Slavoj Zizek: The Next Revolution – the Digital Commons?


The digital network that sustains the functioning of our societies as well as their control mechanisms is the ultimate figure of the technical grid that sustains power – and does this not confer a new lease of life on Trotsky’s idea that the key to the State lies not in its political and secretarial organizations but in its technical services?

—Slavoj Zizek, Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity

After a lengthy investigations of the history of the October Revolution of 1917 in which Slavoj Zizek brings forward the notion that it was not Lenin but Trotsky who was the true architect and Master-mind behind the supposed coup de taut – but not of a vanguard group of idealist liberators storming the Winter Palace or government buildings, etc., but rather of a nation wide attack by engineers and workers on the ‘technical services’ (the material superstructure) underpinning and supporting  the regime:

Trotsky thus targeted the material (technical) grid of power (railways, electricity, water supply, post, etc.), the grid without which state power hangs in the void and becomes inoperative. Let the mobilized masses fight the police and storm the Winter Palace (an act without any real relevance): the essential move is accomplished by a tiny, dedicated minority … (p. 47)1

In our own time the technical grid of power on a global scale is the ‘digital commons’ which is under the power and control of both State and Commercial global-capitalism. For Zizek the time has come to re-evaluate Trotsky’s notions, analyzing them coldly and with a careful attention to the details of how we might apply them in today’s world “since this insight of Trotsky has gained new actuality with the progressive digitalization of our lives in what could be characterized as the new era of posthuman power” (p. 47).  As Zizek adds,

Most of our activities (and passivities) are now registered in some digital cloud that also permanently evaluates us, tracing not only our acts but also our emotional states; when we experience ourselves as free to the utmost (surfing the web, where everything is available), we are totally ‘externalized’ and subtly manipulated. The digital network gives new meaning to the old slogan ‘the personal is political’. And it’s not only the control of our intimate lives that is at stake: everything is today regulated by some digital network, from transport to health, from electricity to water. That’s why the web is now our most important commons, and the struggle for its control is the struggle today. The enemy is the combination of privatized and state-controlled commons, corporations (Google, Facebook) and state security agencies (NSA). But we know all this, so where does Trotsky enter? (p. 47) my italics

Which leads Zizek to ask: “Consequently, in the same way that, for Trotsky, taking control of the post, electricity, railways and so on was the key moment of the revolutionary seizure of power, is it not the case that today the ‘occupation’ of the digital grid is absolutely crucial if we are to break the power of the state and capital?” So that Zizek’s most provocative advance in a long while toward global revolution comes not through armed insurrection or the use of literal force, but rather through a carefully initiated strike against the heart of the new global commons: “And, in the same way that Trotsky required the mobilization of a tight, disciplined ‘storming party, technical experts and gangs of armed men led by engineers’ to resolve this ‘question of technique’, the lesson of the last decades is that neither massive grass-roots protests (as we have seen in Spain and Greece) nor well-organized political movements (parties with elaborated political visions) are enough – we also need a narrow, striking force of dedicated ‘engineers’ (hackers, whistle-blowers …) organized as a disciplined conspiratorial group. Its task will be to ‘take over’ the digital grid, to rip it out of the hands of corporations and state agencies that now de facto control it. (p. 47)” my italics

Yet, we must not underestimate the power of the global networks of power to dampen and close down such revolutionary fervor, for as Zizek reminds us:

WikiLeaks was here just the beginning, and our motto should be here a Maoist one: Let a hundred WikiLeaks blossom! The panic and fury with which those in power, those who control our digital commons, reacted to Assange is a proof that such an activity hits the nerve. There will be many blows below the belt in this fight – our side will be accused of playing into the enemy’s hands (like the campaign against Assange for being in the service of Putin), but we should get used to it and learn to strike back with interest, ruthlessly playing one side against another in order to bring them all down. Were Lenin and Trotsky also not accused of being paid by the Germans and/or by Jewish bankers? As for the scare that such an activity will disturb the functioning of our societies and thus threaten millions of lives: we should bear in mind that it is those in power who are ready to selectively shut down the digital grid to isolate and contain protests – when massive public dissatisfactions explode, the first move is always to disconnect the internet and mobile phones.

We need thus the political equivalent of the Hegelian triad of the universal, the particular, and the singular. Universal: a mass upheaval, in the Podemos style. Particular: a political organization that can translate the dissatisfaction into an operative political programme. Singular: ‘elitist’ specialized groups which, acting in a purely ‘technical’ way, undermine the functioning of state control and regulation. Without this third element, the first two remain impotent. (p. 48)

  1. Zizek, Slavoj. Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity. Allen Lane (October 30, 2018)

Slavoj Zizek: Paradise Regained or Lost Again?


We don’t really learn anything new from the Paradise Papers – we have been vaguely aware of it for a long time. What is new is not that our vague suspicions are now confirmed by precise data, but a change in what, following Hegel, one should call Sitten – public customs – which now seem to tolerate much less corruption. One should not idealize this new situation: a fight against corruption can easily be appropriated by conservative anti-liberal forces whose longstanding motto is ‘too much democracy brings corruption’. A new space is nonetheless opened up: demanding of the rich and powerful that they obey the laws can be subversive insofar as the system cannot really afford it, i.e. insofar as tax havens and other forms of illegal financial activities are a deeply ingrained part of global capitalism.

The first conclusion we are compelled to draw from this strange predicament is that class struggle is back as the main determining factor of our political life, in the good old Marxist sense of ‘determination in the last instance’: even if the stakes appear to be totally different, from humanitarian crises to ecological threats, class struggle lurks in the background and casts its ominous shadow.

The second conclusion is that class struggle is less and less directly transposed into the struggle between political parties, and increasingly takes place within each big political party. In the US, class struggle cuts across the Republican Party (the Party establishment versus Bannon-like populists) and across the Democratic Party (the Clinton wing versus the Sanders movement). We should, of course, never forget that Bannon is the beacon of the alt-right while Clinton supports many progressive causes, such as the fight against racism and sexism. However, at the same time we should never forget that the LGBT+ struggle can also be co-opted by mainstream liberalism against ‘class essentialism’ of the Left.

The third conclusion thus concerns the Left’s strategy in this complex situation. While any pact between Sanders and Bannon is excluded for obvious reasons, a key element of the Left’s tactics should be to ruthlessly exploit divisions in the enemy camp and fight for Bannon followers. To cut a long story short, there is no victory of the Left without the broad alliance of all anti-establishment forces. One should never forget that our true enemy is the global capitalist establishment and not the new populist Right, which is merely a reaction to its impasses. If we forget this, then the Left will simply disappear from the map… (my italics)

—Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity – Slavoj Zizek


“We the people…” – Slavoj Zizek

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…in a democracy, every ordinary citizen is effectively a President – but a President in a constitutional democracy, a President who only formally decides, whose function is to sign measures proposed by an executive administration. This is why the problem of democratic rituals is homologous to that of constitutional democracy: how do we protect the dignity of the President? How do we maintain the appearance that the President effectively decides, when we all know this is not true? What we call a ‘crisis of democracy’ does not occur when people stop believing in their own power but, on the contrary, when they stop trusting the elites, those who are supposed to know for them and provide their guidelines, when they experience the anxiety signalling that ‘the (true) throne is empty’, that the decision is now really theirs.

—Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity – Slavoj Zizek

The vast majority of citizens in a democracy do not really care who is in power – rather, what they care about is that their private lives are not affected beyond a certain tipping point by the fake powers behind the throne. We all go along with the fantasies of government, knowing full well that power is not some substantial commodity but is a sort of game of thrones played out by would-be entrepreneurs of power – the small elite of rich cadres that select for us the actor of the day to play out the games of power all the while letting the real power brokers get on with their real work hidden and away. Democracies in the so-called free world have become mockeries of their intended political structures. There is no actual real democracy in the world only the stagecraft of mediaspaces where the semblance of freedom is a given rather than its substance. If people truly had power we’d be in a war without end for the people is and has always been the designation for this empty throne behind which power is not only hidden but can never enact its designs. For if the people could truly take over and proved worthy of power they would kill each other off forthwith. People don’t want the power of change, they don’t want change at all – they want only its semblance and dramatic irreality. To live a life in which one was truly free would be for the vast majority the scariest thing on earth. What would they do with such freedom?

Slavoj Zizek: Concrete Universality

‘Concrete universality’ means that there is no abstract universality of rules, there are no ‘typical’ situations, all we are dealing with is exceptions; however, a concrete totality is the totality that regulates the concrete context of exceptions. We should thus, on account of our very fidelity to concrete analysis, reject any form of nominalism. To the nominalist claim that there is no pure neutral universality, that every universality is caught up in the conflict of particular ways of life, one should reply: ‘No, today it’s the particular ways of life that do not exist as autonomous modes of historical existence, the only actual reality is that of the universal capitalist system.’ This is why, in contrast to identity politics, which focuses on how each (ethnic, religious, sexual) group should be able fully to assert its particular identity, the much more difficult and radical task is to enable each group to access full universality. This access to universality does not mean a recognition that one is also part of the universal human genus, or the assertion of some ideological values that are considered universal. Rather, it means recognizing one’s own universality, the way it is at work in the fractures of one’s particular identity, as the ‘work of the negative’ that undermines every such identity.

—Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity – Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek: Civilization and its Malcontents

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We are thus entering a new phase in which it is simply nature itself that melts into air: the main consequence of the scientific breakthroughs in biogenetics is the end of nature. Once we know the rules of their construction, natural organisms are transformed into objects amenable to manipulation. Nature, human and inhuman, is thus ‘desubstantialized’, deprived of its impenetrable density, of what Heidegger called ‘earth’. This compels us to give a new twist to the title of Freud’s Unbehagen in der Kultur – discontent, uneasiness, in culture. The title is usually translated as ‘civilization and its discontents’, thus missing the opportunity to bring into play the opposition of culture and civilization: discontent is in culture, its violent break with nature, while civilization can be conceived as precisely the secondary attempt to patch things up, to ‘civilize’ the cut, to reintroduce the lost balance and an appearance of harmony. With the latest developments, the discontent shifts from culture to nature itself: nature is no longer ‘natural’, the reliable ‘dense’ background of our lives; it now appears as a fragile mechanism which, at any point, can explode in a catastrophic direction.

Nature is in increasing disorder, not because it overwhelms our cognitive capacities but primarily because we are not able to master the effects of our own interventions in its course – who knows what the ultimate consequences of our biogenetic engineering or of global warming will be? The surprise comes from us, it concerns the opacity of our role: the problem is not some cosmic mystery like the explosion of a supernova, it is us ourselves, our collective activity. This is what we call ‘anthropocene’: a new epoch in the life of our planet in which we humans can no longer rely on the Earth as a reservoir ready to absorb the consequences of our productive activity. We must acknowledge that we live on a ‘Spaceship Earth’, and be responsible and accountable for its condition. At the very moment at which we become powerful enough to affect the most basic elements of our life, we have to accept that we are just another animal species on a small planet. A new way to relate to our environs is necessary once we realize this: we must become modest agents collaborating with our environment, permanently negotiating a tolerable level of stability, with no a priori formula to guarantee our safety.

—Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity – Slavoj Zizek


Slavoj Zizek: Domination and Free Choice


Since, in our society, free choice is elevated into a supreme value, social control and domination can no longer appear to infringe on the subject’s freedom – it has to appear as (and be sustained by) the very experience of individuals as being free. There are a multitude of ways in which this un-freedom appears in the guise of its opposite: when we are deprived of universal healthcare, we are told that we are given a new freedom of choice (to choose our healthcare provider); when we can no longer rely on long-term employment and are compelled to search for a new, precarious position every couple of years, we are told that we are given the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and discover novel, unexpected creative potentials that lurk in our personality; when we have to pay for the education of our children, we are told that we become ‘entrepreneurs of the self’, acting like a capitalist who chooses freely how he will invest the resources he possesses (or has borrowed) in education, health, travel … Constantly bombarded by so-called ‘free choices’, forced to make decisions for which we are mostly not even properly qualified (or about which we possess inadequate information), increasingly we experience our freedom as what it effectively is: a burden that deprives us of the true choice of change.

—Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity – Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek: The Task of the Left

The task of the Left is not just to propose a new order, but also to change the prospect of what appears possible. The paradox of our predicament is therefore that, while resistance to global capitalism seemingly fails again and again to halt its advance, it fails to recognize the many trends which clearly signal capitalism’s progressive disintegration. It is as if the two tendencies (resistance and self-disintegration) move at different levels and cannot meet, so that we get futile protests at the same time as immanent decay and there is no way of bringing the two together in a coordinated attempt to emancipate the world from capitalism. How did it come to this? While most of the Left desperately try to protect workers’ rights against the onslaught of global capitalism, it is almost exclusively the most ‘progressive’ capitalists themselves (from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg) who talk about post-capitalism – as if the very concept of the passage from capitalism as we know it to a new post-capitalist order is being appropriated by capitalism itself.

—Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity – Slavoj Zizek

Reading Zizek’s new work reminds me of the old sage gathering his resources and remonstrating the youth surrounding him, barking out the marching orders of the day, hinting at a future that only they can invent or destroy. As he states it:

…where is the Left’s realistic proposal as to what we should do? Words matter in public debates… do today’s self-proclaimed socialists have a serious vision of what socialism should be now? (p. 12)

The truth is plain for all to see: no, they do not. If this is true, then is the Left (so called) an artifact of the past, a dead idea gone to waste amid the failures of its own utopian message of change? Which in some ways is just what he begins as a critique of outworn Leftist politics:

Maybe the time has come to ask the brutal question: OK, but what should or could they have done? How would an authentic model of socialist democracy have looked in practice? Is this Holy Grail – a revolutionary power that avoids all the traps (Stalinism, Social Democracy) and develops an authentic people’s democracy in terms of society and the economy – not a purely imaginary entity, one which by definition cannot be filled with actual content? (p. 12)

Is it? Is the very nature of thought itself duplicitous? Do we propose ideas, invent ideas, wander into unknown territory with the clichés of a unenlightened mind as if it were the end-all be-all vision of a future for humanity when in fact is nothing but a dead dream toppling us toward an abyss? The truth is simpler: we do not know anything, we fumble around in the cesspool of outworn historical examples unable to invent anything truly new. So we get separatist states trying to pull away from the world system realizing in the end it is a whale that will swallow them whole:

However, the big question remains: how does or should this reliance on popular self-organization affect running a government? Can we even imagine today an authentic Communist power? What we get is disaster (Venezuela), capitulation (Greece), or a full return to capitalism (China, Vietnam). (p. 12)

Instead what we see around us is the fake politics of a return to global cold war like the movement of chess pieces on a lava bed. China replacing Russia as the stage-crafted exemplar of the new socialism allowing the U.S.A. to return as the bad boy of Capitalism, while under the hood real world market forces move forward  unabated by the grand political dramas of media games that stir the pot of popular imagination. What better way to move the masses than for capitalists themselves (so called Progressives) to propose change that does not change but gives us pure capitalism as the new revolutionary process? While segmenting and dividing the populace by micro-politics and nihilist undermining of some unified grand vision the new progressive capitalist seeks to instill a hazy vision of the future by attacking strawmen conservative forces as if they too were not in on the game behind the scenes. In this age of mediacraft the world is scripted to play out the old clichés of Left/Right battles of yore under new guises without the power of actually doing a thing that will help them change. Rather workers become mired in sexual politics o racial politics at the expense of real solidarity that would unite the Left with a valid vision or proposal of change. Or, as Zizek puts it:

In short, what if the search for an authentic Third Way – beyond Social Democracy, which doesn’t go far enough, and ‘totalitarianism’, which goes too far – is a waste of time? The strategy of the radical Left is to try to demonstrate, with great theoretical sophistication, how ‘totalitarian’ radicalization masks its opposite: Stalinism was effectively a form of state capitalism, and so on. (p. 13)

The truth is that both Russian and Chinese communism were failed capitalist states – wolves in disguise, masking themselves within the sheep’s clothing of Marxist ideas.

In an automated society in which 80% of the populace of the planet are unemployed while 20% walk away with the riches and live lives of unimaginable fortune we seem headed into a noman’s land of degradation on the one hand and a prison world without bars. As Zizek will opine:

As some social analysts and economists have suggested, today’s explosion of economic productivity confronts us with the ultimate case of this rule: the coming global economy tends towards a state in which only 20 per cent of the workforce can do all the necessary jobs, so that 80 per cent of the people are basically irrelevant and of no use, potentially unemployed. When this logic reaches its extreme, would it not be reasonable to reduce it to its self-negation: is not a system which makes 80 per cent of the people irrelevant and of no use itself irrelevant and of no use? The problem is thus not primarily that a new global proletariat is emerging, but something much more radical: billions of people are simply not needed, the sweatshops cannot absorb them. This aspect is neglected by Leftist politics, which is reduced to fighting to conserve the fast disappearing remains of the welfare state; but with the ongoing devastating economic politics this is a lost fight. Lost not simply because of the financial elite which profits from its loss, but because this same financial elite can rely on the growing army of those who never even had access to any of these ‘benefits’ and instead denounce them as privileges (young, precarious workers). (p. 14)

So that in this scenario the victims become the perpetrators and who are denounced as would-be inveiglers of the rich elites kind-hearted philanthropy.  In a world in which a Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Mark Zuckerberg (each a part of the new face of digital capitalism) offer fake escape plans into mythical futures of capitalist desire: for Gates the philanthropy of green energy, for Musk the bright take-off of space faring civilization on a new planet (Mars), and Zuckerberg the digital city replete with utopian welfare:

Insofar as the dynamics of new capitalism are rendering an increasingly large percentage of workers superfluous, what about the project of reuniting all the ‘living dead’ of global capitalism, all those left behind by neo-capitalist ‘progress’, all those rendered superfluous, obsolete, all those unable to adapt to new conditions? The wager is, of course, that a direct short-circuit can be created between these leftovers of history and history’s most progressive aspects. (p. 14)

What these visionaries of digital capitalism forget is that those left behind remain sequestered into a prison world without escape, a life slowly devolving into darkness and embittered degradation. The New Liberal politics of media exaggeration offers us a world welfare state:

Liberals who acknowledge the problems of those excluded from the socio-political process see their goal as the inclusion of those whose voices are not heard: all points of view should be listened to, all interests taken into account, the human rights of everyone guaranteed, all ways of life, cultures and practices respected. The obsession of this form of democracy is the protection of all kinds of minorities: cultural, religious, sexual, etc. The formula of democracy here is patient negotiation and compromise. What gets lost is the proletarian position, that of universality embodied in the excluded. (p. 14-15)

Instead the real excluded are left out in utter darkness to grunge around in the decaying slums of our unraveling world without even a voice of their own, nor the ability to escape or construct anything but a home in the wastelands of capitalism.

The true choice is, therefore: should we continue to play the humanitarian game of taking care of those left behind, or should we tackle the much more difficult task of changing the global system that generates them? (my italics) Without such a change, our situation will be increasingly irrational. In order to orient ourselves in this conundrum, we should be aware of the fateful limitation of the politics of interests. (p. 15)



Slavoj Zizek: On Accelerating the World Disorder

The problem is that, today, simple opposition gets complicated: our global-capitalist reality, impregnated as it is by sciences, is itself ‘prodding’, challenging our innermost presuppositions in a much more shocking way than the wildest philosophical speculations, so that the task of a philosopher is no longer to undermine the hierarchical symbolic edifice that grounds social stability but – to return to Badiou – to make the young perceive the dangers of the growing nihilist order that presents itself as the domain of new freedoms. We live in an extraordinary era in which there is no tradition on which we can base our identity, no frame of meaningful universe which might enable us to lead a life beyond hedonist reproduction. Today’s nihilism – the reign of cynical opportunism accompanied by permanent anxiety – legitimizes itself as the liberation from the old constraints: we are free to constantly re-invent our sexual identities, to change not only our job or our professional trajectory but even our innermost subjective features like our sexual orientation. However, the scope of these freedoms is strictly prescribed by the coordinates of the existing system, and also by the way consumerist freedom effectively functions: the possibility to choose and consume imperceptibly turns into a superego obligation to choose. The nihilist dimension of this space of freedoms can only function in a permanently accelerated way – the moment it slows down, we become aware of the meaninglessness of the entire movement. This New World Disorder, this gradually emerging world-less civilization, exemplarily affects the young, who oscillate between the intensity of fully burning out (sexual enjoyment, drugs, alcohol, even violence), and the endeavour to succeed (study, make a career, earn money … within the existing capitalist order). Permanent transgression thus becomes the norm…

The only radical alternative to this madness appears to be the even worse madness of religious fundamentalism, a violent retreat into some artificially resuscitated tradition. The supreme irony is that a brutal return to an orthodox tradition (an invented one, of course) appears as the ultimate ‘prodding’ – are the young suicide bombers not the most radical form of corrupted youth? The great task of thinking today is to discern the precise contours of this deadlock and find the way out of it.

—Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity – Slavoj Zizek