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)



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