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Archive for November 2007

finitely demanding – zizek in the lrb

with 4 comments

(x-posted to Long Sunday)

Really like this piece that everyone is linking to from Zizek in the LRB, except I don’t really understand the last two paragraphs. Specifically, the relationship between the last two paragraphs:

It is striking that the course on which Hugo Chávez has embarked since 2006 is the exact opposite of the one chosen by the postmodern Left: far from resisting state power, he grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarising the barrios, and organising the training of armed units there. And, the ultimate scare: now that he is feeling the economic effects of capital’s ‘resistance’ to his rule (temporary shortages of some goods in the state-subsidised supermarkets), he has announced plans to consolidate the 24 parties that support him into a single party. Even some of his allies are sceptical about this move: will it come at the expense of the popular movements that have given the Venezuelan revolution its élan? However, this choice, though risky, should be fully endorsed: the task is to make the new party function not as a typical state socialist (or Peronist) party, but as a vehicle for the mobilisation of new forms of politics (like the grass roots slum committees). What should we say to someone like Chávez? ‘No, do not grab state power, just withdraw, leave the state and the current situation in place’? Chávez is often dismissed as a clown – but wouldn’t such a withdrawal just reduce him to a version of Subcomandante Marcos, whom many Mexican leftists now refer to as ‘Subcomediante Marcos’? Today, it is the great capitalists – Bill Gates, corporate polluters, fox hunters – who ‘resist’ the state.

The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.

That last line doesn’t seem to me to be in sync with the previous paragraph and its praise for Chavez’s seizing and refitting of state power. Chavez doesn’t seem to me to be issuing “demands,” precise, finite, vague, or infinite. There is, I think, a huge gap between the two paragraphs, and the gap re instantiates the very problem of left posture (or, the problem of the postural left) that Zizek so artfully describes at the opening of the piece. The gap is the gap between the “he” of the first paragraph above and the “we” of the second. It is clear that Zizek wants us to think and act more pragmatically and less through the lens of utopia. But the big question – the only question – persists across this inconclusive finale: how are we to do that?

Written by adswithoutproducts

November 9, 2007 at 12:02 am

Posted in socialism