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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Porter le fer au coeur du capitalisme global

by Laurent Etre

Let’s Strike at the Heart of Global Capitalism

Slavoj Zizek, {Après la tragédie, la farce!, ou comment l’histoire se répète} (After tragedy, farce ! or how history repeats itself) Flammarion pub. 2010

Translated Thursday 28 January 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Derek Hanson

Taking up the revolutionary heritage for a fresh critical examination, Slavoj Zizek updates communism’s original egalitarian ambition.

Hegel considered that history inevitably repeats itself. “First as a tragedy, and then as a farce,” Marx added in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852). The Freudian-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse carried the analysis further: according to him the farce can be more terrifying than the initial tragedy. Because he also has this fear but will not fall a prey to pessimism, the Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek looks into today’s capitalist reality.

History might indeed repeat itself, and the “war on terror” that started after nine eleven (2001) might well take on new forms.

For the debacle of capitalism has undermined the economic core of Fukuyama’s utopian “end of history [1], more precisely history’s final dissolution into an allegedly fluid market. The farce itself seems to reside in capitalism’s eulogists denying– as did the supporters of “Real Socialism or really existing socialism [2] before them – that the heart of their system must be called into question. Is Zizek being provocative? Not merely. The philosopher’s ambition is (like Lenin) to incite today’s inheritors of the " Communist Idea” to “start afresh from the very beginning, and so over and over again”, which does not involve repeating what has failed but facing up the failure and updating communism’s original egalitarian ambition.

The task before them, it seems, is to accept defeat as the revolutionaries’ Fate, in order precisely to be in a position to fend it off, even as the best way to defuse the oncoming ecological disaster is to suppose it is here already. Zizek’s taste for philosophical speculation leads him to try to blast a new trail for communism. He investigates the revolutionary heritage from a fresh point of view, undistorted by the bias of the overly deterministic conception of history that led to all manner of renouncement and procrastination.

His quest is not devoid of contradictions. For instance one finds a call for revolutionary “voluntarism” (the sheer force of the revolutionaries’ determination), which leads him to denounce the vanity of trying to define the objective agency of the revolution (“We are those we have been expecting”), side by side with a more dialectical concern for the union of today’s working class – at the heart of which are those that Rancière [3] calls the “sans-part” (those that have no part in, and no share of anything) so as to establish a new cultural and political hegemony that could take over the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But this philosophical nomadism - which seeks to gather up the threads of the best traditional critique of capitalism - may well be the reason that Zizek is sometimes made to be “the West’s most dangerous philosopher”. After Tragedy, Farce sends a shock wave that readers will find salutary in the current anxiety-provoking crisis.

[1See wikipedia article in french or english.

[2See wikipedia article on real socialism.

[3See the associated wikipedia article.

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