, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  24. Todd, “So Anne Applebaum is right,” seems unambiguous enough. And the last paragraph exemplifies the strategic confusion of perspectives in Z’s writing. You might think he frames Applebaum’s position as a square-off within an ideological field, but “The wife complains, of course in a confused way” pulls the characterization out of what could be charitably construted as a psychonalytic critique of that field and asserts it a plain truth. Not just Applebaum, but raised to the second power.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 2, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  25. I think the American workers’ almost religious belief in what is essentially a pseudo or at best formal democracy is a problem. Clinging to the American Dream is not a good idea when everywhere you are under attack. I think Zizek’s got that right and I think this is why the OWS have been described as un-American by the right.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 2, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

  26. Here’s Zizek “not agreeing” with Ayn Rand’s “ridiculous” remarks on money much as he’s “not agreeing” with Anne Applebaum’s “disgusting” analysis of the hysterical female occupation:

    Now I will quote someone whom I am of course totally opposed politically but sometimes she is not stupid, Ayn Rand, you know Atlas Shrugged. When in her – ridiculous – hymn to money she says money is in a way a means of liberty in the sense of, we have to divide things, exchange and so on, she says money means we can do it peacefully, I pay you, you sell it to me only if you want to, if not money then there has to be some kind of direct domination, brutal, extortion whatever. I don’t agree with her here but doesn’t she have here a point? in the sense isn’t a big experience of twentieth century communism that they wanted to abolish market money and direct brutal domination masterhood returned with vengeance.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 2, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  27. “a pseudo or at best formal democracy” – I prefer characterizations like “bourgeois” democracy. Z’s worst error, and his source Badiou’s, is to divorce the question of the state from the question of class, even if merely rhetorically. The point, and as I understdn the orignal post the one Louis is trying to make, is that the formal aspects of bourgeois democracy and the class aspects of bourgois democracy form a constradictory whole. The formal freedoms provide opportunities we can exploit in our struggles. In a discussion of German workers prosecuted for putting up posters, Marx made the point clearly that we defend freedommof speech, not becasue it is an end itself, but because it allows workers to assert themselves. In the discussions at the local Occupy, I find the problem is just the opposite of that diagnosed by Z and a number of commenters hear. They freely belittle the government, but display naive faith in the privately owned institutions of bourgeois society, the institutions whose power dominates the state and makes it such an obvious target for disgust.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 2, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

  28. #27 `The point, and as I understdn the orignal post the one Louis is trying to make, is that the formal aspects of bourgeois democracy and the class aspects of bourgois democracy form a constradictory whole. The formal freedoms provide opportunities we can exploit in our struggles.’

    Oh I agree but I think Zizek is warning about the ideological worship of this formalism as the real deal being the danger not exploiting its limitations as long as you make clear that is what you are doing.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 2, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

  29. alphonse, do you then mean that we do NOT in fact “not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory and so on”? From my reading, Zizek is pointing out that, although a right-winger might indulge in a fetishism for (bourgeois) democracy, radicals shouldn’t.

    As for your other example, do you mean that 20th century communism had NO “direct, brutal domination”? Should we use the fSU absolutely _positively_ instead of negatively for plans and road-maps, then?

    Chuckie wrote:

    “And the last paragraph exemplifies the strategic confusion of perspectives in Z’s writing.”

    I don’t think so: Zizek’s putting her (not to mention the bourgeois pundits) into the place of the husband demanding that the hysterical wife communicate on the husband’s terms, as if the husband can’t be bothered to make the effort to figure stuff out himself and wants to control the parameters of the conversation by demanding that the wife abandon her “hysteria” so that “clear communication” can be achieved. AFAICT, he’s not rooting for the husband.

    And I agree with Evildoer that what Zizek’s saying isn’t really rocket science to anyone who’s read Marx about the limits of bourgeois democracy.

    Comment by Todd — November 2, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

  30. Fistpumper wrote:

    “the OWS movement which is humanity’s last best hope to avoid irreversible ruin.”


    Are you serious about this? That if OWS "fails", we might as well all commit collective suicide because nothing else will happen or even be able to happen to bring even the chance for historical progress?

    A little bleak, aren't we?

    Comment by Todd — November 3, 2011 @ 12:00 am

  31. Toadstool.

    It can’t be a complete failure since it has already succeeded at many levels. It’s already gotten the deficit bogeyman off the front burner and been one hell of an antidote to political apathy. Whatever its outcome it will live eternally in the history of Marxism which at its core is the history of the proletariat organizing resistance to bourgeois domination.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 3, 2011 @ 12:54 am

  32. Pardon the length of this comment.

    Todd, in your defense of Z’s psychoanalytic mystification, you accept at face value his misogynist metaphor of the movement as ‘hysterical.’ We cannot treat the consciousness of the movement as a psychopathology. Z. evades the crucial connection between the private ownership of the means of production, the production of consciousness and the content of contemporary American democracy.
    Since you said nothing about Z’s endorsement of Applebaum, I suppose you feel the psychoanalytic legerdemain adequately explains why, “Anne Applebaum is right” does not mean Anne Applebaum is right. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at that last paragraph:
    1) So I think what Applebaum is complaining about, “Oh these protests are not clearly formulated, they don’t know what they want.” A summary paraphrase presented as a direct quote and its contents supposed as true by Z.
    2) Let’s return briefly to psychoanalysis. This is a typical dialogue between a patriarchal husband and a hysterical wife, you know. The summary as rewritten by Z. is imagined as an utterance in a dialog and subsumed under a disciplinarily defined genre of talk. The subsumption is arbitrary since it depends on analogy, and the analogy depends on Z’s rewritings. The abstract genre has become the reality of what Applebaum said.
    3) The wife complains, of course in a confused way, and the standard male chauvinist answer is, “say clearly what do you want?” A fictional response completes the fictional dialog. Both roles are now abstracted and objectified, the hysteria is take for given, and we don’t know by whom. By Applebaum? By the generic husband? By psychoanalysis? By Z. the psychoanalyst? By Z. the political agitator? I assume this confusion in perspective, accrued in just four sentences, licensed you to put hysterical in scare quotes. That additional perspectivization has no other obvious motivation internal to the text.
    We know that Z. can formulate cogently when he chooses, for instance, “the name of the enemy today is democracy.” When he does not articulate the logic of his arguments clearly and cogently, he does so strategically. Instead he starts with Applebaum’s patently ludicrous and counter-factual statements and rather than examine them materially in connection with their object and the medium of their expression he displaces this self-constructed semblance of a discourse into an example of an arbitrary, abstract category.
    Z’s evasion of the real owes much to Hegel, “masterly sophistry” as Marx called it, and little to materialist method and materialist approaches to political struggle.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 3, 2011 @ 1:12 am

  33. “I think Zizek is warning about the ideological worship of this formalism”

    Whether he’s declaring “democracy is the enemy” or going on about the “hysterical wife” the only consistent thing that I can detect from Zizek is a desire to shock liberals in some fashion. Whenever Zizek appears in the Guardian or the London Review of Books I can almost hear the rock band singing in the background “He’s a bad boy!” But what else does he really have to offer, besides “I support Obama”?

    Shocking liberal sensibilities can sometimes be a very significant thing. There were times during the Civil Rights Movement when many traditional liberals felt their sensibilities shocked in a way which moved them to action. I don’t see Zizek accomplishing anything comparable. Zizek comes across more as part of a liberal circus show. “Ladies and gentlemen, before you go out of here to pull the lever for Obama, in this center ring we have a star attraction who will shock your sensibilities as nothing else can…” “Tawdry” is a word that comes to mind whenever I’m reminded of Zizek.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — November 3, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  34. contents of s/z tag @ stalin’s moustache are pretty cool including a link to jameson’s parallax view review http://stalinsmoustache.wordpress.com/tag/slavoj-zizek/ or if jameson is a bit too ponderous and supportive of the parallax project whatever it is Tamara Says:

    3 November, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Of course they don’t have time for him. Zizeks galore in every cafee. And no reading of him, that only makes him more important, the turncoat! But I’ll give you another fmr Yu description of him. He is ‘podguzna muva’, literal translation, ‘underarse fly’. I bet Zizek could endlessly analyse that little cultural gem, but the reference is to those big, loud, flies that buz and bite around horses’ and cows’ arses. In other words, he wanted to be part of the big, western, democracies, but all he got was shit at the end. And serves him right, the hypocrite! Sorry, I’ve got this fuming reaction whenever I hear his name. I’ll just shut up.

    Comment by ricorocha — November 3, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  35. “Is democracy the enemy?”

    Only if the people are your enemy

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — November 4, 2011 @ 3:05 am

  36. Fistpumper wrote:

    “It can’t be a complete failure since it has already succeeded at many levels.”

    Well, that’s good.

    What generated such a bleak and depressing comment?

    Comment by Todd — November 4, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  37. Chuckie wrote:

    “Todd, in your defense of Z’s psychoanalytic mystification”

    Let’s be clear about something: I’m not defending him. I’m just pointing out that some people seem to be falling all over themselves with pretty flimsy (and thin) criticism against him.

    “you accept at face value his misogynist metaphor of the movement as ‘hysterical.’”

    See, this is what I’m getting at: you’ve consistently read this line with the worst possible interpretation. You sound like those anti-communists who try to smear all of marxism and communism with a fascist interpretation when they read that Marx called some people “racial trash” (which isn’t the best interpretation of the german to begin with). You have an axe to grind, not an argument to make.

    Comment by Todd — November 4, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  38. Todd: do you mean that 20th century communism had NO “direct, brutal domination”? Should we use the fSU absolutely _positively_ instead of negatively for plans and road-maps, then?

    The paragraph in italics in my comment (#26) is my transcript from the Zizek interview (the video of which is posted above), not my commentary.

    Todd: do you then mean that we do NOT in fact “not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory and so on”?

    Again, the section in Italics in this comment (#19) is not my commentary but a transcript of Zizek’s talk at St. Mark’s Bookstore: http://www.imposemagazine.com/bytes/transcript-slavoj-zizek-at-st-marks-bookshop

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 4, 2011 @ 10:58 am

  39. The “battle of democracy” should ditch all illusions in liberal democracy. The alternative for the working class comes from two directions. One is from the school of participatory democracy. The other, ironically, comes from the school of Managed Democracy. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” is merely the highest form of participatory but managed democracy for the working class. The likes of Ferdinand Lassalle understood this better than the more liberal-leaning August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht.

    Comment by Jacob Richter — November 4, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

  40. alphonse, I know that you were showing Zizek’s words, but the context you were offering them in invited me to ask those questions. If you’re castigating Zizek for what he said/wrote, I’m asking you if you believe the opposite to be the case.

    Comment by Todd — November 4, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

  41. Todd, ‘hysteria’ is a misogynistic notion, isn’t it? It’s analogical extension as a critique of the Occupy movment remains misogynistic . Can you provide any argument that it is not misogynistic?
    You have ,however, missed the main point. If you consider the three analytic steps in my argument, you will find that I am looking at this particular piece as one example of Z’s consistent method. Perhaps the citation of Hegel was not explicit enough. I am saying, Z is not a materialist. he is an idealist. From The Holy Family to Materialism and Empirio-Criticism up to our discussion today, the advocacy of materialism and the rejection of idealism has been a fundamental theme in Marxist polemics. Because materialism provides a cornerstone for Marxism, Marxists have always insistently exposed the counterproductive folly of idealist social critique.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 4, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  42. Do I believe Ayn Rand was never “not stupid”? Yeah.

    Hardly surprising Zizek evokes Anne Applebaum, as she is echoing Zizek in her article:

    Zizek;: if you don’t have a basic patriotic identification– in the sense of “we are all members of the same nation and so on”—then democracy doesn’t function. You cannot have a living democracy in this pure multiculturalist liberal dream… .

    Applebaum: Democracy works only within distinct borders and among people who feel themselves to be part of the same nation. A “global community” cannot be a national democracy.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 4, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

  43. Of course the postures differ: Zizek is pushing a white supremacist volkish nationalism that identifies non-aryan intruders as the destroyers of European democracy, while Applebaum is stressing the purported powerlessness of nations against what she portrays as effectively stateless private power and “market forces”, her image of that to which the nation is opposed not, as in Zizek’s endless tales, a Rom family or horde of mindless car-burning “second and third generation immigrants [sic]” but the figure at once Olympian and piratical of “a hedge fund based in a tax haven”.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 4, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  44. This seemed a good place to make this note. November 6 is the 20th anniversary of the end of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, which itself was declared dissolved on December 26, 1991. Here is a discussion about this at RT TV:

    A few quotes from the show that I particularly liked:

    “There are more communists in Berkeley than in Poland” — by a Communist Party official in Poland in the 1980s.

    “The social contract was broken…” hence the people lost faith in the Communist Party (from the 1970s) and finally the state (the USSR). I view Occupy Wall Street as a popular reaction to “the social contract was broken” (from 1981 on) in the USA (as with the similar popular protests in the Euro-zone these days).

    The Communist Party had ceased to be the exclusive holder of power in the USSR after 1989; Gorbachev had introduced/allowed multiparty parliamentary politics, though the CP retained much control. So, the USSR was a multiparty democracy between 1989-1991.

    Also interesting is the conclusion of the panel in this show that the end/”collapse” of the CP/USSR was a contingent event, not an inevitable one. Had Gorbachev acted differently, there might still be a multiparty democratic USSR.

    I think the social contract, and political freedom are the two essentials for any ideology to enjoy enduring popular support. Democracy is a political form that can facilitate the operation of the first and the experience of the second. But a hollow democracy, as we are increasingly experiencing here in the USA, is a form without substance if “the social contract is broken” (government fails as the steward of popular social goals and benefits), and if popular (as opposed to elite/insider or corporate) “political freedom” is disconnected from political power, so the “general will” (Rousseau) does not affect the course of government. Democracy alone, as an empty formalism, is not the real issue, but “democracy” spoken of as a label for an integrated procedural complex that expresses the social contract and mediates real political freedom.

    Comment by Manuel Garcia, Jr. — November 5, 2011 @ 6:10 am

  45. Chuckie wrote:

    “Todd, ‘hysteria’ is a misogynistic notion, isn’t it?”

    What does that have to do with the price of beans?

    Again, as far as I can tell, this is Zizek’s characterization of how Applebaum thinks. If you don’t believe that, I’d like to see some evidence or argument other than Zizek is secretly a woman-hater/racist/Eurocentrist/etc.

    “I am saying, Z is not a materialist. he is an idealist.”

    If by this you mean he’s not using (or genuflecting to) a list of concrete facts or citing some source about the material universe to prove that Applebaum is wrong about something, then, yes, he is an idealist. But I don’t see how mockery needs to be materialist to achieve something.

    “the advocacy of materialism and the rejection of idealism”

    Um, he ‘s not invoking the Universal Soul or referring to some kind of an essentialism.

    As for that quote, alphonse, did you bother reading it in its context? Here it is:

    “I think capitalism will — the way we know it — will destroy itself, in a way. And it’s already doing it. For example, all the human rights and so on, now we are talking about torture. Wait what we will be talking in ten years, and so on and so on. I think we are already going into another direction. Or we speak about global world? Yes, commodities can circulate, but more and more we are moving towards gated communities and so on, and we should be very clear here. Here, I will even propose a conservative topic, which is that if you don’t have a basic patriotic identification — not nationalism, but in the sense of “we are all members of the same nation and so on” — then democracy doesn’t function. You cannot have a living democracy in this pure multiculturalist liberal dream: we have just different lifestyle and a totally neutral legal framework, which allows them to interact. No, you need more. That more is threatened, not by leftist multiculturalists, but by capitalist development itself. I think we are more and more approaching new forms of gated communities. ”


    He’s arguing that liberalism, that ideology that turns poverty and wealth into “lifestyle choices”, is destroying democracy, and I can’t say as I disagree with him. But that shouldn’t be news to a Marxist: capitalism causes the atomization of society, exactly that thing that Zizek sees in gated communities and a liberal multiculturalism that can only concentrate on difference-as-lifestyle.

    alphonse wrote:

    “Zizek is pushing a white supremacist volkish nationalism that identifies non-aryan intruders as the destroyers of European democracy”

    Kindly explain how such a person could write this:


    Someone described as pushing what you describe would _welcome_ Breivik’s little spree.

    Or is Zizek just some secret fascist and only those people who know the secret handshake have managed to suss this out?

    Comment by Todd — November 6, 2011 @ 12:31 am

  46. Thank you for these comments, Todd. The entire anti-Zizek thread of this discussion, beginning with Louis Proyect’s original exposition of cherry-picked instances where Lenin recommended engagement with bourgeois oppositional modes, is filled with outaraged proclamations of doctrinal purity or analytical certitude by individuals apparently unacquainted with irony, rhetorical provocation, indirection, and Zizek’s general objective of shaking liberals out of their dogmatic slumber. So they conclude that Zizek admires Anne Applebaum, is ignorant of history, hates the people, is a fascist, a racist, an anti-materialist, an idealist, and on and on. Come on people. Go back and read Zizek’s blog post, and consider the context.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 6, 2011 @ 2:48 am

  47. “Someone described as pushing what you describe would _welcome_ Breivik’s little spree.”

    He does welcome what you call “Breivik’s little spree”:

    “What if Europe should accept the paradox that its democratic openness is based on exclusion – that there is “no freedom for the enemies of freedom”, as Robespierre put it long ago? In principle, this is, of course, true, but it is here that one has to be very specific. In a way, there was a vile logic to Breivik’s choice of target: he didn’t attack foreigners but those within his own community who were too tolerant towards intruding foreigners. The problem is not foreigners, it is our own (European) identity.”

    He’s not a secret fascist but openly fascist.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 6, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  48. — ” Say, what if somebody says: ‘We need neither too much respect for Jews, nor the Nazi holocaust, but the right measure in between, some quotas for universities and prohibition of public offices for the Jews to prevent their excessive influence,’ one cannot really answer him at a purely formal level. Here we have the formalism of wisdom: the true task is to transform the measure itself, not only to oscillate between the extremes of the measure.”

    — “Socially, what is most toxic is the foreign Neighbor—the strange abyss of his pleasures, beliefs and customs. Consequently, the ultimate aim of all rules of interpersonal relations is to quarantine (or at least neutralize and contain) this toxic dimension, and thereby reduce the foreign Neighbor—by removing his otherness—to an unthreatening fellow man. The end result: today’s tolerant liberal multiculturalism is an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness—the decaffeinated Other who dances fascinating dances and has an ecologically sound holistic approach to reality while features like wife beating remain out of sight.”

    — “*Is effectively not the ultimate horizon of the postmodern ‘identity politics’ Darwinian – defending the right of some particular species of the humankind within the panoply of their proliferating multitude (gays with AIDS, black single mothers…)? The very opposition between “conservative” and “progressive” politics can be conceived of in the terms of Darwinism: ultimately, conservatives defend the right of those with might (their very success proves that they won in the struggle for survival), while progressives advocate the protection of endangered human species, i.e., of those losing the struggle for survival.”

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 6, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

  49. Hitler;
    In order to mask his activity and lull his victims, however, he talks more and more of the equality of all men without regard to race and color. The fools begin to believe him.

    Since, however, his whole being still has too strong a smell of the foreign for the broad masses of the people in particular to fall readily into his nets, he has his press give a picture of him which is as little in keeping with reality as conversely it serves his desired purpose. His comic papers especially strive to represent the Jews as a harmless little people, with their own peculiarities, of course-like other peoples as well-but even in their gestures, which seem a little strange, perhaps, giving signs of a possibly ludicrous, but always thoroughly honest and benevolent, soul. And the constant effort is to make him seem almost more ‘insignificant’ than dangerous.


    Socially, what is most toxic is the foreign Neighbor—the strange abyss of his pleasures, beliefs and customs. Consequently, the ultimate aim of all rules of interpersonal relations is to quarantine (or at least neutralize and contain) this toxic dimension, and thereby reduce the foreign Neighbor—by removing his otherness—to an unthreatening fellow man. The end result: today’s tolerant liberal multiculturalism is an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness—the decaffeinated Other who dances fascinating dances and has an ecologically sound holistic approach to reality while features like wife beating remain out of sight.

    The structure of the chocolate laxative can be discerned throughout today’s ideological landscape; it is what makes a figure like Soros so objectionable. He stands for ruthless financial exploitation combined with its counter-agent, humanitarian worry about the catastrophic social consequences of the unbridled market economy. Soros’s daily routine is a lie embodied: half of his working time is devoted to financial speculation, the other half to ‘humanitarian’ activities (financing cultural and democratic activities in post-Communist countries, writing essays and books) which work against the effects of his own speculations.

    Madoff was not a marginal eccentric, but a figure from the very heart of the US financial establishment (Nasdaq), involved in numerous charitable activities. One should thus resist the numerous attempts to pathologize Madoff, presenting him as a corrupt scoundrel, a rotten worm in the healthy green apple. Is it not rather that the Madoff case presents us with an extreme but therefore pure example of what caused the financial breakdown itself? Here one has to ask a naive question: did Madoff not know that, in the long term, his scheme was bound to collapse? What force denied him this obvious insight? Not Madoff’s own personal vice or irrationality, but rather a pressure, an inner drive to go on, to expand the sphere of circulation in order to keep the machinery running, inscribed into the very system of capitalist relations….[i]t would have been easy to imagine a [US public] reaction such as: ‘Did you notice how Jews, Jewish financiers, made us hard-working Americans pay $700 billion to cover the costs of their follies?’>/i>

    It is none other than Nietzsche who proposed the correct materialist intervention destined to “traverse the /anti-Semitic/ fantasy”: in No. 251 ofBeyond Good and Evil, he proposed, as a way to “breed a new caste that would rule over Europe,” the mixing of the German and the Jewish race, which would combine the German ability of “giving orders and obeying” with the Jewish genius of “money and patience.” [3] The ingenuity of this solution is that if combines two fantasies which are a priori incompatible, which cannot meet each other in the same symbolic space, as in the English publicity spot for a beer from a couple of years ago. Its first part stages the well-known fairy-tale anecdote: a girl walks along a stream, sees a frog, takes it gently into her lap, kisses it, and, of course, the ugly frog miraculously turns into a beautiful young man. However, the story isn’t over yet: the young man casts a covetous glance at the girl, draws her towards himself, kisses her – and she turns into a bottle of beer which the man holds triumphantly in his hand… We have either a woman with a frog or a man with a bottle of beer – what we can never obtain is the “natural” couple of the beautiful woman and man – why not? Because the fantasmatic support of this “ideal couple” would have been the inconsistent figure of a frog embracing a bottle of beer. This, then, opens up the possibility of undermining the hold a fantasy exerts over us through the very over-identification with it, i.e. by way of embracing simultaneously, within the same space, the multitude of inconsistent fantasmatic elements. That is to say, each of the two subjects is involved in his or her own subjective fantasizing – the girl fantasizes about the frog who is really a young man, the man about the girl who is really a bottle of beer. What modern art and writing oppose to this is not objective reality but the “objectively subjective” underlying fantasy which the two subjects are never able to assume, something similar to a Magrittesque painting of a frog embracing a bottle of beer, with a title “A man and a woman” or “The ideal couple”. And is this not exactly what Nietzsche does in his proposal? Is his formula of the new race mixed from Germans and Jews not his “frog with a bottle of beer”?

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 6, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  50. “all the human rights and so on, now we are talking about torture.”

    Zizek on torture:

    the very fact that Abu Ghraib tortures turned into a public scandal which put the US administration in a defensive position was in itself a positive sign – in a really “totalitarian” regime, the case would simply be hushed up. ..The widespread protests of the US public, especially students, against the US engagement in Vietnam was a key factor in causing the US withdrawal – however, is the very fact of such a protest in the middle of a war not in itself a proof of high US ethical and freedom standards? Imagine a similar movement, say, in England when it joined the World War I: Bertrand Russell was interned for his pacifism, and for years he had to submit the manuscripts of his books to a state censor. (He mentions this fact in the foreword to the later new edition of his popular History of Western Philosophy, ironically admitting that the censor’s remarks where often insightful and helped him to make the manuscript better.) When Leftists today complain about the violations of human rights in Guantanamo, the obvious counter-question is: do we all not know that there must be dozens of much worse places in China, Russia, in African and Arab countries? The standard Rightist-liberal complaint that the critics of the US “apply different standards”, judging the US much harsher than other countries, misses the point, which is that the critics tend to judge each country by its own standards.”

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 6, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  51. Todd, you made my morning. “Genuflecting to facts” – that made me laugh so hard I almost spewed my morning beverage on the keyboard. So blithely oblivious to the context and topic of discussion. “The Unrepentant Marxist” – a blog dedicated to exemplifying Marxist methods of critique. Zizek – a marketed by his publishers and self-identifed as Marxist. Although you have chosen typically Zizzian circumlocution, I appreciate your willingness to admit that you do not think Z. is a Marxist and that you attach no importance to Marxist methods. Taht concession could close the discussion.

    BuI I can’t help addressing a word or two to the curious notion of texture in which mockery can be ‘effective’ without regard to its perspective. Anyoen who wants of mockery of liberals can find it aplenty – Rush Limbaugh, Jon Stewart, Stven Colbert. I grant you that in contrast to Z. they can be funny, but their mockery alone cannot redeem their politics.

    In another location during a discussion of the related issue of Z.’universalism, which dismisses the particularism of gender and racial struggles and seeks to submerge them in some generic ‘universalism’ I posted this counterexample of mockery blended with acute social analysis.

    In 1857-58 Marx and Engels wrote reports on the armed revolt in India for the New York Daily Tribune. In an article in January 1858, Engels covered the relief of the siege of Lucknow. In it Fred discussed the report submitted to the Governor-General by Brigadier Inglis, who commanded the relief expedition. Fred analyzed two of the general’s claims. First that the general and his troops had displayed extraordinary bravery under extraordinary circumstances and second that the British inhabitants of Lucknow had suffered extraordinarily under the siege.
    In the following passage, Fred concludes his examination of the general’s remarks on the bravery of the British soldiers and then proceeds to consider the ordeal of the British civilians.
    … all these observations compel us to acknowledge the whole of this report is full of the most glaring exaggerations, and will not stand cool criticism for a moment.
    But then surely the besieged underwent uncommon hardships? Listen:
    “The want of native servants has also been a source of much privation. Several ladies have had to tend their own children, and even to wash their own clothes as well as to cook their scanty meals entirely unaided.”
    Pity the sorrows of a poor Lucknow lady! True, in these times of ups and downs, when dynasties are made and unmade in a day, and revolutions and commercial crashes combine to render the permanency of all creature comforts most splendidly insecure, we are not called up to show any great sympathy if we hear of some ex-queen having to darn her own stockings, and even to wash them, not to speak of cooking her own mutton-chop. But an Anglo-Indian lady, one of that vast number of sisters, cousins, or nieces to half-pay officers, Indian government writers, merchants, clerks, or adventurers, who are, or rather were, before the mutiny, sent out every year, fresh from the boarding-school, to the large marriage-market in India, neither more nor less ceremoniously, and often far less willingly, than the fair Circassians that go to the Constantinople market – the very idea of one of these ladies having to wash her own clothes and cook her scanty meals entirely unaided – entirely! One’s blood boils at it. Completely without ‘native servants’ – ay, having actually to tend their own children! It is revolting – Cawnpore [where after a siege the insurgents killed the European inhabitants] would have been preferable.

    One actual quote, one paragraph of commentary. An incisive critique of bourgeois marriage and the marriage market. Of gendered colonial privilege. Of masculine prerogative and its self-righteous presumption regarding both. For all its brevity, conceptualizng them as interconnected. A materialist analysis. And funny. For a bourgeois audience. It’s just not that hard

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 6, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

  52. “He’s arguing that liberalism, that ideology that turns poverty and wealth into “lifestyle choices”, is destroying democracy, ”

    Not at all.

    — “While socialism may criticize the false democracy of human rights, the very space for this criticism was opened up by bourgeois democracy. To make freedom informal, you must first proclaim a formal principle of freedom.”

    — “capitalism will — the way we know it — will destroy itself, ”

    How? By being too open to and indulgent of the non-Aryan enemy and not harsh enough on the European traitors. (Precisely as Breivik argued in his manifesto):

    He is defending the status quo in liberal democracies against threats. The threats are “oriental”, Semitic and non-European – they are “Asian values”, “Islamofascism”, “oriental wisdom”, “pagans worshipping false idols”, “multiculturalism”, etc..

    In this sense, liberalism and fundamentalism form a “totality”: the opposition of liberalism and fundamentalism is structured so that liberalism itself generates its opposite. So what about the core values of liberalism: freedom, equality, fraternity? The paradox is that liberalism itself is not strong enough to save them against the fundamentalist onslaught.Fundamentalism is a reaction – a false, mystifying, reaction, of course – against a real flaw of liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism. Left to itself, liberalism will slowly undermine itself – the only thing that can save its core is a renewed Left.

    Now this is a familiar fascist argument – “liberalism” (in the narrow sense) is not strong enough to defend the Christian values and Western civilisation. It is too open to the enemy, to the toxic foreigners. It is too weak and there are traitors – (Jews) – within who promote “multiculturalism” (which he even identifies as a kind of new freemasonry, echoing the Protocols closely) for others while retaining their tribal identity for themselves:

    Along these lines, François Regnault claims that the contemporary Left demands of Jews (much more than of other ethnic groups) that they “yield with regard to their name” — a reference to Lacan’s ethical maxim “do not yield with regard to your desire”…[elipsis in original] One should remember here that the same shift from radical emancipatory politics to the fidelity to the Jewish name is already discernible in the fate of the Frankfurt School, especially in Horkheimer’s later texts….No wonder that those who demand fidelity to the name “Jews” are also those who warn us against the “totalitarian” dangers of any radical emancipatory movement. Their politics consists in accepting the fundamental finitude and limitation of our situation, and the Jewish Law is the ultimate mark of this finitude, which is why, for them, all attempts to overcome Law and tend towards all-embracing Love (from Christianity through the French Jacobins and Stalinism) must end up in totalitarian terror.

    Zizek repeatedly identifies “liberalism” as Christian and Western and demands it be rescued from those who don’t have a “basic patriotic identification” (these “Jewish Maoists”, “liberal communists” “multiculturalists” who are the threat within as Oriental enemies in China, India, the Arab world are the threat from without) – from those identified by the right wing as the enemy, the non-Christians. He’s endlessly repetitive on this score – the threats are China, Islamic “fundamentalism”, mindless hordes in French suburbs whom he claims have no speech or thought, London rioting mobs whom he calls beasts, “second and third generation immigrants” who are equally mindless and can only “imitate consumerism” – all these threaten “the West” whose essence is Christian, universal blah blah, and threaten democracy which according to Zizek is in the West bound to capitalism. Zizek treats Western imperialism as a civilising mission which democratised the world, but expresses his “worry” now that the decline of the US empire has decoupled capitalism from liberal democracy under the influence of his Hegelian fantasy of Oriental despotism, and that to defend itself “the West” will have to discard “liberalism” for something “radically” different which he repeatedly refuses to name though he repeatedly insists its not communism or socialism. He repeatedly insists communism and socialism as communists and socialists understand it/them are/is no viable alternative:

    You know those people who criticize the twin brothers, these two versions of State Socialism, the Western welfare state and Stalinism they usually do it from a dream of councils, soviets, immediate democracy and so on and so on. I claim that that one also has to be abandoned. This was the big dream which died … I claim this is an illusion. – Marxism 2010

    The only sense in which we are communists is that we care for the commons. – speech to OWS

    Clearly the vision he is advocating for is some kind of fascism. He is always alluding to the end of liberalism and democracy, the need for drastic changes, and the absurdity of communism – his hints for the kind of “radically different” social organisation he wants involve such measures as “not screwing” BP (as if it were a mom and pop shop and not a publicly traded company insured by other publicly traded companies) and Norway’s neoliberalisation which he praises, in Goebelsian manner, for the class cooperation and “wonderful” result which he suggests can “only be done in Scandanavia”. He tends to leave his alternative postliberal postdemocratic age shadowy, but when he does condescend to describe features he raves like an infantile madman, and even invents Enron whistleblowers to tell his fable of the future – a fable designed to repulse one part of his audience and entice another:

    One thing is clear: national sovereignty will have to be redefined and new levels of global co-operation invented. And what about the immense changes to economies and consumption levels demanded and brought about by new weather patterns or shortages of water and energy sources? How will such changes be decided and executed?

    It is instructive, here, to return to the four elements of what the French Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou calls the “eternal idea” of revolutionary politics. What is demanded, first, is strict egalitarian justice: worldwide norms of per capita energy consumption should be imposed, stopping developed nations from poisoning the environment at the present rate while blaming developing countries, from Brazil to China, for ruining our shared environment.

    Second, terror: the ruthless punishment of all those who violate the imposed protective measures, including severe limitations of liberal “freedoms” and the technological control of prospective lawbreakers. Third, voluntarism: the only way to confront the threat of ecological catastrophe is by means of collective decision-making that will arrest the “spontaneous” logic of capitalist development (Walter Benjamin, in his essay “On the Concept of History”, pointed out that the task of a revolution is to “stop the train” of history that runs towards the precipice of global catastrophe – an insight that has gained new weight with the prospect of ecological catastrophe).

    Last but not least, trust in the people: the wager that the large majority of the people support these severe measures, see them as their own and are ready to participate in their enforcement. We should not be afraid to encourage, as a combination of terror and trust in the people, the resurgence of an important figure in all egalitarian-revolutionary terror – the “informer” who denounces culprits to the authorities. (In the case of the Enron scandal, Time magazine was right to celebrate the insiders who tipped off the financial authorities as true public heroes.)

    Once upon a time, we called this communism.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 6, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

  53. Boris wrote:

    “Thank you for these comments, Todd.”


    I can't stand misrepresentation, and I suffer even less boobs who make that their whole argument.

    vanworden wrote:

    "He’s not a secret fascist but openly fascist."

    Your idea of fascism (not to mention your sorry excuse for proof of Zizek's supposed "fascism") leaves something to be desired if you seriously believe that nonsense. Go back to your conspiracy theories.

    Chuckie wrote:

    “Genuflecting to facts"

    Read that line again, Sonny: unlike you, I'm not in the habit of misrepresenting people, much less myself.

    I wrote "genuflecting to lists of facts"; there's a difference.

    Soon as both you peckerheads learn to read, let me know, and I'll be happy to continue the argument.

    Comment by Todd — November 6, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

  54. Ah Todd yes I had a feeling you’d be one of these people who believe Sadam Hussein sent anthrax to Tom Brokaw. Tha’s what a diet of Zizek will do to a brain.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 6, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

  55. What readers need to understand about Todd is the old materialist axiom of Marx’s that “being determines consciousness, not the other way around.”

    Todd is a white male (late 30 something or early 40’s) assistant professor of English employed (albeit precariously) by a relatively prominent North American University. He’s been repeatedly denied tenure and rightly increasingly gets the impression such a dream as tenure is hopeless.

    His world view is thus thoroughly imbued with the big campus milieu of a bourgeois culture factory but who, as a result of “identity politics” (aka PC) taking root since the 60’s, has become severely embittered by the inroads of affirmative action while he’s also underestimated the stranglehold of the Pentagon on the University system, which consistently chokes off funds for the humanities in pursuit of high tech weaponry with which it hopes to dominate the planet.

    Todd, having been introduced to Marxism during his studies, was enamored over the fecundity of its sociological approach, particularly amidst this declining empire, but was disgusted by the multiculturalist liberal paradigm so seemingly rampant on today’s campus that allowed Women, Gays & Non-Whites like Ward Churchill in Colorado, supposedly an unqualified & plagiaristic tenured professor, to spout such “leftist fist pumping” nonsense like his thesis on “little Eichmann’s”, that said the technocrats & traders, the facilitators and enablers of the 1%, weren’t really so “innocent” when the twin towers collapsed by the hands of brown people scorned.

    Todd was so thoroughly bunched up & enraged over Churchill’s critique of the technocratic enablers & disgusting patriotism after 911 that he envisioned Churchill’s supporters as “leftist fist pumpers”, a term which he has coined here, even though it’s an absurd farce worthy of Fox Noise caricatures of the American left.

    Thus when Todd first discovered Zizek it was like a godsend to his beleaguered spirit. He was able to retain his intellectual craving for a Marxist critique of everything existing and yet find a kindred spirit in the university milieu that embraced a hostility towards Affirmative Action, reaffirmed reverse discrimination for the downtrodden white man, and thereby exuded & embraced like a long lost brethren the ancient acolytes of misogyny, homophobia, racism and everything else that he thought ultimately prevented his own tenure (meaning future) in that fairly cushy academic lifestyle.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 7, 2011 @ 3:01 am

  56. Unfortunately Todd isn’t the only downwardly mobile ressentimental white male to whom Zizek (and Glenn Back, Thilo Sarassin, Anne Coulter, etc) appeals and whose racism he prods and massages, and that’s why SZ not just a trivial clown. It’s perhaps even more damaging that he is ubiquitous – PBS, BBC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, London Review of Books, the New Left Review, Libération, El Pais, the New York Times etc. – and has become the figure of “Marxist” for hundreds of millions of consumers of mass media around the world. To many (especially USAians) who haven’t been to elite universities or otherwise come into contact with Marxism and Marxists, thanks to SZ “Marxism” and “the radical Left” will be associated not with the dignified and appealing figures of say Stanley Aronowitz, Adolph Reed, Enresto Laclau, Silvia Federici, Immanuel Wallerstein, Grace Lee Boggs, Arundhati Roy, Domenico Losurdo, Michael Hardt, Gayatri Spivak, Noam Chomsky, Peter Linebaugh, Charles Mills, Howard Zinn, Manning Marable, Angela Davis, Olivier Besancenot, Robin DG Kelley or Naomi Klein, but with the kind of cretinous, ignorant, anti-Semitic, racist, misogynist, infantile ranting slobbering lecherous pompous windbag they avoid being cornered by in public places.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 7, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

  57. Zizek has always been a promoter of The Shock Doctrine. I mean not Naomi Klein, but Claude Raines:

    “Your winnings, sir.”

    “Thank you.”

    What really shocks me though is that Doug Henwood’s LBO could describe Zizek as one who


    “combines Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxist political economy to analyze politics and culture.”

    That bloated description of Zizek reads like someone describing a drive-thru McDonald’s order as fine French cuisine. I once thought better of Henwood when I first ran across Dollars & Sense back in the 1980s. But unless Henwood reveals that there was some hidden inside-joke behind the whole thing then it sounds like he’s lost his marbles.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — November 7, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  58. Here is a passage on Zizek on issues of relvance to this discussion from the Internet Encyclpedia of Philosophy, by Matthew Sharpe, a young Australian academic: http://www.iep.utm.edu/zizek/. It’s of course no substitute for the original works, which alphonevanworden and others of Zizek’s critics here have clearly read deeply, given the quality of their comments. But for those less familiar with his ideas and approach, Sharpe’s article might be a good primer. I’m not sure about Matthew Sharpe’s academic history (e.g., how many times he has come up for tenure), his level of ressentiment, family history, etc. that might shed some light on his views in this article. Maybe someone would help out.


    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 7, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

  59. The passage from Sharpe:

    Zizek agrees with both Foucault and Marx that modern political regimes exert a form of power that is both less visible and more farreaching than that of the regimes they replaced. Modern regimes both liberalcapitalist or totalitarian for Zizek, are no longer predominantly characterised by the Lacanian discourse of the master. Given that the Oedipal complex is associated by him with this older type of political authority, Zizek agrees with the Frankfurt School theorists that contra Deleuze and Guattari – today’s subjectivity as such is already post or antiOedipal. Indeed, in Plague of Fantasies and The Ticklish Subject, Zizek contends that the characteristic discontents of today’s political world from religious fundamentalism to the resurgence of racism in the first world – are not archaic remnants of, or protests against traditional authoritarian structures, but the pathological effects of new forms of social organisation. For Zizek, the defining agency in modern political regimes is knowledge (or, in his Lacanian mathemes, S2). The enlightenment represented the unprecedented political venture to replace belief in authority as the basis of polity with human reason and knowledge. As Schmitt also complained, the legitimacy of modern authorities is grounded not in the selfgrounding decision of the sovereign. It is grounded in the ability of authorities to muster coherent chains of reasons to subjects about why they are fit to govern. Modern regimes hence always claim to speak not out of ignorance of what subjects deeply enjoy “I don’t care what you want; just do what I say!” but in the very name of subjects’ freedom and enjoyment.

    Whether fascist or communist, Zizek argues in his early books that totalitarian – versus authoritarian regimes justified their rule by final reference to quasiscientific metanarratives. These metanarratives – a narrative concerning racial struggle in Nazism, or the Laws of History in Stalinism – each claimed to know the deeper Truth about what subjects want, and accordingly could both justify the most striking transgressions of ordinary morality, and justify these transgressions by reference to subjects’ jouissance. The most disturbing or perverse features of these regimes can only be explained by reference to the key place of knowledge in these regimes, Zizek argues for instance, the truly Catch 22esque logic of the Soviet show trials, wherein it was not enough for subjects to be condemned by the authorities as enemies, but they were made to avow their “objective” error in opposing the party as agent of the laws of history.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 7, 2011 @ 7:46 pm

  60. Incredible that should be both vacuous and confused in much the way Zizek’s prose is itself, and as densely packed with erroneous suggestions, so just looking at it is exhausting. You need a chisel.

    You’d have to start, I think, dealing with this purported agreement between Foucault and Marx that “modern political regimes exert a form of power that is both less visible and more farreaching than that of the regimes they replaced.” Since the clause is so vague and muddled, you have to delineate and reply to five or six possible sets of implications just with regard to the purported content of the Foucault/Marx agreement, before be able to address whether any of the many possible interpretations of the supposed shared view is accurately attributed to either Foucault or Marx. That’s just for determining the content of sentence #1 before you could even get to evaluating it’s validity. That is, there is much (pointless, it seems to me) effort one has to expend just to resolve the question of whether there is in fact an intelligible enough predicate to evaluate as attribute of Zizek’s work (that is, to deciding whether there is anything here accurately or nearly enough intelligibly referenced from both Foucault and Marx with which “Zizek could agree” before evaluating whether Zizek’s work in fact supports the assertion of agreement with that whatever (which in fact doesn’t even exist to be agreed or not agreed with.)).

    A fitting tribute to Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 8, 2011 @ 12:26 am

  61. Makes sense to me, based on my readings of Marx and Foucault.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 8, 2011 @ 3:13 am

  62. First-Pumper wrote:

    “What readers need to understand about Todd”

    is about 98% unadulterated bullshit coming from you.

    I’m 41; that’s all you got right (good guess, right up there with Deanna Troi’s “I sense a vague unease” and cold-reading spiritualists).

    McNally, you are one dumb fucker, proud of your ignorance, if you want to attack Doug Henwood like that. Do yourself a favour: after you finish your Dick and Jane reader and a few more years of remedial, try reading something of his that’s simple, like the intro to his blog. It’ll be a tough slog, but I have utter faith you’ll grow a brain cell eventually.

    Comment by Todd — November 8, 2011 @ 3:27 am

  63. “Makes sense to me, based on my readings of Marx and Foucault.”

    Have you actually read much Marx?


    Foucault recasts a platitude of Whig history in the language of Nietzschean woo-woo and comes up with something kinda like that, but he has to edit human affairs extremely (Federici sums it up well in Caliban and the WItch), and really offer historical fiction rather than historiography, to make it seem kind of plausible. But even he did not contend each “modern” regime exerted power “less visible” and “more far-reaching” than the previous; he’s just rehashing the assumptions of liberal/bourgeois history (sort of unwittingly, as if he made the discovery of its chief assertions himself, because, with the exception of Nietzsche, he seems to have been almost entirely unfamiliar with humanities and social science product after the 18th century). In any case, I don’t think you can establish that Zizek’s position is either consistently aligned to the one you attribute to Marx and Foucault, or the somewhat similar one which, though having no relation to Marx, is actually attributable to Foucault.

    Comment by alphonsevanworden — November 8, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  64. I have indeed. Do you count things he wrote with Engels? Maybe not, but if so, I think the passage from Sharpe’s encyclopedia article, which is his summary of a position he claims is held in common by Marx, Foucault and Zizek, rendered as “modern political regimes exert a form of power that is both less visible and more farreaching than that of the regimes they replaced,” is not a bad gloss on M & E’s insight from “The German Ideology” that

    “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of their dominance.”

    Of course the implication (and there are some concrete contemporary, and speculative, not entirely convincing ancient examples in the GI) is that this takes different forms for different historical trransitions. Sharpe is concerned with showing how Zizek extends this by analyzing how modernist states that claim to speak in the name of the people have to resort to pseudoscience. Zizek seem to try to use and creatively reformulate earlier ideas to meet changed realities, rather than, as I take your objective to be, to derail novel approaches by flaunting what you take to be your sophistication and deft phrase making.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 8, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

  65. Boris, doesn’t Marx define those forms as ideology and superstructure? By this definition.neither ideology or superstructure can vbe equated with the state. And doesn’t Foucault deny the theoretical substance of ideology and interests, the latter the motive force of superstructure, It’s apples and oranges.Class relations or geovernmentality.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 8, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  66. Chuckie K – I’m not sure what you’re getting at; your distinctions sound a bit Scholasticist to me. I pulled this definition off the Wikipedia article on “Base and Superstructure” (not as an authority, but just for convenience): “The superstructure of a society includes its culture, institutions, political power structures, roles, rituals, and state.” If the state is not an element of the superstructure you should quickly correct that article.

    In any case, even if Zizek is mashing together Marx and Engels, and Foucault, in a way that none of them would approve of, so what? Many Hegeleians say Marx misinterpreted Hegel to fashion his warped views, and probably Kantians say that about Hegel.

    Zizek is dealing with socially specific forms of mentality (ideologies, roles, rituals, or whatever Foucault cared to call them – he described some of them pretty well), abetted by the state, and tries to understand their particularities in the modern era (a period unknown to Marx and Engels), and their various refractions under Nazism, Communism and bourgeois liberal democracy.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 8, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

  67. Yes, my point is exactly that the state is only one element of the theory of the superstructure. The mediations between the state and consciousness are far more complex than Foucault proposes.
    As far as ‘mashing’ goes, I have, to put it mildly, reservations. My own scientific work was in historical sociolinguistics. In my experience, a model which draws on disparate conceptual sources must work work rigourously to ensure their compatibility. Because Foucault does not approach discourses as class based practices, the two are not compatible without considerable adjustments to Foucault’s categories, most particularly to expand “discourse” from a formal structure of presuppositions and assertions to a practice with practitioners and readers.
    M&E use ‘ideology’ in three distinct senses at three levels of generality. The best known and most explicit is the ‘commodity fetish,’ in which the superficial appearances of commodity relations are translated into the conceptual basis for discourses about society. The passage you quoted employs the second more general level of “ideology”, but, as M&E’s work developed, still presupposes commodity relations as the material and conceptual base of the discourses and institutions involved.
    In the Z I have read the he does not systematically or coherently relate the discourses whose putative effects he discusses in this way. He alludes to movies and tv shows. But he does not consider them as practices, who makes them and how. He does not approach them as forms of capital or as commodity relations themselves in practice and in consciousness. He does not discuss reception and consumption empirically as practices. In what I have read he seems to concern himself solely with the content, as he reads it, of these representational commodities. To me, this approach cannot determine the historical, social particularities of peoples’ relationships to these commodities.
    Marx expressed quite clearly what he adopted from Hegel’s analytical repertoire within his global rejection of Hegel’s philosophy. I wish Z had the same courtesy to clarify why retains the label Marxist despite returning to Hegel’s idealism.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 8, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

  68. I’m sure Foucault didn’t view himself as a Marxist (he probably says as much somewhere) and i don’t consider him one either. But his work would have been impossible without Marx, and his insights about the relation of institututions to ideologies (since that was what he was writing about, despite his intended rejection of class analysis) are extremely insightful, going well beyond, in his chosen areas, anything done (that I am aware of) by self-identified Marxists. I beleive there is merit in rereading penetrating analyses using relevant concepts that their author may have ignored. That’s how I read Theodore Dreiser and F. Scott Fitzgerald as well.

    Comment by Boris Hessen — November 8, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

  69. must have been truly inspirational to have been at the southbank centre july 2010 learning from der fuehrer that the hitler youth had cleverly appropriated a beautiful song for fascism The session consisted of a brief lecture regarding the inevitability of communism, and an interview conducted by an equally well respected philosopher A.C Grayling. During his lecture Slavoj made use first of the song Climb Every Mountain, sung by the Mother Superior from The Sound of Music to encourage Maria to follow he heart and love Baron VonTrapp, and the audience cheered as he showed up the hypocrisy of the songs sentiments. The same audience then sat quietly as he explained our grim fascination with fascism by means of the scene from Cabaret where the Hitler Youth sing inspirationally with a crowd in a beer hall. He said that our applause was mis-directed and that we ought to more strongly agree with sentiments of the second song as it is not intrinsically fascist but simply appropriated by fascism because it is beautiful. http://www.spike.com/video-clips/zku6hl/der-fuehrers-face-1942

    Comment by ricorocha — November 9, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

  70. the hitler youth had cleverly appropriated a beautiful song for fascism

    That’s too funny. Will Kander and Ebb have to give back their Tony awards now?

    Comment by lecolonelchabert — November 9, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

  71. Boris, My point reagrding Foucault has been all along that he, like Zizzilicious, is not a Marxist. Foucault considered his work as anti-Marxist. He explicitly rejected the concept of ideology and poses his idealist model of discourses as an alternative. I do not say his model contains no elements that cannot be used, but that their appropriation would require very thorough reformulation. Look at what Marx does in Capital. The critique of poltical economy appropriates the insights of the classcial and not-so-classical political economists, but with acerbic pruning, conceptual reformulation and systemic reconstruction. The Marxist work on ideology and on the theory of the superstructure was largely in Russian and German. In contrast to the Foucault industry, no, bourgeois publishers and academics have not promoted it. Honestly, the couple of times I have read Foucault’s major works did not impress with the depth or value of his conclusions. Marx himself drew often and fruitfully on the monarchist Shakespeare and the reactionary romantic Balzac to illustrate the impact of social being on consciousness and document the spread of bourgeois relations. Marxist theory regularly deals with non-Marxist objects.

    Comment by Chuckie K — November 10, 2011 @ 2:21 am


    The branch on the linden is leafy and green
    The Rhine gives its gold to the sea
    But somewhere a glory awaits unseen
    Tomorrow belongs to me

    The babe in his cradle is closing his eyes
    The blossom embraces the bee
    But somewhere a glory awaits unseen
    Tomorrow belongs to me

    In all the musicals that ever played on Broadway, there are few moments scarier than when an assemblage of beautiful, blondish, well-scrubbed, pink-cheeked, young men and women in their pastoral tree-lined beer garden rise to their feet during this harmless little nature-loving song and suddenly, as one verse follows another, clench it with tiger jaws into what it is really saying which, less disguised, is Today, Germany, tomorrow the entire world.

    Fred Ebb wrote the lyrics of that song, and of all the other songs in his and John Kander’s “Cabaret,”

    Comment by ricorocha — November 10, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

  73. Russian Revolution – Революция в России…

    […]Is democracy the enemy? A reply to Zizek « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist[…]…

    Trackback by Russian Revolution - Революция в России — November 12, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

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