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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: SLAVO ZIZEK « Pas de solution dans le marché »

by Laurent Etre, Rosa Moussaoui

SLAVOJ ZIZEK « No Solution in the Market »

Translated Monday 1 February 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In his new book After Tragedy, Farce, the Slovene philosopher gives a thorough and abrasive analysis of the current tendencies of the system. He invites us to start afresh from the “Communist Idea” in order to build an alternative.

HUMA: What underlies what you call the antagonism between the people left out (“excluded”) and those “included” , which to you is of paramount importance in order to analyse the dynamics of global capitalism?

ZIZEK: This antagonism between "excluded" and "included" is, to begin with, not defined by exploitation. Of course there are exploited people still. But in today’s capitalism the regular, standard workers are no longer a majority. Another logic is at work. Although the societies we live in are constantly controlled, paradoxically, the power of the State has retreated from increasingly large territories where people are not even citizens any longer. I am thinking of our shanty towns especially. That being said, I think the notion of the proletariat should be retained. In its strict Marxian sense this term does not designate exploitation exclusively. Marx in this case is Hegelian: he develops the idea of a subjectivity deprived of its substantial being. In this sense, new forms of the proletariat can be defined that are more radical than those analysed by Marx. A certain French tradition, which can be traced back to Althusser, sets the political fight above all others. My friend Alain Badiou follows in this tradition. He defines four realms of truth: art, science, politics, love. But not the economy, which for him is an aspect of “human animal’s life”. I disagree with him here. I insist on the contrary that precisely, the economy for Marx is political. The economic struggle also has a part in what Badiou calls the truth-finding process.

HUMA: Global capitalism, you suggest, tries to transcend the current phase of its contradictions by mutating into “green capitalism”. Is the capitalist system compatible with ecology?

ZIZEK: Let us compare the reactions of the world’s great powers in the face of the financial crisis, to their attitude at the conference in Copenhagen. Confronted with the financial crisis, they decreed it was a case of the utmost urgency. In one week colossal sums of money were mobilized. When the survival of capitalism, of the banking sector, is at stake, action can be taken in no time. But when our survival as a species is jeopardized, what is their reaction? A compromise that is not even binding, a declaration of intent. That, clearly, is the logic of capitalism.

What eggs us on on the road to ecology is simply an enlightened utilitarianism, the need to take action to ensure our survival. Capitalism on the contrary follows its own logic, even if in the long term this logic represents a threat to our very material interests. I do not exclude the possibility that ecology might turn into the next opium for the people. Yes, we are confronted with absolute threats. But these threats are invoked to justify a mobilization of all the reactionary, regressive ideologies that put the ecological crisis down to technological reason per se. One of ecology’s great dangers is to propose a paradigm of nature as a mother-figure. A homeostatic version of nature. I believe that the environment and our natural resources are rather to be ranked among our “commons” in the Marxian sense of the word.

That is why I insist on the necessary reference to communism. In the face of the radical catastrophes that are looming ahead, no solution is to be expected from the market. Hence the necessity to develop two aspects of communism jointly. First the fight for the commons, for what must be shared, is of primordial importance. Secondly, neither the market nor the State can offer a way out.

HUMA: If neither the State nor the market, what then…?

ZIZEK: I admit that on this point I have no easy solution to propose. But it is crucial to re-invent one. I do not know how, a form of transnational, popular mobilization. Short of this, I can’t see how humankind can survive outside a new permissive authoritarian regime. We have moved fairly close to that stage already, of which Italy today affords a perfect illustration. For the tendency of the Berlusconi regime is not towards the old authoritarian regime. The Italians did not wake up one morning under a dictator’s rule. There is still permissiveness for petty sexual pleasures and consumption. Yet for over a year and a half, Italy has been living in a formal state of urgency, where Far-Right militias have been set up, while what remains of the Italian Left has been groping about in an increasingly radical state of disorientation.

HUMA: Does the drive towards a new authoritarianism threaten all of Europe?

ZIZEK: With the gradual loss of substance of the old Social-Democratic tradition, a new, fairly dangerous polarity is emerging in Europe. On the one hand the party of capital per se, centralist, technocratic, but culturally liberal, supportive of the rights of homosexuals, of the right to abortion. On the other hand, a nationalist rightwing populism, which tends to assert itself as the only possible alternative. The tragedy, let’s be clear about this, is that as yet only this rightwing populism is in a position to assert itself as being the political expression of the malaise in our neo-liberal societies.

The Berlusconi regime here cuts a more complex figure. It operates a synthesis of technocratic neo-liberalism and reationary populism, to which it adds satirical gibes at politics through a grotesque impersonation of power. Just as there is something of the Groucho touch about Sarkozy, with the staging, in the highest seat of power, of a comedian who plays the role of the buffoon. But all the while those in office remain operative, the system operates with utmost brutality.

HUMA: You explain in this book how the various brands of fundamentalism themselves are inscribed in the capitalist dynamics. How so exactly?

ZIZEK: The media keep telling us that the main battle to be fought these days is the war that pits the permissive, tolerant, multicultural, liberal, democratic civilisation against different forms of Islamist fascism and religious fundamentalism. Well, it isn’t! I do not like this notion of Islamist fascism. But if we accept it all the same, we must remember Walter Benjamin’s beautiful thesis that there is a failed revolution behind every fascist rule. Only thirty years ago there was a very strong secular Left in Arab countries. The West made a disastrous choice when it decided to designate that Left, because of its connections with the USSR, as the main enemy, and to support the fundamentalists for strategic reasons. All the great fundamentalist figures, Bin Laden first among them, were the friends or agents of the CIA. That is the US tragedy.

HUMA: Is it not illusory to propose giving the Communist Idea a second lease of life by starting from scratch as you recommend?

ZIZEK: I do not propose giving up on anything. I follow in a tradition. That of Lenin and Robespierre. Maybe the most disgusting ideological ploy in the last years consisted in presenting Robespierre as a mad executioner, honest but fanatic [1]. You might as well deny that more people were guillotined in the weeks that followed the Thermidorian reaction than throughout the whole of the Terror. I like the notion of repetition. But the idea is not to repeat the same thing. We must repeat not what the Jacobins did, but what they failed to do. I am here faithful to the four constitutive elements of what Badiou called “the Idea of Communism” [2] egalitarianism, voluntarism (the sheer force of the people’s determination), trust in the people, and Terror. We need terror, for instance, to overcome the ecological crisis. Not in the sense of the Soviet gulag but in the sense of some social discipline.

The idea for me is not to list the conditions supposed to make the advent of communism necessary. Because nothing is ever necessary. But it is not enough to invoke the “Communist Idea” either. We must analyse, probe, identify, from an immanent perspective, the social problems that are insoluble in the short or in the long term within the frame of global capitalism, and the antagonisms that open up a field for a communist fight.

HUMA: Why don’t you tackle the question of ownership head on?

ZIZEK: Tackling this question is no problem to me. But global capitalism is not based on individual private ownership in the old sense of the word. Take any company nowadays. It is managed by a manager, with a very opaque ownership structure, a complex network of conglomerates, banks…. You could even imagine a very brutal brand of capitalism where all of us were owners in the last instance at an abstract level. And so the problem for me lies rather in the capitalist operative mode than in the structure of ownership.

I am not in the least averse to nationalizations. The problem is how to avoid the old trap of State hegemony. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the failure of the USSR, it is that state intervention in the nationalized economy works only in the traditional industrial sector. But I have no clear formula for this. The only solution I can vaguely discern is a State supported by a popular movement, by an extra-parliamentary mobilization. In this respect, the Bolivian experience, with Evo Morales, seems most interesting to me. He has succeeded in inspiring a powerful mobilization of the natives’ silent majority in addition to his parliamentary majority: he is supported by the permanent mobilization of the majority.

HUMA: Is that what you call the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat”?

ZIZEK: Yes, why not? Formally, it would remain a democracy. But in the last instance, the political dynamics would not be determined by elections, by polls. There would be another kind of pressure mechanism. Liberal democracy does not function on the basis of real choices. The condition imposed on “choice” in the present system is to make "the right choice", guided by the opinions of experts. The logic here is that of the plebiscite. A democracy where (to put things rather naively) the people could “really” decide would imply transcending the frame of representative parliamentary democracy. The term “proletariat” here does not designate the working class exclusively, but all those who, as Jacques Rancière says [3], represent the “part(y) of those that have no part”. We are all equal in bourgeois society, but some are more equal than others. And the “sans-part”, the excluded, are or should be the standard measure of equality. Yes, the excluded should provide the measure of equality.

[1The Reign of Terror (June, 1793 – July 27, 1794), also known as the The Terror (French: la Terreur) was a period of violence that occurred for one year and two months after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of the revolution." Estimates vary widely as to how many were killed, with numbers ranging from 16,000 to 40,000; in many cases, records were not kept, or if they were, they are considered likely to be inaccurate. The guillotine ("National Razor") became the symbol of a string of executions: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, the Girondins, Louis Philippe II and Madame Roland, as well as many others, such as "the father of modern chemistry" Antoine Lavoisier, lost their lives under its blade.

During 1794, revolutionary France was beset with real or imagined conspiracies by internal and foreign enemies. Within France the revolution was opposed by the French nobility, which had lost its inherited privileges. The Roman Catholic Church was generally against the Revolution, which had turned the clergy into employees of the state and required they take an oath of loyalty to the nation (through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy). In addition, the First French Republic was engaged in a series of French Revolutionary Wars with neighboring powers.

The extension of civil war and the advance of foreign armies on national territory produced a political crisis, and increased the rivalry between the Girondins and the more radical Jacobins; the latter were eventually grouped in the parliamentary faction called the Mountain, and had the support of the Parisian population. The French government established the Committee of Public Safety, which took its final form on 6 September 1793 and was ultimately dominated by Maximilien Robespierre, in order to suppress internal counter-revolutionary activities and raise additional French military force. Through the Revolutionary Tribunal, the Terror’s leaders exercised broad dictatorial powers and used them to instigate mass executions and political purges. The repression accelerated in June and July 1794, a period called "la Grande Terreur" (The Great Terror), and ended in the coup of 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), the so-called "Thermidorian Reaction", in which several leaders of the Reign of Terror were executed, including Saint-Just and Robespierre(source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_Terror)

[2see Alain Badiou’s essay Is The Word "Communism" Forever Doomed?http://www.lacan.com/essays/?page_id=323:

[3see Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, 1998 ISBN 0-8264-7067-X.In this post-democratic era, those that count for nothing, that are discounted, cannot erupt on the scene as a political subject: the consensual State, having added up the parts that it recognizes as legitimate parts of the comunity, rules off the political conflictual mode that implies the possibility of "disagreement", and therefore rules out the inclusion of those that have/are no part , their inclusion as the excluded. And so it appears clearly that exclusion is another name for consensus.

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