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LCD: Zizek on the struggles we face on the left

by r------ Tue Nov 9th, 2010 at 08:35:11 AM EST

Suspecting there's a lot of anxiety and sadness hereabouts given the successes of the Sarkozy government to ignore overwhelming popular rejection, in the streets and in polls, of his retirement "reform" package, similar austerity measures in Germany, far worse in Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and coming soon the UK.

Add to this the drubbing the centre-right Obama government in the US took from the far-right, and it appears that those of us who aren't extremist neo-liberals in the West are losing on all fronts.

What to do? Despair? I note this a bit in comments to ATinNM's diary, as well as in the diary itself. And yet, and yet, these are exciting times for those of us on the left, we only have to look at it a bit differently.

In a recent NLR, http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2853 Slovoj Zizek hits this subject head on, talking to the loss of ground on all fronts, our lack of ideological bearings, the fragmented nature of our constituencies and also of the nature of our resistance. I'll let you follow the link, but he sums up quite well where we are today:

Two years before his death, when it became clear that there would be no all-European revolution, and knowing the idea of building socialism in one country to be nonsense, Lenin wrote:

"What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of the workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different way from that of the West European countries?"

Has this not been the predicament of the Morales government in Bolivia, of the Chavez government in Venezuela, of the Maoist government in Nepal? They came to power through `fair' democratic elections, not through insurrection. But once in power, they exerted it in a way which is partially, at least, `non-statal': directly mobilizing their supporters, by-passing the party-state representative network. Their situation is `objectively' hopeless: the whole drift of history is basically against them, they cannot rely on any `objective tendencies' pushing in their way, all they can do is to improvise, do what they can in a desperate situation. But, nonetheless, does this not give them a unique freedom? And are we--today's left--not all in exactly the same situation?

Ours is thus the very opposite of the classical early 20th-century situation, in which the left knew what had to be done (establish the dictatorship of the proletariat), but had to wait patiently for the proper moment of execution. Today we do not know what we have to do, but we have to act now, because the consequence of non-action could be disastrous. We will be forced to live `as if we were free'. We will have to risk taking steps into the abyss, in totally inappropriate situations; we will have to reinvent aspects of the new, just to keep the machinery going and maintain what was good in the old--education, healthcare, basic social services. In short, our situation is like what Stalin said about the atom bomb: not for those with weak nerves. Or as Gramsci said, characterizing the epoch that began with the First World War, `the old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters'.

To my view, and as Zizek alludes to earlier his essay, citing Lacan, this is not the time to think of what is impossible. It is time to think that the impossible can and does happen.

Courage to all.

Good call, redstar.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 9th, 2010 at 04:44:34 PM EST
Recently I read through a book titled "The 33 Strategies of War". Inadvertedly, it interestingly clarifies world's political pattern today, illuminating once more who are real seekers with a Grand Strategy, who are anti-strategical imitators of governing and competition, how clues for rationalization and acceptance are provided, etc.

For one thin, it shows that we have a nice class warfare going on; all strategic knowledge is there. A Grand Strategy goes back to Reagan, Thatcher, Pinochet, quite apparently. Just remember: what is called "socialism" now, was common sense policies in the West around the Nixon times. By now the political left and the majority of population are certainly divided and conquered by all Roman canons:

In 338 BC Rome defeated its greatest enemy at the time: the Latin League, a confederation of Italian cities that had formed to block Rome's expansion. With this victory, however, the Romans faced a new problem: how to govern the region. If they crushed the League's members, they would leave a power vacuum, and down the road another enemy would emerge that might prove a still greater threat. If they simply swallowed up the cities of the League, they would dilute the power and prestige of Rome, giving themselves too large an area to protect and police. The solution the Romans came up with, which they later called "divide et impera" - "divide and rule", was to become the strategy by which they forged their empire. Essentially, they broke up the League but did not treat all of its parts equally. Instead, they created a system whereby some of its cities were incorporated into Roman territory and their residents given full privileges as Roman citizens. Others were deprived of most of their territory, but granted near total independence. And others were still broken up and heavily colonized with Roman citizens. No single city was left powerful enough to challenge Rome, which retained the central position. As the saying goes, "All roads lead to Rome". The key to the system was that if an independent city proved itself loyal enough to Rome, or fought well enough for Rome, it won a chance of being incorporated into the empire. The individual cities now saw it as more in their interests to gain Rome's favor than to ally themselves elsewhere. Rome held up the prospect of great power, wealth and protection, while isolation from Rome was dangerous. And so the once proud members of the Latin League now competed against one another for Rome's attention.
Is that not how the globalization and the infamous rat race works? Some emergent markets are labeled as tigers, some countries are declared failing (much more often than ever before). Similarly, social positioning was enforced (say, in freed Eastern Europe) with praise of innovative "wealth makers", contempt of "white trash" and other loosers, all or nothing financial and social games, political intimidation. We are all confused, terrorized and ambushed like Iraqi citizen, with all these financial shocks, hypocritical elections, endless reforms, accelerating technology, rupture of social fabric. The world is so corrupt - the Romans did not know it. When a US congressman seeks Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship with open confidence that God will not allow catastrophic climate change, how close are we to Abrahamian theocracy and old-fashioned religious warfare on "false" believers?
by das monde on Tue Nov 9th, 2010 at 10:31:55 PM EST
for us here in France where our little corner of the left is cohabitated by two other parties, one of which is only partially within the grouping (NPA) and who is led by an undoubtedly charismatic figure.

But here again, there is in my view, cause for hope. Just because we need to act (and not confuse movement with action as perhaps Michel Houellebecq might say...) does not mean we cannot be pragmatic, which is something Die Linke figured out pretty early and which to my view we are coming to in France as well.

For example, the night before last at a reunion of a party of which I am a member here in Paris, it was pretty publicly announced that, in advance of Presidential elections (which drive all things political, at a national level certainly, unfortunately or not, here), that at least on our side (and I think this is pretty explicitly true for the Parti de Gauche) the 2012 elections will not be, on the left, a clash of personalities, Pierre Laurent pretty explicitly said this to journalists right before the speech, and to the extent Melanchon was mentioned quite favorably throughout both in the media presentation and in the discourses (Chassaigne, Buffet and Laurent were all there) that it would be quite possible to unite around his candidature. That was my take, anyway. Big progress from 2007 though of course we had an excellent candidate.

Notably absent from the conversation is of course Besancenot's disposition and to the extent some of the core NPA strategy is incompatible. But this being said, in the regionals where there was a united list we did quite well together (down afew's way, for instance), where there is no cooperation we've been beating them badly (Europeans, too) so perhaps on their side they may see the utility of working together more, it's a two-way conversation between the pragmatism of a union of the left (which we offer, and which may or may not be useful to frame where we will go "when the impossible becomes possible") versus the empty protest vote (though admittedly very useful and capable organising capabilities) that the NPA tend to offer of late.

I for one am hopeful.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Wed Nov 10th, 2010 at 04:57:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From "Wiki:
The Gospel of Luke, (Luke17:26), equates Noah's Flood with the coming Day of Judgement: "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man."

God only promised Noah there would be no more floods. But the good congressman is undoubtedly certain of his own salvation and so is not worried about Armageddon. The old spiritual hymn probably got it better:

God gave Noah the rainbow sign.
No more water, the fire next time.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Nov 10th, 2010 at 05:30:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We'll get our Flood, Christian or not.

My guidebook for the future is
"Canticle for Liebowitz"

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Thu Nov 11th, 2010 at 05:54:09 PM EST
Just wanted to thank you for posting this. I let my NLR subscription lapse several years ago, but Zizek nails this. I've been thinking about these same issues a lot lately, particularly this part:

the misery of today's left: there is no positive programmatic content to its demands, just a generalized refusal to compromise the existing welfare state. The utopia here is not a radical change of the system, but the idea that one can maintain a welfare state within the system.

This matches my own thinking. There is plenty of effort being expended right now to defend the US welfare state from attack. We're right to try and stop the Catfood Commission from destroying Social Security and Medicare, but the progressive movement seems to think it is sufficient to mount that defense, without realizing that as long as we have a neoliberal economy dominated by financiers, there will be a constant imperative to destroy the welfare state.

I also feel the pull of the part redstar bolded, where Zizek says "we have to risk taking steps into the abyss." I'd already decided to leave my job at the end of the month to work on a book about the collapse of the 20th century American Dream and the construction of a social democratic 21st century American Dream (signed the contract last month) so it's a fitting thing to read. Maybe I'll find some income once the book is done.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Fri Nov 12th, 2010 at 02:12:56 AM EST

Well that's putting your mouth where your money once was - good luck with that ! :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Nov 13th, 2010 at 02:32:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...the collapse of the 20th century American Dream...

It amazes me to still see so many references to "The American Dream". It is so clearly becoming a nightmare that it is surprising still to see the phrase used without irony. I fear that "The American Dream" will acquire the status of fundamentalist revealed religion and refuse to die, no matter how nightmarish it becomes.

We need our dreams. I hope you can construct a shining path to a new and better one, but one big obstacle will be those who still think we are living the original. It reminds me of the psychology experiment in which students were asked to identify an out of focus image that was slowly being driven to focus. They were instructed to write down their identification as soon as it came to them and press a button. They were also instructed to press another button if they realized they were wrong. Most eagerly misidentified the image and then sat with it in full focus for many seconds still "seeing" what they had first written.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Nov 15th, 2010 at 10:23:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope you can construct a shining path to a new and better one, but one big obstacle will be those who still think we are living the original.

That's one of the core points of my book, absolutely. There are many things driving the current political crisis in the US, but a big one is the absolute unwillingness of many people, on the right and the left, to abandon the 20th century American Dream and allow the rest of us to rebuild it for the 21st century. Whether it's rich liberals in the SF Bay Area fighting high-speed rail because it goes through their backyard, or teabaggers fighting against even a weak substitute for a truly universal health care system, they're all motivated by a refusal to admit their idealized "best society ever" has totally and utterly failed, that it was doomed to fail, and that all efforts to prolong that failed dream only make matters worse.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Wed Nov 17th, 2010 at 12:13:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
..was good in the old--education, healthcare, basic social services.

That is a good program, but it's missing the key point. And along with it everything. The human right to land.
The left works everywhere against that right. They are pro rentier, pro mortgage bankers, pro finance capital, pro monopolies, against private entrepreneurship. To some degree they are even against basic social services. How can they have anything positive to say from that platform?

by kjr63 on Sun Nov 14th, 2010 at 05:41:47 AM EST
It seems to me that the biggest problem in the USA, GB and many other countries is that of sacrelizing the rights of ownership and placing too few restrictions on the exercise of those rights. When a tiny minority owns the vast majority of property and owes nothing to the rest of society, you have a problem, as we do today. That alleged leftist governments in the past have abused the concept of public ownership does not legitimate unrestricted private ownership. Ownership of property must be embedded in a social as well as an economic and legal context in order for a society to succeed.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Nov 15th, 2010 at 10:30:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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