创办于2007年11月的美国左翼网络杂志《鸭嘴兽评论》(Platypus Review)在第42期(2011年 12月1日)刊载了荷兰左翼学者哈西卜•艾哈迈德(Haseeb Ahmed)采访斯洛文尼亚学者、欧洲著名哲学家和社会批判家斯拉沃热•齐泽克的文章《占领运动、左翼复兴和今日马克思主义》。齐泽克在访谈中认为，“占领华尔街”等社会运动暴露了资本主义的缺陷，资本主义已无法继续维系其赖以存在的前提——平等与自由交换，更加专制的全球种族隔离社会与资本主义发展的冲突等方方面面的问题都在召唤左翼，但左翼在许多社会运动中却没能发挥应有的作用，所以要重振左翼，复兴左翼运动
齐泽克：是正统左翼的语言，也是美国实用主义左翼的语言，是“工会”的语言，也是“压力集团”(pressure groups)的语言，如此等等，所有这一切都是不充分的。我认为这种力量来自占支配地位的资产阶级所认同的反抗者的弱点。“这不是歇斯底里的抗议吗?这帮家伙到底想要什么?”这就是它的伟大之所在。你不能简单地说，这样不合适。无论如何“我们只是民主地抗议”。有个办法是：“请告诉我们，你想要什么?” “请把它转变成具体的要求。”而且还有一种传统嬉皮士狂欢节——我知道这并非主流——的逻辑。有人告诉我，在旧金山有人说：“我们在这里过得很快乐!”这些都是陷阱。但是，尽管如此，一些刚发生却还没有成型的事情还不错。你必须像这样开始。
齐泽克：我听说过鲍勃·阿瓦基安(Bob Avakian)的组织，即美国的革命共产党。但是他们是毛主义者吗?我和他们争论过。我几乎与他们一起成为资产阶级自由主义者。我甚至还为阿瓦基安的一本书写了序。但是，他们所谈论的“新综合”(new synthesis)没有理论实质，无法实施。他们总是只有答案：没有问题，只有答案。
齐泽克：我们必须克服伊斯兰恐惧症。但我完全不同意伊斯兰原教旨主义有关解放的潜力的思想。问题是为什么自由放纵与原教旨主义两者之间的对立存在于同一体系中。自由主义产生了既不为伊斯兰教也不为如美国这样的基督教原教旨主义所控制的一种原教旨主义。托马斯·弗兰克(Thomas Frank)的书《堪萨斯怎么了?》就是围绕着它来谈的，虽然这不是什么严肃的理论。从传统上讲，堪萨斯曾经是最激进的州，约翰·布朗(John Brown)就出自那里。堪萨斯这个有着激进的社会需求的堡垒成为基督教原教旨主义的中心。我不认同伊斯兰教的“正义感”等主张。有些人甚至声称，如果你批判神学，那么你就是实实在在的帝国主义者，属于敌人阵营。我不同意这一点。
齐泽克：在这个问题上，我与反殖民主义理论大家萨米尔·阿明(Samir Amin)激烈地争执过。当我说到每个左翼分子都应该感谢从小布什那里继承的历史遗产时，他对我大加指责。我指出，具有讽刺意味的是，布什总统任期最大的成果仅仅在于把美国变成了区域性的超级大国。它现在实际上已逐渐失去真正的霸权，而它过去几乎就是全球警察。但是，具有讽刺意味的是，也许这种进展并不好。例如刚果就让美国介入其中。我想说的是，布什愚蠢地加速了所谓的多中心化进程。我们不应该仅仅指出美国如何不好。我们应该采用同样的标准，例如中国(让我们忘记西藏这个复杂的问题)在缅甸或非洲的所作所为(与专制统治者进行新殖民主义的开发合作等等)。这就是阿明愤怒的地方。危机无论何时都会存在，我们确实应该批判美国，但它不是永远的敌人。比如，看看印度及其在克什米尔的所作所为。克什米尔主要的抵抗组织已宣布放弃暴力，并说：“我们会进行政治斗争”。但印度当局仍然视其为恐怖分子。这就是我要说的。我也不喜欢类似巴甫洛夫式无条件反射的那种马克思主义，即当人们说到“普遍人权”时的反应：“噢，你在用敌人的语言说话!你在为帝国主义辩护”。我认为这是另一种恐怖。大多数时候是这样，但并不总是这样。我知道整个马克思主义者的游戏规则：“你说的是 ‘普遍’，但你真正所指的是白人、男性”等等。
但我们不要忘记，普遍性也许是我们所拥有的寻求解放的最重要工具。我非常怀疑后现代模式。而且，在这里，我和波斯顿、法兰克福学派以及其他一些人处于同一层面上，我们反对后现代口号，即每一种普遍性都是潜在的“同一性”和极权主义。我对“反抗全球资本主义”与以多元特殊性抵制全球化是殊途同归的这一点深表怀疑。我认为，围绕着普遍性这一主题来谈是非常重要的。与此同时，我几年前曾写过——它给我带来许多敌人——《多元文化主义，全球资本主义的逻辑》一文。我不同意像霍米·巴巴(Homi Bhabha)那样的新殖民主义者，他认为，在某种意义上，资本主义是普世化的，它应该消灭差异。不，资本主义是极端的多元文化主义者和文化多元主义者。为什么呢?这是美国右翼民粹主义没有“正确”回答的问题，但却是对现实问题的一种回应。他们对社会下层进行操控，其见解基本正确。我的朋友大卫·哈维(David Harvey)也指出，当今的全球资本主义不再将大都市植入第三世界国家。相反，为了更高的利益，人们把自己的国家变成殖民地。这意味着，通过外包等方式，今天美国的资本愿意牺牲美国劳工。如今，资本主义在世界上真的已经很普遍。美国资本不能被视为仅仅是美国的。我不同意我的拉丁美洲朋友关于资本主义的本质是“盎格鲁—萨克逊模式”的说法，阿兰·巴迪乌也是如此强调。资本主义确实已经很普遍，它不根植于任何文化，它也不是以欧洲为中心。持续不断的危机的影响会最终结束任何一种“欧洲中心主义”。这并不仅仅是一个好的过程。例如， 存在着“拥有亚洲价值观的资本主义”——也就是说，资本主义比自由主义更有效率，并且不需要民主的存在。
齐泽克：是的，我不同意克劳德·勒福尔(Claude Lefort)的观点，比如，他认为资产阶级自由只是形式上的自由。这不是事实。激进的资产阶级自由战士们深知，真正的自由源自社会自由。他们也意识到了社会这个维度，并支持共同组织起这种权利。另一方面，对于作为形式上的民主的这种资产阶级民主的批判是完全反马克思主义的。因为马克思深知，形式从来就不只是简单的形式。要开始改变，首先要有“形式”上的改变。例如，当马克思描述资本主义发展时，首先要有对资本主义条件下生产的“形式吸纳”(formal subsumption)。这意味着，生产还是和以前一样，比如一开始只是在家里编织，接着有商家为了赚钱从他们那里购买。然后，伴随着这种形式吸纳，他们被拉进了工厂。我们应该完全放弃这种形式追随内容的偏见，即认为首先是新事物不断发展，然后才获得一种形式。不是的。
我不是一个乐观的人。我认为我们现在的情况极其危险。我认为我们正在走向一个更加专制的全球种族隔离社会。传统上，对马克思而言，理想的剥削形式是通过形式上的合法自由来实现的。在理想的资本主义社会中，拥有平等的、自由的交换。但是，资本主义越来越无法再维系这一点。它不再提供自由和平等。按照吉奥乔·阿甘本(Giorgio Agamben)的理解，有些人将成为“牲人”(homo sacer，意大利著名哲学家阿甘本用“牲人”一词表示那些被剥夺了社会联系与政治资格的人。——译者注)。新形式的种族隔离正在出现。迈克·戴维斯(Mike Davis)的《布满贫民窟的星球》描写得虽然有些天真，但是却表达了这样一种观点：我们被控制着，但在国家的控制之外还有着大量的人口。按照戴维斯的说法，有超过10亿人生活在贫民窟。我的意思不只是指贫穷。政府机构已经开始处理国内这些被遗忘的荒蛮地区的问题。从政治上来说，这些广阔的地区似乎仍然阴暗混乱。在这里，我注意到一个巨大的问题：我对未来的看法是什么?这是否可以继续下去?特里·吉列姆(Terry Gilliam)半喜剧化的影片《巴西》表明了这一点：它是半极权主义，但也是享乐主义。一个十足的极权主义政权，却有着私人享乐的性质。贝卢斯科尼很接近这一点，他是掌握权力的格劳乔·马克斯(Groucho Marx)。没有人关心你在私生活方面是否不正常，只要不危及政治。这里不再有典型的法西斯式的动员。
The Occupy movement, a renascent Left, and Marxism today: An interview with Slavoj Žižek
December 1st, 2011
Haseeb Ahmed with Chris Cutrone
Platypus Review 42 | December 2011 – January 2012
On November 5, 2011, using questions formulated together with Chris Cutrone, Haseeb Ahmed interviewed Slavoj Žižek at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, the Netherlands. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Haseeb Ahmed: Are we currently—after Tahrir Square and the eruption of the Occupy movement—living through a renaissance of the Left? If so, what is the historical legacy that stands in need of reconsideration?
Slavoj Žižek: I would say my answer is very cautious. Conditionally: Yes. That is to say, the way I read all these events, totally spontaneous as they are, is that, although people try, for example, to read the Tahrir Square events as the simple demand for democracy, nonetheless there is a deeper systemic dissatisfaction. What I see as a hopeful sign is that these are no longer simple, one-issue protests against this or that. There is some vague awareness that there is another fault in the system as such. By this I mean precisely the capitalist system. And, point two, that the standard representative multi-party political democracy is not a form through which we can deal with the problems. The problem today is that we have a lot of “anti-capitalism,” indeed an overload of anti-capitalism, but it is an ethical anti-capitalism. In the media, everywhere one finds stories about how this company is exploiting people someplace and ruining the environment, or this bank is ruining hardworking people’s funds. All of these are moralistic critiques of distortions. This is not enough. The anti-capitalism of the popular media remains at the level of something to be resolved within the established structure: through investigative journalism, democratic reforms, and the like. But I see in all of this the vague instinct that something more is at stake. The battle now, as for the capitalists themselves, is over who will appropriate it.
Events happen, and then you have the crucial battle to decide what an event means. I think that precisely these events, like Occupy Wall Street, are crucial because, on the one hand, they demonstrate that the problem is capitalism as such. This was the big issue in the 20th century, but somehow disappeared in the last decades from the traditional left, where the focus became specific issues such as racism and sexism. But this problem is still here. At the same time, I claim that nonetheless old answers no longer work. This is why, what critics and sympathizers notice, there is a lack of concrete proposals, what to do. Apart from abstract things, like with Spain’s Indignados, against people serving money instead of money serving people. But every fascist would subscribe to this.
What it reminds us is the fact that, as my friend Alain Badiou puts it, the 20th century is over. Not only state socialism and the social-democratic welfare state, but also, I would add, the deepest hope of the utopian left, “horizontal organization,” local communities, direct democracy, self-organization—all this, I don’t think it works. So, again, it is a big challenge. The old problem is back, but it is clearer than ever that the old answers are not up to the challenge. It is a great challenge. If you look at predominant ways the modest liberal left is conceptualizing problems, for instance, in John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, you can see that all this doesn’t work to recuperate this negative energy.
What surprises me is that there is so much energy. I thought that maybe it would stop. But look at how it is exploding all around the United States. Even Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans join them. This is the big news. There is an incredibly serious, great degree of rage and dissatisfaction that clearly doesn’t fit the established channels to resolve problems within the traditional scope of economic protests. It’s a wonderful, crucial moment. It’s a negative gesture. My slogan is, “No dialogue!” at this point. Let’s not get caught into this dialectic of dialogue with the enemy. No. It is too early. Not in the sense of, “We won’t talk, we’ll just kill you.” But, rather, if we talk now, we have to use some language, but this will be the language of the enemy. We need time to construct our own new language, time to formulate.
Protesters in Tahrir Square.
HA:Still the language of the Left?
SŽ: Either orthodox left or the American language of the pragmatic left: Is it “trade unions,” is it “pressure groups,” etc.? All of this is not enough. I think the strength is what the hegemonic bourgeois press identifies as the weakness of the protests. “Isn’t this a hysterical protest? What do these guys really want?” That’s what is great about it. It doesn’t fit. You can’t simply say, “Let’s do democratic protest,” whatever. There is the approach of, “Tell us, what do you want?” “Translate it into concrete demands.” But also—and I know it’s marginal—there are the elements of this old hippie carnival logic. Someone told me there was this guy in San Francisco who said, “What program? We’re here to have a good time!” These are all traps. But, nonetheless, it is nice that something new happens which doesn’t yet have form. You have to begin like this. In contrast to people who say that before you protest you must know what you want. No. If you put it in this way, “You are just hysterical,” you are in the logic of the way a master addresses a man. It is as a master asking a hysterical woman, “Tell me what you want!” No, this is the worst form of oppression. This means, “Speak my language or shut up!” That’s why: “No debate!” I don’t see this as a criticism. On the contrary. These protests are hysterical.
But as all good Freudians know, hysteria is the authentic thing. One of the big mistakes in 1968 was to partially accept in the mass ideology the presupposition that hysterics just complain, but perverts are the real radicals: Hysterics don’t know what they want. Even Freud says somewhere that perverts do what hysterics only dream about doing. But Foucault was right: Every power regime needs its own form of perversion; perversion fits power relations. Hysteria is the true question: when you problematize the master, but without clear answers. You yourself do not know, “What do you want?”
HA: What about the role the sectarian left would have in the Occupy movement? These are perceived precisely as “the masters”: the ISO, the RCP, et al., the leftovers from the sectarian left.
SŽ: I know of the group of Bob Avakian, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. But are they authentically Maoists? I’ve argued with them. I almost become a bourgeois liberal with them. I even wrote a short introduction to one of Avakian’s books. But, for all their talk of the “new synthesis,” there is no theoretical substance: It doesn’t do the work. They always have the answers: no questions, only answers. They have a manifesto for exactly what they will do when they take power. But when you press them with the questions of, will there be a mass working class movement that you will coordinate, will you win elections, what? For them, somehow they take power, and then they have a problem. They are precisely the “perverts,” I would say. Lacan has a good formulation: The pervert is the instrument of the other’s desire. A pervert is the one who knows better than you what you really want. They always have the answers: never the questions, only the answers. They are not a danger but an annoyance. They pretend to have the answers, but totally without anything substantial. Also, more in detail, they’ve disputed with me concrete historical, dramatic events in China, not only the Cultural Revolution, but also, in the late 1950s: the Great Leap Forward. Their answer is that these are merely the portrayals of “bourgeois propaganda.” Now, some archives are opened, and they do demonstrate that it was a mega-tragedy, the Great Leap Forward, what happened there. But, crucially, for the Left, we need to deal with our heritage. I don’t like the Left that has the attitude that, “Yes, Stalinism was bad. But look at the horrors of colonialism!” Yes, I agree there are the problems of neo-colonialism, post-colonialism, etc. But the problem with the Stalinist 20thcentury, even now, with all the liberal and conservative critiques, is that we don’t have a good account of what really happened. What we get is quick generalizations. You look for philosophical origins. You say, “Rousseau. This is a direct consequence of such an approach.”
Here I am very critical of Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment. They are an extreme example. They address fascism. Look, I’ve done my homework. But you will notice that the Frankfurt School almost totally ignores Stalinism—despite Marcuse’s Soviet Marxism. But there is no true theory of Stalinism. They think that the totalitarian potentials that exploded in the 20th century started already with the most primitive logic of manipulation of matter, the philosophy of identity, etc. I don’t think that this really works, the philosophical approach to establishing some transcendental matrix that explains the possibility for 20th century events. The task is still ahead. With all the horrors of the 20th century, the liberals’ account is insufficient. It remains for the Left to explain this.
HA: But it is a dialectic of Enlightenment! What gives rise to totalitarianism is also what gives rise to possibilities for freedom.
SŽ: I know that they say that the problem of Enlightenment demands more enlightenment. They are very clear about this. I don’t agree with Habermas’s critique of Horkheimer and Adorno [in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity]. But maybe he has a minor point. The emancipatory aspect of Enlightenment is much less explicated by Adorno and Horkheimer. You get some mystical formulations, about the “wholly other.” In the recently published small book by Verso, the dialogues between Horkheimer and Adorno from the late 1950s, what strikes me, to be blunt, is how empty this was.
I appreciate [Moishe] Postone claiming that what we need to rehabilitate today, at all levels, is the critique of political economy. Not only as an economic theory, but also, with Marx, it is much more. I am tempted to say that it is rather a historical transcendental a priori. The categories that Marx uses in his deployment of the critique of political economy are not just categories to analyze a certain sphere of society. They are stronger categories. They organize the totality of social life. This is what needs to be rehabilitated today. But where I don’t agree with Postone is that, sometimes, he sounds as if the class division somehow becomes secondary and gets lost. No. As if commodity fetishism is a kind of general structure more fundamental than class struggle. I think he sometimes goes too quickly in this direction of reducing class struggle just to a certain empirical historical occurrence. Here, I appreciate much more the young Lukács, in History and Class Consciousness, who is very clear about this non-empirical, historical a priori for the critique of political economy, but at the same time speaks totally to class struggle.
Even if we no longer have the old working class—I agree here. In the sense of what I was improvising here [at the Jan van Eyck Academie] today, that we need to conceptualize the emancipatory subject, even if we cannot ground it in the old Marxist working class. You must include the so-called “rogue states,” outside the capitalist dynamic. You must include unemployment, which is becoming a much stronger category. This is the task: how to truly render things, apparently. Postone approaches this. If we cut the bullshit, can we speak of, and in what sense, Marx’s labor theory of value? For instance, I like to provoke my friends, who think I am attacking Chavez and defending the United States. But you cannot mechanically apply Marx’s so-called labor theory of value. Because you have to conclude, for instance, today, that Venezuela is exploiting the United States through oil profits. But Marx tries to demonstrate in Capital that natural resources are not a source of value. So this means that we need to rethink the category of exploitation.
Another point that I make is that when Marx, in the famous passage of the Grundrisse, speaks about the “general intellect,” in the sense of general, common knowledge, this is Marx at his best, but also, at the same time, his worst. Because Marx thought that when knowledge becomes the center of agency, of generating social wealth, then the capitalist logic of exploiting labor, following the labor theory of value, becomes meaningless, because it no longer works. But Marx here sounds like some kind of a technological determinist, when he says that capitalism becomes meaningless, because the time of labor is no longer the source of value. What Marx doesn’t see is that you can have this “general intellect,” which, as a general intellect, is then, in a perverse way, privatized. So you can’t just return to Marx. In view of today’s global capitalism, we must ask the question of how to rethink the critique of political economy. This is a great task: I don’t see any answers.
HA: A lot of what you say is very close to what Platypus has to say. Platypus’s main slogan is “The Left is dead!—Long live the Left!”
SŽ: This is great! This is the only way to truly resuscitate the Left. Because it refers to all varieties of the Left. 1968 is a model for how the movement recuperated and gave an incredible new boost to capitalism. All the post-1968 phenomena show this.
HA: Platypus emerged in the context of the anti-war movement. So, it emerged in response to the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and thus the support for far-right Islamist Iraqi insurgent groups out of anti-Bush-ism.
SŽ: I know we must avoid Islamophobia. But I reject totally the idea of Islamic fundamentalism’s emancipatory potential. The question is why the contrast between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is totally immanent to the system. Liberalism generates such fundamentalism, which is not restricted to Islamism, but also Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., for instance. While it is not serious theory, Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? speaks to this. Kansas was once, traditionally, the most radical state—John Brown was from there. This bastion of radical social demands became the center of Christian fundamentalism. I don’t buy claims about Islam’s “sense of justice,” etc. Some people go so far as to claim that if you critique theology then you are imperialist, practically, and in the camp of the enemy. I don’t buy this.
HA: But much of the Left buys into this logic.
SŽ: I got into a shouting match with the big anti-colonialist theorist Samir Amin over this. He shouted at me when I said that there is a historical legacy that every leftist should be thankful for in Bush, the second President. I pointed out, ironically, that, let’s cut the crap, the biggest result of the Bush presidency is that the U.S. is becoming merely a local superpower. They are effectively gradually losing true hegemony. They were close to becoming a universal policeman. But, ironically, or cynically speaking, perhaps this development is not good. Take the Congo: Let the U.S. intervene there. What I am saying is that Bush’s stupidity accelerated so-called multi-centricity. We should not merely point out how bad the U.S. is. But we should apply the same standards, for example, to China—let’s forget about Tibet, a complex problem—with what they are doing in Myanmar or Africa: neocolonialist exploitation collaborating with tyrants, etc. This is where Amin exploded. Whenever there is a crisis, we should be critical of the U.S., but my God, they are not always the enemy. Look at India and what they’re doing in Kashmir, for example. The main resistance group in Kashmir formally renounced violence and said, “We will do the political struggle,” but the Indian establishment still treats them as terrorists. That’s all I’m saying. I also don’t like—another horror I will tell you—the kind of Marxism that has an automatic Pavlovian response, when one speaks of “universal human rights”: “Oh, you’re speaking the language of the enemy! You’re apologizing for imperialism.” Most of the time, yes, but not all of the time. I know this whole Marxist game, “You say ‘universal,’ but you really mean white, male,” etc.
But let’s not forget that universality is nonetheless maybe the most important tool of emancipation we have. I am deeply suspicious of postmodern models. And, here, we should be at the same level with Postone and the Frankfurt School and some others, against postmodernism’s mantra that every universality is potentially “identitarian” and totalitarian. I am very suspicious of “resistance to global capitalism” along the lines of multiple particularities resisting globalization, etc. I think it is important to speak to universality. At the same time, I wrote previously, years ago—which brought me many enemies—of “multiculturalism, the logic of global capitalism.”I don’t agree with those neo-colonialists like Homi Bhabha, who said, at some point, that capitalism is universalizing and wanting to erase difference. No. Capitalism is infinitely multiculturalist and culturally pluralist. Why? This is what American right-wing populism is, not “correct” about, but is a response to a real problem. They’ve got the lower classes manipulated with their basically correct insight that, in today’s global capitalism, as my friend David Harvey also points out, there is no longer the metropolis screwing the Third World countries. Rather, for higher profits, one turns one’s own country into a colony. What this means is that, through outsourcing, etc., today’s American capital is willing to sacrifice American workers. Capitalism is really universal today. American capital cannot be considered that of the U.S. I don’t agree with my Latin American friends who say that capitalism is inherently “Anglo-Saxon,” etc. Alain Badiou emphasizes this. Capitalism is truly universal. It is not rooted in any culture. It is not Eurocentric. The effect of the ongoing crisis will be the definitive end of any such “Eurocentrism.” This is not simply a good process. For instance, there is “capitalism with Asian values”—that is, capitalism more productive than liberalism and without democracy.
HA: We in Platypus would agree with this. For example, Platypus held a reading group last summer, for the second time, on “radical bourgeois philosophy,” including Rousseau, Adam Smith, Benjamin Constant, and others, on the emergence of the modern notion of freedom.
SŽ:Yes. I don’t agree with Claude Lefort, for example, that bourgeois freedom is only formal freedom. No, it’s not true. Radical bourgeois freedom fighters were well aware that freedom comes only insofar as it is truly social freedom. They were well aware of the social dimension, and upheld the right to organize collectively, etc. On the other hand, this critique of formal democracy as bourgeois democracy is deeply anti-Marxist. As Marx was deeply aware, form is never simply form. To begin a break, one must have first a “formal” break. For instance, when Marx wrote of the development of capitalism, first there was “formal subsumption” of production under capitalism. This means that the production was the same as before, for instance knitting at home, only, then there was the merchant who was buying from them for money. Following this formal subsumption, however, they were drawn into the factories. We should totally drop this prejudice that form follows content, that, first, something new develops, and then it acquires a form. No.
HA: Just a few years ago, during the Iraq anti-war movement, the salient comparison for the Left was the Vietnam anti-war movement. But how has the situation today and opportunities for the Left changed (for the better) from the 1960s?
SŽ:Here I agree with Postone, very much. For example, with all these Iraq anti-war protests, there was never any attempt to link with the Left in Iraq. It was purely, “We should prevent this from happening,” etc. For example, in the first government after the U.S. occupation, the Iraqi Communist Party took part. This was for me the clear limitation of the anti-war Iraq protests. They totally neglected contact with the Iraqi left. The standard narrative was that the Iraqi people should liberate themselves, without the U.S. occupation. But they had the same problem, and got into a deadlock. With attacks on the Green Zone: which side should you take, there? I was not ready to do what some did, to claim that, since they opposed the American occupation, they should side with the resistance. I don’t think these radical Islamists should ever be supported.
This is where I see the historical significance of the Tahrir Square protests. The racist Western left’s view was that the only way you can mobilize the stupid Arabs was through anti-Semitism, religious fundamentalism, or nationalism. But here we had secular democratic protest that was not anti-Semitic, not Islamic fundamentalist, or even nationalist. No one was duped into an anti-Semitic line of thought. Their line was always that this has nothing to do with Israel, this is our problem, for the freedom of us all. The Mubarak regime was always saying that Zionism and the Jews were our enemy. No, this is the true enemy, the Egyptian military. This is the historical significance.
For the Western powers, in supporting the movement, will contribute to something very dangerous. Slowly, there is a schism developing between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. Let’s not forget that the army is the old Mubarak army, with its privileges and corruption, etc. But in the Egyptian economy now there is a serious drop in the standard of living. So, the army will retain its privileges but the Muslim Brotherhood will hold ideological hegemony. This will be the crucial battle. In this, the Muslim fundamentalists can gain power. At the same time, I was shocked to see some Israeli commentary that this shows that Arabs can’t achieve democracy. As long as there are totalitarian regimes in Arab countries, there will be anti-Semitism. The only chance is secular democracy. There’s this joke, in China, allegedly, if you really hate someone, tell them, “May you live in interesting times.” But when I was in China, I asked them, and they said they knew nothing of this saying, only that in the West they say it is a Chinese expression!
HA: What about capitalism? In your recent book, Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), you invoke Moishe Postone’s reading of Marx to raise the question of the commodity form and subjectivity in new ways. Where does such reconsideration of Marx fit into the present developing situation? What would overcoming the commodity form of labor entail, politically?
SŽ: This is what they call, on TV quiz shows, the one million dollar question. I don’t have an answer; I’m very modest. But, if you look at critical issues such as ecology it is clear that this will not be able to be addressed according to what we call the Fukuyama thesis of liberal democratic capitalism as the end of history. But I don’t believe in some local self-organized community utopia. We—in the bombastic sense, humanity—will need the massive large-scale power of corporations, to move millions of people.
HA:How does this point to the commodity form of labor?
SŽ:All I’m saying is that some large-scale authority will need to be established. It is the only solution in today’s complex world. The problem, of course, is how to do it. Beyond a certain quantitative scope, democracy in the traditional sense no longer works. It’s meaningless to say, “Let’s have universal elections.” Five billion people vote? It will be like Star Wars and the Galactic Republic.
You know, Ayn Rand was right: Money is the strongest means or instrument for freedom. She means this: We exchange only if both parties want it. At least formally, both sides of the exchange get something. Without money, direct means of domination will need to be restored. Of course, I don’t accept her premise: either the rule of money, or direct domination. Nonetheless, isn’t there a correct point? One can criticize money as an alienated form. But how can we actually organize complex social interaction outside money without direct domination? In other words, isn’t the tragedy of 20th century Stalinism that precisely they tried to suspend, not money, but the market, and what was the result? The re-assertion of brutal direct domination.
I’m not an optimist. I think where we are now is extremely dangerous. I think we are moving towards a much more authoritarian global apartheid society. Traditionally, for Marx, the ideal form of exploitation was through formal legal freedom. In ideal capitalist conditions there is equal, free exchange. But, more and more, capitalism can no longer sustain this. It can no longer afford freedom and equality. In the Giorgio Agamben way, some will become homo sacer. New forms of apartheid are appearing. Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums, while really naïve, has the idea that we are controlled, but there are larger and larger populations outside the control of the state: according to Davis, over one billion people already live in slums. I don’t mean only poverty. The state authority already treats these as internal zones that are left wild, wild spaces. Politically, it is as if wide spaces remain really murky. I see a tremendous problem here. What is my idea of the future? Can this go on? Terry Gilliam’sBrazil, which is half-comedy, shows this: it is half-totalitarianism, but also hedonism. A totalitarian regime, but with private pleasure. Berlusconi comes close to this: Groucho Marx in power. Also, in China, at the level of private life, no one cares about your private perversions, but just don’t mess with politics. It is no longer the typical fascist mobilization.
Anti-immigration, for instance, is not fascism. Fascism is not returning. No. This isn’t thinking in concepts but rather vague associations. This is post-ideology. Traditional fascism was ultra-ideology. Today’s predominant ideology is a Western Buddhist capitalism of, “Realize who you are.” It is permissive private hedonism with political totalitarianism.
HA: What is the relevance of the history of Marxism today? What can we learn from historical figures such as, for example, Lenin, about changing the world? Didn’t Marxism fail? How do we avoid repeating that failure? Or, as you’ve put it previously [in “How to Begin from the Beginning,” New Left Review 57 (May-June 2009)], linking Lenin to Beckett, is the point, after all, to “fail again” and to “fail better?” What is your prognosis for “success,” then, in this regard?
SŽ: I totally agree with you. I have become self-critical of this Beckett line, “Fail again, but fail better.” It would be nice to have some victories! I am getting tired of, “We are all in this together,” but then things go back to normal. What interests me is what comes after. How is our daily life affected? The true revolution for me is there. The hard work and pleasures of daily life, how are they affected?
I am not a Leninist in the sense of, “Let’s return to Lenin.” What I like in Lenin is that he was totally unorthodox and was willing to rethink the situation. He didn’t stick to some dogma. At the same time, he wasn’t afraid to act. I claim that quite many leftists secretly enjoy their role of opposition and are afraid to intervene. I disagree with Badiou and some others about how “politics is made at some distance from the state.” Still, we have the state as a regulatory form in society.
Take Greece. The state is almost falling apart. So the Left will remain outside state politics, not in the sense of making a revolution, but rather selectively putting pressure on and supporting existing parties. What this means is that we are not ready.
For me, the greatest failure of the Soviet Union in Lenin’s time was right after the Civil War. When things returned to normal, it was a beautiful time. The Bolsheviks were challenged to reform everyday life. There, they failed. So, we have these enthusiastic victories, but afterwards failure. The greatest Marxists are those who write books on the analysis of failure.
The big task today is to avoid this, what Lacan called, with a beautiful term, the “narcissism of the lost cause.”You know, “We lost, but how beautifully we lost.” You fall in love with your own defeat, and, even worse, make of defeat a sign of authenticity. “We lost because life is cruel, but look at how beautiful it was,” etc. No. The same holds for ’68: We should find a way for Marxism or communist revolution to be something other than a detour between one and another stage of capitalism. This is the lesson of the 20th century. The lessons are only negative: We learn what not to do. This is very important. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see positive lessons. I am an honest pessimist.
But, if we do nothing, it will be even a greater radical catastrophe. The true utopia is that things can go on indefinitely as they are. The crisis of 2008 made it seem like it was merely a lack of regulation and corrupted individuals. No, the crisis is different. Today we are approaching dangerous times. We cannot rely on any tradition. Left tradition has a tendency, when it takes power, to turn into brutal domination. How to break this deadlock between two sides that are, as Stalin would have put it, “both worse.”
Mandela was great, but he was seduced by the IMF. I agree, but with the great proviso: What was the choice? End up in a Zimbabwe fiasco? This is the real deadlock, here. Mandela was not a traitor. Even with Venezuela, I am a pessimist: Chavez is losing steam. It is a real tragedy. Because of playing these populist games, he neglected physical infrastructure. The machinery of oil extraction is falling apart, and they are compelled to pump less and less. Chavez started well to politicize and mobilize the excluded, but then he fell into the traditional populist trap. Oil money is a curse for Chavez, because it opened maneuvering space to not confront problems. But now he must confront them. He had enough money to patch things up without solving problems. For instance, Venezuela has a great brain drain to Colombia: in the long term, a catastrophe. I am distrustful of all these traditions, “Bolivarianism,” etc.—all bullshit.
HA: I am interested in what you said about the opportunity to reformulate the whole of life. With Lenin, when was this?
SŽ: Around the time of the New Economic Policy. It’s interesting what happened. The most pessimistic reading is that the Stalinist state emerged then. The logic was that we will withdraw from the economy but, in order not to lose power, we will strengthen the state. It was in the NEP years that there was an explosion of the state bureaucracy, the apparatus. In 1923 already, Stalin nominated 100,000 mid-level cadre. Trotsky was stupid, playing arrogant games, and didn’t notice this. He thought that he had created the Red Army and had popular appeal. But, in the diaries of Dmitrov, Stalin said that Trotsky was much more popular in the early 1920s, but Stalin controlled the cadre and so won out. If Trotsky had won, who knows what would have happened? It would have been something different, but who knows what? What I like about Trotsky was that, like Lenin, he was a brutal realist. Perhaps the best that could be done was in terms of the bourgeois revolution. Lenin was totally honest about the end of the Civil War, the madness of the situation, there being no organized working class after being slaughtered in the Civil War. |P
1. Bob Avakian and Bill Martin, Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, Politics(Peru, Illinois: Open Court Publishing, 2005).
2. See “Multiculturalism or the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism,” available online at <http://libcom.org/library/multicultur ... national-capitalism-zizek>.
3. Available online at <http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2779>.
4. See, however, Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes (London: Verso, 2008).
5. See Lars T. Lih, “October 1921: Lenin Looks Back,” Platypus Review 37 (July 2011), available online at <http://platypus1917.org/2011/07/01/october-1921-lenin-looks-back/>.