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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

4 Responses

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  1. (Are you supposed to comment here or there on a cross-posted piece? I don’t know these rules…)

    I agree; if Zizek is complaining that “the” Left is insisting on a place of absolute purity and utopian demand (side complaint: what’s this with “the” Left as if all leftist groups are one and the same, especially considering the laundry list of leftist approaches Z lays out, ok pet peeve over)

    I repeat: if Z is complaining that the Left’s insistence on utopian, infinite demands is creating a “relationship of mutual parasitism,” then he’s leaving out exactly how this relates to access to power. Those on the left who demand to be excluded from the structures of power in order to be “pure” seem to be the exact opposite of Chavez, who’s _in it_. Chavez _has_ the power; he _is_ the power. If Chavez’s authoritarianism is not to be trusted (_is_ it not to be trusted, according to Z? hmm) then we still need people to imagine, in a utopian, infinite and all-get-out way, what it would mean to be the ones in power, the ones controlling the state, and how that would work without losing the other rights and values the Left (the Lefts?) champions.

    In other words, we need pragmatists who will get us through the step-by-step of organizing for social change, but also we need big thinkers who are mapping out where we’re going and what it should look like when we get there.

    Sisyphus

    November 9, 2007 at 9:02 pm

  2. I’ll add to my earlier comment though that middle-class college-kid anarchists can be taken right out and shot without in any way affecting my two-group taxonomy.

    Heh.

    Sisyphus

    November 9, 2007 at 9:05 pm

  3. If Chavez’s authoritarianism is not to be trusted (_is_ it not to be trusted, according to Z? hmm) then we still need people to imagine, in a utopian, infinite and all-get-out way, what it would mean to be the ones in power, the ones controlling the state, and how that would work without losing the other rights and values the Left (the Lefts?) champions.

    You put the problem better than I did.

    In other words, we need pragmatists who will get us through the step-by-step of organizing for social change, but also we need big thinkers who are mapping out where we’re going and what it should look like when we get there.

    Exactly right. And perhaps we might say that all of us need to play both the pragmatic and idealistic sides at once, at least to some degree. I am completely exhausted with the groundlessness of most of what passes for political thought in the theoretical sectors of the lit. discipline.

    adswithoutproducts

    November 9, 2007 at 9:55 pm

  4. isn’t Chavez doing both of these things at once? It’s hard to find ‘unbiased,’ de-idologized coverage (from supporters or detractors), but it seems to me that he is both addressing the ‘facts on the ground’ and moving forward in a concrete way toward a series of concrete goals with solid leftist ideological underpinnings.

    I am concerned about certain authoritarian tendencies in Venezuela, in part because I don’t trust the state over the long term with power over the people. Also: the power vacuum created in nations with less stable structural political systems [less stable – why? thanks to whose intervention? and with whose support?] in the aftermath of powerful, directed leadership frequently undermines the changes made under that leadership because there is no effectively built, enduring structural political basis that allows the policies to continue. While I see Chavez striving for creating this structural basis, we’re a long way from seeing if he succeeds in the long term.

    dave

    November 10, 2007 at 1:34 pm


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