After Politics: Post-Communist Nihilism in an Age of Dystopian Reflection

theroadlandscape

By rushing into sordid reformist compromises or pseudorevolutionary collective actions, those driven by an abstract desire for immediate effectiveness are in reality obeying the ruling laws of thought, adopting a perspective that can see nothing but the latest news. In this way delirium reappears in the camp that claims to be opposing it. A critique seeking to go beyond the spectacle must know how to wait.

– Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle

Do we know how to wait today? In our reactions to the economic problems we are facing are we acting too quickly, full of resentment and anger – allowing our deep emotional lives to fall prey to violent outbreaks that can only end in disaster? Are we playing into the hands of our enemies without even realizing it? Playing by their rules, and allowing them to have the upper hand in a game they themselves created to ensnare us? Are we conditioned to react to our enemies in the way our enemies want? Play by a script that they both control and have dramatized in a thousand-and-one modeling scenarios of game theoretic that we have yet to even realize? Are we already behind the game – or, “proverbial eight-ball” before we even organize for a revolution against our neoliberal enemies? In all the academic, NGO’s, think-tanks and other private and governmental agencies around the globe are we already caught in a web of surveillance and total control that disallows any thought of rebellion? And when a revolt begins is already circumvented, redirected, and snuffed out like a light-bulb in a dark room without even a hint that there was any conflict at all?

That old “liberal conservative” as Zizek calls him, Peter Sloterdijk, reading Terry Eagleton’s essay on ‘After Theory’ said of it: the thesis that we are living “after theory” – “to cite the elegant title of an essay from Terry Eagleton’s pen, an essay that does not do full justice to the topic-is only sensible if one also applies it to the postcommunist situation. Because “theory,” as it is evoked by some of its disappointed lovers, is meaningless without being related to the communist utopia.”1 In another biting commentary this German scholar of the Spheres of Capital would tell us: “Once this specter [of communism] is discontinued, the drama and the theory are also at once finished. He who says “after theory” truly intends “after politics.” One lives “after politics,” if one can no longer believe that what can still be done contributes to “the revolution.” (p. 186)

But what of that liberal communist, Slavoj Zizek, who In the first free elections in 1990, he ran as candidate for Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia (an auxiliary institution abolished in the constitution of 1991) for the Liberal Democratic Party? He’ll tell us that the “new liberal communists are, of course, our usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as their court philosophers, most notably the journalist Thomas Friedman. What makes this group interesting is that their ideology has become all but indistinguishable from the new breed of anti-globalist leftist radicals: Toni Negri himself, the guru of the postmodern left, praises digital capitalism as containing in nuce all the elements of communism-one has only to drop the capitalist form, and the revolutionary goal is achieved. Both the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority and order and parochial patriotism, and the old left with its capitalised Struggle against Capitalism, are today’s true conservatives fighting their shadow-theatre struggles and out of touch with the new realities. The signifier of this new reality in the liberal communist Newspeak is “smart”: smart indicates the dynamic and nomadic as against centralised bureaucracy; dialogue and cooperation against hierarchical authority; flexibility against routine; culture and knowledge against old industrial production; spontaneous interaction and autopoiesis against fixed hierarchy.”2

Yet, in the New Statesman Zizek recently said the difference between economics and a political economy came to a head when the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, “remarked that if he were to meet alone with Angela Merkel for dinner, they would find a formula in two hours. His point was that he and Merkel, the two politicians, would treat the disagreement as a political one…”. Isn’t this part of the truth? That the EU being based solely on Economics rather than a political economy is bound by rules that are both impersonal and a totalized rationality that no one can argue with politically? That there is no political forum or public voice in the EU today? That the actors are all bureaucrats, economists, and anonymous accountants?  Yet, even when presented with economic arguments by the now defunct Greek Financial representative to the EU Yanis Varoufakis spoke out saying that in his “first week as minister for finance I was visited by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup (the eurozone finance ministers), who put a stark choice to me: accept the bailout’s “logic” and drop any demands for debt restructuring or your loan agreement will “crash” – the unsaid repercussion being that Greece’s banks would be boarded up.” (here) One admits that in such a situation there could be no discussion political, economic or otherwise, only silence and acceptance of the harsh dictates of Troika, etc..

It is a sad sign of our times that today you have to belong to a “radical” left to advocate these same measures – a sign of dark times, but also a chance for the left to occupy the space which, decades ago, was that of the moderate centre left.

– Slavoj Zizek

As he’ll tell us the No of Greece became for their leaders a No to the Eurocrats who prove daily that they are unable to drag Europe out of its inertia. “It was a No to the continuation of business as usual; a desperate cry telling us all that things cannot go on the usual way. It was a decision for authentic political vision against the strange combination of cold technocracy and hot racist clichés about lazy, free-spending Greeks. It was a rare victory for principle against egotist and ultimately self-destructive opportunism. The No that won was a Yes to full awareness of the crisis in Europe; a Yes to the need to enact a new beginning.” Yet, in the end the leaders caved in and gave up their ghost to the imperial might of the EU.

So now the Greek people seem to be fed up, falling back on violence and frustration knowing they are powerless, that their vote of “no” – meant a no to the EU’s terms, was for many in recent protests a betrayal on the part of their government in bowing to the demands of the EU. (here) What happens next? More Austerity? More violence that can only end in civil war between the Left and Right? The total melt-down of Greece? What I said in my previous post seems to be coming about. It’s as if everyone is in love with the “spectacle of fear” rather than its reality on the street. Zizek will tell us it’s not the people in the street we must fear, rather its the distant ones who are the “exemplary figures of evil today not ordinary consumers who pollute the environment and live in a violent world of disintegrating social links, but those who, while fully engaged in creating conditions for such universal devastation and pollution, buy their way out of their own activity…”. (Violence p. 27)

The evil ones are the faceless bureaucrats, plutocrats, and financiers in the EU that hide behind their universal rules of economics, justified that all parties involved signed up for such impassive and impersonal, mathematical and rational policies; and, if they cannot keep up their end of the stick, if they fall into a sinkhole of liquidation, if they cannot keep their house (politics and economics) in order then we can sit here impassively and apathetic to their plight: we are not responsible, you have done it to yourselves – but we can and will impose on you the harshest austerity because you owe us everything and we owe you nothing at all.  This is the EU of today: an impersonal system that sucks the lifeblood out of Europe through austere measures that enforce a form of tax-slavery on the whole of the EU citizenry who have no voice in the matter at all. Without politics or a public forum one is bound to a tyrannical system of numbers and the masters of numbers.

As one man said in the anti-capitalist protest to a reporter: One man said he was fed up with the lies: “We’ve had enough. More than 200,000 young people left the country. They are the future of Greece and we send them to German factories. What for? We should all stay in Greece and work. Altogether, as one.” (here) Is this the future? Countries depopulated of their youth forced into servitude by the rich nations of the world to migrate and work in even harsher positions? Here in the USA the countries to the South of us have been sending their poor for ages, and our capitalists put them to work in jobs in agriculture and other low-paying service jobs that our own citizenry want do themselves. That has caused tension for all. Our politicians want do anything one way or the other so it has brought about even more senseless violence between races. A new racism that seems to be about to cause a civil-war across the planet between the North and South – First and Third world countries. As Zizek again will relate:

The French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said in an interview published on 18 November 2005 in Ha’aretz, commenting on the French suburban outbursts: “If an Arab burns a school, it is a revolt. If a white man does it, it is fascism … Step by step, the generous idea of a war on racism is monstrously turning into a lying ideology. Anti-racism will be to the twenty-first century what communism was to the twentieth century. A source of violence.” Finkielkraut is right here, but for the wrong reasons: what is wrong in the politically correct multiculturalist struggle against racism is not its excessive anti-racism, but its covert racism. (Violence p. 115)

But this is not the issue in Greece, right? I mean the EU isn’t prejudicial against the Greek people as a race, right? Or is it? Is this truly a covert racism in disguise? Is this pulling out the plugs and enforcing a new German Ideology of Supremacy against the backwater nations because of some new covert racism? (I’ll deal with this in a future post)

The disposable nation

Saskia Sassen in her latest book Expulsions tells us her “thesis is that we are seeing the making not so much of predatory elites but of predatory “formations,” a mix of elites and systemic capacities with finance a key enabler, that push toward acute concentration.” 3 As she continues:

Rich individuals and global firms by themselves could not have achieved such extreme concentration of the world’s wealth. They need what we might think of as systemic help: a complex interaction of these actors with systems regeared toward enabling extreme concentration. (KL 220)

What she is seeing is this shift from politics to economics as dominion in which large anonymous, enormous technical and legal structures full of complexities are needed to execute what are ultimately elementary extractions from subsidiary nations and regions. (KL 210) That inequality means “expulsion from a life space”. (ibid.) That among those at the top, this appears to have mean exiting from the responsibilities of membership in society via self-removal, extreme concentration of the wealth available in a society, and no inclination to redistribute that wealth to the citizens of that country, nation, or region. (KL 245)

In many ways the rich are vacating their own countries for cosmopolitan lifestyles where they can enjoy the fruits of their economics while living in tax haven cities around the globe. In Evil Paradises, Mike Davis and others provide ample case studies that explore the new geographies of exclusion and landscapes of wealth that have arisen during the long “globalization” boom since 1991.4 From Dubai to Shanghai the new world of the nouveau riche offers us a glimpse in the free floating hyper-capitalism of the present era. In a Citigroup expose that argues these new sites are forming the safe haves of our future plutonomies: “where the rich are the “dominant drivers of demand,” skimming the cream off productivity surges and technology monopolies, then spending their increasing share of national wealth as fast as possible on luxury goods and services. The champaign days of the Great Gatsby have returned with a vengeance.” (EP KL 168)

So that while Greece, Spain, and other nations, states, cities, etc. fall into chaos and poverty the plutocrats of our new cosmopolitan elites can safely hide away in their luxury smart cities enjoying the hedonistic free-flow of their capitalistic utopias. Is this our future?

While all this is going on we study books like Luis Alberto Fernandez’s Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement where to keep their great plutocracy from being overrun by the riff-raff of anti-globalism they’ve been working overtime to develop new systems of command and control in which the “physical control of space is central in the social control of dissent and the policing of protest. After the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, police developed and adopted techniques designed to deal with a decentralized, nonhierarchical, network-based movement. Such policing required thoughtful planning and careful attention to the geographical space in order to control mass movements. Law enforcement adopted specific maneuvers and tactics designed to manipulate the space before and during large mobilizations of the anti-globalization movement. Until now, social movement scholars have mostly overlooked these control techniques. Yet if we want to understand the spatial dimensions of control, we must look beyond notions of repression as it occurs during a protest and examine the various ways in which police manipulate space in all phases of protest and planning to ensure strategic advantages.5

It’s these new techniques of control that keep the actions of anarchists, communists, radicals, etc. at bay, providing knowledge, data, surveillance, etc. around the clock 24/7 to the point that we might as well call earth: Planet Prison. In this new world the master’s have taken their cue from the Leftists critique’s like those of Foucault in developing what he once termed disciplinary diagrams: it portioned spaced into a grid and used surveillance and regular inspection techniques. (Fernandez KL 1715) These state controlled mechanisms mapped out the urban setting and placed heavy surveillance on all downtown streets, and they assembled a centralized system of information and employed small mobile police units to target protesters conducting ing actions at the affinity-group level. Once captured, protesters were banished to holding pens for the remainder of the protest. (Fernandez KL 1720)

We’ve become rats in a maze to the plutocratic regimes, and they treat us as such in their impersonal and legal systems of control.  And if that wasn’t enough now we’re faced with a new form of economic slavery.

Economic Slavery coming to your town

The criteria of enslavement today do not concern color, tribe, or religion; they focus on weakness, gullibility, and deprivation.

– Kevin  Bales,  Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy

As Kevin Bales will argue in Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy we might think slavery is a matter of ownership, but that depends on what we mean by ownership. In the past, slavery entailed one person legally owning another person, but modern slavery is different. Today slavery is illegal everywhere, and there is no more legal ownership of human beings. When people buy slaves today they don’t ask for a receipt or ownership papers, but they do gain control— and they use violence to maintain this control. Slaveholders have all of the benefits of ownership without the legalities. Indeed, for the slaveholders, not having legal ownership is an improvement because they get total control without any responsibility for what they own. For that reason I tend to use the term slaveholder instead of slaveowner.6

In spite of this difference between the new and the old slavery, he thinks everyone would agree that what he’s talking about is slavery: the total control of one person by another for the purpose of economic exploitation. Modern slavery hides behind different masks, using clever lawyers and legal smoke screens, but when we strip away the lies, we find someone controlled by violence and denied all of their personal freedom to make money for someone else. As he traveled around the world to study the new slavery, he looked behind the legal masks and  saw people in chains. Of course, many people think there is no such thing as slavery anymore, and he was one of those people just a few years ago. (Bales, KL 597-602) As he’ll discover:

Government corruption, plus the vast increase in the number of people and their ongoing impoverishment, has led to the new slavery. For the first time in human history there is an absolute glut of potential slaves. It is a dramatic illustration of the laws of supply and demand: with so many possible slaves, their value has plummeted. Slaves are now so cheap that they have become cost-effective in many new kinds of work, completely changing how they are seen and used. (Bales KL 727)

The new slavery mimics the world economy by shifting away from ownership and fixed asset management, concentrating instead on control and use of resources or processes. Put another way, it is like the shift from the “ownership” of colonies in the last century to the economic exploitation of those same countries today without the cost and trouble of maintaining colonies. Transnational companies today do what European empires did in the last century— exploit natural resources and take advantage of low-cost labor— but without needing to take over and govern the entire country. Similarly, the new slavery appropriates the economic value of individuals while keeping them under complete coercive control— but without asserting ownership or accepting responsibility for their survival. (Bales KL 912)

Slavery grows best in extreme poverty, so we can identify its economic as well as social preconditions. Most obviously, there have to be people, perhaps nonnative to an area, who can be enslaved as well as a demand for slave labor. Slaveholders must have the resources to fund the purchase, capture, or enticement of slaves and the power to control them after enslavement. The cost of keeping a slave has to be less than or equal to the cost of hiring free labor. And there must be a demand for slave products at a price that makes slaveholding profitable. Moreover, the potential slave must lack perceived alternatives to enslavement. Being poor, homeless, a refugee, or abandoned can all lead to the desperation that opens the door to slavery, making it easy for the slaver to lay an attractive trap. And when slaves are kidnapped, they must lack sufficient power to defend themselves against that violent enslavement. (Bales KL 1019)

Yet, as we know it is the conditions of capitalism itself vying for the remaining resources on our planet that is bringing about such massive migrations and depopulations of the poor across the world. In Africa alone there are millions of migrants and refugees who have escaped destitution and war in their own countries only to be penned into refugee camps that are little more than prisons of bare survival. So what to do? Resist? How?

Global resistance

“Contemporary resistance may be said to have begun with the call for an art of resistant life from within the situationist movement. It assumed a global profile through the detournement of communications technologies invented as part of a neo-Clausewitzian effort to ensure the survival of the capacity to resist following a nuclear first strike in the Cold War and emerged as an insurgent capacity to resist able to operate on a global scale.” Says Howard Caygill in On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance.7

He guides us through the era of détournement as the ‘fluid language of anti-ideology’ capable of disrupting specular representation finds itself quickly set in formal and stereotyped revolutionary rhetoric:

Self-emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth, this is the self-emancipation of our epoch. This ‘historic mission of instituting truth in the world’ can be accomplished neither by an individual nor by a manipulated atomised crowd but once and for all by the class that is capable of being the dissolution of all classes in bringing to itself power in the unalienated form of realised democracy, the Council in which practical theory controls itself and views its action. (Debord, 859)

And comes to the despairing conclusion – faith in the councils as the organizational form of direct democracy and lived life was to wreck the IS after 1968 – and with the waning of the faith in direct democracy after 1968, all that remains of The Society of the Spectacle is an exercise in apocalypse, the specular end of time and life in total domination under the spectacle … in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni … (Caygill KL 3857)

Out of the thought of Vaneigem and others beyond Debord would arise another form of political resistance which in its later stages looks instead to the movement of the Zapatistas. In an open critique of the violence of the Greek insurrectionists he calls for the resistance to learn the lessons of Chiapas or, which is the same, those the Paris Commune:

The Zapatista communities of Chiapas are perhaps the only ones today to apply direct democracy. Common lands exclude from the outset the conflicts associated with private expropriation. Everyone has the right to participate in assemblies, to speak and to manifest their choice, even children… The Zapatistas have, to define their will to found a more human society, a formula which reminds of the necessity of constant vigilance – we are not an example but an experience. (Vaneigem 2010, 2)

As Caygill relates Vaneigem is effectively calling for a rethinking of Satyagraha – boycotts, alternative communities, disobedience and creativity; his last words to the Greeks are absolutely consistent with his position in 1967 and a powerful reply to the later Debord and Pasolini’s Salò (KL 3954):

I have the conviction that moving beyond the barricades of resistance and self-defence, the living forces of the entire world are awakening from a long dream. Their offensive, irresistible and peaceful, will sweep away any obstacles raised against an immense desire to live that nourishes those, who are born and reborn every day. The violence of a world to be created will supplant the violence of a world that destroys itself. (Vaneigem 2010, 5)8

For Caygill the challenge is this that instead of retreating to ressentiment and assuming the hunted posture of one closely observing and responding to the initiatives of our persecutors, we should pursue the solidarity of other resistants, aligned to our own individual and shared capacity to resist. We should begin now rather than later in organizing with other resistants. Explicitly he states it this way:

Contemporary resistance, even in its most technologically sophisticated manifestations, is not an exception to the rules governing the politics of resistance. It is engaged in defiant delegitimization of existing and potential domination but without any prospect of a final outcome in the guise of a revolutionary or reformist result or solution. As reciprocals, domination and defiance are engaged in a perpetual struggle in which resistance can never rest but must adopt a fresh posture with respect to a strengthened counter-resistance. The politics of resistance is disillusioned and without end, one that can claim a lifetime or a life for its pursuit of justice and that requires constant courage, fortitude and prudence. It accompanies the modern adventure of freedom and possibility, but in its ambivalent and ambiguous margins. Yet the defiant life is not negative, not just the reaction to the ruses of an eternally renewed effort to dominate nested within freedom itself, but one with its own necessities, its own affirmations and its own joy. (Caygill KL 4518)

In other words the politics of resistance is the politics of everyday life. A Life in the Ruins of Capital. One that begins with each moment resisting the power-over us that capital has in our daily lives. Like the Zapatista communities we must come together outside the strictures of the organized State and rebuild our lives. We have no other choice now: this is our life in a world where the plutocracies have imprisoned us in a world of impersonal rationality based on economics. The resistance begins in despair but does not end in apathy, it’s despair that drives us onward toward solidarity and the goal of a life worth living.  In this sense it begins in an ethical stance toward earth and ourselves, knowing that our battle is for the future of our species and all non-human agents against those who seek our ultimate demise or enslavement.

Will the future judge ours as the “Generation of Fools” led to slaughter by fat cat bureaucrats, political betrayers, and economic fascists of servitude? Or will there even be a human species to judge such things at all if things go on as such? It’s our life, we’re the only ones that can choose the path forward even in despair of its eventual outcome. Do we as T.S. Eliot once said end in a “whimper”, or shall we rise up and affirm with that great souled being Dr. Martin Luther King and assert: “I have dream…”

Shall we too refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. Refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this great Earth. And so, will we arise out of every nation and come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. Shall we? Look in the mirror and ask yourself: What do I want? Then look into the eyes of your children and ask: What shall I leave them as my legacy?


Caygill, Howard (2013-10-24). On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance (Kindle Locations 4567-4574). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

1. Peter Sloterdijk. Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation (pp. 185-186). Kindle Edition.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2008-07-22). Violence (BIG IDEAS//small books) (pp. 16-17). Picador. Kindle Edition.
3. Sassen, Saskia (2014-05-05). Expulsions (Kindle Locations 210-211). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.
4.  (2011-07-16). Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (Kindle Locations 127-128). New Press, The. Kindle Edition.
5. Luis Alberto Fernandez. Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement (Kindle Locations 1384-1388). Kindle Edition.
6. Bales, Kevin (2012-04-23). Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (Kindle Locations 591-597). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
7. Caygill, Howard (2013-10-24). On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance (Kindle Locations 3747-3750). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
8. Vaneigem, Raoul (1967) Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations, Gallimard Paris; trs. The Revolution of Everyday Life, trs. Donald Nicholson-Smith, Rebel Press 2003
—( 2009) Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with Raoul Vaneigem, e-fluxjournal, 6, May
—( 2010) L’État n’est plus rien, soyons tout, rue des cascades, Paris

2 thoughts on “After Politics: Post-Communist Nihilism in an Age of Dystopian Reflection

  1. Reblogged this on Senselogi© and commented:
    Hickman nails it…

    “The evil ones are the faceless bureaucrats, plutocrats, and financiers in the EU that hide behind their universal rules of economics, justified that all parties involved signed up for such impassive and impersonal, mathematical and rational policies; and, if they cannot keep up their end of the stick, if they fall into a sinkhole of liquidation, if they cannot keep their house (politics and economics) in order then we can sit here impassively and apathetic to their plight: we are not responsible, you have done it to yourselves – but we can and will impose on you the harshest austerity because you owe us everything and we owe you nothing at all. This is the EU of today: an impersonal system that sucks the lifeblood out of Europe through austere measures that enforce a form of tax-slavery on the whole of the EU citizenry who have no voice in the matter at all. Without politics or a public forum one is bound to a tyrannical system of numbers and the masters of numbers.”

    Like

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